Hit an Inspiration Dry Spell? Pinterest Has the Solution

So, what will you write about next?

Usually, having ideas isn’t a problem for most writers. Our brains are brimming with them. They come to us in flashes of brilliance, in bits and pieces, in the form of plot bunnies, leading us down the rabbit hole.

But what happens when those ideas just seem to… evaporate? What do you do if you hit an inspiration dry spell?

First of all: don’t panic. You haven’t lost your spark. There’s an abundance of creativity within you—it’s just blocked right now. Whatever is holding you back, it’s not unfixable, and sometimes all it takes is a dose of the strange and unexpected to get your imagination back in business. The best way I’ve found to do that? Writing prompts. And the best place I’ve found to get them from? Pinterest.

(What is Pinterest? Find out in Pinterest for Writers in 6 Simple Steps.)

With Pinterest being such a visual platform, it’s a great opportunity to find writing prompts, whether they’re stunning images or written prompts. It could be a single pin or a whole board centred around a theme or style that gets the ideas flowing again—you just need to find them first.

So how can you find a wealth of prompts on Pinterest?

1. Search for them.

If you’re new to Pinterest or don’t follow many prompt-related boards, often the best place to start is with the search function. Simply type in a few keywords, like ‘writing prompt’, ‘settings’, ‘characters’, your genre of choice, etc., and search away. See any images you like? Create your own inspiration board and pin them to it!

2. Follow themed boards.

If searching for prompts doesn’t turn out the best results for you, the second option is to scout out inspiration-based boards that have been compiled by others. Found a pin that you really like? Chances are, you could like the other pins on the board it’s a part of.

To find the board the image is from and preview the other pins in it, simply click the image and look at the column on the right (highlighted in the image below). And there you have it.

How and where can you find the best writing prompts on Pinterest? Here are 4 ways to find the spark that can rekindle your imagination. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

My favourite inspiration-based boards:

3. Check out all the pins from a source.

What if you’re looking for pins from a particular source, rather than from a particular pinner? For instance, you really like the images created by a certain artist or writer, but the boards you’ve found only have a few of their many pieces of art or prompts on. What now? Pinterest has you covered.

Every pin has a source, the web address it came from, and if that’s the same source as the artist’s other images (e.g., their website), then you can find them easily. Click on the pin and look at the column to the right of it. There’s the name of the board at the top and the other pins on it, and underneath that there’s a ‘more from’ section. This is the bit we’re interested in.

If you like Sarah Selecky’s writing prompts, for example, you can find one of her pinned prompts, click ‘more from sarahselecky.com’ (highlighted in the image below), and explore all the images various users have pinned from her website.

How and where can you find the best writing prompts on Pinterest? Here are 4 ways to find the spark that can rekindle your imagination. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

My favourite sources for writing prompts? Right here:

4. Make use of Pinterest’s suggestions.

As you start pinning prompts to your own boards, you’ll see more of Pinterest’s ‘picked for you’ suggestions, which is a great way to find more incredible prompts and follow boards that collect them too. In fact, that’s where I find the majority of the prompts I get from Pinterest!

You can spot the ‘picked for you’ pins by looking at the section beneath each image, which contains the name of the pinner and the board it comes from. Check out the image below for an example.

How and where can you find the best writing prompts on Pinterest? Here are 4 ways to find the spark that can rekindle your imagination. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

So now that you have some prompts to get you over that inspiration dry spell, it’s time to get writing. Enjoy your idea hunting on Pinterest! (But don’t get too distracted—you actually have to write the thing, remember!)

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Where do you find your writing prompts?

5 Summer Reads to Improve Your Writing

Summer is drawing to a close—don’t shoot the messenger!—but thankfully, there’s still one month left. For those of us who have extra free time during the summer months, whether due to school break or reduced work hours, that’s 4 full weeks to give our writing craft some extra TLC. And if you’re like me and typically salivate after back-to-school notebook sales this time of year, then what better time to stock up on a few marbles or spirals, grab a writer’s guide, and get to work—fall semester style?

