Today’s Writing Tip: Efficiency

sig2010by Sigrid Macdonald

One way I have found to be efficient in business and my personal life is to take the thing that I want to do least and do it first. Every morning when I get up, I assess what I have to do for work and what I have to do to keep my fabulous recreational life going. And I decide which tasks are fun and easy and which ones are a total bore or difficult.

I take the latter and knock them off right away. That means that by 10 a.m. or 11 o’clock, my day is filled with things I want to do because I’ve already completed the ones I didn’t want to do.

This works for writing as well. There are always some things we enjoy more about writing than others. This varies from person to person. Let’s say you’re writing a novel and you adore writing the action scenes, but you hate fact checking.

As soon as you tackle your work, devote a specific period of time to fact checking. It might be twenty minutes or however long you think you can tolerate. Then get back to writing your action scenes. You’ll feel so much better knowing that the task you dreaded is already out of the way.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. Her last book, Be Your Own Editor, is available on Amazon:


Writers – Take The Superbowl Challenge!

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

by Catherine L. Tully

I think most writers have one.

An article, short story or novel that they keep thinking about, but don’t actually write. Or–they start writing and never finish.

I know I have several floating around up there in my brain. I think about them from time-to-time. Even jot down quotes that would go with the piece or rip out magazine photos that have to do with the topic. And then…well…nothing.

But I am making a pact with myself, and challenging those of you out there with a similar issue to do the same. I’m going to actually write one of these pieces and submit it before the Superbowl. Yep. That’s the plan.

Up for the challenge?

Here’s the road map I’ll be following:

  • The piece will be written during the holiday slump (between Thanksgiving and the Superbowl, where it is impossible to get anyone to answer you about anything).
  • I will work on it no less than an hour a week from Thanksgiving until it is finished. Even if I just sit there jotting down notes for an hour.
  • I will research a market and submit the piece promptly (read – within two weeks) of finishing it.

Now. If you know anything about these vague, dreamy pieces that float around in the head, you’ll realize that this is much harder than it seems. But I feel like these ideas keep coming back to me, so they must have some type of importance/value/potential.

And I’m determined to find out.

Are you in?

Chaos Theory

FractalAbout two weeks ago, I had a bolt of inspiration…or maybe it was lunacy. By this I mean turn my household (including my home office) upside down and reconfigure the way I utilize my work and living space. Not that it wasn’t perfectly functional,  it just didn’t make sense anymore.

It all began last December when my son Will completed his academic curriculum and entered the home stretch toward graduation in May. He already had a full-time job, and since he no longer needed to spend school nights at his dad’s to be closer to campus, I suggested that he come to live with me in my spacious, two-bedroom apartment.  At the time, the logical choice seemed to be that I would incorporate my home office into the larger master bedroom, and he would occupy the smaller bedroom.

At first, I liked the convenience of my integrated office and personal space, but over time, as my son and I got comfortable in our daily rhythms and routines, it became clear that we were both cramped in too-small spaces, while an absolutely lovely 150 square-foot living room went virtually unused. It’s decorated in a Japanese motif, with shoji screens framing a sliding-glass door that opens onto a balcony overlooking a wooded ravine with a creek running through it. Truth be told, I’ve fantasized about making it my personal space since the day I moved into this place eight years ago, especially since I don’t do much entertaining at home.

So…in that moment of inspiration / lunacy, I decided it was time to deconstruct my world. I had no trouble enlisting Will in the process, and the following Saturday, we set about the task of relocating every object we own: clothing, furniture, artwork, books, office supplies, computers, televisions, appliances…absolutely everything. Of course, this would mean living (and working) in chaos for a couple of weeks until all was put to rights; but it seemed a small price to pay for the reward of more spacious living for us both.

