A bunch of dynamic strategies for improving your writing…

Been wondering what you can do to improve your writing? Want some ideas, activities that can build a fire?

Help is on the way (sorry, borrowed that from the Democratic National Convention a few years back. Catchy isn’t it?). Take a look below…

  • Study what other writers are doing–in your niche and others.
  •  Don’t  just write choppy  short sentences. Vary your sentence length. Listen to the music of your words, the rhythm of your sentences and phrases. You’ll be improving your writing right away.
  • Read good books on writing, and practice what they preach, do any exercises they include, at least once or twice or thrice. Or invent your own.
    • For instance, Getting the Words Right–a classic on that subject, one of the best on editing, revising and re-writing every written.
    •  Or, on novel-writing: Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook–guarnateed to give you some new ideas.
    •  Or, get some powerful rhetorical devices under your belt with Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers.
    •  Or, read a brief chapter a day from James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers.
    • For nonfiction, Roy Peter Clark has two excellent books out: Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer; and Help! for Writers, 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces.
    • …It’s a wide-open opportunity…
  • Read and re-read well-written books, especially those you like a lot. Which genre? Doesn’t matter. Absorb greatness wherever you find it. Reading best-sellers couldn’t hurt either. When you find one that resonates powerfully with you, study it, dissect it, find out why and how it affects you so potently.
  • Work on your sentences. Don’t be satisfied with those come-easily versions that pop into your mind–unless they came to you super-effective as is. Try various things, different wordings, especially when what you just wrote doesn’t seem quite right.
  • Make your own greatness as a writer an ongoing quest, a never-ending preoccupation. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t quit. Get more determined. And work at identifying they types of writing activities that catapult your writing skills forward.
  • Have a readily-accessible and reliable place to record your insights before they get away from you. Take them seriously. Cross-reference them, index them, bookmark them. Watch them grow–some maybe into a whole new book or essay or post.
  • Dare to write some of the wild sentences and phrases that occur to you. Hey, you can always edit them out later–that is, if it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Search for, research, find and join the right writer’s group for you. You will be amazed at times what your fellow group-members with tell you about your writing–aspects, both positive and negative,  that you might never see looking at your monitor in relative isolation. (Mine is The Writers Huddle, find it here: http://www.writershuddle.com/  Please note: this group is currently closed to new members, but will open again one of these days. If you find yourself interested, add your email address to the waiting list.)
  • Be eclectic. Be open to ideas and sources of information all around you, all the time, wherever you go. Again, have a portable and convenient way of recording it all–like a digital voice recorder or the traditional pad and pen.  Like that old Candid Camera line, “And remember when you least expect it…” (not there I go again, dating myself). Ideas can occur to you at the strangest moments.
  • Be optimistic. If it’s not the Great American Novel today,  it could be tomorrow. If your magazine article doesn’t blow the socks off and rattle the teeth of the publication’s’ editor today, you could make it better tomorrow, couldn’t you? If your song doesn’t melt the hearts of those you sing it to, try a different toon. But for goodness sake, don’t give up on it.
  • Take advantage of all the blogs on writing and the books and the advice your readers or your editor or coach give you. Try out their suggestions, and when they help you make improvements, remember how and  practice more.

In other words, worry less, do more. Try the above strategies. See if they build a fire.

Would you like to comment and add any strategies of your own? Please do!



Want your book to have more Depth?

Does your story seem a bit thin to you? Lacking  in the substance you were hoping for? Or just too simple or lifeless on the page?

You’ve slaved away and there it is on the computer monitor, but it seems to need something more, maybe a more intricate plot complete with twists and turns, and surprises, and even some humor? Maybe your how-to book could use some important subpoints so that your reader gets it more clearly.

A story—or any piece of writing–is like a tree.

A strong and healthy tree can withstand most storms. A sapling often cannot. It takes growth and some time for it to develop roots and dig down deep in the soil for nutrition to grow resilient.

Very likely, your story or essay can grow too. Perhaps it needs the nutrition of insights, new ideas, connections, surprises, twists, and at times to double back on itself. Does your piece need to branch out?

How can we cultivate such a story? How can we write such a book?

First, don’t be in a hurry.

Second, think it through.

Brainstorm it , ask yourself questions, look at your scene through your characters’ eyes. Program you subconscious mind with those questions and put them to work behind the scenes.

You can make yourself alert to any information you seek.

I do this by making a habit of looking for what I need. This tells my mind that I want that info, really want it. Here’s an art illustration: Let’s say I want to draw Victorian houses. Driving through neighborhoods, I look for them. Do this enough, and I am “programmed.” The result is that whenever I come across such houses–in magazines, on the residential block, in a movie–I take special notice.