Many of us graduate high school or college and take the reins with our own work, but every now and then, it can be helpful to return to some kind of formal instruction. Writing is a hard thing to teach (and learn) in a classroom setting, but one thing I love about writing guides is that, unlike classes, they’re one-on-one experiences can be tackled at your own pace.

So to help you get started, I’ve compiled 5 writing guides here that I think have a lot to teach, plus a bonus podcast class! I have experience with and highly recommend each of these works; for simplicity’s sake, I’ll list them in order of recommended to MUST reads.

  1. The Writer’s Idea Workshop. This was my first foray into fiction writing guides as a teen. It was not long after I had decided I wanted to be A Writer, and upon an impromptu trip to a Barnes & Noble that actually had a section dedicated to writing manuals, I thought I’d give one a try. The Writer’s Idea Workshop caught my eye and, quickly grabbing a rare open seat in the café, I dove into it while my family shopped.

    The Writer’s Idea Workshop is everything you come to expect from a writing guide: lessons, action points, questions, and assignments. The thing that I admired most about it was that, while it had a good deal of knowledge and advice to offer, it put more emphasis on getting the reader to write rather than keeping them there reading page after page.

  2. Immediate Fiction. This was a required workbook in one of my college creative writing classes. And while I cringed at the title—is there really any such thing as “immediate fiction?”—I found myself to be pleasantly surprised at how helpful this book was. It hooked me from the introduction, where Cleaver does an excellent job of speaking in a conversational writer-to-writer voice that sets the tone for an enjoyable and not “preachy” learning experience.

    Though my class didn’t work through the entire book, I found the prompts to be interesting and useful. Like most manuals, it does treat writing as a fixed step-by-step process, which many writers may disagree with—but that didn’t take away from the positive experience I had.

  3. The Writember Workbook. This is one of my favorite writing guides of all time, and not just because it was written by our co-founder. Whereas The Writer’s Idea Workshop focuses on the “spark” and development of ideas and Immediate Fiction focuses on the writing process, The Writember Workbook is dedicated to helping writers take the very first step before any of that: making writing a habit.

    It’s been said before and will be said a billion times over: you can’t be a writer unless you write. Thanks to her unique background as a psychology graduate, Faye is able to take a look at the bare bones of habits and how we form them in order to help the reader become a more regular writer.  For something we love so much, we find a lot of creative ways to avoid it—and Faye’s e-guide, complete with worksheets, a Facebook support group, and regular pep talk emails, does a great job of stripping us of all our excuses and helping us both find and make time to write.

  4. The Elements of Style.  Chances are you’ve heard of this one, and for good reason. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is an iconic guide to grammar and proper writing that doesn’t once step into the boring territory of your sophomore English class. This one was a required guide in my advanced placement English class senior year of high school, and many of its lessons still stick with me today.

    Our teacher at the time used the guide to supplement our lessons and gauge how our writing was changing and improving. His style, just like Strunk and White’s, was dry and abrasive and hilariously devoid of BS (there was even a “Wall of Shame” put up on the blackboard after each round of essays was graded, displaying anonymous sentences pulled from the essays that blatantly ignored Strunk and White’s advice). This is a short guide that cuts to the chase because, just like in any good writing, there’s no room for unnecessary fluff.

  5. On Writing. Easily my favorite and, in my opinion, a must-read for any writer regardless of their taste or distaste for Stephen King’s fiction. Part memoir, part writing guide, On Writing has become nothing short of my writing bible. This one isn’t a workbook and doesn’t come with writing prompts or homework, but it is chock full of advice that’s going to resonate with everything you write.

    From avoiding excessive use of adverbs to revising and submitting your work, King has sage advice for the entire process of writing and publishing fiction. He’s not apologetic, though, and he’s a workaholic—just look at how many books he’s written—so don’t expect to get any sympathy or handholding here.

BONUS: The Writing Excuses Master Class! I’ve been a regular listener of the Writing Excuses Podcast for a little over a year now, so when season 10 went live with the announcement that it would be acting as a novel writing master class, I had a bit of a fangirl moment. In case you aren’t familiar, Writing Excuses is a podcast hosted by acclaimed authors Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. Episodes are released every Sunday and are approximately 15 minutes long, making them the perfect listen for a quick commute or a brief window of free time in your otherwise busy schedule.

