My Big Fat Opinion: You Must Create an Outline

create an outline image of lightbulb with ideas coming off it

Whenever I meet with a new client, whether they have anything written or not, I ask them for an outline. For many people, the thought of creating an outline brings them back to the horror of high school English class. They experience either the perfectionist desire to get it right or the rebelliousness to state they don’t do outlines.

There are several quotes that I think relate to why an outline is important. And yes, while some relate to goal setting, they are still relevant:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll

“If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” – Yogi Berra

“Knowing where you are going is the first step to getting there.” – Ken Blanchard

(all quotes taken from azquotes.com)

To me, writing a book (or even long content) without an outline is a surefire way to get lost, be less effective, and even possibly lose your reader. For writers who aren’t very experienced, an outline should be used for anything longer than a paragraph that takes the reader to a desired end point.

The Content of an Outline

For me, I don’t ask my clients to follow one specific form. Instead, I tell them to do what works best for them. After all, this isn’t English class – there is no exam, no grade to earn, no red ink. I want my clients to create an outline simply for the sake of:

  • Knowing the key points to make
  • Keeping us on track for content creation/writing
  • Inspiration when stuck about what to write, and
  • Knowing what we want the reader to walk away with

To accomplish this, the outline can look like:

  • Traditional structure such as an A, B, C; 1, 2, 3; a, b, c, etc. format
  • Mind mapping
  • A synopsis in paragraph or multi-paragraph form

For More Resources

An outline, in my opinion, is one of the first steps in writing your book. For more writing resources, check out my home page at www.skaowlpress.com.

There you can access:

  • Your FREE Essential Checklist for First Time Authors
  • Your FREE 30-page e-book titled, “How to Write a Book”, and
  • Your FREE course: “What to Write in Your Memoir”

As always, if I can help you further, Contact Me for a free 30-minute consultation.

How to Hire a Ghostwriter Who is Right for You

While all ghostwriters say they can write for you, it’s important to note not all writers are created equal. When you hire a ghostwriter, it may seem straight forward: find a writer, hire them. But your goals really need to direct your decision, and they should have the portfolio that proves they are not only the right writer for you, but can also demonstrate their success. How do you know if a ghostwriter has what it takes to be your writer? Here are some tips to get your started:

Ask to See Their Related Work

To hire a ghostwriter, ask to see their work. The right one will be able to provide you samples of their work. Hopefully, they have samples in your industry or at least genre, but not having it shouldn’t disqualify them. Look at what they submit to you and read it as though you wrote it. Does it hold your interest and sound like how you would want to sound? More importantly, would it appeal to the types of clients you want to work with?

You can ask for a sample of work where they write a piece for you, however, you should expect to pay for it. It will help you to see how they handle your subject matter and “voice”. Some writers will not be the right fit and that’s ok; just like any service provider, some will be better for you than others.

Ask Them Their Timeline

Ghostwriting is very time consuming. It’s important to understand from the start when the ghostwriter feels they can start and finish your project. Ask for references from former clients and contact them to see what their experience was in working with the ghostwriter. Ask about their adherence to deadlines and how it was to work together.

Ask About Their Pricing/ Contract Terms

According to a recent Huffington Post Article, a good ghostwriter will charge thousands of dollars. I don’t like that they aren’t really qualifying that with an associated word count or quality. I still like the article because I think it helps shed light on what many people don’t understand, however, and that is ghostwriting is difficult and requires time and skill to get it right.

When looking to hire a ghostwriter, ask about pricing and look at what you expect to make in return. Also ask about contract terms such as whether you will be requiring an editor, marketing team, etc. beyond their service. You may think you are buying more or less than you are, so it is important to understand the full scope of services your writer is providing.

Get the Right Fit, First Time 

Bottom line, when it comes time to hire a ghostwriter, it is important to find someone who understands your goals, voice, and expectations. Asking questions upfront, and seeing their work before making a commitment will determine if they are the right fit. If you need help finding a ghostwriter to work with, please contact me – I have a variety of writers on my team who may be perfect for your writing needs.

Dealing with Rejection and Criticism as a Writer

About a month ago I had a former editor publicly blast one of my blogs. She said it was poorly written and cited some specific areas that concerned her. She concluded that no one should work with me because as she felt it was poorly written, I couldn’t possibly help someone else write anything on a professional level. Despite her opinion, my business continued to thrive. This isn’t the first time I’ve been criticized as a writer, however.

Once, in a writing group, I was told an autobiographical story I had written was “a bunch of junk.”  I had played with the style of writing from a frantic stream of consciousness. I felt the style was fitting as the story recounted a terrifying experience I went through. In the end, I rewrote it in a more traditional style and it was published in an anthology of women’s writers. It sold several thousand copies.

It’s not just my writing that has been criticized. Just like everyone else, I’ve been criticized personally. Although criticism from others on all levels is difficult to deal with, no one is a harder on me than me… as is probably the case for you as well. So, how do we as writers deal with rejection?

