Why Taking Breaks Can Be Good For Writers

Today’s post is inspired by the all-too-familiar phrase, “If you don’t write every day, you’re not a real writer.”

hamster wheel for sale
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Would we ever tell a teacher, “If you don’t teach every day, you’re not a real teacher.”?Would we tell this kind of thing to a lawyer? A doctor? A cook? A janitor? Take your pick of any profession out there. Which fits into the “If you don’t do X every every, you’re not a real X?

If we truly believe that to be a “real” something, then why don’t we make everyone work seven days a week? Why don’t we tell them they must work 365 days a year, except in the case of leap year. In that case, it’s 366.

Do you see how absurd this sounds? Why is it writers are held to this standard? There’s no reasonable explanation for it.

Here’s the truth: a real writer is one who writes.

Writing is the only thing a writer must do to be a real writer. It doesn’t matter how often they write. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow they write. It doesn’t matter if they write by daily word counts or by a certain number of scenes or chapters that day. It doesn’t matter if they write only one book at a time or work on multiple books at the same time. It doesn’t matter if they write first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening. It doesn’t matter if they write in 15 minute chunks at a time or if they reserve two hours of nonstop writing at the keyboard. (Now, it might benefit a writer to step away from the computer to avoid eye strain, something I deal with, or to avoid hurting your wrist or back. But that has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a real writer.)

You know what does matter?

The quality of the story.

I realize this isn’t popular thinking. We’re led to believe that if we take days off or go on vacations (while leaving all writing behind), we’re lazy. Because if we truly loved writing–if it was our real passion–we would have to do it every single day. I’ve read the “write every day” advice in blog posts and books. I’ve seen it in videos and heard it in podcasts. It seems to be everywhere. I’m not saying that every single writer says this. But a lot do. And quite frankly, I’m sick of hearing it.

I think it’s time to change the mindset on this one. Breaks are good for the health and wellbeing of the writer. They allow the creative mind a chance to simmer over what’s going on in the story. They offer us a chance to spend time with friends and family. They offer us a chance to pursue something else that will help us grow as individuals. They give us freedom to be a more well-rounded person. And I think they will actually make us better writers.

I used to think that if I took the weekends off, I would lose momentum in writing. My daily word count goal is 3,000 words. I used to think, “I’ll lose 6,000 words if I don’t write on Saturday and Sunday.” But something funny happened. I noticed my daily word count went from an average of 3,000 words to about 1,500 when I pushed myself to write every day. No matter how hard I tried, I kept getting blocked because I hit a point in the story where I didn’t know what to do next. So I had to force myself to stop and give myself time to get the creativity flowing again. You know what happened? When I came back to the story, the ideas returned. The words came a lot easier. And I think I ended up telling a better story because I could see the characters moving around and hear what they were saying as if I was watching a movie. My average word count on days I wrote went from 1,5000 to 3,000 again. I’m able to get more done on writing days again. I owe that all to the breaks.

Breaks are great. Breaks allow writers to work smarter, not harder. I think breaks help buffer writers from burnout. I understand you’ll often make more money if you publish more often, but sooner or later, you’ll only be able to publish so much. We’re not robots.

We’re human beings. Human beings need rest. All writing every single day is going to get you is the sensation that you’re a hamster in a wheel that just spins around and around. It depletes you of your energy, and it takes time away from other things that are also important. Yes, writing is important, but it’s NOT the only thing that’s important. Next time someone tries to make you feel like you’re not a real writer because you don’t write every day, politely smile and leave them to their hamster wheel. Just because they want to run around in it, it doesn’t mean you have to.

NEW RELEASE! Two 2017 Planners Designed with Writer’s in Mind

This month I released two planners through Lulu with writer’s in mind. The 2017 Task & Project Planner and the 2017 Writer’s Notebook Planner. I thought I would share the article posted on my blog for anyone who is interested in them.

I wish all those participating in NaNoWriMo the best of luck this next month. Have fun!

Stephannie Beman

Tackling Common Issues That Can Overwhelm Writers

Lorna Faith invited me on to her podcast, Create a Story You Love, to discuss topics that we will most likely face at one time or another as writers.  Below I will hit on the highlights of the interview, but you can listen to it all by going to iTunes, her blog post, or by watching the You Tube video below.

I want to give a special thanks for Lorna Faith for having me on her podcast.  I know a lot of work went into it.

I’m going to highlight and embellish some of the interview below, but I’m not doing a word-by-word transcript of it.

Why write?