Episodes range in topic from planning to writing to publishing and everything in-between; there are even episodes dedicated to helping writers navigate networking situations like conventions, as well as tips on proper online and in-person etiquette (hint: always be professional). In short, if it’s anything to do with writing or being a writer, they talk about it.

Season 10 of the show takes listeners step-by-step through the process of writing a novel. I personally lost steam with it after the first few weeks earlier this year, but only because I was already working on a project that has been in the works for a few years. When I look into beginning a new novel, though, this is going to be my first stop.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a new idea, consider giving the podcast a try. The hours of advice buried in those archives are invaluable, and even if they don’t have anything new to teach you (doubtful), they’re incredibly enjoyable and inspiring listens.

Do you have a preferred writing guide or workshop that’s helped shape you as a writer? Do you plan on picking any of these up or attempting the Writing Excuses Workshop? Let us know!

Review Copies: The Indie Author’s Best Friend

Review CopiesNote: this piece is geared toward writers interested in self-publishing. Find other pieces on self-publishing here.

For any seasoned indie publishers out there, it’s no secret that getting reviews (which fuel sales) is often a struggle. “Why aren’t people buying my book?” they sigh to themselves. “Why aren’t they leaving reviews?”

More often than not, self published books need more than a great cover and stellar marketing. Sometimes, potential buyers need to hear from someone else that this book was great before they invest their money. That’s why, dear indie authors, you need reviews for your book.

But how do you go about getting reviews? How do you get other people to read your book and then take the time to say nice things about it?

The answer lies in review copies.

What is a review copy?

If you’re not familiar with review copies, they’re essentially copies of your book that you send off to people for free. In exchange for the free copy, those readers give a review of your book once they’ve read it.

Who to send review copies to?

Now, as tempting as it might be to just start chucking your book into the social media void and hope that some stranger picks it up and gives you a five-star rating, you’re going to need to strategize just a bit more. Be discerning with who you select to review your book. I recommend giving complimentary review copies to people you know and trust: try your beta-readers, a critique group you belong to, or die-hard fans that have been following your writing (or subscribing to your site)  for a long time. Try close friends and family.

Remember that reviewers are doing you a favor.

Give your reviewers time to complete the review. They need time to read, process, and then review. Don’t bug them incessantly to get the review done. Be respectful of their time. And it’s worth noting that it is possible that your reviewers might only think your book merits 3 or 4 stars. You might not get all five-star reviews. Remember that the goal here is not to coerce people who like you into giving you false, five-star reviews. Their reviews should be honest (because if you have a bunch of phony reviews, customers down the road will figure it out for themselves and feel cheated). But by picking people you think will like your work, you’re stacking the deck in your favor.

How to get reviewers their free copies.

Be as accommodating as possible. Ask which format would be best for your reviewer. Be ready to send them a .mobi, .epub, or .pdf file at the very least.

What if I’m worried about the file getting pirated?

When I first started sending out PDFs of my work to reviewers, I had a fair amount of anxiety.

“What if someone shares it with their friend, who then shares it with their friends? What if no one buys my book because it’s out there for free?”

This is a reasonable thing to worry about. But my advice to you is: don’t worry. I’ve found that if someone really wants to pirate your book, they will (no matter how many precautions you take). But not everyone will take advantage of this. People will buy your work if they really want it or like it or want to support you as an author.

If you still have reservations about sending out free files to your reviewers, try shifting your perspective on pirating: it’s better to lose out on a few sales and get attention and reviews for your book than to waste away in review-less obscurity. Not to say that you shouldn’t take action if you find out someone is giving your property away for free – but it’s just a way to look at it to ease your worries about putting your work out into the boundary-less internet.

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Have any other questions, comments, or tips about review copies (or self-publishing in general)? Leave a comment below!

Use Cues to Make Writing a Habit

How can you use cues in your writing environment to make writing a habit? Using this one simple technique. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.comSo you want to make writing a habit. What’s the best way to do that? Write on a regular basis—every day, if possible.

