Lost Your Muse? Five Easy Ways to Find Inspiration

Guest post by Alvina Lopez

Whether you’re a blogger, journalist or a fiction writer, you’ll have to deal with the dreaded phenomena of “writer’s block” at least once in your career. There are some simple ways to find that inspiration you need to remove the road blocks and continue (or start) writing. To learn the five easy ways to find inspiration, continue reading below.

Free Write. By far one of the easiest ways to get those creative juices flowing is to just start writing. Anything. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. Just grab a piece of paper and start writing whatever comes to your mind—don’t over think, don’t edit and most importantly don’t stop. Just write. Sure, your finished project will probably be filled with a bunch of unusable junk, but you might just end up with a gem—or at least a few note worthy lines.

Listen to Classical Music. This might sound silly, but some studies show that listening to classical music can actually help stimulate different parts of the brain that can help one retain more information and think more creatively. While the correlation between Mozart and the creativity process isn’t proven to be 100 percent true, music can undoubtedly have a soothing effect and can change one’s mood—this fact alone can help you relax, enabling you to embrace a flood of inspiration. But if classical music doesn’t really do it for you, at least try some other soothing music genres such as trance or jazz.

Get out of Comfort Zone. Locking yourself up in a quiet room and forcing yourself to come up with an idea is one of the worst things you can possibly do. Instead, unglue yourself from your desk chair and get out. Go somewhere that is unfamiliar territory to you or someplace that you normally don’t hang out and see if anything inspires you. While you may want to choose a place that’s secluded so that you can gather your thoughts, sometimes it’s best to go to areas that are typically crowded, such as the park, a coffee shop or the airport. This is because crowded areas are great places to eavesdrop and “people watch”. You don’t want to be a creeper about it, but sometimes things you hear or see from unsuspecting sources can make some of the best dialogue or topics.

Turn to the Pros. Another great way to get rid of writer’s block is to read or watch material that you find to be exceptionally well written or clever—something you’d like to mimic or could create some sort of spin off. This can include anything from reading books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers or even watching movies. Whatever you choose, just make sure you’re paying close attention to themes, writing style, voice, dialogue and rhythm.

Sleep. Lastly, while this may not have crossed your mind, sometimes just getting a good night’s rest is all you need to clear your head and feel inspired. Sometimes your mind is so overworked that it can’t think anymore, but getting sleep allows your brain to rejuvenate and build more brain cells that can help you think more clearly. Always make sure you have a notebook by your bedside table too—you never know when a dream will “speak to you.”


Alvina Lopez is a freelance writer and blog junkie, who blogs about accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: alvina.lopez @gmail.com.

Photo Credit: stock.xchange.com

"Tips to Eliminate Passive Writing": A Video Guest Post by Aggie Villanueva

Video guest post by Aggie Villanueva

A published author at Thomas Nelson before she was 30, bestselling author Aggie Villanueva published Chase the Wind and Rightfully Mine, both Thomas Nelson 1980s. She is now a multiple fiction & nonfiction Amazon/Kindle category bestseller, also making Top Rated list in three categories. Aggie founded Promotion á la Carte, author promotional services in July 2010 and six months later was voted #2 at Predators & Editors in the Promotion category. Among other sites, she teaches author promotion at BookBuzzr Blog, Book Marketing Technoligies Center Webinars, Promotion a la Carte Blog and Promotion a la Carte Radio. Villanueva is also a critically acclaimed photographic artist represented by galleries nationwide, including Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. Contact Villanueva at aggie@promotionalacarte.com.

A note from The Chipper Writer: The tips in the video are from Aggie’s fabulous e-book, The Rewritten Word: How to Sculpt Literary Art No Matter the Genre.

For more from Aggie on this blog, please check out these links:

Subject Matters: How to Generate New Content

Guest post by Alexis Bonari

If you’re a writer, you know how difficult it is to get any work done when you’re feeling uninspired. And even if you can buckle down and type out a few paragraphs, you end up rereading them and using the “Backspace” key liberally. At least, that’s what you do if you’re anything like me. I get convinced that circumstances are conspiring against me and that I’m just not going to feel inspired enough to write.

Like many other forms of art, writing tends to make you chase after the “perfect” conditions for producing your best work, but in reality, you’re always an artist. While you might have more energy at a certain time of day, there are very few times when you’ll just feel effortlessly inspired to write and keep writing. That’s why it’s important to actively seek out inspiration to help you generate new content. You probably have your own ways of approaching this challenge, but the following are five of my favorite strategies for courting the muse and I hope they’ll find their way into your writer’s toolbox.

