Reach your writing goals and make significant progress (and have fun!) by being more curious, creative, and productive. Ann provides practical tips and motivation for writers at all stages, keeping most episodes short and focused so writers only need a few minutes to collect ideas, inspiration, resources and recommendations to apply to their work. She incorporates interviews from publishing professionals to include additional insight. Tune in for solutions addressing anything from self-editing and goal-setting solutions to administrative and scheduling challenges. Subscribe for ongoing input for your writing life that's efficient and encouraging. More at annkroeker.com.
It’s fun to write with others!
About seven years ago, I partnered with Charity Singleton Craig to co-author On Being a Writer.
While working on the draft, we often pulled up one of our shared Google Docs to review our drafts and notes in real time. In this way, we wove together our stories and experiences with relative ease.
If we had a grade school report card at the end of the project, the teacher would have checked off “Plays nice with others.”
Writing is most often a solitary act. But sometimes we get an opportunity to write with others. These occasions may involve brief connections or extended collaboration. Quite often, they're just plain fun.
The Energy of the Inklings
Have you heard of the Inklings? They met weekly for beer and conversation, according to Diane Glyer in an article at the official C. S. Lewis website. While they didn't officially collaborate, like Charity and I did on our book, their discussions affected the shape and direction of countless projects.
Glyer writes in "C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, and the Inklings" that the men would gather, make tea, and begin pulling out drafts of their work. As one person read, "the others would settle down to listen, to encourage, to critique, to correct, to interrupt and argue and advise. They’d continue this way, reading aloud, energetically critiquing, until two or three in the morning.1
Years ago I craved that kind of creative community.
I even considered moving to a college town, thinking I'd be more likely to find a gathering like the Inklings there.
Find Your Creative Community
The good news is that it's easier than ever to find like-minded writers without moving to live near a university.
These days, I know writers who meet at cafes (or they did before 2020, and they'll start up again soon, I’m sure) to discuss technique or simply to write on separate projects in the same space. Some chai, a chat, then back to the works in progress.
Writers who contribute to anthologies feel part of a project-driven community.
Writing retreats are a fun way to power through personal goals with a posse of fellow writers. Churn out a few thousand words, then relax with others who appreciate your creative challenges.
Then there are in-person and online communities that write together, like:
silent or guided writing sessions via Zoom (in guided sessions, a moderator might offer writing prompts)silent or guided writing rooms on Clubhouse (these exist!)social media writing challenges that use a shared prompt or hashtag
Look for existing writing groups where you can jump into a writing challenge and meet new people, broadening your network as you make new friends.
Form Your Own Community
But don't forget you can create your own little gathering.
Do you know another writer? Someone with similar goals? Ask if they'd be a writing buddy. The two of you can text each other each day when you complete your daily word count goal.
Treat it like a short-term experiment at first, to test the waters. You never know? Perhaps you'll find another word nerd who sends you grammar memes and Hemingway quotes.
Generate Our Own Creative Energy
Diane Glyer said the Inklings "generated enormous creative energy."2 I love the sound of that, don't you?
We may not find a group as vibrant, educated, or British as the Inklings, but we can form our own gathering. We can generate our own creative energy.
Develop a Daily Writing Practice to Find Your Voice: Interview with Allison Fallon
I listened to Allison Fallon's The Power of Writing It Down while jogging through my neighborhood. Those weren't my best runs, because I kept pulling out my phone to thumb-type a great quote before picking up the pace again.
And yet they were fantastic runs, because Allison's words inspired me to re-establish a daily journaling practice.
On that first outing—with her voice in my ears—I listened through the first chapters and returned refreshed and motivated. Allison's invitation to "unlock your brain and reimagine your life" spurred me to set a timer and launch the first 20-minute personal writing session I'd attempted in a long time.
I continued the practice the following days and discovered I was indeed "getting limbic," as Allison calls it—I was slipping past the nagging to-do list items and scheduled tasks to explore feelings, memories, and struggles. Nothing dramatic transpired (yet), but I've found myself diving deeper and opening up on the page, in private, before the day presses in.
I'm not new to this practice, but I'd fallen out of the habit. I'm so grateful for Allison's convincing call to return to it and reap the benefits.