The following morning, when I awoke amid a sea of boxes and dislocated furniture in what used to be my living room, my first thought: “Good Lord!…what was I thinking?” As a Type-A personality, chaos makes me cranky, even if I’m the one who created it. But if there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I’m a firm believer in the divide-and-conquer method of task completion. My motto: I can’t do everything, but I can do one thing. And that’s what I’m doing…tackling the chaos one tiny task at a time until my well-ordered world once again approaches an entropy of zero.

CelesteHeiterFZBioCeleste Heiter is the author of Turn Your PC into a Lean Mean Freelancing Machine, the creator of the LoveBites Cookbook Series for Kindle Fire, and the author of Potty Pals , a potty-training book for children. She has also written ten books published by ThingsAsian Press; and spent eight years posting her recipes, food photographs, and film reviews on ChopstickCinema .

Visit her website, and her Amazon Author Page.

5 Types of Real Magic for Your Story Beginnings

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

Story openings are magical. 

There’s something that happens in that first line, on that first page.  Just words.  It seems simple.  One sentence after another.

But these opening words somehow, cleverly, shoehorn the reader into your story and the next umpteen pages. And they do not let them out.

once upon a time

It’s that last piece that’s key. 

Good openings trap them.  Holds them hostage to the story.  Convinces them to select your book over thousands of contenders.

It’s one thing to talk about that magic and examine an already-published passage.  But it’s another thing to come up with it on your own.

There is no magical shoehorn app.  I’ve looked. (Please develop one, someone.  You’ll be a writing badass and a hero to at least one.  Do it.)  For meeeeee.)

Until technology catches up with us, we’ll have to look at manual methods for creating Opening Magic.

Here are mine:

#1 Regret

There’s something about knowing a regret of some sort exists that creates a reader-compulsion to Find. Out. Why.

This seems useful.  The regrets are already in your story.  Trust me.  So, that might be a great way to start.

#2 Mystery, Lies, and Secrets

Again with the compulsions.  If there’s a mystery, I want to solve it.  It’s as if the universe is unbalanced until an equal and worthy solution is found for a named mystery.

And here’s the key.  Mysteries aren’t that emotionally interesting unless they are surrounded by lies and secrets.  Without these two elements, it’s more like “Hey, some frustrating facts are missing over here,” which is not the same as a true, story-worthy mystery.

Secrets and lies imply there is huge and dreadful meaning that matters to a human being or two.  These elements imply an active efforts to create the mystery, an opponent, a devious adversary who will counter every move made to set the universe right.

And that is conflict, baby.  That’s story.

#3 Danger in the Air

Love this one!

Things are, somehow, not right.  Out of balance.  Mis-matched. 

And it all starts with a recognition that something is worth noting.  Small parts of the universe are rubbing together and creating friction. Or even something big, if you want.

That something is Story barreling down on us.  The earth trembles.  The air quickens.  And soon the impact of Story will force the viewpoint character to adapt in order to survive.

It is the need to adapt that speaks directly to our biology of fear.  And fear is compelling story magic.

# 4 Haunting, Specific Imagery

It’s hard work getting  the story to mean something to the reader.

Creating a luminous picture in the reader’s mind, rooting the reader down into the story world, is an immediate bridge to meaning.  It’s as if each, carefully-selected, unique detail imparts an associated memory of time and place.

All you need is the unusual and the (misleadingly) simple detail… leading directly into the mystery of the story.

Suddenly, the reader and the viewpoint character are sharing the same experience.  Memory. Meaning. Ripples of time and place.

In the end, as humans that’s all we have.  So we connect to it all the more.

#5 Worry

Ah, the subtle awareness that things are not right. 

  • The exploration of the edge of normal. 
  • The expectation of normal and the heightened awareness of pseudo control over the outcome of anything.
  • The worry that leads to action.

In the case of beginnings, these can be more effective, sometimes, than The Big Bad stomping all over your characters, because with worry, there’s room to get to know your character and understand context.

As Chuck Wendig says, “Without depth of character and without context, an action scene is ultimately shallow and that’s how they often feel when leading off the first chapter.”