(Anybody know the technical term for that? I tried Googling it but couldn’t find it.)

Third, carry a pad and pen with you wherever you go.

So that when those ideas come, and they can come quickly and unexpectedly, you can record them before you lose them.

Fourth, do the research you have been putting off.

It can lead to new ideas, new directions, new surprises. Maybe a whole new subplot.

Fifth, organize it!

Make it usable and readily-accessible. I summarize, write lists, and have them handy for my re-writing work. My lists and summaries contain things I want to be sure to remember as I write and re-write. Things I need to do or to include.

Now I’m a rather organized person by temperament. I love planning, sometimes more than the writing! So this all comes easily to me. I enjoy it. But it does take some work: but it’s work that pays off. I put clickable icons to my lists and summaries on my desktop. (I have quite a few of them now, and they are convenient).

Sixth, List important Points from good Books on Writing Craft.

I get some of my best ideas when reading books, blogs, and essays on how to write fiction as well as nonfiction books.  The points in them often alert me to things I want to include.

Seventh, be open to fresh ideas from any source.

A couple days ago I was with friends at the movies. The latest James Bond spy-thriller.  It was quite good–and long! I had been searching for an enhanced ending to my novel. And while watching this movie, I got it. Big time. There I was scribbling away with my fountain pen and turquoise green ink (a lovely color by the way) on a small notepad in the near-dark. No one even looked at me.

If you try my suggestions above, I predict you’ll get some good ideas and find your work taking on additional depth.

Tell me, what do you do to add substance to your writing?


Are you Busy, Way too Busy? Want to get more done and on Time?

Most of us are busy, some very busy, maybe too busy. We writers have a lot to do or at least a lot we’d like to get done.

I still want to get a lot done.

As I get on in years, I don’t want to accomplish less, I want to accomplish more! There are a number of things I want to get done currently, and sometimes they can be overwhelming. Maybe they can be for you too.

I’ve got a solution I want to share with you. I think it can help.

I do a lot of thinking in the shower, sometimes I forget really good ideas. This morning a plan occurred to me. I didn’t forget it. An idea that can help me make progress on my main projects steadily:  I think my plan could work for you, or at least your version of it.

One thing at a time.

Years ago, a friend who was good at getting things done at his insurance agency told me the key to working a to-do list. Work on one thing at a time and get it done, then move to the next.  Don’t keep jumping from one thing to another.

Add to that, a to-do list written in the order of priority, and you have a plan.

In other words the idea is to work on one major step forward with your project at a time. Go for quality, not speed. Get it right, at least as right as you can at that point in time. And then move to the next step.

Work daily on one or a few projects.

This way you move steadily forward. And usually sooner than you hoped, you’ve accomplished a lot.

Micahel Linenberger’s Advice

He’s called the “Efficiency Guru,” in his excellent books on time/workday management (The One-Minute To-Do List ebook and Master Your Workday Now!) advises us to  keep the major projects, those we work on daily, to a few, like two or three, and make them real priorities, do them first.  He has a category for them: “Critical Now” for items to be done today without fail.

This way, you can keep a few projects going manageably, sanely, comfortably.

Try it. I think you’ll  like it. Modify it to fit your needs and way of working.

Right now I’ve got to get on my projects.  After breakfast that is!

P.S. Do you have any project/time management tips you can add?


Don’t Miss Mary Jaksch’s Essential Post on Guest Post Pitching

Do you want to pitch other blogs to get your guest posts on them?  It’s one of the top ways to increase traffic.

Read the post (link below) by Mary Jaksch, Chief Editor at Write to Done.  Last time I heard from her, she was getting around 300 pitches a day.  Mary is one of the best bloggers around and co-created the A-list Blogger Club with Leo Battauta, another one of the best.

In other words, Mary knows what she is talking about.

This is the best description of a winning pitch I have found any where.  Previously, as far as I know, the only way to get this info was to be a member of A-List. (Although I did do a  post on it a while back. Hers is better!)

And while I’m at it, check out the A-List Blogger Club

If you’re serious about making your blog a success, that’s an  excellent idea.  The A-list Blogger Club has the best and the most info in existence. Now that’s a guess because I haven’t done extensive research–but it’s an educated guess, and a good one.

And yes, I’m a member.

And yes, if you click on the ad on the sidebar I might get a few cents. Don’t click on it to give me a few cents. Check A-List out as an opportunity to enhance your ongoing learning as a blogger. I highly recommend it.

Here’s the post: http://writetodone.com/2012/06/22/how-to-land-a-guest-post/#comment-69795

So, if you want to guest blog, don’t miss this.

Do you have any bad habits–when you write?

If you’re human, you’re not perfect. I know I’m not. We all have flaws and weaknesses. Just like we have strengths and natural abilities.  But the flaws can hinder our writing progress.