In this interview, Allison mentions Julia Cameron's Morning Pages, which reminded me of Writing Down the Bones and Natalie Goldberg's explanation of freewriting as a way to get to our "first thoughts." Allison makes a strong case for why and how a private writing practice like that feeds directly into our professional writing, whether through ideas or memories we unearth that can be woven into our work in progress, or through shifts in perspective that add depth and insight to our piece.
Will you join me in revisiting this simple but fruitful activity that can enliven and inform your writing pursuits and projects? I predict you'll begin to see how a daily writing practice will truly unlock your creativity.
And please enjoy my discussion with Allison Fallon. Allison is an award-winning author, sought-after public speaker, and nationally recognized writing coach. She has worked with thousands of people to realize their writing potential and become published authors. She's host of the podcast Find Your Voice, an excellent resource for writers, and author of The Power of Writing It Down: A Simple Habit to Unlock Your Brain and Reimagine Your Life.
On Allison's writing practice:
My daily writing practice happens for 30 minutes every morning, and it's me just sitting down and dumping out my first thoughts of the day. The great thing about this is it's a beautiful practice for absolutely anyone whether or not you want to be a published author. It can bring so much value and goodness into your life, regardless of what other kind of writing you do.
On mimicry as a way to learn writing:
There's something about being able to copy an author that we really admire, appreciate, and adore that helps us get into the groove of finding our own way to say it.
On the right to tell your own truth in your own voice:
Don't I have the right to share my own unique experience of what it was like to live in that household? Don't I have that right as much as he has that right? That's what it means to find your voice. It’s to be able to stand on both feet, to say, “This is how it was for me.” And even if it was different for you, that doesn't change the fact that this is what was true for me.
On how our brain's "catalog" stories and we reinforce those stories through repetition:
Shawn Smucker & Maile Silva on creative legacy, rejections, and being faithful to the work
On this episode of the podcast, I hosted two novelists: Shawn Smucker and his wife, Maile Silva, for a literary discussion. Imagine you're at a writing conference and we're on stage to discuss the challenges they face as two writers at different points in the writing journey, living and working and raising a family together.
How do they offer support and input? How do they find time to write? What are they proudest of?
Shawn and Maile touch on topics like creative legacy, writing rejections, self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and being faithful to the work.
Maile Silva and Shawn Smucker (used with permission)
Shawn is an award-winning novelist by night and a collaborator and co-writer by day. He has an honors degree in English, and has been making a living as a writer for eleven years.
Maile has an honors degree in English, has written three novels, and is currently in the querying process, so if that's where you're at, she knows your pain. She has raised six children in the last 17 years and is beginning to have more time to dedicate to her first love…no, not Shawn. Writing. She has taught writing in different settings, including as a table leader for the Black Barn Online.
You might know them from their podcast, The Stories Between Us.
At the end of our chat, they’ll be filling you in on their program The Nine Month Novel. It's currently closed to enrollment. In the meantime, learn from all the wonderful things they shared. Here's a sample:
Shawn, on the writing journey:
One thing that I'm always trying to get across to other writers is that it doesn't matter where you're at in the process, there's always something else that you want. If you don't have an agent, you want an agent, and then when you have an agent, you want to get a book deal.
Or if you're self publishing, you want to sell more books than you're currently selling. And then once you have books published, you wish you could sell more copies, or what's the next series going to be about, or what's the next book.
I think it's good to have goals and it's good to have things that you're shooting for, definitely, but I think one of the most important parts of the writing life is to somehow also enjoy where you're at and to enjoy the writing that you're doing—and for that to be the thing that gets you by. Because if the thing that gets you by is getting to the next level, there are going to be certain levels that you don't hit or certain levels that are really challenging to get to or take a really long time. And those can burn you out if that's your only motivation.
So even though Maile and I are at different places in the journey, we're always encouraging each other: Stay focused on the writing. Enjoy the writing. The writing is never going to let you down.
There are so many parts of the writing journey that will be disappointing, but the writing is always there for you. It's always there for you to work on. It's always there for you to dig into.
Maile, on what she's proudest of:
I think what I would be most proud of is the creative legacy that we're leaving for our kids. And by prioritizing creativity in my own life, I see our kids starting to do that. And that just fills me with so much joy to know that they see the value of doing these things not because they're making money, not because they're getting notoriety from it, but because it's a good thing to do—because it's part of who ...
