A road map to better writing
Fran Lebowitz is an acclaimed author and speaker. In the Netflix documentary, Pretend It's a City, by Martin Scorsese, Scorsese talks to Lebowitz about her life.
When Scorsese asks, "What's the worst thing you could say about a book?" Lebowitz says, "I forgot I was reading it."
Let's not let that happen.
A lot of people talk about how writing is hard. And it is. But writing is also an orderly business:
- Start with an opening that catches your reader's attention.
- Watch your timeline ... when, where, and how things happened.
- And pay attention to detail.
Map it out
Think of your writing as a road trip. Start with the action, experience, or lesson you want to tell your reader about, then back up and tell them how it came to be. Write about where you started, why you took that left instead of a right, highlight a few attractions along the way, and talk about the traffic jam that caused a delay.
If it starts well, follows a logical thread, and offers insight, they'll be with you to the end. If not, they'll disembark before you turn the next corner.
Don't let that happen.
If you need help getting started or help editing your work, let's talk.
A lasting legacy for author and church
When Michael Gery offered to chronicle his church's story, it was with the understanding that he would work alone. Gery understood it would expand his "workload immensely," but that didn't matter. He was, he wrote, "always more interested in the quality of the project" and feared writing by committee would result in a book that was "disjointed, and written in different voices."
Though he died before he was able to publish his work, Michael Gery did complete an impressive amount of writing and research. Gery's wife, Lisa, states in the dedication that, "He spent years collecting and reading books and historical documents, visiting local historical societies, conducting interviews, and culling the church's voluminous files of sermons, logs, and annual reports. At the time of his death, he had more than three hundred files of partially written chapters and appendices."
Lisa Gery, with the support of church member and editor, Jo Ann Augeri Silva, pulled together the work her husband had done, created a manuscript, and contacted Composition 1206 to make it a book.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead: Transformation Through Time is an impressive body of work. The book holds not only the history of the church, but the history of the "political and religious movements that led to its founding."
From a design perspective, it is a complex text with deep footnotes and few photographs. Understanding that it would be a hefty book (the spine is just under an inch thick), it is designed in a larger format with a wide inside margin.
The result is a book that opens easily, has plenty of white space, and gives readers room to breathe.
Though I never met Michael Gery, his interest in creating a body of work he could be proud of will, I imagine, inspire his congregation and readers alike as it inspired me.
Your book: a work in progress
Last fall I published my first book, A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice.
In the process, I kept my writing and all the ideas swirling about in a 3-ring binder. I learned a lot, and I want to share what I know ... with you.
The working title is Book in a Binder.
I didn't expect was how valuable the binder would become. When I was stuck (yes, overwhelmed, and sometimes unmotivated), I'd flip through the binder to review my notes. I rediscovered lists where I could check off what I'd already accomplished (that felt good), along with things I once thought valuable that were now ... not so much. And then there were other ideas and topics that somehow became better with time.
The Book in a Binder is coming together ... in a binder of its own.
If you're interested in knowing when it's available, sign up for the newsletter ... and get writing tips, entertaining stories about writing, and information you can use.
"I don't know what to do."
That's what Barbie wrote when she contacted me about her book.
She'd been working on her memoir for years. The writing was done and she wanted to move forward, to publish the book, but she had so many questions.
Should she find someone to edit the book? Where could she get a cover design? And what about the inside? She had no idea where to begin.
She's not alone.
Writing a book is a huge accomplishment, getting it into book form and publishing it is another.
Together we reviewed her manuscript, edited and organized what she'd written, talked about titles, cover designs ... and how and where to get it published.
As we worked through the project, Barbie often thanked me for my guidance and told me she was learning so much about the process.
I was learning, too. Learning about how hard it can be for writers to share their work, to hand it over and trust things will work out.
Last month after Barbie's book was published, she sent me a note:
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have been a dream to work with. I am so happy with my book. I could NEVER have done with out you."
Do you have a book tucked in a drawer ... waiting to be published?
Do you have an idea for a book but aren't sure where to start?
I can help. Especially with things like ...
So there's this dog up the street; a menacing, bothersome dog. It came at me on Sunday, full bark. It was one more run-in with a dog that reminded me of another run-in, so I decided to write about it.
After getting it all down, it was too long, so I edited what I'd written. And edited some more. But there was still one bit that wasn't right.
Does that happen with your writing?
You have too many (or too few) words, but still struggle to find the right ones? Well, I kept at it until I found the one word that would fix it all: dumbfounded.
Here's the story. I'm sharing it because it's ridiculous and good for a laugh if you need one.
