The Inner Dialogue: A Method for Figuring Out Your Stories

So if you didn’t hear, a novel I’ve been working on since college is getting published, and I’ve been working with a professional editor to make sure that the story is the best it can be before publication. During the revision process, we agreed that the number of flashbacks in the story were actually getting in the way of the story, so I should nix them. Unfortunately, that meant a third of the book went out the window, and another third that relied on that first third had to go as well.

Yeah, that got me depressed for a little while, and it took a lot for me to climb out of that funk. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m actually here to talk about what happened with my story. Because you see, now that essentially the majority of the novel had been chucked out, I had to figure out where to go with the story. I couldn’t go the original direction of the story, because the flashbacks I’d tossed out were so essential to that direction.

Luckily, I was able to come up with a new direction for the story using a method that I’d never used before, which I call the inner dialogue. I can’t remember where I picked this method up,* but it’s stayed in the back of my mind for years, and I figured this was as good a situation as any to use it.

The inner dialogue is where you simulate a conversation with your inner writer (we all have one) when you’re struggling with what to do with a story. This could be trying to overcome writer’s block, figuring out why what a character is doing in the story feels wrong to you, having to rewrite a majority of the story, or any other issue you may be having during the writing/editing process of a story.

Here’s what you have to do:

Get a notebook and pen, or a typewriter and paper, or open up your preferred writing program on your computer. Imagine that you’re sitting down with your inner writer at a cafe, in your favorite writing spot, in a dark basement underneath a seedy dive bar, wherever you feel most comfortable talking to your inner writer. And have an honest conversation with them, writing down what you say and writing down what your inner writer says back. Think of it like texting, only you’re texting with a part of your mind you use for storytelling.

Bounce ideas off them, talk about the criticisms people have with the story, discuss what about the story is bugging you. Something about this method, writing out the problems and some possible situations to remedy this, allows your mind to open up and see new possibilities and solutions.

It might also make people wonder if you’re channeling spirits and doing automatic writing and/or if you’re having some sort of psychological crisis. But I think that’s a risk worth taking for finding what you need to make a story as good as it possibly can be.

Here’s an example conversation of me and my inner writer (who I’ve found to be very sassy during our conversations) discussing a hypothetical book idea I’ve been working on. My dialogue is written normally, while my inner writer uses bold letters:

So we’re doing this again, are we?

Yes, we are. Alright, let’s talk about my idea for a novel I’ve been working on. It centers on a group of cheerleaders.

I’m sure it does, you naughty dog.

Ha ha, very funny. Anyway, we’ve gone over what would happen to them once they arrive at the main setting of the story. But why does it happen? There’s always a catalyst that sets things up. Even if we don’t see it until the end of the story, there’s always something that starts the horror off.

Not always, baby boy. Remember The Haunting of Hill House? That really didn’t have a–no wait, that’s not right. The catalyst was that they entered the house for the investigation, and one of the subjects is mentally still very much a child, which puts her the most at risk to the house’s charms.

Yeah, catalysts in stories can be debatable or hard to pin down sometimes. But what could be a catalyst for this story. Why does this happen to these characters?

You were playing around with the idea of the setting being an illusion, weren’t you? Something created by the characters and the dark secrets in their minds. Can we do anything with that still? Maybe a variation?

You see where this is going, right? But it is very effective. I got ideas for this hypothetical novel just from doing an inner dialogue here in this blog post. And if doing it as a demonstration in this blog post can give me ideas for a novel, imagine what it can do for your work at home.

With that in mind, I just want to leave you with a couple of tips for doing this. You don’t have to use them, but I find them useful:

  • Be honest and write down everything. It may be a lot of work, but you’ll find it helpful to write down everything in these dialogues. Especially if you want to go back and see what you’ve come up with. Any thought, any idea, could prove useful, so write them down, even if your thoughts are kind of weird (mine certainly are).
  • Give your inner writer a voice. Like in your stories, the inner writer is also a character, even if they only exist inside you. That being said, you’ll want to give them a voice, motivations, everything you’d give a normal character. That way, they can speak to you just like any other character, and make the dialogue that much more effective.
    It also helps to give the inner writer’s dialogue some distinguishing characteristic, so it doesn’t get jumbled up with your own. A different font, italics, as long as it helps you differentiate, it’s all good.
  • Mark the dates and times of the dialogues. Often these dialogues can last a while. Mine lasted two weeks while I was trying to find a new direction. So mark the date and times you had these dialogues in the document you’re using. You’ll find it very helpful for later.

Nobody wants to find out a story is flawed or that they can’t figure out how to fix its problems. But there are a variety of methods to overcome these issues. Perhaps the inner dialogue is a good one for you, and will help you write, edit and publish your best work. You just have to sit down, and commit to talking to yourself for a little while. You never know what you’ll unlock.

*For some reason I think it might have something to do with Stephen King, but I think I’d remember if I came across this method in a King novel. If you have any idea where it came from, let me know in the comments. I’d like to give a proper acknowledgement to whoever or wherever I got the inner dialogue.