Respond to an Inspirational Quotation

I find that discovering the wisdom and innovation of other great writers helps me to unearth the same qualities within myself. There are many witty, provocative, insightful, and even disturbing quotes out there to read and think about. One of my favorites that never fails to elicit a reaction is from E. M. Forster: “Let yourself go. Pull out from the depth those thoughts that you do not understand and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.” I’m always able to write something in response to this call to action, feeling more attuned to my own thoughts and senses as I look inward for inspiration.

Read Old Personal Journal Entries

If you keep a personal journal, go back to it every once in a while to glean ideas, phrases, and even visual inspiration from it. If you don’t keep one, it’s a good idea to start a journal because it’s the perfect way to get everything out on paper where you can analyze it. A journal enables you to identify the material that has the potential for poetry, short stories, novels, articles, or other genres of writing – especially if you’re a visual learner like me. It also serves as an archive for ideas that haven’t found the right context yet, so it can be a great help when you’re seeking inspiration.

Give an Elaborate Description of a Familiar Object or Feeling

When I feel uninspired, it’s usually because I don’t feel much of anything. I’m not feeling motivated, creative, or excited about the time I’ve so carefully scheduled for writing. When this happens, I try to think back on strong memories that evoke emotions – not only does this give me a way of getting in touch with my feelings, but it also gives me something to describe in writing. Often, this kind of description helps with character development, but it’s also useful in writing poetry and intimate short stories.

Find or Create an Inspirational Location for Writing

I recently read Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams, a book that narrates Pollan’s own imperfect journey toward building the perfect writing hideaway. He designs his own one-room cabin of sorts with the help of an architect, insisting on building it himself (with some assistance) in order to form a connection with his inspirational location. It’s an interesting book, and the concept of having an inspirational and deeply personal writing location is intriguing. Reading this book can help you analyze your writing space, but you can also simply switch your location for an inspiring change of pace – try writing at the art museum, on a park bench, or even at a student orchestra concert.

Let Music Do the Hard Work

Listen to your favorite music or try something you’ve never heard before. I hate country music, but when I listen to it for writing purposes, I find that it has the ability to connect me with emotions and ideas that were somehow trapped in my subconscious. So if you know that a certain genre of music makes you uncomfortable, turn up the volume and start typing because you’ll probably have a strong reaction to it. Reactions always generate ideas, so it’s a foolproof way to start writing, no matter how uninspired you might feel.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching health scholarships as well as scholarships for left handed students. Whenever this WAHM gets some free time she enjoys doing yoga, cooking with the freshest organic in-season fare, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.

Photo Credit: Flickr.com

Writing Fiction, with Taylor Stevens

Special thanks to Taylor Stevens, Paula Berinstein and Kim Urig for making this interview happen!

The Background
In an alternate universe, I spent my formative years living with parents and siblings, showing up for school and getting acquainted with HBO, Michael Jackson, neon clothes and big hair. In reality, childhood and adolescence were spent begging on city streets from Zurich to Tokyo, preparing food and washing laundry for hundreds of people, and otherwise trying to survive dreary life as a worker bee child in a communal apocalyptic cult. My innocence and scholastic education stopped completely when I was twelve-years-old.


Cut off from personal family, at times under the care of sadistic individuals and without access to books or television from the outside world, imagination became a survival mechanism. As a young teenager, I secretly entertained commune children with fantastic stories that took us through time and space, until these sins were discovered by cult leaders. Several laboriously hand-written books were confiscated and burned and I was ordered on pain of–well, a whole lot of pain–never to write again.

The nomadic culture of the cult became an adolescent’s journey across four continents and nearly two dozen countries culminating in four years living in East and West-Central Africa–this the primary setting for THE INFORMATIONIST.

Along this journey I have seen the best and worst of humanity and don’t have to look far to find the depth of soul and tormented conflict that drives my characters; I pull heavily from personal experience and the experience of the ones I love when creating the worlds they walk in.

I was in my twenties when I broke free, and leaving everything I knew brought with the fear, a fresh beginning. Refusing to go to my grave with regrets, “what ifs,” or tears over the lost years, I set out to take back what was taken from me. Through trial and error and observing the masters I taught myself the craft, and gradually the gift of storytelling returned. Learning basics that many take for granted has been a journey to be sure, but on the flip side, if I ever need to make breakfast for 150 people, I’ve already got that covered.

