4 Great Tips to Balance Writing and Social Media

How to Balance Writing and Social MediaA couple of weeks ago, I did a post on Why Writers Should Spend Time Offline. That post spoke more generally to the importance of unplugging, but this post focuses more on day-to-day writing/social media balance.  There’s also a little bit of a story behind my motivation for both of these posts.

Regardless of where you are in your writing journey, there’s a lot of emphasis on building an author platform these days. You may have even heard that it’s never too soon to start. That’s something I would agree with. Followers will absolutely help you out when it comes to selling or promoting a book, so the sooner you start building your account, the better off you are. But, if you’re not careful, it can be really easy to let that social media eat up a lot of your writing time and energy. This is something I know all too well.

A few months ago, I realized I was spending way too much time online. Checking my phone and social media accounts had become a compulsion. I also found it was getting in the way of my writing and my life. I knew I needed to do something to right the ship. It turned out that when I focused solely on managing my time on social media, my overall internet time cut down across the board. I didn’t want to ditch social media entirely–there’s a lot I like about it–but I did want it to take less time and be less of a distraction. If you find yourself spending more time on social media than you’d like, here are four tips that really helped me cut back without disappearing entirely.

1) Only check in at specific times each day

This was one of my first techniques. I had gotten into the habit of jumping on Twitter and scrolling anytime I had a free minute. Then I’d inevitably find myself following a thread of tweets, doing more research on something I’ve read, or contemplating a response to a mention. I also found myself mindlessly and taking “quick breaks” from writing or work just to see what was happening. So one of the first things I did was limit the time I went on social media. I picked three times a day–once in the morning, afternoon, and night to check-in online. Each check-in was no longer than fifteen minutes long.

2) Limit the devices you’re logged into

Of course, limiting your social media check-ins is a good plan, but it can take some serious self-control. After all, you’re breaking a habit here. I caught myself mindlessly opening Twitter on my browser on several occasions. What helped was to limit the places I was logged into. I work on my computer a lot, so being logged into the social media on there made it way too easy to get distracted and sucked back in. So for me, my phone made the most sense. Now when I use social media, it’s almost exclusively from my phone.

And if you’re thinking, “Well, Meghan, that sounds great, but what’s to keep me from constantly checking my phone?” Here’s tip 2a). Before I started cutting back, I checked social media on my phone so much that I often burned through my battery by the end of each day–sometimes sooner. Perhaps you’ve been there? To keep my phone time and social media time-limited, I found it really helpful to play a game with myself to see how long I could make my battery last. For whatever reason, that really helped me stay off my phone and cut down on social media time in the process. I went from charging my phone at least once a day to only every three days.

3) Only log on when you’re posting something

After a few weeks, I had gotten pretty good at my three times a day check-ins and I was ready to take it to the next level. I decided I would definitely check-in once a day to see what’s going on (like I said, I do like social media), but aside from that, I only log on when I have something to post. This was when the habit really broke for me. Now from time to time, I actually forget my once a day check-in.

4) Make your posts purposeful

When it came to posting, I found I spent way too much time thinking of and writing posts. I posted more frequently then than I do now, but I was also sporadic. Some weeks I’d post three times a day and then nothing for a stretch. Once I decided I wanted my accounts to have more of a theme (which is writing), it got a lot easier to post on a fairly regular schedule. That’s not to say that I don’t share other stuff. I do–but I try to focus my regular content on my theme. This has given me a focus and has made it easier to come up with posts.

I also try to plan and write a lot of these theme posts ahead of time, which means I don’t have to constantly remember to write and post. Later app has made doing this on Instagram really easy. Once you have a (free) account you can log in on your computer, type your Instagram posts out, save them, and schedule notifications to be sent to your phone so you don’t forget to post. I used to tap out my really long #WritingWednesday posts in the app, one letter at a time. I love writing those posts, but it took forever! And sometimes my post would be too long and Instagram wouldn’t post it the caption which would make me very sad!

Finding this app has made me so much more efficient and saved me a lot of time. I don’t post nearly as much as I did in the past, but I’m much more consistent, which has helped be maintain a good balance.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how you can balance writing and social media!

Now it’s your turn: Have you had trouble balancing social media and writing? What’s something that’s helped you? What’s something you’ve struggled with? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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Scrivener Review: 6 Reasons Why I Love This Software

Six Reasons I love ScrivenerAbout six years ago, I first learned about a writing software called Scrivener. I was on the fence about purchasing it, but after some research, I decided to take the plunge. It’s a decision I have yet to regret. In fact, this software quickly became one of my most essential writing tools.

I’ll probably do a full review of Scrivener down the line, but since it’s pretty clear that this is a product I recommend, I thought it might be more helpful to give you a product overview that highlights my favorite features. If you’re on the fence like I was, or just curious about the program, this is a post for you! I included some screenshots–click on the images to enlarge.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

The Binder

Binder

Before I found Scrivener I’d written books in both Word and Final Draft. Two of the biggest inconveniences of both of those products was: 1) the need to scroll in order to get from one section of the book to another and 2) the need to copy and paste every time I wanted to restructure my book. Scrivener’s binder feature fixes both of those problems.

The binder is located on the left side of the screen. For each chapter of your book, you create a folder in the binder. Then within each chapter folder, you add your scenes. If you want to jump from the beginning of the book to the end, all you have to do is click on the scene. And if you want to move a scene or chapter from one part of the book to another, you simply drag and drop. (I can’t tell you how much time this saved me when I had to restructure and reorder my last book.)

Additionally, you can store all of your drafts in their own separate file folder right inside the binder. This means you don’t have to juggle multiple versions and files on your computer. Everything is in one place!

The Word Counter

You may have seen this word counter floating around social media. This was a selling point for me. It makes it so easy to track your writing and monitor your progress. It manages both your daily session and your overall progress simultaneously, so you always know if you’re on target to meet your goals. You can keep it docked on your screen or check in from time to time.

Auto-Save

This was another massive selling point. I’ve been burned by a crashing Word document too many times for this not to be an essential feature. One of the biggest reasons I used the scriptwriting software Final Draft was because it could be set to auto-save every five minutes. Scrivener takes this to the next level. I currently have the software to auto-save when it detects two seconds of inactivity. Even if the program crashes on me, (which it never has) the most I’m likely to lose is a paragraph. If you’ve ever lost hours of work because you got too wrapped up in your story to hit save, I think you’ll agree that this feature alone makes the product worth it.

File Converter

Scrivener makes it easy to convert your Scrivener document to almost any file format. This includes word processors like Microsoft Word and Open Office and e-reader files like Kindle and iBooks. This means you can easily share your documents with people who don’t use Scrivener. And while I’ve never tried to self-publish, this feature seems like it would be ridiculously helpful with that if it’s something you’re interested in.