Winning Book Proposals Need These 3 Things
When you seek traditional publishing for your nonfiction book, you don’t just write the book and send it off.
Instead, you craft what’s called a book proposal—an essential business document expected by publishing professionals like agents and editors.
With this document, you’re hoping to attract the attention and interest of industry gatekeepers so they’ll partner with you to publish your book.
(Watch, read, or listen—whatever works best!)
Before the Book, the Book Proposal
If you’re seeking traditional publishing for your nonfiction book, you do eventually have to write an entire manuscript.
But before that, you have to land a book deal.
To land a book deal, you need to attract agents and publishers to your project with a pitch that convinces them to request your proposal for review.
A convincing pitch followed by a polished, professional book proposal will do the work of “selling” your book to these decision-makers. Its job is to convince these agents and publishers you have what they’re looking for.
That’s why you craft a compelling proposal. In it, you’ll describe your project, of course. But as you do, your proposal has to pull off three big things.
What a Winning Proposal Needs to Convey
Let's cover the three things your proposal must convey to attract the attention of industry gatekeepers like agents and Acquisitions Editors (AEs).
1. A Concept That Pops
When someone's reviewing a stack of proposals—whether that's a literal stack on their desk or a list of virtual files on a computer—you want yours to stand out. The way to do that is to have a book concept that pops out from all the others.
These agents and acquisitions editors are flipping through maybe 20 or more proposals a day. They’ve seen the same types of projects over and over; writers pitch similar topics time after time.
But these industry professionals keep reading and reviewing proposals because they're hoping to discover promising new books. They’re on the lookout for an author who brings a fresh angle.
Develop a concept that proves you know your audience’s problems, struggles, and issues.
In the proposal, show them you have a book that offers a promise—and delivers on that promise.
Demonstrate you’ll contribute something valuable to the broader conversation on this topic.
Do all that, and the agent will stop and say, “Wow, this is different—and it looks like it could sell. I’d better dive in and take a closer look.”
When you nail your concept and convey it clearly in the proposal, you’re on your way to attracting an agent or editor.
But when you land on a concept that pops, it’s not enough.
2. Writing That Sings
The second thing this project needs in order to attract decision-makers is captivating, quality writing—writing that sings.
The agent or editor reviewing your proposal will hear hints of your writing voice in the various elements of the proposal—but where you'll shine is in the sample chapters.
They can tell if you’ve landed on an appropriate voice for the project and its intended readers. They want to see if you know what your reader responds to. After all, the tone and style of writing you’d use for a leadership book for CEOs will differ from the tone and style meant to engage a stay-at-home mom of preschoolers.
Resolved to Write a Nonfiction Book This Year? Let’s Do the Math!
If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to write a book in the year ahead, you’re going to have to do several things. One of those things you’ll have to do is...some math.
But don’t worry—I’ve got a calculator!
We’ll do the math together to determine the number of words you need to write each day to complete your book in the year ahead. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that this number is within reach. You can pull this off.
You can watch the video, listen with the podcast player above, or read the article.
Average Word Count for Trade Nonfiction Books
The length of a typical trade nonfiction book can really vary: a memoir or biography can be quite long; a gift book, quite short. If you’re writing a typical trade nonfiction book, it might on average range between 45,000 and 55,000 words.
This is arguable. You’ll find plenty of exceptions on either side of that range, and trends shift so that the average changes, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s split the difference and say we’re talking about a 50,000-word book. Yours might be longer or shorter.
Publishers like to think in terms of word counts. After all, there’s a lot of variability in the number of chapters that you might break your content into compared with another author writing on a similar subject: a 20-chapter book and a 12-chapter book could have the exact same word count divided up differently.
So let’s just talk about word count.
Map Out the Number of Chapters
And yet when we think through the number of words we’ll be writing each day, we do need to think about the number of chapters you’re planning. Eventually—obviously—you do have to write the full 50,000 words.
But did you know that if you’re seeking traditional publishing of your non-fiction book—that is, you’re going to seek an agent who then will take it to a publisher, or a friend offered to introduce you to her editor...either way— you’re going to have to provide what’s called a book proposal.
In this book proposal you’ll map out your entire book. You have to explain the book’s concept and content, describing what’s going into it. You’ll provide a table of contents that you’ll have to annotate, providing chapter summaries.
