Friday, November 11, 2016

When less is more

Word count is vital whether you are writing an article, blog or a book. When I worked at Today’s Parent, we would often ditch the first paragraph of articles submitted.   Why?  Because we would have lost the reader if we’d run it as is.

Often the hook to keep the reader engaged is further down the page.  Partly it’s because the author wants to set the stage before leaping into the meat of the piece. 

But with low attention spans and a need for an instant take on articles, we lose the reader before we’ve even started.  And that’s who we want to entice to stay with us.

In working with authors on shaping their books, I often have to remind them about the reader.  What will they learn from reading your book?  Is this piece of information useful or more feeding your need to get it down on paper?

Get clear on your message, your audience and why you are writing in the first place. Clarify what you want to write about. As Michael Hyatt recommends,  first you do the writing and then the editing, and should not try to do both simultaneously.  In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about the “shitty” first drafts, because that’s what they are – first drafts.

But we also need to learn to write tighter, to use fewer words and to keep it simple, instead of using our writing as a way to show off our extensive vocabulary. Less is more.

There are ways to tighten up your writing and it takes practice.  Next piece you write, try cutting it down by 50 words.   You’ll be surprised how many superfluous words we use.   What to watch for? 

  • ·      Avoid empty filler words like it, here, there.
  • ·      Replace lightweight verbs with ones of action – instead of She is blogging. try She blogs.
  • ·      The words really and very add nothing to your writing
  • ·      Tell it straight.  You will then hold the reader’s attention.
  • ·      Avoid using words that spell out what’s obvious – such as free of charge – when saying free will do.
  • ·      Avoid using extra words that aren’t doing extra work – using the word Many for example, instead of A large number of … Or saying A complete stranger when A stranger will do.
  • ·      Use short paragraphs so the reader carries on.

This blog was much longer, but I took my own advice and cut it down.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Speaking out about breast cancer

Every year in October I am reminded that it is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  As a survivor of twenty-six years, I still remember that sense of absolute fear when I was told the news of my diagnosis at 39.  Especially as a mother of two young children, worried that I might not see them grow up.

And when I was diagnosed 15 years later it was even more of a shock, because I’d conveniently forgotten that once you are a member of the Cancer Club, your membership never expires.  In 2005 mine was reactivated.

That fear never really leaves you and it bubbles to the surface with every check up.    But at least today, there are more resources to support women (and men) who have been diagnosed.

I know that for sure because through my newly formed publishing company, I have three books on breast cancer coming to fruition.  Each is very different, but in its own way, will  hopefully provide information, inspiration and support to families impacted by this disease.

The first is One Loop at a Time – A story of rug-hooking, healing and creativity by Meryl Cook.  Hailing from Nova Scotia, Meryl used her rug hooking to demonstrate her emotions as she went through her cancer treatments.  Each rug is beautifully photographed in the book, with her poems and descriptions of how she felt every step of the way.  It’s a feel good book.

Next came Debbie Kerr’s book – When Cancer Takes Flight! in which she takes the reader on her cancer journey, providing useful information and resources so that fellow passengers on this trip, can know in some way what to expect and how humour – and Debbie has it in spades – can make all the difference.

Last but no means least, we have Riding Shotgun, written by Don Kerr from the male perspective of what it was like being the caregiver when his wife was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer, especially with two young sons.  Not much is written or available for men in the caregiver situation and Don’s book eloquently describes his struggles and gratitude that they all survived. 

All three books will be coming out in late November/early December.  I applaud them all for their courage to tell their stories, and the wisdom they are willing to share with others.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Pursuing the dream - writing your book

This summer I have several authors working away at their books.  All are at different stages and while the summer is a great time to set aside and write, it can also be challenging.

When you are sharing raw, emotional times in your life, it can be hard to revisit and dig up your past. And then there’s the decision about how much you reveal and how vulnerable you want to be.

I applaud the writer who can go there because at the end of the day, your courage will help others as you can be sure that your story will resonate with others who are in similar situations today or in the past.  But it is a tough decision, as often there are other people in your family who may be impacted by your brutal honesty.   