File Converter

Screen Space

One thing I underestimated when I first started using this program is how it uses screen space. The set up is designed to help you be the most effective writer you can be. The binder is always docked on the left-hand side, the editor (typing area) takes up the center, and the right has a couple different notes sections that you can use as needed. This set up makes it easy to double check a fact that you dropped in three chapters ago or jot down a quick note about your scene/chapter without losing your momentum. You can also completely customize what goes in your sidebars and how much or how little of the sidebar/binder you see.

Project Versatility

This software is designed for writers and novelists specifically, but it’s also prepared to handle project by screenwriters, poets, lyricists, and students who just want a quality word processor. Basically, it’s the only writing software you’ll ever need.

Also Worth Noting

There are a host of pre-writing features that I don’t use (I’m more of a pen and paper brainstormer). But if you’re a digital brainstormer, Scrivener has you covered there too! The program has a digital corkboard you can use to brainstorm and arrange your scenes, then easily access that info while you write. There are also areas to keep information on your characters, locations, and research.

If you want to give Scrivener a try, it’s available for Mac and Windows. (There are also discounted education editions for both Mac and Windows open to students, teachers, and scholars.)

If you want to learn more about any of these features, I would suggest hopping over to YouTube and searching for Scrivener demos to see the program in action.

I hope this gives you a good idea why I love Scrivener!

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve used Scrivener before, what’s your favorite thing about it? If there’s anything you didn’t like, tell me that too. If you’ve never tried it, what questions do you have? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How I Got My Agent: My Successful Querying Story

Querying: How I got my agentWelcome to Part Three of my three-part querying series! ICYMI: Here’s Part One: How to Write a Successful Query Letter and Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent. This time, I’m going to tell you all about how I got my agent.

These stories meant a lot to me when I was querying, so it only seems right that I share my own. A shorter version of this story can be found on the Writer’s Digest blog. There was a lot I couldn’t fit into that post, so this is an expanded and more query-centric version.

Post-High School Querying

If you’ve read my story, you know I wrote my first book in high school. It was a YA fantasy. I spent the end of my senior year editing, determined to have a “polished” book by graduation, so I could spend the summer querying. I used AgentQuery.com to research agents I thought would be a good fit for me, built a list of between fifteen to thirty agents (I don’t remember exactly), and sent my letters out in two or three rounds. At this point, agents were just starting to accept email queries so most fo my letters went out via USPS with a self-addressed stamped envelope for a response. It took all summer just to send those first letters and hear back.

Since almost everything went out snail mail, it also got expensive pretty quickly–especially when sample pages were involved. Which is why I didn’t query too much beyond the summer. In addition to the expense, but I also started to realize that the book could be a lot better. I didn’t get any requests, so after the summer, I pulled it back. Even though I didn’t get anywhere close to getting an agent, I learned a lot about the querying process, which was really helpful down the line.

Post-College Querying

I wrote a new book in college that was set in the same world as my previous book. This one felt so much better from the start. I used the beginning of the book to get into my MFA program, where I workshopped it until I had a draft I was really happy with. There were still a few sections that I thought could be stronger (especially toward the beginning) but it was the absolute best I could do at the time. I pulled on everything I’d learned from my first querying experience and combined it with what I was learning in my MFA program and got querying. (This was when I found QueryTracker.com.)

In the end, I queried this book twice. First in the fall of 2011. I had a working list of agents when I started, but I was always looking to add more. I found a query tip somewhere (I can’t remember exactly where) that suggested looking in a book’s acknowledgment section for names since most authors thank their agents there. So I flipped through a bunch of books I had read recently and found two of the authors were represented by Michelle Wolfson. I added her to my list.

Michelle has a “no response means no” policy, so she only responds if she likes your query. When she responded to mine I was thrilled. Ultimately, she wasn’t making a request, but she was very encouraging while pointing at a few issues in the book that resonated with me. She also asked me to keep her in mind for the future if this book didn’t get me an agent. She may have been passing on my book, but I felt like she saw what I was trying to do even though I wasn’t actually pulling it off yet. Because of that, she became my first choice for my future agent. I also pulled the book back to revise based on her feedback.

I spent the next nine months revising it on and off while I worked on my thesis project for school. I started querying again in the summer of 2012 while I wrote Crossing the Line. Michelle was closed to queries at this point, so I never got to go back to her with the revision. I got a couple requests for the updated version, but no offers. I queried this book until Crossing the Line was polished and ready to submit, which was mid-September of 2013.

The Numbers: 126 agents queried, 2 requests, 1 promising rejection, 0 offers

Querying Crossing the Line

When I started querying Crossing the Line, Michelle was my first choice thanks to her previous rejection. But she was also still closed to queries. I didn’t follow agents on social media when I was querying–I didn’t want to be that attached–but I followed Michelle. I had a good feeling about her and I didn’t want to miss when she opened back up again. In the meantime, I went back through the list of agents I’d cultivated and started at the top again while I wrote a new book. Six weeks into querying, Michelle opened and I sent my letter off right away. She got back to me within a couple hours asking for more pages.

One of the reasons I liked Michelle from the start is that she’s very upfront with what you can expect from her. She tells you right in her submissions guidelines that she typically responds to queries very quickly and partials very slowly. This turned out to be accurate. Michelle also mentioned how long I should wait before following up. I followed up with her every few months until the last Thursday in June when her response said my partial was her subway reading for that afternoon. Later that night, I got another email from her asking to read the whole book.

I sent it off, excited, but also expecting it to be a little while until I heard from her. (By now, I had gotten good at waiting.) The following Tuesday morning, my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize, and I had my hands full straining chickpeas, so I didn’t pick up. A beat after the phone stopped ringing I realized who it might be. Sure enough, Michelle had left a voicemail saying she loved my book and asking me to call her back. I called back before I could think too much about it. (I was ready to do some research on what it might mean and what questions I should ask, but I refrained.) We had a great call and I was officially a represented author.

The Numbers: 111 agents queried, 2 requests, 1 offer and acceptance.

Why I Said ‘Yes’ on the Spot

As you can see, I queried a lot of agents and didn’t get many requests. Even with that, I didn’t say yes to Michelle because she was the only one who offered. I said yes because I believed she was the best agent for me. She saw something in the first book I queried her with when very few did. Additionally, the things she felt weren’t quite right with that book were also things that had bothered me–I just wasn’t able to put my finger on them. This made me feel like we’d be in sync and make a good team. I also really liked that she responded to two very different books. I’ve always known that I’d want to write in a few different genres, so it was encouraging to know going in that she’d had some interest in two different stories.

At the time, all I had out with other agents were query letters. Between our exchanges and my gut instinct, I was sure Michelle was the agent for me. So much so that I felt giving the agents who had my letters a chance to read my book and make an offer would have been wasting their time. Ultimately, this just felt right to me–even in my overexcited state. I have no regrets.