Let me illustrate from my own experience with watercolor painting (once again!).

I’ve heard it said, and I agree that any personal weakness an artist has will surface when he tries to paint–and cause problems.

Now me, I can be a bit impulsive. So in the midst of a painting, my intuition can be warning me: Don’t go ahead with that color you just mixed. I can rebel against that inner voice and plunge ahead, usually ruining my painting or often winding up with one just not that good. I’m also a skilled procrastinator–really good 🙂

Maybe at times you doubt you ability as a writer, like on the days when it is not going well at all?  Some days nothing goes well.  You do have writing ability, by the way. As a micro-minimum you have potential.

Do you procrastinate, finding it hard to get started? I think most of us do, at least at times.

Do you hate proofreading, or editing, or find it hard to freewrite without stopping to edit?

Well, this list could go on and on.  But what can we do about it?

I offer a neat, simple, little piece of advise I read several years ago that works well for me:

Watch what you do when you write.

Both the things you do well, and the things you do that hinder.  Maybe list them so that your list can act as a reminder. Then work at remembering to do the former and avoid doing the latter.  Simple, right? But effective. And at times challenging.

These are habits, both the good and the bad.  Bad habits in particular are tough to break free of.  We fall into doing them without conscious choice. You have to stay alert to even catch them at times, and it takes work, dsicipline.

And it’s worth the work.

Removing stumbling blocks, or at least avoiding them, can help:

  • It can mean more efficient use of your time.
  • It can make for a more enjoyable writing experience.
  • It may even encourage your muse to drop some exciting new ideas on you–because you’ve escaped a mental block.
  • And it might just open you up to new possibilities, directions and insights.

You can also consciously work at strengthening your strengths to advantage.

Ask: “Okay that’s good, but can I make it better?”  Write and read a lot. But don’t just write. And don’t just read to learn how other writers write.  Both are excellent and oh so needful.  But also study, read good books on writing, take courses including those that serve as reminders of what you’ve forgotten to do lately. Practice. Do exercises.

So I think it’s a good idea to pause every once in a while, in our rush to pump out the next great American Novel or that copy that will blow a client’s socks off, to observe what were are going.  And ask questions like: “What am I trying to achieve with this piece, anyway?” “Is there a better way to approach this?” Or, “What exactly am I doing here?”

Try this approach. I can mean some breakthroughs.  

Just don’t get carried away.


Story writers: Have I got a book for you…The Emotion Thesaurus

“Show, don’t tell”–we’ve all heard it and likely read it several times. Important advice for sure.

And not just for fiction writers. Nonfiction writers too.

Stories and anecdotes are popping up in blog posts constantly, in magazine articles, memoirs, even sales copy.  Why? Because stories are potent attention-grabbers.  When we write nonfiction, we need those story-telling skills just like novelists and short-story writers.

Showing rather than telling is easier said than done.  It’s tricky, challenging.

And just to be clear on what I’m talking about here: It means dramatizing your story by depicting its events, not just telling what happened.


Randy was upset and angry. She left the room, closing the door decisively behind her.


Randy glared at them, stomped out of the room,  slamming the door behind her.  They’re being ridiculous, she thought.

Showing rather than just telling, or telling much at all means showing a character’s emotion through her actions, body language, thoughts and even, most powerfully, her internal visceral reactions:  She started to heave.

But if you’r writing a story or did so recently you’ve probably noticed how challenging describing those emotions can be.  It’s so easy to latch onto the first wornout cliché that comes to mind.

It takes creative thought and work to come up with fresh expressions.

That’s where The Emotion Thesaurus comes to the rescue.

This super-useful book by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a brilliant and tremendous resource.  Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve been waiting for this book to come out in print and Kindle format.

It’s not a book of formulas but instead is a resource, a starting point for coming up with your own original words and phrases to express what a character is feeling.

The book starts with a fine essay on aspects of including the power of character emotion in your writing, portraying body language, including a POV character’s thoughts and internal visceral reactions,  avoiding those clichés and melodrama, identifying the root emotions, getting help from the setting.

This is one of the best essays I have come across on this vital part of story-craft.

But the heart of the book is the thesaurus.

It lists and thoroughly describes 75 emotions and the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.

The dictionary-thesaurus type entries are alphabetically arranged for easy navigation and start with a definition, then list physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and other cues.

For example, here is the beginning of the entry for “anxiety”:

DEFINITION: mental apprehension and unease; a sense of foreboding


Rubbing the back of the neck

Crossing the arms, forming a barrier to others

Standing with one arm holding the other at the elbow

Clutching a purse, coat, or other object

Wringing one’s hands

Twisting a watch or ring


Hands repeatedly rising to touch one’s face

Fingering a necklace

Rolling one’s shoulders

Bouncing a foot…

That entire entry on “Anxiety,” quoted in part above, runs for a total of 319 words (my count).