When you submit the proposal to the agent or provide it by request to an acquisitions editor at a publishing house, you’ll include a few sample chapters as part of the complete proposal.
For new writers, I recommend you supply three sample chapters, though an agent may only request one or two. If you write three, you can show these decision-makers and gatekeepers that you can build on your ideas and move this project forward. That’s all you need to write until you get a contract.
So at a bare minimum, you’ll write at least three chapters of your book to be able to submit it with the proposal.
Pull Out the Calculator
Now let’s do the math.
Option 1: Write the 50,000-word Draft in 90 Days
Let’s say you’re going to self publish this 50,000-word book, and you’d like to have a draft done in 90 days.
50,000 words divided by the 90 days, you’ll end up with 555.555556, so we’re just going to round that up to 556.
That means if you write every single day with no breaks at all, you need to write 556 words a day to produce 50,000 words at the end of the 90 days.
How to Structure Your Nonfiction Book
You're tackling a non-fiction book and you're making progress. You're doing research, you're writing, and now you're staring at all those ideas.
Your book needs form. It needs organization. It needs...structure.
But how do you land on the best structure? How do you create it, craft it, build it?
While there's no one standard way to organize your material—there's no one way to structure your nonfiction book—I offer four approaches you can take to determine what will work best for your work in progress.
To learn ways to structure your nonfiction book, you can read, watch, or listen.
Think about how different kinds of bridges are needed for different situations. To land on the best method of bridging a ravine or body of water, an engineer will study the surrounding landscape and obstacles to decide whether a drawbridge, suspension bridge, or arch bridge will work best.
Just as an engineer needs to study the situation to address any given crossing and can refer to several core types of bridges, you get to do the same with your book.
As you study your material, you get to decide the best way to structure your nonfiction book.
Feel free apply these four approaches to structure your short-form writing, but I'm going to be talking about it as it pertains to a non-fiction book, because a book is more unwieldy and can feel a little overwhelming to organize. Once you get a handle on how you to structure your WIP, you can feel more confident moving forward with your draft.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by structure, you're in good company. In a Writer's Digest interview, Michael Lewis said this:
I agonize over structure. I'm never completely sure I got it right. Whether you sell the reader on turning the page is often driven by the structure. Every time I finish a book, I have this feeling that, Oh, I've done this before. So it's going to be easier next time. And every time it's not easier. Each time is like the first time in some odd way, because it is so different.1
The book you're working now is different from any other book you've worked on. It's different from Michael Lewis. It's different from mine.
You need to discover what that the best structure for this book.
Method 1: Discovery
The first way is by discovery.
Through the discovery approach, you're going to write your way into it.
On her podcast QWERTY, Marion Roach Smith recently interviewed Elizabeth Rosner about her book Survivor Café. Elizabeth Rosner chose different terms and concepts and horrors related to the Holocaust and presented them early on in the book using the alphabet.
The alphabet was a way of structuring that content.
Rosner said the alphabet was a way to explain, "Here are all the things I'm going to talk about that I don't really know how to talk about. Here are all the words I don't know how to explain."
Marion asked how she arrived at this alphabet structure, and here's what Rosner said:
I love getting to talk about structure and decisions. And when we talk about them after they’ve been made, it all seems so thoughtful and careful and deliberate and...everything in reality is so messy and chaotic for me, that it’s always amazing to me how neat and coherent it seems afterwards.2
You can see that Rosner sort of stumbled on this approach.
My Favourite Writing Blog
I was bored at my day job last week, and binge-listened to this. As someone who works long days and often finds it challenging to schedule time to write, this has been the most incredible morale boost I could hope for. Ann's podcast covers everything from technique to the logistics of sitting down to write during a busy day, and she has the most inspiring way of conveying it all. Thank you so, so much for giving me a boost when I needed it most.
Become the Best Writer You Can Be
Whether you are a beginner or an established writer, Ann Kroeker’s podcast has a great deal to offer. Encouraging, reassuring, comforting and challenging, this podcast is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to write successfully and from the heart. Some episodes feature advice from Ann, others are interesting guests who share their experiences or hints, tips and helps for writers. Wherever you are in your writing journey, Ann can definitely help you overcome the obstacles and become the best writer you can be.