How to Focus and Write: A Lesson from Meditation Practice by Rochelle Melander

file0002029876287I probably should have guessed that starting an online meditation program during spring break would be challenging. But I’d set aside Monday to finish up work, so I believed I could sneak in the meditation between tasks. I pressed play, and the dogs barked. I couldn’t hear a word, so I stopped until the teenager took the dogs for a walk. I tried again, and the tween walked in and asked for breakfast. I encouraged her to make it herself. I’d just gotten to the part where I was supposed to close my eyes and chant “ohm,” when my son walked into the room. He’s a big guy, and even with my eyes closed, I knew he was in the room.

“Yes, Sam?”

“Mom, can I just sit with you?” he asked.

Sweet, yes—but I was TRYING to meditate. And then I had work to do—a newsletter to write, a chapter to edit, and a bunch of emails to answer. Why did I feel anxious? I thought meditating would calm me down. My husband walked by the office, and seeing that the teen was already in there, he brought me some checks to sign.

I gave up.

On day two, my meditation didn’t go much better. I chose a quieter time but my brain kept jumping in with BIG ideas and tiny worries: book topics, house tasks, and items on my to-do list marched before me as I chanted the word of the day.

I go through the same routine when I write. Jot down a few sentences, worry about the emails and phone calls I haven’t returned, and piece together another sentence. Each time I turn back to the page, I win a small battle. Writers, remember: we gain the ability to focus on writing, just like we gain the ability to meditate by trying repeatedly. Every time we return our focus to the words or the breath, we’re building strength.

Remember Aristotle’s oft-quoted wisdom:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.

So here’s the tip for today: If you want to be something new, then act on it. If you want to meditate, then spend time paying attention to your breath. If you want to be a chef, cook. If you want to be a writer, write.

Don’t worry if it’s hard or if you have trouble paying attention. Just keep doing it.

Your thoughts? Add your comments, questions, and suggestions below!

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#WritersRead: Five Favorite Poetry Collections by JoAnn Early Macken

Write a Poem front coverREVDear Writers,

A few weeks ago, I blogged about How to Use Poetry to Transform Your Writing. But author and poet JoAnn Early Macken says it so much better in today’s post about her favorite poetry collections. Read the post, then go out and buy some of these books and read, read, read. Then you’ll see: your writing will explode with awesomeness!

By the way, JoAnn has written an amazing book on writing poetry, Write A Poem Step by Step. You can enter below to win a copy. Happy reading! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach


10lostmythnpm1#WritersRead: Five Favorite Poetry Collections by JoAnn Early Macken

What makes a poetry collection—or any book—a favorite? To qualify, I think, a book must hang around long enough to sink in. It must be one I’ve read several times, so my favorite poetry collections are not new, although plenty of newer ones have the potential to become favorites over time.

As I read individual poems, I pay attention to imagery, word choice, rhythm, rhyme, structure, theme, emotional impact, and so on. When I look at the big picture of an entire collection, I notice cumulative effects: one poem builds on another, intensifying its impact, creating a stronger whole.

What makes any book click with a reader is that it makes a connection. A favorite book can create a sense of recognition: This is what we have in common. It’s obvious from the content of Little Dog Poems that Kristine O’Connell George is a dog person. The little poems about a little dog (accompanied by adorable illustrations by June Otani) create that “Yes!” again and again. I use them in writing classes to illustrate brevity—each poem makes a clear, distinct point in only a few words. The poems also show enormous heart and an understanding of the relationship between a pet and its person. Here’s one example:


Little Dog hates keys

and purses

and suitcases

and backpacks—


all the things that mean




A favorite book might bring back fond memories. I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed the subtitle of Mary Ann Hoberman’s classic The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems. Well, of course! The jacket flap says the poems, “culled from more than forty years” (Wow!) “convey the experiences of childhood with a timeless freshness.” They certainly do! I’m continually impressed with Hoberman’s flawless rhythm and rhyme. Reading these poems is a joy! I remember when I bought this book. I brought it home and read all 100 poems to our two young sons in one sitting—and they sat still and listened. I remember snuggling on the couch. And I remember waking up the next morning thinking in verse. Any book that can do that is a companion for life. You can watch April Halprin Wayland, Jill Esbaum, and me reading “Counting-Out Rhyme” from this collection on YouTube.

A poetry collection can become a favorite simply because it’s fun to read. The poems in Words with Wrinkled Knees: Animal Poems by Barbara Juster Esbensen take a clever approach to animals by focusing on their names. The collection takes its title from the first poem, ELEPHANT. Here is an excerpt:

. . . This is a lumbering

gray word     the ears of it

are huge and flap like loose

wings     a word with

wrinkled knees and toes

like boxing gloves

Esbensen was a master of wordplay. I used her encouraging A Celebration of Bees: Helping Children to Write Poetry with our son’s third grade class and won the Barbara Juster Esbensen 2000 Poetry Teaching Award for the project. With the prize, I bought a copy of Words with Wrinkled Knees for each student. Some student poems found their way into Write a Poem Step by Step. I hope the students are still enjoying their books!