I Had to Give Up Writing to Market in Order to Find My Passion Again

It’s been ages since I posted anything on this blog. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas. I had a lot of them. But as soon as I sat down and wrote a paragraph or two, my mind came to a screeching halt. I waited and waited…and waited some more for inspiration to come so I could finish the blog post. But inspiration never came. I deleted most of those drafts. Why? Because my heart wasn’t “in” writing anymore, much less trying to figure out how to tell other authors how they might sell more books.

I had lost my creative edge, and the scary part is that I didn’t even know it. Writing had started to become a chore. I was doing good to chug along and write my books. It’s like I was running on a gas tank that was almost empty. All of the gas left in my tank was going to my books. I had nothing left to give to a blog post.

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ID 40361529 © Artistashmita | Dreamstime.com

I got some criticism for writing a blog post on here about losing income. But it’s true. I did lose income. I lost about 1/3 of my income from 2015 to 2016. I barely remained steady in 2017. I was even tempted to go exclusive with Amazon by putting new books in KDP Select so I could take advantage of page reads in Kindle Unlimited. I had to spend serious time in prayer and talking with a couple of friends in order to make the best decision for me longterm. (KU is not a good longterm plan.) I knew this, but I had started to focus on short-term plans.

Which is why I was writing to market when 2016 came around.

I wrote to market for two years. Fortunately for me, I happen to love historical western and Regency romances, which happen to be popular genres anyway. But what I did was pick heroine types, hero types, and plot types that I felt had the best chance of selling well. I broke this rule with one book (which is now one of my all-time favorites). That book didn’t do as well as the others. The thing is, I know what is popular in my corner of the romance market. I know what pleases the most readers. How? Because of all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years and watching what other (very successful) romance authors were doing.

I always picked plots I was interested in doing. I could never bring myself to write something I didn’t like. But after two years of writing as fast as I could on projects that I felt would sell, I realized I had used up all of those ideas. I was exhausted. I knew I was burning out. Still, in January, I wrote another romance to market. Then February came. By this time, I was wiped out, but I already had a pre-order set for an April release, so I went through that month and pushed myself to finish that book. Thankfully, this book wasn’t a “write to market” book. It was a passion project. I was venturing into new territory I was excited about. If it had been a “write to market” book, I don’t think I would have survived the month as well as I did. Because even though it was a passion project, my joy for writing had already been hit hard.

And yet, as I write this, my income is still dropping. Writing to market was not a long-term solution to my problem. It was a temporary one. I don’t know if it’s because the market is saturated, or if my readers from early on were tired of the new stuff I was doing (since it was not longer my passion projects), or if it’s because I never went into KU, but my income never did return to what I made in 2015. Ads had minimal effect, and quite frankly, with tax payments based on last year’s income, I don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of money on ads, which are the latest promotional tool. (I’m sure the effectiveness of ads will run out in due time, just like the effectiveness of free, $0.99, and other tactics have diminished over the years I’ve been indie publishing.)

Anyway, when I saw my efforts were not paying off, I asked myself, “Why am I pushing myself so hard?” And it all came down to money. I wanted to make more money writing books. But the thing was, I wasn’t making more money. I was making less.

Early this month, I caught myself thinking, “I hate writing. I wish I could leave the computer and never write another word for as long as I live.”

And that scared me. When I was in the 6th grade, I first discovered how fun reading was, and from there, I started writing. I had always loved writing. Up until 2015, I couldn’t imagine never writing because I loved it so much. When I died, I was hoping I could continue writing in Heaven. So when did it all stop? Looking back, I realized it became “work” in 2016 when I started to seriously write to market. I stopped taking story ideas I felt was risky. I was no longer putting myself into every story. I was playing it safe.

My stress level went through the roof. Whenever I wrote, I was asking myself, “Will someone object to this? Will someone give me a 1-star over that? Will someone stop buying my books because I put this in it?” Everything I wrote (with the exception of two books) revolved around what I thought the market wanted.

I didn’t realize I was paying attention to something Dean Wesley Smith calls “critical voice”. I just got through reading his book Writing into the Dark last week (scroll down the page to find it). Anyway, the book mainly tells writers how to write without plotting, but in it he mentions how harmful critical voice is to writing. And he’s right. Critical voice was in full control when I was writing to market. Critical voice stepped in and stopped me from pursuing books I really, really, really wanted to write because, “No one is going to buy it because of (insert reason here).”

I had a good list of things I had to avoid writing while I was focused on the market, and because of this, I ended up having to work within a narrow parameter of what my critical voice had told me was acceptable. I still picked things I was interested in, but I wasn’t able to go beyond the box I had put myself in. And that was slowly killing my creative voice. I didn’t even know this was happening. That was the scary part. It’s only now as I’m looking back that I can see what was going on. I shake my head and wonder, “How could I not see it?”

This is something all authors are probably going to have to come to terms with at some point. Yes, writing to market can yield high income. (I’ve seen writers do it.) But is it possible to do this for the long term? Can they keep producing these books in a way that is fresh and new? Can they keep doing this at breakneck speed?