The focus of our interview will be Taylor’s debut novel, The Informationist, published by Crown and available now.

The Review

The Informationist is the story of Vanessa “Michael” Munroe, who is an informationist, a job that takes her all over the world gathering information for corporations, governments and other private clients. Her latest assignment is to find a wealthy oil tycoon’s daughter, who disappeared in Africa four years ago.

I’m not well-versed in the thriller genre, but I do know a thrilling book when I read one. The Informationist kept me awake past my bedtime on quite a few occasions. Each time I opened it, I felt like I was swept into Africa. If I hadn’t had a deadline for this interview, on page 267 I would’ve slowed down just a bit to savor it. Then again, I may not have been able to help myself and gobbled it up anyway. It’s that good and compelling a read.

I’m eagerly anticipating the second installment in Munroe’s story, with the working title of The Innocent, due out next year. It was a pleasure and an honor to talk with Taylor Stevens, and you can listen to our conversation below. You can click the link and listen with a program like Windows Media Player, or download it to an iPod or other MP3 player. Enjoy!


Photo credits: Taylor Stevens, The Official Site

Writing Apps for Apple’s iPad

Guest post by Jeff Norman

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be Mark Zuckerberg to craft an app for the iPad to which people will gravitate. We repeat—you do not need to be featured in an Oscar-nominated film in order to create infectious, useful iPad apps! I understand how difficult it must seem though. The iPad is incredibly sophisticated, and it’s easy to believe that a similar level of complexity and technological savvy is required to make apps that are just as techno-glammy as the iPad itself. Not so, my dear. Here are three tips that will help you, at this article’s conclusion, head out and get started on your own dream iPad app.

To C or not to C. The most frequently used programming language for the iPad is Objective C, which is somewhat similar to C++. Computer programmers familiar with C++ will have very little trouble adapting to Objective C. But for those without a clue, here is a link to a primer on how to understand Objective C’s most elementary components. Note to the weary: computer language is just as nuanced as French or Chinese, but does present some initial challenges, so take care to be patient with yourself when just starting out. You can also completely skip the challenges of Objective C with Runtime Revolution, a system that can convert into Objective C yet utilize dramatically less computer verbiage.

Learn from the masters. Admittedly, I’m no expert when it comes to creating mind blowing apps, or apps of any nature for that matter. However, what I am good at is ferreting out the Web’s absolute best and most valuable resources for helping me to do so. I turn my head to the computer programming masters. But in my search for iPad gurus, I wanted to take extra special care to locate honchos who made me feel like even a non-techie like myself could get in the iPad app-making groove. In that spirit, I would definitely steer you, app-hungry reader, to iPadAppsPlus. This handy dandy page walks you step-by-step through the process of creating a noteworthy app, from scratch.

Reconnaissance and resilience. The most important edict in creating an iPad app, all matters of programming and comp language aside, is a whole lotta recon work. Rumor has it that at least a dozen new apps are appearing daily for the iPad, which means you’ll need to get ahead of the contemporary trends in apps you’re seeing right now. Anticipate what will be needed for a few months from now—that’s the only way to make sure your app idea isn’t someone else’s current brainchild. The other skill you’ll need in this journey is tenacity, tough skin. The sheer profundity of apps out there makes it extremely unlikely that your first app (which may take weeks or months to fine-tune to perfection) will hit a home run right out of the gate. Think of this first app of yours, successful or not, as a test run. The next app you helm will benefit from the savvy gleaned from this experience, and it might just take off as a bona fide hit.

Bio: Jeff Norman is a recent college grad, currently writing from New York City.

Seven Questions for Jennifer Blanchard

Welcome to the second installment of The Seven Questions Series! Many thanks to Jennifer Blanchard for being my guest.

