You’ve heard it said, fail to plan, plan to fail.
A strategic plan gets us places.

Or does it?

That can’t be, we say.
Our parents, teachers, and mentors taught us: without a plan, we’re ruined.

Before you (and I) get all depressed over the list of doomsday declarations on planning, let’s yell SPOILER ALERT and cut to the heart of the authors’ meaning:

It’s about action.

You (and I) can write business plans from here to kingdom come. In the end, you (and I) must act.

It’s a simple checklist:

  1. Focus on a viable idea.
    Do you have an idea that fills a need? That solves a problem? That goes where no man or woman has gone before, making something uniquely familiar accessible and enjoyable? Good. Go with it.
  2. Create a direction and first steps. 
    Plans change. Always. So let’s not spend all that time on details into infinity and beyond. In focused, quality time with focused, quality thoughts, frame the blueprint and pick up the hammer.
  3. Act. Move. Do.
    Stop making maps and scribbling sentences. Ask key questions. Think clearly. Make that frame and go.
  4. Tweak.
    In writing, in any creative endeavor, and in business — hands down, tweak is my favorite word… because tweak is code for regular assessment. It’s in the tweaking, the adjusting, that we keep the ship on course.

    To think, to plan, to do.
    Always tweaking.
    Always acting.

    May the chant of ACT! ACT! ACT! be a rally-cry to us all.

    Erin M. Brown, MA, MFA (aka author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is the author of eight books; the owner of Celtic Cross Communications, a small media publishing group; a former university professor on writing, interpersonal communication, leadership and management, and strategic management; and a speaker on the ground and online. Contact Erin here.

Traditionally, the New Year is all about goal setting. We all know: Goals are standard, healthy, and good for us — both individually and as organizations. As entrepreneurs, creators, writers, and people of thought and action, we plan and set goals regularly. But sometimes life gets in the way, even at the start of the New Year, and we find ourselves not creating or revisiting solid goals.

Goal concept

Have you set goals recently?

No worries.
Today’s a good day to do it.

Even one goal is worth your time, this week.

As you set a date with yourself to create New Year’s goals, consider:  To set deep, meaningful, accomplishable goals, we need quiet. Quiet is where our minds speak the clearest. The place of being aware. Of listening. Of uncovering what’s holding us back. Because we all have things holding us back. And quiet can be hard to come by.

Enjoying life

Right now, I can’t sit on a beach like the person in the photo is doing. Michigan’s snow and ice takes me to a place like this:

The coffee shop. 
It’s not quiet. It’s not private. But it’ll do, for now, until I can get to the beach or the woods or wherever my soul can listen. You and I can blur out the coffee shop’s surroundings and focus for a short time. We make it work.

Within quiet, you and I feel, hear, and see things we don’t usually feel, hear, and see. Through quiet, we’re able to open and examine whatever’s blocking our ability to act on our hopes and passions. Quiet has the power to lay bare the ropes entangling our souls.
We all have ropes. History. Emotions. False beliefs. Each of these ropes causes confusion, not clarity.

To focus, create, and repeat,
we must have clarity.  

So as you get into your place of quiet for clarity’s sake, know that I and others who are reading these are doing the same, this week.
Because getting to healthy places, with goals and dreams and desires — and actions — is what we do.

Raising my mug to you,
Happy New Year and may it be highly successful
for you and yours,
* Thup

Most likely, you’ve been told a lie:
“Writing is hard.”

Writing is not hard to do. But it’s special to learn.
in that it’s a skill, just like anything else.
And learning skills is hard work.

Writing is the perfecting of multiple skills —
those little things to know and to practice
until you get really good at it
(once again, just like anything else).

So if you want to write well, then you must
master the small things of writing.

The problem is,
there are so many darned small things.
(So many pieces…)

  • Choosing right words (“diction”)
  • Putting words in an order with the best sense (“syntax”)
  • Knowing (and using) the power of punctuation 
  • Choosing the sentence length with the right power to
    carry  the idea
  • Understanding and carving the form in line and paragraph
  • Choosing and molding complete ideas into bells that ring
    with concise, clear, crisp melody
  • Listening to the music of the words on the page, and then
    learning to tweak (edit) for the perfect symphony of sounds,
    rhythms, and ideas.

