Bonus Blog: Don’t Take My Word for It

The Big-Picture Revision Checklist comes out October 1st, and you can pre-order your ebook or your paperback today. But you may be wondering, why should you pre-order a book that you haven’t even glanced through yet? The author says it’s good, but authors always say that about their own books. Maybe we should get a second opinion or three.

Here’s what Sacha Black had to say.

You know how to draft a book, you know how to proof for commas, but what happens in the middle? The Big-Picture Revision Checklist is a fantastic tool to help you assess and do a developmental edit of your novel. If you’ve ever struggled to do the big-picture edit, you need this book. Packed with examples and comprehensive explanations, this is the perfect guide to help you through edits. Whether you’re a new writer or a seasoned pro, you’ll find tips, tricks and helpful reminders to keep you on track while editing. 

Fellow editors like Chris Allen-Riley quite like the book as well.

This book will not only walk you through the revision process step by step, it will also entertain and encourage you. Alex Kourvo and her process are nothing short of life-changing. Reading The Big-Picture Revision Checklist is like sitting down with your BFF and sorting out exactly what your book needs to take it to the next level (and beyond).

And here is Lawrence Block.

Alex Kourvo is one of a kind. A gifted writer and editor.

One more note: I won’t be writing a book review on October 1st because Lawrence Block is going to take over the Writing Slices blog for the day and write a full review of The Big-Picture Revision Checklist. Stay tuned to watch Alex’s head explode in rainbows and sparkles!

Until then, happy writing, and happy re-writing!

Alex K.

Alex Kourvo Wrote a How-to Book

I have a new book coming soon! It’s called THE BIG-PICTURE REVISION CHECKLIST and it’s going to be published in paperback and ebook October 1st. The ebook is available for pre-order on every major retailer.

I’ve reviewed over 200 how-to books on the Writing Slices blog, but I couldn’t find a book like this on my shelves. I’ve read many wonderful books about writing a first draft, and many about improving a book through copyediting, but I haven’t seen a book about that special middle draft, where an author is rethinking the big picture.

So I wrote one.

The Big-Picture Revision Checklist is the guide you need to revise your novel. It will help you make likable protagonists who are flawed in exactly the right ways, and antagonists that readers love to hate. You’ll crank up your story stakes and pinpoint the five crucial scenes every novel needs. With in-depth chapters and examples from contemporary fiction, this clear-eyed manual gives you all the tools you need to bring your book to the finish line.

The book is short and to the point, so you can get to revising your novel right away.

Pre-orders are available wherever books are sold, worldwide. When the book is published, you can order the paperback online or at your local bookstore.

Get THE BIG-PICTURE REVISION CHECKLIST for a step-by-step guide to a polished and professional novel you’ll be proud of.

From Page to Stage by Betsy Graziani Fasbinder

Everyone expects that writers will do a bit of public speaking—book tours for the most successful writers and at least one or two local events for those in the midlist. Authors of books for children are expected to do school visits, speaking to the most demanding audience of all. But in the social media era, opportunities for authors to speak have exploded. Authors are supposed to seek out chances to be on podcasts and Zoom with book clubs and post to their Instagram stories. Staying home and writing just isn’t enough anymore.

Never mind that most authors are introverts who dislike the spotlight. Readers assume that authors who are interesting and dynamic on the page will be equally engaging in real life, even though holding a pen and holding the stage are completely different skillsets.

Fear of public speaking is real, but it’s a lot less scary with FROM PAGE TO STAGE as a guide. Fasbinder is a public speaking coach who specializes in writers, so she has tips tailored to our specific needs. She understands how hard it is to talk about our novels and memoirs, when really, we just want people to read them.

Fasbinder begins by calming writers’ nerves, reminding us that there are lots of rewards for speaking in public. She then provides all the tools necessary, from the blueprint of a perfect talk, to how to stand, how to remain composed, and even how to handle those annoying people who have “more of a comment than a question.” She has tips for using Powerpoint slides, and tips for doing a live reading. She even discusses things like podcast interviews or how to talk about your book one-on-one in casual conversation.

There are exercises at the end of every chapter, although I don’t think they’re necessary. Most of them consist of Fasbinder recommending a TED talk, but watching TED talks doesn’t teach you anything about how to give one. It would have been nice to have some exercises about posture or a practice Q and A. Instead, I figured out what to practice on my own from the excellent information and examples in the book.

