Listen to the Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach podcast
I want you to reach your writing goals, and I believe you’ll make significant progress (and have fun!) by being more curious, creative, and productive. These writing podcast episodes offer practical tips and motivation for writers at all stages. I keep episodes short and focused so writers only need a few minutes to collect ideas, inspiration, resources, and recommendations to apply to their work. Tune in for solutions addressing anything from self-editing and goal-setting solutions to administrative and scheduling challenges. Subscribe (see below) for ongoing input for your writing life that’s efficient and encouraging.
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Excellence doesn’t usually spill out of an untrained, undisciplined, inexperienced artist, so we have to find ways to grow as a writer. One way is to surround ourselves with excellence. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [8:00]
In poetry, you’ll find freedom from some of the mechanics expected in prose; in poetry, you’ll find fresh phrasings that throw your brain off its expected track and into novel ways of thinking and imagining. This can happen when you read a poem, but it works best when you take it to heart. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:06]
We are not impervious to the pain of a rejection, nor should we be. We will open that email and feel the wave of nausea. You have every reason to react in whatever honest, human way you need to. My hope is you’ll find a way to feel without ending up paralyzed—you’ll figure out how to bounce back after an editor turns you down. I recommend a Rejection Ritual. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:01]
When you know in advance that you will receive rejections, you can deal with them a least a little more rationally. Knowledge of the inevitable won’t make the rejections any easier, but at least they won’t take you by surprise. The only way to avoid rejection completely is to stuff your work in a drawer or let it languish in a digital file, and never, ever send it out. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:20]
If you leave in comma splices, industry professionals may wonder how many other ways your manuscript will stray from The Chicago Manual of Style guidelines—it might be a red flag to a conservative editor. Why risk a negative response to your work when you have so many other ways of constructing a sentence? For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [4:56]
In the example “Let’s eat, Grandpa,” the surrounding sentences will help us understand that this is not a story about cannibalism. But to avoid giggles and possible confusion—or horror—it’s best to include the direct address comma whenever and wherever it’s needed. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [3:49]
Whoever you turn to for input, make sure the person you’re working with knows how to dig into edits in the right order: from high-level edits to copyediting, line editing, and proofreading. And remember to do this yourself. With this approach, you’ll take your writing to the next level. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:56]
Let’s divert our creative energy to tackling the big-picture edits first. That way, we’ll avoid wasting time obsessing about commas that may disappear completely when we restructure paragraphs and pages. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:15]
If you’ve been around the world of words a while, you know the tension, the arguments, the passion associated with this tiny punctuation mark used—or not used—in the specific scenario of a series. Why care about this or any comma? Because our writing choices—even the smallest ones—really do matter. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:48]
I urge you to do what I failed to do: write several articles or blog posts and store them up—better yet, prep and schedule them—so you’ll have content for the weeks you head off on vacation, catch the flu, or volunteer to serve at a four-day tournament. If you don’t, you’ll end up like me and have no choice but to recycle something from the archives or simply take the week off. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:44]
Don’t let perfectionism hold your words hostage when you’re working on that first draft. Let it all out. As Jane Smiley would say, it’s perfect for what it is: the first draft. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:00]
Don’t be afraid of the work. Look at it, and look at it again, to see what’s working and what’s not. With revision, you’ll find the best way to say it. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:15]
Faithfully showing up today, tomorrow, and the next day and the next week and the next month and the next year to write and share what’s written . . . is never, ever a waste of time. It is, instead, worth every minute, and gives you a life worth living. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:14]
Don’t try to speed up the process too much. During this era, you’re growing your audience and, more importantly, you’re growing as a writer. One day you’ll publish something for a larger venue with a larger audience. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [4:48]
Consider some of the areas you’d like to grow in first, and then find online courses, books, articles, webinars, and podcasts created to address those key skill sets. Work through them, over time, as a self-study program custom-made for you, and by you. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:00]
Start having fun and get creative on just one social media outlet. Experiment. Jot a few ideas for a short story. Write a line of poetry. Think about a mini-essay you could compose. Here’s your chance to get ahead of the curve. Here’s how you can impact readers right now. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:46]
If you’re new to social media, learn the basics of setting up a profile at the places you think your reader will be—and places you think you’ll enjoy. And for now, that’s enough. You’re simply positioning yourself for phase two. And by all means, continue engaging with people in the places you already enjoy and understand. That’s why they call it social media. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:00]
Small investments over time pay off when it comes to platform-building. Now is the time to get started, so you can experiment, adjust, try new things, and watch it grow. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:00]