The introduction also includes instructions on using the thesaurus, including the sage advice to “view entries as a launching point.” But there are also suggestions for twisting those worn-out clichés for fresh wording, trying related emotions, and several others.

The authors are the creators of The Bookshelf Muse website (http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/), voted as one of the top ten blogs for writers for 2011 and 2012. The book can be ordered from the site in .pdf format or through Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon (including the Kindle version).

By the way, at the website/blog you can find a listing ofa number samples from this thesaurus and also others: the “Weather & Earthly Phenomena Thesaurus,”  “Color, Textures and Shapes Thesaurus,”  “Character Traits Thesaurus,” “Setting Thesaurus,” and the “Symbolism Thesaurus.”

I’m glad I have my copy. I’ll be using it constantly.

Why not check it out?



Why Blog Posts Aren’t Like Magazine Articles – and How Your Writing Needs to Change

A guest post by Ali Luke .

If you’re used to writing for print media – like magazines or local newspapers – then you might think you’ve already got plenty of tricks up your sleeve when it comes to creating great blog posts or web copy.

But although the fundamentals of good writing will never change, it’s important to consider the context in which your online words are being read. Your readers aren’t sitting down with a mug of coffee and a magazine – they’re glancing at your blog post while waiting for a file to download, chatting on Twitter, and checking emails.

Even if a reader does give your post their full attention, the physical act of reading is harder on a screen than on the printed page. (This is why e-reader devices, designed for books, have special screens that are intended to mimic the sense of reading ink on paper.)

None of the tips that I’m about to share with you are new. Back in 1997, Jacob Nielson wrote the now-seminal How Users Read on the Web, and the advice he gives is still highly relevant. But – judging from some of the sites and blogs that I see – a lot of great writers still don’t know how to make sure their words are being read online.

Here are three very simple things you can do:

Write Clear Titles, Not Clever Ones

In a magazine or book, you might be able to get away with a clever or cutesy title that intrigues the reader, even if it doesn’t give much idea of the contents of the piece.

Online, it’s crucial that you put relevant words in your title – not just to help catch the attention of busy readers, but also so search engines can understand what your page or post is about.

That doesn’t mean your titles need to be boring. You can:

  • Include adjectives (easy, straight-forward, fun, clever, secret…)
  • Include numbers (“5 Easy Ways To…”)
  • Include the word “Why” and/or “How”

If you’re ever stuck for a title, head over to Copyblogger and look at their most popular posts, in the sidebar on the right. See whether one of their title structures sparks an idea.

Use Links, Rather than Quotes, to Support Your Material

In magazine and newspaper articles, you’ll see lots of quotes from experts incorporated into the text. This helps to lend credibility; the reader can see that the piece has been well-researched and that, often, different or opposing views have been included.

Online, you have an invaluable tool for giving readers more information or for backing up your claims: the hyperlink. Instead of quoting a long paragraph, you can simply link to the whole article that you’re referencing.

When you do use quotes, offset them from your main text using the <blockquote> command in HTML (or the equivalent button in your WYSIWYG editor).

Of course, sometimes, plenty of quotes are a good thing. They work very well on sales pages, where you’ll want to show that customers have used and enjoyed your product/service, and where you don’t want to direct potential new customers away from your site.

Include More Text Formatting

Long blocks of text aren’t easy or inviting to read. One of the best ways to make a page or post more attractive is to include visual elements that help readers to stay focused and (if they want to scan) help them pick out key points.

Online, it’s easy to include:

  • Short paragraphs with a blank line between each
  • Subheadings to sign-post the way through your piece
  • Bullet-points to help readers take information in easily
  • Bold text to draw attention to key points
  • Images to draw the eye (especially at the start of a post)

Of course, you can go too far with formatting. If every other paragraph becomes a list of bullet-points, or every other sentence is in bold type, your post will be choppy and hard to read.

Aim for a good balance – and if you’re not sure how best to do that, take a careful look at posts and web pages that easily grab your own attention. See what they’re doing, and how you might apply it to your own writing.

If you’re getting into online writing, pop a comment below and let us know what reader-friendly techniques you’ve been trying out – or what you’re planning on doing in the future.

Bio: Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach. You can download her free ebooks and goodies for writers/bloggers at www.aliventures.com/newsletter, including “How to Find Time for Your Writing” and “Ten Powerful Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stronger” … plus much more.

Are you Overwhelmed with Things to do?

A review of  The One Minute To-Do List by Michael Linenberger

If your seriously into writing, you’re busy.  I know I am.  