So, that’s how I got my agent!

This concludes our querying series! In case you missed the others, here’s Part One: How to Write a Query Letter and Part Two: How to Query A Literary Agent.

If there’s anything about my personal querying journey you want to know more about, feel free to drop it the comments or send me a message.

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve queried in the past, what did you learn that’s helped you going forward? If you haven’t queried before, what are you anxious or excited about? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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4 Great Reasons Writers Should Spend Time Offline

Why Writers should spend time offlineThe internet has seriously changed the writing game and most of it is for the better. I can’t even imagine trying to write a book without Google (actually, I can and researching is painful). It’s also been an awesome way connect with other writers (like all of you!). But I think we all know it has it’s downsides too. Unplugging and making a point to spend time offline and away from your phone isn’t a new idea. In fact, this article from Good Housekeeping talks about the positive effects time offline can have on your health, relationships, and creativity!

Let’s take a look at four reasons time offline it’s particularly important for writers.

1) Too much input interferes with output

A friend said this to me once and she’s right. All that input from social media/news/everything else makes it harder to figure out what YOU think about an experience, situation, or the world in general, which means it’s hard to generate creative output that’s uniquely your own. Two massive elements to writing are your voice and your perspective. That’s the basis of every art form. The world keeps changing and you keep growing. Which means how you think about the world is going to consistently evolve. It’s hard to constantly develop and write your own thoughts if you spend most of your time taking in other people’s ideas. When you spend time offline, you’re giving yourself the time and space to develop your own thinking.

2) Get away from distraction/time suck

Let’s face it. The internet can be a wealth of information. It can also be a massive distraction. You jump online to look up that ONE thing and four hours later you’ve watched more pointless YouTube videos than you care to admit and spent too long scrolling Twitter. Obviously, I speak from experience. Sometimes mindless internet browsing can lead you to some cool places, but if you’re losing writing time, it’s a problem. Maybe you can’t log off for too long (for one reason or another) but if you find that you’re losing a ridiculous amount of production time to the internet, a weekend offline can really help. Focus solely on your project, read a book, or do any other offline activity. It feels like checking our phones and the internet has become a default setting for a lot of us. When you spend time offline and away from technology, it can go a long way in breaking that habit, which can make it easier to keep from getting distracted.

3) Refuel your creativity

If you’re not online, there are so many other things you could be doing to refuel your creativity. Read, catch a movie or TV show (without checking your phone or paying attention to two screens at once), spend time outside, visit with family/friends, or do whatever offline activity that helps stimulate your creativity. Really take in those experiences. These are the things we write about. And if you find yourself early to an event, don’t pull out your phone to kill time. Look around and make it a point to notice something. Think about what makes the fighting siblings in the corner so relatable or why the “lonely” person at the table by herself looks anything but lonely. When you unplug like this, you start to pay more attention to the world and to your own thoughts. All of that can be a serious boost to your creativity.

4) Get away from demands

It’s hard to focus on your work when people keep asking you for things–even if those ‘things’ are just a response. In the real world, we can close a door to keep these requests out. But the internet and technology have made us all more accessible. In most cases, this is good. It’s nice that we don’t have to wait a week for a letter to reach its destination, be read, and receive a response. But the downside is, there is always a door open for people to reach us. If you keep checking your phone or the internet and seeing texts/emails/social media post that requires an answer or attention, it makes it really difficult to get some work done. In the past, I would constantly find myself putting my work aside to tend to these messages. Unplugging, silencing my phone, and walking away from online messages for a period of time (sometimes just a few hours, sometimes for an entire week) has been really great for my productivity and general sanity. I completely recommend it.

Final thoughts

I’ve found it really helpful to take regular breaks from social media–even if I don’t break from the world entirely I like to shoot for at least one day a week, and a few times a year I’ll take an entire week away. When I come back from my breaks I notice I’m more balanced and more focused on my work. If you give it a try, let me know if you notice any difference!

I hope this inspires you to try to spend time offline!

Now it’s your turn: Do you unplug? If you do, what’s your strategy? If you don’t, what’s makes it hard for you to do? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Query a Literary Agent: 11 Steps

How to Query a Literary AgentHere’s Part Two of my Querying series! (Find Part One: How to Write a Query Letter here and Part Three: How I Got My Agent here) This post is focused on the querying process and how to query a literary agent. I’m going to share my personal querying/how I got my agent story in the next post.

For this process, I’m going to focus on how to query a literary agent because that’s what I have experience with. But if you’re approaching a small publisher, the process is going to be similar when querying an editor.

First, you should not be considering querying until your book is as finished and as polished as you can get it. (If you’ve got a series or trilogy and aren’t sure when to submit, check out this post!) Assuming you’ve reached that point, let’s take a look at how to query a literary agent.

1) Write a query letter that captures what your book is about

Before you query a literary agent, you have to write a query letter. I talked all about this in my How to Write a Query Letter post. That’s is where this process starts!

2) Do your research and build a list of possible agents

When you go to query a literary agent, you need to make sure you’re submitting to someone who is right for your book. The publishing market is broken down by age group (children’s, middle grade, young adult, adult) and genre (fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, contemporary, thriller, historical fiction, etc). Agents typically specialize in a few of these categories, but not all. So if you’ve written a middle grade fantasy, you need to make sure you’re submitting to agents that represent both middle grade and fantasy.

Here are to resources to help you build a list of potential agents:

QueryTracker.com: Once you make a (free) account on this site, you can search agents and filter them by age group and genre. They also include an agent’s website, email, social media handles, and an overview of how each agent prefers to be contacted. It’s also kept pretty up to date. This was my number one resource for keeping track of agents.

AgentQuery.com: This site has even more information that Query Tracker, but isn’t kept as up to date (which is why I didn’t use it as much). But you might want to cross-reference them–if you’re into that kind of thing. 🙂

There are hundreds (thousands?) of agents on these sites. Take some time to read through and visit websites, then make a list of your top ten, then twenty others you really like. You may need more but thirty should be good to get you started.

You can also try reading the acknowledgments of books you like/think your book is similar to. Most authors thank their agents, so you can find some names and look them up. (This is how I found my agent!)

3) Take note of submission guidelines and follow them!

When it comes time to query a literary agent, following the directions is critical. As much as the databases are good for finding agents, they may not always be current. You should always go to their actual websites to check submissions guidelines. Some agents will just want a query, some will want the query and sample pages pasted into the body of the email, some will want the partial attached. Whatever they ask, DO EXACTLY AS THEY SAY!!