This is a bit of a side note, but I’ve noticed that (at least on Amazon), in order to stay relevant, I had to get more books out. Romance authors are now putting out two or more books a month. I’ve seen a couple of authors doing one book a week. Yes, they’re novellas, but still…  And the other day, one author was going from one book a week to two books a week. How long can this momentum stay up? I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to write fast and write quality, but even I can’t see how going that fast is a manageable long-term strategy.  But I’m not the only one who noticed this trend on Amazon. Cait Reynolds did a post on Kristen Lamb’s blog called “Kindle Unlimited: Good Plan or KU Hamster Wheel of Death?” (The post is hilarious, especially with the hamster pictures.) I have this article on my desk and read it at least once a month to remind myself that KU (and Amazon) is built for speed. You must constantly have new books out to keep income up. And there’s a point where I can’t write any more books that I currently do each year.

So I need a long-term strategy because I want to love writing. I want to keep writing. And more importantly, I want to love what I’m writing. I want my passion back. I want my creative voice to flourish again. Just recently, I finally decided I’m going to stop writing to market. I have officially dropped out of the rat race. I’m going to start embracing projects that I can give my whole heart into. If it fits the market, fine. If not, fine. But I’m not going to let that critical voice rule over me anymore.

It was amazing how quickly this single decision changed things around for me. I took a few days to decompress and re-evaluate my life. I did a lot of self-reflection.  But within a week, something magical happened. I got the joy back. I got my passion back. Finally, I have fresh and new story ideas again. I have characters who are exciting to write about. I didn’t expect this to happen so fast, but it did.

And last week, for the first time since 2015, I wrote because I “wanted” to. I had no idea there was such a huge difference between writing because I “had” to and writing because I “want” to, but it’s a huge difference.

What about you? Have you had any revelations about your own writing lately?

Slaying Giants

This blog post will contain some Christian references, but it also focuses on writing.

Sunday’s church sermon was on how David killed the giant, Goliath. The visiting pastor talked about how big and tall Goliath was, and how he wore heavy battle armor. This Philistine was intimidating to the Israel people. Who could defeat this menacing giant?

To urge someone to come forward to fight Goliath, King Saul offered one of his daughters to marry and for the family to be exempt from paying taxes. Still no one answered the call until a shepherd boy expressed his interest in 1 Samuel 32-33:

“‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ David told him [Saul]. ‘I’ll take care of this Philistine.’”

“Saul replied. … ‘You’re only a boy and he [Goliath] has been in the army since he was a boy!’”

However, David was not deterred even when he threw off the weighty armor Saul gave him to fight the giant. David would slay Goliath on his own terms.

The odds were against David. But with one swift swirl of his slingshot, the rock hit Goliath on his forehead, and the giant fell dead to the ground.

This reminds me of our own writing battles. We work hard to make our work the best we can do. We edit and edit, research and research for historical accuracy, we promote and promote to secure readers and yet at times we feel just like the Israel people – intimidated and hopeless.

This year I made an oath that I would depend upon God and not worry. There are a few days that hopeless feeling returns once more within me, such as this weekend at a writers’ conference.

It took a couple of hours for me to set up my booth, so I could sell my books during Saturday’s lunch and conference breaks. I had practiced reading from my recent historical, clean and Christian romance, When Hearts Rekindle, wanting to entice those hearing my Friday night reading to visit my book booth on Saturday.

For all my efforts, I sold one book, my first book, Seasons of the Soul, which includes a spattering of personal accounts of my two different autistic sons. It took me time to get over my sinking feeling of all my efforts to result in one sale; however, grateful I am for that sale. But to be honest, I had hoped for more, not a lot, but perhaps three to four sales. At least with that, the $10 booth would have paid for itself.

The next day I shook myself awake from my despair and renewed my commitment to God. As a Christian, I must believe the word of the Lord, “all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23) That does not mean there are not troubling times.

However, overall, each year gets better and so, I say to you, keep trudging along. Do not let your fret overtake you and continue to write, tweak your manuscripts and move forward. You are doing better than when you started. Why? Because you have learned from your past mistakes and so you are more prepared today than you were yesterday. Grab your pencil and paper – or should I say your word program and computer? – and  type and write! God bless.

 

Bankrupt: What do you do when your Publisher no Longer Exists?

You have two options – find another publisher or self-publish them.

This is what I was faced with recently on two of my six books/anthologies. I decided to self-publish Seasons of the Soul and Lockets and Lanterns, because they were published years ago (Seasons of the Soul in 2006 and Lockets and Lanterns in 2012).

I believe self-publishing is the right path to go on these two books. However, this meant I needed to develop a new cover. After all I did not own the rights to the covers, the publisher did. What should I do? Go with an expensive cover designer or do a nice cover without any bells or whistles?

I decided to do the latter. I could not see paying a lot of money for a cover artist on books several years old. Thus I turned to a friend who has self-published, and she is assisting me.

Now since the original Lockets and Lanterns cover never really said romance, and it is a romance, it made sense to have a cover that more matched the genre. In fact at book signings, people often thought this book was either a horror or mystery novel. Although Lockets and Lanterns includes an element of mystery – the husband’s secret – your average mystery reader would not consider it as such. It is pictured below. What do you think?

