Sunday, March 18, 2018

Home Base: Follow These 4 Basic Steps to Begin Building Your Author Blog

Image by @neonbrand on Unsplash

Encourage a writer to start an author blog and you’re likely to provoke a wince. Many resist blogging because they believe it will steal time away from precious minutes otherwise spent on their work-in-progress.

Others hesitate to blog because they don’t know what to blog about. While nonfiction authors are positioned to discover natural fodder for posts as they dive in to research, for writers of fiction (as well as memoir and personal essay), material may be less obvious.

Here’s a secret no one tells you: Blogging is simply a medium that allows you to connect with people who love the same books, hobbies and activities you do. Even more, it’s a way to cultivate a readership before you’ve even finished your manuscript, a method to build that ever-elusive “platform” that agents and publishers chatter so much about. I won’t lie: In the beginning, a blog might be a big time commitment, and it can feel a little technical.

But once you master a strategy, you’ll unleash areas of your creativity you never knew you had—and when you’re ready to query, you’ll already have an established audience in your pocket to bring to the negotiating table.

Learn the ABCs of how to develop content for your new author blog in the May/June 2018 Writer’s Digest, and follow these basic steps to give your website a firm foundation—which is, actually, a lot like building a house.

Choose a domain name.

Your domain is the “street address” where your blog lives online. Choose a name that’s memorable and ties to name associated with your author brand.

Connect to a server.

The server is the plot of virtual land where the files that make up your website live. Some services like WordPress, Squarespace or Wix will host your blog on their servers as part of a paid subscription. This is potentially dangerous for bloggers because you don’t have complete control and ownership of your content. I recommend using a self-hosted WordPress site and starting with a server like, because they specialize in author and artist websites. Other webhosts include low-budget options like FatCow, HostGator and BlueHost, though service might be unreliable at times. There are also high-end options like Media Temple and WP Engine.

Select a platform.

The platform handles the architectural structure and design of your blog. It determines how your content is organized and how it looks. While platforms like Wix and Squarespace might seem more user-friendly at the outset, I recommend WordPress because it offers a lot of versatility and is a far more powerful solution for the long run. Once you’ve chosen the platform and have put it in place, you’ll want to select a theme that will dictate the visual layout of your blog.

Add some content.

Before you start shouting from the rooftops that you have a blog, you’ll need to create a few key pieces of content. These are: your home page (which you can set to be your newest blog post), an About page and a Contact page.

[Learn best practices for writing online content in this course.]

Once you have these elements in place, get ready to start blogging. You have fun work ahead!

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

How to Turn Real Events from Your Life into a Work of Fiction

Learn what to change—and what to keep—when incorporating your real-life experiences into your work of fiction.

By Emily Belden

You know those people who seem to always tell the craziest stories? The stories that make you think time and time again, “That could be a movie”? Well, I’m one of those people. And instead of a movie, I wrote a book.

My debut novel, Hot Mess, comes out on March 20, 2018 via Graydon House, an imprint of Harlequin. In the book, protagonist Allie Simon falls for bad-boy celebrity chef Benji Zane, and though her family and friends warn her about his questionable past (drugs and other bad decisions), Allie falls hard and even invests her life savings to help Benji launch the high-end restaurant of his dreams on Chicago’s Randolph Street.

When Benji relapses back into drug use and disappears, Allie is sucked into the world of high-end dining, and to save her investment, she has to sacrifice much to make the opening a success. With the help of a female mentor, Allie is able to take back control of her life and dominate her new career. Allie leaves readers ready to take on the world.

Beloved Settings: Considerations for Fictionalizing a Favorite Place

I’ve spoken on a handful of panels and been interviewed on a variety of podcasts. No matter the medium, the question I am always asked about Hot Mess is: how did you come up with the idea for that?

Like my protagonist, Allie, I, too, was once a twenty-something girl gallivanting around Chicago when I suddenly crossed paths with my very own high-drama top-chef. I dated this person for about a year, during which time I got to experience what being the “woman behind the man” in a high-end culinary world was all about. I ate multi-course, off-the-menu meals at the best restaurants in the city. I was written about in blogs and on social media. I watched as my main man was photographed shirtless in our apartment for a magazine spread that I saw on shelves in airports and at Barnes & Noble weeks later. It was all so very exciting.