That’s easier said than done though. Writing every day is hard work—there’s no getting away from that—but if there’s something you can do to make it that little bit easier, then you should take advantage of that, right? Today’s post features a technique that’s simple, quick and can save your writing streak when your will to write is sorely tested.

Have you heard of the when-then phrase? I first came across this trick in Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander (which I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys NaNoWriMo). A when-then phrase involves using cues in your environment to direct you towards a goal-oriented action.

For example, your computer or notebook are cues in your environment. A goal-oriented action is writing. Put them together in a when-then phrase and you get:

When I sit down with my computer/notebook, then I will write [x amount of] words.

If you add in a ‘so that I can…’ phrase at the end, it becomes an even stronger motivational tool. For instance..

When I sit down with my computer/notebook, then I will write [x amount of] words, so that I can achieve my goal of writing every day.

When-then phrases are very handy when it comes to steering you away from distractions and temptations too. Try modifying these when-then phrases to best suit you and the common difficulties you face:

1. When I feel like surfing the Internet, then I will first write 100 words, so that I can achieve my writing goal for the day.

2. When something unavoidable pulls me away from my writing time, then I will take a notebook with me to write in, so that I can achieve my goal of forging a writing streak.

3. When I don’t want to write, then I will set a timer for 10 minutes and write down as much as I can, so that I can achieve my goal of an unbroken writing streak.

The beauty of this technique is how it creates an association between the cue (the ‘when’) and the action (the ‘then’). Over time, whenever you encounter the cue, the action will become an automatic response. And habits are basically automatic behaviours, right?

Start making writing an automatic behaviour today. Create a few when-then phrases of your own, write them down and put them somewhere easy to see.

Why not share your when-then phrases with us too? Let us know in the comments section below!

Finding Your Writing Niche (Plus, A Challenge!)

More often than not, when I am writing, I find myself questioning my choice in genre. It can be half way through a project or sometimes even in the middle of a novel, but when it hits, there is nothing more confusing. I haven’t managed to pinpoint the exact thing that triggers my indecision but I think it could be the fact that I, like many other writers, haven’t explored other genres.

I read a wide range of genres and have studied all of the different components that make a genre what it is, but I haven’t used that knowledge as a writer yet. Imagine an ice cream parlour, full of new flavours you could try: you can guess what they all taste like, but you have only tried butterscotch. So you play it safe, and just stick to what you know, but there are so many other possibilities for new favourites out there.

I mainly stick to contemporary fiction or fantasy/warfare but there are so many other genres I want to try my hand at. So that is why I have decided to dedicate this next couple of months to tasting some new genres. I will be exploring many genres as well as some sub-genres in the form of short stories.

I encourage all writers to join in on this challenge, no matter how many genres you have tried your hand at. Especially if you are feeling confused about where you stand as a writer.

Since I am familiar with poetry, contemporary and fantasy, I am not going to include those in my list of genres to conquer, but if you haven’t tried them yet, add those to your list for sure.

Here is my list of genres to try:

  • Sci-Fi
  • Romance
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • YA
  • Paranormal
  • Slice of Life
  • Crime
  • Comedy
  • Satire

Everyone’s lists are going to vary, because all of our interests are different. For example, I didn’t choose Horror because I can barely watch or read anything in that genre. I have a pretty crazy imagination and it wouldn’t be good for anyone if I tried to write horror, but I’m going to push myself and try to write a thriller!

Challenge time! Let’s find our niches together.

Since this is going to vary so much from writer to writer, it would be difficult to formalize an actual schedule for everyone to stick to. There are 11 genres on my list, but someone else could only have a few, so I think that this would work better if everyone wrote at their own pace.

To stay connected throughout our journeys in genre, we will be using the hashtag #findyourniche. Whenever you write a post about your challenge or try a new genre, or even if you have some questions, please tweet using that hashtag and also mention @TheSprintShack to be sure we see it, since others use the hashtag for tweets not relating to our challenge.

