5 of the trickiest writing questions that I’ve heard… all year. (Got a question of your own? I want to hear.)

 
 
 

At the end of this year, I’ll be retiring my signature workshop — Write Yourself Into Motion — to clear space for some new workshops and experiences (… that I am verrrrry excited to create.)

After teaching Write Yourself Into Motion about 30 times — for over 600 students in 3 different countries — I’ve noticed that the same questions tend to come up, in each workshop, again and again.

This is understandable. Many of us are grappling with the same challenges.

 

Here are 5 of the best (and trickiest) writing questions that I’ve heard… all year. Maybe, ever.

 

I hope that my answers are helpful.

I hope that these answers encourage you to make the time & space to write… whatever you want. #NoExcuses.

I hope that you remember, above all, that you don’t need to be “a genius wordsmith” or a “famous blogger” in order to make a difference in the world. You just need to write from the hut (heart + gut) and tell the truth about what you know.

To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve.”

That includes… you. You can serve through your words.

 

1. “I work from home and there’s always something to distract me from writing. Dishes, laundry, Netflix… any tips on how to get focused and stop procrastinating?”

 

Whether you work in an office or from home, there’s always “something” that you could be doing, other than writing.

I’ve learned that I need to create a firm “boundary” around my writing-time. A distinct beginning. A clear ending.

I’m not alone, here. It’s a common approach — because it works.

I once heard a story about a famous author who pops a particular flavor of gum into her mouth whenever it’s time to start writing. When she feels complete for the day, she spits it out and switches to a different flavor of gum. For her, that flavor-change acts like a “cue” for her body & brain: “Now I’m writing. Now I’m done.”

Gum might not be your thing, but you could try lighting a candle, closing the door to your bedroom or home office, playing a particular kind of music, or sitting in a special writing chair.

Create some kind of “cue” to signal the start & end of your writing time. It sounds simple and obvious. Try it. It helps.

 

2. “This is painful to admit, but… I just don’t think that I’m a good writer. I don’t want to share my work, because I don’t think it’s any good. How can I get through this resistance?”

 

Sometimes, I hit “publish” on a blog post — or send off an article to an editor — and think to myself, “Blech. Whatever. That wasn’t my best work.”

Then, months later, I might receive an email from someone halfway around the world, saying, “What you wrote practically saved my life.”

Or, “Because of what you wrote, I landed my dream job… at last.”

Or simply, “You inspired me to write a sexy love letter for my husband… and when he got home, we had the BEST night. Ever.”

Asking, “Is my writing good enough?” is a fruitless question. There will always be something to criticize, something to refine.

A better question might be, “If I share this piece of writing, can I [help / educate / entertain / heal / inspire / take your pick] at least one human being? Or maybe more?”

If the answer to that second question is “Yes” or even “Probably, and I hope so…” then you must share your writing.

Don’t hold back.

You never know whose life you might impact.

 

3. “I have lots of things that I want to write about and blog about, and they make all sense in my head. But when I try to write them down, it’s a big, jumbled mess. How can I get better at translating my thoughts into clear words on a page?”

 

Let me ask you this:

If you got an email from a friend, and he or she said…

“I’m going through a tough time. Do you have any words of advice for me?”

Or…

“I’m struggling with a problem. Do you have any tips on how I can solve it?”

Or…

“I’m having a depressing day. Can you tell me a story that might give me some hope? A story about you, or someone you know? I could use some encouragement. I just need a reminder that I’m not alone.”

… would you struggle to craft an email to respond to your friend?

Or would the words just… flow?

Often, when you think to yourself, “I have to write a blog post / book chapter / magazine article / newsletter,” it can feel incredibly stressful and pressurized.

Instead, think to yourself, “No stress. No pressure. I am just writing down a few thoughts to help out a friend.”

Write from that place. Let it be conversational and un-complicated.

Just as natural as helping a friend.

 

4. “I do a lot of writing for my job, but I’m always writing for other people… in other people’s voices… or to support other people’s projects. I want to work on my own personal projects, too, but there never seems to be enough time. Any advice?”