A good poetry collection, like a good poem, evokes an emotional response. It makes readers recognize themselves; it resonates. What makes it memorable is its ability to do that again and again. When I reread a favorite poetry collection, I find something new each time, partly because I’ve changed since I read it last.

The Introduction to the young adult anthology What Have You Lost? (Poems selected by Naomi Shihab Nye) says, “Maybe the reason we talk about our petty losses with such energy is that there are so many inevitable larger ones that can never be redeemed or reclaimed.” The poems in this collection are not about petty losses; they are eye opening, poignant, intimate, full of longing, sometimes heart wrenching. Personal details give them universal meaning and appeal. Every time I read this book, I add more sticky notes to mark more favorite poems.

A favorite book might commemorate a significant event that the reader shared and remembers. This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort (Poems selected by Georgia Heard) was compiled as a response to the horrific events of September 11, 2001. A Note from the Author explains, “I tried to choose poems that touch upon our feelings of fear and loss, remind us that we are not alone in despair, and assure us that dreams can be born even from tragedy.” The poems are touching, hopeful, relevant, positive, moving, and yes, comforting. Share this collection with people who are suffering. Read it to console yourself in difficult times. It helps.

So many wonderful poetry collections wait for you to explore. I’ve listed more of my favorites on my web site.  Lists of new poetry collections appear in “April is National Poetry Month” from the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book  and the Booksource Banter April 2014 newsletter. Check out these lists and find the titles that will become your favorites!

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JoAnn Early MackenAbout the author. JoAnn Early Macken is the author of Write a Poem Step by Step (Earlybird Press), 5 picture books, and more than 100 nonfiction books for young readers. Her poems appear in numerous magazines and anthologies. JoAnn earned her M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has taught writing at four Wisconsin colleges, and she speaks about poetry and writing to students, teachers, and adult writers at schools, libraries, and conferences. She is celebrating National Poetry Month on her web site at and at

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Writers@Work: 7 Ways to Build a Business Around Your Book by Nina Amir

Dear Writers,

I’m delighted to welcome my colleague Nina Amir to the blog to talk about how you can make money by creating a business around your book!


Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach


ATMcover 399 for web7 Ways to Build a Business Around Your Book by Nina Amir

Despite the popular stories of indie authors making a killing with Kindle books or as authors, in general, typically the income most authors receive from book sales isn’t enough to pay their bills.

According to the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, which was based on responses from more than 9,000 aspiring and seasoned authors, just over 77 percent of self-published writers make $1,000 or less a year, An extremely high 53.9 percent of traditionally-published authors, and 43.6 percent of hybrid authors reported their earnings below that threshold. Only 0.7 percent of self-published writers, 1.3 percent of traditionally-published, and 5.7 percent of hybrid writers reported making more than $100,000 a year from their writing.

So how do, or can, authors earn a living? They build businesses around their books, or they write more books. Or they do both.

Use Your Book as the Cornerstone of a Business

Many authors today choose to build businesses around their book or books. To do so requires using your published work as the cornerstone of what the products and services you choose to offer.

If this sounds like an appealing solution to you, start with a brainstorming session. Ask yourself:

  • What do I write about?
  • Am I an expert on a particular topic?
  • Am I a thought leader in an industry?
  • Are all my books on a particular theme or do they take place in a particular place or time period, thus making me an authority them?
  • Have I done any branding around my books so I am now known “for” something or “as” something, like a knitting or travel author or a business expert?

While nonfiction writers may find this exercise easier to complete, it is possible for novelists to build a business around books as well. If you write fiction, be creative. You might want to cross over into nonfiction and create an area of expertise related to the themes and subjects in your novel. Then you can offer similar products and services to those offered by nonfiction authors. No matter what you write, take your expertise and put it to use.

Products and Services for Authors to Offer

Next, consider the different types of products or services you might offer that relate both to your books and to your expertise. Here are six ways you can build a business around your book:

1. Teleseminars and webinars: Use these online teaching methods to reach potential readers, customers and clients all over the world, and charge people to attend. Or offer them for free (to build your mailing list), and then sell the recordings from your website as products.

2. Classes or courses: You can offer to teach in person, but you also can teach online, again expanding your reach. Once you have taught a series of classes online using teleseminars or webinar technology and recorded them, you can then sell these as a home-study program or as a pre-recorded class. You can even add a live coaching option if you like. In all cases, you repurpose your work and earn more money. Additionally, if you plan out the teleseminars or webinars you offer (suggestion #1), you can create an online course out of these and later sell it from your website.