Yes, writing is music.  The clicks and pops, the lulls and smooth
waves of words washed together; the murky dirge or the poetic,
radiant light flitting across the page, forming the silvery line or
jagged intimation with power.


I don’t believe writing is hard to learn. It’s just a lot to learn.
And it’s hard to perfect.

Getting the pieces is work. Hard work.
Especially if you want to write a book.

George Orwell once said, ““Writing a book is a horrible,
exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful
illness. One would never undertake such a thing if
one were not driven on by some demon whom one
can neither resist nor understand.”

And another favorite…
(More like this…)

Well, then.
You want to write?
You 100% can.

(And you can do it well.)
You have to really want it.

Stoke the desire.
(set your mind and heart)

And find those places to learn.
Find the mentor. Take the class.
Read. And read some more.
Try out what you learn.
Grow the skills.
Work it.

Because the payoff is amazing.
It’ll feel so good, to master the pieces,
to hold that book, to leave the legacy,
to create, and to know that you finally
did it.

* Thup
Dark Roast with a touch of soy milk

Hey, All — Great News!

“Simplified Writing 101: Top Secrets for College Success” just launched on Amazon!


You can get it here. The fun, how-to text for mastering academic writing has actually been used for 10 years in colleges and online, in AP English Language and Composition courses and now in high schools across the US.

I actually gave the content away for seven years. Why? It just seemed the right thing to do. Then, three years ago, the book was published digitally, and I can’t tell you how many emails I got, asking for the book to be in paperback.

So it’s here, in paperback. (And it’s SO cool.)

Again, if you’re interested, you can get it here.


And to those of you who buy my book today — a heartfelt thank you. You’re amazing.
* Thup

old fashioned envelope
I received this email, today:

Dear Erin,

I am a professor at the University of Dallas, and I have been running a writer’s group for teenagers for about four years. [A student of yours] is one of the most active members. When he read a novel manuscript of mine, he recommended that I contact you for advice abut publishing.

I am very familiar with academic publishing–I can place nearly anything I write–but I really don’t know how to proceed with fiction; it seems a more difficult market to break into, and the sorts of credentials one needs aren’t the same. I’ve only made two tentative jabs at placing the manuscript–both over-the-r transom, unwise attempts.

If you can help, I’d like to make contact.

Many thanks,
[signature here]

Here’s my response:

Dear [fiction writer person],

Hello, and thank you for connecting.

You’re right: Fiction can be more difficult to break into.

Now, if you’re like me, you read that sentence and immediately, something inside slumped. Fight the feeling. Because agents and publishers are looking for new writers every day. Who’s to say you’re not the one they’re looking for?

(Encouragement of the day. Because writers, like everybody else on the planet, need encouragement.)

content folder
Regarding credentials to be a writer,
 I found it important to go back and get an MFA in fiction writing. And today, my learning continues to be constant…reading books on craft (always), listening to books on tape (for the flow and sound), being a member of professional groups (SFWA and SCBWI), and so on.

But credentials aren’t the end-all.

Because sometimes, along comes a newbie at a conference who makes you (and me) do a royal double take, injecting doubt into our writer world. You know who I’m talking about — the person who was published with their first book, the person with little to no background or training in writing — and POOF! They have a three-book contract and people drooling all over their work.

When I see that, BAM, my mind is uber-boggled and my spirit’s super-deflated. (Whoever decided at that conference to put a newbie in that speaking spot, um, please don’t do that again. She’s not the norm.)

wooden bodies
Oh. And all writers doubt themselves.
So, on that note, I say make peace with the doubt, buy some work gloves, and plow ahead.

Let me throw out a few more ideas on writerly success.

Making connections at conferences is critical.
Being known in your circle is critical. Who you know does open doors.

