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.


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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?rel=me ?rel=author ?rel=really, Google?

rel=author rel=me authorship markup?rel=me and ?rel=author has left some of us asking, rel=wtf? This should be easier as my solution in the final paragraph reveals.

For authors who write blogs, articles or just have plain old websites, understanding these tags and their association to a Google Plus profile can be confusing to say the least. In my attempt toward comprehension, it seemed every lesson had slightly different variations on the same theme, sort of like the Gospel’s account of Christ’s life but on a smaller scale. Even watching top brass, Matt Cutts and Othar Hansson, explain in a 10-minute low budget whiteboard video presentation–there seems to be something… uh, lacking. Hey Othar, I need a telescope and a degree in handwriting to read your scribbles. (And I thought my videos were lame.)

For sites and blogs with single authors, it’s extremely important to jump through the rel=author hoop for verifying webpages to your Google Plus profile page. The tag, rel=author, defines authorship. Okay, so what’s in it for me, you might ask? Answer: your photo may get listed next to the search results of your page, may being the operative word. Aha, that’s what this is all about: getting your smiling mug on page one so surfers will click your link!

This tag can feel elusive especially since Google seems to continually tweak their instructions on how to make it, but it simply means that anyone who is a contributor to a website or blog and also has a Google Plus profile can follow a few steps to make Google aware of the connection. Since they’re the king of global internet search, as soon as I learned of this feature I raced to all of my sites and added the ?rel=author code (though not correctly the first time).

How do rel=me and rel=author tags get inserted? There are actually a few ways to accomplish the connection and then one main way to check that it’s working. The first thing you’ll need to do is create a Google Plus account with a recognizable face shot as your main profile image. Sorry, no dogs, family reunions or animations for the main profile photo.

contributor to Google Plus profileOn your Google Plus profile page (click your name from the home page), you can Edit to insert information about yourself, upload photos/video, as well as add URL links for websites and other social media profiles. When Editing, notice the section that says Contributor To where you can add the URL for all of your websites and blogs. It’s most common to use the “About me” page of your sites, or you could use the Home page. For newbies, I recommend copying and pasting the URL from another browser tab to confirm the URL is spelled correctly. Once that is done, you need to go to the corresponding “About me” or Home page of your websites/blogs and input your Google Plus profile URL followed by the tag, ?rel=author. For example, my G+ profile URL is https://plus.google.com/117850331447734054313/ so when I add the rel=author tag, my G+ profile link could be any of the following and even a few more variations:



Notice if you click on either of the latter links they direct you to the same G+ page, https://plus.google.com/117850331447734054313/.

These tags can go anywhere on the site that is crawled, even invisibly to visitors like in the <head> section:

<link rel=”author”



Of course, in all of the above examples you’ll need to substitute your profile number and profile name where I have inserted mine.

This rel=author tag can be added to the <head> section, or a sidebar widget (like a G+ badge) or to signature text, or to the footer, pretty much anywhere. My form of overkill was to add some everywhere just to be on the safe side. All that really matters is the “Contributor To” links point from your Google Plus Profile page to your websites, and the rel=author tags from your sites point back to your Google Profile page. That’s how Google sees the connection and verifies that you are both the webmaster and person behind the Google Plus profile.

Next you can check your work to see if the link is being recognized by Google by visiting the Rich Snippets Testing Toolhttp://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets. Enter the URL address and click the Preview button. If you see your profile photo and a green line that says, “Verified: Authorship markup is verified for this page,” then you’ve got it and it should appear as this image below. If not, you can redo the previous steps or try some other methods.

Now, what about this rel=me business? Fortunately, all 10 of my sites were verified (I’ll explain below) without even adding rel=me, so this tag still feels elusive and delivers some of the more varied explanations by the experts. (However, rel=me has been around for quite some time as an element of XFN, which is a solution for identity consolidation.) From the consensus, rel=me seems most important for people who contribute to websites but are not the sole contributors to the sites, or for active bloggers who post with the rel=me tag that points to their “About me” page which points to Google Profile page. Confused? Perfect, you must be paying attention.

The ?rel=me tag can be used from any article and ultimately points back to the Google Plus Profile even if indirectly. If you post an article on another site and have an “author bio” on that site, your post can contain a rel=author tag that links to your “author bio” page that links with rel=me back to your Google Plus Profile (as in <a rel=”me” href=”https://plus.google.com/117850331447734054313/”&gt;). Hence Google sees the connection has been made. Good for bloggers who write multiple posts pointing to their own “About me” page or writers who moonlight and have an “author bio” page at someone else’s site. Still confused? It’s okay; I was too. Support for this from Google can be found here – http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1229920.

Google has recently added an email version to verify for those of us who still don’t quite get it:

Sign in to your Google profile.

Click Edit profile.

On the right-hand side, click the Contributor to box, and add all the sites you write for.

Next, click the Work box.

Click the New contact info box (the last in the list, and type the email address you use for the sites you write for.

In the list to the left of the email address you just added, click Email.

Click Save, and then click Done editing.

Repeat for every email address you want to add.

On your profile, click Verify next to the email address you just added.

Once you’ve finished and also Verified Authorship Markup with the Rich Snippets Testing Tool, fill out this form to complete the procedure – https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dHdCLVRwcTlvOWFKQXhNbEgtbE10QVE6MQ&ndplr=1.