3. Coaching or consulting services: If you are an expert or authority on any topic, you can offer group coaching or one-on-one coaching. Many people call this their “rent-my-brain” service.

4. Membership sites: Private, members-only sites are one of the best ways to monetize an author’s knowledge. All you need is a blog and a plugin to make it work, and many such plugins and services exist. For instance, if you use for your blog, you can then use Membermouse, Wishlist, Digital Access Pass, or Magic Members to put your content “behind closed doors” for only those who agree to pay a monthly or yearly fee to access it.

5. Speeches or talks: Depending upon your subject matter, you may be able to get a sizeable paycheck to speak on your topic. Many authors are speakers and spend a good bit of their time at the lectern.

6. Short ebooks, white papers, guides, or reports: If you write fast, you can churn out short works, which are more and more popular these days, and sell them on Amazon. They will build your brand and your expert status as well as your wallet. Couple them with a teleseminars or webinar to increase the price.


Write More Books

If you don’t have a desire to build a business, or you are a novelist, writing more books may be the easiest way to increase yearly income. Over and over again I hear how writing more books helps authors sell more books. Speaking on a panel at IBPA’s Publishing University, Brooke Warner of She Writes Press said, “Profitability happens at book three.” In many cases, profitable hybrid authors, those who choose to use both traditional and indie publishing methods, tend to have about 12 published titles to their names. However, those 12 books can create a business for an author as well. They can make you an expert on your topic, thus leading to speaking or coaching, for example. Plus, remember that if you choose to self-publish, you start a publishing company for the sole purpose of producing your books. That, in and of itself, is a business built around your books.

Have a Plan

To ensure you have a profitable career as an author, do some early planning. When you decide to write your first book, produce a business plan for your book. As part of that plan, map out the follow-up books you want to write and the business you might build around them. Also consider how you might publish all those books. Then follow your plan. In this way, you can create a profitable career as an author.


New Headshot Nina Amir tight tiltedAbout the Author. Nina Amir, author of the bestselling How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time (Writers Digest Books) and The Author Training Manual: Develop Marketable Ideas, Craft Books That Sell, Become the Author Publishers Want, and Self-Publish Effectively (Writers Digest Books), transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, authorpreneurs and blogpreneurs. Known as the Inspiration to Creation Coach, she moves her clients from ideas to finished books as well as to careers as authors by helping them combine their passion and purpose so they create products that positively and meaningfully impact the world. A sought-after author, book, blog-to-book, and results coach, some of Nina’s clients have sold 300,000+ copies of their books, landed deals with major publishing houses and created thriving businesses around their books. She writes four blogs, self-published 12 books and founded National Nonfiction Writing Month.

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No One Cares About Your Book by Elizabeth Cole


Today, I’m thrilled to welcome author Elizabeth Cole to the blog. She’s known for her engaging regency novellas and her smart approach to indie publishing. Today’s she’s talking about something that none of us want to admit: no one cares about our books as much as we do. But read on. There’s good news here!


Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach


ARSNo One Cares About Your Book by Elizabeth Cole

I’ve been on the independent publishing track for almost two years now. After publishing four novellas and three romance novels, I’ve learned a few things. The most important one is this: no one cares about your book as much as you do.

But wait! It’s not the end of the world. Read on…

No one cares about your book as much as you do…while you write it.

So you’re writing a book. Yay. Woop woop. Everyone and their poodle is writing a book, at least according to my Twitter feed. So what does that mean? It means no one is interested in your process, your progress, or your internal struggle. And that’s great! The writing process should be largely private. This is the only time in the book’s life when you’ll be completely free. So dig down and really make it your book. Don’t worry if things aren’t perfect. That’s what editing is for. Use this time to try new things, explore your reasons for telling the story in the way you do. For example, I’m not crazy about overly cutsey romances where the heroine is perfect all the time, so just I finished writing a historical romance in which the heroine gets sick all over the hero…more than once…and it still ends happily! I might not have written that that way if I was worried about what an agent or publisher might think. Luckily, no one cares.


No one cares about your book as much as you do…during production.

After writing a book, there are tons of pesky steps required to actually publish it. Editing, proofreading, marketing, design…basically, everything that is essential to creating a stellar product. While I absolutely think that one should hire professionals to do these tasks, the author must maintain creative control of the book, and demand the best work possible. Don’t ever settle for an OK job. Whether it’s cover design, typography, editing, or whatever, remember you know your book best. Details matter! If the title doesn’t look right at thumbnail size, tell your designer to try something else. When I started publishing historical romances, I was dissatisfied with the quality of stock photography available. So I commissioned a photo shoot to ensure my books would have the right-looking models in period appropriate costumes, and the final image conveyed the right mood for the story. Respect the professionals you hire, but don’t capitulate if the work isn’t to your satisfaction. You are the one who cares most, and has the most to lose.