On manuscript submissions: Follow the must-follow bits — and make sure you’re submitting to those agents only looking for your kind of story (the old, do your homework on the agents to whom you submit thingy).

Which brings me to agents.

For fiction,
yes, getting an agent is important — because the agent’s relationship to publishers is much more imperative for selling your fiction book than for your non-fiction work. An agent has the special relationship where he/she can jump out of the fishbowl, visit the other side, and make the connection for us.

For nonfiction: Especially if you’re a speaker or have any kind of ready-and-waiting audience, you can publish non-fiction on your own and, by golly, make some good money doing it. In fact, in today’s market and social media frenzy, if you have a platform and audience, I believe self-publishing a given. Do it.

But for fiction — again, we’re juggling the proverbial apples and oranges. Seek and land the agent.
gold key

So. The question of the day:
Is there a lock turning gold key to getting published in fiction?

Not really.

But I can leave you with my five-point advice list (because five is a cool number for these kinds of things) that can up the chances of it happening sooner than later. 

performance 1 - notebook and pen
1. Write.
Then write some more. Keep the craft honed. Join a writing group to keep you accountable, or have a good friend who keeps tabs and asks for a daily word count.

My writing time has to be purposefully planned. I meet a group of three other writers monthly; I’m in an online group with alumni from my MFA program that posts monthly; and a screenwriter/director friend I meet with a few times a month, too. Then, on my own, I have writing dates (with myself) that I regularly schedule into my calendar.

Make your in-the-chair writing a calendar priority.

2. Read.
Then read some more. Know what’s getting published and why. Be a competitive intelligence geek, to find what makes good writers tick, tock, and trounce the market.

As I said earlier, I like to listen to stories, in order to feel the pace, hear the rhythm, and catch the power of crisp dialogue.

Whether reading in print or listening on audio, we’ll find the reasons why certain books are published. Understand the reasons. And when you come across a “bad” book, be encouraged that you can do better.

3. Learn.
Never stop growing the craft. Ever. My bookshelf overfloweth. My Kindle and Audible account droneth on and on. Blogs? I read ’em. Videos? I watch ’em. To learn is to become is to up the chances of publication.

If you want to be a fiction writer, truly, then always grow.

4. Develop your voice.
Voice in fiction is critical. Heck, voice in any kind of writing is critical. But for story, that extra pizzazz can be what the agent and publisher have been looking for.

It took many years for my writing voice emerge. I say, be like Dori: Just keep swimming. And, because it’s a part of who you are, your voice will emerge.

5. Attend.
Go to conferences. Get to know people. Build relationships. Pitch to agents. Then sit across from the agent at lunch and get to know her. Don’t, mind you, follow her into the bathroom to ask a question (oh my!) –and do be a normal person who isn’t cray cray or google-eyed in their presence. Resist the urge.

A highlight of my MFA program was hanging with multi-published (“famous”) authors and absorbing cool-beans-know-how from them. Squeezed into a booth and eating pizza with Kevin Anderson is up there on the list…not because I learned some fabulous, single-gem nugget of knowledge that magically took me to breakout-novel status — but because his demeanor and everyday how-he-runs-life-as-a-writer stuff grounded me into the fact that we’re all just people trying to tell stories.

So there you have it. My simple thoughts. They’re not ground-breaking, and I’m sure you’ve heard most (if not all) of it before.

We both know: The knowledge is there.
And we also know: It’s what we do with it that counts.

Here’s to keeping on.
* Cheers



On writing, Neil Gaiman once said, “You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” And another wise mind once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” Though Yoda and Neil have the same idea – that the bulk of writing is found in physically sitting on the divan and simply doing the stuff of it – there’s more to writing than meets the chair.

It’s true: To write, one must do. But to write with style, ah—now that means going beyond the doing to exercising the five must-haves of great writing.

First, good writing is logical. It makes sense. Whether writing truth or fiction, good writing flows in a linear path—a path natural to both the writer and the reader. It’s important to know how to write plausibly, rationally, and reasonably, so that others understand our mind’s path from beginning, to middle, and to end.

Second, good writing moves us—both in the physical rhythm of the text and the content’s compelling, progressive nature. Like good music, good writing has a physical sound and pace naturally stirring us forward. Aside from the clicking consonance or mellow-o assonance of the singing sounds that all words possess, creating a rollicking or lulling movement, the emotions embodied within our text must also move. Like birds on a wire, one after another stretched along the dotted-line cable and, eventually, rising to fly away, the compelling internal nature of the meaning of the phrase must lead us along and, with lifted wings, move us to act.

Third, good writing engages. To engage is to touch emotion that pleases, allures, rivets, or even horrifies. Engagement can incite terror or pleasure, rage or contentment. Whether in the smiling hail of a friend or lodged in the highway accident coercing the eyes to stay on the wreck, you and I are drawn to emotional engagement.

Fourth, good writing is powerful. Even in academic settings, a writer’s goal is to unleash the power of the word. Powerful writing takes breath from our lips, makes our heart race, and creates desire. The power of writing lies in our ability to choose single words as well as smoothing and stacking words into phrases eliciting powerful feelings.

Finally, good writing is clear. Clear writing gives understanding. Without following the phrase’s meaning, as displayed by the reader’s every thought walking in the very footsteps of the writer’s intention, the reader looses her way. In great writing, clarity reigns supreme.

 To write is to do. By capturing the skills and practicing the art, writing becomes easier as we do, and do, and do. As Philip Roth says, writing is to “turn sentences around” and then to look “and turn it around again.” It’s in the turning that we find our writing becomes logical, moving, engaging, powerful, and clear.

* Thup

Last night on the big screen, once again, I saw the National Theater Live performance of the Shakespearean play Hamlet. My conclusion was the same:

Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant. Forget the good looks, I’m serious: his acting, most assuredly, is at the top of his game.

Some don’t like Shakespeare because it’s “too hard to understand.” Fair enough. It takes focus and thought to slide into the old style and stay there — and even then, Shakespeare might not be to your taste. But a skilled actor using his eyes, face, body, and voice to punctuate the words with clear meaning — ah, now that makes taking in Shakespeare easy.

I’ll say it again: Drenching the familiar line “to be or not to be” with the nuance of varying pitch, a full range of tone, and with meticulously-timed pauses and pacing — with every shoulder raise and eyebrow twitch echoing the intent of the great master’s storyline — makes Shakespeare’s meaning full and understood.

Here’s the truth:

Small things, when added together, make brilliant communication. And we all know, to understand each other clearly is so, so key.

Which brings me to a pet peeve.
(This is for all of us.)

It’s the faux pas of not responding to someone’s communication. As in, you send an email and there’s no reply back — not even a two-second, “Thanks — got it!”

A deadly idea (and practice) has crept into our professional and personal lives — one that frustrates the receiver and kills relationships:

“To answer or not to answer — that is the question.”
(That’s not the question.)

Please. Respond.

When someone doesn’t reply, how do you feel? What do you think — about them, about the situation — when you’re left wondering if your words fell flat and went splat on the floor?

It’s never good.

Please. On email, have the wherewithal to take two seconds to say, got it — have to run — will send a full response later today. In person, have the internal state and emotional intelligence resources to say, great question — let me think about it… or, I hear you — let’s talk about it more… or even, hmm, I hear what you’re saying — let’s make sure we talk about that at x-time together, when I’m free and can give you my full attention.

To answer or not to answer —
That should never be the question.

* Thup

A post ago, I mentioned attending an online event with a  quite-famous, quite-affluent, highly successful thought leader. He has millions of books and programs sold. Retains millions of followers. Makes millions of dollars, keeping his family safe and supported — and spends millions of dollars serving others.
(A nice place to be, eh?)

At the end of this thought-leader’s four-day series (filled with power-hours presenting sizzling seminars), an attendee posed the pregnant question:

“What are the practices that got here, to where you where you are today?” 

His first answer — you remember it, right?

