Posts Tagged becoming a professional author

What Brazilian Jui-Jitsu Can Teach Us About Going Pro as AUTHORS

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Some of you may know that (for stress relief) I practice Brazilian Jui-Jitsu. Being a teacher and a writer, I see lessons in everything. Strangely, our dojo is not known for BJJ. It’s mainly Shito Ryu Karate and those classes are always packed. There’s a plethora of black belts and they earned it. Many are kids, and they’re a wonder to behold.

Our Jui-Jitsu class? Right now we are down to five people—two out with injuries, one went off to med school and two are on vacation. This can feel weird when the next class over is packed wall-to wall with students.

Last night we were talking about why our group was so small. Why are people not as attracted to BJJ? Why do so many sign up then quickly leave? I’m being careful here, because over my many years, I’ve studied four forms of martial arts and two styles of fighting—Tae Kwon Do (Korean), Karate (Japanese), Wing-Jitsu (a fusion one Wing Chun Kung Fu and Jui-Jitsu), Japanese Jui-Jitsu, regular boxing and kickboxing.

All have strengths and weaknesses.

I have my preferences. I liked Wing-Jitsu the best because I really love doing throws and I love the hand to hand combat. But is it better than any other? Depends on the fighter.

***Hmmm, like genre preferences?

So Why ARE We So Small?

First, in BJJ you are a white belt for a looooooooooong time. The minimum time is 18 months. When people in other classes are blowing through the belt-rainbow faster than a Skittle commercial and we’re still sporting a white belt? Can be tough on the ego.

There is no “outside badge” of what we know.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of GollyGForce

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of GollyGForce

Also, since we’re mostly on the floor grappling, there’s a lot of nuance outsiders don’t see. We aren’t doing the fancy kicks and things that look “cool.” And, bluntly, BJJ is a tough, tough, tough sport. It’s hard on the body because we mostly fight. BJJ is also something that is pretty much impossible to do alone. We can’t hone our skills with a punching bag. We must have others to practice with. Since we’re doing a lot of throwing and joint locks and wear no pads, injuries are commonplace. In two months I’ve broken my nose and two toes.

Just goes with the sport *shrugs*.

***And, for the record, all of my MAJOR injuries were NEVER in a dojo. Soccer, icy pavement, and evil coffee tables hurt me worse than any martial arts.

Last week, I fought the guy who broke my nose. He made a comment about being easy on me and I chastised him. If I wanted to go through life with no pain I’d take up scrapbooking and I sure as hell wouldn’t be a writer.

What BJJ and Writing Can Teach Us

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kristina Zuidema

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kristina Zuidema

This brings me to my point. I see a LOT of parallels in BJJ and us choosing to go pro as writers. BJJ is easier if we go into it understanding the realities of the sport. We set our expectations correctly. Too many newbies don’t, which is why they quit. They think they will be the special case, the person who’s only a white belt for a month or that they can compete without pain.

Same in writing. I’ve been guilty. I didn’t need craft books or classes. Ptht. *rolls eyes* When I wrote my first “novel” my biggest concern was how to choose an agent when all of them said yes and were fighting over my book. Talk about an awkward cocktail party. I so wish I were kidding. Yes, I was an idiot. Laugh at me. I do. The query letters agents make jokes about? That was ME.

At first I was discouraged in my writing career. I wanted to give up daily. The more I wrote, the more I was rejected, the dumber I felt. I believe much of this could have been avoided had I understood the realities of what it meant to go pro. Then my expectations would have been more reasonable.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

What to Expect

We WILL Be Tempted to Judge Ourselves by Outside Opinions

Like BJJ, most of us will be white belts a LONG, LONG time. What most people fail to appreciate is there is a massive disparity within “white belt writers.” In BJJ, a white belt who’s been in class for a month is NOT the same as one who’s been fighting/training for over a year. But bluntly, outsiders will all see the same color belt and, since they haven’t been on the mats, they can’t possibly understand.

Same in writing. A writer who’s just stepped out to attempt writing a novel is often regarded the same as a writer who’s been working hard for a year or two. Just like outsiders don’t understand that the process for gaining belts in BJJ is slooooow, regular people believe the second we finish a book, it should be shelved at B&N the very next week and on the NTYBS list by the end of the month.

They have NO concept how slow the process is for writing a novel and getting that book to market (even if we were freakish savants who wrote the Wold’s Perfect Book our first try). Often when we’re new, even WE don’t understand this.