I think publishers—and maybe people in general—do expect writers to speak because it’s a tremendous opportunity to connect with people who care about your topic or story. I think any writer building a platform should—whether asked or not—consider looking for ways to speak, including taking advantage of all the technology available to record and distribute our messages. Give it a try. As you grow more confident and keep trying, you may find you have a powerful new outlet to share your words—your message—spoken. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:55]
A quick definition of platform is, according to Chip MacGregor, simply the number of people you can reach with your words. “Add up the audiences for all the ways in which you reach out, he says, and that’s your platform.” You can’t have too much social media presence, so keep writing and keep connecting to build your writing platform. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:06]
Look ahead and make those plans for the year. Tackle something new. Look for projects and activities that will move you closer to becoming the writer you’ve always imagined. Just make sure that the plan is sustainable and that you, as a writer, are sustained. That’s when you’ll deliver to the world material that breathes life into the reader. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:48]
Ep 81: A Gift of Writing
When our writing is sent out to the world, it’s usually enjoyed by one reader at a time, so in a way, all of our writing is for individuals. What I mean here is you can sit down and write for someone in particular—an individual who will be the only intended recipient of a given project. If you write a gift of words specifically for and to them, you’re sending a powerful present. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [3:56]
Ep 80: Your Writing as a Gift
View your work as a gift to the world—as a bridge built to create connection or a door opened wide through which others might pass. Pour your heart into it, knowing you might make a difference in someone’s life. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:28]
You’ll start to visualize your Who when you move through the questions in this post. Next time you write something, bring that person to mind—your Who. And believe that your Who is going to love what you have to say and the way you say it. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:28]
As you compose these scenes from your past, you’ll learn from them. Future readers may, as well, if these end up as essays or poems that could be submitted, but that’s not the main reason to undertake this project. It’s about mining for material in your own mind. And none of these ever needs to be published. They are first and foremost for your own personal growth. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:49]
When you don’t know what to say, try poetry. It’s what we can turn to when our own words would fall flat. As Emily Dickinson reminds us, it gives us a way to tell all the truth, but tell it slant. Instead of blasting the reader with lightning bolts, we can dazzle gradually. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:36]
Three hundred twelve. That’s how many posts you have to write to publish content twice a week for three years: 312. If you think you’ll get bored writing about your narrowed category, your niche may be the wrong fit or too narrow. If you feel like you could write about it forever, well, this is how you confirm your niche. Could you write about it forever and not ever get bored? I think you found it. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:55]
Make a list of those fascinating, captivating, energizing topics—the ones you return to again and again. You’ll want to write about something on that list, but you don’t have to write about everything in the whole world for everyone in the whole world. How do you narrow? Why should you narrow? For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:50]
You can start building your writing platform by snagging your name, if possible, and finding a focus that fits. It’s your name. Your focus. And content that represents what you bring to the world—the problems you’ll solve for people, the stories you’ll tell, the ways you’ll connect with, support, and encourage readers. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:26]
Building your writing platform doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. Start with creating a home base—an author website. Gradually increase your presence there with content related to your genre, themes, or “brand,” so when readers and publishing industry gatekeepers Google your name, they find you—and like what they see. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:50]
If there is one non-technological platform-building item every writer needs, it’s a business card. Just remember to take them everywhere you go (especially writing conferences). For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:05]
My planning isn’t perfect; unexpected events, both good and bad, can throw me off. Nevertheless, my writing life is taking root and growing; I’m making significant, measurable progress each day. I wake up, accomplish my daily routines, and sit down and do what my system tells me to do. Because that’s my plan. (But I still leave room for serendipity.) For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:26]
Get your idea in motion and if it means you write the most sluggish, boring, wordy beginning, keep going. If it takes six paragraphs to finally get the wheels turning and the story in motion, who cares? Write. Write, write, write. Because you know what? You can write—or rewrite—the beginning…at the end. Yes, at the end of the whole process of getting your draft down, you can swing back around to the beginning and edit that beginning all you want. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:06]
Ayn Rand believes nonfiction writing is something one can learn. “There is no mystery about it,” she says. What’s the key? In a world of Google searches, shallow reading. and limited reflection, she says we need to think. Clarity of thought that leads to clear writing is the first absolute in effective nonfiction. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:30]
#68: Write, Now
Last week we tried Raymond Chandler’s approach. This week, as part of our experiment, try the Kingsolver approach. Sit down and write, now, whatever you can, as best you can. Get it out, get it down, and meet deadline. No stopping, no staring, no waiting, no writhing. Just write. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [3:50]
Try following Raymond Chandler’s writing approach. The short of it is this. When you sit down to write, follow two simple rules: “a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else.” For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:14]