FROM PAGE TO STAGE is a gift to authors. It’s filled with concrete advice and actionable steps a writer can take to get better at public speaking. It’s the book we need for the skill that we all need to develop.

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FROM PAGE TO STAGE can be found here.

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Rating: 4 stars

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I recommend this book

Seven Tips for Writing in Difficult Times

IMG_20200403_193951_369Hello Friends,

If you’re having trouble writing these days, you’re not alone. Every writer I know is having trouble producing new work—me included. But I’ve put together some strategies that have been helping me, and I think they will help you too. Here are seven ways to keep writing in difficult times.

  1. Write in Smaller Chunks

In ordinary times, we make big writing goals, and then we break them down into manageable steps. In difficult times, you can do the same thing, but make the steps even smaller. Nope, that’s not small enough. Make it smaller yet. Some of my friends are committing to writing 100 words a day. Others are writing fifteen minutes a day. That’s all they can do, and that’s all they need to do.

  1. Write to Prompts

If working on a novel or memoir seems too hard, try writing prompts. They are great writing practice, they will get you thinking differently, and there are no stakes. With a prompt, you can write well or write badly, as long as you’re writing.

  1. Try Editing

Sometimes, you can’t write new material, but you can edit old stuff. There can be great comfort in polishing your work. In times of stress, it’s calming to make order out of chaos.

  1. Don’t Forget to Read

If all else fails, and you can’t write a single thing, try reading. Turn off the news, stop scrolling social media, and just read. You could pick up a book about the craft of writing, or just read in your genre. Being familiar with books in your genre is an important part of a writer’s toolbox, so reading time is part of writing time.

  1. Take on This Identity

Do you call yourself a writer? Why not? If you truly take on that identity, and you know deep in your bones that you’re a writer, then the act of writing will become second nature. You take care of your children, right? Why? Because you’re a parent. You don’t think about it too much, or stress about it, you just do it. You walk your dog because you’re a dog owner. Maybe you cook because you’re a chef or you drive a bus because you’re a bus driver. In the same way, you write because you’re a writer. So take on that identity and allow yourself to write in a more matter-of-fact way.

  1. Find a Buddy

Even if we can’t meet face to face, we can still can still reach out for support. I like to have virtual write-ins with a friend. We’ll agree on a start time and then text each other to say, “Okay, go!” After an hour, we’ll text again, to congratulate each other for a good hour of writing. All you need is a little bit of time and one writing buddy.

  1. Remember This is Temporary

Do you remember the last time your writing was going really well? When you were in the zone, and the words flowed effortlessly? That was a temporary state. It was fun while it lasted, but it eventually ended and you got stuck. But the good news is, being stuck is temporary too! It won’t last forever. A writer is always bouncing back and forth between stuck and unstuck. That’s just the nature of the creative life. A lot of us are feeling stuck right now. None of us will be stuck forever.

I hope everyone is safe, healthy, and well-stocked, and that we’ll all be back to visiting our favorite bookstores and libraries again soon. I’ll post again on the 1st with my next scheduled book review.

 

Alex K.

 

Valentine Giveaway!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day! Time to celebrate people we love, people we like, and people we feel warm affection for.

You know who my favorite person is? YOU. I like everyone who reads this blog and I wish I could buy each of you a present. I can’t buy everyone a present, but I did put together two gift boxes that I will be mailing to two blog readers.

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This year, I’m once again highlighting a how-to book from my favorite writing teacher of all time. THE LIAR’S COMPANION by Lawrence Block is one of his more personal how-to books, detailing his own struggles and triumphs in the era before he was a household name. You’re going to love this book!

This gift box also includes…
•  A blank notebook
•  “You are a badass” sticky notes
•  A coaster
•  And a stand-up pencil holder

But wait! There’s more! It’s Valentine’s Day, when things come in pairs, so of course there are two gift boxes.

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The second gift box features CREATING CHARACTER ARCS by K.M. Weiland. More than any other recent book, this one helped me get super clear on the way that plot and character go hand-in-hand. This book will supercharge your writing craft!