Agents get a lot of queries, and they don’t have an excess of time. If you don’t follow the submission guidelines, you become someone they definitely don’t want to work with. It also may take them longer to sort through your submission, which again, isn’t something they really have time for. If you want to make a good first impression, follow the submission guidelines as closely as possible. The only place you have a little wiggle room is with the sample pages. If they ask for 10 pages, but your chapter (or a good stopping point) ends on page 11 or 12, then it’s usually okay to add the extra pages. But don’t abuse this. The agent you’re querying won’t appreciate it.

4) Get a dedicated query email address

Before you query a literary agent, I suggest setting up an email address just for querying. It should be professional, ideally with some variation of your name. This will become your future author email.

I also made sure it was a separate email client than my personal email, that way if I had the app on my phone, I would know that if I got that notification it was a query response. This meant I wasn’t constantly refreshing my email. If an email came through, it would find me. (Though I did check in online roughly every other week if I hadn’t heard from anyone in a while, in case of technology/notification fail.)

5) Start sending out letters

It’s time!!

Start with your top ten agents. Address your query. Follow the submission guidelines. Take a breath. And hit send.

I would suggest sticking with ten open queries at a time. You might get feedback from an agent at some point and want to make changes to your manuscript. If you sent the original out to everyone at once, then you have no one left to send your new and improved manuscript to. You also have to keep track of all the queries you send in case you get an offer and want to get in touch with an agent who has an open query (more on that later). This will be a lot harder and a lot more work if you have a ton of queries open. So I say start with ten. Then every time you close out a query, send a new one out.

6) Know what outcomes to expect

Before you query a literary agent, it’s a good idea to be prepared fo the most likely outcomes.

The good:

An agent likes your letter/sample pages and asks for more! (Yay!!) Some agents will go right ahead and ask you to send the entire manuscript. Others may ask for a partial, which is usually between 50-100 pages–the agent will tell you how much to send. DO WHAT THEY ASK!! Like submission guidelines, it’s usually okay to send a few more pages if it’s a better stopping point, but don’t go crazy. If they ask for 50 and you send 100, it’s starting things off on the wrong foot. Traditionally, if an agent asks for a full/partial, they’re expecting them within 24 hours. Which is why it’s really important to have your book finished before you start querying.

The in-between:

If an agent likes what they see, but think you/the project are not quite ready yet, they may tell you to keep them in mind for the future. File this agent away! It may not be the ‘yes’ you were looking for, but it’s still a good thing! It means they see something in you! (Also, this was what led me to my agent.)

The not-so-good:

An agent doesn’t want to read more of your book. (Sad face!) You’ll find this out in one of two ways. Some agents have a “no response means no” policy, which means if they don’t respond to your query, you can assume it’s a no. These agents will usually tell you right in their submission guidelines if this is the case. They’ll also let you know that after X weeks, you should consider them a pass (six weeks seems to be the average in my experience). The second way you’ll find out is with a rejection letter. These are usually form letters that say some variation of “Thanks so much for considering me, but I’m going to have to pass on this project. I wish you the best of luck.” Which leads me to number 7…

7) Reframe your thoughts on rejection

Rejection can be pretty disappointing–especially if you query a literary agent you really like and they end up passing on your book. But when you query a literary agent, rejection is a very likely outcome, and it’s important to be prepared for it. I had queried three books before I got my agent. You would think that at some point this would have started to get discouraging, but I found that the more I queried, the less rejection bothered me. I eventually realized that by the third time through, I had started to think about rejection differently.

First:

I realized that I didn’t want to get an agent (or to be published) because I wanted to be validated as a writer. I write because it makes me happy. No one has to validate that for me. I wanted an agent because I loved to write so much that I wanted writing to be my job. As much as it may have sucked to hear that my book wasn’t wanted, I had to believe that in the long run, it was for the best. If an agent didn’t LOVE what I’d written, I couldn’t imagine they’d be able to put me in the best position to succeed.

It may be hard to see past getting an agent when you’re querying, but the fact that you’re looking for agent tells me that you’re probably not just looking to publish a single book. You’re most likely looking to build a life and career. If that’s the case, you deserve someone who loves your work and who will do everything they can to put you in the best possible situation, book after book.

Second:

When you only have ten letters out at a time, that means that there are a whole bunch of agents who haven’t had the chance to read your book yet. The agent who is the right fit for you could be out there and you just haven’t sent the email! Once I knew I wanted an agent who loved my writing (and got used to the idea that rejections came from agents I didn’t want), I started seeing every rejection as an opportunity. Each rejection gave me a chance to contact a new agent who might be The One. And if that one turned me down, it would still give me another opportunity to send another letter.

Clearly, I’m really good at manipulating myself into seeing the glass half full, but thinking about things this way really helped me! It also really helped to understand why I wanted to be published. Only you can decide why you want to be published, but I would encourage you to find a reason other than validation. I truly believe you will be happier if you do. If you want to see more thoughts on rejection, I talk a little about it in my Redefining Failure post.

8) Keep good records

As you’re building your list and going through this process, you’re going to find that every agent/agency has a slightly different procedure. Some will say if you don’t get a response it’s a no. Others will say if you don’t get a response after six weeks, flow up or resend your letter. Some will ask for a partial and say if you don’t hear anything in two months follow-up. Some will ask for a full. You need to keep track of who you queried, when you queried them, if they responded, and if they asked for more. You need to know who has your work.

I suggest a spreadsheet! Here’s a screenshot of mine.

Query Speadsheet

My columns are: agent, their agency, date I sent the query, if they responded (an X for I got a “no” response, and O for closed/no response), when six weeks would be up (or when I should consider the query closed–six weeks is average but some are shorter or longer), and if I needed to follow up if I hadn’t heard from them. Then when I sent a query out, I’d highlight the row in green so I knew it was active. I took the highlight away when I closed it. If an agent asked for a partial, I highlighted it in blue and made a note of when I sent it and when I should follow up.

9) Follow up if/when it’s appropriate

Some agents will say it’s okay to follow up on a query if you haven’t heard from them after X weeks. You should absolutely do this–just make sure you wait until after the time frame they’ve given you. Also, nearly every agent I encountered encouraged a following up if they haven’t gotten to your partial within 2-3 months. (This is also something that helped me get my agent). In both instances, be brief and polite. Here’s an example: “Hello, I wanted to follow up on a partial I sent you on X/X/XX. Let me know if you’d like me to resend.” I also suggest replying to the original email and keeping everything in one thread. Agents handle a lot of submissions. Even if they liked yours, they may not remember it after a few months. Make it as easy as possible for them to see your prior exchange.

10) While you wait, work on something new and don’t give up

One of the hardest parts when you query a literary agent is how long it takes to hear back. Like I said in part one of this query series, an agent’s priority is the clients they have already signed. And that’s good! In the future, when you are one of those clients, you will want your agent to prioritize you. But that means as querying writer, you wait. And while you wait, you might as well work on something new. If you do get an offer, your agent will like to know that you have more in the works. And if the book you’re querying doesn’t get you an agent, you’ll have another book to send out.