L&L Coverjpeg

The second problem was the book’s description. It needed to be revised. It did not say “romance” and, of course, it must do that.

This got me thinking about publishers who market all types of genres. They really do not know what each target audience demands. So, although going through my submitted manuscript is going to be a chore since I will have to correct the point size and fonts used and remove all editor’s remarks, it also is a time of rejoicing.

Rejoicing you say? Are you nuts? No, I have been disinterested in these books for quite a while to focus on my new material, such as the recent release of my historical humorous tale, The Bride List. The cover is pictured below.20160104_The_Bride_List_p2

However, now I am excited about these older books. Why?

Because it also took me back to when my autistic sons were younger as relayed in a spattering of personal accounts in Seasons of the Soul. I could relive those trials, such as where the family almost drowned or a humorous tale of when Andrew’s cat went missing. And, I could reread the God-inspired story, loosely based on my grandfather, in Lockets and Lanterns.

So when disaster strikes like a publishing company going out of business. First panic then take a deep breath and realize the positives. Positives of getting the books printed as you wanted in the beginning and are able to do so with self-publishing them.

Have a great spring and I would love to have your feedback on this issue and as always God bless.

Dragon Speech-to-Text Software: A Review

Back in December 2016, my boss recommended that I try Dragon, or some other speech-to-text software. I don’t remember how the subject came up (I do remember it was during the office Christmas party, so it probably had something to do with vacation plans and plans for life), but he said that as a writer (something that becomes common knowledge for anyone who gets to know me) it could be helpful with how quickly I write.

Now, I admit at the time I was a little skeptical. I’d heard of programs like that, but I didn’t know much about them, and I can be a little wary when it comes to new technologies. But over the next month or so, I heard from several writer friends who had used Dragon, either because they wanted to try it and see if it works, or because various medical conditions or health issues prevented them from actually typing their stories and blog posts. So, with a lot of gift card money, I ordered Dragon from Amazon and decided to see if it could help.

After a few hiccups in getting set up (turns out my laptop needed to upgrade its audio equipment, and I kind of forgot to register my copy of the software on Dragon’s website before starting out), I started testing it out. And it actually works very well.

The way Dragon works is that once you download the program onto whatever computer you use to write, you boot up the program and turn the microphone settings on, signaling to Dragon that you want to record what you’re saying. Dragon picks up what you’re saying either through the computer’s built in microphone or through a microphone headset that comes with the software (I prefer using my computer’s microphone, but that’s just me). Dragon will then record what you are saying to it into a Dictation Box (usually pops up when I’m using Dragon to write a blog post, like this one), into a tool known as the DragonPad, which functions similar to Notepad programs, or onto Microsoft Word, whichever you prefer.

Dragon also takes commands. For example, if you usually use italics to emphasize a character’s thoughts, you merely have to say, “Italicize this word through that word,” and those words will be italicized. Dragon comes with tutorial programs to teach you the basic commands and how to use them when writing, and there are plenty of videos online showing you how to use the program if you need more help.

I spent the first couple of sessions with Dragon just learning how to use it. It takes a few sessions for the program to get used to your voice, which is why I highly recommend you use it in a space where the only noise will be from you. Background music from a stereo, noisy kids, or any other distractions may confuse Dragon, especially during the first couple of sessions. But Dragon does get used to your voice eventually, and with more practice, it has an easier time transcribing your words as you want them to be transcribed.

Not only that, but you can actually teach the program new words. Usually when you boot up the program, it will ask if there are documents or emails they can use to learn your speech patterns or any particular words you use a lot that aren’t in a standard dictionary. This is very handy if you tend to write fantasy or science fiction. I was able to take the outline for the final book of my science fiction trilogy, and use this option to teach the program certain words in the story, including a few character names that probably won’t make the list of popular baby names in the United States. It’s a very handy feature.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems with Dragon. It will still mishear words and commands you’re telling it. I often find myself having to go back and make some corrections, like when Dragon hears the word “them” as “him” and vice versa. It also sometimes lists numbers as numbers instead of words, and unless you configure it so that it always does numbers as words, it can get a little annoying.

Still, I find Dragon very helpful. I still type some parts, especially with words that Dragon doesn’t know or when I make corrections. But for the most part, I’m now speaking my stories, and my stories are being written faster. What used to take a couple of hours to write can now take as little as half an hour to an hour. A chapter that took two to three weeks to write now takes three to four days. I speak my story, making corrections as I go, and it unfolds before me. All in all, I would recommend at least trying it out.

Now I know that this isn’t for everybody. Some of us just love to type or write in spiral-bound notebooks. But for those of you who are interested, here are some tips I’ve gleaned from using Dragon. Please be aware that I’m still new to all this is well, so if you have a tip and you don’t see it here, please leave it in a comment below.

  1. Think about what you’re going to say before you say it. You don’t have to have the entire story in your head before sitting down to write (or speak), have a general idea. The more you plan, the less you find yourself stumbling over your words or taking long pauses to figure out what you should say.
  2. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t sound like an audiobook narrator. Audiobook narrators are generally paid actors who are provided a script ahead of time. They’ve read over and review the material and practice plenty of times before they go into the recording booth, and even then, they make mistakes which are corrected in future takes. When using Dragon, you’re basically putting down the first draft. So if you make a mistake, or you don’t sound like William Defoe narrating Stephen King, don’t be discouraged. It’s a first draft, so mistakes are okay.
  3. Find a quiet place to write. Like I said, noisy spaces interfere with Dragon picking up your words. I heard from one woman who said that when she played music on her radio while writing, Dragon sometimes picked up what the radio was saying instead of what she was saying.
    If you would still like to listen to something while you write, you can put in your headphones and narrate while iTunes or YouTube or whatever program you use place your favorite tunes. Dragon will actually quiet the music you’re listening to while you write so that it seems more like it’s in the background rather than blasting into your ears.
  4. Don’t expect to master Dragon all in a single session. Like I said, I’m still learning how to use it, and I’ve had it for about a month or two. Like any craft or any tool, it takes a lot of practice to get very good at it. Don’t sweat the mistakes.
  5. Have a glass of water nearby. This may just be my thing, but narrating my stories makes me thirsty. If it’s also your thing, then definitely have something to drink nearby.
  6. Use those learning tools. Even if you don’t write science fiction or fantasy, those tools are quite handy for any writer. Perhaps you write a story with a lot of Polish characters with those long Polish last names. Or the French language shows up a lot in a short stories set in Paris. Or use an expression or slang term particular to a certain area and it’s not well-known outside of that area. It’s times like these when the word-learning tools are helpful.
  7. When using Dragon for a blog post, go over it before publishing. Like I said, the program does make mistakes on occasion, so if you’re used to writing a blog post and then publishing it straight away, DON’T!!! Check over it first to make sure Dragon didn’t mishear “won’t make” as “don’t take” and then you can publish. Trust me, it’ll avoid all sorts of problems

If you are interested in trying Dragon, you can get it direct from the manufacturer, Nuance Communications, or from Amazon like I did. And it might also be available at Best Buy or other electronic retailers, though I don’t know that for sure. If you’re getting it for home, make sure you’re buying the home version when you check out. And please, make sure your audio software is up-to-date, and that you register your software on Dragon’s website before downloading the program.

If you have Dragon, what is been your experience with it?

What tips do you have for using Dragon?

Stress: How To Cope When the Mountain of Work Only Increases

An author’s life is an incredibly busy one.  The easy part is writing your book.  It’s what happens after you hit publish that can have you running around doing a million things at once.  Whether it’s family, friends, the household budget, chores, appointments with the dentist/doctor/etc, and things like car repairs, we are already busy.

Now, add to this the job we have of promoting our work.  We must juggle social media.  We must answer emails.  We must update our website and/or blog.  We must line up things with editors/cover artists/formatters (or do these things ourselves), though I would advise to never do the edit yourself because it’s hard to catch everything when you’re reading what “should” be there instead of what is actually there.  On top of all of that, we have to keep track of our expenses and our income for tax purposes.

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ID 48145296 © Ocusfocus | Dreamstime.com

There is so much we do.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems that for every one thing I accomplish, two more things pile up on my “To Do” list.  So how are we to cope in a world that is constantly demanding our attention?

Keep Writing or Write More

Sadly, this is the one thing we do that is easiest to push back because the other things require us to do something for other people.  All of our promotional efforts focus in on others, and we often put others before ourselves.  (I’m not saying this is always a bad thing, but if you don’t take care of yourself, then you won’t have the emotional reserve to take care of others.)

For most of us, we need to write.  It is the only thing that keeps us sane in the middle of our stressful lives.  So if we were to “not write”, then we would only get stressed out even more.  Writing has a calming effect on us.  It clears our minds and helps us focus.  So I believe writing needs to be at the top of our priority list in order to help us do everything else.

How much writing should you do?  That will depend on your particular situation.  A good rule of thumb is to figure out how much time you need to write in order to feel calm and relaxed.  For me, it’s two hours minimum.  Once I hit the two hour mark, I feel at peace with the world around me.  I don’t have to do this every day, but I can’t go for longer than two consecutive days without getting irritable and restless.  Your own threshold will be unique to you.

It’s Okay If You Don’t Answer Emails, Blog Comments, or Facebook/Twitter/Google Plus/Etc Comment Today

Unless there is an emergency to tend to, it’s okay to push all of these aside for when you have more room in your calendar for them.  One thing I have found helpful is to write 250-300 words, answer 1-2 emails or comment from a social media site, then go back to writing another 250-300 words.

This way  the social end of my writing business doesn’t take away from the actual writing.  Of course, it requires some discipline.  It’s easy to get distracted by a funny picture or video.  So if you need to be offline while writing, then wait until you’re done writing in order to get to the social stuff.  On days I don’t write, I’ll carve out 1-3 hours to catch up on the social side of writing.

Whatever way works best for you is the one to go with.  Just because the tips above helps me, it doesn’t mean they’ll work for everyone.

Say No To Things You Can’t Handle

We all have our limits, and knowing where yours is can be a huge life saver.   It is hard to say no when someone wants something from us.  (This something is often our time.)

Carefully weigh the pros and cons before saying yes.  Can you still get everything on your list done if you say yes?  Will you have the energy you need later on in the day to do your work?  Will the creative flow still be there?  Do you feel like everything is in order, so when you come back, you’re not going to feel stressed out?  If you say can yes to those things, then you can say yes to the person’s request.  If you say no to any of them, see if you can do the thing for that person at a more convenient time.  (Unless you don’t want to do it.  Then, by all means, just say you can’t do it.)

Prioritize Your Tasks

I like to have a calendar next to me where I can keep notes on what I need to do and on what day they need to be done.  I plan out this calendar a week in advance unless there’s an appointment I scheduled six months in advance (like a trip to the dentist).  You may be able to plot out your writing and social media tasks for a longer time span.  My attention span is pretty short, so I need to keep my timeline short.

I don’t keep a detailed list.  I know some people who do, but I would go crazy if I did that.  I take 2-4 main things I want to do that week.  I don’t write down the every day things I do.  I just write the things I do once in a while, such as “make blog post for newsletter blog,” “write up letter for email list recipients,” or “update website.”  Then I make those the main focus for the next coupe of days, and I do these in addition to my writing.

However you want to handle your list is up to you.  There is no right or wrong way to do it as long as it helps you keep focused on the main things you want to get done.

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Well, those are my tips on managing stress.  I know there are the proper sleep and taking care of our health components involved, but I wanted to stick mainly with the writing part of our stressful lives.

What do you do to help cope with stress as a writer?  Got anything you can add to the things I mentioned?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Building Meaningful Relationships With Your Readers

I’ve had this post sitting in the draft folder for a year, and I’ve been waiting for the right time to use it.  Recently, I came across this great post “5 Mistakes Authors Make on Social Media” by Michael Cristiano, and I knew this was the right time to make the post below public.

My recommendation is to read the post given at the link above and then read what I have below.

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1.   Guess what, everyone?  I just wrote this fantastic thriller about a group a survivors who need to wade their way through the apocalypse while trying to find a cure for the virus that turns everyone into zombies.  Check it out on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks!   (This is either posted for the gazillionth time on the author’s social media page–or worse–posted on someone else’s page without their approval.)

or how about…

2.  Space Invasion has received a 4.5 star average out of 23 reviews on Amazon.  Check out why it’s so hot!  (Amazon link provided)

or how about…

3.  I know you guys are talking about romances, but I want to tell you about this fantasy I wrote which won the This Book is the Best Ever 2016 Award.  I know it’s not what you were asking for, but it is so well written that you will love it anyway.  Here’s the link!

or how about…

4.  That story about your kid is so funny.  It reminds me of the scene I wrote in my book, Alison’s Fake Fiancé,  when her toddler went into the store and ran into a large display and knocked everything over.  Here’s the link!

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What do all of the approaches above have in common?  They’re a hard sell.  And honestly, I don’t think they work.  We are saturated with ads in one form or another.  (All of the above are ads.  They just weren’t ads someone paid for.)  I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring ads of all kinds.  I don’t really “see” them when they’re there.

A better approach, in my opinion, would be to build relationships with readers instead of selling to them.  It requires a slow build.  It takes a lot of time.  And it probably won’t mean a massive amount of sales in a short period of time.  But I think it can be a very rewarding approach longterm because the readers you meet become real people instead of just numbers, and I enjoy getting to know who is reading and enjoying my work.

Alright, so let’s get to the nitty gritty of this post.

I like to start with this in mind: treat others as you want them to treat you.

I can tell when an author is engaged with me as a person vs when they’re just trying to sell me a book.  I’m inclined to read and buy books by authors who take the time to get to know me and care about me.  Early on (2010), an author was really nice to me, but the moment I read and reviewed her book, she stopped replying to my comments on her posts.  I still remember how that made me feel.  I felt like I’d been used, and I never want anyone else to feel that way.

Be yourself.  Hang out on places that interest you.  Have a good time.  Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Let’s say you’re shy.  Instead of initiating conversations, why not comment in the threads other people have started?  Let others lead and add whatever you can.  After a while, you’ll be more comfortable with some of the people you’re talking to, and you’ll open up.  But let it be a gradual process.

I do think Facebook could be effective for this.  I know Facebook isn’t as effective as it used to be, but it’s still a good way to engage with people who read books.  Just be sure when you are engaging, you’re not out promoting your books.  Be real.  Build friendships.  You can even create a Facebook group to chat with your readers.

You don’t need to be on Facebook.  Pick whatever social media site or sites you enjoy and spend your time and attention over there getting to know people.

I know what some of you are thinking.  “But if I don’t tell people I have a book to sell, how will they find it?”

Make sure your name links to your page on that social media.  Facebook and Twitter highlight your name.  This will take people to your page on that site.  Your page is where you link to your website in your profile.  On your website, you will have your books.  That is how people will find your books.

Another way they can find out is by asking you.  But let them do the asking.  Or, someone else might mention it in passing and arouse the person’s curiosity.  This needs to be someone you didn’t tell to do it.  No gaming the system, guys.  It needs to be honest and real.

Do I have friends who never read my books?  Yep.  There are some awesome people who haven’t read anything I’ve written who have been a huge blessing in my life.  So don’t limit your conversations only to those people that you believe will buy your books.  Be open to everyone.  Just like any friendship, it takes time to develop and involves being sincere.

Does this method take time?

Definitely.  I know it’s hard to wait in our instant gratification culture (at least in the United States where I live).  But anything worth doing often takes time.  When you went through school, you didn’t jump from kindergarten to high school.  You had to go through years to get there.  When you go to college, you don’t get your degree in one semester.  It takes time, effort, and dedication.  But when you take time to do these things, the reward makes all the work worth it.

And honestly, I’ve been far more blessed by people who read my books than they’ll ever be by me.  There were times I wanted to quit (such as this morning, believe it or not), but they were there to encourage me to keep going.  I would have given up long ago if it hadn’t been for them.  Money is just one factor to being an author.  The emotional support you get from your readers is a lot more valuable, in my opinion.  But yes, I do understand we need money in order to eat.  Like my mom used to say, “You can’t eat love.” But I think being your real self with others can lead to a solid foundation that can help you as you look for effective marketing techniques in the long run.  Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Writing Time: Selfish, Selfless, or Saving Others?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a hard time with writing time = being selfish even though intellectually I keep telling myself that writing time = self-care time. Writing makes me happy!

A Writer's Path

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by Christopher Slater

I will start out by saying that this is a perfect example of what is meant by the phrase, “Doctor, heal thyself!” I am the absolute worst at not following this advice. Of course, that is probably why I have joked with my students that my name should be a verb meaning “to screw up badly.” So if you ever heard me say “I Slatered myself by not listening to my own advice,” then you can understand what I mean.

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What To Do When Someone Hates Your Book

The older I get and the more books I publish, the more I’ve learned that it’s okay if everyone doesn’t love my work. This wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to. Believe me, I have my share of critics, and I had to trudge through some difficult times as I struggled to keep quiet when people were letting me know how much my books suck. I even almost quit writing several times because I got to the point where I believed I was a terrible writer. So I get it. I know how hard it is to brush off negative comments and reviews when it comes to your work. It is a lot easier to be objective when you see another author’s work being criticized, but when it’s your book that takes the beating, objectivity tends to fly right out the window.

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So today for those of you who are struggling with this issue, I thought I’d share things that helped me over the years as I’ve had people tell me why my work belongs in the city dump.

The first step is to be objective about criticism.

1. Understand that taste is subjective.

Honestly, you can’t make someone like your book. Trying to explain why you handled a conflict in your story a certain way or why your character did something someone doesn’t like is a fruitless endeavor.

Why? Because people will think whatever they want. Everyone who reads your book will be doing so with their personal bias already in the back of their minds.  Think of a book you hate that was massively popular. This is the book that makes you ask yourself, “Why do so many people love this horrible story?”

I’ve certainly had this question pop up in my mind.  There is a traditionally published book (which I will not name) that I hate. My hatred of this book was so strong that I actually felt like I was going to vomit while I was reading it. It got so bad that I had to stop halfway into it and throw it out. For the life of me, I can’t understand why this is a bestselling book. When I talk to others about this book, an overwhelming majority praise it. They encourage me to finish it. “It is so worth it when you get to the end,” they say. Personally, I don’t care how much they loved it. They aren’t changing my mind. I don’t care what motives the main characters had. To me, one character was stupid and the other character was undeserving of a happy ending.   Nothing could redeem them to my satisfaction.

Does this mean the story truly sucks? No. Of course not. All it means is that I think the book sucked. It’s just one person’s opinion. That’s all.  The same is true for people who don’t like your books.

2. The reason someone hates your book says a lot more about that person than it does about your book.

The book I mentioned above, the one that I hate more than anything else I’ve ever read, reveals my own likes and dislikes. It reveals an aspect of my personality. The hero and heroine have personality traits I absolutely despise. They did things I would never do in a million years.  Those characters represent the antithesis to the kind of person I want to be and the kind of people I want to hang around.  So all that book really did was reveal the kind of people I admire and respect.

The very qualities a reader likes or doesn’t like about a book are a window into the reader’s soul. You can gain insight into a person by their praise or criticism of the work. So take that into consideration when you come across the comments people make about your books.

Now, that we took an objective look at criticism, what should we do about it?

1. Ignore it.

The longer I’m in this business, the more convinced I am that ignoring criticism is the best way to handle it. Trying to defend your book is pointless. Instead of answering your critics, the best thing you can do is cater to your fans. They’re the ones you’re writing for anyway. They understand your vision for what you do, and better yet, they are already supporting and encouraging you.  They enjoy your work for a reason.  Why change what you’re doing to please the critics when the fans already love what you’re doing?

2. Choose to think on good things.

Recently, I’ve learned that the more attention I give something, the bigger of an issue it becomes. If I dwell on negativity, after a while, I start getting depressed or angry. I stop being as productive as I want to be. Negativity drains you of your energy. On the other hand, if I focus on positive things, I feel happier and freer. I find it easier to focus on my work. I’m more relaxed. I smile a lot more. I’m pleasant to be around, and believe me, my family is a lot happier when I’m pleasant.  So by focusing on positive things, you’ll probably attract a lot more pleasant people into your world.

To be honest, I used to think there wasn’t a correlation between what I was thinking and how I felt, but the more I’ve experimented with focusing on the positive, the more convinced I am that what we think about definitely impacts how we feel. It’s not easy at first. Breaking the old habit of dwelling on the negative takes time to do. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. Life is short. You have to decide whether you’re going to spend it in misery or whether you’re going to spend it in joy.  The choice is yours.

3. Be thankful for what you have.

A spirit of gratitude has a tremendous impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. When something bad happens, I take a step back and start to list out things that are good in my life. If nothing else, the fact that I have food on the table, a roof over my head, and clothes on my back are huge. The fact that I can walk to the car or type on the computer or that I even know how to read are huge. Sure, I have problems. We all do. But no matter how grim a situation is, there is always something you can be thankful for.  Or, to put it another way, there is always someone out there who has it worse than you do.  So taking into consideration your blessings when problems start to pop up can help buffer you from the negativity when it rears its ugly head.

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In conclusion

If you reach a wide enough readership, you will have your share of critics. When this happens, do not engage with them. I know it’s hard, but it’s necessary. There’s no need to try to defend your book to someone who hates it. Your time and energy will be better spent focusing on your fans.

Reestablishing a Writing Routine

We go through great changes in our lives. It’s frankly inevitable. In fact, I remember someone telling me once in high school that in a twenty-five year period, it was likely that we would change our city/town, home, job, education status, socioeconomic status, political party, religion, and/or a whole bunch of other stuff. And when that happens, writing routines established over time and perhaps uninterrupted for years, are suddenly thrown out the window. And then where are you?

A couple of months ago, I moved into a new apartment so I could start a new job after a job search that lasted several months. Now, prior to this move, I would’ve said to anyone who asked that I didn’t really have a writing routine, that I just wrote wherever I could. Well, that is kind of true, because I do tend to write whenever I can if it’s convenient for me. But after the move, I did realize I had a routine of sorts established, and that routine no longer existed.

You see, while I was job-hunting, I lived with my dad, and in the evenings, I would settle down on the couch downstairs in the living room and write or edit while I watched whatever show I liked was playing that evening (you can get a lot written during commercial breaks). This routine lasted from late October 2015 to the end of May 2016. And my God, did it work! I edited the same novel twice and wrote more than a few short stories and blog posts that way during the job search, and it kept me sane while I looked for employment.

However, after I got employed and I moved for work, a lot changed for me. Yeah, I had increased independence, a nice location near work with a grocery store, a Target, and a library very close to where I live, and the chance to be as eccentric as I wanted within the confines of my own home without anyone judging me. But I also did not have a cable package, a TV, or a couch (though that’ll change soon with one of those). So suddenly the routine I had, which I’d been using for months and which I’d been comfortable with, was about as useful as an alchemy textbook at football practice.

For a while, I tried just writing or editing as much as I could when I sat down in front of the computer. Sadly, that worked horribly. I was moving at a snail’s pace, getting through only a couple of pages a week. A chapter could take up a whole month! With work getting busier and busier for me, I was starting to worry if I’d ever get back to the level of productivity I enjoyed prior to the move and in college.

But then a friend of mine gave me a recommendation that I found very useful. She had recently joined a group on Facebook where members sign up each month to try and write 250 words a day, and it had helped her get back into a routine of writing fiction after a pretty lengthy hiatus. That got me thinking: I can’t write every day, some days there just isn’t enough time. But what if I just tried to write 250 words every time I sat down in front of the computer? It couldn’t hurt to try.

To my utter delight, it worked like a charm. The first time, I ended up writing a little over the minimum 250. The next time, I ended up writing over 700 words! And the third, I managed to get out over thirteen-hundred words! It was amazing. Somewhere between words 150 and 250, a switch would flip and the story would just start flowing out of me like a river. In this way, I managed to get out the outline for my NaNoWriMo project in about a week or so.

Once that experiment had proven successful, I wondered if I could do the something similar with editing. It would have to be slightly different though, because editing is editing. Sometimes all you have to do work on is changing a word or a punctuation mark, and word count doesn’t change that much, but sometimes you rewrite whole sections and the word count changes dramatically. I ended up going with editing at least three pages per session, and that worked as well. After I rewrote the beginning of a short story I’d been working on and off with for over a year, I managed to finish editing the rest within a week (it helped that on the last night I worked on it, I was doing everything I could to avoid the presidential debates and I only had twelve pages to go!). Clearly this new routine I’d been working with was doing its job.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to adopt this routine if your old routine becomes impossible to do, but I am saying you shouldn’t just throw yourself into work and expect magic to happen. That didn’t work for me, and I’m not so sure it’ll work for you. Instead, take baby steps. Try writing a little a day until you find something that works for you and you’re at a level of productivity that works for you. If you do that, then I think that whatever life throws your way, you’ll be able to get back into the swing of storytelling with little to no trouble.

Have you ever had to change your writing routine? What did you do and how did it work out?