No one cares about your book as much as you do…on launch day.

This can be hard for authors to accept. Your big launch day comes, you tweet excitedly, get a few congratulatory comments, and…that’s it. No balloons, no cake (unless you bake it yourself). The plain fact is that your book coming out is just not that important to anyone. People have lives to live! Unless you wrote a book about curing cancer, chances are that no one really NEEDS your book the first day. So understand that marketing any book is an ongoing process. Try new things, pay attention to sales rates, bumps, and trends. If you’re writing a series, work on the next one while marketing the existing ones. Build relationships. Don’t expect readers to come running unless you offer something in return.


No one cares about your book…until they read it.

Any reader has millions of options when it comes to what book to read next. You’re extraordinarily lucky if they choose to read yours! Congratulate yourself on a job well done if you’ve managed to get your story into the hands of a reader. And right after you do that…say goodbye to your story. Because guess what? Once a reader reads your book, it’s not just yours anymore. Each reader brings their own imagination, background, and unique interpretation to all those words. The story bends and warps a little bit each time it gets read. It’s a wonderful process. You find out what worked and what didn’t. You become a better writer. Ideally, readers will find you and say “More, please!” And so you write another book…just remember that no one cares about it as much as you do.

Not that you care, but my newest book came out this month. A Reckless Soul features romance, spies, betrayal, poison, and more…all set against the backdrop of early Regency England. Think James Bond meets Jane Austen. Find out more right here.


1bwAbout the Author. Elizabeth Cole writes historical romance. She can be found hanging around museums, coffeeshops, and (occasionally) graveyards. She believes in love at first sight. Then again, she also believes that mac ‘n’ cheese is a healthy breakfast, so don’t trust her judgment on everything.

In addition to her sweet Regency novellas, Elizabeth is currently writing the SECRETS OF THE ZODIAC, a series of steamy, romantic spy thrillers also set in the Regency period.

Elizabeth loves hearing from readers, because otherwise she starts taking the cat’s advice a little too seriously. Connect with her and sign up to get early alerts for new titles at her website.

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Five Simple Tools for Taming Monkey Mind and Writing More by Rochelle Melander

Writing is not a matter of time, but a matter or of space. If you don’t keep space in your head for writing, you won’t write even if you have the time. ― Katerina Stoykova Klemer

spinning-wheel-macFor weeks before the spinning beach ball of death took control of my computer, locking me out from everything, it made several short appearances. My computer repeatedly warned me: “Your startup disk is full. You need to make more space available on your startup disk by deleting files.” I moved files to an external hard drive and deleted unused programs. But, I might as well have been trying to empty the ocean with a bucket.

In the midst of one late-night moving session, my computer said something like, “I don’t have the space to do this but, if you want to do it, I’ll keep trying.” And so it did, until I hired a tech guy to make it stop. My computer guy let me in on a secret: your computer needs to have 15-20% of its space free to operate. So when it’s stuffed with words, programs, and photos—it gets stuck.

That got me thinking about my writing brain. I write first thing in the morning, before I’ve checked email, but my brain isn’t just sitting there, waiting to spout out brilliant scenes. Instead, the thoughts wind around the hamster wheel in my head: What do I need to sign for the kids? Is my lunch date still on? When do I see clients? I hope I can get the editing done today. What else did I say I’d do? I should check Facebook. Before I know it, I have monkey mind. You know how it goes. I don’t have enough free space in there to focus on reading a book let alone writing one.

You might be thinking, “Well that’s just how it is!” No, it’s not. Here are some signs that your brain might be on overload:

+Forgetting deadlines & appointments

+Feeling agitated while relaxing (I should be doing something)

+Difficulty concentrating on writing or other projects

+Rapidly hopping from idea to task and back again

+Feeling exhausted or being unproductive at your most productive times of day

So what’s the solution? We can buy a big old external hard drive for our computer and offload some of our information stash onto that. But we cannot buy more brain space. When your brain’s start up disk is full (and whose isn’t full?), don’t wait until you crash—get sick or have a full-blown meltdown.

Here’s how to take care of your brain and write more:

1. Take balcony time. Schedule a day in the balcony to take a birds eye view of your life, schedule and to do list: what’s filling up your startup disk? There’s a great computer program called Grand Perspective that maps a computer’s hard drive so that users know what programs are taking up the most space. I wish I had that for my life!