 

I feel you. As a copywriter, ghostwriter and writing coach, I could easily fill up my entire day with client projects, never leaving an iota of time for my own creative work.

(I happen to really love my clients, so it feels even trickier, sometimes, to carve out space for my “other” work.)

I’ve learned to block out specific days on the calendar that are just for me, for my projects, alone. No emails. No phone sessions. No client work. No teaching. Just open space… to work on whatever feels electric & exciting to me.

I encouraged one of my clients to try this, too. She now celebrates “Fiction Friday” once a week, and saves that entire day to work on her young-adult fiction novel.

Maybe carving out an entire day, every week, isn’t doable for you. But maybe you could carve out an hour. Or an afternoon. Or, like this brilliant poet, just write ten lines of poetry, every Tuesday.

When something really matters to you, it is always possible to create the time — even if it’s just ten minutes. Or ten lines.

 

5. “I’ve been in the corporate world for so long, I don’t even know what my ‘writing voice’ is, anymore. How do I find it again?”

 

Simply: you don’t “find” your voice.

You create it.

 

What are your burning questions on writing, communication and self-expression? Write ‘em down below.

I’d love to share my thoughts in future posts and advice columns.

Big thanks. Happy writing.

xo.

 
 

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GOOD QUESTION: How can I protect my ideas from copycats & encourage folks to credit me, properly?

 
 
 

Dear Alex,

I created something that I am really proud of: a game called Storybowl!

I hold Storybowl gatherings locally, and I created a how-to kit so that people can create their own Storybowl experiences at home.

It thrills me to know that there will be Storybowls happening all over the world!

But… I’m wondering:

How can I make sure that people are crediting me as the creator when they teach Storybowl to others?

In other words, how can I protect my idea, and my work, without sounding like a jerk? Or should I just let it go?

Andrea

 
 

Dear Andrea,

To answer your question, I reached out to one of my favorite humans on earth:

My dad, Don Franzen (who happens to be an intellectual property attorney – convenient, right?).
 

Here’s the gist:

Here in the USA, it’s difficult to claim ownership over an “idea” — at least, in a court of law.

That’s because copyright doesn’t protect “ideas” — it protects the concrete expression of an idea.

But! You can claim copyright for a published piece of original writing, or an expression of original methodology that has been documented in some way — say, in an e-course or recorded presentation.

Your Storybowl game sounds like “an expression of original methodology,” so you might be entitled to copyright protection.
 

Here are a couple of legal-ish things to remember:

: You can’t take any legal action to enforce your copyright until you officially register with the Copyright Office. There are clear instructions how to do this (it’s cheap, like a $35 registration fee) at: http://copyright.gov

: You might also be entitled to Trademark protection, if you have a logo or name attached to your creation that identifies it. (And since your product is called “Storybowl,” it sounds like you do!). Getting a trademark registered is a bit more complicated than copyright, but you can learn more at: http://uspto.gov/trademarks/basics/definitions.jsp

: To recap: for maximum protection, get those copyright and trademark applications filed. If you want to do it yourself, LegalZoom is a terrific website that can help. But of course, consulting with an attorney to get personalized advice on how to proceed is never a bad idea!
 

As my dad points out, filing the official paperwork is a good place to begin.

But sometimes, even after going to all that trouble, people will still copy, steal or use your work without giving proper credit.
 

What then?
 

There’s the “lawyer” answer:

“Add a scary, threatening statement to every product! Write a cease and desist letter! Sue their pants off!”

And then, there’s the “non-lawyer” answer:

“Give simple instructions on how to credit you properly, hope for the best, and then… let it go.”
 

At your Storybowl gatherings, for example, you could say:

“I’m so excited to share this game with you! It’s insanely fun and I hope that you’ll feel inspired to share it with friends, back at home.

Do me a favor: when you do, just quickly mention that Storybowl is a game invented by a cool lady named Andrea Scher.

It’s always awesome to get credit for your work. I’d really appreciate it.”
 

Inside the Storybowl product, you could add a short note to the first (or final) page, saying:

“Storybowl is a game invented by… me! Want to play the game at your workshop, company retreat or gathering? Do it! I’d love that.

And when you do, kindly mention that it’s a game invented by a rockin’ artist & storyteller named Andrea Scher.

Want to be super-awesome? Mention my website, as well: SuperheroLife.com.

Thanks for being MY hero. Getting credit for your work… feels so good.”
 

When you give folks crystal-clear instructions, most of the time… they will happily comply.

And sometimes, they won’t. And that sucks.

I’ve had my work stolen and miscredited more times than I can count — including one instance where a woman literally copied blog posts that I had written & pasted them onto her website, word for word, passing them off as her own.

I’ve learned that I can’t spend my days obsessively policing the Internet, hunting for copycats or people using my work without crediting me. It’s just not worth my time.
 

To sum up my advice:

Protect yourself by filing the necessary legal paperwork, if that feels like the right route to go.

Give clear instructions — and language! — to help people credit you, properly.

Trust that (most) people will comply.

And then…

Try to relax & let it all go, knowing that you’ve taken every reasonable measure to protect your creative work.

Being “on patrol” for potential copycats, 24/7, is a pretty dreary way to spend your life. It weighs heavily on the heart.

You’ve got better things to do.

Like tell stories.

And make art.

 

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” –Ann Landers

 

xo.

PS. Have you ever had your work stolen, or used without proper credit? How did you handle it?

 
 
 

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10 ways to write blog post titles, headlines & email subject lines that make people go, “whoa!”.

 
 
 

There’s a reason why there are entire websites & books & even sociological studies devoted to one thing:

Naming your baby.

OK. Coming up with a title for your latest blog post might not be as emotionally-loaded as coming up with a timeless moniker for your unborn child, but even so… many people struggle to do it!

Even professional writers groan & grumble under the pressure of trying to come up with “the perfect title”.

But it doesn’t have to be agonizing. You can think of it as a playful word-game.

And of course, having a few tried-and-true templates to use — even just as a starting point — can help you “win” the game a lot faster.

Behold:

10 ways to structure blog post titles, book chapter titles, article headlines, email subject lines for your newsletters & any other short bits of text that need to grip attention, quickly.

 

1. Make it THE BEST.
 

Ever wonder why your favorite blogs & magazines are riddled with “Best Of” lists? It’s because… people like them!

Words and phrases like “favorite”, “biggest”, “newest”, “ultimate”, “infinite”, “top picks”, “absolute”, “can’t live without”, “of all time” and “… ever” can all signify this kind of BEST-ness.
 

A few examples:

: My favorite writing music [sexy, mellow, a hint of electronica]

: 10 of the best first date questions … possibly ever.

: The ultimate guide to naming your “thing.”

: Infinite reasons to be happy & hopeful: the longest love-list that ever lived.

: My [new] favorite tools for writing, creativity, productivity & whatnot.

 

2. Try a PROVOCATIVE STATEMENT.
 

Sexy. Mysterious. Intentionally vague. Or just… surprising!

Use a provocative statement as your title, and your reader will immediately wonder, “Hmmm… what does she mean by that? I’ve got to read and find out!”
 

A few examples:
 

: You already know everything.

: Everything is marketing.

: Don’t leave before the miracle happens.

: THIS is what’s possible.

: Be the one who says “Yes”.

 

3. Use an INTRIGUING QUESTION.
 

I love using questions as titles, especially when I’m writing a piece that’s intended to spark conversation or self-reflection.
 

A few examples:
 

: What is a “good writer,” anyway?

: What would Love do?

: Is your “Internet Penis” too small?

: Who is living your dream?

 

4. Make a LIST.
 

Oh, the Internet loves a good, long list.

And if your blog post or article is, in fact, a list… well, it’s pretty darn easy to come up with a title.
 

A few examples:
 

: 100 questions to inspire rapid self-discovery (and spark your next talk, date, blog post or book.)

: 10 mini love notes from Valentine’s Day.

: 35 things you can do instead of starting a blog.