Have you got a lot of projects going? Have you tried to-do lists and time-management systems in the past–but they didn’t work that well for you?  Consider a new approach to the old time-management challenge.

A couple weeks ago I was frustrated.

I have several wiring projects I’m working on, and at times I didn’t know where to begin. I use a to-do list program called “Swift To-Do List 7.” It’s powerful and easy to get up and running. But I was struggling with setting my priorities and coming up with a schedule I would stick with.

I remembered that the author of the to-do list program I use has a blog (http://www.dextronet.com/) that I have found helpful at times, so I went there and found a blog post that described a system that that author recommends. I tried it and found it quick to implement.  In fact, it’s called “The One-Minutge To-Do List.”

I’ve been using it since then, and it’s  helped me get a grip on my projects and  even defeat most of my procrastination tendencies.

For me, it’s a brilliant and powerful time-management tool.

Its core involves listing tasks you need to do into 3 categories:

  • “Urgent Now” for what must be done today. Period. (Recommended maximum number of tasks: up to 5 or so.)
  • “Opportunity Now”  for tasks you’d like to do today if there’s time but should get to within the next 10 days. (recommended maximum : 20.)  And…
  • “Over the Horizon” for any tasks you can delay starting for over 10 days or more.

That’s not all there is to the system.

But that much you can get working for you right away. You can use this system on paper or with any of a number of to-do list programs, and be up and running in minutes.

By the way, you can download the book in .pdf format, free in exchange for your email address, here:  http://www.michaellinenberger.com/free1MTD.htm.

The book is a quick read, and I like his ideas well enough that I bought his advanced book:  Master Your Workday Now!: Proven Strategies to Control Chaos, Create Outcomes, & Connect Your Work to Who You Really Are.  It explores further refinements and additions to the core system.

Michael Linenberger knows what he’s talking about.

He has been a management consultant and technology professional for over 20 years. He previously led the technology department at the U.S. Peace Corps and has been called “The Efficiency Guru” by the Detroit News.  He has been a management consultant for over than 20 years. (Background information adapted from the author’s summary at Linkedin.com.)

If you’d like to get a better grip on all the things you need to do, check out this book. It’s available as described above and in online book stores.

(Disclaimer:  I’m not affiliated in any way with Mr. Linenberger, except as a customer. And you can download his “One-minute” book free, just as I did.)

Do you have any favorite to-do list systems, programs or tips to share?

Additional resources:








An Interview with Ali Luke, Part Two

In Part 2 of the interview with Ali Luke the topics include her writing community “The Writers’ Huddle,” improving your writing, and her novel Lycopolis

The Writers’ Huddle

Recently you created “The Writers’ Huddle” online community.  And as you know, I  myself am an active member of that community. I’ve found it to be a warm and courteous group of writers, who are not afraid to give their honest opinions and are also generous in sharing what they know.  Almost immediately, I was able to get some insightful critiques of my writings-in-progress.

You started with about 100 members, but you also very recently opened it up to new subscribers.

  • Please describe its features and tell us how it’s going?

Writers’ Huddle is a community and teaching site, so as well as the forums for members to interact, there’s lots of content to help writers out. That includes:

–        Mini-courses aimed at beginners, or people who want a refresher, in particular areas (MS Word, blogs, fiction)

–        Monthly seminars, either with me or with guest speakers

–        Monthly Q&A sessions to answer members’ questions

–        The full On Track ecourse, which I’ve added to the package this time round

It’s going very well, I think! It’s been great to see members interacting in the forums, although I know that there are quite a lot of members who never use the forums and who are just there for the teaching content.

  • What is some of the positive feedback you’ve received?

I had lots of lovely comments when I ran a survey of the original members. The webinar with Seth Leonard got lots of great feedback (sadly, I can’t really take much credit for that..!) and many people have said how much they’re enjoying the Huddle community.

  • Have you yourself, personally, found it a rewarding experience.

Definitely. There’s something special about leading a community like this; I feel that I’ve been able to bring together something really worthwhile. Writers’ Huddle is the sort of site that I wish I’d belonged to when I started out!

And on a more mercenary note … having regular membership payments makes it easier for me to plan things financially, and it also means I can concentrate on producing content for the Huddle rather than thinking about how to sell it in the form of ebooks or individual courses.

  • I know you have been adding fresh material constantly (you must spend your weekends brainstorming!), so where do you see the community going in the near future?

I’m really excited about On Track, because I’d love to see members making some great process on bigger projects – I know some already are, but I’ve heard from quite a few others who are struggling a bit. I’d also like to create and publish an anthology of members’ work, probably this summer, as that’s something that most survey respondents were interested in.


Writing improvement

  • How about building your content to help your readers learn to write better?