Solutions for Dealing with Rejection and Criticism as a Writer

First, know that both crappy writers and successful writers have always, and will continue to face criticism.  Sometimes published writers write poorly and still make money – lots of money. In some cases, they are even able to sell their story to a production company that then turns it into a movie. And as they are critically bashed, again and again, I wonder, are they kicking themselves for not taking just one more writing workshop? Wishing they had hired a good editor? Or are they joyfully ordering another Pina Colada, disinterested in, or perhaps oblivious to, the criticism.

Do It Anyway.  No matter who you are, you will be criticized as long as you are putting yourself out there. But what is important to remember is you ARE putting yourself out there. That’s a huge step as an author. It is entirely your choice if 1) you let others read your writing, 2) if you care what they think, and 3) if you continue to share your work anyway. I encourage you to be brave but to start with those you trust. I personally would suggest reaching out to a writing professional. I am not saying this as a writing coach looking for a client, I am speaking as a writer who has seen too many people with stories to tell become discouraged by others who give unprofessional, sometimes unsolicited opinions.

You Are Good Enough. There are no credentials to being a writer other than the fact that you write. There are plenty of writers with English degrees and no ability to connect to their readers. I have Journalism majors contact me in tears because they couldn’t finish an article. I’ve had 13-year-old students who believed their novels would rival those of John Greene. It was ALL related to confidence or lack thereof. Build your skills in ways that are best for you… then BELIEVE you have those skills and write. You are a writer after all.

Get Support. Join a safe writing community who values excellence. Read my blog on critique groups HERE. A safe writing community understands how hard the art and craft of writing can be. They understand how vulnerable you become when you share your story. A supportive critique group will offer constructive criticism, not bash you.

Don’t Take it Personal. Finally, understand rejection is part of the writing process. There were times I received rejection letters faster than I felt the piece could be read, but I just kept writing and submitting. Writing is art and if you don’t want to get discouraged, you need to be a writer who doesn’t take rejection personally. If you succeed in doing this, please tell me how.

 

Receiving support from a writing coach and/or positive writing community can help you brush off rejection and criticism with more ease. If I can ever be of help in this capacity, let me know. I offer a range of services designed for all levels of writers and their goals. Contact me HERE for a free consultation. 

The Pros and Cons of Critique Groups

critique groups

Critique groups have somewhat dissolved over the years as online formats for sharing writing have become more accessible. However, they still play an important role in the process of writing for publication. Sadly, some can cause more harm than good – here are the pro’s and con’s to consider before joining one. 

What are Critique Groups? 

A critique group is a group of writers who are looking for peer support through the constructive criticism of their written pieces. There are often guidelines and/or procedures for participating in a critique group that may include having already been published, limited work to a specific genre(s), page count limits (including the font type, size, margins, etc.), and frequency of sharing and/or critiques. It is important to remember that any valid critique group will follow guidelines allowing for true constructive criticisms. Critiques are not about shaming or degrading authors.  

The Pros and Cons of Critique Groups 

Pro: Critique groups often are made up of people from many different backgrounds, creating a mini cross-section of society. This diversity brings more insight into what you have written. Without the critique group, you may have not had access to such diversity. You never know who may be helping you become a better writer with their insight. Someone who understands a particular character’s struggle first hand, ethnic sensitivities, you may even have a previously published writer reviewing your manuscript. 

Con: This may also mean that you have inexperienced writers reviewing your work who won’t catch errors. The diverse group may also include someone really doesn’t like or understand your style or genre. Lack of understanding and/or the dislike of a specific writing style tends to make one too harsh to offer value, or they may even be completely ineffective as a reader. 

Pro: Critique groups are generally inexpensive to join. Often times a free group can be found quite easily. 

Con: Attendance can be irregular at best. What this means for you the writer is someone who took your submission at the last meeting may not be at the next meeting to give feedback. Allowing the manuscript to be read at the meeting is a way some groups have squelched this problem. I, however, don’t feel this gives the reader enough time with the work to really dive in. I found hearing someone read their work made it harder for me to critique. This is probably the case for anyone who is a visual, as opposed to an auditory, learner. This lack of attendance can also mean a reader may only be seeing your chapters out of order, only creating more chaos. 

Con: In regards to online critique groups, I find many readers don’t fulfill their requirements. This leads to an imbalance as you, the reader, end up doing more critiques than you yourself are receiving. Then, of the feedback you do receive, you often find readers who are unhelpful in their feedback and/or the process takes so long at times you question if it’s worth it. 

So, What’s the Solution? 

There is no cut and dry answer to this. The solution depends on your desired outcome. If you are wanting a critique group, as yourself why. Make a list of what you want to get out of it and then look specifically for those things – you’d be surprised what you find online when you are really clear. It may mean working with a professional, attending a workshop or signing up for a class. There are also online forums, but again, make sure they match your desired outcome and don’t have you spending all your time critiquing other’s work rather than working on your own project. 

Because I have found some writing groups to be more harm than good, I decided to put together a writing group that takes all the best components of a critique group and leaves out the harsh and ineffective feedback process. Contact me HERE to learn more.