: 50 ways to say “You’re Awesome.” (So popular, it led to a book deal!)

: 30 mantras for people who over-work, over-commit and are generally terrified of “missing out”.

 

5. Offer a HOW TO.
 

Personally, I’m a very “instructional” kind of writer. Pretty much everything I write is intended to solve a problem, offer an exciting idea, or teach a lesson. (Well… maybe not my erotic fiction stories. On the other hand, they do offer some “exciting ideas”… ;)

Hence: you’ll find a lot of “how to” posts here on this site. People love ‘em. And… just like with lists, they’re pretty easy to title!
 

A few examples:
 

: How to say NO to everything, ever.

: How to write a ridiculously sexy (but totally classy) note to your sweetheart.

: How to survive when everything sucks.
 

Using the “how to” format doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to use the words “how” and “to”.

Words like “lessons”, “guidelines”, “insights”, and “tips” can convey the same helpful, instructional tone.
 

For example:

: 7 guidelines for writing emails that people actually want to read.
 

You can also include an “OMG! NOW WHAT?!” statement, followed by a “how to” statement.
 

For example:

: ZOMG! You’ve got a video interview in ten minutes time. Here’s how to nail your message, feel great & SHINE.

 

6. Offer a BACKSTAGE TOUR.
 

I get completely riled up & excited whenever someone I admire offers a “backstage tour” into their not-so-public world.

Using words & phrases like “backstage tour”, “sneak peek”, “inside glimpse”, “secret trip”, “virtual tour”, “what’s inside”, “behind the curtain” and “how I really do it” can all convey this sense of voyeuristic delight.
 

For example:
 

A backstage tour of my business.

(Note to self: do more backstage tour-style posts, in the future!)

 

7. READ THIS WHEN.
 

I love using phrases like “Read this when” or “Open this when.”

It immediately helps the reader decide if this particular piece of writing is going to “speak” to them, right now, or not.
 

A few examples:
 

: Read this when you can’t remember who you are, what you do, why you do it — or how to talk about it.

: Read this when you’re feeling unwanted & rejected. (You’re not. This will help.)
 

You can also invert this formula, and try something like…


Warning: Do not read this if you enjoy clinging to excuses that prevent you from making art, moving forward & doing wonderful things.

 

8. PROBLEM? SOLUTION.
 

Got a problem? Here’s a potential solution. Yep. Pretty much sums it up.

This is another great way to help your reader decide, “Is reading this piece worth my time, or not?”
 

A few examples:
 

: Don’t know what to write in your online dating profile? Try this.

: Tired of waiting? Great. Start creating.

: Got a nude photo shoot coming up? (Who doesn’t?) My tips on how to feel brave, strong & sexy.

: Don’t know what to blog about? 88 pieces of fill-in-the-blank inspiration.

: Downsizing your joy? Stop that. Let us be happy for you.

: Want to be famous, successful, booked ’til forever? Operate like the world is already listening.

 

9. “QUOTE.” AND MORE.
 

Pull a quote from your finished blog post, article, chapter or whatnot. Perhaps the final, closing words. Or another phrase that sums up the “spirit” of the piece.

Plop that “quote” into your title… followed by a few more words to clarify what the piece is about. Boom.
 

A few examples:
 

: “If all else fails…” 10 of the BEST possible worst case scenarios.

: “Fortunately, it is not required for happiness.” 7 words to re-focus your mind on what matters.

: “I’m not that busy. Really.” Dispelling the myth of success & busy-ness.

: “If you really knew me, you’d know…” The ultimate conversation starter & story-sparker.

: “So … yeah. Things have changed.” How to break a commitment without ruining anyone’s life (or your reputation).

 

10. I DID _____! HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED.
 

You did something cool. You learned a valuable lesson. Now you want to share it. The title practically writes itself!
 

A few examples:
 

: I spent an hour with a publicity powerhouse! Here’s what I learned about getting big-time media coverage…

: I spent an hour with “The Oprah Whisperer!” Here’s what I learned about telling a soundbite-sized story…

: What a real-life ninja taught me about devotion & mastery.