2. Complete unfinished business. Schedule a chunk of time to wrap up unfinished business—all that stuff you’ve been meaning to do that you never get around to that haunts you in the middle of the night and when you should be writing. You know, your annual physical, your eye check up, writing a thank you note to your aunt, and paying that parking ticket. After the big clean up, create a regular day each month to deal with this stuff.

3. Schedule wrap up and planning time. Schedule time at the end of each writing and work session to wrap up projects. If possible, create a to-do list for the next day so that you don’t have to remember what you plan to do. Also, make a note about what you plan to write about during your next session, so that your subconscious can do the work for you!

4. Keep an idea file. While you’re working, keep a file or notepad open to jot down all the tasks and worries that show up while you are trying to write.

5. Take time off. Schedule down time. You need rest, relaxation and repetitive tasks to give your brain time to heal and your subconscious a chance to work.

Your turn: What do you do to deal with your spinning brain? Leave a comment below.





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Writers@Work: How to Break Into Travel Writing by Kristine Hansen

Hello writers,

I’m delighted to welcome colleague and fellow writing teacher Kristine Hansen to the blog to talk about breaking into travel writing. If you like what she has to say, check out her bio—she’s offering a travel writing class this spring! -Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

file000359904823Writers@Work: How to Break Into Travel Writing by Kristine Hansen

At least once a week, I get asked the question: “How did you get into that?” That is travel writing, a seemingly luxurious job of flitting around the world eating meals in palaces and lounging on beaches. While it’s true this does constitute part of my job (why, yes, I’ve eaten lunch at a palace in Abu Dhabi, and walked dozens of Caribbean beaches), it’s not always a cakewalk. On days I am not traveling, I am marketing my skills as a writer and developing strong story pitches. I spend more time securing the assignments than I do planning my trips.

Here are three tips to launch a career in travel writing. First, forget the notion that you are a newbie. While you may not have a thick stack of travel clips attached to your name, life experience can trump all of that, along with solid writing and the ability to package a story idea. I help dozens of writers each year realize their publishing dreams and have seen that anything is possible. One of my students, with only a few writing clips about travel, sold a book on budget travel to a major publisher’s series. Traveling on a budget had been her life – and who better to be an expert? Another of my students pitched her dream pub – Islands  – and was shocked to soon be in an email dialogue with the editor about what her first story would be.

Start Local. Even as a widely published travel writer I have greater success pitching stories about my own backyard, which is Wisconsin, and the greater Midwest, including large cities like Chicago. The reason is that most editors are based along the East Coast or have their radars set on popular tourist destinations. The Midwest, and other rural or lesser-known pockets scattered across the U.S., are an intriguing mystery. Even if you live in a large city, propose a story off the beaten path, such as Los Angeles’ best taco dives or Miami’s best designer-vintage boutiques. Besides, who knows your region better than you, a person who resides within? Realizing that the competition to write a story about the area where you live is less fierce, it’s a win-win for your first published travel article.

Start a Blog. Although the business of travel writing is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, as your pitches are reviewed, there is one task you can start today. Launch a blog using free platforms like,, and While you’re at it, set up a Facebook page and give yourself a moniker, like Spa Gal or Budget Betty. Dig deep into your vacation memories and I bet you’ll soon have a dozen ideas for posts. Don’t forget about the allure of travel stories that are not destination-based. What are the best travel apps? How can you easily cram six pairs of dress shoes into a carry-on bag? What is it like traveling solo with two small kids? These stories are important too.

Read, Read, Read. Those glossy magazines you ooh and aah over, with photo spreads of overwater bungalows in Bora Bora and lavender fields in France? Or the slideshows you click through while you are supposed to be working? Give yourself permission to start spending more time with those publications and websites. Figure out what stories are not being told but still fit in with the coverage. Study the ads. Who are these ads targeting – men or women? Families or senior citizens? Fashionistas or hikers? The key to a good pitch is identifying the area of the magazine or website where it will appear. Otherwise, it’s an open-ended question that is difficult for the editor to answer. Where exactly will your story publish? And what tone will it adopt? If you can point to a previously published story that the editor worked on, stating how yours will be similar but different (and how), the editor will love you.

Your turn: What questions do you have for Kristine about travel writing?

DSC_0064About the author. Writing for markets that include TIME Magazine, Fodor’s Travel blog, American Airlines’ inflight magazine, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons and Wine Enthusiast, Kristine Hansen gets to dive deeper into her passions. As a writing coach and teacher, she offers online travel-writing classes with plenty of one-on-one support. Her next class is Virtual Spring Break (April 21-25) with sign-up details on her website (

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How to Use Poetry to Transform Your Writing By Rochelle Melander


Concrete Poem by Dream Keeper Marcia Olson

Concrete Poem by Dream Keeper Marcia Olson

Always be a poet, even in prose. —Charles Baudelaire

Nearly every week, I teach poetry writing to children at the library. When they hear what we’re going to do, many panic: I can’t do that! I don’t know how to rhyme! And my favorite, But I don’t love anyone like that!