I look forward to seeing how everyone decides to challenge themselves, and I can’t wait to hear about all of your adventures into the worlds of new genres! Let me know in the comments below what genres you are going to try out and if you have ever felt unsure about your genre choices. Time to go exploring!
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Mazie-Bishop

Mazie Bishop is a fiery 22 year-old writer and journalism student from Canada. She is self-published and also has several poems and short fiction pieces published in various anthologies and magazines. She is a big dreamer who hopes to be writing with the big guys some day and cannot wait for her career to start! Currently, she is in the process of writing her second novel, and is in the outlining stages of a quarter-life memoir. You can read about her little crafty adventures, read her work, and gander at her photos on www.theselittlepieces.com.

4 Essential Nighttime Habits for Morning Writers

UntitledIn case you haven’t heard, we recently ended our weekly #TNightSprints program in favor of an earlier sprinting schedule: #TuesAMSprints. This was largely due to my inability to partake much in the actual sprinting during #TNightSprints; I would host the tweets on our account, but more often than not, nighttime was quickly becoming a less-than-ideal—if not impossible—time for me to be writing. As a result, I’ve decided to try my hand at morning writing since it seems to work so well for others, and thus #TuesAMSprints was born.

But one thing I’m quickly learning is that, while mornings are great opportunity for us rare non-night owls to tackle our writing with fresh, re-energized creativity, it also presents the problem of stricter time limits. For most of us, nighttime writing sessions may stretch out longer if we wish, since “bedtime” can (though shouldn’t!) be flexible. But in the mornings, if you have a job or any other kind of strict commitments, writing for “just 5 more minutes!” or pushing to finish a scene or chapter can result in tardiness and subsequent repercussions from the outside world—not to mention stress, which is poison to creativity.

If you’re like me, though, you work well under pressure, and an hour in the morning is typically more productive than two directionless hours at the end of a tiring work day. So how can you ensure you’re as productive as possible during your morning writing sessions and still get out the door on time?

I’m still learning, myself, and this past week was a pretty rough trial period. But here are some habits that seem to be necessary for me to get anything done at all between waking and leaving for work:

Habit 1: Prepare Your Writing Space

Faye has some excellent advice on this in her Writember workshop, not to mention she’s an organizational fiend—so if you want more tips on optimizing your time through organization, I highly recommend buying her e-book or taking her course. But at its very basic core, preparation for morning writing starts with setting up your writing space; just like setting out your sneakers and workout clothes the night before makes getting up to exercise that much easier, so does setting up your writing materials in advance.

Make sure your workspace is clear and only contains the items you’ll need to write. If you need coffee or tea to get started, set out a mug and set the pot up so all you have to do is get it started when you shuffle out of bed. Sometimes the hardest part of working in the morning is simply showing up to your work station, and by having everything set up ahead of time, you’ll be giving yourself one less obstacle between you and your writing (and maybe even a few more winks of sleep)!

Do you write at a café or from another public space? Check out our Coffee House Checklist and ensure you have all your items ready to go in the A.M.!

Habit 2: Set A Goal

The biggest mistake I personally make when setting aside specific writing time is not knowing what I’ll be working on. Sure, there are countless projects at my fingertips—that unfinished WIP, the first draft that needs revising, a short story begging to be written. But with any given project comes a pile of notes, plans, and ideas, and not knowing what I’m working on only results in wasting precious writing time gathering my thoughts.

Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, this can happen to you. Regardless of if you’re embarking on a new project, revising an old one, or simply planning a free-writing session, having a goal—or even just a starting point—allows you to jump straight in from the moment you sit down.

Of course, great writing can come out of unplanned sessions, too. My first-ever published short story, “Petals to the Sea,” was born of an unexpected lull in my work day and some spur-of-the-moment writing. But when planning a writing session in the groggy hours of the morning, it’s typically best to have direction.

Habit 3: Prep Your Project

Once you have a neat writing space and an idea of what you’ll be working on, take Habit 1 a bit further and prep your project. This can be as simple as opening a new writing document for a free-writing session or flipping to a blank page in your notebook and setting out your pens—or, if you’re more in-depth with your planning, as involved as mapping out the details of your next scene in a spreadsheet. However you prep for writing sessions, this is the time to put those rituals to use.