 

WANT MORE?
 

Here are a couple of smart ideas & resources that I’ve discovered:
 

: The all-time most popular posts from 21 wonderful websites from Mental Floss.

: How to write magnetic headlines from Copyblogger.

: How to craft post titles that draw people into your blog from ProBlogger.

: How to write great book titles from Lulu.

: Best practices for email subject lines from MailChimp. (They analyzed 200 million emails to see what works & what doesn’t.)

: The Blogcademy. Excellent training for amateur bloggers who want to “go pro.” (They have an online academy now, too.)

: The Signature Sound Bite class. If you rrrreeeally struggle to consolidate your ideas into simple, snappy, memorable phrases, this class is for you. It was developed by Susan Harrow, a 25-year publicity industry veteran. Get a free taste here.

: Everything from Melissa Cassera. She’s another publicity industry veteran who has tons of fresh, simple ideas about what it takes to get people OBSESSED with your writing & blogging.

 

KNOW WHAT WORKS.

BUT DO WHAT YOU WANT.
 

Yes, it’s true. There are certain words, phrases & sentence structures that are highly likely to make people respond in the way that you want.

(It’s been studied and proven.)

However…
 

You do not have to adopt the “best practices” that the “experts” (including me!) reveal and recommend.

You can do whatever feels right in your “hut” (heart + gut).

Title every blog post you write with an obscure song lyric.

Record an album with a symbol for a name.

Change your legal name to “Hashtag”.

Write a book with no title.

Whatever you want.

Art has no rules.

xo.

 
 
 

Read More business // acceleration creativity // inspiration

BEFORE you start writing:

Four practices to help you get focused & clear… and stick to the point.

 
 
 

There’s a question that comes up at nearly every single workshop that I teach:

 

“How can I keep my writing focused, clear, effective, purposeful… and stick to the blessed point?”

 

It’s a great question with an infinite number of possible answers.

But basically, it simmers down to this:

 

Before you start writing, you have to decide… why you’re writing.

 

It sounds simple, because it is.

Here are four practices that you can try… to figure out your “why.”

(Try all of them, just one of them, or a groovy fusion of them that makes sense for you & your style.)

 

BEFORE you start writing…

 

1. Do the FEEL / KNOW / DO exercise.
 

Ask yourself:

What do I want my reader to FEEL?

What do I want my reader to KNOW?

What do I want my reader to DO?
 

For example:

I want my reader to FEEL calm and excited about the prospect of writing.

I want my reader to KNOW that there are specific practices you can do that will make your writing more clear & effective.

I want my reader to DO these practices, or perhaps just try one of them, the next time he or she needs to write something.

 

2. Decide: What kind of miracle am I trying to create?
 

You can write an imaginary note to your reader, saying:

I hope that this piece of writing creates a “little miracle” for you.

Specifically, the miracle of having / getting / knowing / seeing / believing / being able to _____________________.
 

For example:

I hope that this blog post creates a little miracle for you.

Specifically, the miracle of being able to stay on track with your communication, instead of rambling all over the map.

 

3. Set a clear, generous intention.
 

Focus on what you intend to “give”, not just what you hope to “get”.
 

You can write an imaginary note to your reader, saying:

I hope that this piece of writing makes your day better / makes your life easier / removes a source of pain.

Specifically, I hope that this piece of writing will…

help you to…
inspire you to…
uplift you by…
show you how to…
teach you how to…
get you excited to try…
make you less afraid about…
make it much easier to…
remind you that…
give you…

[And, if it’s the right choice for you...] I also hope that this piece of writing will inspire you to _____________________ with me.
 

For example:

I hope that this blog post will inspire you to set a clear, generous intention before you start writing… anything.

I also hope that this post will inspire you to work & play with me at some point in the future. Say, at an upcoming workshop. Or by purchasing one of my books.

 

4. Choose ONE big idea… and commit to it.
 

Ask yourself:

What is ONE big idea, lesson or phrase that I want to ECHO inside of my reader’s mind, when they finish reading this piece?

The ONE thing I really want them to remember?
 

