René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.


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How to Spend Less Time Writing a Blog

I recently heard that, ideally, writers should spend no more than 20 minutes per day blogging, and the same goes for social media. olu-eletu-134760Yeah, I was surprised to hear that, too. Let’s just say, I spend way, way too much time doing both. It’s not good when the majority of my writing time is spent blogging, when it should be spent on my fiction manuscript. I’m  working on ways to spend less time writing my blog. Here’s what I came up with.

  • Create a list of topics

Sometimes I don’t know what to blog about, and I waste precious time trying to figure it out. There are great articles that can provide ideas of what to blog about, especially for authors. I’ve had pretty good luck writing whatever has been on my mind that day or that week, when it comes to writing gripes and challenges. I just have to trust, and hope, that other people may be thinking of the same things.

  • Develop a schedule

Do you want to blog twice a week? Once a week? Or once a month? Committing to a schedule can keep things on track. It forces you to block out times to write, and to be more efficient during the process.

  • “Borrow” ideas and make them your own

There are times when I search for something on Google, and I can’t find any good results? I take that as a sign that I should blog about it. Remember the last time that you had to read 18 articles or blog posts, instead of one, to get all of the information you need? Compile a list, add your own thoughts and unique pizazz, and include links to the articles that you sourced.

  • Make an outline

Unless you write in a more stream-of-conscious style, it may be helpful to use a formula approach for writing your blog. This post gives a good idea of how to outline your blog posts.

  • Flesh out the main points first, fill in the rest later

Sometimes it’s easier to start with the large thoughts. Get them down in front of you, then color in the details later.

  • Stay focused until it’s done

If I’m doing research for a blog post, I may end up going down the Internet rabbit hole or the social media rabbit hole or…you get the point. I have to remind myself to stay focused to get it done faster.

  • Set a timer

Have a hard time staying focused? Your mobile phone has a timer feature. Use it! (Sorry to be harsh. This bullet point was really meant for me.)

  • Don’t overthink it

There are so many things to write about, so many things tossing around in our heads, that it’s hard to choose. I think our brains misinterpret that, leading us to believe that we have nothing to write about. It’s really the opposite. It’s just a matter of picking one thing and going with it.

  • Consider writing in batches

Sometimes I get on a roll. I mean, I am red-hot-don’t-stop-me, not-even-if-you’re-my-uncle-and-you-just-baked-your-infamous-7-flavor-pound-cake. When those times happen, I will bang out two or three posts, or at least start them. That makes the writing time a lot shorter later.

  • Write…then edit later

This is hard, especially when the delete and backspace buttons are easy to access, just a little pinky away. At least Mac computers don’t have the backspace option, so that helps. Editing slows us down. It bogs the process. Have you seen David Brubeck tickling the ivories? We writers need to be like that with our keyboards.

  • Try not to be a perfectionist

It’s a blog, not a thesis paper—thank goodness. One of the reasons I started blogging was to revel in having total control with my writing, something that didn’t happen in my communications job, with all of the red tape, review, and approval processes. As a blogger, I get to be the reviewer, proofer, and approver. I don’t have to try to be a perfectionist anymore. Free yourself. It’s empowering.

What do you do to help reduce the amount of time you spend blogging? What tips do you have for writing faster?

Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash


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Who Are Your Author Peers?

I first learned about this concept–“author peers” or “peer authors”–about two years ago. It’s been a game-changer for me, and certainly an ongoing educational process. But this whole writing thing kinda is anyway, isn’t it?

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

First, let me explain what I mean by author peers. If you were published, author peers would be writers whose books are within the same category as yours. It’s the “these authors write books like what I’m writing” group.

Here are reasons why it’s good to identify your author peers, whether you’re a published author or not.

  • It solidifies what you like to read, and therefore what you may like to write

This is how I pinpointed my interested in writing regency-era historical romance. I also researched how these novels are set up to see how I can adopt similar tactics in my own work.

  • It helps with your query letter (or during a conversation with your aunt)

By mentioning who your author peers are in a query letter, you immediately clue in an agent to what your writing style is like. Using an author’s name to describe your style can ground a person a lot faster than a four-sentence description.

  • It helps you identify your target demographic

You can trim a lot of guess-work by simply researching the reader’s demographics of your peer authors. Is their audience male? Mostly Millennials? Do they chomp on short, fast-paced chapters or languish in long, verbose descriptive bits? If your author peers attract a specific type of reader who love a certain writing style, your work may likely achieve success in that genre by adopting similar concepts.

  • It provides inspiration

Once upon a time, your peer authors were unpublished, too, waiting for the chips to fall their way. Eventually, it happened; they got published. If they did it, why can’t we?

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Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

  • It gets you thinking like a published author

I’m obviously not published yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t think like it, right? I personally think there’s something healthy about visualizing one’s name in the scrolling section of reviews that reads, “If you love this author, you’ll also like <insert your name here>.”

What did I miss? Why else is it good to identify peer authors?


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How I Read Books as an Aspiring Author

I don’t know when I turned a corner and started reading books with my “writer hat” on. vanessa-serpas-270252

You know what I mean: The moment you change from a passive reader to an active one. When you’re no longer escaping when you pick up a book, you’re analyzing. Instead of holding a cup of tea (or coffee, if you so choose) with your free, non-book-wielding hand, you’re holding a pen to mark notes, scribble and underline within passages. Here’s what I look for, as an aspiring author, when I read books.

