Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Shelley Widhalm’

Getting a Book Vision: Brand Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Fort Collins Startup Week, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 15, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Loveland, Colo., author Harrison Hand signs a copy of one of his books. He spoke about self-publishing and editing during Fort Collins Startup Week in February 2020.

Do writers need editors? Yes. Do they need a brand? Probably. Do they need a why? Most definitely.

When writers start writing, they typically plan out the plot of their book or start with a character or two or a world-building premise. Or they jump right into the writing without a plan. The two types are plotters vs. pantsers.

The Why of Writing

But what about the why of writing? Why do you care about the characters? Why do they care about the story? Why should readers care?

These “why” questions are just a start. They also have to tie into the journalist Ws of who and what, or who are you as a writer and what you want to produce. The Ws are important for the business side of writing, or the branding and marketing of a book or series.

“What is your reason for writing your book? Why should the audience listen to the author?” said Harrison Hand, author or the Skyler Tortuga series, including the latest release, “Secrets of the Dragonfly Dancer,” and owner or The Harrison Hand Studio in Loveland, Colo.

The How of Publishing

Hand spoke about The Why during his one-hour presentation about self-publishing, “How to Publish Your Book for Under $100,” which he gave Feb. 24 during Fort Collins Startup Week in Fort Collins, Colo.

“You are your brand,” Hand said, explaining that building a brand about who you are as a writer and what you create is key to marketing. “Be sure to establish your voice, owning your words and owning your place in creating.”

Voice is part of that branding, alongside the books the writer creates, Hand said.

“The audience cares about both the creator and the creations,” Hand said, explaining that the audience wants to connect with the creator. “Marketing starts with the why; that’s how you connect with people. Why do you have this voice?”

The What of Finding Voice

Writers need to find their own voice, Hand said. He looks at writing differently than many other writers, where he is breaking the rules. He says it the way he wants to say it, he said. He advised once the writing (and hopefully editing) is finished to tie the book to something.

Hand’s Skyler Tortuga series is about bullying, and he wants to empower the next generation of readers to believe in themselves, where young female heroines learn that they can complete themselves without needing a romantic figure. He conducted a heroic reader crowd funding campaign, handing out paid copies of his books to children who are readers—his target is third- to sixth-graders.

Hand found a way to not need an editor by working with early readers, getting feedback and doing his own editing. He recommended jumping into the self-publishing arena before slogging about looking for an agent.

Where to Start

“Start publishing other stuff, get a following, create some buzz and credibility, and then it’s easier to find an agent for your great American novel,” Hand said. “They let the audience determine what’s interesting.”

Writers need to get the branding and marketing in place, or they might get noticed by an agent, but either way, knowing The Why is crucial to finding, keeping and growing voice, style and story.

Are Editors (Really) Necessary?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Fort Collins Startup Week, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 1, 2020 at 8:39 pm

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Do writers need to hire an editor to bring out the red pen? Or is better to get a self-published book out to market?

Do writers really need editors? Do they really want all that red ink and those corrections?

A self-published author I encountered at a class on self-publishing during Fort Collins Startup Week said he would never hire an editor. He said in his presentation to an audience of about 25 aspiring authors that he had several readers of his first story and got feedback and was able to publish his book for under $25 (now it’s about $125 with the cost of an ISBN). He also said he was able to make a profit right away.

Editing and Voice

I believe he has a point, but also hiring an editor gives that professional outside perspective to both improve the writing but also the storytelling.

The author said he does his own editing and artwork and looks at writing differently, where he is breaking the rules. He says it the way he wants to say it.

“Writers need to find their own voice,” he said.

I held up my hand and explained how I had good and bad experiences with editors. As a journalist, I worked with editors who changed my lead and my voice, inserting in their own voice, and that I did not consider them to be good editors. I reflected on “the importance of not changing the voice of the author as you are editing a manuscript.”

I also mentioned that editing happens at several levels from structural, or the overall content looking at things like flow and transitions, to the line level, or reading each line for errors in grammar, spelling and mechanics, plus things like word echoes. Both are important.

Why Hire an Editor?