Read a book a month.
(It’s too simple.)
To make learning and growing a priority.
To stack books on the tables of your mind —
Increasing ideas to the synthesis of higher understandings.
To gather words. Garnish ideas. Gain wisdom.

Because when we ponder words, we can use them as tools to imagineer —
When we turn over and speculate with new ideas, we can deduce new answers —
When we scrutinize and decide what to heed and embrace —
we grow.

question mark(What will you read today?)

Okay. Enough reiterating.
His second answer was as bland and powerful as the first:

Be consistent.

Let’s be truthful:
No-one  wants to hear that answer.
No one wants to acquiesce to the idea of plain-ol’ consistency.

Consistency is about saying it and doing it.
And doing it.
And doing it.
And doing it.

Why talk about this tiring word, consistency?
Two quick and powerful reasons.

number one
Consistency creates integrity.
Integrity in word and deed.
(What others understand and believe about us.)

Integrity includes taking ownership to think clearly and act responsibly.

We say we’re thinking clearly, but shutting out others’ ideas with a subtle brand of self-whispering narcissism (I’m right, you’re wrong) is all too rampant. Believing we’re being responsible, but simply plowing through our agenda without stepping back to thoroughly understand, regardless of our stake in the matter, is a deadly poison to success.

In the sun’s rise and fall, it’s all about saying what we’ll do and doing what we say. 

So very important.
(Never underestimate consistency’s power to display our integrity.)

numbersign-orangenumber two
Consistency creates production.
<<I’m talkin’ RESULTS.>>

(You DO want results, right?)

Creating a plan.
Scheduling the plan.
Working the plan.
And working it.
And working it.
And working it.

Lining up the stones for the step-by-step doing.
Not complaining.
Not giving excuses.
Not looking around at others and comparing.
Not becoming overwhelmed or distracted.

But simply picking up a stone of action and placing it in the spot.
And placing another.
And placing another.

It all adds up to capital R Results.

By the way, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked, how did you create almost 50 online courses in just a few years…

Anyway. You know the answer.
(It’s not a secret.)

Step by step.
A little bit each day.
Consistently working the plan.

A boring answer. But a highly effective one.
* Thup


* Facepalm
Yet another Oxford comma post on Facebook.

This post is for writers. And you, the person who cares about having great writing. In the “fight” on whether or not to use the Oxford comma, breathe, smile, and read this:

Posted today on Facebook: A brilliant picture explaining the need for the Oxford comma –
– that comma in a list of three or more items in a sentence…the one that shows up before the “and”:

This, that, and the-other-thing sentences.
(Oxford comma used.)

And the poster’s comment:
Okay. Please. Pay attention.

(This is important.)


Stop arguing that one has a right or not, to use the Oxford comma.

All the common arguments are listed on the Facebook post:
* The argument about it’s my style choice (the freedom argument).
* The argument, we don’t need to use spotless punctuation (the hyperbole argument).
* And, finally, the argument that it’s all about story, so you don’t need the Oxford comma (the other freedom argument).

please know that my point in this post is not to call anyone out or offend anyone.

But I have to say something.

Dudes. (And Dudettes.)
We’re completely missing the point.

Get this:
Whether writing fiction or nonfiction,
it’s all about clarity. The READER’s clarity .

>>> Not our writer’s preference. <<<

Because communicating is not about us.
(Not. About. Us.)

It’s about them. The reader.

It’s about the reader’s needs.
The reader lining up with your writer’s mind.
Helping the reader cross the bridge of mind-melding,
to get your exact substance, interpretation, implication, and essence of idea.

Now here’s where we go wrong: We tend to believe story can’t be story without freedom in all measures. Or that I, as a writer, am not bound by punctuation or any other guide, because my writing is my personal expression.

Well, whether you’re purposefully writing a stream of consciousness style or an advertisement to sell, fighting for your “right” to use or not use Oxford comma is really not the point.

The point is, punctuation has a job —
And knowing (or not knowing) its job
will help (or hurt) your writing.

The job varies with your writing’s purpose.

What and who is this for?
What are the audience’s rules, if they have any, and am I abiding by their rules?