The Background
Jennifer Blanchard is the founder of the Procrastinating Writers Blog (one of my absolute favorites) which offers “guidance for writers who struggle to get started.” Jen writes fiction as well as nonfiction, and has published more than 100 articles in local and national publications. She’s a Web journalist and marketer, a Writing and Creativity Coach and a Board-Certified Holistic Health Practitioner with the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP). Her e-bookButt-In-Chair: A No-Excuses Writing Productivity Guide for Writers Who Struggle to Get Started, which she wrote with Joe Williams, will be the subject of our interview.
The Review
Butt-In-Chair is a guide designed to get you to do just that: put your butt in the chair and write. Really, when it comes right down to it, that’s the only way writing gets accomplished. This book gives you tools and strategies to help you sit down and actually write. Within each section is a box called “Sit Down and Write!” with writing exercises and prompts. There’s also an appendix with printable worksheets and checklists. If you’re serious about writing, this book is a must-have for your library, as you’ll refer to it over and over again. You can work through it from beginning to end, jump around the table of contents, do the writing prompts all at once or you can complete the prompts as you read through each individual section. The best part about this book, I think, is that it doesn’t dictate “how” you should sit down and write, but allows you to discover what works best for you when it comes to overcoming procrastination (each writer’s journey is different and therefore we all work differently, there is no “one size fits all” method). At a super-affordable $19.95, this is one investment in your writing career you can’t afford not to make.
The Seven Questions
The Chipper Writer: Tell me a little bit about Butt-In-Chair: A No-Excuses Writing Productivity Guide for Writers Who Struggle to Get Started, and what inspired it.
Jennifer: Butt-In-Chair is a workbook that guides you through getting started writing. It offers advice for working through the things that hold you back and helps you create writing habits that are effective for you.

It was inspired by my blog, Procrastinating Writers, and by all the questions and comments I get from writers/readers saying they “don’t know how to get started” or “they don’t have the time/motivation/energy/etc to write.”

I wanted to make it easy for people interested in writing to get started and maintain the momentum.

TCW: You wrote this book with Joe Williams. What was the collaboration process like and what advice would you give collaborating writers?

Jennifer: Our collaboration process was a bit easier than most because we live in the same house. But since we’re on totally different schedules for the most part, we divided and conquered. I split the book “to-dos” into two categories: stuff that’s already written, but needs to be edited; and stuff that needs to be written. Then we split the list up—he wrote some and I wrote the rest, then we both read through and edited the stuff that had already been written (since I pulled a lot of the content straight from the blog).

Overall I think the best advice I have for anyone who wants to collaborate is this: Find a writer who you can work with; someone who is responsible and who will support you and hold up their end of the deal. Without that collaboration just can’t happen.

TCW: What is the “All-Or-Nothing Mistake” and what can writers do to let it go?

Jennifer: The all-or-nothing mistake is a mindset that writers often have: They think they can only write under certain conditions, and if the conditions are not exact, they won’t/can’t write.

For example, if my goal is to write for an hour every day, but I only have 20 minutes available to me today, with an all-or-nothing mindset I would tell myself I can’t write because I don’t have a full hour.

But what writers don’t realize is that mindset is not only distracting, but also very limiting. Instead of all-or-nothing, focus on what’s important: Getting writing done! Even if that means writing for 20 minutes instead of an hour. Every little bit is moving you in the right direction.

TCW: There’s a whole section for writers who fear rejection. What are some reasons writers fear rejection, and what are some ways to deal with it?

Jennifer: Writers fear rejection because they view rejection of their writing as a rejection of themselves when that is absolutely NOT the case. Just because your writing was rejected, that doesn’t mean you were rejected. Remember that and repeat it to yourself.

Putting yourself out there as a writer is a huge challenge. Many writers never take that challenge on and instead keep their writing hidden in a drawer. Your writing should be where it belongs: In the hands of readers. In order to get it there, you need to open yourself up to all possibilities, which includes the possibility of being rejected.

A wise business coach once told me, “There is no rejection; there is only selection.” I like that.

Some ways to deal with it could be:

Practice putting yourself out there. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

Have someone sit down with you and for 10-15 minutes keep saying “No” to you over and over again until you’re sick of hearing it. Getting over the idea of “no” is a huge step toward getting over the idea of being rejected.

Ignore the haters and naysayers! When your writing gets rejected you have two choices: believe the rejecter or believe yourself. If you choose to believe them, your writing career is doomed. You need to believe yourself. You know your writing, you know your talent and you (hopefully) know your worth. When someone rejects you or your writing, love them for it and make it your goal to prove them wrong. And anytime someone “hates” on you, make it your goal to love yourself even more. Fear of rejection will become a thing of the past.

TCW: What are writing affirmations and how can writers use them to produce a positive outcome?

Jennifer: A writing affirmation is a positive statement about your writing that you say over and over again to yourself. So, for example, a writing affirmation could be: “I am an awesome writer” or “I am a brilliant, confident writer” or “My writing is excellent and worthy of awards.”

