11 Great Writing Tips and Overcoming Writer’s Block

Snoopy dark and stormy nightIt was a dark and stormy night… then what?

You might be thinking, “The first sentence flows nicely—now time drags deathly slow as I stare at a blank page.”

Ever felt this way when starting a writing project? If so, you’re in good company. About 80% of people want to write a book yet less than 1% will actually complete and sell a book. There are many reasons for this, and it leaves me wondering how much of it has to do with writer’s block.

It happens to everyone sometimes, even prolific authors. The important thing is to get past it. When you find yourself feeling blocked, do what I do and force some typing even if the sentences are utter garbage, only to be tossed later after serving the purpose of warming up fingers and getting creative juices to flow. Don’t edit anything, ignore typos, just keep going even if it’s junk. You might be pleasantly surprised what it morphs into within a few minutes.

Although there are no rules in love or war or writing, there are common sense guidelines. Writing advice abounds with tips like “show, don’t tell,” “use true-to-life dialogue” and “beware of too many adverbs.” Okay, that’s good stuff, but writing is still an art form—there’s no way to define in a nutshell what makes for good or bad writing. Plus there are genre nuances for thrillers, romance, biographies, young adult, etc. However, some books please lots of people and get read in bunches while other books are duds, so I’d like to focus on what seems to be common factors for authors who produce works that sell.

What are your best writing tips? Leave them in the comments. Here are 11 of mine and general guidelines that have helped me:

  • Have something to say. It sounds incredible but many writers begin manuscripts because they always dreamed of being an author. There’s nothing wrong with that dream; it’s just not as effective a motivator for telling a fascinating story as having the idea for a fascinating story. When inspiration strikes, write! When it doesn’t, feel free to do other things. Once you have a story concept and characters, make an outline and start writing anything that comes to mind.
  • Commit to a schedule. The hardest part is sitting at the computer and turning off distractions. Set a timer for 30 minutes, or make a goal to write a little bit every day for one week. You’ll be amazed how many pages will pile up quickly.
  • Find your voice and trust it. No need to emulate Stephen King or J. K. Rowling; just be you.
  • Hook the reader early. New writers don’t have long to impress so make your first few pages draw the reader in. Dump your main character in an awkward spot, or create conflict right off the bat, or present a fascinating concept.
  • Bring in the five senses. Help the reader feel, see, hear, smell and even taste elements of the story. These are tidbits that make huge differences, like adding spices to a meal.
  • Trim the fat. Find excessive words and delete them. Less is more.
  • Know your characters and show them. You might be more plot-oriented, but spending time getting to know your characters will help immensely. Write pages on what they were like as children, their habits, who they’d argue with, even choices for ice cream. Knowing them better will generate ideas for the plot.
  • Learn the craft. This was especially needed by me because I began my career with exciting story ideas and limited writing experience. I had no idea how to tell it in ways which would enable others to see the same beauty that I saw. Learning the craft means so much more than understanding grammar; it’s all about presenting the conflict to engage the reader, maintaining a pace, not dumping info all at once, creating a flow to keep the pages turning.
  • Read paragraphs aloud. Do they flow easily or sound as good as they look? This little trick does wonders for discovering bad habits. Go one step further and ask friends to read a paragraph out loud. Can they do it smoothly, or do they have awkward moments?
  • Once the book is written–rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Each time is an opportunity to trim fat, add spices, perfect the dialogue and make it better. Don’t rush to publish until you know it’s ready.
  • Join at least one critique group. There are dozens online. Read other’s first chapters, critique them, and then they’ll read yours. Take comments with an open mind; you’ll probably learn many bad habits that might be repeating throughout the manuscript. Here’s a short list of sites with critique groups:

http://www.goodreads.com/ – all about books.

http://redroom.com/ – where the writers are.

http://www.authonomy.com/ – where writers become authors and more.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/critical_writing/

Now comes the scary part; what if readers have complaints or simply don’t like it? Learn to listen without getting defensive (this can be extremely difficult). Maybe they mention grammar errors, not feeling connected to the characters or that the story just didn’t appeal to them. This has happened to me plenty of times. In some cases, rewriting must be done to make issues better. Often little additions can help a lot. However, not everyone likes all of my books and that’s okay. This will probably be the case for you too.

Snoopy the endThe most important thing is to keep writing; do it for yourself first and then with others in mind. Hopefully they’ll discover the same beauty within your story that you see.

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SlingWords Post – Indie Authors: Better Keywords Sell More Books

I was honored to be guest poster today on a great blog called SlingWords. You can read the brief post (500 words) on learning to use keywords more wisely, especially designed for Indie authors who want to sell ebooks.

http://slingwords.blogspot.com/2011/05/indie-authors-better-keywords-sell-more.html

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Smart Keyword Research Comes First

Excerpt from the book, Get On Google Front Page

keyword researchKeywords are essential to help search engines link your sites and books to certain words, terms or phrases. Keywords can be individual words like “diet” or “weight loss,” a set of words like “healthy weight loss,” or even phrases containing many words such as “eat all you want and still lose weight.” This is also the difference between short-tail and long-tail keywords, or the difference between targeting broad markets under heavy competition with other advertisers versus niche markets with less competition. It’s best to add keywords (both short-tail and long) to every site, blog, URL, title, article and location that has boxes for them, keywords that describe the content of what your site is about. But before we get into the details of how and where to insert keywords, we’re going to discuss at length how to discover which are your very best keywords.