I’m also including the most fun blank notebook I’ve seen lately. That gemstone on the cover has LED lights in it and when you push a button on the cover, the gem lights up. I wish I could explain to you how cool it is, but you will have to see it for yourself.

This gift box also includes…
•  A set of cute erasers
•  A fridge magnet
•  And a list pad to track goals

Want to win one of these gift boxes? Just leave a comment below telling me two things: what is the most recent how-to book you’ve read, and a place I can contact you. (Email, website, or Twitter.)

I’ll draw two random names from the comments to this blog post on February 14, 2020 at 22:00 EST so be sure to comment before then!

And of course I have not one, but two notes.

First note: You don’t have to subscribe to my blog or follow me on social media to enter, but I’d be pleased if you did. (I’m @ AlexKourvo on insta and the twitterz)

Second note: This giveaway is open to everyone but I can only mail stuff to US addresses. If you live outside the US and I draw your name, I’ll send you a $10 Amazon ecard so you can buy Lawrence Block’s book or K.M. Weiland’s book yourself.

Leave me a comment with a book recommendation, and I’ll announce the winners on Valentine’s Day.

xxoo,
Alex K.
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Update: the winner of the Lawrence Block book is Bridget McKenna and the winner of the KM Weiland book is Catherine Stein. Congratulations to the winners!

Writing With Jenna Moreci (YouTube channel)

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My review is a little different this month. I love my how-to books, but I’ve been under deadline pressure and my attention span has suffered. So I’ve been seeking writing advice from podcasts, classes, and YouTube videos. My new favorite YouTube channel is WRITING WITH JENNA MORECI.

Moreci has been vlogging for about four years, so she’s got a lot of great content to choose from. Each video is about twenty minutes long, and tackles a single subject with humor and wisdom. Whether it’s an element of the writing craft or an issue with the writer’s lifestyle, Moreci has a video for you.

WRITING WITH JENNA MORECI is not for the delicate. She gives rapid-fire advice (often in the form of top-ten lists) with no sugar-coating and a whole heap of swear words. She shines a spotlight on a writer’s worst habits and excuses, and tells the truth about how much work goes into writing a publishable book.

Moreci’s advice, though short and to the point, is always solid. She teaches writers how to outline a novel, how to start a novel, how to write a great sex scene or fight scene, and how to ramp things up to a great finish. She also has videos about different genres, explaining which tropes still work, and those that are past their prime. Her videos are aimed at beginners, but even this jaded old pro picked up valuable tips.

Where WRITING WITH JENNA MORECI really excels is in the lifestyle videos. Moreci has videos about writing while holding a day job, dealing with anxiety, writer’s block, and that awful critical voice in our heads. It’s a bit like getting no-nonsense advice from a big sister or favorite aunt. It might not always be easy to hear, but it’s true wisdom from someone who has been there.

Some of my favorite videos are How to Outline Your Novel, How to Overcome Writer’s Block, and my personal favorite, How to Write a Healthy Romance. But all of Moreci’s videos are worth your time.

YouTube will never take the place of the craft books on my shelf, but there are many vloggers putting out great content, and Moreci is tops. I’m glad I can still soak up craft advice even when I’m busy writing novels of my own.

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WRITING WITH JENNA MORECI can be found here.

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Rating: 4 stars

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This channel is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this channel.

I’m Teaching a Free Class, and You’re Invited!

Yes We Can Insta

It’s time to type those two magic words: THE END. And I’m teaming up with author Lara Zielin to help you do exactly that.

If you’ve ever struggled with “What should I write?” or “What happens next?” or “Gah, I’m not sure I can do this!” then this class is for you. It’s a self-paced, online class. It’s easy, fun, and super affordable.

So what do you get for $39.95? You get five classes of awesomeness, that’s what you get. And the first class is on me! That’s right. The first class is totally free for you, and you don’t have to sign up or create an account or any of those other silly things. Just click and watch, friends!

I’m bringing the nuts and bolts of the novel-writing METHOD to the table, including plot points and character development insights.

Lara is bringing the breakthrough book-writing MINDSET front and center, using the Author Your Life method to help you connect to your highest, most creative self. She will show you how to overcome any obstacle that is keeping you from the page.

I’m telling you, this is a winning combo!

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year, or if you just need some help jump-starting your novel, then you’ll want to sign up for our entire series called Yes We Can-owrimo!