I try to give specific examples wherever I can; I think this makes it much easier for people to “get” what I’m explaining. I also try to split posts up for easy reading, using subheadings, bold text, and so on, and I’ll often give clear action steps. Most of my readers are already pretty good writers, but I want to help them take things even further.

  •  If someone were to ask you, How can I become a better writer?— what would you advise them to do? What specific activities do you think could accelerate learning most?

Read a lot, and read widely. I think every writer will tell you that! And write, too; not necessarily every day, but on a regular basis. You can’t become a better writer without regular practice. Write for a clear purpose (e.g. aim to get a letter published in a magazine, or a guest post onto a big blog) – there’s nothing wrong with doing morning pages or journal writing, but you also need to be thinking about getting your work to a publishable standard.

Edit after you write. That means two things: don’t edit while you’re trying to get the first draft down, and don’t neglect editing altogether. No-one writes a perfect first draft – half the work of writing is in the editing.

  •  Some writers who have written on writing in books and on blogs, have advised readers to–for learning purposes—to  mimic or imitate the style of writers they admire. Do you agree with that advice?  If yes or no, why?

I think it can be a fun exercise, and if you’re guest posting, it’s useful to shift your style to suit the blog you’re writing on. (For instance, Copyblogger tends to use punchy, chatty language and short sentences and paragraphs; I try to do the same when I’m writing for them.)

There’s a bit of a danger, though, of ending up unintentionally mimicking other writers when you’re trying to compose your own material. So if you are going to do this exercise, I’d suggest trying out a wide range of styles, not just imitating one particular writer.


  • It seems such a short while ago that you published your novel Lycopolis. How is it doing?

I brought out the ebook version in November 2011, and the paperback in April 2012. Sales have been slower than I’d hoped – it’s a lot harder to market fiction than non-fiction – but the reviews and other feedback have been fantastic. So I’m hoping that, with more work from me on the marketing, the sales will start to pick up.

  • How is your book tour going?

It’s been a bit more work than I’d expected! As well as writing the posts themselves (which is great fun), there’s also the organizing side of things, and replying to comments. These elements are fun too, but they’ve been taking up a fair bit of mental energy.

In terms of results … probably too early to say. I’ve definitely seen an increase in sales, just not such a dramatic one as I might have liked!

  • I know you have a sequel in the works. Care to share any hints about the story?

I do, and I’ve got around 55,000 words of very scrappy first draft on the sequel. I can’t tell you much without spoilers, but I can tell you that this time, the story involves a pleasure demon rather than one of nightmares…

Thanks so much, Ali, for your time and for sharing some fascinating details.

It’s been a pleasure, Bill! Thanks for lots of thought-provoking questions. 🙂


You can find Ali’s work here:




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An Interview with Ali Luke, Part One

Welcome to Ali Luke, successful blogger, freelance writer, coach and novelist.  She is the author of the Aliventures.com blog and newsletter, the novel Lycopolis, and creator of the thriving writers’ community “The Writers’ Huddle.” She is also under contract and currently writing a book in the popular “For Dummies” series on writing ebooks.

  • Ali, would you start with some info about yourself, your background, how you got into writing, and basically how you got to where you are today?

Sure thing – and thanks for having me here, Bill!

I’ve been writing since childhood (and I was making up stories before I could write…) In my early teens, I started work on my first novel, and never really looked back. I studied English Literature at Cambridge (and wrote a second novel) and, after a couple of unfulfilling years in the “real world” of a 9 – 5 job, I quit to be a freelance writer and to take a part-time Masters in Creative Writing & Life Writing at Goldsmitsh College, University of London.

When I started freelancing, most of the work I did was for blogs. I’d had a couple of personal diary type blogs as a student and while I was working a day job, but I then got into “professional” blogging – with a clear topic and the intention of making money. This was what led to a few initial freelancing gigs, and what gave me the confidence to quit my day job.


You have what I consider to be a successful blog and writing career.  Your posts and articles draw a constant flow of comments from readers who relate that they find your content helpful.  And, you seem to have a canny way for hitting on quite practical advice that resonates with your readers.

  • So tell us, if you would, what’s your secret?

Hubris and luck! 😉 I threw myself into blogging, confident of success. It took a good while longer than I expected, but I was constantly learning new things and putting myself out there. I started writing guest posts within my first month of blogging, and my first two guest posts actually led to paid positions.

I suppose perseverance played a role, too, along with a deep-seated love for both writing and the online world. I’ve also got a definite business-minded streak, which surprised me a bit!

  • Do  you still enjoy blogging? I know for some it can become like a treadmill, and it can be all-to-easy to burnout.