This episode leans on Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi’s goal-setting strategies to help us set good writing goals (they’re pretty close to SMART goals, but it’s fun to take the advice of an Olympian). His five steps: pick a goal with personal meaning, make it specific, keep it challenging but realistic, add a time element, stay motivated. For more on the goal-setting steps along with show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:18]
I share six reasons people choose to stay secretive about their writing projects, including (1) so no one steals their ideas, (3) so they don’t have to admit they never followed through, and (6) if they talk about it, they don’t write it. For all six reasons along with show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:32]
Some writers talk freely about their projects, while others won’t say a peep, offering no clue what they’re working on. How about you? How much do you reveal? Why do you choose to talk about your writing projects or why do you choose to stay silent? For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:57]
Three things Neil Gaiman says freelancers need to keep working: (1) They need to be good writers, (2) They need to be easy to get along with, and (3) They need to deliver their work on time. In my opinion you’ll ideally have all three traits or at least be working on them, but Gaiman claims two out of three is fine. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:30]
When the words fall lifeless on the page, we have to forgive ourselves for not being the writer we felt we needed to be to write the beautiful story in our heads. All we can do is be the writer we are at that moment in time. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:15]
Be genuinely interested in other people, ask good questions, and gather stories. If you’re a writer, you can never have too many stories. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [4:37]
Don’t let curiosity rule or ruin your writing. Make sure curiosity is working with you, not against you, and you’ll produce strong writing, on time, that builds your body of work and makes you proud that you know when to stop and how to focus. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:30]
Whether with one person, or ten, or ten thousand, a writer builds bridges through stories and observations, ideas and interviews. Writers create connections. And connections can bring about change…Know yourself, create connections, and you can change the world. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:23]
When you’re having a tough day, whether from your own internal resistance or some external force that’s slammed you, go ahead and feel a little sorry for yourself, but not for long. Then brush yourself off and pull up these statements—these affirmations—to remind yourself what’s true. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:29]
Dance at the edge of the comfort zone to stretch yourself and avoid, well, avoidance, and boredom, and underselling yourself. But don’t dance so far out and for so long that you’re stressed and overwhelmed and unable to shine. That’s when you can back off and go ahead and play to your strengths. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [4:33]
Quiet those voices tempting you to close the laptop and take up Candy Crush. Put yourself on a deadline and create something. Start to fill that gap between where you are and where you want your writing to be, because you learn to write, by writing. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:39]
Go ahead and say yes to that new experience. Regardless of the outcome, your life is going to be richer, and so will your writing. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [4:33]
If you need motivation or clarity or vision or direction for your writing life or for a particular writing project, ask yourself why you write, and why you’re writing this particular piece. Hopefully your answers will help you get started, feel in control as you move toward meaningful goals, toward the writing life you really want. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:14]
My world and the way I experience and process it serves as fodder for my next writing projects. That’s what I want you to discover, too. Someone, somewhere, is going to be delighted to read about your world and the way you experience and process it. I offer categories to help you think through ideas from your own life. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:45]
We give purpose and meaning to others as we discover our own purpose and meaning—when we write to discover ourselves. And it can start with practicing vulnerability. It can start with emotion. So open your heart and invite your reader in. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [7:13]
If you took the 50-Headline Challenge, pick at least one headline from your list, and write. And that is the main way you’ll make the most of your 50 headlines (though I offer ideas for organizing your headlines, as well). For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [6:11]
Take the challenge: write no fewer than 50 headlines for whatever kind of writing you do…in one week…to have options and inspiration at your fingertips. Because I don’t want you to be stuck sitting around waiting for last-minute inspiration. For show notes and resources, click here or on episode title. [5:30]
Writer moms are trying to raise their family while advancing their writing in some way. And it’s hard. My message to the writer moms listening? Keep your finger in the publishing world—keep making deposits in your writing career—and it will add up. For show notes and summary, click here or on episode title. [7:21]
There’s a time to take your work seriously, but the pressure? It’s too much. You can’t survive that over the long haul. Please, please don’t do that to yourself. I hope you are reaching and stretching yourself. But I also hope you are…finding joy.
For show notes and summary, click here or on episode title. [6:53]
Don’t be afraid of letting a writing project sit until the idea grows and matures to the point where you feel you’ve got a handle on it. Likewise, don’t be afraid to let your writing life and evolve. It might feel easier to stick with what you know. But step out into the unknown, and you may find that the new type of writing you wanted to try ends up being your sweet spot and you’ve evolved into the writer you never knew you wanted to be. For show notes and summary, click here or on episode title.
#46: What’s the Big Idea?
Next time you set out to write, consider writing at the top of your screen your controlling idea, your theme statement, your thesis, or, simply, your big idea. Let that guide you. Because it’s a lot easier to write, if you know where you’re headed. For show notes and summary, click here or on episode title.
As the writer’s to-do list grows long, we start to see things sit unfinished and half-done on our screen or our to-do list. If you’ve been putting a lot of pressure on yourself to try it all, to get it right, to work nonstop, to reach every goal in a tight time frame, and everything’s falling apart or you’re falling apart…give yourself a break. You don’t have to do it all. For show notes, click here or on episode title.
Wouldn’t it be nice to phone another writer who could provide a little input? You could swap projects and offer a few thoughts on each other’s work? Listen for where to find a writing buddy, when you should ask someone to be a mentor or coach instead of a buddy, and what you can gain from forming this relationship.
Take both a macro and micro view of attention, focus, and distraction. Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome and minimize everyday, moment-by-moment distractions. In addition, learn to become “meta-aware,” noticing when your mind is wandering and nudging it back to the task at hand by saying, “Okay, I’m writing now. So, quiet. I’m trying to concentrate.”
Think through high-level energy solutions such as the impact of sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Then experiment with actionable ideas—three simple solutions that offer immediate results to help us manage our energy so we can write.
The steps are: (1) Figure out what you’re doing with your days. (2) Stop doing some of those things by eliminating, delegating, or pausing anything you can. (3) Determine if you’re in a chaotic season, and if you are, admit it and as much as possible, embrace it. (4) If you have a predictable schedule, block off time for writing; if you’re in a chaotic season, be ready to snatch an opportunity when time opens up. (5) When you find the time, write. For full show notes with resources, click here or on title.
In this episode, I dive into another aspect of our space—ways to manage our writing tasks and projects. Whether you choose an analog or digital solution (or a combination of both), dump everything into one task management or project management system and commit to it.
Consider many ways to improve your workspace, creating a punch list to work through. And be sure to clear your main desk area. If you take the time to evaluate, manage, organize, and maintain your writing space, you will be a more productive writer.
If we focus on these four areas, I’m convinced we can increase productivity as writers, even if we’re working with limited space, limited time, limited energy, and limited focus.
Have you wondered how good your online writing needs to be? Do people expect blog posts to be messy? Maybe some readers don’t mind, but I offer three big reasons to produce your best work every time you write and publish on your blog.
What would you like to be known for? What would you like your name to be associated with? Pick five areas you’d like to grow in—even develop into an expert in—and focus your resources on those five areas, gathering material to read, to absorb, to own.
When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it. That right there is key to fueling our creativity when we’re working on our writing projects. If you want to be a more creative writer, follow a spark of interest, pay attention, stay eager, and get curious.
We can have a tendency to make our to-do list and continually look ahead to what we have yet to do, and never really stop, look back, and reflect on the day and say, “Look at all I got done!” However you go about it, I want you to reflect back, and celebrate what’s done. For show notes, click here or on episode title.
Think of ways you can make tiny gains, because a few sentences will become a paragraph, a few paragraphs become a chapter. And a few chapters become a book. Set out to write at least three sentences. The following week, try to make a tiny gain, and sentence by sentence, you’re going to meet your goal, because tiny gains over time add up.
There’s something you want to write, but it scares you. You could be scared for a lot of reasons. When you think about this project…if you don’t write it, will you look back in ten years and wish you had written it? Yes? It’s time to write that thing you really want to write. Write it. Write it scared.
#31: Plan a Playful Year
When you think back to the early days of your writing life, do you remember being playful? Playing with words and stories? Writing just for the fun of it? If we can regain that playful freedom as writers, we’ll find freedom to be more creative and productive.
Do something. Write something. Take action and gain clarity. Start trying to express your thoughts and as you write, your ideas and stories will solidify—or maybe they’ll get muddier! But if you take action, you’ll know what to do next.
Play energizes our work. Let play light up your brain and feed your creativity. Research says the playful writer will come back with more energy and ideas than ever.
This is a time to dream up some big goals for 2016 and think about how you can expand your reach and stretch yourself, and I definitely applaud and encourage that. But it can also be a time to go small—to use your words to connect with one or two people at a time.
If you are unable to keep up even a modified version of your writing routine this holiday season, you can still do one thing: pay attention, to draw attention. Walking alongside your future reader, write as if you’re saying, “Look here. Can you see it?”
Pre-decide what your routine will be. Set it on repeat, day after day, so that it’s automated, so it’s a habit, and it becomes a rut to run in, leaving you with mental space and energy…to write.
#25: Stuck in the Middle
The halfway point in a writing project is critical, because you know what it took to get to that point, so you know you need at least that much effort to finish. It can feel overwhelming. If you’re stuck in the middle, though—you can begin again.
If you waited a few beats too long and your idea was written up and sent out by someone else, you have some options: You can let it go, or let it grow.
Though I’ve not been in the newspaper business other than writing the occasional feature story, I’ve learned this lesson from my dad’s managing editor. “Never, never, never sit on a story!”
In this episode I’m posing several ways writers can increase grit, so if you feel like a low-grit writer, listen and try some of the ideas.
But there’s one thing writers need even more than a bullet journal or a filing system or Evernote or Asana or ToDoist or Wunderlist.
But what if you don’t feel the energy? What if your writing feels stale? What then? That’s what Julie asked in her Facebook comment. Is it possible to find and almost generate energy?
It’s hard to write when there’s no enthusiasm for the project—when there’s no excitement for it. It’s hard to write when you’re missing that feeling of eager anticipation for digging in, when you’re lacking curiosity at what the finished product will be. If we follow that energy, however, we’re on our way to a satisfying writing life.
Here’s a way to ask for input from individuals or groups. First, decide what level of input you truly want. Then ask the person or group to bless your piece, assess your piece, or press your piece.
Honest affirmation is kind of like clicker training for writers. It works especially well when you have the luxury of taking a long-range view, trusting that over time, the writer will self-correct the more confident he grows from knowing what he does well. The next best thing to rewarding the good with positive input and ignoring what’s not working is to put into place a 6 to 1 ratio of positive vs. negative feedback.
It’s so easy as a teacher to focus on correction and minimize affirmation but I learned I got far better results when I showed them what worked well in any given project. If I focused too much on what needed revision, they grew discouraged. So I tried to affirm in as many ways as possible.
[Longer than normal episode] If we’re going to be the least bit serious about our writing, we’re going to have to do some non-writing, writing tasks. It’s part of the work. Learn ways to approach them.
I’ve discovered I’ve accomplished far more the times I’ve attempted to execute a plan and fallen short than the times I didn’t bother making a plan in the first place. If I set a goal and don’t meet it, I can still look back and see I’ve covered a lot of ground. Celebrate progress. Because progress is how you get the work done. Word by word by word.
In this short podcast, I encourage writers to introduce at least three senses into their writing, whether they are working on fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Don’t rely completely on the way things look. There’s also the way things sound, smell, taste and feel. Pick three. Bring your writing to life. One, two, three … and you’re done. For a scene to really come alive, include at least three senses.
It seems like a contradiction. A paradox. It seems impossible that more rest would result in greater productivity, but so we’re being told by study after study. Regular rest and renewal gives us the focus and energy we need to get our work done more efficiently and effectively.
#11: Learn the Lingo
A lot of the writers I work with as a writing coach feel frustrated because they’re trying to sell a book or start a blog or submit to an online magazine and end up confused and frustrated, lost in the publishing industry lingo. Don’t be afraid. Learn the lingo. The more you understand what the words mean, the more you’ll understand how things work. And then, the more confident you’ll feel diving into this world to do the writing you wanted to do all along.
#10: Food for Thought
A mash-up of Food on Fridays and The Writing Life, this episode covers brain food for writers.
No matter how far you fall behind, you can get back in the game. Simply start where you are.
It looked like I’d have to give up on my writing life. And I did have to step back from some responsibilities for a while until we figured out what this was going to look like. I stayed flexible and worked late and was able to continue with several commitments as we rode the roller coaster of my dad’s crisis. We never know what a day will bring, so keep calm and, as much as possible, carry on.
Search and destroy the filler words that distract from the meat of the message, like “and,” “so” and “very.”
I use this GTD productivity question to break big writing projects into manageable chunks, prioritizing and ordering them as I go.
I longed for a door. A door, I thought, would help me become a productive, efficient writer. I had a writing space. I just needed a door. Yes, a door … to shut. If only I had a door, I could write.
#4: Goals vs Systems
There’s a difference between goals and systems.
What challenges did you face when you collaborated on a creative project and how did you work through them? Have your collaboration projects been filled with enough joy to balance out the challenges?
#2: Rescue Lost Time
When over the past week might you have rescued lost time to work toward a writing deadline? What tool or tools might you use to start rescuing lost time?
#1: Just Get Started
What have you been putting off because you’re afraid, uncertain, or intimidated by everything involved? What project could you start today?