Years ago I was walking with Agatha, my long-earred, droopy-eyed, red-and-white basset hound. It was early morning and I decided to mix things up and walk through a neighborhood across the avenue.
We were two blocks in when a German shepherd bolted from the side of a one-story house on the corner.
Now Agatha was a sweet, easy-going dog and she merely raised her head, looked at the German shepherd, and continued on her way. I should have followed her lead, but that dog just kept barking and circling, getting closer and closer, and it was making me nervous.
And then I heard a voice.
A woman's voice coming from inside the house. It was hard to make sense of it all, but there she was, peering out from a six-inch gap at the bottom of an open window. With her head tilted to the side and wedged in the opening, she spoke again.
"Ask him if he wants a bath," she said.
"What?" I asked (though I was fairly certain I heard what she said).
"Ask him if he wants a bath," she said again. Dumbfounded, but feeling a bit desperate, I did what she said.
Turning to the circling German shepherd I said, "Do you want a bath?"
That dog stopped barking, dropped his head, tucked his tail, and turned back toward the house. The gap in the window closed.
Dumbfounded. Until I found that one word, I was struggling with the story. I tried writing about how confused I was, how I wasn't sure about what I was hearing ... blah, blah, blah.
So I kept at it. Walked away a few times. Rewrote what I had written. And did it all again. Writing is hard for all of us because writing is hard.
Do you sometimes struggle with writing?
I can help. Especially with things like ...
Last week I juiced a lemon. Before slicing it open to squeeze out the juice, I rolled it (with slight pressure) under the palm of my hand across the countertop. Rolling the lemon (or lime, or orange) before juicing loosens the sections inside making it easier to extract the juice. It’s a tip I learned years ago ... from a recipe.
I’d be toast without recipes ... and I’m sweet on new ones.
You might think I don’t like to cook or that I’m not a good cook because I marinate and pour over recipes. But that’s not the case. I cook a lot and consider myself a decent (well, OK, good) cook, but I’m not a wing-it cook. Sure, I can cook a dish I’ve cooked a number of times without looking at the recipe, but I’m not a toss it in the pan and see what happens kind of cook.
I’ve tried that approach.
Sometimes with good results, most times, not. Cooking takes time and effort and I don’t like wasting either. Recipes don’t come with guarantees, but I do like the order and guidance they offer.
Of course I’ve cooked enough to know when I might like more garlic in the sauce or less sugar, but I’m faithful to what the recipe calls for. Especially when I bake ... where there’s far less margin for a lot more of this or a little less of that.
It’s what I like about cooking.
The endless supply of how-to information.
It’s a profession where experts share their knowledge. They tell you whether or not you should mince, dice, or chop. Instruct when a dash or dollop will do. And they share their ingredients, methods ... and recipes. Detail after detail.
Is that a good idea? Won’t all that sharing turn around and bite them? Won't it dilute their brand? After all, if they show us how to do it, what will we need them for?
We need them to continue advising us.
To suggest new techniques, methods, and ingredients based on their experience. To guide us and help us succeed. To develop new recipes.
When cooks share their expertise, they offer the reassurance we need to move forward. It’s a powerful way to connect and earn trust.
No matter your profession, you can do the same.
Sharing your knowledge can position you as an expert in your field, and it may, in the process, garnish renewed zest for what you do.
Want to share what you know?
There are lots of ways to do it. In a blog, through videos, a podcast ... and books.
While I know a bit about blogs, I don't know much about videos or podcasts.
But I do know about books.
Get the infographic, Navigating the Path to Writing a Nonfiction Book, and start planning your book ... to share what you know, where you've been, or how you did it.
Click on the image below to download and print your copy.
And if you have any questions, give me a call at 207-252-9757 or send an email. I'd love to help.
Spend more time with the people you love and like best
Wow. I'm so proud to be able to say my book, A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice, is done. What a great feeling. And a lot of work.
The idea for the book came about from seeing articles about the demise of cursive writing. Some say it doesn't matter now that we have computers and ask, "What's the point?"
A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice combines the benefits of letter writing with the benefits of writing by hand in an uplifting, informative, and beautifully illustrated book. The book showcases the elements of a letter, cursive writing instruction for each letter of the alphabet, and the inspirational I Write Letters to Say series.
Bring family and friends closer with letters, cards, and notes.
In The New York Times article, “Snail Mail Is Getting People Through This Time,” Tove Danovich writes about creating meaningful connections through letter writing during the pandemic.
And despite the controversy and demise of cursive writing instruction in schools, a new study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology reveals handwriting to be an important aspect of learning.