Here are a few other reasons why hiring an editor can be a good idea:

  • Editors are trained to notice the small errors readers may detect but that are hard to find if you aren’t looking for them, such as a comma where there should be a period or the ’re words, such as they’re and you’re vs. their/there and your.
  • Editors memorize style guides and know how to look up things and which sources to use.
  • Editors understand grammar down to the fine details (I see it like the Periodic Table of Elements combined with a dictionary with the rules clearly visible and meaningful).
  • Editors are keen readers. Their minds are constantly editing all day long (which also can be annoying, since it’s a game but also makes reading more chore-like).
  • Editors understand voice and how word choice effects the sound and meaning of language, plus they know how to turn analytic writing into something that’s more conversational or vice versa.

Why Self-Publish?

Lastly, to bring on an editor is a choice. What’s more important is that writers write and look at their creations as something worthy of publishing. It can be a solo project, or there can be a team that includes a graphic designer for the cover and internal layout, an illustrator for the images and, of course, the editor to perfect the overall content.

It’s an investment to hire an editor or any other professional, and as the author/speaker mentioned, it’s more important to get the work out in front of an audience. The audience is the reader, and sometimes they want the story. Now!

Fast and Fun Tips for Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Top Editing Tips on February 23, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Editing smooths out the beauty of writing so that what’s ordinary, like this table, becomes even better, such as with the ice pattern on top.

Editing is not easy, and for many, it’s not exactly fun.

It’s never a one-time thing either and often requires a couple of read-throughs. To be the most effective, editing needs at least three rounds: structural, line and proofreading.

Structural

Look through the entire document for the overall structure, or how the information is put together and presented to the reader. Make sure everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

Line Level

Check for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics; words that are missing or misused; and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.

Proofreading

Give a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first analysis and second read-through, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read. This requires a careful, slow read word by word.

As you edit, there are several things to think about.

The Fast and Fun Tips*:

  • Cut the long sentences and use varied sentence lengths and structures; plus, mix in short and long paragraphs.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say. This will get you to the essential meaning or intention of what you want to say.
  • Check for sentences that don’t make sense or are too technical or heavy in ideas.
  • Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.
  • Opt for the active voice over the passive voice. For example, say, “The dog ran after the cat,” instead of “The cat was chased by the dog.”
  • Keep verb tenses the same, especially within a sentence.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Avoid clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they serve as space fillers.

Lastly:

If looking at sentences or paragraphs is boring to you, hire an editor! Your writing will improve tenfold, and it will be clear, clean and concise. It’s worth the investment of effort, time and resources.

*I provided a series of articles on fast and fun tips, but didn’t get this last one in—I was sidetracked by the holidays and my New Year top tips.

Top 7 Editing Tips for 2020

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Top Editing Tips on January 26, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Editing is a great way to get your geese in a row, such as the geese walking across the ice at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo.

Good writing only can go so far if there are errors in it—reading it is more difficult, and it’s hard to get the message if attention gets caught on a misplaced comma or a wrong word choice.

That’s where the chore of editing comes in, though it  takes time, precision and repetition.

Editing is best done on multiple levels and in several rounds to be the most effective. That’s because not every error can be caught in a single pass, since there are several things to pay attention to all at once.

What Editing Involves

Editing involves a close read and making large and small-scale changes to the look of the text. The changes are made at the line level, or each line of text, and at the structural level for the overall content with proofreading providing a final review of everything.

At the line level, editing involves fixing sentences and paragraphs for errors in grammar, syntax and mechanics, as well as spelling and punctuation. At the structural level, editing looks at the entire document for organization, structure and intended messaging, as well as transitions, adherence to the main topic and flow from one idea to the next.

To edit in layers, do a first read through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas that need to be cut that give too much description or information. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

Top 7 Editing Tips

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

One Final Thought

Editing moves a rough draft into a polished product that people will want to read. It gets rid of errors and unnecessary words and descriptions to get to the core or heart of the message.

 

Top 7 Blogging Tips for 2020

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Why Blog?, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on January 12, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Blogging is a great way to let potential readers know that you are OPEN for business and have great content to offer them.

Does blogging lead to anything or is it like holding up a one-inch sign trying to get noticed among the much bigger, flashier signs?

Blogs, just like self-published books, have become the modern business card for business owners, writers and entrepreneurs who want to get their ideas and written content to readers, customers and clients.

For those who see writing as a chore or a time sucker, is starting or continuing a blog such a good idea? Are blogs necessary to promote your writing, your project, your newest product or your business? Or do they keep you away from what you really want to do?

Blogs and other written content get favor from Search Engine Optimization, which give businesses, nonprofits and individuals higher online rankings, especially for recent content.

There are other advantages too. Blogs help with marketing, branding and creating a platform. They demonstrate expertise and authority in a niche—readers over time will value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, your values and what you see as important. They also create relationships and convert readers to customers, resulting in engagement and a following.

Top 7 Blogging Tips

To get your blog noticed and to get that engagement from readers, here are a few things you can do to improve your blog in the New Year.

  • Post on a regular basis at the same time and on the same day. Optimal is once a week and not randomly with gaps in time and too many different topics.
  • Write short- or medium-length blogs, instead of long blogs that become similar to articles or white papers. Short blogs are about 200 to 400 words, medium-sized blogs, 500 to 700 words, and article-type blogs, 1,000 words are more.
  • Create blogs that educate, inform or entertain and not just to fill space for that SEO. Blogs produced through content mills are produced for clicks and provide little meaning and value and only are about quantity.
  • Write toward your target market. Think about whom you are you writing to, what voice you want to use to reach them and what it is you want to say.
  • Figure out what you want to say. You can talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. You can show your process of creation or give a behind-the-scenes look in your business. And you can talk about your life as a business owner, writer or artist.
  • Include photos or images to make the blogs more appealing. If a photo idea doesn’t seem readily apparent, find a theme to go with your blog, such as a landscape feature or type of sign (I’ve used Open signs to let readers know the client is ready for business).
  • Promote the blog on social media at least three times, preferably every other day.

The Advantages of Blogs

Blogs have many advantages. They can bring traffic to your website and hopefully into your writing platform. They build relationships with readers through regular connection. And they separate you from the competition.

Lastly, make your writing or what you have to offer look personal and inviting. Blogs are that great and flashy Open sign.

Top 7 Writing Tips for 2020

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

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To Do lists are a great way to compile top tips, such as for writing.

Do you like To Do lists? I find them to be necessary, but there’s another type of list that I adore—top 5, 7 or 10 lists.

Top lists are great to post on the fridge or keep in a special file, acting as motivation and inspiration triggers, while chore lists are reminders of what still needs to be done.

My top 7 list is gathered from my notes about writing advice and tidbits collected from magazine articles and books, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. The list is a useful resource for those times when I feel stuck or don’t want to write. It’s also a great tool to know what to look for when hiring a writer.

The tips provide a few ideas for how to make writing a routine and, with the investment of effort and time, a habit. Once a habit, writing feels like a necessity without thinking or agonizing about it. Soon, you’ll eagerly show up for writing (and editing), finding that once you get started, the words will come, even if it’s slow at first. The momentum will pick up and the process will become rewarding, as does the result.

Top 7 Writing Tips

  • Don’t wait for inspiration, but create it. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Find a place to write, but don’t make it an absolute. A coffee shop or a home office may be ideal, but be sure to set aside time to be there only for writing and not distractions (which serve as excuses to not write).
  • Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. For example, plan writing sessions for a set amount of time, such as one hour, or until a certain word count is reached, such as 500 or 1,000 words.
  • Accept that you are not in total control of your writing. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, the story or message unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the sentences down and then revise in a couple of rounds for overall structure, followed by proofreading at the line level.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard and focus on the process instead of the results to make it more fun and enjoyable.
  • Read and to analyze what you read, identifying what works and what doesn’t work and why. Apply what you learn to your own writing.

Make Writing a Habit

As the New Year starts, add to the list additional ways to find the time, motivation and inspiration to sit down and do the work of writing. Soon, it won’t feel like work and will be a habit. What a great way to welcome the year of 2020!

 

Making New Year’s Resolutions Fun

In Goal Setting, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals on December 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

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The Christmas tree is reflected in a storefront window, overlapping a coffee tree at the Coffee Tree coffee shop in downtown Loveland, Colo. It’s sparkly and fun, just like New Year’s resolutions should be to make them easier to carry out.

New Year’s Eve is sparkly, bubbly, colorful and fun—and then there’s the countdown.

For me, Jan. 1 is both a letdown and an exciting time. First, the holidays are over, presents are unwrapped, and it seems like a long time to Valentine’s Day (and lots of candy) and even longer to spring.

January is my least favorite month (short days, too much snow) until I remember it’s the month for … Resolutions! I love goal setting because of the whole self-improvement thing, but it’s also a way to accomplish something and to have an excuse for self-reward.

What are your resolutions for 2020? The usual of exercising more, eating less, finding a new job, increasing your reading or learning a new skill or hobby?

A Writing Tangent

My resolutions are around writing—to publish a couple of my novels, to write a short story a month and to do more professional writing. I also want to improve my blog so it’s fun and exciting. This is how I originally started this blog:

Writing is essential to a business to market its products and services, build brands and reach customers.

But is it necessarily something that you want to do?

Sure, that’s all right, but it’s not fun. Why? Because you can read those sentences pretty much anywhere, maybe with a word change or two. As a note, I just went on a tangent off the subject of resolutions, which typically doesn’t make for good writing. Professional writing needs to be straight like an arrow, moving from point to point with enough details while avoiding overwriting.

So back to the point of making and keeping resolutions. Statistics show that only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through with their plans. Being part of that group can be exciting and also rewarding by the end of the year.

For those who want to make writing a goal for 2020, for example, can set a schedule for writing, such as a half-hour a day or two times a week. They can find a place to do the writing. And they can reward themselves for accomplishing the goal to continue the momentum.

Focusing on Resolutions

For resolutions in general, here are a few good steps to take:

  • Pick a resolution that makes you feel excited and is something you want to do. Don’t pick something that you think is good for you, like exercising an hour a day when 15 minutes is better to get used to it.
  • Opt for one to three resolutions instead of a long list of everything you ever wanted to accomplish in life. Lists are difficult to manage (I made a 30-item to-do list, and it took four months to get through it). Plus, being selective can help you focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Break the resolutions into smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month.
  • Be specific in your goals, such as planning to blog once a week, posting it on the same day to be consistent and build traction.
  • Identify your most productive time of day to work and fit your goals into that time frame, even if it is for a half-hour for three or four days a week. A lot can be accomplished in small chunks.
  • Place a written statement of your goals in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge. Seeing the resolutions will be a reminder, and even if you are busy at that moment, you can visualize how you will carry them out.
  • Create a checklist of accomplishments toward your goals, marking the time you put in each week. This is a way to make sure you’re meeting your goals and figuring out if any adjustments need to be made.

Working on your resolutions is a reward for moving toward self improvement. Reward yourself every quarter or for certain accomplishments. Soon, the resolution will become routine and eventually a habit. And once a habit, it will be something that will get noticed.

Merry Christmas (with Reflections on Joy)

In Finding Joy, Loving Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Goals on December 22, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Holiday decorations add color and joy to the lagoon in downtown Loveland, Colo.

Christmas can be a season of joy or not so much depending on your personal story and outlook on holidays in general.

First off, there’s the over-commercialization and the religious aspects. There also can be stress, anxiety and fatigue from a change in routine. I think of it as another month of the year with lots of red and green, repetitive (and beautiful) Christmas music, and a time to practice contentedness.

The Joy Bubble

That contentedness comes from acceptance and a bubble—I accept what is, I try for what I want, and I have a bubble around me to protect me from negative emotions. I feel them, of course, and then let them go. I also encounter crap (from not-so-nice people and things not working out just how I want) that I absorb being highly sensitive, but then I have to move on.

However, I haven’t fully learned the turn-the-other-cheek lesson, though as a non-confrontational person, I say things in my usual sweet voice (but my thoughts are not so nice). I want to work on my thoughts and brush off the negative and quickly move on.

Why am I going into all of this? Well, I committed to a weekly blog (and skipped a few weeks this year) and can’t seem to focus on writing. I just talked with a friend who brought up the holidays depression bit, and I told him about my bubble and how I go out in nature every day (I’m a runner and photographer) and take joy in that.

The Joy Choice

Joy, really, is a choice (for those of us who aren’t in the midst of awful life situations)—but if life is okay enough with bills paid, a job, friends, family and everything in place, it can be practiced on a daily basis (or at least for the most part). I chose joy because I don’t like being down. It’s too stressful, and it makes me tired. It takes more energy being sad and angry than going about, thinking, “Whatever.”

In my practice of joy this year, I even liked to learn snow. I used to say I hate snow, but then I realized how pretty it is stuck all sparkly like to the trees. We got two-plus feet of it here in Colorado just before Thanksgiving, and it’s still hanging about. Joy.

I also learned to like having a business—it’s kind of hard, at least for me as a dreamy artist type. I go to the Loveland Business Development Center and am advised to make my blog about promoting my writing and editing. I really doubt I did that here.

Writing for Joy

But here goes—the holidays are a busy time of year (wonderful or sad, however you look at them), but the need to market doesn’t go away just because it’s December. In fact, blogs, articles and edited content need to be kept up to pace, so that when it’s Jan. 1 and resolution time, the getting-behind-feeling won’t be there, and it will be time to start anew with new goals.

The thing about goals is that meeting them, even halfway, is a way to feel joy. I know, because I’m still in business after three years (I thought that would never happen), I came up with a plan to publish my novels, and I’m improving as a writer because I do it all the time. All. The. Time.

I love writing. I found my love. How can I not be joyful with a big love like that?

Fast and Fun Tips for Fitting in Blogging

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Fast and Fun Tips, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on December 8, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Fitting in blogging into a busy schedule is similar to ducks finding a small circle of water within a snow-covered lagoon.

The holidays are full of busyness, but if blogs are a key marketing tool for your business, how can you fit it in?

If you don’t hire out the blogs, which for greatest impact, should be posted every week or at least once month, how can you find the time and space to write them?

In other words, think about The What and The Where, or the act of writing and the physical place to do it that feels the most inspiring and comfortable. But this comfort shouldn’t limit you to writing only when you have the time and can be in that exact spot.

Instead, sneak in writing in small increments and think of writing spots as being anywhere you can sit or stand. Realize that the setting doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does the writing or the tools—use a eyebrow pencil and a napkin or scrap of paper if need be. And carry a notebook wherever you go, since inspiration can hit at unplanned and awkward moments.

Finding a Writing Spot

To find a good writing spot, ask yourself a few questions, making sure you’re ready to write. For instance:

  • Do you need quiet or activity around you? Do you like having background noise to stimulate you as you work?
  • Do you want to write in solitude or be around other people?
  • Do you like working outside, in an office or in a cozy small space?
  • Do you want your things around you set up in a special way to serve as a source of inspiration or comfort?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, a patio or even a bar.

Once you find the right spot, make that your writing office or special place to engage in and write your blogs. But also think of that writing spot as wherever you have an idea or a spark of a great phrase.

 

The Gratitude Wall (and Being Thankful)

In Gratitude, Gratitude Wall, Thanksgiving on December 1, 2019 at 11:00 am

 

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The paper leaves offer an opportunity to reflect on gratitude.

Have you heard of donor walls, where nonprofits and businesses thank their contributors?
Well, the Gratitude Wall is a take on that, at least at the assisted living center I visited on Thanksgiving Day. I thought it was going to be another year of the Gratitude Tree, where we put something we’re thankful for on leaf-shaped cutouts and adhere them to a tree centerpiece.

The Gratitude Leaves

This year, the activities director of the center, which is in Fort Collins, Colo., left folded orange leaves on the dining room tables. The leaves look like tiny greeting cards with “I am thankful for:” on the front that you open up for two blank spaces. The director told us to list the things that make us feel grateful, preferably before our meal of turkey and the fixings arrived, so we could talk about it over lunch. She asked us if we wanted to read them aloud (a half-dozen people raised their hands), or have staff hang them on a wall somewhere in the center.

Most of the residents opted for hanging the leaves—I imagine the result will look like a donor wall, but I only stayed for a couple of hours after the meal and didn’t see it by the time I left.

Anyway, on my leaves, I wrote, “Reading, Writing, Coffee, My Business, Getting Published, My Family and Friends, and Zoey, My dog!”

My mom said, “I knew you’d put Zoey in there.” Of course. She’s a cute, 12-pound miniature dachshund who is my BFF, coworker and whatever else.

The Gratitude List

My list could have gone on and on, but I placed reading and writing first, because those are my hobbies and the key skills for my writing and editing profession. I said my business, because even though it’s hard to go it alone, you can create your own life if you work at it. I added the publishing bit, because I recently got a short story published in “Rise: An Anthology of Change,” compiled by the Northern Colorado Writers. And I put my family and friends, because without their love, support and advice, I wouldn’t be where I’m at—I would still be at square one of figuring out how to have a business.

I should have put the Loveland Business Development Center, because the consultants there have given me advice, tips and homework, pushing me toward success—though, I feel like I’m in the middle, still striving. I still have a weekend gig job. I have a pile of novels and short stories I want to see published. And I can do better with my business. Lots better.

Next Year’s Gratitude

What makes you feel gratitude? Does your gratitude help you see success personally and professionally? How so? What do you want to add to your gratitude list next year?

For me, it’s a traditionally published novel, an improved blog and lots of business!