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.
How to Read Like a Writer
You're a writer. So you write. But do you read?
Of course you do, but how do you read? Do you read like a writer?
There are ways writers can read that can be both inspiring and instructive, and that's what we're going to cover today, so you can see how reading, as Stephen King says, can serve as your "creative center."
As we learn to read like a writer, you might be a little afraid I'm going to ruin a reading for you—that you'll no longer be able to read for pleasure, but don't worry. You'll still be able to read for fun and distraction.
You can listen, read, or watch to learn more.
Read to Collect Content for Your Work
But if you want to read like a writer, you will benefit from reading with an analytical eye. So the first way we're going to read as writers is to go ahead and read for inspiration and information, just like we always do.
You need to understand a topic better, so you research and read about it.
You want to expand your knowledge, so you read and take notes.
You want to improve yourself, so you grab a book that's going to help you gain a skill or solve a problem.
We writers are always collecting ideas and content. All that you read can feed into your writing.
In fact, we've probably always done this our entire lives. If not consciously, then maybe subconsciously, we've been doing all this collecting. But now I want you to be more intentional about it. Even as you're casually reading the back of a cereal box, a tweet, or a magazine article, start to take notes about where this content came from, who wrote it, and how it impacted you. Because this is all now material that you can use in all of your work.
Read Authors As Your Teachers
There's another big way that we can read as writers and that's to start viewing these authors and these writers as teachers. They can instruct us. Francine Prose in her book, Reading Like a Writer said this:
I've heard the way a writer reads described as "reading carnivorously." What I've always assumed that this means is not, as the expression might seem to imply, reading for what can be ingested, stolen or borrowed, but rather for what can be admired, absorbed, and learned. It involves reading for sheer pleasure, but also with an eye and a memory for which author happens to do which thing particularly well.
So we read and pay attention to the choices that an author makes that results in such engaging work.
In literature, especially in poetry courses, we talk about a close reading where every idea, every sentence, even every word is examined. A close reading reveals all: from the highest level of themes and ideas, organization, and structure all the way down to the details of sentences and word choices.
We see what works and why it works. And while we do want to look to the best to be able to level up our work, we don't have to always be looking at Shakespeare and Dickinson to be able to improve as writers. Our teachers, our model texts, can be from the kinds of writing we want to pursue. We might find a blog post that is an excellent example, and we can follow that to discover the tone and the topics that were covered and the length and the layout.
And we can learn from that, as well. So find your experts, your teachers, your models, wherever they may be.
Read Close by Annotating
Another way we can read like a writer is to annotate. Mortimer Adler in his book How to Read a Book, written with Charles van Doren, wrote this:
Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself and the best way to make yourself a part of it, which comes to the same thing is by writing in it.
He claims that full ownership of a book happens not when you purchase it.
5 Writing Strengths You Need to Succeed
You want to start out strong as a writer and succeed at your work.
A lot of different strengths are at play to keep us at the keyboard or page, and the good news is—you may already have some of these strengths.
If not, you can develop them over time.
And some of them may surprise you.
Let's look at five strengths you need to succeed as a writer:
Today I'm trying something new, sharing this both in audio and video format.
Let's hear from you: After you watch or listen, let me know in the comments what you see as your greatest writing strength—and if I've left off a critical writing strength, add to this list!
Look, you can subscribe for free coaching!
Validate Your Idea to Produce Your Best Project (Back to Basics)
You have an idea for your next writing project.
Before you get too far—before you write too much—you need to be sure this idea is going to fly with your audience. You need to validate it so you move forward with a concept that, depending on your purpose, will truly resonate, connect, teach, persuade, inform, or entertain.
Let's look at three ways to validate project ideas:
Validate “in house”: run it through personal filtersValidate through research: check what exists alreadyValidate through audience: ask, survey, and test the idea
Validate “In House”
The first method to validate is to run it through personal filters. Ask yourself if it fits with your brand, if it will serve your audience, and if it’s a fresh angle on your primary topics.
This may take only a minute or two, but sometimes we rush past it in our excitement over an idea that captivates us. If we skip this step, we may create content that draws an audience uninterested in anything else we write.
If I as a writing coach started producing content about style because I'm interested in a trend, I might click publish on an article about fall colors that draws a new audience of women who like to discuss shirts, skirts, and shoes.
But if I pause and validate “in house,” asking myself if this is a good fit for my primary purpose and audience, I’ll probably focus my energy elsewhere. After all, I’m creating a place online for men and women looking for support with their writing, so devoting a long post to discussing red pumps and French braids won't reach or retain a wide range of writers.