Do you know a teacher or students who would benefit from the book? Tell them about A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice.
A cover that works
Last week I submitted the cover for my book, A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing, for a public, online review by a publishing company.
You've seen the early sketch.
Because I'm self-publishing the book, I was interested in getting feedback from professionals in the book business. More than 600 covers were submitted. Yesterday I watched the webinar, wondering if my cover design would be selected. It was.
Of course my initial excitement was quickly tempered with the knowledge that I had to be prepared to hear the good ... and the bad, so I braced myself.
Would it be a good review?
Yes, it was. And I have to admit, it felt good.
What did they say?
"Really nice. It's got a retro vibe."
"This has that cohesion, that gestalt ... where it just feels really tight."
And two suggestions: remove "by" in front of the author's name, and "make the author's name bigger." Done.
Of course the cover is just one element in writing and pulling together a book. It's a lot of work. If you've got a book, ebook, report, or magazine idea simmering and need help with the structure, inside layout, or editing, let's talk.
Nonfiction book development and design
If you recognized the headline from this post as the title of a Rolling Stones song, you're right.
You can't always get what you want.
I’m in the final stages of finishing my book and discovered a problem. A new problem. I’ve already worked out other issues: a new book title and new book cover. I’m pleased with the new title and cover, but it's the layout that’s causing me fits.
So what’s the problem?
It’s a workbook and I wanted to design the book in landscape format with a spiral binding it so it would open flat and offer plenty of elbow room for practice writing.
But I also want to publish the book through two self-publishing houses: IngramSpark and Amazon’s KDP. IngramSpark offers the landscape option, KDP does not. Neither offer spiral binding.
From the beginning I knew I would publish and sell the book from my own websites, but I want it to go further than that. Publishing through IngramSpark and KDP will broaden the book's reach and get it into more hands. After all, that's the reason I'm writing the book. So I made the decision to reformat it.
Get what you need
So yes, it’s true. You can’t always get what you want. But, as the song goes, “if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”
Turns out, I like the cover better and though it’s been time consuming, the portrait layout is working well.
And getting what I want? When the book becomes a best seller, I'll think about a special edition ... horizontal format with a spiral binding. Wouldn't that be something.
p.s. Here's the new cover.
nonfiction book development and design
Call or write today to get the help you need for your book.
Book design: working small to go big
Thumbnails - sometimes smaller is better
Early in my graphic design career I was taught to use thumbnail sketches to work through ideas. They're small (as the name indicates), and a rapid way of generating prototypes and work through ideas. This is the thumbnail of my latest (and final!) cover design.
This week and the coming weeks mark the final stretch for getting my book done. It’s gratifying to be so close.
The next step is to have a few people read through it. I got feedback on an early draft of the book, but this time it’s for the whole book. I’ve done a lot of research on self-publishing and this is a big part of getting it right.
Beta readers: readers who read your book while it's still a work in progress ... before it’s published.
I’ll ask for feedback and reviews. The reviews can be used to help preview and promote the book.
Spelling is complicated ... and easier than ever. Spell-check is a great tool, even if it's always correcting me, fixing my mistakes, and schooling me on the proper spelling of this word ... and that one.
But, despite its know-all application, I know it's not perfect.
Do the spell-check double check
Spell-check catches a lot, but a regular check on spell-check is good practice.
Proofread your writing
Your book, ebooks, and essays, all need proofing before being shared. Give your writing (no matter the format) a good review; eyeballs on each and every word.
Read your writing out loud
When you've got your final draft, read your writing out loud. It's one of the best ways to catch awkward phrases and confusing sentences.
This simple graphic was designed to help you visualize three words that spell-check, and your memory bank, might struggle with: their, they're, and there.
If you need help with words, let's exchange a few. Maybe I can help.
I write words, edit words, and arrange words, online and on paper. Helping you look like the professional you are.
Call 207-252-9757 today, or write.
p.s. I did the spell-check double check on this email and my fingers are crossed I didn't miss anything. But let me know if I did.
I put it off as long as I could.
It was a side project I was working on and I was having trouble settling on a theme. A theme and an illustration. I'd done a lot of thinking, but had done nothing concrete to move things forward.
So I sat at my desk and started mapping out ideas. A list of words. A list of images. And (no surprise, really), it worked. Ideas started to materialize.
I settled on a theme.
A snowy night. A night when snowbanks shimmer like sparkle snow in a storefront window.
And with a theme, things shifted.
The ideas started to flow.
The snowy night led to the idea of adding animals. But what kind?
Animals that turn white in winter (there are fewer than I expected). The Peary caribou is one and it would be the first of four I would include in the drawing.