I suggest making up a statement that sits well with you. A statement that makes you feel confident and motivated every time you say it. Different statements will work for different writers.

Once you have your perfect statement, write it on a Post-It note and hang it by your writing area. It’s also a good idea to hang it other places too, like on your bathroom mirror or in your car. The more often you can remind yourself of how great a writer you truly are, the better.

TCW: I’ve read in numerous places that you need to set yourself a writing schedule. What is the “un-schedule?”

Jennifer: The problem with writing schedules is the whole self-set deadlines thing. It’s hard for writers to work toward self-set deadlines because there’s very little incentive, apart from completing the piece of writing. That’s why you have to figure out a way to incent yourself for getting writing done. Sorry—that response is a little off the topic of the question, but I thought it was important to mention.

An un-schedule is a tool created by psychologist, Neil Fiore, that helps you identify where in your schedule you have free time. You figure out what you’re already doing each week (things that you know for sure you’re doing, not things you might do). Then you add up the empty time you have and that’s how you determine how much time you have available for writing.

You can read more about the un-schedule and get a free download of an un-schedule worksheet here: http://procrastinatingwritersblog.com/2010/05/a-useful-tool-for-managing-your-writing-time/

TCW: In the chapter titled “Productivity Methods,” there are six methods writers can try. Which one do you find most useful and why?

Jennifer: Before I answer this, let me just point out that different methods will work for different writers, which is why I recommend trying so many. I highly recommend doing what works for you and not what works for someone else.

With that being said—for me—the most useful method has been the word-count goal method. It helps me measure how far I’ve come and I how far I have left to go. It also helps me stay on track because I know that every day I have to write at least 500 words (or whatever word count you choose). Some days I hit it, some days I don’t, but either way I am always heading in that direction.

Thanks Jennifer, for being a guest on The Chipper Writer’s Seven Questions Series.
To my readers, as always, thank you for reading! You can contact Jennifer on her blog, Facebook page, or on Twitter.
Happy Writing from The Chipper Writer!

Seven Questions for Aggie Villaneuva

Welcome to the first installment of The Seven Questions Series! I want to thank Aggie Villaneuva for being guest number one.
The Background
A published novelist before she was 30, bestselling author Aggie Villanueva published Chase the Wind and Rightfully Mine, both at Thomas Nelson in the 1980’s. Her two self-published books, Rightfully Mine and The Rewritten Word, each became bestsellers in three Amazon print & Kindle categories within months of publication, The Rewritten Word within weeks. She founded Visual Arts Junction blog in February 2009. By the end of the year, it was voted #5 at Predators & Editors in the category “Writers’ Resource, Information & News Source” for 2009. Aggie is founder of Promotion á la Carte, author promotional services. Villanueva is also a critically acclaimed photographic artist represented by galleries nationwide, including Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. Contact Villanueva at aggie@promotionalacarte.com.
The Review
The Rewritten Word is a fast read, and a handy, concise guide to have next to you as you edit. The book consists of five lessons, and at the end of the first four are assignments, with detailed steps to apply to your work. Aggie takes a hands-on approach from the start when she asks you to have a work in progress with you while you read. I chose a blog post I was working on at the time, called A Look Back: The 27th Annual Western Reserve Writers Conference & Workshop. I read through Aggie’s book and did the assignments, and saw an immediate improvement. I feel the results I achieved speak more than anything else I could say about how great this book is. Here are examples from the first three lessons.
“Lesson One: Organization- You Thought That Meant Outlining, Didn’t You?”
“Sentence hotspots,” which we’ll get into more in the interview, is a way to organize sentence structure by placing important information at the beginning and end of the sentence, to aid in reader comprehension.
For example, here’s the before and after versions of the first sentence from my blog post:
Before: The 27th Annual Western Reserve Writers Conference & Workshop took place at Lakeland Community College on September 25, 2010.
After: The 27th Annual Western Reserve Writers Conference & Workshop took place on September 25 at Lakeland Community College.
“Lesson Two: Verboten Verbosity”
Again, we’ll get into this in more depth in the interview, but the basic idea is to cut as many words as you can.
For example:
Before: The thing I enjoyed most about this workshop is after she talked about each element, Stefanie gave us a few minutes to apply each one to our own essays. (29 words)
After: After Stefanie talked about each element, we took a few minutes and applied them to our own essays. (18 words)
“Lesson Three: Actively Rewrite- Active Voice vs. Passive/Past Tense vs. Present”
I looked for the word “was” and changed it to make it active (which is just one snippet of this lesson). The passive and active in each sentence are in bold.
Before: After the keynote address, the first workshop of the day was “Mastering the Memoir,” with one of my favorite writers, Erin O’Brien.”
After: After the keynote, I attended “Mastering the Memoir,” taught by one of my favorite writers, Erin O’Brien.
Note also the reduction in words (22 cut to 17), which shows how many of these concepts work together.
This e-book contains a systematic approach to edit your work. New and experienced writers will find it indispensable. I wish I would’ve had it when I started writing seriously in 2004.
The Seven Questions
The Chipper Writer: Tell me a little bit about The Rewritten Word: How to Sculpt Literary Art No Matter the Genre, and what inspired you to write it.