Your very best keywords describe your website (and book’s) content and are being searched by lots of people with relatively low competition.

Okay, that was a mouthful but true. Certain keywords will only help if people are actually searching for them, and your site is relevant to that subject, and (hopefully) there is not a ton of competition. If the competition is low, then you’re golden and the climb to the front page can be quick. If the competition is high, you can still get to the top but it will take great SEO habits and more time.

Read the free Authonomy chapter here on this subject.

Read the first several chapters of this book’s free sample.

Get On Google Front PageAmazon US paperback and ebookPDF version handy with links for your computer

Amazon UK paperbackUK ebook

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Google Ebookstore, Bugs a plenty

Google Ebookstore logoIt’s been 6 weeks since I uploaded most of my books to the Google Ebookstore. While it’s nice to have another venue to sell ebooks from, so far this has been the least user-friendly and most bug-filled retailer. Though I still have confidence that the king of search (and just about everything online) will get its act together, here is a list of issues encountered so far:

  • My books don’t come up with an exact title or author search. This is a serious concern. For instance, go to http://books.google.com/ebooks and type into the search box How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free (copy and paste makes that easy) or Jason Matthews. If the experience is the same as mine, you won’t find my books listed. Yep, that’s bad. I know the book truly exists there because one reader fortunately purchased a copy and the link is here – http://books.google.com/books?printsec=frontcover&id=ApOKNfx7QckC#v=onepage&q&f=false.
  • One of my titles has been “processing” for 6 weeks. I’ve given up on it going through and would have deleted it and tried again, but instead would rather watch this spectacle and see how long it continues. The other books “processed” between two days and two weeks. Really? Why so long?
  • Support is virtually non-existent. I’ve sent a few emails explaining the situation without complaining and have only received one quasi-reasonable reply a week later. The others were either not answered or replied in a way that demonstrated they didn’t understand the above two points. Long story short, they don’t appear to care at support.
  • The entire way they handle uploading is about twice as difficult as anywhere else. Why did they make it tricky, especially when others have set examples of how to do it easy? No need to reinvent the wheel, Stanford grads. Go upload your Dilbert collections to Amazon or Smashwords and see how streamlined the experience can be.

So far the Google Ebookstore receives a grade of “D plus,” but I still have hopes they can turn it around. One small thing I really do like is the 2 bucks in ad revenue I’ve made (woo-hoo) even though my books can’t be found. Just imagine the possibilities once the bugs are crushed.

More results in time. Subscribe to this blog for updates on whatever I learn for those who want to sell ebooks.
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Update Jan. 20th – some (not all) of my books are showing up with a search now, even though they didn’t for weeks. Okay, that’s a little better.

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Get On Google Front Page, 2011 SEO Tips

Get On Google Front Page has just been released for 2011. This is my 5th book, and I’m really excited as it has potential to help a lot of people.

Get On Google Front Page by Jason MatthewsIt’s been a long road learning the business of ebooks and self publishing. At first this was something that had to be done for my novels, but then the whole endeavor became something valuable to share with others. Hence the last three books have been all about learning how to make and sell ebooks, how to make your own free website, and now this topic of rising in search engine rankings with White hat, free, organic SEO methods.

What’s fantastic about the search engines is that they keep space available at the top for ordinary people with no money to spend on advertising. That means any website can make it to the first page of search results or even to the very top spot. All that matters (in Google’s eyes) is that the website is extremely relevant to the terms of a given search. By having relevance to the subject and by using smart methods of helping the spiders see that relevance, anyone can do this.

The book talks at length on how to discover the keywords that will work best for a given website. Your very best keywords are relevant to your site, are being searched by lots of people and (hopefully) don’t have high competition from other advertisers. The book discusses in-depth how to use the Keyword Tool External program to really hone in on those best choices and then how to implement.

It’s just come out as an ebook for Amazon Kindle, so new the description isn’t currently listed yet (that takes up to 4 days though I can’t understand why). It’s also available as a pdf and epub formatted ebook at http://getongooglefrontpage.webs.com/, and also at Smashwords which will get it into Apple iBookstore and many other retailers. The paperback won’t be available for a few weeks, so watch for an update if that’s what you’d prefer.

For great 2011 SEO tips on keywords, meta data, direct submissions, alternative text, social media, creating thousands of back-links, building platform and visibility plus much more… this is a great guide. Please check out Get On Google Front Page if rising in search engine rankings is something you’d like to know more about.

Click here for the home page of How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free.
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