How to make a living from writing: new video series and more

How to make a living from writing: new video series

Joanna Penn has launched a new series of free videos on the theme of how to make a living from writing.

Joanna PennJoanna writes:

I'm working on building a video and audio course that goes through a step by step process of how to make a living with your writing. Plus, I'll be opening up a special community of like-minded authors so we can help each other along the way. It will include monthly group accountability calls with me so I can keep you moving :)

While that is under development, I have a FREE video training series for you starting with 11 ways to make money as an indie author. If you want to make a living with your writing, you should find it useful.

Click here to access the first video

Joanna is very successful, so she knows what she is talking about! As Matsuo Basho, a Japanese poet who lived from 1644 to 1694, said:

Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or go to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo.

Pretty good advice if you ask me.


The Writing Machine (Patent Pending)

I first had the idea for a writing machine many years ago, while watching an episode of the Avengers. Not the Marvel Avengers, but the John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers. There was a scene in which an elderly lady was creating romance novels by playing a piano: the angst/happiness balance was entirely determined by the ferocity or gentleness with which her hands tumbled over the keys.

I write a lot, and I love writing, but it takes time. So one afternoon, whilst lying on the bed suffering from the incessant heat, I decided to invent the Writing Machine.

I am currently working on a desktop version

As you can see from the picture, it looks complicated. That’s because it is complicated. I should prefer not to try to explain how it works, because I don’t see the point. Suffice it to say that the Writing Machine has enabled me to churn out many articles simultaneously. I merely select the type of article I wish to write (eg a rant, a list, a philosophical discourse), tell the WM how many words it needs to be, and press a button. It has a built-in libel checker (very handy for the rant articles), spellchecker etc etc.

I can set the WM to emulate any writer or any style. (I am delighted that many people have contacted me to say how useful they found my article “How to understand Facebook’s privacy settings”, written in the style of Geoffrey Chaucer.) If necessary, I can instruct it to write an article in rhyming couplets, a much under-used approach in my opinion.

It is fun to select a subject, and couple it with a completely inappropriate genre, as perhaps I have already hinted. For example, my seminal work entitled “The development of computational thinking in the Middle Ages” is written in Rhyming Slang. In contrast, my essay on “How to make anyone fall instantly in love with you before they have even met you” was written in the style of Raymond Chandler. This may strike some readers as oxymoronic, but I prefer to think of it as more of a creative clash of inconsistencies. (That phrase was created by the WM, by the way, when I couldn’t think of a suitable expression. At last, writer’s block has been obliterated by an algorithm.)

While the WM is churning out articles, thereby saving me time and labour, hours and hours of my time have been freed up. You may wonder what I am doing in my new-found leisure time. Why, writing articles, of course.

I wrote this article for the #blimage creative writing activity. All is explained in The #Blimage List, where you will find lists of other people’s writings under the auspices of #blimage. I have also written a #blimage article on the ICT and Computing in Education website, and my My Writes website. If you wish to try it out for yourself, all you have to do is write a blog post inspired by an image. Feel free to use the one I’ve employed here.



7 Ways to improve your writing

Every craftsperson should work on improving their craft. So, how do you become a better writer? These are the things I’ve found to be very useful. I hope you do too.

The tea: I forgot to mention the tea. Absolutely crucial!


In once read that Jacques Loussier, the jazz pianist, practised for 8 hours a day, when he was well-established and at the top of his game. If practice was good enough for him….

I try to write even when I have nothing to write about. If I have a major assignment to complete, or a chapter in a book I’m working on, I will often write a blog post as a sort of warm up exercise – my equivalent of playing scales I suppose.

Write something different

I hinted at this above. I find that doing different kinds of writing keeps me flexible. Because I have to keep mentally alert as well as agile, I find that switching from one type of writing to another stops me drifting into auto-pilot mode, with all the falling back on clichés that that can entail.


I think it goes without saying that writers need to read. If you’re a fiction author, you need to know what is being read, and what new techniques the most successful authors have been trying out. If you are a non-fiction author then you need to keep up with the latest writings in your niche.

Variety is the spice of life

When it comes to reading, I think writers need to cast their net as widely as possible. I don’t do travel writing, but I found that I learnt a lot from reading some travel articles. Ditto articles about the popular music scene, politics and the arts. A good way to read a lot of different kinds of writing very quickly I’ve found is to get hold of collections of articles, essays or short stories.

Use good reference books

I think one can’t over-emphasise the importance of good reference books. I think it crucial to be able to find the exact word you need, or to ensure that you don’t misuse words (even if many other people do).

Get published, for money

If you pitch an article or a story to an editor, and she accepts it and pays you for it, that is worth much more than being published without payment. I realise that there are exceptions to this rule, but if a magazine is going to part with some of its cash then it is unlikely to accept any old rubbish.

Read books and articles about writing

There is a danger that one could fall into the trap of reading so much about writing that there is no time left to actually do any! Nevertheless, I think it important to set aside time to read about the craft itself. Here are some suggestions:

Review of 30 Day Blogging Challenge, written by Nikki Pilkington

Review of The Well-Fed Writer

Review of Polish Your Fiction

Review of Business for Authors: How to be an author entrepreneur, by Joanna Penn

Top 50 Writing Blogs, 2015


Thoughts on Amazon’s new royalties system

Amazon very recently introduced a new way of calculating royalties for books borrowed in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library schemes. Whereas previously royalties were based on the number of times a book has been borrowed, they will now be based on the number of pages read. Amazon will define what a page is according to font size and other parameters, so authors can’t pull a fast one by making the font huge!

But is she reading all of it? Photo by goXunuReviews

It’s early days, and the scheme so far is being applied narrowly—only to borrowed books. But Amazon already knows how many pages of a book people have read, as you can infer from the fact that it synchronises your reading between devices. Therefore I believe it could, in theory, apply this principle right across the board. What might the effects of that be?

  • Authors of longer books will be paid more, if their books are read. That was the main reason for introducing this new scheme apparently.
  • Could it lead to better quality writing? It could do, if you think that cranking out a book every ten days of such awful quality that people read the first couple of pages and then give up would not result in huge royalty payments. Much better to turn out fewer books that people actually enjoy reading.
  • On the other hand, could it lead to less academic writing? I imagine that a light, chatty sort of writing style is more likely to be read by most people than dry-as-dust academic prose. But maybe that would be the case anyway, or maybe it won’t make any difference: if you have to read academic stuff, you have to read it, and that’s the end of the matter.

The bottom line is, I don’t know what effects, if any, this new approach will have on the sort of books that are published on Amazon, but it will be an interesting area to watch I think.

Details of Amazon’s scheme.


How to display your word count

I am not sure if displaying one’s word count is a good idea or not. On the one hand, you are publicly committing yourself to writing, because if your word count remain static then it appears to everyone that you are not doing anything. On the other hand, appearing not to be doing any writing could be quite embarrassing.

I say “appears” because you may be doing research, and so working on your book without writing anything that will actually appear in it. I read recently, though I can’t remember where (in one of the National Novel Writing Month forums I think) that you can legitimately count research as equivalent to 1,000 words of writing. I suppose that might make one feel better, but it does nothing to change the impression given to others if your displayed word count doesn’t change.

Sarra's word count meters, in common with many others, can be configured to look how you like

Still, if you are interested in displaying a word count, there is plenty of choice available. There are lists available on the web. See, for example, 13 free writing meters etc, and 20+ Writing Progress Meters and Word Count Trackers.

All involve copying and pasting HTML code, so you will need to know how to insert html code into your blog or website. Also, you will need to update the code itself each time your word count changes.

One kind word count meter that will automatically update your word count when you paste in a new word count is Sarra Cannon’s word count meters. You need a Facebook account to use one, but the idea is that once you have copied and pasted the HTML code you don’t have to fiddle with that again, you just update your word count meter where it is hosted on Sarra’s website. You can configure it to look how you like. Mine looks like this:

I’ve displayed it on my other website, ICT and Computing in Education.

I may remove it if my writing stalls – I don’t believe in public shaming, especially if it’s me who is being shamed! But for now, it sits there as a stick to beat me into knuckling down to the writing.


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