Aggie: Hi Alanna. Thank you so much for having me today. I hope to answer a lot of questions people have about editing their writing.

The Rewritten Word is probably the shortest how-to book ever. According to one of the most important principles of rewriting (avoid verbosity) that’s as it should be. In fact, here’s a video commercial I made highlighting that fact. Scroll down about half the page. (I’m kinda heavy on the humor so be prepared for out of the ordinary.)

I have to be honest about what inspired me. I wrote it because I’m a terrible writer. My work isn’t publication worthy until I’ve done untold rewrites. When I first started writing, I heard and obeyed the pros who admonish “write, write and rewrite.” But my 10th rewrite wasn’t much better than the first. That’s because I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t understand the purpose of rewriting.

Its purpose is to clarify and organize, cut rambling & verbosity, switch from passive to active voice everywhere possible, and always use exactly the right word which electrifies your work. These basic necessities are overlooked more often than imagined.

I love the way Mark Twain said it. “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.”

When I got serious about studying the craft of writing, I was shocked by what I didn’t know about polishing my words. Reading books on editing, I found them lofty, using grammar terms that college level English students would have a hard time following.

So way back then I did exactly what I did with the examples in my little handbook — I took the sentences and paragraphs that were unclear to me and clarified, simplified and shortened, rewriting until they made sense to me, and eliminating what didn’t relate and in fact distracted.

Many times this meant translating into words I could understand, and at times that required searching grammar books to find out what the heck the author had said.

What I didn’t realize was I was teaching myself to rewrite. It was years before I understood my own process, but this is what I did to rewrite my own work from that point. And, like most of us, I just wanted to share what I learned, so I compiled and published it, hoping someone else can relate.

Also, I want to stress I’m not a professional editor or English grammar teacher, but just a simple writer struggling to improve my own work.

TCW: I love the structure of your book. It consists of five lessons, and at the end of the first four are assignments, with detailed steps to apply to your own work. How did you decide on this structure?

Aggie: Funny you should ask. Originally, it was designed as an email course that nobody ever signed up for. I liked the assignment aspect of it, which is pretty common in how-to books, so I kept that when I rewrote it as a book.

TCW: In “Lesson One: Organization- You Thought That Meant Outlining, Didn’t You?”, you write about “hotspots,” a concept from Philip Yaffe’s article, “How Crafty Word Order Can Instantly Improve Your Writing.” I applied “hotspots” to a blog post I worked on while I read your book, and saw an immediate improvement. Can you please explain what “hotspots” are and why they are important to organization?

Aggie: At various points in his 40-year career, Philip Yaffe has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, a founding partner of a marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, and much more. He knows the art of communication better than most. But I knew none of this when I read that article.

Hotspots are his ingeniously simple way to organize your sentence structure by knowing where to place important and secondary information within a sentence. I immediately recognized the concept because I’d unknowingly stumbled upon it while rewriting my fiction, but never developed it into such a complete and easy to understand concept.

I devoted a few pages to quoting Philip because I was so impressed with his insights about how to get readers to most easily absorb your ideas and deliver them with the most impact. After all, that’s exactly why we rewrite.

I wrote for permission to quote him and learned that he was just finishing his own book which, in my opinion, is the end-all expert writing manual, The Gettysburg Approach to Writing and Speaking Like a Professional.

We became internet friends and then he actually read my book. I’m so honored by a review Mr. Yaffe did for The Rewritten Word, and I’m now working on a review of his book, at his request, which also honors me beyond words that he’d want my opinion. I highly recommend his newest book to all writers.

TCW: In the assignment section in “Lesson One,” you write: “Pretend you don’t know what you meant and that you can only understand from what you say.” Can you please expand on that a bit? Do you think that’s possible without putting it in the proverbial drawer for some length of time?

