Category: Stuff We Love

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Stuff We Love: Read This if You Want to Be A Great Writer

Writers of craft books on writing still read craft books on writing. It would be dangerous to think you know everything. Of course, it’s easier when that book is published in the UK. There’s not so much competition.

Read This if You Want to Be a Great Writer - BIS PublishersOr maybe I’m wrong. Have you heard of the book Read This If You Want To Be a Great Writer by Ross Raisin? The title is pretty sales-y, although I hear aspirational marketing works wonders. (For the record, I did not come up with the title, Blueprint Your Bestseller, either.)

Then I found out that what’s they call all the books in the series, Read This If… you want to be great at drawing, at taking photographs, etc. I was contemplating the move to writing my first fiction in thirty years. I better buy a book.

Broken into roughly sixteen categories, ranging from Place to Sex to Planning, I learned new things throughout. I also felt empowerment to apply what I already knew across the looming bridge from creative nonfiction to made-up storytelling. 

But hey, that’s my process. You will have your own experience of this book by the British novelist, Raisin. To entice you further to buy it (note absence of affiliate links), here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“The plan you drew up at the end of your first draft will have more value than any plan you make before the first draft.”

“If you are stumped for the point at which to enter the narrative it may be helpful to forego, for now, an adherence to writing in a linear way from beginning to end.”

“Some works of fiction that play with preconceived notions of what fiction is supposed to look like can be so compelling that they create their own market. When form is bent to something new, your previously programmed way of reading a text can be, too.”

I think I realized that — as perhaps is true in all genres — it is the voice that beckons to us first. Ross’s expertise is combined with his confidence and warmth to make it feel like it is not such a cold world. I recently heard from one of my readers, “I just read your first book and I’m on your second book. I just wanted to let you know that I loved the graphics, humor, and voice. As I read, I felt as if a real person was talking to me and explaining the process. Most books I’ve read thus far have yet to have that same effect…”

I mean, that’s why we write craft books. It doesn’t send the kids to college. But maybe it helps a few lifelong learners along the way.

The Independent Editor Podcast

Independent editing is a mentorship industry. There is little to no targeted training and an absence of concise, reputable-seeming resources available. Enter: the Independent Editor Podcast. With episodes dropping every other Wednesday, starting October 27, it is our aim to serve as a support for aspiring editors who may be experiencing a crisis of confidence, a community for those that toil alone, and a resource containing detailed and practical direction. Below, we present to you a sampling of what’s coming:


Why should you care what we say? To kick things off, we talk about how we each found our way to the industry—and to each other; Stuart tells us how he purposefully waded in while Madison explains the fortuitous manner in which she found herself shoved into the deep end. The stark difference in our paths (and experience levels, with Stuart 20+ years into this whole thing and Madison just three) means we’re able to speak to independent editors across the spectrum. Here, we also get into the changes in traditional publishing which allowed for the flourishing of the independent editing industry.


In this episode, we explore the breadth of opportunities that exist for the independent editor by talking our way through a project’s life cycle, covering many of the classic services that can be offered, including: coaching, developmental editing, ghostwriting, cowriting, line editing and ongoing assistance, copy editing, marketplace assistance (for both traditional and self-publishing) and publication support. But what you can do doesn’t stop there; we also discuss the endless possibilities for writers to turn whatever they are good at and like doing involving the written word into an income stream, and the importance of that very diversification.

You cannot be an independent editor without having clients. And so today, we talk about how to source them. They’re out there; it’s up to you to connect with them and sell your services with confidence. Believing that, earnestly networking, and accepting both when leads pan into something great and when they go nowhere are all essential parts of the equation. Which, of course, means you need to be comfortable hearing “no.” Are you ready?


When people search you out, what do they find? Are you their person? Your editorial platform is what determines this answer. All parts of your online presence work together to establish your credibility, express your personality, and show your engagement, but the crown jewel of it all is your website. In this episode, we cover both the general guiding principles and the specific building blocks you should consider while constructing your digital home. We also talk about social media’s role in your overall platform, as well as how to decide when the time is right to launch and invest in your editing website.


Stuff We Love: A Writing Ritual

The notion of writer’s block has always upset me. It is presented as something that comes externally, like bad luck, which you can’t fight against. In general, I have a problem believing that we can’t get better at any activity we concentrate on, and that would include writing. I believe there are ways of improving the chances of having a good writing session—no guarantees, of course, but what fun would that be?


Developing a writing ritual can help you increase those odds. Rituals are supposed to be kept private, but people sharing theirs in broad strokes helped me shape my own, and so perhaps I can do the same for you. I should note that the ritual presented here begins after any number of other activities. After meditation and/or running and/or reading at the coffee shop and/or meaningless errands, etc. What all of those activities have in common is their ability to help me drop the outer world, in preparation for the inner. Eventually, I will step inside of a sacred center — see, there you go, now you know whether to start reading something else — and there I will cast the circle that helps me take time to stop time.

I don’t have a wand, or any crystals — although my relocation to San Diego puts the latter in jeopardy (check back here). But I might use statuary, such as the figurine of Piet Mondrian, who reminds me to embrace the structural ideas that come, as well as content-based ideas; ideas about the thing I’m writing, as well as ideas for the thing I’m writing. I might use talismans, such as this baseball I speared on one clean bounce at an MLB Spring Training game to remind myself it’s time to Play Ball!