Last fall, I read a favorite poem to the group while they colored. When I finished, a 2nd-grade boy said to me, “Wait, I thought you were going to read a poem.”

“I just did.”

“That was a poem?”


“That was good!”

“You sound surprised.”

“Can you read it again?”

I read it three more times. Afterwards, we wrote poems together.

Reading and writing poetry improves all writing. Poetry teaches us to pay attention to what’s happening in the world and how we describe it. We don’t have to be poets to use poetic tools to polish our storytelling. Here are three ways you can use poetic techniques to enrich your writing:

1. Add an image. Poets use images to help readers experience what’s happening in the poem. With metaphors, similes, sense words, and more, poets paint pictures for readers.

Your turn: Take one concept in your current work in progress. Instead of telling the reader about it, use an image to describe it.

2. Listen for music. Poets listen for the rhythm of language. When they construct a line, they place rhymes, repeat sounds, and count the beats of each word.

Your turn: Read your current piece aloud. How does it sound? Would adding internal rhyme, alliteration, or a different word improve how it sounds?

3. Say it shorter. Poets describe the universe with just a few perfect words. Sometimes, they offer us only a glimpse into their world. But because they use juicy words, it’s enough.

Your turn: Take a long sentence—25 words or more—and see if you can improve it by writing shorter.

Pro Tip: Reading poetry—even if you don’t understand it—will help you write better. If you’re a newbie, try one of these collections:

Poems to Learn By Heart edited by Caroline Kennedy. I picked up this delightful collection of children’s poetry at the library. Even if you don’t have a child in your life, read it aloud!

Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems edited by Roger Housden. This collection of poems from 69 poets offers a rich vision of what it means to experience joy.

Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan. If you can’t focus on a long poem, try reading haiku. These short, pithy poems help readers practice mindfulness. In this collection, Donegan reflects on each poem and provides a biography of the author.

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Make Numbers Come Alive by Laura Laing

True confession: I have a huge math phobia. My dad’s a math professor, but no matter how he explained complicated concepts, it didn’t make sense to me. In college, I finally got interested in math when a teacher talked about in relation to practical matters. Suddenly math wasn’t about how fast the trains were going but how to figure out our earning potential or plan a road trip. Cool! When I heard about Laura Laing’s new book, Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money, I got excited: finally a book that talks about why math matters to writers. Yeah! So read on to learn how you can use numbers to tell a better story and then enter to win a signed copy of Laura’s new book! -Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach


Math-for-WritersMake Numbers Come Alive By Laura Laing

This is an excerpt from Laura Laing’s Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money. In this section from chapter 1, Laura explains how writers can get creative with numbers, while helping readers better understand their significance.

Think for a moment about how you read news stories, like this totally made up one:

By the end of its first year, Jumpin’ Jack’s Pizza Joint had served 27,400 patrons, thanks to its premier location on The Boulevard.

Be honest. Did you read it this way?

By the end of its first year, Jumpin’ Jack’s Pizza Joint had served blah-blah patrons, thanks to its premier location on The Boulevard.

If so, you’re not alone. Raw data doesn’t always further the story. See, as writers, we’re paid to clarify the information, not just dump numbers in just the way the source gives ’em to us.

Fact is, most people do not have a spot-on understanding of really large or really small numbers. You can count on your readers appreciating a few simple calculations that can help show the importance of the data—not just tell it straight out.

Jack has served 27,400 customers in his first year at his new location. That’s a lot of people—but what does it mean?

You can express this value in a variety of different ways.

Approximately 2,740 10-top tables

If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant business, you know that a 10-top is a table that seats 10 people. (A 2-top seats 2 people, a 4-top seats 4, and so on, and so on.) The math here is pretty darned simple: just divide 27,400 by 10 to get 2,740 10-top tables.

About 75 customers every single day, including weekends and holidays

This little translation is a bit less creative, but pretty powerful. The math is super easy. Just divide the number of customers by the number of days in a year:

27,400 ÷ 365 ≈ 75.07

A part of a person won’t order pizza, so round down to 75.

While this is a really practical number, the writing can create even more of a picture.

On average 75 customers place an order at Jumpin’ Jack’s Pizza Joint every single day of the year.

Close to a 10-mile-long, single-file line

For really visual readers, offering a vivid image is a great way to make sure that numbers hit their mark. Be sure, though, that what you’re offering makes sense to the story.

In this case, getting in line for really good pizza is realistic. So why not think about how long the line would be if all of the customers queued up?

This is where a little creativity is necessary.  Research by social scientists shows that our preferred personal space with friends is 1.5 to 4 feet. When around strangers, we may want much more than a 4-foot bubble. But standing in a single-file line means being a little more up-close-and-personal than that. So, it makes sense that most people are probably going to stand about 2 feet from each other. In other words, for every 1 person in line, the line will be 2 feet long.

Then I looked up the number of feet in a mile (5,280) and divided by 2. Why 2? Because I wanted to know how many 2-foot segments would fit into 1 mile.

5,280 ÷ 2 = 2,640

What this means, in essence, is that a single-file line of 2,640 people is 1 mile long. So how many miles is a single-file line of 27,400 people? Divide again.

27,400 ÷ 2,640 ≈ 10.38

Yep, if you lined up 27,400 people, single file, giving each of them a 2-foot space to stand in, you’d have a line more than 10 miles long.

If Jumpin’ Jack’s has been dealing with long lines, this way of describing the numbers furthers the story:

For months, Jack has been managing long lines of customers waiting to be served or to place take-out orders. In fact if all of his customers lined up, single-file, by the end of the first year this line would be more than 10 miles long—or the distance from his current location to the new one.

See what I’ve done there? The line metaphor works great, because it brings in another aspect to the story—that the new location is so busy, lines form outside regularly. For local readers, the metaphor is made even more meaningful by giving it some geographical context.

A word of warning: when you get creative, you run the risk of distorting the numbers—and misleading the readers. For example, if I decided that each person in a single-file line needed 5 feet of personal space, the imaginary line for pizza would be 25 miles long. But that’s not really an accurate representation, is it? A little bit of research pointed me to a 2-foot bubble for each person in line—a much better estimation.

But although the just-right comparison can work well, the less-than-perfect comparison often falls flat and adds yet more confusion to what may be an already difficult story. As the writer, you should include the most effective analogies in your story. Test your idea on a friend or family member to see if it makes sense. Your editor’s feedback may help you refine this illustration. Or you may need to push back, if your editor wants to change your comparison to something misleading or difficult to understand. If you go this route:

  1. Make sure the image fits the story.
  2. Make sure your readers can picture the references.
  3. Avoid cliché images, like dollar bills placed end to end.
  4. Don’t add even more numbers with the image.
  5. Don’t repeat and image, like 23 football fields placed end to end. It’s hard enough for a person to imagine the size of a football field. But to imagine 23 fields? That’s asking too much of your readers.

Try it out. Some of your ideas will work, others won’t. Get creative with the comparisons and then do the math.

Your turn: Ask the author. What questions do you have about using math in your writing?

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Laura Laing bw headshotAbout the author. Laura Laing is a freelance writer and the author of Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money. Visit her website to check out her full virtual book tour and sign up for a free, live teleseminar just for writers who need math:


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Don’t be a Fool! Avoid these Social Media Blunders by Rochelle Melander

file000985612072Fools talk, cowards are silent, wise men listen. —Carlos Ruiz Zaffón

Nearly every day, I see writers commit one of these foolish mistakes on multiple social media sites. But you don’t have to be one of them. Follow my advice and become a writer with social media savvy!

Foolish Mistake #1: Make it all about you. I see many writers using their social media feeds solely to promote their work. Every single post shouts their successes: publishing deals, book awards, blog posts, and more. Some will say, “Well, that’s okay on Twitter and LinkedIn, just not on Facebook.” I disagree. If LinkedIn is like a giant networking event, Twitter is like a huge block party, and Facebook is a reunion with people from all parts of your life, how do you want to show up? Do you want to be the person who shouts about how great they are and shoves examples of their work at others? Probably not.

Wise Tips
+Look at your social media pages. How many of your last 20 posts were about you or your work? If your content ratio (posts about you to posts about others) favors you, work on shifting it. There’s no hard rule for the perfect ratio, but as a reader, I prefer at least 5 to 1: five posts about others for every self-promotional post.
+ Think about your online persona as an extension of you. Look at your last 20 posts and ask, “How do I present myself? What do these posts say about me?” If you don’t like what you see, change it. Let your posts reflect the best of you.

Foolish Mistake #2: Ignore other writers. I’ve noticed that some writers act a bit like big corporations. They’re happy to post about themselves, but they rarely interact with others. They don’t acknowledge the success of their peers, repost the work of other writers, or interact. Sometimes writers take this approach simply because they’re busy: relating to others takes time. I hear you. But remember: social media is mostly about connecting. Writers who succeed interact well with others.

Wise Tips
Review your social media activity over the last few weeks. Get a sense of the numbers:
+What platforms are you interacting on?
+How many people do you interact with?
+In what ways are you interacting?
+Are others interacting with you?
If your review turns up a less-than-positive view of your interactions, don’t despair. Try this:
+On Facebook, wish everyone a happy birthday. Use the LIKE button, offer supportive comments, and reshare (with credit) helpful tips.
+On LinkedIn, congratulate people for their successes and promotions. Comment on their content-oriented posts.
+On Twitter, retweet! Ask questions. Invite dialogue.