Aggie: Most rewriting is impossible without the cooling period, especially for beginners. For many aspects you can set the manuscript aside for just a day or two. What you just mentioned requires a longer cooling period. But, as the writing years go by, it becomes easier to pretend you don’t know what you’re reading. It takes lots of practice, but it’s vital.

TCW: What is “verboten verbosity,” and what are some techniques writers can use to overcome it?

Aggie: Using too many words to say something is always verboten (forbidden) and always diminishes the rate at which readers comprehend. That may not sound like a big deal unless you understand that if a reader doesn’t immediately grasp your thoughts, they bolt. No kidding. A reader will almost never read a sentence/paragraph a second time. If your verbosity persists beyond that first sentence/paragraph, your work is discarded.

And not only do we have to get our thought across immediately, with no effort on the readers’ part, we must do it with impact. We have to punch that idea across with staying power, the kind of impact that lingers in their thoughts long after laying aside our writing.

As to technique, my first step is to try and cut a sentence/paragraph in half. Don’t even think about it, just start cutting and then study what you have left, and especially those words and phrases you cut. You will learn more about your writing sins by what you eliminate than anything else.

Did you cut phrases that aren’t relevant to your paragraph/topic? Then you ramble. Are they all passive words? Did you cut a whole phrase and replace it with one or two perfect words?

TCW: Why should writers cut as many words that end in ly and ing as possible?

Aggie: These add to two writing sins, verbosity and passivity, which make writing boring, long and hard to understand. Cut words ending with ly as much as possible, so your adverbs will add punch when you must use them. They are a great tool, but when overused promote a jerky flow, as in this published sentence from my novel Chase the Wind, coauthored with Deborah Lawrence, Thomas Nelson, 1983.

He patted her hand and smiled sympathetically, but to Gomer his lips curved grotesquely and his lowered voice sounded more like a hiss than a whisper.

The adverb sympathetically is, in this case, unnecessary since patting a hand is a universal sympathetic gesture. The adverb grotesquely is also unnecessary since a lowered voice sounding more like a hiss than a whisper is grotesque. Besides being unnecessary, notice how the adverbs chop the flow compared to this:

He patted her hand and smiled, but to Gomer his lowered voice sounded more like a hiss than a whisper.

Words ending with ing also stir choppy literary waters when overused, as in this sentence.

For a year, I’d been researching and outlining my second novel.

The following seems a small, but evident improvement in the active voice. But not so small when multiplied hundreds of times throughout an article, eliminating hundreds of unnecessary words, or thousands within a book.

For a year, I’d researched and outlined my second novel.

TCW: Can you please tell us a little bit about “Lightning and the Lightning Bug,” and how to do this in your own writing?

Aggie: It’s much the same as simply cutting every unnecessary and/or irrelevant word, in fact that is usually how you’ll discover those “almost right” words.

Circle all words that aren’t to the point. The thesaurus is invaluable here. I use it to find words saying precisely what I mean, and in some cases I can substitute one perfect word for five weak ones.

Mark Twain said that “the difference between the almost right word & the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” As helpful as the thesaurus is, it is abused by those who try to emulate archaic writers who use exotic words.

Have you ever read a sentence like this?

Humanity is conceived here exclusively in terms of ritual function—man is made in order to offer sacrifices to the gods—and so the highly differentiated realms of history and moral action are not intimated in the account of man’s creation.

Wouldn’t it make more sense like this?

According to this account of man’s creation, our only function is to sacrifice to the gods. The many facets of our purpose, such as our varied history and morality, are not even hinted at.

My edit may not impress the intelligentsia, but I understood it. Use a thesaurus to make your meaning clear, not to amaze with your intelligence.

Alanna, thankx so much for having me. I have really enjoyed our time together. I’m so honored to be your first guest in this series.

I’d like to offer your readers a free copy of my industry report titled Working Amazon: The Importance of Amazon Tags & How to Get the Most Out of Them.

Some companies charge up to $135 to do tagging for you. Don’t waste your money. I teach how to do it yourself. The feedback on this report has been overwhelming, some marketing experts even blogging about the importance of purchasing it. Just email me saying you got this offer from Alanna’s interview and I’ll email you the pdf file. Email me at aggie@promotionalacarte.com.


Aggie, thank you for being the first guest on The Chipper Writer’s Seven Question Series, and also for the free offer for my readers!