  • Tone

Tone comes across immediately. It’s more of a feeling than anything I can pinpoint–I’m just immersed. It’s like swagger; you know it when you see it. When I see it, read it, feel it, I want to emulate it in my own writing. Example: My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante.

  • Dialogue

I love dialogue. This is why I have half-written scripts collecting electronic dust. And it’s why I love movies. I know dialogue is good when I can imagine it playing before me like a film. Example: One Day, David Nicholls.

  • Pace

When a book is not going too slow, nor too fast, I note the pacing. It dives into details when needed and trims the fat at the right times. I don’t walk away feeling like pockets of the plot are missing. Example: Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese.

  • Length

I’m not usually a fan of long books. I blame it on graduate school, where I had to read Mason & Dixon. I’m more impressed by a book that is compact and concise but still leaves me feeling full as a tick. Example: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison.

  • Setting

This is when the sights, sounds and tastes throw me out of reality–and I have to look out the nearest window to remind myself where I am. Example: Faith for Beginners, Aaron Hamburger.

There are a million great examples for each of these. Which ones have inspired you?

Photo by Vanessa Serpas on Unsplash


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Why Aspiring Authors Should Start a Blog

A couple of years ago, I attended the amazingly awesome and motivating LaJolla Writer’s Conference. They provided tips of what to do as an aspiring author, like starting a blog.

corinne-kutz-211251.jpgIt’s taken me a while to put that into action, but I see why you should start blogging before being published.

  • It gets you writing

I’ve been working in communications/marketing/advertising for 15 years, so I write a heck of a lot every day. But if you’re crunching numbers at work, for instance, where you’d rather be chomping words, writing a blog can satisfy your inner word-nerd.

  • It makes you accountablefrank-mckenna-184340.jpg

My friends and family have heard me talk about writing book, short story or screenplay projects since the ’90s. But now, the whole world (wide web) knows. There’s no turning back. I must keep blogging and get published…or bust!

  • It gives you “street cred”

When I look at blogs, I’m usually going for informal advice on a topic. I admire their level of visibility and commitment. A blogger doesn’t have to be an expert; I don’t really expect that. But I do expect to learn or gain some insight from the article.

  • It puts you on a schedule

Speaking of commitment, blogging demands it, just like writing. There’s no magic formula for how many blog entries to post. I’m learning that consistency is key (for practice and Google Analytics). Sticking to a schedule and not over-committing myself are things I’ll have to watch out for.

  • It keeps you writing when you’re not, uh, writing

If I need a mental break from working on my novel, I can blog instead. I’m exercising the same muscles, just doing it a little differently. It’s still a win. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment in the short-term that I don’t get while working on a long-term novel project.

Are you an aspiring author who has a blog? What can you share about your experience? Does it make you better at Scrabble?

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash; photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash


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4 Things to Do Before a Novel Is Finished

I am currently writing the first draft of a historical fiction novel—about 30,000 words in and a ways to go.

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I’ve been working on it since December, fitting it in during commutes to and from work, slipping in time on weekends and during plane rides tied to vacations. I know that writing this novel is only half the battle. No, it’s more like one-tenth.

“They say” that you should begin marketing before your novel is even complete. So here I am:

Purchasing a domain

I went to GoDaddy.com, because it’s easy to remember and those Danica Patrick commercials have been burned into my brain. I purchased the domain name “renepenn.com” for about $12, I believe. It’s the professional thing to do, and it only costs the price of a good lunch.

Getting on social media

I’ve been on Facebook for a while, but I quickly realized that it’s not a good starting place for increasing outreach beyond family and friends. I needed to enter the Twitterverse. I “re-routed” an old dormant Twitter account to my new handle @rene_penn and started tweeting a few times a week. I tweet about funny life-things that happen, writing-related or not; I highlight good articles that I’ve read about writing; I pepper it with some inspirational quotes; and I purposely keep my political views out of the feed. I’ve noticed that at least two hashtag references per tweet help increase engagement. Re-tweeting is actually okay and not considered a slacker move. And I don’t really miss looking at Facebook videos starring my friends’ cats.

Here are some reasons why social media is good for aspiring authors.

Creating a website

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But which site? There are so many to choose from. Cue the ice cream headache.

I toggled between Squarespace and WordPress, but chose the latter. WordPress seems to be Siamese twinning with Google Analytics, and about 25% of all websites are powered by them. (I think that means they know what they’re doing.) I’ve heard the learning curve description span from easy to steep. I’m at the beginning stages, and I find it rather intimidating. I’m still trying to figure out how to point this site to my purchased domain. Hey, don’t judge. I’m a writer, not a “techy.”

Blogging 

Yes, it rhymes with flogging, but let’s not think about that, shall we? The idea of blogging made me nervous at first. What will I blog about? Come to find out, there’s plenty. As I work on my first draft, I’m constantly coming up with questions and thoughts–and referencing information online to help. I can blog a review about a new book in my genre, and share the successes and snags of my novel-writing journey. I figured, someone else may benefit from some of the things I blog about, or from some of the things I reference, like this article about blogging or this other one.

Here are some other things to think about before your book is written. Do you have any ideas?