Tell me your Story Magic.  Let’s make this list long and fruitful!

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

My Freelancing Motto

book and script editor for hire Joe Wallaceby Joe Wallace

My freelance philosophy is pretty simple. I don’t over-commit, but I do wake up at 5:30 every morning wondering how I’m going to get everything done. It all gets done, on time.

That sounds like I am a total workaholic, spending every waking moment of my day on projects, gigs, and with clients. But that’s not true. I spend plenty of time learning and attending classes. I also travel. But my workload is respectable and actually causes fear in the minds of less-busy people.

I’m happy with that.

The key is that I combine my interests with my work. I love collecting vinyl records, so I sell them online. This gives me a great excuse to buy more records. I love the internet, and a great deal of my work involves online research. I am addicted to cinema, recording, making music, and editing.

So I started working on independent film and video game projects in the Chicago area, doing location audio, sound effects capture, post-production and dialog editing.

To be fair, I have a background in these things. I didn’t start from scratch in media. But it’s not hard to learn what it takes and the world is full of independent film producers now. You can find a way in if you look hard enough. But having the persistence to stick out the lean times in that industry is the same as any other. A true freelancer finds a way to keep at it.

One of the most important things you can do as a freelancer is determine what kind of work you DO NOT want to be doing, and move away from it as soon as it’s financially possible. For some, that isn’t realistic for a variety of reasons. But you CAN work TOWARD doing that. It’s a financial tightrope, but as you become more skilled and confident in your work (and have results to show for it) you can make a determined move towards combining your interests and your work routine.

Joe Wallace is a freelance social media writer and audio professional based in Chicago. His recent projects include video game sound effects and music composition for Shedd Aquarium, location audio, dialog editing, and post-production for the web series Family Values, and location audio for the indie thriller Still. Wallace is set to release his own short independent film, 45 RPM, in early 2014.

Website Myth #5: Instant Credibility!

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.


WEBSITE MYTH #5:  A website creates a professional image for you and your writing. 

REALITY:  Have you seen some of those writer-sites out there? 

They actually decrease the professional image of the author.  They are anti-advertising, the kryptonite of self-promotion.  They are a very fine example of shooting yourself in the foot.

Design badness.

Content badness.

Marketing badness.

As Jane over at DearAuthor says, in her article What Every Author’s Website Should Contain

Let me say that like the writing, the quality of the website/blog varies a great deal from very amateurish to very professional. I’ve seen very good websites for bad authors and very bad websites for good authors.

Thank Goodness!  A Disclaimer.

When writers are told to have a website for instant professional cred, there’s a whole disclaimer that is left out, and it is thus:

#1 Websites only increase you professional quotient if (A) the design and (B) the written content are….

  • well-done,
  • easy to use,
  • engaging,  and
  • focused specifically on meeting your specific visitor’s immediate needs and taking key action

#2  You’re probably not the best judge of any of this, even though you are a writer.

#3  Excelling at A and B, if the results mis-represent you or your writing, will do you no good at all.  (Especially if you’re misrepresenting quality.)

#4 Failing at A and/or B can generate negative word-of-mouth that starts with the voice inside the visitor’s head.  That negative feeling becomes your Brand.  Your reputation suddenly is dirt.  Don’t be dirt.  No one wants that.

So, do it right. That’s the message.

There’s a whole lot that goes into sites being well-done, easy to use, engaging, focused on meeting needs, and taking action.  In fact, there are whole fields of study, like usability, marketing, branding, engagement, authority-building, relationship creation, voice, etc.

And don’t forget the professional practices, standards of all that pesky the technology.  (And a special shout-out to making it all accessible.)

I Dare You…

To read something really helpful on the whole professional website thang, read Jim Yu’s 5 Pillars of a Successful Modern Web Design.

And what about marketing and writing content?  Try Skip Besthoff’s Improve Your Website Content’s Quality: 5 Ways to Drive High Performance.


clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1)Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone:Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

Full Time Freelance Since 2003