I queried a book until I had a new one to submit (which took about a year), then I pulled the first book back and focused on querying the new one. But the nice thing was once it came time to do the next book, I already had a big long list of agents I thought would be a good fit for me, so I just had to double check that everything still lined up and they were still open to queries before sending a new query off.

11) When an agent makes an offer

YAY!!!!!! THIS IS SO EXCITING!!!!

How you get the news can vary from agent to agent. Some will email to set up a call. Others will just call–like mine did. (I didn’t pick up–I was straining chickpeas at the time. I called back REAL fast.) It’s okay to ask questions if you have them. If you have other partials/fulls out, it’s considered professional courtesy to let those agents know that you’ve had an offer and give them time (about a week) to read what you’ve sent them before you accept anything.

I’ve heard conflicting things about open queries. Some agents want to know if you have an offer even if they only have a query, others aren’t that worried about this. I guess it comes down to how much you want to work with the agent making the offer. If the agent was high on your list, you like what they’re offering and you feel like someone else would have to really blow you away, I think it’s okay to say yes on the spot–if you want to. (I did!)

On the other hand, if you don’t like what you’re hearing or there are things you’re on the fence about, take some time to think about it and check in with your open queries while you do. Though I should note, this only applies to open queries. If you have open partials/fulls, you really need to get in touch with those agents before accepting an offer.

It’s also okay to turn down an offer if it doesn’t feel right to you. Remember, once you accept that offer, your agent becomes your teammate. They are helping you build a life and career. You need someone who is going to put you in the best possible position. If you don’t think the agent making the offer is that person, say no. Trust me when I say, no agent is better than a bad or incompatible one. (I don’t have experience with this, but I’ve heard stories.) If you get an offer from the wrong person, you will get another offer from the right person–just keep going!

I hope this gives you a good idea of how to query a literary agent!

You can find Part Three: How I Got My Agent or revisit Part One: How to Write a Query Letter.

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried to query a literary agent before? If you have, do you have a tip to help others query a literary agent? If you haven’t yet, what’s your biggest concern as you get ready to query a literary agent? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Redefine Failure in Your Writing Life

Redefining failureFailure and the fear of failure are always hot topics of conversation. This is true for writers too.

‘Failure’ has several dictionary definitions. According to Merriam-Webster, one of those definitions is a “lack of success.”

Truthfully, I think the dictionary is wrong. I don’t believe a lack of success constitutes a failure–especially when it comes to writing.

But before we can talk about what failure is, we need to talk about what failure isn’t:

1) Failure is not rejection.

You will get rejected. It does not mean you are a bad writer or your book is bad! It means that you haven’t found the best people for you and your book yet. Or it could mean that you’re not quite ready yet. Either way “yet “is the operative word. If you keep submitting, you will find someone who is right for you, and if you keep writing you will get better.

Furthermore, if you wrote a book that you love, that you had fun writing, and that you’re proud of, then you have already found a level of success. This can be said about every step forward. If you have a book that’s complete enough to query: success! If you write a query letter that gets you requests: success! Even if those requests don’t get you an agent, it’s a success to have made it that far. This is true all the way up the ladder. It’s like unlocking a level in a video game; just because you haven’t beaten the game yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate overcoming a challenging level. It’s an accomplishment and no one can take that away from you.

With that said, it’s okay (and normal!) to be disappointed by rejection, but you shouldn’t decide that means you’re a failure.

2) Failure is not dislike/disapproval.

Writing is subjective. Not everyone is going to like what you write. I’m sure this is something you’ve heard before. But I want to talk specifically about disapproval from “people who know what they’re talking about.”

These people could be teachers, editors, agents, librarians, or any writing ‘expert’ or ‘insider.’ When we seek or get feedback from these people, it’s ridiculously tempting to add extra emphasis to what they tell us. After all, they supposedly know what they’re talking about. In most cases, this is probably true, but that doesn’t mean they’re right if they say your work is no good. It also doesn’t mean you are wasting your time or setting yourself up for failure if you keep going.

Every book is not for every reader. Everybody has different tastes. If you’ve written a fantasy and your expert reader doesn’t like fantasy, then they’re not your best source for feedback–no matter how impressive their resume is. It takes a very special skill set to be able to read a book with elements you don’t like and see its strengths. Not everyone can do it. Listen to feedback from readers who like the kind of book you’re trying to write and can tell you how to make your book better. Trust them. Keep moving forward.

3) Failure is not changing your mind.

Maybe you’ve never written a book before and halfway into your first draft you realize you are enjoying absolutely nothing about the experience. You’re not a failure if you decide not finishing that book. You learned what you don’t like and you’re smart for not forcing yourself into something you don’t enjoy.

You shouldn’t feel locked into a goal that you’re no longer enjoying simply because you don’t want to be a failure. When you set that goal, you had different expectations. And you possibly didn’t know yourself as well when you started working toward your old goal. If you waste time on that type of goal, it means you’re missing out on working towards something that would actually make you happy. Learning what you don’t want brings you a step closer to what you do want, which puts your on the path to success. Anything that gets you closer to success can’t possibly be considered failing.

So, what is failure?

Giving up.

Really. That’s it.

Think about it–how many times do you hear writers/actors/musicians tell their success stories and share how close they came to walking away from all of it? They were one decision away from failing to meet their goals, but instead, they kept going. Now they have a success story to tell.

The key to not failing is to keep learning and to keep trying. Keep showing up. Just because something hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it won’t. The only way success becomes impossible is when you take yourself out of the running. This isn’t just true for writing. It’s true in every aspect of life.

If you haven’t given up yet, you haven’t failed. In fact, you’re in the process of succeeding.

That’s all for this one!

Now it’s your turn: Where can you find success in your writing life? How have you succeeded so far? Tell me all about it in the comments below. You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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Writing Tools: BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

There are tons of craft books on the shelves for writers. They can be a great investment–many are written by accomplished authors and writing teachers, and they’re cheaper than a writing course (free if you get them from the library). But with so many books to choose from, how do you know which are best for you?

To help, I’ll be periodically reviewing some of the craft books I’ve come across. I’m going to do my best to give you a good idea of what to expect from a book before you buy it. I’ll be breaking my reviews down into four sections: what this book is, what this book isn’t, how it can help you, and if I recommend it. That way you won’t just hear about if I like a book, you’ll also know how it can help you.

First up, the much-loved classic, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

What Bird by Bird is:

This is a book full of writerly wisdom and camaraderie. It’s broken into four sections with a series of related essays in each section that explore what it means to grow up and live as a writer.