This ONE thing is essentially the POINT of the piece you are writing. The moral of the story. The takeaway.

The sentiment here is, “If nothing else… PLEASE remember THESE WORDS.”
 

A couple examples of what that ONE thing might be:

“Kindness is not a joke.”

“Great things take time & devotion. Keep marching.

“You don’t ‘find’ your voice as a writer. You create it.”

Jealousy can be a teacher, pointing you in the direction of what you want.”

“Your dream is possible, no matter how wild or wacky.

“You already know everything.”

 

“All communication begins with an intention.”
Danielle LaPorte

 

Your “intention” can be selfish or generous, cruel or compassionate, sloppy or focused, complex or simple.

My advice? Set a good, clean, generous intention BEFORE you start writing.

And no matter where your writing goes, you can relax into the knowledge that you’re rolling in the right direction.

Because…

 

Love is always the right direction.

 

xo.

 

PS. How do YOU keep your writing focused & clear? Any practices or rituals that you’d like to share?

 
 
 

Read More business // acceleration creativity // inspiration

GOOD QUESTION: How can I tell when a piece of writing is “done”?

 
 
 

Dear Alex,

How can I tell when a piece of writing is “done” and ready to go out into the world?

I’m a perfectionist and feel the need to go over the thing again and again!

–Shantini

 
 

Dear Shantini,

When I was 20 years old, I decided to shave my head.

(You might be thinking, Um, excuse me? What does your hair have to do with my writing? But bear with me.)
 

Shaving my head felt liberating, and for many years, I kept my hair cropped short & pixie-like.

Then, I decided to start growing it out.

As my hair grew, little by little, I got excited about all of the different styles that I could try.

I could… blow dry my hair straight! Braid it! Do a French twist! Pig tails! Pony tails! The possibilities were endless!

Except, there was just one problem.
 

Whenever I’d attempt a glamorous new hairstyle, I’d stare at my reflection in the mirror and go:

“Huh. That does NOT look the way I’d imagined it in my mind. In fact, it looks kinda terrible. Damn it!”

I’d get frustrated and annoyed. But I kept practicing. And… slowly, over time, I got much, much better at styling my hair.
 

These days, I can whip my locks into a look that rivals that best hair salons in town.

But for a long time, I couldn’t.

Because I wasn’t good at it. Yet.
 

Here’s the reason I’m telling you this story:

When people ask me questions like:

“How can I tell when a piece of writing is done?”

Often, what they’re really asking me is:

“Why doesn’t my writing look & sound the way I want it to?

It makes sense in my head… but it’s not translating onto the page.

So I keep fussing and fussing, trying to make it better, and it’s annoying.”
 

My advice? Keep fussing.
 

That’s how you practice. That’s how you learn. That’s how you create your voice. That’s how you get better.

(If you’re curious: I revise my blog posts anywhere from 8 – 32 times each before I post them — my blogging software keeps track, so that’s how I know. I fine-tuned this particular advice column 22 times before publishing.)
 

Now… when I say “keep fussing”, I obviously don’t mean, “forever”.

If you have perfectionistic tendencies, you might want to assign yourself a time limit — say, five minutes per email, or sixty minutes per blog post — to prevent yourself from going bonkers. Choose whatever time frame feels sane and reasonable to you, and don’t punish yourself if you wind up going “over”. It’s just a guideline.

But once your time is up, ask yourself:

“Is this thing that I’ve just written going to uplift, energize, inspire, educate or entertain… someone? Anyone? Even just one person?”

If the answer is “Yes!” or even “Probably and I sure hope so!” … then you’re DONE.
 

Keep practicing & keep refining, within reason.

And congratulate yourself for caring so damn much.

Your drive to “make it better” is a good thing.
 

And in the end?

That drive… that devotion… that pull towards excellence…

That’s the fire that will help you become the kind of writer that you want to be.

 

“The way anything is developed is through practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice and more practice.” –Joyce Meyer

 

xo.

PS. How do YOU decide when your work is “ready” to go out into the world?

 
 
 

Read More good question