I love it – though I’ve changed direction a few times over the past four years, and it’s only in the last two that I’ve really settled on my core topic (writing for writers/bloggers). It definitely helps to be writing about an area that I’m immersed in as part of my work and life.

  • Did it take a while for you to build up your subscriber list?

Oh yes! Aliventures was my third blog (after one on dieting and one on student tips, respectively…) and it still took me a good while to establish a strong readership base. Here’s how the stats look:

0 subscribers – July 16th, 2009 (launch)

1000 subscribers – February 12th, 2010

2000 subscribers – February 5th, 2011

3000 subscribers – March 26th, 2012

  • When you were starting out, did you use any particular strategies to build your subscriber list?  If so, did they help?

Guest posting has always been my best strategy, and it definitely helped. In the early days of Aliventures, I was blogging about personal development rather than writing, so I was able to tap into the audience for some of my paid work too.

Over the past year, I’ve also focused on my newsletter rather than RSS subscribers, and that’s now close to 2,000 members: in my guest posts, I’ve often promoted the newsletter rather than the blog itself.

  •  I’ve noticed that your posts and guest posts get a lot of comments.  And I suspect that it’s because you aim at being very practical. Anyway, can you share how you think about addressing reader concerns and being practical–I’m assuming my suspicion re practicality is correct?

I absolutely try to be practical, though I’m not sure that’s necessarily linked to the number of comments. At least, I’d never thought of it that way! But you may well be right. I definitely think that readers like posts that offer practical advice which they can implement … though I try to mix this up with occasional posts that aim to be more inspirational.

I try to reply to all the comments on Aliventures (unless they’re very short) and also on my guest posts. Not only does this encourage people to come back and comment on more posts, it also boosts the number of total comments. 😉 Sadly, it’s getting harder to keep up with that now that I’ve got a bigger readership, and when I post on big blogs.

  •  The internet has enjoyed exponential growth worldwide.  It seems to be evolving almost as fast as technology. Where do you see blogging going in coming weeks, months, years?

We’re in for a fantastic ride, I think! When I was an undergraduate, blogging was still the reserve of geeks – I certainly had no idea that anyone made money from it (beyond, perhaps, covering their hosting costs by running a few ads).

In the time that I’ve been blogging (2008 onwards) there have been some substantial changes. For one thing, WordPress has become much more user-friendly, so I think we’ll see more and more people joining the ranks of the blogging world. Twitter has also become hugely popular, and so bloggers tend not to do so many round-up posts, preferring to link to posts from Twitter instead. (Twitter’s one of my best traffic sources, in fact.)

I think we’ll see micro-blogging, with sites like Twitter and Tumblr, become increasingly popular. I also think blogging will become better understood and more respected in the wider world – for many people, it still seems like something a bit techy or geeky. The technology will, of course, continue to get better and better, and I imagine video blogging will become increasingly popular too.

  •  Do you see blogging and online entrepreneurship as a force for good in this world, generally or specifically?

I do. On a personal and individual basis, running your own business can be immensely fulfilling – it may well also mean a better lifestyle with more time for family or friends. And on a broader level – bloggers can be a powerful force for change, often able to express opinions that the mainstream media are unwilling to commit to.

Entrepreneurial bloggers can provide excellent services all around the world, and they all give away a huge amount of content too – so even those who can’t afford to, say, buy an ebook can at least benefit from blog posts and newsletter material.

Freelance and Copywriting

You make your living with your writing.  I find that admirable.  I spent most of my career in government, actually writing a lot, and I’ve done some ghostwriting and did various work as a writer outside of my career, but I have never made my living at it.  But you earn part of your income freelancing and writing for the web.

  • How did you get started in freelancing?  I mean from day one?

In January 2008, I wrote a guest post to promote my new and fledgling blog The Office Diet (it still exists, and brings in some advertising revenue, but I haven’t updated it in years). The guest post was for Diet Blog, and the editor there, Jim, said he could offer me a paid gig. That email opened my eyes to the world of freelance blogging. (Thanks, Jim!)

  •  Did you do anything to prepare yourself in the way of skills and knowledge about copywriting before taking or looking for assignments?

I bought a couple of books on copywriting and freelancing, and I read Copyblogger and Freelance Switch avidly. In terms of my assignments, though, most of what I was doing was fairly straightforward – I wasn’t writing sales copy, just content.

  • For readers thinking of getting into freelancing, how would you advise them?  For example, would reading some good books and blogs on copywriting fundaments and insights be advisable—or should the wannabe just jump in and sink or swim?

I think this really depends on the individual. If your writing skills are already pretty strong, I’d just jump in! (By “strong”, I mean that you’ve written as part of a day job, or you’ve been blogging consistently for a while, or you’ve had work published – even if it’s in a somewhat different style.)