It’s time to lay the foundation for getting your novel done, once and for all.

See you in class!

Your friend,

Alex K.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

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I used to scoff at people who needed an internet blocker while writing. If they were getting distracted by social media, maybe they simply didn’t love writing enough. Not anymore! Nowadays, I’m testing programs like Freedom and Cold Turkey and asking my friends which blocker works best.

Distractions are everywhere. Even worse, they are affecting our brains. The more we let ourselves get distracted, the more our brain trains us to be distractible. Computers and social media are so enticing (maybe even addictive) it’s no wonder we can’t concentrate anymore. Uninterrupted time is rare and becoming rarer. But concentrating deeply, being in “the zone,” is exactly what writers need to do. DEEP WORK has some excellent advice for writers who need to slow down, concentrate, and produce more books.

DEEP WORK is divided into two parts: theory and practice. In part one, Newport lays out why deep work is rare, valuable, and meaningful. He distinguishes between “shallow work” (things like email and meetings) and “deep work” (things like writing, computer coding, and inventing). Shallow work will make you look—and feel—busy, but only deep work truly matters. After all, nobody gets a promotion because they are great at email.

But a persuasive argument for deep work is no good without an action plan. Newport has advice for scheduling deep work, banishing distractions, and cutting out as much shallow work as possible. I found Newport’s suggestions extremely practical and not at all hard.

Newport also suggests cutting out all social media. This last one is probably not realistic for a writer, since social media is our main source of networking and fans expect to interact with us online. However, we certainly can all limit our use of social media, especially during prime writing time.

As much as I loved this book, I do think Newport has a blind spot. He cites numerous examples of men doing deep work, from Carl Jung to Nate Silver, but he quotes few women, and ignores gendered expectations. Women, especially married women, are expected by our society to take up domestic and childcare work, as well as emotional labor such as daily scheduling and managing the social life of the couple. Men are rewarded for ignoring all that and retreating into work in a way that women are not. You can’t do deep work when you’re interrupted all the time and women are most often the ones being interrupted.

DEEP WORK is not for everyone. I can’t imagine a nurse or a waiter or an electrician getting much out of this book, since their jobs are fast-paced and extremely interactive. Newport’s advice is for a certain kind of worker: a knowledge worker who works alone. In short, writers are the ideal audience.

Spending lots of time “in the zone” is crucial for writers, especially new writers without a book contract, who have to rely on their own willpower to get a book written. Without deep work, writers can drift from shallow task to shallow task, looking “busy” the whole time but never getting any of their books written.

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DEEP WORK is available here.

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Rating: 4 stars

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This book is best for: beginning to intermediate writers

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I recommend this book.

 

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

It only took me about half an hour to read this book. It’s little, with big font, perhaps meant to be a gift book, or an impulse item at the cash register. I wasn’t surprised to learn that STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST started as a blog post. When the original post went viral, publishers came calling, asking Kleon to expand it into a book.

Kleon says that STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST is really just advice to his past self. It reads like someone talking to a very young person. Not condescending, but quite basic, with little nuance.

Each short chapter has one tidbit of advice to artists and writers. Kleon advises them on lifestyle choices (marry well, stay out of debt) and craft matters (don’t worry about originality, remix ideas you receive). There isn’t much new here. It’s either something writers are already doing, like reading a lot, or something found in a hundred other how-to books and blogs. For example, Kleon advises writers to step away from the internet to get more writing done, which is just common sense.

I was ready to call STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST a one-star book. Then I lent it to a teenage musician. He was absolutely blown away. He had an instant mind meld with Austin Kleon. Maybe a heart-and-soul meld, too. My young friend refused to give the book back and has read it multiple times since I lent gave it to him. To him, it’s a five-star book.

Clearly, I am not the target audience. Kleon isn’t speaking to me. He’s speaking to beginners, especially those who haven’t read a single other how-to book. To very young artists, advice like “ignore your enemies” or “keep a notebook of ideas” is not only new, it’s exciting. My musician friend felt energized after reading it. For him, it was the perfect book at the perfect time. Anyone who is already on the writing path will find STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST entertaining, but not very exciting. But for those just starting out, it’s magic.

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STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST is available here.

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rating: ??

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers