Have writing goals to finish but lacking motivation? Then this post is for you! The YA Buccaneers are hosting their bi-annual bootcamp, and you're invited! (P.S. It's FREE!)

Join the YA Buccaneers FREE Spring Writing Bootcamp! When you join you get goal-setting worksheets plus access to private online writing groups! Click through to learn more! >>>

Want to write with me this spring? The YA Buccaneers are hosting our Spring Writing Bootcamp and this is your official invite. We're three weeks in, but you can join at any time. (I have a fantastic excuse for not inviting you sooner - I've been writing all the words during bootcamp!)

The bootcamp runs May through June, and now is a great time to get started! When you sign up you get:

  • A FREE intro pack with goal-setting worksheets

  • Access to private online communities for bootcampers ONLY - your choice of Facebook or Twitter

  • Word Sprints (where we hang out online and write together!)

  • Book giveaways to help you stay motivated (yesss!)

Join the YA Buccaneers FREE Spring Writing Bootcamp! When you join you get goal-setting worksheets plus access to private online writing groups! Click through to learn more! >>>

This bootcamp is 100% free and is put together by the amazing YA Buccaneers crew. During bootcamp I'll be behind the scenes with my fellow Buccaneers, but I'll also be working on my own writing goals--which makes this a great opportunity for us to get to know each other better.

Bootcamps are a fantastic way to make new writer friends while working toward your goals. You can work on anything - drafting, revising, blogging - and everyone who checks in online will earn chances to win those prizes I mentioned (i.e. BOOKS!).

I would love to see you in bootcamp! Click here to sign up & right away we'll email you your Spring Writing Bootcamp intro pack with those goal-setting worksheets. (Because who doesn't love adult homework?)

What do you think? Hop in the comments and let me know if I'll see you in bootcamp!


Critique Partners and Beta Readers are an essential part of the publication process, but there's often confusion about what they are and whether or not they're important (spoiler: they are). If you've been confused about CPs and betas in the past, then this post is for you!

Critique Partners and Beta Readers are an essential part of the publication process, but there's often confusion about what they are and whether or not they're important (spoiler: they are). If you've been confused about CPs and betas in the past, then this post is for you! Click through to read it >>>

Lately I've heard a number of writers asking the following:

  • What's a CP?

  • What's the difference between Critique Partners and Beta Readers?

  • Do I have to have a CP or beta readers? Can't I just send my manuscript to an agent?

During #PitchMadness, a writer said they were too scared to have a critique partner, and would far rather have an author or agent read their stuff first.

EEK.

I'm going to start with the basics, but first:

Friends don't let friends NOT have CPs and Beta Readers. Your pre-agent and pre-publication readers are your golden ticket to crafting amazing stories. Better yet, they are the ones who will tell you when your book is confusing, lacking, or just ... not ready, which is far better than hearing it in a review or finding out thanks to a stack of query letter rejections.

Friends don't let friends NOT have CPs and Beta Readers.

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But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's talk about the difference between a Critique Partner and a Beta Reader, and why you want both.

Critique Partners (CPs) versus Beta Readers

Critique Partners

Critique Partners (CPs) are writers who read your work and give feedback based on your requests. Often the goal is to exchange work, although you might not start with an exchange.

Since CPs are fellow writers, they can find weaknesses like plot holes, poor character development, and the other million things writers need to think about when writing. Unlike, say, a family member who doesn't write, they know and understand story mechanics and can be the shiny unicorn you need to help you navigate your manuscript.

CPs can be the shiny unicorn you need to help you navigate your manuscript.

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Friends, you WANT a CP. In fact, you want a flock of them. Why? Because they will:

  1. Read your stuff, even when it's the equivalent of a pile of garbage.

  2. Tell you what you're doing right and what you need to fix.

  3. Be your shoulder to cry on when things get hard.

  4. Keep you going when you want to quit.

  5. Prevent you from querying or publishing when you're not ready.

That last one is important.

Your CPs get to hone their editing and story-making skills by reading your stuff. In return, you get to hear from them (versus an agent or Amazon reviews) what's good/bad/ugly about your story.

Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's scary.

But wouldn't you rather hear constructive criticism from a fellow writer? Someone who knows exactly how hard it is to write a book? Someone who can help you make it better?

Besides, you want this constructive feedback before you query or publish. When you can still fix it. When it's not meaning you lost a connection with an agent. When it's not showing up as one-star reviews.

Make sense?

This is why CPs are so, so important and amazing.

But wait! Beta Readers are awesome too.

Beta Readers

Beta Readers (sometimes referred to as betas) are people who read your manuscript as readers first, not writers. A Beta Reader can read your story at any time in your writing process, and they aren't (necessarily) looking for an exchange. With beta readers, you're often asking them for big picture feedback only (i.e. Did you like it?).

Beta Readers are important because they can give you big picture feedback free of the constraints and worries CPs and writers will have while reading. Since they're not looking for your character's goal, motivation, and conflict, for example, but just want a good story, they can help you make sure you're on track.

If you're looking for Beta Readers, family, friends, nieces and nephews, friends-of-friends (non-writers especially) make great readers. You can post on Facebook that you're looking for readers, or email your family members to ask if they might read your manuscript. Just be sure to be clear about your expectations, and try to find people who will be nice to you. :)

Sensitivity Readers

Beneath the umbrella of Beta Readers are Sensitivity Readers, which are worthy of pointing out, especially if you include diversity in your manuscripts. If you're unfamiliar with the term, here's a great explanation:

A sensitivity reader reads through a manuscript for issues of representation and for instances of bias on the page. The goal of a sensitivity reader isn’t to edit a manuscript clarity and logic, although that may be an additional service offered. A sensitivity reader reviews a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language. A sensitivity reader is there to help make sure you do not make a mistake, but they are also NOT a guarantee against making a mistake.

Write in the Margins

As an aside, thanks to my writer friend Laura Haley for pointing this out and for connecting me with a Sensitivity Reader for my manuscript!

If you are looking for a Sensitivity Reader, the Writing in the Margins Sensitivity Reader database will be a great resource for you.


I hope this helps you understand how CPs and Beta Readers are different, but also why both are important parts of getting your manuscripts ready for querying or publication.

Next week I'll share the answers to five common questions about making the most of the CP relationships, so check back if that's something you'd like to read!


Pssst: You also might like the Novel Plot Test Worksheet I made. My email friends get to download it for FREE! Click the image below to sign up and I'll email you a copy today.

Want to make sure your novel idea passes the test? I created a Novel Plot Test worksheet to help you find out. Click through for your copy ----->


Do you have questions about CPs and Beta Readers? Hop in the comments below and let me know. I'd love to hear from you. Or, if you're someone who has worked with CPs and Beta Readers, what advice would you give other writers who are new to CP and Beta Reader relationships?

P.S. If you found this post valuable, I would love it if you shared it on Twitter!

Not sure what the difference is between a CP and a beta? Read this post:

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


Welcome to this month's State of the Blog, where I share my goals for this blog, what I'm doing to reach them, and what's working (or not working).

March 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

This post includes affiliate links (marked with an asterisk). When you use the link to make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will only share affiliate links if I have used and recommend the product or service. If you have any questions, please contact me. Thanks for your support!

New to my blog? Start here: State of the Blog for January 2016, State of the Blog for February 2016.

February 2016 Numbers

Keep in mind that traffic and social media numbers aren't everything -- I'd rather ten writer friends over 1,000 stop-an-go site visitors, wouldn't you? -- but numbers can help you get big picture insights and help you make changes.

Site Traffic and Top Content

Here's a comparison of my site traffic February 1st through 29th, 2016 (top) and January 1st through 31st, 2016 (bottom).

Psst: Learn how to find these stats in Google Analytics: I walk through the process step-by-step in the Build a Better Blog Challenge.

March 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

And a comparison of my top content February 1st through 29th, 2016 (left) and January 1st through 31st, 2016 (right).

March 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

What's important:
  • Although my traffic dropped (not surprising after last month's green smoothie surge), my bounce rate decreased and my percentage of returning visitors increased. What that means: People are coming back to my blog, and they are staying longer. Yesss! This is very helpful to me, because it means readers are getting value out of my content.

  • Also of note: My writing-related posts are still doing better than the majority of my recipe and food-related posts. Which means my transition from food(ish) blog to writing blog is going well.

Social Media Referrals

March 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

Pinterest is my number one social media network referral (I talk more about how to use it strategically in my free Build a Better Blog Challenge), but this month I was more active on Twitter and saw a jump in traffic from Twitter. More on that in a moment.

Pinterest

As I mentioned last month, Pinterest is a huge traffic driver for me. I have blog posts about how to use Pinterest more strategically in the works, but I'll also be sharing a free online workshop to show you how I use Pinterest and BoardBooster together. There will be blog posts announcing the workshop, and you can sign up here to be the first to hear about it!

Social Media Growth

One of my goals last month was to get more strategic about how I use Twitter, and it definitely paid off. That, and I entered a writing contest called Pitch Madness. Most of the interaction is on Twitter, which helped me connect with a number of new followers.

Mailing List Growth

Guys, my email list is exploding. Like, fairy dust and rainbows exploding. I am so, so excited about the number of people who are opting in to join my list! Not only is the number growing, but I'm also seeing new subscribers who want to interact with me -- asking questions and reaching out to say hello. My email friends are the best!

  • Subscribers: 353 (+194)

As I mentioned last week, I'm putting together an e-course for writers and authors who want to start (or grow) their mailing list. Sign up to be notified when it launches!

How I did on my January goals

1. Experiment with Twitter

Excellent!

My Twitter following increased quite a bit, but more importantly I'm connecting and interacting with more and more writers. Four things that worked really well:

  1. Scheduling tweets in advance

  2. Sharing more writing-related information (and mentioning the source)

  3. Joining a Twitter chat

  4. Engaging and interacting with people

I'll have more about Twitter strategy soon, but I do want to point out that much of my traffic came from being active in the #PitchMadness conversations on Twitter. It's been an excellent way to make new writer friends!

2. Work on new email course for writers and authors

Excellent!

I don't want to spoil the awesomeness ... so for now just know that this course is going to be packed full of AMAZING information. If you're a writer who wants to learn how to create and grow your mailing list, then you'll love it. :)

Psst: Sign up to be notified when this course launches.

3. Finish design tasks

#Fail

I didn't make progress on my design tasks last month. My other writing and blogging projects took priority, and I'm not bothered in the slightest. Design can wait, content comes first.

Goals for March 2016

1. Update my Build a Better Blog e-course

I have a number of new lessons to add, and I want to get them added to the course site this month.

2. Make progress on my new email course for writers and authors

There's a lot of content to write and tutorials to record - I'll be busy!

Psst: Sign up to be notified when this course launches.

3. Teach Pinterest strategy workshop

This will be such an awesome workshop! A number of you have asked me about how I use Pinterest, and I can't wait to show you exactly how I've grown my following and made Pinterest my biggest source of traffic from a social media network. Get excited. :) Sign up here!


Thank you for reading! If there's anything I mentioned that you would like to learn about, please jump in the comments to let me know.

Now I would love to hear from you:

Do you have plans for your blog this month? Tell me about it in the comments, and be sure to link to your blog so I can take a look! :)


Pitch Madness is a contest started by Brenda Drake to help querying writers find agents (learn more about Pitch Madness). If you entered the contest last Friday, then this post is for you!

Join the Unofficial Pitch Madness Blog Hop to connect with the 2016 Pitch Madness participants! Head to www.bridgidgallagher.com to get started >>>

One of the Pitch Madness participants, Eric Rasmussen, suggested a blog hop of sorts to help the Pitch Madness participants connect, and I volunteered to get it started. Please note that this is not an "official" blog hop run by the contest organizers. The hub for contest-related conversations is on Twitter under #PitchMadness. This blog hop is 100% optional, and hopefully it will give us one more way to connect and get to know each other.

How to participate

Jump in the comments and share the following:

  • Your name

  • The genre of your Pitch Madness entry

  • A link to your blog

  • Optional: Are you looking for critique partners, beta readers, or ... ? This is a great chance to connect!

Bonus blog post topic

Want to take it a step further? Write a blog post and share more about yourself and your manuscript. Link to the post in the comments.

Snag the image

Feel free to use the image I've created in this blog post, just link back to this post to help others find it and participate.

Okay, friends. I'll write the first comment to give you an example. Then feel free to add your own comment. I look forward to "meeting" you!


Last month I experimented with a few different approaches to help increase my writing productivity, and during the process discovered I could free up far more writing time by making a few simple changes. Want to do the same? Keep reading!

9 Ways to Be a More Productive Writer: Tired of feeling overwhelmed, burned out, and short on time? Today I'm sharing 9 ways to clear distractions so you can focus on your writing goals and get more done. Read the tips on my blog >>>

You know that feeling when you know you could be getting more done, but you just can't focus? Or you look up from your device and realize you have no idea how long you spent scouring Twitter or Facebook?

Eek. Who's been there?

Time is absolutely precious, especially to writers. We all want to write more, but are often juggling writing and platform-building with family, health, and day jobs. How do you do it? How do you juggle it all and still have time to get into the writing zone?

How do you juggle it all and still have time to get into the writing zone?

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First, let me say that I've been there, my friend! At the end of the year my creative well was running on empty. I was frustrated by my lack of progress on my manuscript, but couldn't figure out how to give myself the distraction-free quiet I needed to focus and get things done. Part of my struggle was that I wanted to have time to both blog and write books, but I already felt as though there were too few hours in the day.

After some reflection, I realized that I had to make better use of my time if I wanted to reach my writing and blogging goals.

So I decided to use the month to experiment with a digital detox of sorts. My goal was to free up more time for writing without cutting into the time I spend with my family or taking care of my health. I also wanted to finally take the time to track exactly how I spend my time. I've heard other writers recommend time-tracking, but I never took the time to do it.

Friends, my experiment paid off. Big time.

I met both my writing and blogging goals, without seeing a big drop in my site traffic or social media accounts. More importantly, I felt better. I found it easier to focus, and I had more energy for doing non work-related tasks. I ended the month with a feeling of confidence. Even though I got a lot done, I felt full of creative energy and enthusiasm.

Feeling overwhelmed by your writing goals? Here are 9 Ways to Be a More Productive Writer

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Today I'm sharing the biggest takeaways from my January experiment because I want you to be able to have that same refreshed, energized feeling. Take a look at the list below. You don't have to do it all right now, you can pick and choose which item to try, or you can use my results to craft your own digital detox.

Are you ready to learn how to streamline your life and focus on what you want to accomplish?

(I'll pretend you're saying, "Yes!")

Let's go.

9 Ways to Be a More Productive Writer

1. Start with purpose.

Write down your goal -- for the week, the month, the day -- and use it as your touchstone. When your mind starts to wander, return to your purpose. Why are you here? Why is this important to you? Why do you want to make more time for writing? After you write down your goal, jot down how you want to feel at the end of the day/week/month. Use that feeling to help you visualize your end point.

This might sound out there or too fuzzy for you, but visualization can be a powerful part of goal setting. For me, I started January with the goal of taking a social media hiatus and finishing my current round of revisions. I wanted to feel less pressed for time, and less scatter-brained. I wanted to feel full of creative energy. By clarifying my goals, I found it far easier to stay on task when things got hard.

2. Make a dedicated workspace.

Create a writing space where you can focus, a place to help send your brain the message that it's time to get to work. An office or room with a door is ideal, but any space that helps you focus and clear distractions works. As long as it's your official writing space, it can look like whatever you want. Avoid choosing a space where you relax or unwind (like your bed or the couch). The goal is to train your mind to know it should be in work mode when you're in your workspace.

Train your mind to know it should be in work mode when you're in your workspace.

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Related: 5 Tricks for Getting into the Writing Zone

3. Cut out distractions.

Start by closing your Internet browser and turning off notifications on your phone or mobile device while you write. Those little pings and notifications can distract you, and writing requires deep focus. It's worth disconnecting, my friend! If you want to take this a step further, try removing all social media apps from your device.

4. Consume less.

Skip the television or movies, and be choosy about what you read. You don't have to do this all the time, but when you're struggling to focus or need to meet a deadline, skipping the entertainment will give you more time to write.

You might also find that it helps you think more deeply about your stories. Last month I cut out most of the entertainment I was consuming, and simply reducing made me feel far less distracted. I had more energy and ideas for my stories, and as a bonus the extra time helped me get more done.

5. Create incentive.

Even during short writing sessions, having a set goal can be a powerful incentive. Whether you want to write 100 words or 2,000 words, that goal can motivate you to write, and meeting it will give you positive reinforcement.

Even during short writing sessions, having a set goal can be a powerful incentive.

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Incentive doesn't have to be anything complicated. What works for me is to have a special mark or sticker I can add to my calendar if I earn it. Last month I was revising, so I "earned" a highlighter mark on my calendar if I made significant progress. It doesn't sound like much, but it did help motivate me. I loved earning those little tic marks!

Related: 5 Tips for Setting Reasonable Writing Goals and Making Them Happen

6. Track your time.

Track the time you spend doing writing-related activities, including social media. Even if you can only do it for a week or a month, the exercise of tracking your time will give you valuable insights. Why? It's hard to know how to make better use of your time when you're not sure how you're spending it. How much time are you really spending on Twitter and Facebook? How much time are you actively writing? Sometimes seeing the stark reality ("I spent how much time on Twitter?!") can be all the incentive you need to make some changes.

Part of why I deleted the social media apps on my mobile device in January was to make sure I tracked the time I spent using them. The side benefit was that I realized just how of a time suck social media can be for me. That time adds up, and it's precious!

7. Work in batches.

Group tasks into batches and work on them for blocks of time instead of multitasking. It will help you focus, and you will very likely be far more productive. Even if you're not sure - try it! You might be surprised.

Group tasks into batches and work on them for blocks of time instead of multitasking.

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Since I wanted to gain accurate information about exactly how my time was spent, I used Toggl (a free time-tracking app) and divided my work into different categories (i.e. blogging, writing, social media). As soon as I started the timer, I only worked on one task. Suddenly, I realized it was easier to focus, and I was getting exponentially more done than I usually do.

Tip: Have a notebook on hand in your workspace. It comes in handy when you're working in batches, because you can jot down those, "Oops, I forgot to ..." items or ideas without distracting you from your current task.

8. Know when to quit.

There are times when focusing on writing or on the task on hand just won't happen. The sooner you can stop and move to a new task (or stop working entirely), the better. Not only will it help you avoid burnout, but it will also give you a chance to break out of the rut and hopefully give your mind a break.

If you can, leave your workspace. Your brain is telling you to take a break, so use the time to move around, go outside, or do something away from the computer. Breaks like this can you relax, and might also give your mind the space it needs to overcome blocks and fill in those pesky plot holes.

9. Schedule when possible.

Schedule social media and blog posts in advance, and -- if you are checking in on social media -- schedule set times for being online. Give yourself 30 minutes a day, for example, to tweet, post on Facebook, share Instagram photos. Although you might not stick to this forever, try it for at least a week. You might be surprised how much time you can free up by limiting your social media -- without hurting your online platform.

Tip: I use BoardBooster to schedule pins, and it's helped me free up SO much time while still giving me a way to build my presence on Pinterest (which brings me most of my traffic). Use my BoardBooster referral link, and you can try it for free -- you get 100+ pins to start and it gives you more than enough time to see if the app is a good fit for you. Try BoardBooster free!

I share exactly how I schedule blog posts and use social media in my free Build a Better Blog Challenge for writers. Click the image below to join!

Build a better blog in 2016: A community-building challenge for writers and bloggers who want to up their blogging game. A FREE workbook, seven-lesson course, and online workshop replay, plus support to help you focus your blogging goals and create a content plan for 2016. Click through to join and sign up to get your FREE workbook!

I hope these tips help you free up more time and increase your productivity. If you found this post valuable, I would appreciate it if you used the links below to share it!

Now it's your turn: Do you have productivity tips to share?