But let’s say it passes this initial “in house” test. You believe your idea will serve your audience well and you haven't explored this topic at length in the past.
The next step is to do some research—see what else is out there on this topic.
Validate Through Research
The main way to research is, of course, to type keywords, key phrases, key ideas, and key concepts related to your project’s idea into a search engine and see what it pulls up.
I suggest you quickly jot down everything you know about this idea before the search. Then you can compare all the articles, videos, podcasts, and memes with your existing knowledge and slant.
Don’t be discouraged if you find a ton of material—don’t assume it’s all been said before. In fact, that’s a good sign that people are searching for this kind of content. You'll see how to contribute to the greater conversation.
And that’s the key. As you explore what other authors, bloggers, and speakers in your niche have created, you realize how your project will be similar, but different, and broaden or deepen readers' understanding.
If need be, return to 6 methods to right-size your next writing project to find a different slant. You can continue to work through those until you land on that distinct spin you can bring to this project.
Pro tip: As you’re cruising the internet and clicking through to interesting content, be sure to grab all citation information while you’re there. Because if you decide to quote an expert in the field or to include an excerpt from one of the articles, you want that citation information at your fingertips. Quoting people builds credibility—and so does proper citation.
We told our high school debaters it's always good to bring an expert to the podium with you to raise your credibility.
Back to Basics: 6 Methods to Right-Size Your Next Writing Project
Have you ever written a blog post and found it's growing too big and unwieldy? Or you set out to develop a book only to realize you don't have enough material to fill a 45K- or 50K-word manuscript?
If so, you're struggling with Goldilocks Syndrome: your idea is too big or too small for the project’s purpose and the way it’ll be published or shared with the world.
You’re trying to cram everything you know about, say, computers into 800 to 1,000 words. You’ve got the makings of a book when you set out to write a blog post. How do you narrow it to a reasonable length?
Or you’re trying to stretch the idea of cooking with crackers into a book-length project, but it’s not enough material. How do you broaden the concept to produce a compelling cookbook?
What does it take to land on that just right length for your next writing project?
The 6 Right-Sizing Methods
Test these six methods for narrowing—or broadening—your next writing idea and you’ll land on the perfect length, approach, and slant to suit this project’s audience, purpose, and medium. In the process, you’ll gain clarity and solidify your ideas.
The six different methods to right-size your projects are:
Let me describe each one, starting with time. When does it mean to right-size your project using time?
You can use time to focus on decades, a stage of life, or an era. For example, depending on your topic, you might limit your idea to focus only on the 1950s, only early childhood, or only on the Middle Ages.
If you’re writing a memoir, you’ll limit the scope of your book to a specific time in your life in which you experienced struggle and transformation.
If you’re writing about plants, you could focus on the planting stage.
If you need to broaden your idea because it’s too narrow, you can simply expand from the 1950s to the first half of the 20th century or from early childhood to Kindergarten through sixth grade.
Location is another way to land on the right size for your project. You could focus on geography, meaning anything from a continent or country all the way down to a city landmark, neighborhood, or business.
But you could think of location on an object or a space. The gardener may want to write about an area of the garden or the location on a specific plant, such as the roots or petals.
If you’re writing about flight, you could focus on small airports in a given state or areas within a specific airport.
We can also use categories to think through an idea we find to be too big and broad or too small and narrow. Find some commonalities and group those things that are similar.
If you’re the garden blogger, you could focus on one category—vegetables—instead of flowers, trees, or groundcover. Dial down even more by categorizing nightshades or spring vegetables or weeds.
The blogger who writes about planes can narrow to categories such as biplanes, jets, or airliners.
By focusing on a small category, you easily narrow your idea. And then you can broaden by including multiple categories.
First-time authors often want to write a book for everyone in the whole world. That’s not realistic. The first step in right-sizing will be to narrow your audience...
Back to Basics: Generate Ideas to Find What You Have to Say
With my Back to Basics series, I'm providing tools you can apply to your next project in hopes it will make the writing process easier and the final product stronger than ever—so you can make an impact.
Last time, we started by identifying a project's high-level elements—its Topic, Audience, Purpose, and Medium. After that, you can focus on the message of your project; that is, given your topic, what is this project’s IDEA.
What do you write about? Is it running, longevity, RV travel, cooking on a budget, stamp collecting, or social justice?
Maybe you’re known for this topic and it’s your brand identity, or maybe you’ve been assigned this by an editor. Regardless, you start with a topic, but you don’t stop there.
You have to hone in on an idea: a narrowed idea suitable for this particular project and this particular audience. Your finalized idea will reflect the slant or angle you’re taking that will provide focus and set your project apart from others tackling the same topic.
It’s tempting to latch onto the first idea that pops into our heads—and sometimes those are indeed fresh and full of potential. Most of the time, though, if we want to write something that stands out, we’re better off taking time to send the idea through five phases:
GenerateNarrowValidateRevise (adapt, adjust)Confirm or Finalize
First, you’ll generate ideas. You’re about to hear lots of tips for generating ideas in this episode, and I’ll include links to a few other articles and resources. You can test them out and find what works best for you.
When you land on some ideas with potential, you’ll narrow them to suit your audience, purpose, and medium. You’ll also find your unique slant.
When it seems your idea has potential, you’ll validate the idea, especially if you’re launching a big project like a book. But even when you’re planning an article or blog post, it’s smart to take a few steps to vet the idea, and I’ll explain that in another episode.
After that process, you’ll adapt it based on the input you receive during the validation phase, revising and adjusting the idea as needed.
5. Confirm or Finalize
The last phase will be to confirm your idea and finalize it so you can dig in and—finally!—write.
A five-phase process just to lock in an idea may sound like overkill and it may seem like it’ll take ages, but you’ll breeze through it—especially for short projects. And it’s definitely worth it for longer projects because they’ll come together more efficiently when you walk through these phases.
Let’s start with what it takes to generate ideas.
Generate Ideas to Find What You Have to Say
When we begin our search for writing ideas, we start with ourselves. What are you drawing from to produce your projects? What’s in you? What do you have to say?
Generate Ideas by Remembering
Our writing usually flows out of the person we are. The ideas we share are ideas inside us, so writing about our past and drawing from memories, we can pull up ideas that formed us, challenged us, confused us.
Using those memories as the centerpiece of a project, we can dive in to explore the meaning, the truth, the lies, and the message locked in our past.
These ideas flow from the richness of remembering.
Improve Your Writing by Getting Back to Basics
You’re inspired. An idea seizes you and before the energy fizzles, you whip out a laptop, open a new document, and slam out words. Get it down fast—start writing and discover along the way what you want to say.
I support this approach! Capture the core idea while your creativity sizzles—before your vision fades!
At some point, however, you need to take a minute to be sure you know four key elements of this project or else your final product may miss the mark.
For everything we write, we really do need to know:
Imagine if today’s article had been titled “Follow These 3 Rules to Organize and Optimize Your RV Kitchen.” You’d wonder if you clicked on the wrong link or cued up the wrong podcast. I do like RV travel and could probably write about it, but because this website provides writing input to readers, an RV article might suit the medium of a podcast that focused on RV owners, but it would not fit the topic, audience, or purpose of a writing coach podcast or website.
Understand these fundamental elements of your project, and you’ll save time in the editing stage and ultimately impress publishers and serve readers. You'll build an audience that can tell you are knowledgeable and you understand them.
Build This Step into Your Writing Process
Experienced writers who publish regularly often work through this instinctively because they’ve written for years about a particular subject matter for an outlet that follows a specific format. These professionals may be able to sit down and tap out an impressive draft that follows style and formatting guidelines, and falls close to the ideal word count.
But if you’re…
new to writing
returning to it after a long break
craving a refresher on the basics
concerned your work isn’t connecting with readers
stepping out to write new subject matter, reach a new audience, or publish in a new media style or outlet
…I recommend you build this step into your writing process more intentionally.
Consciously, deliberately pause in the early stages of development to think through—even write out—brief descriptions of your project’s topic, audience, purpose, and medium.
Know what you’re setting out to accomplish and why. Determine what you’re writing about and who it’s for. Consider where it’ll be published and distributed, because that affects its depth and design, tone and topic, length and layout.
Lock this in before you brainstorm, research, outline, or free write and you’ll find the writing, revising, and editing process more efficient and the finished project’s impact more effective.
Let’s start with that initial inspiration. That creative spark. That idea.
THE TOPIC QUESTION: What’s this project about?
Sometimes you’re assigned a topic; other times the idea blooms from within. Either way, you’ll need to confirm the high-level topic and then articulate how this project will narrow and focus on a particular aspect of it.
For example, your high-level topic may be vegetable gardening. Are you writing an article for a local garden shop’s newsletter about growing potatoes or how to plant a Three Sisters garden? That’s how you would narrow the high-level topic to be more focused.
If you function as your own publisher, your “brand” may cover three or four categories that lead to obvious topic choices that always fit the audience, purpose, and medium.
The food blogger writes about the high-level topic of food, but narrows it to a few categories like main dishes, side dishes, slow-cooker instructions. Then, she publishes specific articles and recipes under each of those.