Finding Your Voice Through Blogging

Most of us have heard the adage “You have to write a million words…” in some shape or form. Sometimes that million is what finally makes your writing good, sometimes it’s what makes you a “real writer”, and sometimes it’s what you have to do to find your artistic voice. The last one I actually agree with. I know when I first started writing I was trying too hard to write like my favorite grand masters of sci-fi and fantasy. I had yet to discover who I am as a writer and then become comfortable with that identity. I felt more comfortable and confident trying to emulate someone else.

Somewhere along the line I heard the “all serious professional writers have to have a blog” advice so like any dutiful newbie I started a blog — which I actually still post to occasionally. I did my best to come up with interesting topics and share anything that I’d learned in my journey so far…and I did get a decent amount of hits. After about a year of this I had a moment of enlightenment. I realized that when I let go of pretentiousness and let my words be MY WORDS there was a certain way I tended to phrase things and a certain tone and humor that my posts had in common. The biggest realization was that I didn’t hate it. It needed some polish and refinement perhaps but it didn’t suck.

That’s when I thought back to the “million words to find your voice” adage. Nowhere in the adage does it say that all of those million words have to be fiction. Between the blog, a novel and a handful of short stories I probably wrote close to a million words during that year. In that time I learned to relax and let the words come out; and since I was blogging as me and only me it was easier to allow the words to sound like a conversation I’d have with a friend.

Fast forward to 2014. I’d applied my voice to my fiction for a while and had become comfortable doing that but I hadn’t received any professional feedback so I still didn’t know if I was any good. I wrote five short stories in six weeks for an anthology workshop early that year. At the workshop we received critiques from six esteemed editors. Most of them said they wouldn’t have bought any of the stories because of plot or pacing problems but my voice was never a problem. In fact one of them loved my voice and complemented me on it more than once. Well, craft and structure are relatively easy to fix. That just takes study and practice. I can do that! Voice on the other hand is much harder because your personality is much more fixed.

So if you feel that you haven’t found your voice or your writing group comments that your writing doesn’t sound like you then give this a try. You don’t have to do a public blog like I did. You can keep a diary (digital or physical) and write whatever you want in it. If you want to write about your journey to becoming an amazing writer, do it. If you want to write about the struggles of being a writer while working a full-time day job, do it. If you want to philosophize about unicorn poop, do it. It doesn’t matter what the subject is. What matters is that you say what you want to say the way you would say if you were having a conversation with a friend.

Relax and be yourself.

How to Distract Grandma from Pestering you for More Grandkids

GenealogyGrandparents love grandkids, and they’re usually not shy about begging for more. The good thing is, they love talking about themselves and telling their stories even more. We can leverage that fact for a wonderful family event, while gaining a break from the constant pestering.

How do we do all this?

We tell stories. Their stories.

I’m a novelist, and I love great stories. But the more I learn about life, the more I study history, the more I realize that reality is crazier and wilder and intense than any story I could invent. Sure, history may be missing magic and dragons, but lots of real-life experiences could never be included in stories. Readers simply wouldn’t believe it.

We believe it when Grandma and Grandpa tell it, though.

So get them to sit down and tell you, “In my day . . . ”

Once the floodgates open, you might be amazed by what you’ll hear.

Writing those stories is a ton of fun, because we have a connection with them. Most of us are interested in our genealogy, in our family roots, and in the stories of our ancestors. The great thing about interviewing grandparents (or uncles or aunts or great-grandparents) is we can get the stories right from the source.

Even more importantly, the holidays are almost here. Doing an interview with grandparents not only distracts them from pestering for more grandkids, it also sets up one of the best Christmas presents you could give them. So first, ask them about their personal history, and anecdotes they remember of their parents and grandparents. This is best done using a voice recorder, since most of us don’t type fast enough to capture everything, including their tone and voice.

They’ll love it. Even more if you have one of your kids interview them, after preparing a list of questions to help your child keep the grandparents talking. I’ve seen grandparents spend hours on the phone telling stories to my kids, and everyone’s having a great time. It helps them connect with the new generation, and makes their history real.