The subtitle of the book reads, “Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” and it’s one of my favorite things about reading this book. Lamott mixes writing lessons with life lessons that are both hilarious and relatable.  She also preaches some very important writing philosophies that I adore. Her chapter on Shitty First Drafts is one of her more famous philosophies (odds are if you’ve only heard one thing about this book, it’s Shitty First Drafts), but there are so many more. She talks about the dangers of perfectionism, gives tips on developing the right mind frame, and gives tons of advice on where to look for help.

Lamott also spends a fair amount of time acknowledging and discussing the struggles of writing, which I think is a great comfort for any writer who is under the impression that they’re alone in this. This book offers support and guidance and is written from a place of honesty.

What Bird by Bird isn’t:

This book isn’t a guide to getting published. It doesn’t give career promises or guarantees. This book doesn’t have prompts or exercises. (Lamott does share some exercises she finds helpful, but at no point did I get the impression that they were the main purpose of this book.) It also isn’t a super technical craft book. As in, it doesn’t spend big chapters dedicated to breaking down character, plot, or point-of-view. Those topics are covered, but Lamott’s approach is more gentle and big-picture, as opposed to up-close and nitty-gritty.

How Bird by Bird can help you:

This book can help you if you’ve EVER struggled with any part of writing. The copyright on this book is from 1994 but it’s still seriously relevant! Lamott has tips on finding the right people to read your work, what to expect if you sign up for workshops and conferences, the importance of listening to your characters, managing perfectionism, improving each draft, and how to handle when you just can’t get your book to work. She also gives many reasons to write beyond publication and dispells a fair amount of publication myths.

It can also help you a lot if you feel like you’re alone in this whole writing endeavor. I know, I touched on this earlier, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Personally, I’ve always been pretty lucky. I’ve always had people around me that either get writing and/or creativity. Yet, there were still sections of this book that had me think, wow, it’s not just me! I can only imagine the power this book may have if you’re someone who doesn’t have people who understand what it means to create.

Do I recommend Bird by Bird?

This book is a classic for a reason. I recommend it if you’re looking for something that expresses solidarity in writing struggles, while still be encouraging. It’s the perfect book for any writer who’s looking for someone who understands what it means to live a writing life.

I also think this would be a really good first “craft book”. Anne Lamott talks about writing and the writing life in a way that is accessible and easy to follow. I will say, I think parts of this book focused slightly more on the unfavorable aspects of the writing life than I usually care to, but those moments were rooted in an honesty of a writing experience that I think is relatable to many.

I hope this gave you a good idea of what to expect from Bird by Bird.

Now it’s your turn: Have you read Bird by Bird? If you have, did it help you? If you haven’t, do you want to? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Create Strong Characters: 3 Writing Tips

I’ve noticed that a lot of advice on how to create strong characters tends to start with a character questionnaire. (Here’s an example of a pretty good one if you want to give it a shot!) While these questionnaires have some great things to consider, they never helped me to create strong characters.

I always felt like it was a little too much too fast. I used to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to consider. So much so that I would try to power through these question without really digging in and getting to know my characters like I needed to. So instead, I created some questions of my own.

I developed this process pretty organically. I learned what I needed to get excited about my characters and truly bring them to life. Now it’s what I use as the basis for ALL of my major characters. I’ve never seen anything that looks like my initial approach online, which is why I’m sharing it with you!

Here are the three big areas I think about any time I want to create strong characters:

1) What happened to your character before your book starts?

When I first come up with an idea, I tend to have some loose details of what happened to my characters before my book starts.  Before I do anything else, I take the time to really develop these thoughts. Most importantly, I want to know what happened in my character’s past that defined them. What shaped them into the person they are at the start of the book?

For example, when I started planning the Raven Files, I knew it was going to be a book about a girl who was kidnapped by an enemy spy agency when she was eight. I also knew she would be eighteen when the book starts. So before I started writing I sat down and thought about what it would be like for my character to be taken from her parents so young, what her training was like, what her life was like at this enemy spy agency, and what some of her defining missions were.

All of this not only gave me a seriously strong sense of my character, but it also got me really excited to think about the story I was planning to tell.

2) Who is your character at the start of the book?

Now that you know what shaped your character’s past, it’s time to think about how those events truly impacted them and made them into the character that they are at the start of your story. Did events of the past traumatize them? Or do they find themselves anxious in certain situations because of something that happened to them? Are they less talkative than they used to be because of an event?

Go through your character’s history and ask yourself how affected your character would be by each of their key life events that happened prior to the start of the book. Then ask yourself how your character deals with or shows that impact. Every single event may not have a lasting effect, but finding the ones that do can be key in understanding who your character is at the start of your story. Once you know who they are, you can figure out how they develop.

3) Who do you want your character to be by the end of the book?

I also like to think of this question as, “what should my character to learn by the end?” but that might be too specific for you. The idea is that once you know what you want your character to learn or who you want them to be, you’ll be able to develop a reasonable path to help get them there.

For instance, in the first book of the Raven Files, I knew my main character came from a traumatic environment. She was raised to trust no one and fight for her life on a daily basis. The biggest thing I wanted her to learn by the end of the book was how to trust other people and let other people help her. With that in mind, I was able to plot out a variety of situations where she would first be forced to rely on other people and trust them. Then she could begin to make the choice to trust them. Knowing where I wanted my character to end up made plotting believable development so much easier than it would have been had I not known where I wanted my character to grow by the end.

I hope this helps you create strong characters!

I kickstart all of my characters by figuring out these three big questions. I’ve found it not only helps me develop my characters, but it also makes me really eager to write. I hope this helps you as much as it helps me!

Now it’s your turn: What approach do you take when you’re trying to create strong characters? What big questions to do you ask that you’ve found to be really helpful? Let me know in the comments below. You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Write a Successful Query Letter

I created this blog to prioritize writing more so than publishing, but publishing is a MASSIVE reason why we write. So it would be super unhelpful of me not to discuss publishing at all. Whether you want to share your work, see your name on a bookshop shelf, or fund your writing habit, publishing most likely plays some kind of role in every writer’s journey. And the road to publication starts with writing a successful query letter.

This is part one of my three-part querying series. You can find Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent here and Part Three: How I Got My Agent here. We’re kicking things off with the first step in querying: a successful query letter. Since my experience is with traditional publishing (not self-publishing) I’m going to keep my focus there.

Now, let’s take a look at a successful query letter. First, some basics:

What is a query letter?

A query letter is a letter that writers send out to agents or editors explaining who they are, what their book is about, and asks either agents to represent them or editors to publish their book.

Who needs a query letter?

Pretty much every writer who wants to be traditionally published. Query letters are used to get the attention of agents and editors. If you’re hoping for a bigger publishing house (Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillian, HarperCollins, etc) you need an agent to get your book to an editor. However, there are some smaller houses will take submissions directly from authors–if that’s a direction you’re interested in going. Generally speaking, you’ll need a query letter either way.

If you can go right to an editor, then do you really need an agent?