But one other thing I had a front-row seat to was his addiction, which slowly creeped up through the entire time we were together, finally rearing its ugly head in full force and ultimately leading to our breakup.

In Hot Mess, Allie’s actions jeopardize her finances, safety, and relationships with friends and family. While I never personally did the things that Allie does in the book, I could certainly use the emotional authenticity of my own experiences and then approach the plot with a “what if” angle: What if someone in my situation had invested their life savings? What if they then had no choice but to open up a restaurant, with no experience in the industry? In fact, “what if” questions were on my mind the whole time I wrote, from the smallest details to the biggest plot twists. The words filled the page and the manuscript was completed much faster than anticipated, in about three months.

Writing this book was fun for me—but it also was somewhat cathartic. We’ve all had heartbreaks that hurt just a little more than all the rest and this was one of those. Putting words to page was a way for me to truly move on and—just like my protagonist, Allie—to reclaim the story and be my own hero.

But I had to learn some lessons along the way. For those looking to turn personal stories into a work of fiction, here are a few tips and pointers:

Don’t write in the moment.

If you’re witnessing something and thinking, “Oh my gosh, this could totally be a book!” don’t rush to put pen to paper. That’s the job of a journalist. Instead, let the whole episode unfold. Only after you’ve truly observed and reflected on what you’ve seen and heard will you really know what is usable and what is not for your novel.


Distance yourself from the story.

I had to remind myself several times during, and even after, the writing process that this was a work of fiction. It just felt so real, even though I knew the events I was writing about were completely made up. While that’s often the sign of a good novel, creating enough space between the true-to-life events and the fictional parts is key. If the story is too real, it’s probably better served as a memoir.

When you write fiction that’s based on true experiences, you’ll inevitably need to let go of some of the things that really did happen and instead focus on the necessary beats, fictional as they may be, for getting across emotion and moving along the plot.

Broaden the storyline.

While its characters and general concept are rooted in real-life experience, Hot Mess’s storyline is completely fictional. I chose to assemble a foundation based on how I would naturally react or respond to a certain set a stimuli so I could bring emotional authenticity to the page. However, by giving the characters a new landscape to play around in, the story comes alive in a way that “real life” would have limited. Choose a couple of elements that are true-to-life (inspiration for character, location, or prime conflict), but then set your brain free to create and illuminate a brand-new world. Remember, you are writing for an audience, not for yourself.

Change specific details that are too similar to reality.

When initially writing characters, for example, sometimes I’ll visualize a person I know or have met. But after I finish the manuscript, I make certain to go back into the work and change anything that is too true in order to protect the privacy of those individuals. That might mean a new name, new hair color, new profession, new backstory. Not only is this respectful to those who may not want to be the subject of your work, but it can help avoid potential legal conflicts.

When I wrote Hot Mess, I had no way of knowing that it would end up where it is today—a juicy debut novel receiving strong reviews and advance praise. So I challenge you to think about the real-life stories in your memory bank, and how they might—or perhaps already have—influenced your storytelling.

After all, stranger (than fiction) things have happened.

Emily Belden is a Chicago-based freelance food writer, storyteller, and author whose debut novel,  HOT MESS, will be published in in March 2018. Her bestselling memoir, Eightysixed: A Memoir about Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals, was acquired for adaption into a digital comedy series called All of the Nope, on which she is the lead writer. Emily currently lives in the heart of the Chicago restaurant scene, the West Loop, and is hard at work on her second novel, HUSBAND MATERIAL, which will be released in 2019. Visit her website at or connect with @EmilyBelden on Twitter and Instagram.

Short stories and personal essays have never been more popular—or more crucial for a successful writing career. Earning bylines in magazines and literary journals is a terrific way to get noticed and earn future opportunities for both short- and long-form writing. Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays capitalizes on the popularity of these genres by homing in on two key steps to publishing short works: crafting excellent pieces and successfully submitting them. Get it here.

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

Friday, March 16, 2018

Vote in a March Madness Bracket for Book Lovers (Round 1)

Good news: We at WD may not be all that attuned to the sports world (or, at least, I’m not), but we certainly can appreciate a good tournament. It’s March Madness season, and we wanted to get in on the fun, writing style.

click to enlarge

Welcome to Writer’s Digest Literary Lunacy — a bracket for lovers of classic fiction. We want to know: Which of these classic books is the greatest? Who will win? That’s up to you. Voting starts today here on the blog and lasts until March 27 at noon. The book with the most cumulative votes will be crowned champion.


  • Round 1 | March 16 – March 18
  • Round 2 | March 19 – March 21
  • Round 3 | March 22 – March 24
  • Championship Round | March 25 – March 27

Please share far and wide so we can get as many votes as possible, and make your voice heard by simply clicking on the book cover below of the villains you want to see move on to the next round.

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Check out these upcoming online courses:

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IELTS Speaking test in India – March 2018

When M took the IELTS Speaking test in India, the examiner asked the following questions:

Speaking testIELTS test in India


– What is your full name?
– Can I see your ID?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work or study?
– What subject are you studying?
– Why did you choose it?
– Is it a popular choice among your friends? Why?
– Let’s talk about music.
– Do you like it? Why?
– What kind of music do you prefer?
– Did it change in the recent years? Why?

Cue Card

Talk about a place where you usually go with your friends. Please say

– What place and where is it?
– When did you visit it for the first time?
– What do you do there?


– Explain why you go there.
– Do you like public places?
– Do you like to visit big events?
– Is being social good? Why?
– What are the pros and cons of being social?

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from IELTS-Blog

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Guide to Critique Group Etiquette: 9 Embarrassing Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur

As a writing critique group member, you walk a hair-thin line.

On one side, it’s your duty to be ruthless—to uncover every error and inconsistency, every lazy line of prose or flabby phrase in a group mate’s writing. On the other side, it’s important not to intrude on the story elements that define another writer’s work as hers.

Knowing the difference can make or break you in a serious critique group. And it’s just one example of the unspoken rules of etiquette that many of the best use to choose (or remove) their members.

And they’re right to. Because the rules of etiquette help balance feedback, protect each member’s time, incubate talent, and grow writing skills—all vital elements of a strong writing critique group.

So how do you know where the boundaries are before you stumble into them? Here are nine mistakes it’s never okay to make.

Mistake #1: Critiquing Another Writer’s Style

Some writers prefer their sentences long and lush, unfolding slowly over clauses and subclauses until the full idea—never really realized until you reach the final word—blossoms, finally, all at once at the end. Some writers like their sentences short. Pithy. Neither are wrong.

If you think a story calls for a particular writing style, it may be okay to say so. Once. But if the writer sticks by the way she writes, it’s time to back off.

Some argue you should never touch on writing style at all.

Mistake #2: Forcing Your Personal Vision onto Someone Else’s Story

Like writing style above, a story’s overarching vision is up to its writer.

Vision can cover anything from the writer’s choice of genre, the story’s tone, or the point of view she tells it in. Hate sci-fi? Keep it to yourself when you critique that cowboy space opera. And if you’re no fan of the first-person narrative, don’t say so in your critique.

You’re a writer. You know it’s pretty much impossible to find critiquers who fit your story’s demographic. Keep that it in mind when you offer a critique, and keep your personal reading preferences out of it.

Mistake #3: Offering Solutions

Don’t feel bad if you’ve made this mistake. Many, if not all, writers and critique groups have. When your job is to help improve a story, your natural inclination is likely to offer possible solutions. Don’t.

The reason? You don’t know the unspoken expectations a writer has for her work. You don’t know the ins and outs of her worldview or the unconscious intricacies of the story she’s trying to tell. Any solutions you could offer would be steeped in your worldview, which only matters when it’s your story you’re writing.

You don’t want to accidentally muddy the author’s clarity of vision before she has a chance to find it.

Like Neil Gaiman says, “when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Mistake #4: Dominating the Discussion

Much of the value of a critique group is getting multiple perspectives on your work. That way, when you hear the same criticism (or kudos) from multiple people, you can be reasonably sure it’s an area that actually needs attention. But this only works if a writer gets multiple points of feedback.

So let somebody else speak.

Mistake #5: Ignoring the Big, Universal Issues

By now you know what you shouldn’t focus on in your critique. So what should you focus on? Pretty much everything that isn’t opinion.

For example, continuity errors—when Susie Q. had blonde curls on page five and then a brown ponytail on page six. Factual errors—when the main character’s six shooter shot eight rounds. Plot holes—when the side character had the map to the safe zone and didn’t use it to save her friends. Or word choice errors that confuse the author’s intent—like when the writer said a character was bemused when she meant amused.

Also good to note? Anything that’s confusing or unclear, characters who lack depth, and lazy prose.

(Hey, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a writing critique checklist of what to note and what to ignore in your next critique?)

Mistake #6: Arguing with Feedback

Criticism never feels good. But the point of a critique group is to get an outside perspective on your story when you’re too close to it to do so. And the ideal critique group is one that is ruthless with your work.

You want every error illuminated. Every confusing line of prose or awkward phrase pointed out. You want every plot hole uncovered before a real reader can stumble into it.

You don’t have to use feedback that isn’t useful to you (especially if it veers into one of the intrusive faux pas on this list). But arguing will just make group members wary to share their observations. After that it won’t be long before they (or you) are left wondering why you’re in the group at all.

Mistake #7: Fixating on Spelling or Grammar Mistakes

The writing you see in critique groups is necessarily raw. Group readings are the pre-surgery consults where writers prep for character guttings, scene transplants, and other major overhauls. Most of the words you see will be rewritten uncounted times. Any thought and energy you put into making them perfect now will be wasted.

So save the cosmetic issues like spelling and grammar for the copyeditor.

Mistake #8: Being Too Honest (or Not Honest Enough)

Writers don’t join critique groups to have their egos stroked (if you did, you’re in the wrong place). Writers join critique groups to become better writers. And no writer improves if all anyone says about their work is, “I liked it.”

So get in there. Get your hands dirty. Dig out those plot holes and inconsistencies. Point out those flabby sentences and confusing descriptions. And offer the kind of feedback that helps a writer grow.

But you also know how tough it can be to separate the work from the self. Writing is personal. And if a writer walks away from a critique feeling like they shouldn’t be writing at all, the group failed. Remember it’s possible to be ruthless without being rude.

Mistake #9: Showing Up Without Pages

Oh, the ultimate no-no. Showing up to the writing group without the writing.

This is a big taboo in serious critique groups. And you know why if you’ve found yourself in a group that talks more about writing than they actually write.

Look, you can always create a writing group that’s about showing up to write. That’s a phenomenal use of time for writers who don’t have a lot of it and still want the community. But critique groups serve a different purpose. And many of them won’t let you in if you show up without pages.

Bottom line, critique groups are about improving your writing. And to do that, you’ve got to do the work.

That’s it. Now get out there and write!

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IELTS test in Australia – March 2018 (Academic Module)

Our friend N took the IELTS test in Australia and remembered the following topics and questions:

Listening testIELTS test in Australia

Section 1. A customer was lodging a complaint about a defective refrigerator.

Section 2. About a company called “Connections” finding hosts for new overseas students in Australia.

Section 3. Some information and discussion about bacterial diseases in Australia.

Section 4. A discussion about obesity as a disease and increase in cases in the UK.

Reading test

Passage 1. A discussion about company that created a number of courses for different students.

Passage 2. Advertisement about different types of training for schools.

Passage 3. A discussion about team work in a company and how it helps to succeed.

Passage 4. A discussion about skinks (a type of lizard) in New Zealand.

Writing test

Writing task 1 (a report)

We were given pictures of a geographical site in 2004 and 2014. In the 2014 picture there were new discoveries such as ancient stadium, houses and reduced forest area. We had to summarise and compare both pictures.

Writing task 2 (an essay)

Some people think that new houses should be built in the same style as older houses in the local area. Others disagree and say that local authorities should allow people to build houses in the styles of their own choice. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

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from IELTS-Blog

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 431

For today’s prompt, write a refresh poem. Last week’s prompt was to write an annoyance poem; so this might be a great time to hit the refresh (or re-set) button. Take a deep breath. Count to 10. Write a poem.


Order the Poet’s Market!

The 2018 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer, includes hundreds of poetry markets, including listings for poetry publications, publishers, contests, and more! With names, contact information, and submission tips, poets can find the right markets for their poetry and achieve more publication success than ever before.

In addition to the listings, there are articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry–so that poets can learn the ins and outs of writing poetry and seeking publication. Plus, it includes a one-year subscription to the poetry-related information on All in all, it’s the best resource for poets looking to secure publication.

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at a Refresh Poem:

“& when the power returns”

think about those frantic moments
when the power went out & laugh
because it was never that bad
& turn everything back on & bask
in the glow & hum of electricity


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He actually finds time away from electricity very refreshing.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.


Find more poetic posts here:

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