Things were finally coming together. I had the shape of the caribou defined and most of the night sky around it was filled in.
But something was wrong.
The nose. With a pointed eraser, I rubbed it out. And something happened. The area I erased looked like the breath of the caribou. I was so surprised at the sight of it. Serendipity had stepped in and transformed the drawing.
The relief I felt was audible. This was going to work.
The drawing came together, I met my deadline, and felt good about what I had created.
And (fingers crossed), I learned something.
Start before you're ready.
Procrastination is hard to eliminate entirely, but sometimes a deep breath, a pencil (and an eraser), and a list will get things going.
On the final panel, I added a line from a cut-up poetry exercise. The original pencil drawing along with the hand lettering was scanned. Color was applied in InDesign.
Click on the drawing to enlarge.
If I can help you move forward with your book, let's do it.
Call 207-252-9757 or email me to get started.
What would it be like if we couldn't vote?
That's what I think about on election day. I think about it because voter turnout can be dismal.
I think about it because there are four amendments to the Constitution related to voting rights. Amendments that give people who were denied the right to vote their voting rights. People like Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton had had enough.
It was unacceptable that as a woman, she was not allowed to vote. For more than 50 years, she fought for the right to cast a ballot. And she died nearly two decades before the 19th Amendment would pass. That's 70 years.
It took far too long.
Today I will vote. I will vote for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and all the women who fought alongside her. And I will vote for those who fought for the 15th Amendment, the 24th Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act.
I will vote because I can.
One person, one vote. It matters, and it counts.
I created this infographic to inspire more people to vote on election day.
If you have information you'd like to share in an infographic, write today to talk about how we can work together.
Flipping the switch was flipping me out. Last week's storm left us without power.
It was Thursday morning and I was up early. Not because the alarm went off. No, it was the rain lashing against the bedroom window that woke me.
Fifteen minutes later the power went out.
It was a blackout: no power, no lights, no heat, no opening the refrigerator, and no computer.
A day and a half later (37 hours, but really, who's counting) we still didn't have power.
But I was still flipping switches.
It wasn't that I was hoping the power was back, it was utterly clear that it wasn't. It was habit. An especially bad habit in light of things. At least a dozen times I flipped a wall switch.
And each time it was the same thing. Nothing.
It was worse than nothing. I was ready to scream. Well, I did scream. It was so frustrating.
Flipping the switch was flipping me out.
So I put my headlamp on. The headlamp gave me what I needed: a beam of light.
I stopped flipping switches.
The point is to see it fresh.
Sometimes a fresh approach to a nagging problem can help you move forward. If you've been struggling with your marketing, a book, or your website, maybe I can help.
Call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation and a fresh start.
It was the third round of editing on a piece I was writing about the autumn harvest. It was all about kale, collards, squash, and Brussels sprouts. The problem was, I had it all wrong.
Instead of Brussels sprouts, I was writing brussel sprouts. No capital B at the beginning, no s on the end of Brussels.
I've cooked and eaten lots of Brussels sprouts, but clearly I'd never written about them.
Lesson #1: Proper names have proper spellings.
When a red line appeared below the misspelled "brussel," I was surprised. So I checked the dictionary.
I found the correct spelling: A capital B? A bit more digging revealed the name comes from the city of Brussels, in Belgium.
Unless you're certain about the correct spelling of a product, a city, a town, someone's name, title, or product, look it up.
That was last year. This year, I have another editing tip courtesy of the Brussels sprout.
Last week I was watching a cooking show when the chef introduced a new segment by saying, "Today we're making Brussels sprouts."
Lesson #2: Ask yourself, "Is that what's really going on?"
Of course the chef wouldn't be "making" Brussels sprouts, as in constructing or creating them. He would be cooking them. Or, maybe he'd be roasting them.
In the context of the show, it didn't matter much. It was a live taping and viewers could watch and listen.
But his word choice caught my ear. I've been writing a lot and that means I'm rewriting and editing a lot.
I wanted to edit the script, to rewind the tape and have the chef say, "Today we're roasting Brussels sprouts."
Roasting is a more descriptive word. Making is vague and in this example, inaccurate.
Every word has a purpose.
Lesson #3: Just because you're familiar with something doesn't mean you know all you need to know.
It turns out eating Brussels sprouts didn't make me an expert. From misspellings to context and relevance, it's important to know what you're writing about. Do some research. Dig around. What you find may not only surprise you, it could add a new dimension to your project.
Feeling the heat?
If you don't like to write, are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes to read through what you written, let me know.
Nonfiction book development and design.
Call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation.