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
ID 70822901 © Adrenalinapura | Dreamstime.com

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.

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.

feeling trapped
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?

Writer’s Block – Guest Post

Today I have a great guest post from Terry Compton (a fellow Ink Slinger’s Anthology author – look for that to be released October first).

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Writer’s Block

Or maybe just a slight impediment

writer’s block can feel like a brick wall

That blank computer screen just sits there and stares back at you.  Words flit through your brain but not words that will make your next scene come alive.  What do you do to break this?  I’d like to share a couple of ideas that work for me and then see what others do.

I usually have two sorts of blocks; too many possibilities or the transition from the scene I’ve just finished to the new one in my head.  I should tell you that I’m a seat of the pants writer.  You know, the one who has an opening scene and a vague idea of where you want the story to go.  The characters then drag you around in their big adventure.  I don’t know if these techniques will help those who outline their story but anything is worth a shot if you’re not getting words down.

I’d like start off by saying that I learned these tricks at the local authors’ group.  I don’t know a dangling participle from a dangling worm.  Oh, wait, one of them has to do with fishing.  I do know about that, but back to the subject.  One of the members of the group has been involved in screen writing and other types of writing for over twenty-five years.  He says there is only one cardinal rule in writing:  DON’T BORE YOUR READER.  Now let’s look at my two problems with that in mind.

How can too many possibilities be a block?  Sometimes after your protagonist (or even your antagonist) has finished a task in your latest scene, it will seem like they stand at a crossroads with five or six different paths ahead.  Which path do you choose?  Should they go to the beautiful beach to improve their sun tan?  Maybe press ahead to the next task in their adventure, or do they need to meet the latest heart throb?  And so on and so on.

What I’ve learned is to go back to your storyline.  Where is your character going?  What is their driving goal?  Are they too exhausted and beat up to continue?  Do they need to go to that beach to recuperate?  I’m trying to look through the DBYR filter more.  My sub-conscious sometimes quits throwing ideas out and I suddenly realize its saying, “Ho hummm.  Borrrring.”  Consequency, it’s time to go back and move your character in the most direct route along the storyline to the end goal.

Unless you’re adding a twist.  Then maybe they need to go to that beach to get such a bad sunburn that they will be handicapped in the next part of their adventure.  Or step on that poisonous jelly fish that will leave them hopping on one leg as they continue.

Go back a few pages and look at where they have been and what they were doing.  Come up with something that threatens or impedes them but keep them striving for the goal they need to reach.  Look through the DBYR filter and follow what your sub-conscious is saying.

But what about that transition scene between completing the dangerous task and getting to the character’s big wedding two days from now?  How do you bridge scenes like that which are so completely different?

Look at your character.  What have they been doing?  What is their state of mind?  Are they totally exhausted and beat six ways from Sunday.  Maybe they need the rest but maybe not all they’ll need.  Maybe they find out there’s a general transportation strike that will keep them from their destination.  How can they make it?  Or go back to the jelly fish and sunburn.  How will they ever be able to function at the wedding without being able to wear clothes or hopping on one foot?

Are they exuberant and ready to go?  Then it’s time to add trials and tribulation to their lives.  Readers want to worry about your characters.  Can they make the wedding or is the former suiter going to lock the church so your character can’t get in?  During the transition, keep your character under duress and stress.  If they aren’t, put them there.  A reader (or your sub-conscious) worrying about your character won’t get bored.

DBYR can be a great filter for any sort of block.  Look at how many obstacles your antagonist, weather, outside forces or even character flaws can put in the way.  Make sure the character is trying their best to go in the most direct route to their goal.  Unless they need a side trip to add a twist to the plot, then make sure there is a logical cause for these things to happen.  If the character is going to the beach after stopping the bank robbery, why?  Did their boss send them away?  Did they get a reward?

If you’re blocked, think of a list of obstacles.  Keep adding to them each day and then put your character through the wringer.  Good-bye block, hello happy reader and sub-conscious.

What do you do to overcome your block?

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Terry Compton has raced stock cars, rode horses across the Scapegoat Wilderness, fished and hunted most of his adult life while working at several different jobs. He is an Air Force veteran and served in the Air National Guard for several years. He is currently the owner, chief welder and installer for an ornamental iron business where he has made several award winning metal creations and is now turning this creativity to writing.

Terry loves to read science fiction, westerns and mystery stories. Some of his favorite authors are Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, Louie L’Amour, Zane Grey and Anne McCaffery. He is currently learning about ‘indie’ authors who are publishing e-books.

Terry currently lives in Montana with his wife and a dog who thinks she is a short furry people.

Tips for Avoiding Burnout

I’m sure you’ve heard it said over and over again how important it is to get the next book out.  One of the most effective marketing techniques out there is to publish the next book.  Ideally, this will be a compelling story, but in order to create a compelling story, you need to be energized.  If you’re facing burnout, your work (and other areas of your life) will suffer.

A couple of quick indicators that you might be facing burnout are trouble sleeping, lack of energy/excitement, trouble focusing, headaches, increased illness (ex. you get a head cold easier),  irritability, and anxiety.  Having any of these once in a while isn’t cause for alarm.  But when you notice this is an ongoing thing, you’re probably facing burnout.

What are some causes of burnout?  Doing too much, lack of sales, lack of social support, doing work you’re not passionate about, and negative feedback.

The good news is you can take measures to avoid burnout (or, if you’re currently in the middle of it, pull yourself out).  This is something you have control over.

Here are some tips to avoid burnout.

1.   Take breaks.

This was a hard one for me to do because I used to believe if I wasn’t writing every single day, I was failing as a writer.  After all, you hear over and over how important it is to do this if you’re serious about writing. I’ve found it’s best to take planned breaks.  My new philosophy this year is to write five days a week and take two off.  It doesn’t matter which two are my days off.  I just need to make sure it’s at least two a week.

Ever since I started doing this, I have found it so much easier to write when it comes time to sit and write. I feel renewed and energetic.  When I was making myself write every day, it took me about fifteen to twenty minutes before I could get into the story, and there were days when I felt like I was pulling teeth to get my word count in.  But when I gave myself permission to take days off, I can get into the story in five minutes and I’m able to write more with less effort.

I believe when you take breaks and you’re giving our mind a rest, your subconscious thinks over the story and works things on its own.  Now, I do find it helpful to keep a notebook nearby to mark down ideas if they pop up, but I don’t do any writing.

2.  Take vacations.

It’s okay to take vacations.  These are extended breaks.  If you had a job outside the home, you get days off.  There’s no reason why you shouldn’t use this same principle if you work at home.

Your vacation length will vary depending on your situation.  It can be a week, two weeks, a month, or more if you need it.  I find it helpful to take at least one vacation a year, though I do three because I have kids and realize I need to spend these times with them while they’re still young.   So my husband and I will pick somewhere to visit and spend a few days there.

This time should be dedicated to nonwriting/nonbusiness stuff.  Take time to play, spend time with family, or check out something new.

A word of warning: the longer the vacation, the harder it might be to get back into the writing routine.  It takes me about a week before I’m back in the flow of things.  The most I can manage at first is 500 words. Each day, I can get more in.  On an average day, I write about 1500 to 2000 words.   I know some authors can do more in a day, but that is where I settle on the word count spectrum.  And this brings me to my next tip…

3.  Adjust Your Word Count or Time Goal for Your Comfort Level

Not everyone can write 5,000 words a day.  I know some authors who do, and they do it very well.  I’m not one of them.  As I said above in the five days I write, I average 1500-2000 words.  Some authors prefer to sit down and write for a certain amount of time, like 30 minutes to an hour on their writing days.  Some break up their writing throughout the day.  They might write an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon.  Another might break up their writing by word count.  Five hundred words in the morning and a thousand in the afternoon.

Whatever method you choose, pick the one that is most comfortable for you.   If you don’t know where your comfort level is, I suggest taking a couple weeks to monitor how you feel while you’re writing.  When you start to run out of ideas or start feeling like you’re winding down, this in an indication that you’ve reached your limit for the day.  If you ignore this indicator, you could overdo it and risk burnout.  (I’ve done this and learned my lesson the hard way.  Yes, it’s hard to stop, but sometimes you need to stop before you exhaust yourself.)

4.  Do Not Dwell on Sales (or Lack Thereof) or Reviews

I know this is hard.  It is probably the hardest thing we need to do, but focusing on sales (whether good or bad) can hinder the creative energy that makes it exciting to write.  I don’t know how often you can track sales without it affecting your ability to write with as much enthusiasm as possible.  I’ve found I can’t look at my sales report any more than once a month.  I do this at the very end of the month to plan out my budget, so I pretty much have to check them at this point.  But doing more than that will make it difficult for me to write because then my mind is on sales and rankings instead of the story.

Sales go up and down.  The highs can inflate the ego and the lows can bring on depression.  I don’t like this roller coaster ride.  I like to keep things as level as possible in my emotions, and I found I’m actually a lot happier when I ignore what is going on with my sales.

The same is true for reviews.  Reviews are for readers, not the writers.  The time to get feedback on your story is before you publish.  This is why a good editing team (which includes beta readers and critique groups) is so important.  The input you get at this stage is what you need to make your story the best it can be.  Once you publish, that part is over.  Reviews are for potential readers.  They are to help readers decide whether or not to read the book.  It’s okay if some people don’t like your book.  Look at the reviews on your favorite books and movies.  Scroll down to the 1 and 2-star reviews.  See how subjective the reviews are.  Embrace the fact that some people will hate your story.  You can’t please everyone.

This is why the most important thing you can do as a writer is to write the story you are most passionate about.  The one person who should love your work is you.

5.  Embrace Stories You’re Excited About

Some of you might be tired of hearing me tell you to focus on what you’re passionate about, but seriously, the best way to avoid burnout is by doing work you love.  If you’re working on things you don’t enjoy, sooner or later, it’s going to drain you of your energy.  You might be able to sustain momentum for a while.  And for a while, it may seem like it’s working great for you.  But creativity is best fueled by passion.  If you focus on work you truly love, it will be easier to write for a the long haul.

New Year Changes

I stepped into the New Year with trepidation as I awaited the installer of our new television and Internet provider to arrive. Is it not funny how these small-life changes can throw us for a loop?

Well, it did for me. Change was in the air and was it really going to be better as the new carrier suggested? I was apprehensive. We had used our previous providers for many years and were happy with both until recently.

I awoke at 5 a.m. to a blistering-cold morning of one degree. Would he come as promised on this chilly day?

But he arrived and got right to work. A pleasant man who knew his business. Within a couple of hours, I looked at my living room, where wires had stretched for years beside my couch and now I could clean behind it. Besides that, I no longer had to lock our downstairs-bedroom door to keep the cat from playing with the wires in there.

I also no longer had to fret over the modem. Would I have to restart the computer or unplug it today? Relief swept over me. I never realized how all these years these items gave me such anxiety. Now, I felt liberated and in the process I have better television with the program I missed and a faster Internet.

As the man said as he grasped the wires: “What I have in my hand is old technology.” He was right. I needed a change.

This also is true of authors. We get into our grooves and routines and forget to try new things. Last year, I tried something new – the anthology, Bride by Arrangement, with Ruth Ann Nordin. This endeavor allowed me to reach a different audience through my story, She Came by Train. Ruth Ann Nordin and I plan another anthology – a follow-up on last year’s – and my goal is to write book two – a follow-up on Courtships and Carriages – in the Great Plains series.

In addition, I am excited about writing again. I renewed that interest after the busy Christmas activity. I needed a break. Winter also puts you in the mood to write and sit by a fireplace, if you have one. I have one close but not near enough to curl up on a sofa and write. However, it does keep me cozy and keeps my fingers warm enough to type even if my work is gibberish at times. Ha! Ha!

It also makes for a great time to clean up your office and get rid of old files and rearrange your office. Without that modem sitting next to my computer, I was able to wipe away the dust where it used to lie and even that small step gave me pleasure.

When you throw away your old calendar, make sure you replace it with something inspirational to keep you excited about writing. I replaced my office-wall calendar with a calendar portraying a variety of paintings, including January’s winter scene with gray skies, cardinal birds perched on a white fence with a church in the background. The scene fills me with peace and awe in the Creator’s majesty.

Well to wrap up, remember to embrace the future and the change it brings, and I wish you the best in your 2015 writing career. God bless.

Stuck For An Idea?

We’ve all been there at some point or another. We want to write, but nothing comes to us. Everything that does come to mind seems trite, boring, maybe even repetitive or used up. At times we stare at the blank page for hours on end, willing an idea for a story or a poem or an article to come to us. When nothing comes, we doubt ourselves as writers and we wonder if maybe we’ll never have a good idea again.

The good news is, there are ways to get the creative juices flowing again. And none of them involve sitting in front of a computer or notebook for hours hoping an idea will just pop up. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of worrying about the problems you are dealing with, psychologists recommend finding something else to focus on. It’s not entirely clear why, but when the mind is unfettered and is free to roam or hone in on something other than a problem you’re dealing with, a solution often presents itself to you just when you least expect it.

When I’m stuck for an idea or experiencing writer’s block, I do anything but focus on the problem at hand for hours at a time. I’ll work on a blog post or another story. I’ll watch TV or read a good book. And if ideas don’t come after all that, I often find just going about my daily life is an inspiration. Some of my best ideas for stories occur during the semester. While at work or in my classes, a random thought, sometimes related to my coursework or the project I’m doing and sometimes not, will pop into my head and grab my attention. From that thought I can develop an idea, which turns into a story or article of some sort.

A great example of this happened in class a couple of weeks ago. During a discussion, one of my classmates made a comment about the Soviet Union in World War II and about D-Day. What he said so captivated me that it ended up being the foundation for a series of novels taking place in a dystopian communist nation (no idea when I’ll write them, but the fact is, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with them if I hadn’t been in that class on that day having that discussion and hadn’t seized on the thought when I least expected an idea to come to me).

Plenty of other authors are able to come up with ideas the same way, whether by taking classes, working, volunteering in the community, or finding some other hobbies or interests that occupy their time and allow the creative processes in their brains to do what they do naturally rather than being forced to produce something. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you try finding story ideas this way.

And if you do have an idea while pursuing this method, I highly recommend writing it down immediately. I write down all my ideas so that I don’t forget them, which Im prone to do. I even bought a little notebook the other day so I can write down ideas as they come to me and then put them down on a list on my flash drive when I’m at a computer so that I’ll remember them when I want to write them. (I used to just write on the back of my hand, but I’m kind of tired of seeing a bunch of ink scribbles covering my left hand.)

Author Fun: Random Title Generators

Have you ever stared at your manuscript, or your outline, while making a face like this:

Gollum plays the riddle game with Bilbo via The Hobbit

If the answer is yes, then welcome to the club!  the other day I was emailing with an author who joking said, “I wish they had book title generators” and I thought, “I’ll bet they do!” So off I hopped to google and – Guess what! – they do!

 Fiction Alley generator: For this one you need to input words and it will rearrange them into several titles. Yes, you could do it yourself, but it’s still kind of fun.

Warpcore SF generator: this one gives you both a title and a series name, but you only get one. To get another you need to hit the back button.  Still pretty fun.

Random title generator: This one gives you six at a time, and actually came up with some pretty compelling titles. There are some mature content words involved occasionally.

Fantastic Random title Generator: This one also has six titles at a time, as well as links to a Romantic Title Generator and a Sci-Fi/Fantasy title generator.

Adazing Title Generator: Fill out eight “questions” (such as protagonist occupation) and it generates titles – you can even “save” titles you like!

I had a lot of fun generating random titles, and even made notes of a few of them. But, beyond entertainment, what value does a title generator really have? For me it helps me to think “outside the box” – or rather outside “my” box, so to speak.  It actually suggested “Children of Petals” to me which, while it wouldn’t work itself, led me to think of Children of Shadows (Shadows being a word I have collected on my “good words for titles” list). Would I suggest straight up using one of the generated titles? Sure, why not, if it fits your story.  And even if none of the titles do, it’s a great way to kill twenty minutes.

How do you come up with titles or what are some of your favorites that someone else has written?

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Myths of Being a Published Writer: Part 2

Myth: If I publish enough books, I’ll be able to make a living as a writer.

Fact: I wish I could say this is true, but there is no guarantee you’ll make a living as a writer, no matter how many books you publish.

And I have no idea why some authors sell more than others or why some books appeal to a wider audience than others.  Look at all the vampire books out there.  There are so many of them, I can’t even begin to count them all.  But it’s only a few we actually know about as a society.  Twilight might have made it big, but that doesn’t mean all vampire books will make it big.  I met a NY Times Bestselling author who was featured on JA Konrath’s blog who made big sales with one of her books.  But her others didn’t sell even a fraction of what that one did, and no matter how many more she publishes, it’s just not there.  Why?  I have no idea.

This is something we can’t take for granted.  While publishing more books increases our odds, it doesn’t promise anything.  That’s why you have to be in this business because you love it.  It has to be something you have to do.  It’s hard, often frustrating, definitely confusing.  The business isn’t an easy one to understand.  There is no easy answer to why some books sell and others don’t.    There is no “one-size fits all” marketing technique out there.

And it might not even be you that does something to hurt your sales.  The algorithms on online bookstores could mess you up.  I suspect that probably causes a lot of the damage to sales because without visibility, how are you going to reach new readers?  I’ve heard of authors who were selling very well when a glitch in the system knocked them down and it hurt their sales and chances of being noticed.  I’m not even going to try to guess what causes glitches, but I’ve read enough about them on forums to know something is going on.  Once in a while, this stuff works against authors.  Writing more books can help buffer you, but it might not save you.  Just don’t take anything for granted.  This is a rollercoaster business and the only relief I find is when I remove myself from all online activities so I can write (because writing is one of the few things that gives me peace and joy).

I know I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: do whatever you can today to put yourself in the best financial position possible.  I am preaching to myself with this one.  I’d like to say that I have a huge emergency fund put aside and no mortgage payment.  The truth is, I still have a mortgage payment and nothing saved aside because I’m struggling to make my quarterly voucher payments for taxes (which went from 15% to 40% on the federal level thanks to the new IRS laws, and when you consider my state income tax, I am taxed at almost 47% of my total income).  So if anyone needs to hear, “Be careful and wise with money,” it’s me.

Myth:  You must write every day if you’re serious about writing.

Fact: Writing every day might lead to burnout which means your books will suffer in quality.

Sometimes a break does you the most good.  I do think you need a schedule.  A routine helps you stay focused on what you need to do, and you maximize your effectiveness if you have a set time when you sit down and write.  With kids, I tend to spread my time out across the day, but I’ve noticed there are certain hours of the day where I have the best chance of meeting my word count goals for the day.  Word count goals help me stay focused and helps me see my progress in a way that encourages me to keep going.  Other authors find it more beneficial to write for X number of hours, regardless of word count.  Some authors even take weekends off.  As a general rule, I don’t take weekends off because weekends can be my most productive time (esp. I can write while my kids are playing at the park).

But no matter what your situation is, I think it’s time we stopped feeling guilty for taking some time off from writing.  This idea that we must write every single day can be unhealthy.  It can force us to write out poor quality work (just to make word count) or make us hate writing the story we’re working on.  Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going in a story and need to take a break from that story until you figure it out.  This is why I work on more than one book at a time.

We aren’t machines and real life kicks in.  When I start feeling my enthusiasm slide on writing, I’ve learned that if I take a nap, go for a walk, take the day (maybe even week or more) off, watch a movie, or read, I feel my enthusiasm return.  There are days when I push through that “I don’t feel like writing” feeling, but if I have only managed a couple hundred words in two or three hours, I call it quits because I know I need a break.  There’s also time when you should focus on family and friends.  Vacations, family day trips, etc need to be a priority because at the end of our lives, it’s the people we loved who also loved us that give our life the greatest meaning.  Writing is important; it’s who we are.  But it’s not more important than people.  So there should be a balance somewhere.  A schedule can help give you a structure where you can set aside time for writing and time for the people in your life.

Now, it is harder to get back into the writing routine when you get out of it, so be prepared to feel like you’re pulling teeth in order to get stuff written after you come back from an extended break.  If you just take a break for a day or two, you’ll be fine, but I’ve found if you’re away from the routine for a week or more, it’s awful to get back into the routine.  If you’re having trouble getting into the routine again, be patient with yourself.  Just because you’re not making a certain word count every day, it doesn’t mean you’re not serious about writing.  Being serious about writing means you care about the quality of your books.

I’m going to say it again in bold so because I want this thinking to take the place of the “you must write every day” trap:  Being serious about writing means you care about the quality of your books.   Quality being the key word.  “Quality” basically means is that you put forth your very best effort with the help of outside resources (other people who know what they’re doing).

What if You Don’t Feel Like Writing?

I’ve noticed the longer I get away from my writing routine, the harder it is to get motivated to write.  This is especially hard when there is a major life event going on: moving, health issues, birth of a baby, death in the family (just to name a few).  If you have unsupportive family members or friends like I do, it’s even harder.  Because our work is at the computer, no one “sees” us working.  We’re not doing physical labor, so it’s harder to convince them that what we’re doing is a job and must be treated like a job in order for us to stay in the business mindset.  Just because it’s work we enjoy, it doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  There are times when it’s downright hard, and we end up feeling like we have to pull teeth to get words on paper.

So what are some steps we can take if we don’t feel like writing but have to?  

1.  Decide you’re going to do it no matter how many words you get down.

This is where it’s helpful to set aside a small chunk of time at the computer.  I recommend 15 minutes because it doesn’t seem overwhelming.  Turn off the TV, disable the Internet if you have to, unplug the phone, and remove any other distractors you need to.  I prefer music while I write, and I usually make playlists for each book or series that I work on.  Having that type of music in the background helps me.  But there are times when absolute quiet is better.

2.  Get comfortable.

Whether you’re at your writing desk, in a library, in a recliner, or somewhere else, be in a place where you can relax.

3.  Get away from people.

There are times when having people around is great.  When you’re struggling to write isn’t one of them.  If you have to lock yourself in your bedroom or bathroom, then do it.  (As a mother of four school-age children and a stay-at-home husband, I understand completely why that lock feature on the door is the best thing that has happened to writers.)

4.  Put a treat by your side.

This won’t work in a place that will let you snack on something, but it can in other places.  At the moment, I have a shrimp and crab salad on the table next to my recliner.

5.  Keep an eye on the time or set a timer.

6.  Don’t stress word count.

The key is to write something.  Sometimes writing a blog post or doing a free writing exercise can help.  Sometimes the act of writing something unrelated to your book can loosen up those stiff writing muscles.  This blog post is my warm-up writing before I dive into my current work-in-progress.  My first fifteen minutes is going into this post.  😀

7.  Put the plan in motion.

Once you’re ready, get writing in your story.   If you have to pull up two works-in-progress and go back and forth between them to fill up that 15 minutes, go ahead.  I currently have three works-in-progress up.  A week ago, I ended up writing a paragraph in one, had no idea what to put next, went to my other work-in-progress, wrote a paragraph or two in there, and had to go back to the other work-in-progress.  It can be frustrating because you’re not seeing a major progress in your works-in-progress, but every little bit helps you get closer to the goal (another finished story you can publish).

Final thoughts:

Fortunately, the words do end up getting easier as you go along.  It might get easier the same day, it might take a couple of days, or it might take a month.  In 2011, I went through an entire month where I couldn’t write more than 200 words a day.  Talk about snail pacing it!  But sooner or later, things will pick up and the words will fly from your mind and onto the computer screen.  It’s the process of getting there that sucks.

I wish stories would write themselves, but they don’t.  I wish all writing was easy, but it’s not.  Ironically, when I started writing, it was a lot easier than it is now.  It is work.  Hard work.  Sadly, people who don’t write have no idea how difficult it is.  This is why I think it’s helpful to have a couple of author friends you can trust who can share the ups and downs of this profession.  It helps a lot to know you’re not alone.

For more inspiration, I’d like to point you to Melanie Nilles’ post “How do I get my writing done?”

If anyone else has tips they’d like to share on getting past the horrible “I don’t feel like writing” feeling, please comment.  😀

 

Creativity Busters (AKA Avoiding the Writer Meltdown)

This was written around October 2010.  I originally published it on Myspace.  I found this in a draft folder and thought the same stuff still applies so why not post it?

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I have been thinking of the things that have led to my “writer meltdown”.  You know, the one that inspired me to write multiple posts that drove everyone crazy and earned me the title “ranter of the year” on a certain website?  Just kidding.  I got no such title…at least not that I know of.  

I’m in the period of reflection.  What drove me to this point?  How could I have set up enough boundaries (with myself and others) that would have allowed me to go through the crazy period I just did unscathed?  How can I avoid another meltdown?

I guess I should define “writer meltdown”.  It’s when a writer, for one reason or another, hits an invisible wall where he/she is unable to write anything on paper because of all the things going on around him/her.  This is different from writer’s block.  And yes, I’m aware some authors don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do because a block is what it sounds like: the inability to press forward and write the story…however, the thing stopping the author from writing is within.  Most of the time it’s because the story isn’t going in the direction it’s meant to go.  This has nothing to do with outside influences.

But a writer’s meltdown does.  I’m going to list some of my outside influences.  And yes, I know I am responsible for how I responded to these things, but since they threw me off guard, I didn’t see them coming and didn’t adequately prepare myself ahead of time.  Also, in a meltdown the author can successfully write the story if the outside influences are dealt with, which also makes it different from a writer’s block.

Okay.  So here we go.  This is my second writer’s meltdown this year.  In my first on (back in March-April), these were the culprits:

1.  Checking for any reviews I got on places like Amazon, Smashwords, and Goodreads.

This is such a bad idea.  It doesn’t seem like it at first because for the longest time you don’t have any reviews.  The danger isn’t there until you’ve sold enough books to get outside your immediate circle of influence, and the wider your circle gets, the more people you reach and sooner or later, you’ll reach enough people where you’ll run into people who hate your book.  Not only will they hate your book, but they will often be nasty and rude about it.

Look, one thing I’ve learned in all the reviews I’ve gotten (good and bad and indifferent) is that reviews are not a true reflection of the book.  It’s a reflection on that particular reviewer’s reading preference.  That’s it.  Either the book “jived” with them or it didn’t, and even if that book had been a hit with them, someone else wouldn’t like it.  So if you’re checking out reviews, you’re letting someone else put a value on your book, and when you do that, you’re letting them tell you how good or bad you’re doing as a writer.  When you do that, you will suffer in your ability to write at your best.

I say, “Screw that.  Leave the customer reviews to the other readers to read and deal directly with your fans instead.  Your fans (your target audience) are the ones you want to please.  Those outside your target audience don’t matter.  It might sound cold, but it’s true.  We write for a certain audience, not everyone.  

2.  Paid attention to people who emailed me with “your book sucks because…” or “you need to change…” message.

Don’t give these people the time of day.  The problem with these people is they never put “book complaint” or “your book sucks” in the subject of the email.  If they did, we would save ourselves a lot of grief because then we’d never read the email.  We’d hit reply right away, send out the “Thank your for your feedback.  I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing.  Sincerely, your name here.”

But no, they usually put the title of your book or “feedback” (which I’ve gotten on good and bad emails so I can’t use that as an indicator to what I’m going to get when I open it up) in the subject.  So it’s a gamble.  However, as soon as you see, “I dont want to upset you but…” stop reading.  What comes next does not apply to you because it really applies to this person writing the email and what they would do as a writer.  Do you know who typically sends me those types of emails?  Other writers.  I rarely get these from readers-only type of people.  Writers will either be among your biggest supporters or harshest critics.

If your fans (target audience) likes the book, you’re okay.

3.  Watching the sales’ reports.

Yeah, I know it’s hard.  It’s like a gambling problem, but it’s devastating on the ego when the numbers go down, esp. when you get a huge jump.  Sooner or later, you hit your peak, and then you come back down.  Now, I will say there does seem to be a leveling off effect that slowly emerges after the book has peaked.  And adding another book does increase sales after about a month of being up.

What I’m saying is the book doesn’t always stay at the peak.  Unless you are mentally prepared for this, it will devastate you because you’ll fear no one will ever buy your books again (you are now off the map for good).  So expect it.  Sales will ebb and flow, and I am starting to believe they will eventually level out so they sell at a consistent pace.  And yes, I truly believe offering all your books for free will kill your potential for making this steady income stream a reality because time and time again, people would buy my book off of Amazon, go to my website, and download the rest for free.  I’m not begrudging them that they did this.  I’m kicking myself for being stupid enough to offer them all free like that in the first place.  (Plus after awhile, people take advantage of that generosity and expect you to send them your first draft because they just can’t wait to read the next book or send pdf files because everywhere they tried to download, it wouldn’t work.  I’ve gotten these emails and more.)

[Edited in 2012 to add: a couple of free books, esp. the first in a series, can work to your advantage.  But every single book being free?  Bad idea.]

Okay.  That’s what I did wrong in March-April.  What did I do this time that led to the great meltdown of September-October.

Well, I will start with what someone else did and blogged about:

4.  Responded to people who left negative (as in nasty reviews) on her books.  I just witnessed a well-known author who I kind of know but not really (acquaintance) getting burned for this.  She was polite, offered a free book to make up for their bad experience, and suddenly, she had two people ganging up on her on Amazon and Goodreads.  Currently, she is on a break from the world because she went through her own version of what I term a “writer’s meltdown”.  It turns out, this is not uncommmon.  Other authors reported on her blog that they were also ganged up on when they tried to be nice to someone who left a nasty review on their book.  [Edited 2012: To clarify, there is a huge difference between an objective 1-star review and a blatant nasty review.  1-star objective reviews are good.  Nasty reviews meant to attack are bad.]

Just face it.  Some readers will leave scathing reviews on a book and feel perfectly justified in doing so.  You can’t stop mean people from being mean.  All you can do is ignore them, and fortunately, that is easy enough to do if you don’t check your reviews.  By the way, this author concluded all writers are better off not looking at places like Amazon and Goodreads to check reviews, so I’m not the only one preaching this, and she is a very well-known and popular indie author.

5.  Tried to help every single author who emailed me with a question.  This was draining on my time, and you can spend a good couple hours a day doing this because their questions which take five seconds to write, take a good half hour to respond to.  Or they want critiques or book reviews or for you to read their blog, etc, etc, etc.  If you haven’t gotten these yet, then you haven’t sold enough books.  I promise you if you sell enough, they’ll come.  I’m not the only author who has needed a break from everything becasue of this.

I’m currently exchanging “war stories” with another author (different from the one in 4).  I also wouldn’t get caught up in sharing interviews (unless you do it with one or two authors every blue moon and make their blog post relevant to your blog topic–as in no “promo this book from this person only” post).  Why?  Because then you’ll have another author who wants to be featured and another and another until you’re no longer writing for your blog readers but servicing other authors, not getting paid for it, and losing your readers.  I get a lot of flack from new writers in this area, but hey, I’ve seen too many blogs fall flat and become meaningless because of this.  Your blog is about you.  It’s not about other authors.  Let other authors get their own blogs and plug their books all they want.  They don’t need your space to do it.  If you want to mention an author, fine.  But don’t make it a common thing.

I get a lot of emails from other authors.  You spend all your time helping everyhone else, you end up with no real time to write your own stories, and when that happens, you get drained.  Your fans email you and want to read the next book so “Are you writing it yet?  When do you think you’ll start?  I’ve read all your books and there’s no one else I enjoy as much as you.”  Then you think, “What the heck am I doing, busting my butt for these writers when my first priority is to my readers?  You know, people who are actually willing to buy my books?  I don’t get paid to give writers advice.”

Here’s my solution to this one: on your blogs and contact me page, make a form letter ahead of time.  Tell writers to ask you their questions in your blog (if it’s dedicated to writing subjects, such as this one or the Self-Published Author’s Lounge), give them links to book reviewers you know about, send them to websites where you believe they can glean good information about publishing and/or book promotion.  Then explain you have too many writing commitments to spend all your time in emails answering questions in this area.

That is what I opted to do because I figure why flood my inbox when I can nix this in the bud?  It’s working so far.  I had a couple of writers follow me on Facebook and subscribe to that Self-Published Author’s Lounge blog because of this and now they are asking questions there.  This is great because other writers can benefit from the authors on that blog answering their questions.  Or you can make a form letter and deal with them on an individual basis.  I’d rather not go through the individual headache, though.

6.  Fear that people won’t think my books are worth buying.  So my sales will sink and I’ll lose money.  This is one I have to press through.  And it’s why I’ve had to surround myself on Facebook with my fans to admit my fears and remember that I got the fans not because I gave out free books but because I gave out free books that were worth reading.  And I was surprised by the people who said they’d be willing to buy my next book, some saying they already did, and others saying I should have done this sooner.  I have been getting some emails in the past saying I need to charge for my books to get paid for my work, so it’s not like I suddenly heard this.  But I think every author goes through the, “Will people really think my book is worth buying when they can get others for free?”

I don’t want readers who settle for me.  I want readers who seek me out.  I do believe I’ll work through this fear just fine.  It’ll just take a couple months of the “sky not falling” for it to sink in my head.  Now, I still have three novellas and one short story up for free on my site, and yes all of them are still up on Obooko (and I decided to let those stay there instead of going through the hassle of taking them down).  I know my books are on Scrib’d.  But Joe Konrath is not particularly concerned about pirated books and neither have other successful authors.  So I’m not stressing it.  But in the future, my future books will not be uploaded to Obooko and it’s as easy as that.

I’ll end this here because that is the bulk of it all, and you know, the minute I put a price tag on my books and told writers that I will no longer be taking personal emails, my meltdown resolved quickly, and I have been able to to write 11,200 words in two weeks.  I think it’s been two weeks since I went on my writing break, right?