To my readers, thank you for reading! Also, Aggie is going to make herself available throughout today to answer any questions you may have, so please feel free to email her.

Happy Writing from The Chipper Writer!

Two Announcements from The Chipper Writer

1. The Writing Show is now all slush pile workshops all the time.

Click to listen to Big Changes at The Writing Show. The site and the forum remain up, as well as the shows I did as a guest host. You can also purchase a DVD of all 330+ shows for $39.95 plus shipping. Please email Paula B if you’d like one at paula@writingshow.com. Paula will also still be doing her story consulting, and if you need some help with your writing, she’s one of the best people you can turn to.

I’d like to thank Paula B for giving me the opportunity to guest host for The Writing Show. I’d also like to thank the writers who were my guests (John Derhak, Thrity Umrigar, Deanna Adams, Erin O’Brien, Michael Wilson, and Sarah Willis). A big thank you to all the listeners out there, and I hope you’ll continue to tune into The Writing Show for the Slushpile Workshops.

2. I’m launching a new series of online interviews with writers for writers called The Seven Questions Series.

The first, with Aggie Villaneuva, author of The Rewritten Word, will run tomorrow. The basic layout of The Seven Questions Series will be The Background on the writer, The Review of a piece of the writers work, and The Seven Questions. I plan to post one installment a month (for now, as I’m sure aspects of this will change as we go along).

If you’re a writer and would like to be a guest on The Seven Questions Series, please email me at alannaklapp@gmail.com for consideration.

I’m also excited that thus far I’m booked through May of 2011!

I hope you’ll stop by tomorrow to read the first installment of The Seven Questions Series!

Thanks for reading, and Happy Writing!

Photo credit: stock.xchng.com

Copywriting: How to Put Your Portfolio Together

Guest post by Maria Rainier

If you’ve always dreamed of breaking into the exciting field of copywriting, but aren’t sure where to begin, you’re not alone. A copywriter is one of the most coveted writing jobs since it combines creativity, strategy, and business acumen. With the allure of working in the advertising world so coveted, getting your foot in the door can take time. But you can’t get started unless you have a good book.

What’s a book? It’s your portfolio of work and is an essential way to show off your conceptual writing abilities to prospective employers. Here are some proven tips to create your portfolio and land that coveted job as a Copywriter.

Get Creative. The first step to putting together a portfolio that showcases your work is to start writing. If you’ve already been working as an intern at an ad agency, or have taken advertising and marketing courses, you’re halfway there. However, if you haven’t started yet, you’ll want to develop some spec ads on your own. Sit down and write some ad copy for a product or service that you’re already very familiar with – think food, drink, clothing, restaurants, etc. Now is not the time to try to learn about a new business. The key is to come up with some big ideas that will get the attention of the Creative Director at the agencies where you’re pitching your work. Once you have your headline and support copy written, partner with a graphic designer to have them create layouts that finish off your concept. This is essential – and if you don’t know any designers, then contact a design school to see if they can recommend someone who is in the same boat. You may need to look online to hire a graphic designer to do the work for you. It’s a small price to pay for a polished concept.

Compile Your Book. Once you’ve got five to seven solid pieces that showcase a wide range of work – print, online, radio and broadcast, you’ll need to head over to an art supply or office retail store to get yourself a portfolio case. These can run you around $100 so be prepared – but remember they’re worth the price when selling yourself. Make sure you enclose each sample of your work in the protective film, and don’t forget to put your name and contact information on the tag. If you can afford it, it’s a good idea to purchase a few portfolio cases in case you’re asked to leave your portfolio behind –which is very common. That way you’ll have another copy to shop around.

Hit the Street. The last, and most important step, is to make contact with the Creative Director, Associate Creative Director, or Senior Copywriter at the big advertising agencies in your city. A great place to start is at your local Ad Club, which often has a roster of contacts. You can also do a simple online search of advertising agencies and check out their website for contact information. Once you have their names, you can send them an email introducing yourself and asking for some time to critique your portfolio. It may sound daunting, but they’ve been in your shoes before, and are usually happy to squeeze in some time to give you feedback. During your meeting, make sure you let them know how much you appreciate their time, and ask for any advice or feedback on your work. Then make sure they know how interested you are in their agency. Who knows, maybe one of your ideas will make them want to give you a chance as an intern or a Junior Copywriter.

Good luck!

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching different types of online physical therapy assistant degrees and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Maria has written one other guest post for The Chipper Writer, called Find Focus by Elimination Distractions.