In my opinion, this could be a whole lot easier because Google has long perfected the method of verifying that we are webmasters of our sites by simply giving us a unique ID to insert in the site with either meta data or html code and then click the verify button at Webmaster Central. Boom, done, it proves we’re the webmaster. Couldn’t this be how they do our “Contributor To” option? Google could simply generate a long and unique ID number for our Google Plus “Contributor To” page. Then we could simply add that unique ID (or hyperlink to it for invisibility sake) to any article, blog post or website that we contribute to and tah-dah. If our “Contributor To” ID is unique, and since we’re the only ones who can Edit that section for adding the sites that we contribute to… then anywhere we put that ID and also add the site to our “Contributor List” would solve this problem. My solution is similar to what they’re doing, just with a few less steps involved, namely eliminating the need for both rel=author and rel=me. Hopefully this solution would also eliminate a lot of rel=wtf?

What are your thoughts?

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How to Pick Your Domain Name, Easy Homework Before the URL

Google Keywords, Keyword Tool External, SEO, SEO TipsArticle first published as How to Pick Your Domain Name on Technorati.

Before you run off and create any website or blog, take some quality time to research the domain name. You may want it to sound catchy, but it’s wise to simply convey aspects of you or your business. It helps dramatically with search engines if the words within the URL are related to search terms for someone looking for what you have to offer (e.g., solarbirdbath.com). That would help a bunch if someone wanted a solar-powered birdbath with a fountain and heated water, and so they went searching online by typing the phrase “solar birdbath.” It’s actually a term which gets typed into Google 22,200 times per month as of September of 2010. As for the plural of the phrase, “solar birdbaths,” that only gets searched 1,900 times a month in comparison, or about 9% as much. Based on this data, it would be smarter to name your site solarbirdbath.com than solarbirdbaths.com.

How do I know? By using Google Keyword Tool External. Keywords are essential for search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing to link your sites with certain words, terms and phrases. It’s best to add keywords to every site, blog, article and location that has boxes for them–keywords that describe the content of what your site is about. And, as shown above, you can even figure out ways to include keywords in your domain name.

The first step is to visit Google Keyword Tool External. There you can input phrases individually or altogether and get valuable feedback from Google on which search terms are used the most and how much competition exists from other advertisers. By comparing each of your terms plus the synonyms, or similar terms Google will automatically provide, it becomes clear which keywords should work the best over time.

Here’s a detailed example. I just wrote a book on how to make free websites and needed to choose the title and URL. By comparing extremely similar phrases like “create free website,” to “build free website” and “make free website,” Google told me that “make free website” was a more common search term than the others. I also learned that “website” is much more commonly searched than “site” and “blog.” Another revelation was that “your” was more commonly searched than “my” when mixed with these other phrases. I also wanted to include the word “own” because it implies ownership and only slightly reduced the number of searches per month. Turns out “your free website” gets searched 165,000 times per month while “your own free website” gets 110,000 searches. That’s a difference I can live with for a word that helps the title have more power for the consumer. Making sense?

In less than an hour I had narrowed my book title and website URL down to these possibilities:

Make your own free website
How to make your own free website
Your own free website

I checked the competition from other advertisers which is also included in the Keyword Tool results. It turns out when comparing “make your own free website” to “your own free website,” the second phrase had 50,000 more searches per month and less competition from other advertisers.

Then I checked name availability at both Godaddy and the websites where I wanted to create free examples for the book. Although this domain name was not available at Godaddy as a pure dot com, it was available at the venues to create my examples. And so I went ahead and registered it as yourownfreewebsite.webs.com and yourownfreewebsite.yolasite.com. (Know this; it doesn’t matter if you have a long domain name. People click links to visit sites so your domain can be long.)

Additionally I battled with whether to use dashes, underscores or nothing to separate the words in the URL. Should the site be called your-own-free-website, or your_own_free_website or simply yourownfreewebsite? All of the research indicated that Google would find my site just fine in any case since they have such a complex algorithm with over 200 variables for detecting keywords, so this really boils down to personal preference. In the end I liked it this way, your-own-free-website.com because I believe it’s the easiest way to read. Remember, you don’t have to use dashes or underscores for Google to find the keywords in a URL. For that site I spent a few bucks to have the custom domain name without the extra suffix, though for demonstration purposes I also created your-own-free-website.webs.com to show others not to worry about the extra suffix.

Finally, I wanted to name the book, How to Make Your Own Free Website. I went to Amazon and typed that exact phrase into a book search. I was delighted to see that no one had a book with that title. Surprisingly, there were very few titles even close to that, so I knew this would be a great name for people to find not only my website but my Amazon book as well. I included the subtitle for those who wanted more info on blogs, and the title became, How to Make Your Own Free Website: And Your Free Blog Too. This way my keywords are part of my URL address and my book title, and over time people will certainly find me with search engine terms.

If you have questions on domain names and your own URL options, just contact me through this website.

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Make Free Websites, Sell Ebooks Everywhere

It’s surprisingly easy to make free websites and sell ebooks. You can sell ebooks with PayPal buttons from your own free sites and blogs. You can sell ebooks from major retailers like Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple, Smashwords and more. You can sell ebooks from eBay and many other online vendors.

Guess what it costs you? Nothing, not one penny. You can even publish your physical book with CreateSpace at no cost. And you can sell ebooks and make lots of money.

It’s never been a better time to be an independent, self-published author. If you want to sell ebooks and do it all for free, just contact me or read my ebook on selling ebooks, How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free.

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I just love Google Alerts

Google Alerts are awesome. If someone wants to be notified about anything online that interests them, like your name, your ebook, your download page or a subject that appeals to you, Google will send an immediate notification of that as soon as it’s discovered. This usually happens within 24 hours of an online posting. It can be a blog entry, a forum comment, an article or a webpage. It’s an incredibly valuable tool and also free.

Here’s an alert I got this morning, and I was very grateful that some nice person posted this.

Or if someone is illegally sharing my ebooks or download page URL online, I can find out about that too.

For keeping up to date with anyone online who might be talking about you or a subject of your interest, Google Alerts are the way to know about it. And if you plan to sell ebooks, then it’s an absolute must.

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