One of the best reasons to write is because you have a story you’re dying to read that hasn’t been done yet.  But, you might find opposition when you decide to pursue writing this story.  (Even if you have a backlist already, people in your circle might not be supportive of the story you have in mind.  My family still won’t touch my romances.)  I would advise you to write the story anyway.  No one but you can write your story.  You will bring your own unique voice and twists to it that no one else can do.  That’s one of the beauties of working in a creative field.  Your story is as unique as your fingerprint.

Working backwards to create a writing/publishing schedule.

I like to work backwards.  This is a method where you pick your release dates and then work your way back to what you need to do to get there.  One reason I love pre-orders is because it forces me to put down deadlines.  I estimate out three months longer for each book than I think it’ll actually take for me to get it done.

The further out you can set these deadlines, the better you can get organized on what you need to do.

For example, let’s say I put July 20 as a release date for a 60,000-word novel.

  1.  I figure it’ll take my editing team (two editors and 2-3 beta readers) a month to do their job.  So I have to have my book ready for my editing team on June 1.
  2. I contact my editors and cover artist to let them know my time frame for the book so they have enough time to pencil me into their schedules.  (The more advance notice you can give them, the smoother things are.)
  3. From there, I’ll count down how many words I need to write a day in that story in order to have it ready on June 1.  Today (as I’m writing this), it is Feb. 7.
  4. I write 5 days a week.  The 2 days off are either catch up days (say a kid gets sick and I can’t write) or it’s a day to take a break to avoid burnout.  Either way, I give myself 2 days a week to take a breather of some sort.  This way I don’t stress myself out.
  5. Counting back from May 31, I find I have 81 days of actual writing to get this book done as long as I start on Monday, Feb. 8.  (I like to work Monday through Friday when my kids are in school.)
  6. I divide the 81 days I have to write by the 60,000 word count goal.  This is 740.74.  Or 741 words a day I need to hit for each writing day.
  7. If I remove all the distractors (internet, TV, phone calls), I can write 741 words in 45 minutes, but I’ll allow myself an hour.
  8. If I’m overwhelmed by the thought of writing the 741 words on a certain day, I’ll start with a small goal of 250 words.  From there, I’ll add another 250 words.  Then I’ll add in the rest to finish up 741.  250 words is a lot less intimidating than a higher word count.
  9. When I get to chapter 10 in the story, I’ll start the initial round of edits.  I will edit 2 chapters a night. Doing this will ensure I have a second draft ready to go by the day I finish my book.  It takes me about an hour to edit 2 chapters.  I need it quiet and distraction-free when I do this.  I usually start while I brush my teeth and finish up in the bedroom while everyone else is in the living room.
  10. I hand in my second draft to my editing team at the same time.  (If I was a beginning writer, I would separate these out, but I have over 50 full-length books by now and am familiar with my process to make this work.  If you’re starting out, give yourself 3-4 months of edits so you can go and change things your editing team finds.)
  11. While the editing team is working on my book, I give it another read through, again doing this in the evenings.
  12. I give myself about 3 weeks for the finished version of the book to be uploaded via Smashords and Amazon to hit my pre-order date.  You can upload 10 days in advance and be fine, but I like to have it in for a longer period of time to play it safe.

Writing a character that is emotionally engaging.

The key to writing the emotionally engaging character is to write with our hearts instead of our head.  I have since done a couple of blog posts on this topic, so I’ll let you read those if interested.   Introduction to the Emotionally Engaging Character, Point of View, and A Deeper Look Into Point of View.

Marketing for Introverts

  1.  Pick 2-3 social things you are interested in doing.  If you’re interested in it, chances are you’ll stick with it.
  2. Build relationships and get to know people.  Sometimes you can bounce ideas around for a future book and get an idea of what your audience wants.
  3. Use your profile to let people know you have books and where to find them.
  4. Build an email list.  (I use MailChimp.)
  5. Bookbub will let you create an author profile where you can list your books.  People can follow you and be notified when you have a new book out.
  6. Book Launch pages will let you link to all retailers where you have a book up for pre-order.  When your book is out, simply update the page.
  7. Use back matter in your book to advertise your next book and email list.

When things get tough, what can you do?

Focus on the positive feedback you’ve gotten in emails, in blog comments, on Facebook, and through other avenues.  Reminding yourself that people out there do like your work can really help you get through the rough patches of bad reviews and lack of sales.  If you have some writer friends you can talk to about the ups and downs of the business, you’ll remind yourself you’re not alone.  Sometimes it helps to know you’re not the only person going through the downside of this business.

Ultimately, though, it all boils down to whether you (as the writer) like the book?  Would you write the book again if given the chance?  If you enjoy the book, that book was worth writing, and it has value.

Tips For Surviving NaNoWriMo

As we all know, National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, is just around the corner (though considering it’s done all over the world these days, it might need a name change). If you are not familiar with the tradition, it’s basically that every year authors try to write a novel in the course of a single month, usually one that’s around fifty-thousand words, and always in November. Of the authors that choose to participate each year, some do it independently, while others do it through an international organization that can hook them up with other participating writers in their region and even let them know about local events centered on helping authors during the month.

I’m on the fence on whether or not I’ll be participating this year. I’ve three other books at various stages of editing and I have to decide if one of those books needs to be rewritten (if so, then I’m participating because that’s basically starting from scratch). Even so, I thought I’d serve the writing community and do my civic duty by posting some notes on how to survive and get through NaNoWriMo with all your fingers still attached to you and your sanity somewhat intact.

Because let’s face it, writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days? I don’t know about the rest of you, but normally that many words takes me six to eight months. Cramming all that work into a month, we need all the help and advice we can get.

So first off, don’t get stressed about the word count. To get fifty-thousand words written in thirty days, you’d have to write approximately 1,667 words, or about 6.7 pages per day.* I know for a lot of writers it’s difficult to get that much out in a single day. The thing to remember is not to feel upset if you can’t force yourself to get that many words out per day. Remember, all good stories take time, and there’s no prizes for meeting daily quotas (the NaNoWriMo organization hands out badges, but they’re like the ones from Audible, nice to have when you get them but they don’t make much of a difference after you get them) or getting the full fifty-thousand words written out besides bragging rights. Besides, if you have to force yourself to put out words when your heart is not in them or just to meet a quota, your first draft might not turn out so well.

That’s another thing: remember that this is a first draft. And a rushed one, too. So if you look at what you’ve written and wonder what the heck you were thinking, that’s a normal reaction to a first draft. They’re supposed to be full of errors and passages that make no sense to you upon the second read-through. It’s during that second read-through that you touch it up and get it closer to the gem that you know it’s going to be.

Now that we’ve gotten the tips that’ll keep you in a good frame of mind out of the way, let’s cover how we actually survive NaNoWriMo:

Prior to November, research and prepare. We’ve still got twenty-two days till NaNoWriMo kicks off. During that time, it might help for you to get an idea of what you’re working on, where it might be heading, and maybe learn a bit more about the subject matter you’re writing, especially if it’s a topic you don’t know very well (like a murder mystery in Tang China or a coming-of-age story set in an ROTC unit). Now I know a lot of you might like to write by the seat of your pants, but just doing a little bit of prep can be helpful, especially if it means you don’t have to stop midway through writing because you realized you don’t know a thing about car maintenance and you lose four days because you got a car maintenance manual and needed to cram all that info in.

It also helps to prepare so that you can make plans in case you have to stop writing for any reason. Whether you need to attend a wedding midway through the month or you have to put the metaphorical quill down because you have a Poli Sci exam coming up you need to study for, having a contingency plan in case that happens can work wonders.

Speaking of which, while it is important to get out as much writing as possible, make sure not to neglect your life just to write. Many of us have day jobs, school, families, friends, and a variety of other things that require our attention. While it is important to write and maybe give up a few social obligations or fun outings to work, don’t neglect the real world entirely. I find the real world can not only give me great ideas for stories, but also reenergize me so that when I sit down to write, I’m not restless and looking for a distraction or yearning to go out and see the latest horror movie or something.

And while you’re working so hard, remember to take care of your health. In some ways, NaNoWriMo is like the last three weeks of a college semester: you’ve got a ton of work to do, only so much time to do it, and you’re willing to get maybe four hours a night of sleep and eat ramen noodles three times a day if that’s what it takes to get through it on top. I’m advising against that. There are no consequences to not getting out the full fifty-thousand words, so your health shouldn’t be a consequence of trying to. Get plenty of sleep each night, eat healthy meals, and get some exercise too if you can, even if it’s just going for a walk. You’ll find you’ll have more energy for writing if you do, believe me.

It’s also healthy to take an occasional break. We all need time to recharge and let our brains focus. So if you feel approaching burnout or writer’s block, or if you can’t figure out where your story should go next, or if you’re just so tired of writing about a princess trying to cover up her father’s murder so she doesn’t have to marry against her will, then maybe a trip out to the movies or to the bar with your friends or some fun family time or an all-night Mario Kart tournament with your roommates might be what you need. Studies actually show that ideas come more easily to you if you’re distracted, so there’s even more reason to take a break right there.

And if you need a little motivation to keep you going, reward yourself for certain milestones. For every five-thousand words or so you put out, reward yourself with something fun. This could be a favorite dessert, watching Netflix for a little while, whatever you want. Give yourself something extra special when you reach fifty-thousand words and/or finish the book (I suggest some wine, some celebration music, and later a good movie with a friend). You’ll find it much easier to write if you have something to look forward to after all your hard work.

And let’s not forget to build a support network around yourself. The NaNoWriMo organization attempts to do this by putting you in touch with other participants in your area and with community events, but whether or not you decide to participate in these events, you should still have people around you encouraging and cheering you on. Friends, family, lovers, authors you’re friends with online or offline, they should all be there for you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have people cheering me on and willing to read my work every time I publish during the rest of the year. Imagine how motivating it’ll be when you know there’s a group of people standing behind you when you do the writing equivalent of a 5K.

Finally, take a long break when you’re done. Not just from writing so you can get your creative juices to recharge, but also take a break from whatever novel you were working on once you’re done. I always feel that a month or more between drafts allows for writers to come back to their first drafts with fresh eyes so they can see where they made mistakes in the first draft and correct them. If you start editing immediately after finishing the first draft, you can only see it as the baby you just poured so much time and energy into and miss quite a lot. Better to take a break and let it lie until you’re ready to look again.

I’d like to wrap it up here and wish everyone participating next month good luck. Whatever you do to make the month of November one of the most productive and crazy of the year, I hope you found these tips helpful and that you have fun trying to get a full novel out in thirty days.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

What tips do you have for getting through the month and writing as much as you can in so little time?

*That’s if you write like I do, which is Times New Roman, 12 point font, and double spaced on 8.5” x 11” paper. Otherwise it varies.

A Case for Pre-Orders

Whether you do a pre-order or not is up to you, but I thought I’d take time to discuss the advantages of them in case you’re wondering if they’re worth it or not.

Why do Pre-Orders?

ID 44483490 © Yuryz | Dreamstime.com
ID 44483490 © Yuryz | Dreamstime.com

Make things easier.

I had done some pre-orders last year, and I took for granted how much easier it made my life.  It wasn’t until I published two books this spring that I realized how much work goes into putting up a book on release day.  Worse, I was uploading directly to Kobo and Barnes & Noble instead of using Smashwords to take care of that for me.  I always upload directly to Amazon and Smashwords, even with pre-orders.  With pre-orders, I use Smashwords to deliver the books to all the channels that will take pre-orders (including Barnes & Noble and Kobo).  I have always used Smashwords to go to iBooks and the other channels.

Anyway, when I was uploading to Smashwords with my most recent book (after I had already uploaded to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo earlier that day), I looked at the clock and realized I had spent the better part of my entire day uploading to all these sites and making sure every page was there in the preview.  I had to go back and correct a couple of formatting errors, so that also slowed down my process.  Then Barnes & Noble wanted a smaller size book cover than the other channels did, which took some time to resize the image my cover artist had given me.

It was when I was uploading to Smashwords that I had a lightning bolt moment.  “This uploading to all these different sites sucks.”  By doing everyone at one place, I had saved myself a lot of time…and a massive headache.

Save on time.

When I was doing those pre-orders, I had the final version up and ready to go well before the release date.  All I did was plug the metadata information and manuscript into KDP (which had already been done ahead of time because of all the work I’d already done at Smashwords).  Then Smashwords distributed it everywhere for me.  So all I had to do at Amazon was upload there, and it took thirty minutes (including the time I took to make sure everything was formatted correctly).

Then I could send out the email list and post the information on my blog and update my website.  When I uploaded everything to all four sites on the same day, I was too tired to do updates or the email list.  I had to wait for the next day.

I got to be honest.  I love assetless pre-orders on Smashwords.  They are awesome time savers.  If you have no cover yet, you don’t need to put it up.  Instead, you can upload the metadata (the title, the description, the categories, keywords) and the release date.  You can also go back and change the title if you want.  My advice is to estimate further out than you expect you’ll have the book, though you can always push it back if you need to.

I hesitate to use Amazon for pre-orders.  I’ve heard some stories where an author didn’t do something right and they got banned from doing any more pre-orders for some time (it was a year, I think).  I know there are advantages to doing them on Amazon, but I’m afraid I would slip and risk getting banned from it.  So I’d rather just use Smashwords.  Smashwords is mistake proof, and for people like me who make mistakes from time to time, it makes me feel a lot better.

Build Up Sales Prior to Release Date

Kobo and iBooks will accumulate the sales and apply it to the release date.  So all the pre-order sales will show up as if they were made on release day.  That will add on top of the sales actually made on the release day.  This gives you better potential to show up on a category list at the store.

Amazon doesn’t do it this way.  Amazon will build up the sales up to the release date, but on the release date, you start back at 0.  It’s the actual sales you make that day that count for the day.  I’m not sure if I’m making sense on this distinction or not.  To me, this is a potential con to doing pre-orders over there, but I’ve heard some convincing arguments that pre-orders on Amazon can still be worthwhile.  (For example, your first reviews are more likely to be from fans who bought it on pre-order.)  So you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons and decide if it’s a good choice for you.  My publisher is going to try pre-orders on Amazon with two of my books, so we’ll see what happens.

In closing, I’d love to know your thoughts on pre-orders.

Do you see other pros I didn’t?  Do you see some cons?  (Though I didn’t list them, I know there are some cons.) Have pre-orders been worth it to you?  Was pre-ordering ineffective?  Any advice you’d like to give about doing pre-orders effectively?  The more input we have, the better we can help answer other people’s questions.

And if you have any questions, please ask.  I might not know the answer, but maybe someone commenting will and can answer the question.  As they say, “Two heads are better than one.”

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Next time, I’ll discuss ideas on how to market a pre-order.

When Should You Release a New Book?

Recently I wondered what the best time to release a new book was. Obviously you would want to release something scary prior to Halloween, something romantic right before Valentine’s Day, something full of snow and holiday cheer right before Christmas, etc. But what about the rest of the year? Are there days that are lucky for self-published authors? Is there a time of year that can help you get more copies into people’s hands? I was determined to find out.

Now despite my best efforts, I only have three books out at the moment (though I am working on getting more out soon), so I couldn’t rely on just my own experience ot answer this question. So when in doubt, I do what I normally do: ask the writing groups I belong to on Facebook. The answers I got were quite informative.

Of course there were the tips to release seasonal stuff around their seasons, but there was a ton more advice that I found quite interesting. One author’s observations was that people prefer introspective works in the summer (makes sense, seeing as I just read Go Set a Watchman) and mysteries and thrillers in the fall (that is when JK Rowling is releasing her next detective novel). Another author liked to follow the movie release schedule, releasing books whenever there’s a movie coming out in the same genre as his book. He also felt that people prefer laughter in winter months, “light and airy reads” in spring, adventure stories in the summer, and scary stuff in autumn.

Probably the most helpful advice I got from a woman who had recently read an article on the subject (which I wish I had a link for, but so far I have been unable to find the article). According to the article she read, the best time of year to run a promotion was the two weeks after Christmas. According to her, something about a free or discounted book after the holidays gets people buying, and that allowed her to retire from her day job and pick up writing full-time (which is something I’ll have to try).

Some other tips she gave included:

  • The best days of the month to release a book is between the 7th and the 14th.
  • If you’re self-publishing, don’t release your book on a Tuesday, because most big publishing houses release on Tuesday and you’d be in direct competition with them (wish I’d known that when I released my second novel). Instead, try to release on the weekend if you want good sales. Those days seem to be good days to publish for independent authors.
  • And if you’re trying to hit some bestseller list, release on Sunday or Monday. According to industry data, that’s a good time for self-published authors.

The one thing that all these authors seemed to agree on is that there was never a bad time to release a book. It was never directly stated in any of the comments I got, but it seemed to be implied. Sure, apparently Tuesdays might not be the wisest day of the week to release a book, but other than that there aren’t any days or times of the year when authors will doom themselves publishing a book.

And you know, I can’t help but see that as a good thing. Just means there are plenty of opportunities for authors to publish their books and maybe pull out a bestseller from them. And we all want that for our books, don’t we?

Does the advice here match your own experiences with publishing?

What advice do you have on the best time to publish a book?

Stages of Writing a Book: Post #3 (Writing the Book)

In this video, Janet Syas Nitsick and I discuss the actual writing part of creating the book.  You will have to find your own way of fitting writing into your schedule, but the key is you need to find time to write because if you don’t, the book will never get done.

So you need to explore what system works best for you.  For the busy mom, that might be writing in the midst of interruptions.  For someone with a “day job”, it might be writing during a break or when you’re at home.  Someone else might find it best to write at night, and someone else may write first thing in the morning.

Another factor is what your goal is for the day/week.  Maybe you want to have a daily/weekly word count goal.  Maybe you want to sit down for a certain amount of time each day/week.

Another factor is whether you want to plot our your book, write by the seat of your pants, or a mixture of both.

Also, some people write only one book at a time, and others can write a couple at once.

Find the methods that work best for you and do them.

But the bottom line is you need to write.  There will be days when you don’t feel like it.  Sometimes, you’ll just have to make yourself do it, just as you’d have to make yourself work at a job someone hired you to do. If you’re serious about writing, you need to do it.

Now, there are times when it really just isn’t working.  No matter how much you try, you can’t write.  In cases like this, find something else you can do during that time to be productive.  This could be writing and scheduling blog posts (which is what I’m doing today).  This post won’t go up until May 3, but I’m getting it set up on April 12 on a non-writing day.  Another thing you can do is catch up on your emails, work on your website, come up with a cover idea for your next book, or engage in social media in a meaningful way (meaning, no games or looking at pictures of adorable kittens).  You can do the games and look at pictures when you’re in your “free time”, not during your writing time.  The writing time needs to be dedicated to your business in some way.

Out of curiosity, what is your writing routine like?  Are you writing all throughout the day like I am?  Or do you set aside specific times to write like Janet does?  Do you have word count goals?  Are you a plotter, panster, or a mixture of both?  What methods work best for you?

Being More Efficient

I recently read a magazine article that said people who are successful in various fields spend no more than 4-5 hours a day doing their work.*  The idea is not how much you work, but how focused you are when you work.  This got me thinking about what we do as writers.  The most important thing we can do is write.  Without a book, we won’t have a product.

While I think social networking is good for building up a platform, establishing a brand, and making connections, I don’t think it’s the way you will sell the most books.  For more on why I believe this, read Kristen Lamb’s blog post “Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales”.  I see no reason to restate her main points.  Social networking in all its forms is about connecting with people.  I do think it’s important, but writing is way more important.  If all you’re doing is social networking, you’re missing out on the most crucial component of making money: your next book.   I see a lot of authors who write a book and all they do is promote that book.  They spend very little time writing their next one.  That is a huge mistake.

So in wondering, “How can we work more efficiently (instead of more) to get more books out there?” This is what I came up with after doing some research over the past couple months:

1.  Make a list of your priorities.

The things that are most important need to be first on the list.  I suggest making the daily list short.  That way, it’s not overwhelming.

You can make a list of things you want to do for the month and break that down across the days in the month.  For example, let’s say I want to edit my book.  I know some people are able to do this in 1-2 days.  I can only do 2 chapters a day.  So one of my monthly projects would be “edit Book X”.  Book X is 20 chapters.  What I’ll do is break down this task by marking down 2 chapters each day that I’ll edit.  (By the way, I do have other people edit my book, too.  To do it only by myself would drive me insane.)

A s a writer, the most important thing on your list should be writing one of your current projects.  Whatever the word count is, try to get something written that day.  Some people write on specific days.  Like, “I’ll write for 2 hours on Wednesday and Saturday”.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Just make sure that is the priority for those days so it gets done before the other stuff.

I don’t write every single day.  I find if I push myself too hard, I end up shutting down, so I let myself take a break.  But I usually write six days a week.  If there’s a writer’s conference or family vacation, I obviously don’t write for longer spurts of time.  You need to find the best fit for you.  The key is to be consistent.  Train your mind to get into the writing zone at certain times.

I find it’s best to write first then do other things on my list (write a blog post, edit, answer emails, etc) come after I’m done writing. Why?  Because writing is the most important thing I’m doing. 😀

2.  Learn to say no.

We can’t be everywhere and do everything.  This includes social networking.  We have to pick the most important things that will get us toward our goals.  I’m assuming people reading this post have writing as one of their prime goals.  So you need to say yes to writing your stories.  Things you might have to say no to could be stuff like making your house spic and span clean 24-7, watching TV, critiquing another person’s book, spending time on a forum, or playing a game.  This is where the list of priorities come in handy.  Anything that isn’t on that priority list are things you could say no to.

Regarding critiques, I have gotten emails requesting critiques.  The best way to handle this is by telling the person wanting a critique that there are local writing groups, online writing groups, and editors who do this for a living.  It’s in a writer’s best interest to find people who are qualified to do critiques.  Contacting a stranger is not in their best interest.  The best thing is to develop relationships with other writers so they can form groups and/or get referrals to quality editors.  Now, I have done edits for people I’m super-duper close to (that’s a very small list), and they have returned the favor.  This is a cooperative arrangement, not one where I do all the work all the time.  Sharing is wonderful.  But share with people you trust to give you honest input, and give them honest input in return.  Be nice but share your honest opinion.  Both is possible.

Another big area is strangers requesting reviews.  This is a no-win situation.  First, you’d have to give up time writing (making money) in order to read someone else’s book (one you might not even like).  I’m fine with reviewing books you want to review.  I still review books.  But there’s no reason to review books you don’t want to review.  This is a time suck.

Yes, it’s not a fun feeling saying no when someone wants us to do something, but it’s absolutely necessary at times.   And yes, there will be people who will be mad at us for not doing what they want.  But hey, you can’t please everyone all the time.  You have a right and a responsibility to do write your books.

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I was going to write more, but I’m almost at 1,000 words so I’ll end this post here. 😀

*Article: “Do More, Faster!” from SUCCESS magazine, April 2014.

Developing a Strategy for What You Write and A Publishing Schedule

Your goals for writing should help you develop a strategy for what you write and establishing a publishing schedule.

If you are writing solely for yourself, then there’s no need for you to read further.  You are free to write whatever you want and publish anytime you want. 😀

If, however, you are writing for yourself and others or for others, then this post is for you.

The first step is to figure out what you are going to write.

This depends on who you are writing for.  Who is your audience?  Pick some self-published and traditionally published books that are selling well in the area you want to write.  Then list down common things that are in all or most of the books.  For example, let’s look at romance.  The most basic element in a romance is the happy ending.  Dividing it down to Regencies, I’ve noticed scandals do pretty well or there is a rake who will be reformed before the book is over.  Those aren’t the only common elements in popular Regencies, but there is definitely a preference for those things that Regency lovers enjoy.  Another thing you might look at is heat level or violence level.  Is it PG, PG 13, R?  A Christian romance noted for its G or PG content will not appeal to the romance reader who prefers R content.  This is why you not only look at the overall genre but you break it down into subcategories within the genre and pick out similarities in those.

Once you have listed 3-5 common elements that you have noticed in the books you want to write, think of ways you can incorporate them into your book.  This is not taking someone else’s idea and rewriting it.  This is taking basic components that can’t be copyrighted and making a plot around them.

For example, if you decide to write a Regency, then you’ll want to pick out a couple of things that might make the story more likely to appeal to your target audience.  (Understand, of course, that doing this doesn’t guarantee a certain number of sales but it might help your book be more appealing to your audience.  There is never a guarantee of sales, no matter what you do.)  Anyway, back to the Regency example.  Let’s say the writer picks out 3 common things: a scandal, a rake who will be reformed, and a happy ending.  The writer then sits down and picks out, “What will be the scandal?” Then the writer decides, “Who is my rake?  What made him that way?  How will the heroine reform him?” And finally, “How will these two get a happy ending?”

All I did in the example above was take the common trends in popular books in a particular genre and apply elements in it that I could incorporate into my own story.  This way, I do have a unique story, but I am also keeping my audience in mind.  So I’m able to write for myself and for them.

The second step is to figure out a publishing schedule.

Write.

Unless you’re publishing books, you’re not going to have the chance to make money.  This doesn’t mean you sacrifice quality or skimp on editing.   What it means is you get serious about writing.  The only way a book is going to get written is for you to sit down and write.  And yes, I know this is easier said than done.  There are days when I don’t get much more than a couple sentences down.  Sometimes I have to sit down for 15 minutes and write down anything because writing is like pulling teeth and I have to force it.  It’s not fun.  But I’ve learned the muse is fickle and you can’t wait until you’re “in the mood” to do it.  This is why I reward myself for writing on those days with a something I like.

Write whenever you can.

I understand how hard it is to write when you have no set routine.  As much as I’ve tried to set a routine, I just haven’t been able to do it.  Just because I work at home, it doesn’t mean those around me leave me alone.  I am bombarded with stuff all the time.  Some people can do a routine and do very well at it.  Others just write whenever they have a moment to spare.  I am the “moment to spare” kind of writer.  I start first thing in the morning and stop in the early evening.  Throughout the day, I’m taking care of the family, doing the chores around the house, and trying to work in emails and blog posts.   Write however and whenever you can.

The next book is the best marketing tool you control.

Depending on how fast you can write and get a book edited, you may not be able to publish as often as another writer.  That’s fine.  Do the pacing that works best for you.  Just understand that if you’re not getting a book out, it’s going to be harder for people to remember you for when your next one comes out.  Social networking has its place, but I still think the best marketing tool an author has is the actual book.  The percentage of people who buy and read books is higher than the percentage who pal around with authors on a social networking site.

How often to publish depends on your situation but try to keep it consistent.

I read a blog post years ago that said you need to publish four books a year to maintain a living as a writer.  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  It would depend on how well your books sell.  A book that hits the top 100 paid in any store is going to go further than four books that only sell one copy a month.  But my thinking is that having a couple books out a year will increase your chances of getting noticed and retaining your current fan base than if you only did 0-1 book a year.  Something new helps remind people you are still out there and will keep them searching for new books.  Email lists are good for that, too.

I would suggest whatever publishing schedule you choose, that you make it as consistent as possible.  Some people write an entire trilogy and then publish one book a month.  Nothing’s wrong with that.  Some people publish every six months. That’s fine too.  I tend to publish whenever I have a book ready, and since my average is six books a year, that’s doable because of how many I have going out annually.  If you only publish once a year, maybe choose a particular month so your readers get used to looking for your newest book around that time of year.  Maybe you can send out teaser scenes or character interviews once a month to remind people you’re working on the next book in the meantime if you don’t publish frequently.