Foolish Mistake #3: Connect solely to promote. It used to surprise me: I’d get a connection request from a stranger and within 24 hours of accepting, I’d receive an offer to buy their book, use their brand new book marketing or publishing service, or promote their work on my blog. Now I’m used to it—and sick of it. I’m cynical—when someone connects with me on social media, my first thought is: what do they want? In these days of extreme platform anxiety, we might feel pressure to connect quickly with LOTS of people. Instead, take a deep breath and slow down.

Wise Tip
A single real connection is better than hundreds of “kind of” connections. Instead of trying to build a huge list of connections, join a few groups (online and offline) where you can build relationships with others. Help connections promote their work. Then when you do have something to promote, they’ll be happy to help you, too.

A final word. I’m trying to remember that we’re all doing the best we can. We’re human. Social media changes daily. We’re going to make foolish mistakes. (Accept it, forgive, and move on!) As writers, the best social media strategies are individual and flexible. What works today may not work in a few weeks. It helps to review and revise your plan frequently!

Your turn: What’s your social media pet peeve?

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#WritersRead: The Five Books that Most Shaped My Writing by Nancy Levin

I’m thrilled to welcome Nancy Levin to the blog. She’s here to talk about the books that have shaped her writing—and it’s a delicious list! We’re also celebrating with her the release of her wonderful new book: Jump…and Your Life Will Appear. After you read the post, enter to win a signed copy of the book! -Rochelle, The Write Now! Coach


21422671Writers Read: The 5 Books That Most Shaped My Writing by Nancy Levin

So, after nearly two years of pouring my soul into my new book, Jump…And Your Life Will Appear: An Inch-by-Inch Guide To Making A Major Change it is finally here – and landing in people’s hands and hearts.

When I received my very first copy the other day, I never expected to sit right down and read it. The whole thing. Cover to cover. In one sitting. Upon closing it, I burst into tears. It was crystal clear to me that everything I had experienced in my life led me to this very moment. I saw both the chaotic, messy backside of my tapestry with all the strings hanging off and I saw the intricate, elaborate front, showcasing my artful integration. And for the first time ever, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It’s true what my dear friend and mentor Debbie Ford said, “Everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is in divine order for you soul’s evolution.”

As I was reading the final book, I also noticed things I wanted to edit. Not your average typo, but concepts and insights. And yet, I knew that if I read this book every day, I’d want to keep making changes to it. Because every day I am making changes to me.

So instead I had to make peace with this book being out in the world exactly as it is–just like I am–not easy for a recovering Type A-perfectionist. And then I started to think of it as a photograph—a snapshot of me at a specific time. And evolving, still.

This is precisely why I love memoir and poetry. The ability to capture a specific period or moment in time. Stacked up beside me, these are the books–the companions and confidants–always near me when i write.

Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser: Elizabeth’s unbridled honesty about the choices she made in times of challenge and transition captivated my heart. Her courage to rise again gave way to mine. Brave.

Devotion by Dani Shapiro: I love the way this book moves back and forth in time as an archeological dig through Dani’s past and how it informs her present. Magnificent.

Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty: A masterful memoir by a poet, what could be more mesmerizing, as Mark holds us close witness the death of his lover from AIDS. An intimate and gorgeous book like no other.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: A spotlight on an accelerated period in the life of one of the most extraordinary writers of our time. Not to be missed. This book still haunts me. It became a one-woman show on Broadway with Vanessa Redgrave. Brilliant and breathtaking.

The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford: Using herself as a model, Debbie shows us how our own dark underbelly can emerge transformed in the light and how our quest to return to wholeness begins with embracing the parts of us we have previously disowned. Raw and courageous.

*Bonus – What The Living Do by Marie Howe: Her searing poetry, specific and particular, bares all…love, grief, truth. Each piece, a gem.

Your turn: Ask Nancy Levin a question or share your favorite inspirational guide!


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Nancy-6314aAbout the author. Nancy Levin, author of Jump … And Your Life Will Appear and Writing For My Life, is a Certified Integrative Coach through The Ford Institute For Transformational Training. Since 2002, she’s been the Event Director at Hay House, Inc. producing experiential events and innovative conferences, focusing on self-empowerment, health and spirituality, while weaving in her own story and poems to connect with audiences around the world during keynotes, workshops and seminars. When she’s not on an airplane, Nancy lives in Boulder, Colorado where she received her MFA from Naropa University. You can visit her online at Visit her on Twitter and Facebook.





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