If you’re going to be writing sales copy, then you will need to get some solid knowledge on that. I didn’t take on any sales copy until recently, and even now, it’s something I only tend to do for existing clients – I don’t advertise myself as a copywriter.

eCourses and writing eBooks

You’ve written a number of ebooks and also ecourses, so…

  • Do you have what they call an “ideal reader” in mind when your write? Do you aim your materials at beginning level writers, as well as more advanced? Or do you have a wider target?

I concentrate on what I consider relevant about my ideal reader. I don’t worry about things like how old they are or where they live, but I do consider their level of technical expertise, as well as their writing experience. I tend to assume that my readers want to write and that they’ve done at least some writing beyond what they had to do in school.

I suppose I’m aiming at the beginner to intermediate range in my ebooks, with The Blogger’s Guide to Irresistible Ebooks being more advanced than the others. With my ecourses, I try to make them as broadly applicable as possible, but they’re not suitable for absolute beginners.

  • I suspect that you started with you first ecourse (Ontrack, right?) when you didn’t have quite the online following you have now?  So, did you have a sizable number of followers when you offered your first ecourse?

Yep, On Track was my first ecourse, in January 2011, so I had about 2,000 blog subscribers at that point but just 250 email newsletter subscribers. (I think loyalty is often underestimated in the blogging world; it’s not just about the size of your list, but about how much those people actually care about you and what you’re offering!) Forty people joined up for On Track, which made it well worth running.

  • Would you advise those with knowledge to teach to start out small.  I know, later on, a course-giver can recycle the ecourse in an updated version, say.

Definitely start small in terms of offering something that’s fairly straightforward: On Track was an email ecourse to keep things simple both for me and for the participants. In terms of your audience, I think you need to be confident that you’re not going to end up spending a huge amount of time for very little return – obviously you can reuse the basic course materials, but if you’re also offering a weekly Q&A or similar, technical support, etc, then the time invested can quickly add up.

You might prefer to begin with an ebook (or self-study course) so that you can easily sell it over time, rather than relying on bringing in enough people with an intense launch.

  • I’ve noticed you do well when you offer ecourses.  How did you learn to write them, in a lesson format?

Thank you! The wonderful Ainslie Hunter of Courses That Matter helped me out a lot, and I also ask for feedback from course participants, which helps me improve each time. I come from a family of teachers, too, so perhaps it’s in my blood. 😉

I approach my courses in a similar way to my blog posts: I try to make them as practical as possible. I’m particularly keen on including step by step instructions and short, straightforward exercises to help get people moving.

  •  What has worked well with your ecourses, and what not so well, if anything?

I’ve been lucky enough to attract great people to take them! With a group course, the mix of participants is really crucial. I’ve found that breaking things into short, simple lessons works well, particular in a web format; that way, people don’t have to wade through huge passages of text at a time.

In terms of not so well … the technology can still get in the way, and this is something I really hope will improve over the next few years. I know Writers’ Huddle members have been having a few problems with the login system (and I’ll be the first to admit it’s not perfect) – unfortunately, I have to work with what’s available.

I’ve also not done as good a job as I’d like of promoting my courses at launch. Next time I open up Writers’ Huddle, I want to do lots of guest posting to reach out to a wider audience than my own blog and newsletter list.


  • What sort of coaching have you done? For example, do you coach fiction writings as well as nonfiction, copywriters, webwriter?

Yes! I’ve had years of experience of fiction critiquing, both in informal workshops and an academic context, so I do work with clients on short stories and novels. Most of my clients are writing blog posts, ebooks, or web copy, and with those, I’ll often give some strategic support as well as help with the actual writing bit.

  • Do you offer coaching of small projects as well as large ones?

I do; some people come for just one session on a specific project, like a guest post for a big blog. Most of my clients stick around long term, though, often working on an ebook, a blog, or a whole writing career.

  • What specific areas do you focus on when critiquing a client’s work?

This depends a lot on the client, in terms of what sort of support they’re looking for, and in terms of what level they’re at with their writing. With most people, I’ll look at the big picture (structure, flow, etc) as well as the details (voice, grammar, etc).

I find that voice is often a key area – it’s easy to accidentally slip, and I’ll pick up on any words or phrases that seem inconsistent with the overall voice of a piece. Most people tend to over-write, too, so I’ll often make suggestions for where words, phrases, and sentences could be cut out.

  • Do you enjoy coaching?

I love it, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t! It’s wonderful to see a client’s work progress over time, and I also get lots of great ideas from my clients – if I see the same sort of problem coming up for several people, I know that will make for a great blog post.

Thanks, Ali.

Note:  Do you have any questions after reading the interview above.  Please feel free to share them, or comment of course…

Coming next Monday, May 14th:  Part Two of the above interview.