As far as I’m concerned, yes. Yes, you really do. Sure, if you’re looking for a smaller house, you can sometimes query the house or editor directly, and if your only goal is to be published, then this is definitely an option for you. But if you’re looking to build a career, I wouldn’t recommend forging those waters without an agent (and I personally can’t imagine doing so). A good agent knows the industry and will put you in the best position to succeed. They will also protect you and make sure you don’t get taken advantage of. They’re basically a teammate. Additionally, bigger publishing houses won’t look at your work without an agent, so if that’s the kind of book deal you’re looking for, you won’t get there on your own.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the rundown for writing a successful query letter:

1) The Format

A basic query letter is going to be three paragraphs and consist of a hook, synopsis, and bio. It’s generally pretty straight forward and absolutely should not be more than a page. I’m going to walk you through each step, but as we move on, if you want to take a closer look/see some different examples here’s the format explained on AgentQuery.com, which was the source I used to write my first query letter.

If you do some internet searching, you may come across some formats that have the third paragraph first. If you want to format yours this way, that’s absolutely okay. It’s very possible to write a successful query letter that’s set up like that. (I’ve seen plenty.) However, my experience (and personal preference) is the hook, synopsis, bio sequence, so that’s what I’m going to walk you through.

2) Salutation

Dear Mr./Ms. [Agent name] is a perfectly fine way to start your letter. Address the agent you’re querying directly and don’t over think it. (I definitely over-thought it).

3) Hook your reader

Once you’ve greeted your reader, you’re going to dive right in. The pitch should start immediately with the first paragraph, which is the hook.

I like to compare both this paragraph and the synopsis to what you would read on the back cover of a published book. Your hook should be its own 1-2 sentence paragraph that introduces your main character, hints at what makes your book special, and/or adds enough intrigue that would make your reader want to see more. A successful query letter should fully engage and entice your reader.

4) Synopsis

Once you have your reader hooked, you need to tell them a little about the story so they actually want to pick up the book and read it. Truth: I found this and the hook to be REALLY HARD! After spending a year writing the entire book and understanding the nuances of the main plot and numerous underlying storylines, condensing it all into nine sentences was painful!

If you struggle with this too, I suggest doing your very best to focus on the heart of your story. Who is your main character? What’s the main conflict? What does your main character struggle with internally and externally? What is a direct threat to the character?

You don’t have to give your whole story away in your query, but you want to entice your reader to open the book and read, just like the back copy of a book jacket would do. There may be several subplots that seem really important to you that don’t make the letter. That’s okay!! As long as what you’ve written captures the heart of the story, it’s a letter you can seriously consider submitting.

5) Add info about your book including title, genre, and word count

The third paragraph has two parts. Part One is about your book. Tell your reader the title, the age group (Middle Grade/Young Adult/Adult etc), the genre (thriller, fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, etc), and estimated word count. If you see this book as the start of a series, this would also be the time to mention that.

6) Say why you’re qualified to write this book

Part two of the last paragraph: Give the person your querying any background information that proves why you’re qualified to write this book. This can be writing related (writing classes you’ve taken, writing degrees you’ve earned, publication credits you have), and/or specific to the content of the book (for example, if you’ve written a book about a lawyer and you are a lawyer, that would be something to mention). Use anything and everything that can help you, but don’t lie!

7) Thank your reader and wrap up

Thank the agent for taking the time to read your letter, say you look forward to hearing from them, and get out. One sentence is enough here.

8) Revise until you have a letter you like, then polish the hell out of it.

I usually had to write my query letter at least twice until I had something that I felt like captured my book. The first draft was me writing down what I thought I needed (which was way more than I actually needed). The second draft was when I cut almost everything I’d written and reworked/expanded on what was left. Then I worked that until I was happy with it. Once I had a letter that I felt captured the book, I polished it until I felt like it read perfectly. Then I found other readers to catch everything I missed. If you have trouble, I definitely recommend talking to a friend or two you trust who has read the book and can give you some insight into which story points are really important and which aren’t. Once all of that’s done, it’s time to query!!

Here’s my successful query letter!

Now I’m going to share my successful query letter for Crossing the Line. Truthfully, I kind of hate the idea of sharing this! My book was a serious challenge to boil down into a couple paragraphs. Now that it’s published and I’ve seen how it’s been pitched by professionals, I think it could have been A LOT tighter. But none the less, this is the letter that got me my agent, which is why I’m sharing it with you! 🙂

Dear xxxxxxx,

North Korean intelligence agency KATO believes eighteen-year-old American spy Jocelyn Steely is under their control. And that’s exactly how Jocelyn wants it.

When KATO sends Jocelyn back to the American-based International Defense Agency she was kidnapped from as an eight-year-old, they see it as the perfect opportunity to infiltrate the ranks of their biggest rival. After ten years of brutal training, forced drug therapy, and a series of successful — yet traumatizing — assignments, KATO never considered the possibility that Jocelyn could still have a mind of her own. But she does. To her, this mission is not only an escape, but also a chance at revenge. The only problem is Jocelyn has never trusted anyone enough to have an ally, let alone a friend. In order to escape KATO, she’ll have to learn to rely on others — including former enemy agent Travis Elton. And to Jocelyn, there is nothing more difficult or terrifying.

CROSSING THE LINE is a young adult thriller complete at around 91,000 words. It is the first book in a planned trilogy. I have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Rosemont College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in Communications and Media Arts from Neumann University, where I double minored in Writing and Journalism. My writing has been published in both the Neumann University Joust and the Philadelphia Inquirer. I have also spent the past three years volunteering with creative writing classes at a local high school where I assist in creating lesson plans and work with students on an individual and group level.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Meghan Rogers

Bonus thoughts: Should you personalize each letter you send?

This is something I’ve thought a lot about–maybe too much–so I wanted to discuss it here.

I’ve read some posts that recommend writers take the time to research an agent’s list and give a pitch as to why they or their book would be a good fit. I’ve also read some thoughts from agents (not a ton, but some) that say they too really like when authors to do this because it shows them how serious the writer is.

But honestly? I didn’t really personalize my queries beyond the agent’s name, and I think that’s kind of an unreasonable expectation to put on a querying writer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I did my research.

I made sure I targeted agents I thought would be a good fit for my book. (I’ll talk more about that in my next querying series post.) But I didn’t take the time to write my reasons out in each query letter I sent off.

Would I have had a more successful query letter if I’d done this? Maybe. But here’s the thing; most of the agents you query are going to reject you. It sucks, but it’s true.

And 99% of the agents who reject you are not going to take the time to give you a personalized response explaining why. If you get a response at all, it’s likely to be a form letter. They simply don’t have time to give you anything more. Their priority is to take care of their current clients. Most agents can’t afford to invest a lot of time in a response to someone they don’t represent. Their time is valuable. It’s important to be understanding of that, especially as someone who someday wants to be an agent’s client.