If you don’t have any preparation rituals, try this one: every night, while preparing your writing space and your goal for the next morning, read over what you wrote in your last writing session (if you’re working on an ongoing project) or jot down a few potential ideas for your next session (if you’re working on something new). Heck, even just adding a sticky note to your computer monitor or notebook with a motivating quote is better than doing nothing; rituals help set the stage for your work, and by performing the same one each night, you’ll wake up in the right mindset to tackle your next writing session.

Habit 4: Get Enough Sleep

This one doesn’t even need explanation. Just do it. You know you—and your writing—will be better off if you do!


Do you have any unique nighttime habits that set the stage for morning writing sessions? Let us know—and hopefully we’ll see you every Tuesday morning for #TuesAMSprints!

Tips For Marketing Your Self-Published Book

Marketing SelfPubed BookNote: this piece is geared toward writers interested in self-publishing. Find other pieces on self-publishing here.

When it comes to self-publishing, writing and publishing your book is only half the battle. The other half is an arduous, never-ending process of self-promotion. Many indie authors would prefer to write than to spend time networking and marketing. And many writers don’t even know where to start marketing. But being an indie author means that you are the only person responsible for the success of your book. You choose how it’s marketed and where. And to tell the truth, I’ve often found this to be simultaneously freeing and terrifying. So let’s take some of the mystery out of marketing and start selling your book.

Why Marketing is SO Important
As an indie author (especially while your fan-base is still new), gaining exposure is the hardest thing to do. Making money with your writing is typically not as simple as putting your book up on a website and then watching the dollars roll in. In most cases, people won’t even know your book exists. That’s where marketing comes in. You need to put your book in front of potential readers and grab them with your awesome cover and product description in order for them to buy it, read it, love it, and then tell all their friends about it.

When to Start Marketing Your Book
As soon as possible! You can start marketing before you’re even done writing your book. This way you can create buzz about your book and get readers waiting to buy it. But I’d advise that you only do so once you’ve decided on the final title. Nothing’s more confusing to a reader than ever-changing titles.

And before you start spreading the word, make sure that you know – without a doubt – that you will deliver your book by the date you’ve set. Don’t let your readers down, or they might not come back when you actually do release your book.

When to Stop Marketing Your Book
Never! If your book sales dip one month, who’s to say that they won’t spike the next? Keep making your book known. You never know when you’ll reach a new reader that will become a life-long fan.

Where to Market Your Book
The key is to reach as many potential readers as possible – and it’s even better if you can target people who you think will actually like your book. You’ll want to research where your ideal readers are (what sites are they on?) and cater to them. Here are just a few examples of the most popular methods of self-marketing:

  • Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc.
  • Your blog/website
  • Your mailing list of people who have subscribed to your site
  • Other people’s blogs/sites (by doing a guest post or blog tour)
  • Book advertising sites (this one takes some research, but you can find sites that will advertise your book for you – this usually requires a fee or that your book meets certain criteria)

How Much Will It Cost?
Basically, marketing a book will cost as much as you want it to. Some people swear by advertising on sites like BookBub (which can get pricey), others like to spend a couple bucks on paid Facebook or Twitter ads. And then there are people who like to advertise without spending any money whatsoever (social media, your own site, etc.).

I can’t say that any method is any better than others. But this is how I approach my marketing:

  • I market anywhere that I can for free
  • I make sure any sites that I choose to advertise on are legitimate
  • I’m not afraid to spend money to make money (provided my budget allows for it)

Sticking to the Guidelines
If you’re marketing on any sites that are not your own (this includes social media), make sure you are adhering to the guidelines set forth by that site. Don’t lie about the genre of your book just to get advertising space and don’t spam your audience (see below). This sort of behavior will only alienate potential readers. Be respectful of platforms that are willing to market your book for you – read their guidelines and follow them as though your writing career depends on it.

A Word About Spamming
Please, self-published authors, do not spam your audience or followers with incessant tweets or posts or pop-ups pertaining to your new book. Yes, keep it on their radar, but do not send out 100 messages a day telling the same people the same thing over and over and over. Make sure you are professional and that you’re representing yourself in a way that you’re proud of.

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Any questions or thoughts on marketing your self-published book? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!