As well as the emotional side to writing a book, there’s also the physical aspects to consider.  Being summer you may well want to work outside but find it is hard to see your screen.  One option is to try pen and paper to see if that stirs up your creative juices.  Another is to work on your book through postcards, where you can jot down key messages, ideas and stories to tell, so that later when you are indoors, you can just sit at your computer and write.

Another challenge maybe that your book is in your head and if you could just dictate it, it would get done.  These days there’s lots of software where you can just dictate your book and voila, your words are on paper.  One friend swears by Read & Write on Google Chrome. So don’t make that an excuse – get cracking.

All of this to say that there is no right way to write a book.  The key is to get into a groove, schedule time to write (or dictate) and make it happen. 

Just remember that your first draft is just that… a first draft. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The power of three

In his book, Nobody wants to read your sh*t, author Steven Pressfield talks about how the make up of your book is the same whether you are writing a novel, a memoir, a play or a script.  There needs to be a beginning, a middle and an end.

In terms of your writing, this means that you need a hook right at the start to keep the reader interested and reading. This doesn’t always mean that you begin in chronological order but it could be, in the case of a memoir for example, that you start when your life started to go south, and then you weave back to your beginnings.

Hooking the reader in is crucial so you want to make sure that what you are writing about grabs their attention or resonates with them to the point that they want to read on.

After building your momentum, you still have to keep up the pace in the middle of your book, expanding further on your story or what you want to say in more depth.

The ending has to summarize all that you have been saying and give some conclusion as well as some sense of where this is all going so the reader moves forward.

This power of three is what works in speech writing too. 

I often encourage writers to think of their three key messages, and then under each message list the different stories they could share to illustrate the point.  This keeps you honest and on track in writing your book, as you stay consistent and don’t get off topic. 

You may also want to check in part way through your book.  Have your messages changed? Sometimes when you drill down you discover a new message that you hadn’t considered before, one that ties in with your ending and where you want to take your book, and your reader.

Such an evolution is fine as it shows that you are getting more entrenched with your topic, and hopefully giving more thought on the end outcome.  It is good to ask yourself where do you want to leave the reader at the end?  What do you want them to do as a result of reading your book?  Once you have answered those questions, you may be clearer on what you need to write in order for that to happen.

At Full Circle Publishing, we’ve developed a “Book at a Glance” template which helps keep you focused and on track.  If you would like a copy, email me at

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why do you write?

Welcome.  With the launch of my new publishing company, it seemed appropriate to start a blog that focused on writing.

Although I have four books under my belt, it wasn’t until I wrote the third one that I started to consider myself a writer.  Funny that.  I was also hesitant to introduce myself as a writer as I wasn’t sure I’d won that stripe yet.

Writing is such a personal craft.  Often we start writing just for ourselves. I find writing is my way of sorting out the mixed emotions I feel inside but sharing your innermost thoughts with the world makes you feel vulnerable and I don’t always take that risk. There’s many a blog that I’ve written in anger that will never see the light of day.  Just getting the words out and down on paper was my therapy.

But just sending your words out into the universe can be a brave act.  After all what if no one likes what you have to say. Worse, what if no one even reads your epistles.

I have to say when I started blogging over eleven years ago, I didn’t actually care if I had an audience, I was just enjoying the excuse to write and post what I had to say or my thoughts on a specific topic.

It was later that I began to realize that I maybe had some wisdom to impart and that perhaps my words would bring comfort or understanding to someone else.  As I became more immersed in the world of entrepreneurship, I also started to share my thoughts on running a small business, something I was doing at the time with an element of success.

Why do you write?  I am sure it is different for all of us. And there’s different types of writing too.   When I worked as a consultant I used to write long, long reports that I questioned if anyone read, let alone followed my recommendations.  And when I was in government, it was briefing notes to politicians that would be written and re-written to ensure we had covered the essentials as well as our backs.

Today I like to share people’s stories.  I love interviewing people and helping them articulate their innermost thoughts and share them with the world.   I also love helping other writers weave their books into something that people not only want to read but enjoy.

In the months ahead I will be sharing different ways to entice and hold your readers’ interest and looking at the specific tasks in writing your book. 

Meantime, back to my original question --- why do you write?  Let me know.