But your time is valuable too.

Most querying writers are also working another job (or two), or going to school, or working and going to school, and hopefully writing another book, and making time for their families/friends, all on top of querying. And if you’re going to personalize every letter, that means you have to proof and polish and perfect every letter again before you send it off. In the end, I sent 111 query letters. Personalizing, proofing, and polishing 111 letters was, for me, asking for too much of my time for someone who may or may not represent me.

If an agent passed on me because I didn’t personalize my query, then I have to believe it was for the best. We probably wouldn’t have been a very good fit. As much as you need an agent to offer to represent you, it’s important to remember that once they do, the two of you are going to be a team. And considering most agents weren’t going to personalize a response back to me, I wasn’t so sure I wanted a teammate who expected more of me than they were willing to do themselves.

But! you should address each agent directly

You definitely want to make sure you’re addressing the agent/editor you’re querying at the start of each letter, but personalizing beyond that is entirely up to you. I only personalized two query letters, and both were to agents I had interacted with in the past.

(Though, full disclosure: One of those personalized letters was to the agent I signed with. I personalized it because she had previously responded to a non-personalized query about a previous project. So yes, my most successful query letter was personalized, but that only happened after she responded to a non-personalized one first!)

That’s everything I know about writing a successful query letter!

Be sure to check out the rest of my querying series, Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent and Part Three: How I Got My Agent.

Now it’s your turn: What query letter tips have you come across or found helpful? Is there a favorite successful query letter you like to reference? Tell me all about it in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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7 Effective Writing Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

7 Tips to Beat Writers BlockOne thing I get asked the most for is how to beat writer’s block. Unfortunately, it tends to have a complicated answer (at least it does one it comes from me). I think the best approach to overcoming writer’s block is going to depend a lot on your style, writing process, and the type of block you have. What I’d suggest if you have absolutely no idea what comes next in your story is going to be different than if you do know what comes next but can’t figure out how to get there.

But either way, writer’s block is essentially a mental block, so I put together my top seven tips to give your brain a break and find your way back to your work in progress. Try them individually, or mix and match to find the formula that works best to reignite your story!

Here are seven tips for overcoming writer’s block:

1) Take a break

I think a lot of writer’s block related problems stem from being too close to your work. Time away can give you some distance and perspective.

I  recommend watching TV, reading a book, spending time with friends and family, or do whatever you need to do to take your mind off your story. These activities not only give your mind something else to focus on, they may also give you some unexpected inspiration.

2) Go outside

One trick to overcoming writer’s block is to take a walk, spend the day in a park, or just take an hour to sit outside without your phone/computer/device. Studies have shown nature can help your mentality. This article from UC Berkeley speaks specifically to how nature can help with creativity in point #3. It even explains the science behind it, if that’s your kind of thing. The bottom line is that nature can help your brain recover from mental fatigue and a handful of other problems that tend to play a role in writer’s block.

3) Take the pressure off and free write

I suggest doing this with pen and paper–especially if you’re typing the book you’re writing. There’s something organic about writing by hand that seems to stimulate creativity–at least it does for me. Look at where you are in your story then try taking ten to fifteen minutes to imagine a different direction your project could go in and write about it. Then when that time is up, think of another new direction. Nothing is off limits and the more outlandish the better. If a direction seems so absurd to the point that you’re sure you absolutely won’t use it, write it down anyway! If it crosses your mind you should take the time to explore it. Even if the absurdity doesn’t make it into your book, you never know it might unlock in your mind.

Do this for as long as you need, but I would suggest at least an hour. When you’re finished, see if there are any ideas you like, or if there are a few you might want to combine.

4) Talk it out

If you know a fellow writer, critique partner, or friend who gets your work, give them a call and tell them where you’re at. This has helped me in overcoming writer’s block repeatedly. I can’t tell you how many times one of my crit partners or my sister has solved my problems by either asking a question I hadn’t thought of or throwing out a “what if X happens?” type of question. I often spend more time explaining why I’m stuck than they spend fixing my issue. The power of a fresh perspective is real!

But! You have to be careful with this one! Make sure you’re talking to people who get your writing and get what you’re trying to do. You might have a friend who is a GREAT writer, but if they don’t get you and your stories they may end up making your problems worse. You need someone who will get you writing again and not feed into your block.

5) Give yourself permission to be incomplete and imperfect

In fact, give yourself permission to be downright terrible. One cause of writer’s block is often a need to get the story right. Sometimes it can be debilitating if you aren’t 100% sure what you’re writing is the right thing to write, or if you’re afraid you’re not conveying exactly what you’re trying to convey. This is your internal editor holding you back. It can be tough, but I recommend doing everything you can to push forward.

Tell yourself that it’s okay if what you’re writing is bad. It’s okay if what you’re writing is half developed. It’s okay if you skip scenes or chapters entirely. I’ve found that sometimes, you may also have to finish your story before you fully realize how to make the connection you’re looking for. If it helps, I have a critique partner who is famous for sending us pages with

If it helps, I also have a critique partner who is famous for sending pages with [insert exciting action scene here]. Sometimes, you just have to get from A to B. So do whatever you have to to keep writing. “Good” can come later. “Written” has to come first.

6) Work on another project for a little while

This is something that helps me A LOT. So much so that I almost always have two projects going at the same time. I’ve found that walking away from project #1 and putting my full focus on project #2 is one of the best ways to clear my brain of whatever issues were weighing project #1 down. Ninety percent of the time when I go back to my first project, I have a fresh perspective and a clearer head, and the problems practically resolve themselves.

I’ve operated this way since I was in grad school, but I’d never known anyone else to work this way until 2012 when I found this article detailing how Joss Whedon took a break from editing The Avengers to film Much Adu About Nothing. He calls it a creative shift. If you want to know more about how creative shifts can be beneficial, check out this post!

7) Take a look at your writing process

If writer’s block is a recurring problem or a serious obstruction for you on a regular basis, then you might want to take a look at your process. It’s possible your problem is in your approach, not your work in progress.

I used to get seriously blocked–to the point that I wouldn’t write for months. But that really doesn’t happen to me anymore. I learned that I don’t do well when I have to think about the story and write the story at the same time. If I didn’t know what should happen next, I’d get stuck and stop writing. So now I plan everything before I write so I always know what happens next. It’s not a flawless system, but it’s enough to keep me going.  If you notice a pattern or frequency in your blocks, take the time to understand the deeper process issue. Once you do, you can work to modify your process and avoid putting yourself in that situation. Overcoming writer’s block gets so much easier when you remove the blocks before they even happen!

I hope one of these strategies (or some combination of them) guides you to overcoming writer’s block!

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled with overcoming writer’s block? What helped you beat it? I want to hear about it in the comments! Or if you’re still struggling, share that too! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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