When finished, transcribe the stories. You’ll have the story of their history and some of the major events of their lives, and can present it to them, perhaps bound in a beautiful book. If you can scrounge up some old family photos, like he one I included above of my grandfather, it really helps bring the history alive. It’s a present they’ll love, and one they can pass down through the years to other family members.

In my family, we’ve done a couple of interviews already. Next step is to complete transcription and produce the final books. I’m hoping we can do it as part of a holiday project in the family.

What about you?

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers alternate history fantasy series, check his website:

Learning from Non-Fiction

A guest post by Billie Milholland.

In the 1980s when I wrote magazine and newspaper articles, the ‘reporter’ style was still fairly standardized. The inverted pyramid. You plunged right in with the ‘who, when, where, why, what, and how’; using the most newsworthy bits of information. The ones that delivered the highest impact.

Then you added the most sensational details. If the details seemed less than provocative (they most often did), you elevated them by stating in ways that suggested there was something more just below the surface that might be revealed later. “The bus driver neglected to mention her reason for….”. “It is interesting to note that the first person on the scene had the least to say about …”.

You wrapped up with general, background information that wouldn’t be missed if the reader didn’t get that far. The word count was tight and the belief that most readers were under-educated and overly fickle was strong. The biggest sin was ‘burying the lead’ – not waving around the flashiest information first. Bottom line… you informed people. Quickly, efficiently and with little commentary.

Direct quotes were prized, but longer anecdotes, not so much. I found it interesting however, that when I added a few anecdotes, and my beleaguered editors let them pass, I received actual fan mail.

Leaving non-fiction behind for a while, my first foray into writing fiction led to realms of endless options. I could start slowly, building up expectations as I went along. I could dive right into the deep end of a pool of sharks and bloody up my protagonist right away. I could then wander into a stream of consciousness, before I sent my protag over a thundering waterfall clutching the last piece of her grandmother’s embroidered tablecloth.

I was giddy with freedom. Story poured out. I entertained people; informing them was secondary. I could use facts, but my story didn’t have to be based directly on facts. I could play with time and space.

Returning briefly to non-fiction, after about a decade away, I was pleasantly surprised to see that magazine writing, and to some degree, newspaper writing as well, had evolved to a more conversational style. Apparently the inverted triangle had been an American aberration, brought about by reporters trying to communicate stories during the American Civil War. Since the telegraph service could be interrupted unexpectedly, they had to make sure they top-loaded their news.

The rest of the world didn’t do it that way, and now we don’t either… well, not as much. I wrote a few cook books during this time and a small book about the North Saskatchewan River. Using a more casual, conversational style, along with a seasoning of anecdotes made those books more fun to write and they were reasonably popular.

When I started writing fiction again, I felt very experimental. Producing successful non-fiction had taught me more about what people wanted to know. Bits of interconnected trivia could work in fiction too, if they were stitched carefully along the edges of the theme. People are information junkies at heart, but still wanted the rise and fall of a good story. I played with that in my novella in Women of the Apocalypse. The feedback I received from readers was encouraging. The feedback I received from readers of some of my short stories validated my tendency to use quirky bits of trivia in fiction.

After another decade away, when I returned to non-fiction, I found daily news tossedClearwater into endless Twitter streams; bits and pieces about immediate news, interspersed with links to longer discussions about what’s happened, what’s happening, along with various versions of ‘who, when, where and how’. Many longer discussions showed up in blog form. A brilliant system.

Because reading text online is harder than it is in traditional hard copy, I learned that blogs worked better if broken up into digestible portions by subheadings and images.

GEAMore experimentation. Information bulletins about specialized scientific studies and initiatives written for a general audience. Successes I had with those, culminated in my most recent book, Living in the SHED, which is full of bits and pieces of information, broken into digestible portions by subheadings and images. Will it be successful? Time will tell.

2016 will be all about fiction for me. I haven’t completely processed everything I’ve learned from writing non-fiction this time, but what I do know is the rush of ideas about how to edit the first drafts of two novels I left simmering on the back burner are much different and more exciting than the ideas I had when I left them there. 

Billie Milholland has bobbed back and forth from non-fiction to fiction and back again.Billie Photo She’s written for newspapers, magazines and had stories produced on CBC radio. Women of the Apocalypse, in which one of the four novellas is hers, won an Aurora Award in 2009. She has a short story in Bourbon and Egg Nog, the 10th Circle Christmas anthology, which won an Aurora Award in 2012. More recently, Green Man She Restless, her story in the Urban Green Man Anthology was nominated for a 2014 Aurora Award. Her most recent project, a non-fiction, environmental book, Living in the SHED, will be out in December 2015 and can be ordered at Visit Billie at

How to Write Non-Fiction Books for Profit

How-to, self-help and inspirational non-fiction books abound. People write a non-fiction books because it’s faster than writing fiction, people pay money for information and they have something to share. But where does one start?

Finding the perfect idea means knowing what kind of information people will pay money for. To find this idea you can:

  • find one question people really want answered. What is a frequently asked question that doesn’t have an adequate answer?
  • ask or survey your readers, friends, an interest group, fellow hobbyists. Ask what concerns them, what their problems are, and what they want to know.
  • participate on forums, ask questions, find out what the target group really wants to know, debunk a myth or misinformation.
  • do a how-to. Whether it’s cooking, software, athletics, fitness, weight loss, crafts, arts, writing, we all want either learn or improve upon skills.
  • find a blog topic that has lots of frequently asked questions. It may be opportune to have all those questions asked and answered in one spot.

Now that you’ve got an idea, it’s time to test it. Writing a non-fiction best seller means you must do the market research, understand the problem or knowing what people are willing to pay for. After all, you want to target those people who need your information.

Study the niche and the bestsellers within your niche either at a bricks and mortar book store or online. Look at covers – what’s appearing on the covers of those ranking highest in sales? Who are the pictures of men, women, abstracts, pets, food appealing to? Analyze everything you can see – title length, font. The high ranking books will tell you as what appeals to buyers. Read the table of contents, tags and any information you can find. Most importantly, read the reviews! People will say why they liked a book but also why they don’t and knowing why they don’t may provide the best insight on what you should offer.

Check how many similar books there are and their rankings. If your idea has been done a million times before and the books aren’t popular, scrap it. There may not be a desire for such a book, but if you’re determined to write it, make sure you have a unique twist on it and that you’re answering a problem that customers have. Otherwise, it isn’t worth your time and energy to rank at 256,000.

You’ve got an idea now but aren’t sure where to take it. You’ve done your preliminary research, seen what the market is responding to, now what? Start writing. Ask more questions. Ask your target market more in-depth and specific questions. This may be in the form of a blog post, a survey or interviews to test the idea. Their responses will help you find the gaps in your information, broaden or narrow your focus and they will, most assuredly, ensure that you’re giving them information they need and are willing to pay for. Most importantly, you’ll be keeping them engaged in the process, anticipating the final result and they’ll be your first buyers.

Study the best sellers to understand not only what they’ve said, but how they’ve said it. Although I’m interested to see how movie stars and high profile people have written their books, I know that readers will give them more leeway when it comes to paragraphs of dribble and useless information. I personally don’t like how-to books filled with pages of blah, blah, blah. Expand on a point and explain a concept to be sure I understand it and its context, but drivel for the sake of drivel, doesn’t work.

  • give it context and your personal touch by saying why you’re writing this – is there a personal story in this that will make it easier for people to relate to you and the book?
  • answer the question (s) by providing useful, helpful content. People buy non-fiction for the information, not for reams of literary prose. If you don’t know it, don’t make it up.
  • expand your answer with examples. Examples can be in the form of case studies or personal stories. Are there real examples from people you have helped or from someone who has solved the problem? Examples serve to motivate and inspire.
  • consider using step by step methods to provide solutions, graphs and charts to explain.
  • write with a view to entertain, don’t be dull and boring. A book that is easy to read, easy to scan with good grammar and editing sells better.

Fiction or non-fiction, people will glean your enthusiasm for the subject in how you write. The more excited you are, the more fun you’ll have with the market research. Your enthusiasm will become infectious and people will want to buy it because they want to know what all the excitement’s about!

The key to writing a best selling non-fiction book is to know your market and to keep it simple while solving someone’s problem. And that problem may be as simple as fixing a bathroom sink or wanting your grandmother’s recipe for pickled beets. But no matter the topic, enjoy the process – enthusiasm is infectious!