Is the meaning coming across? I’m talking ’bout that mental and emotional meaning — so that the reader CLEARLY gets EXACTLY what I want them to think, see, hear, taste, and feel (physically and emotionally).

NotebookAndPenFirst, step aside to academic writing.

Academic writing is its own animal…one that breathes the Oxford comma.

As an academic/college writing instructor of many years, I’ll tell you something: You absolutely HAVE to abide by clarity rules — including punctuation and grammar. In scientific writing (as pointed out in the FB comments), the Oxford comma is required. In your dissertation, the Oxford comma is required. And believe me, in your college entrance essay, using the Oxford comma gets you bonus points. Just as a basketball game’s referee calls foul! and blows the whistle, you’ll be called out, without the Oxford comma.

So if you want to succeed, you’d better use the rules.

Right now, I hear you all saying,
What about non-academic writing, where “there are no rules”?

Yes, there surely are different rules of the game for different writing purposes.

AHEM. But. Again.
Clarity wins.
The reader’s clarity.
Not. My. Preference.

It’s true, you can argue about anything. You can stay in the mud-sucking back and forth about the Oxford comma till the cows come home, as momma used to say. But arguing that the Oxford comma will or will not bring clarity is, well, not up to us. It’s up to the reader.

And the examples from this blog post, shown above, side with our dear reader, don’t they?

Second, understand story.

Story writing is its own animal, too — one, I truly believe, needs the Oxford comma. As a story writer with a hard-earned MFA in creative/genre fiction writing, I have to tell you: If it ain’t clear, the reader stops reading. (Yes, I wrote ain’t…with a big ol’ twang. Because if it ain’t clear, yooz in trouble.)

Too many moments of have-to-go-back-and-read-it-again-because-I-missed-the-meaning  kills your writing. Dead. Period. 

X – X

For that reason alone, if there’s any question at all about clarity, I use the Oxford comma — yes, in fiction. There are too many reasons for our reader to put the book down. I certainly don’t want that. (And I’m guessing you don’t, either.)

We — you, me, all of us — simply need to get off our writer high horses and think about the reader and his or her needs. Period.

And here’s why…

tally marks
You know the prisoner in the cell, the one writing the tally marks on the wall for how many days he’s been locked away? Readers are like that. ANY reader. From teachers grading essays to the Average Joe and Josephine reading your novel. When he (or she) stumbles on (hesitates, has to think out of the flow of)  your writing, it’s a tally mark. When he misses your meaning, it’s a tally mark. When anyone has to — heaven help us — read over a sentence or paragraph again, it’s a rapid-fire swishing of the tally marks thrown with flair onto the wall. And then, tally-marked out, the reader closes your book. THWAP.

No, readers aren’t prisoners — and tally-mark mania is not even a conscious “I’m going to find problems and complain.” Tally marks exist as a subconscious reader-thingy we all do — and tally mark reading is something we have to understand and acquiesce to.

We have to give up our personal rights to, in order to keep the reader engaged.

Reading this post, you may feel like leaving with the hang-tight-to-my-preferences stance. You can do that.

But. I’d love to have you open your mind to something that just might help you in your ability to get readers to stick around and feel completely good about your writing. 

Because serving the reader, first and always,
helps us to be successful.




No matter what your faith, a how-to-live truth resonates with today.
Ash Wednesday,
where a cross is made in ashes on the forehead.

The ashes are a reminder that “we came from dust and go to dust”…
that out time here is limited.
Life goes by too quickly, most days…and
<<every single moment>> counts.
It’s about being aware. Present.
(Being awake but waking up.)
Fully living in this moment.
And this moment.
And this moment…
So. Stop. Take a breath.
Whatever you’re doing.

What is most important to me, today?
What can I do, in this moment, to breathe out the “death ideas” (ashes) and breathe in the “life ideas.”

What can I do today that takes me a little bit closer to that dream, that hope?

Like a phoenix, dying to the old way of thinking, of acting —
and rising in this very moment to something greater.
* Thup

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