I might use candles — okay, I will definitely use candles — even though I forget why certain colors are important. I have heard it said that working within the light in this way helps uplift others and also yourself. I have also heard it said that, in candlelight, the mind is rendered receptive to spiritual energy. I will add, as regards any aspect of a writing ritual: If it works, stick with it.

In the circle, I include functional items, especially those functional items that are also talismans, crossing the real boundary into practical magic, objects that you need and that also remind you of your history—the times you got it right. I find it useful to arrange whatever ritual implements I am using in a half-circle on my desk. This arrangement connects them to each other so they share energies and form an unbroken arc which I sit in the middle of. This circle can be continued behind you in terms of additional lighting, incense, etc. so that it takes up the entire room with you in the center of it.



Now, I know what you’re going to say. It sounds like you have an office. I do, but when I travel, I also pack a smaller bag of ritual implements. Wherever you are writing, you can cast a circle. It might be bounded by the train car you are riding in, or have an obstacle in the form of a water heater taking a bite out of one of your arcs. There are always cures, as they say in Feng Shui, for a recognized problem. Everything can be overcome with intention.

The boundaries of a circle can also just be traced with the mind and blessed, as you bless yourself. Entering the circle is an important step away from the world of business, time, and relationships — those relationships where you have to do something now regarding them, anyway — in order to see some of them in their truer nature. Stepping inside the circle establishes protection. Protection from the quotidian and from low self-esteem. Protection from our enemies, in the form of forgiving them.

It is the essence of writer’s block to have someone else stuck inside your own mind; when you can forgive them (except in a few places where you are using them for fuel, albeit with a higher intention), when you can let go of them, you are free. If you can’t forgive a particular person from a place deep down, at least call some kind of truce in your mind: you know, something like we’re all broken in some way, we’re all in process

Writing exposes you to enough self-criticism without other voices attacking you while you are vulnerable. We don’t have to allow anything unrelated to the writing to approach your flow of words, unless it wants to be used in an imaginative form.

Inside here we are free to be present on just this subject.


P.S. If you get really far out there, don’t forget to blow your candles out when your writing session concludes. I then take pictures of them, in the state of being unlit, because I have a level of anxiety about some things that needs practical assistance.


Stuff We (Don’t) Love: Author Crushes

To get meta about it, thoughtful words from thoughtful friends sit high on the list of stuff we love. And there are few sources of wisdom as pure in our universe as Beth Monaghan, founder and CEO of Inkhouse PR. Follow her on Medium, and Twitter, and Instagram, and don’t be shocked when her creative non-fiction hits the big time. To Beth, we now hand this installment.


The man who runs this enterprise would caution against author crushes. Should I tell Stuart that I named my new electric car Joan Didion? This thought fluttered briefly the first time a notification flashed on my phone:


Why would someone name their car after an author? Well, if you’ve ever had to rely on books to help you survive life, you get it. I always chose irreverent and courageous female authors who left guides for that survival behind. In fact, I loved books before I loved writing.

My crush on Didion began in college when I read Play It As It Lays. I still have the used copy I bought from Follett’s Orange Bookstore in Syracuse, New York for $6.75. Back then I didn’t write in my books so I don’t have a key to my favorite parts. But I remember the feeling when I finished: she was showing me how to stand inside my own darkness while still being able to take a look around. I wanted that.


When I began typing my own words, I wanted to write beautiful sentences. They’re how most of my author crushes begin. He looks shaken by this request, but still I monster on about it. Jenny Offill carving a moment in Department of Speculation. On and on she’ll go, the way she does when she thinks she doesn’t understand something and she’s scared, and she’s taking refuge in scorn and hypercriticality. A single sentence in Vivian Gornick’s memoir, Fierce Attachments, that tells us everything we need to know about her mother.

Time is the school in which we learn. That’s Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, her memoir about her husband’s death. She possessed the power to go through grief while witnessing it, which is how we make things make sense. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all. Didion again, in that book that made my crush run amok. I wanted to write and live like Joan.

When I read Didion back through time, I also wanted to be her in 1968. In The White Album she published her own psychiatric report. She’d gone in for vertigo and nausea, but was kept there because of her “fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic and depressive view of the world around her.” After a page-long reprint of her fragile mental health, Didion wrote, “By way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does now seem to be an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968.” Her packing list that year included 2 leotards, a mohair throw, cigarettes, bourbon and a typewriter.

Didion lives deep, lets herself off the hook, and never assumes she knows everything. I hoped reading her words would work like osmosis, but that’s not how writing or life go down well. The shift from reader to writer asked me to type my own way into living.

These days I read in between writing projects, but rarely during them. Didion’s new volume of essays, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, just arrived and I haven’t opened it yet. In advance of its release Time asked her what it meant to be the voice of her generation. Didion: “I don’t have the slightest idea.” I fell for her all over again, for a single line that is both humble and arrogant. I aspire to pull that kind of thing off. It’s okay to have stuff we love; it reflects the parts of ourselves that we’re working to grow into. And it helps us create our own stuff we love.