Rewarding Yourself for Small Victories and Keep On Learning and A Couple Templates To Help With 2014

Reward Yourself for Small Victories

When I say reward yourself for small victories, I mean to reward yourself for things you can control.  While it’s fun to celebrate if you have a great month of sales or get on a bestseller’s list or win an award, these are things we can’t control.  We can’t make people buy our books and we can’t make judges vote on our books.  I think it’s important to celebrate those things because you want to enjoy the good times when they come, and it will help you appreciate the good things that happen. 

But I think rewarding ourselves when we accomplish the small victories is equally important.  I think when you do that, it’ll be easier to stay motivated.  If you’re relying on external sources to validate who you are as a writer, then you run the risk of wanting to give up.  If you’re focused on what you are doing, then it’s easier to keep going no matter what else is going on.

Below, I’m uploading some things that I hope can help track your progress this year.  Let’s say you get on a regular writing schedule and start making it a part of your daily/weekly habit.  That’s a small victory that should be rewarded.  Say you actually met your daily/weekly goal.  Reward yourself for that.  By breaking things up into smaller pieces, I think they become easier to attain.

Some examples of rewards might be watching a movie with a friend, drinking your favorite cup of tea/coffee, reading a book, or going out to your favorite restaurant.  These are unlimited possibilities with this one.  I think the small victories should be frequent and given small rewards.  The larger goals are the ones that should have larger rewards.  (For example, I finish a novel and publish it.  Great.  Now I can buy the dress I’ve been eyeing for a while.)  That’s what I mean by the larger the goal, the larger the reward.  🙂

Keep on Learning

No matter how much you’ve learned, there’s always more to learn.  I know this sounds basic, but I think there’s a danger of thinking you’ve learned everything you can so you stop striving to improve.  This business is one that keeps changing, and it can be overwhelming.

There are various sources out there to choose from as you seek to increase your knowledge of the writing and business side of writing.  Pick up books from people in the business you admire.  Read blog posts.   Watch videos.  Listen to podcasts.  Read magazines.  Go to conferences.  You don’t have to do all of these.  Just do the ones you’re interested in.  You don’t need to be all over the place.

Some Resources I Am Using in 2014 To Keep Learning (if anyone wants some ideas):

I love magazine articles because they’re short and can be read when you only have several minutes to spare.  Some sitting on my desk are Entrepreneur, Fast CompanySuccess, and Writer’s Digest.  (The first three deal with business principles that can help you think like a small business owner instead of a “just a writer”.)  There are other magazines out there, but these were the ones that caught my interest when I was in Barnes and Noble the other day.  I also found Entrepreneur and Fast Company at Office Max.  You can also find articles to read online at the links I posted above with the mention of the magazines.

Two books I have on my desk are How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn and Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World by Kristen Lamb.

Blogs I love to read are Kristen Kathryn RuschDean Wesley Smith, Kristen Lamb’s Blog, and The Creative Penn.  I have read and enjoyed their books for writers in the past.  I also see there are some online workshops that might be of interest.  (We no longer have to physically go to a conference if we don’t want to.)  I also enjoy The Creative Penn’s podcast which you can find on the link to The Creative Penn that I listed above.

If anyone has any favorite books, magazines, podcasts, blogs, etc to share, please do.  The more resources we know about, the better.  I know my list is a small one and that there is a ton of great resources out there.  🙂

Some Templates To Help in 2014 With Keeping On a Routine

I am going to upload a Word (.doc) file and a pdf file.  With the Word one, you should be able to go in and tweak on it to fit your needs.  But with pdf one, you can’t.  I decided to also make a pdf because some people don’t have Word and I thought it’d be easier for them to get the pdf instead.

Now, I have word count goals, but you might have a time goal or project goal instead.  These templates aren’t meant to be set in stone.  They are just to give you an idea of what you can do.  And maybe they’ll give you some ideas of templates you can make up.   They are free to print out and use as you wish.

Routine Organizer for blog (Word document)

Routine Organizer for blog (PDF)

Daily Word Counts Template (Word document)

Daily Word Counts Template (PDF)

Weekly Word Counts Template (Word document)

Weekly Word Counts Template (PDF)

Book Publishing Planner in Word (this was modified from the one Stephannie Beman gave me)

Book Publishing Planner in PDF (modified from the one Stephannie Beman gave me)

*A quick shout out to Stephannie Beman who got me thinking about even making up templates to track my goals and progress to begin with.  Thanks!  🙂