Regular People: So, can I get your books at a bookstore? No?

Subtext: You aren’t a “real” writer.

This is why humility is such a vital trait in life, martial arts and writing. We need to be open to not knowing “everything” and seek help from those stronger and more seasoned. We also should give ourselves permission to be new, to be learning. We get too focused on the “belt” (getting published/selling lots of books) and that’s when depression sets in and we’re tempted to give up. It has to be about LOVE of the sport (writing) and less about the recognition if we have any hope of sticking to it long enough to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Writing is ALL About Endurance, Tenacity, and SENSITIVITY

Grappling will test the limits of the human body. We spar 40-50 minutes straight with one-minute rest breaks for water. Then, the next round and the next….and the next. It’s why a lot of people quit. It’s hard work and nothing like TV or the movies ;) .

Same with writing. The Modern Author has A LOT of work ahead. Most people don’t “get” that we are going to write probably about a million words before we even know what we’re doing (then add in branding, business, social media and LIFE).

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***Btw, and if you happen to get a clue before the million words and are the exception, GO YOU. But if we go in knowing how hard this is, we’re less likely to be over-critical and give up. I know it took me at least a quarter million words to unstick my head out of my own butt.

Also, in BJJ, most people can’t see all we are balancing at the same time. Attacking, defending, calculating physics nonstop and at top speed; using hands feet, knees and mind all simultaneously. It’s a sport of strategy. It’s VITAL we learn to feel the body of the opponent, to anticipate the next move. It’s less about me and more about others.

Readers often don’t appreciate all the countless nuances of what we do, because if we’re any good, we MAKE it look easy. But we’re balancing character, plot, dialogue, subtext, symbol, description, etc. etc. Excellent writers focus on others. We feel the ebb and flow of the human condition and relax into the reality that what we do takes a lot of time in lonely places with no cheer squad.

The late David Eddings said it best and here is the extended quote:

“My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words–the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.

“When you are with people, listen; don’t talk. Writers are boring people. What are you going to talk about so brilliantly? Typewriters? The construction of paragraphs? Shut your mouth and listen. Listen to the cadences of speech. Engrave the sound of language on your mind. Language is our medium, and the spoken language is the sharp cutting edge of our art. Make your people sound human. The most tedious story will leap into life if the reader can hear the human voices in it. The most brilliant and profound of stories will sink unnoticed if the characters talk like sticks.

“Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth doing at all. If hard and unrewarding work bothers you, do something else. If rejection withers your soul, do something else. If the work itself is not reward enough, stop wasting paper. But if you absolutely have to write–if you’re compelled to do it even without hope of reward or recognition–then I welcome you to our sorry, exalted fraternity.” (David Eddings R.I.P, Christchurch City Libraries Blog)

Master the BASICS

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Never underestimate the power of the SIMPLE. Mastery is only achieved by achieving a sound foundation of fundamentals. Make them second nature. Basics are CRITICAL. When people are injured in BJJ, it’s often because they forgot basics.

Stay on the balls of your feet so you can maneuver. Relax. Roll into an attack and use the opposition’s momentum against them. Don’t post a leg where your opponent can grab it.

When I studied Jui-Jitsu, you know what we did the first two months? FALL. Over and over and over. That was it. Nothing fancy. But if you don’t know how to fall? That’s when bones get broken.

Many writers run to self-publish and they get popped because the BASICS are botched or even missing—POV, proper grammar, punctuation, dialogue, etc. Instead of starting with foundational stuff and building ART from there, they hurry or try to be “fancy”. Don’t. Basics are cool.

To make this point, here is a GREAT, GREAT laugh from my hero, Weird Al Yankovic…

What are your thoughts? Do you compare your progress too much with your peers? Do you find yourself rushing? Is it discouraging when outsiders act like you are some poseur because they haven’t seen your book as a movie yet? Do you go back to edit and realize you forgot to stay simple and harness the basics? It’s okay. Did you start out writing as clueless as I was? Then beat yourself up because you “failed”? Do you have a tough time celebrating the small victories?

It’s OKAY. I am guilty of ALL of these. This stuff doesn’t go away, it’s why vigilance is important. It’s also why I blog more about my failures than successes. I want you guys to see the REALITY of what we do, not some Photoshopped unreality.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform (HINT: Start as EARY as possible) here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

THIS SATURDAY!!!!!

SATURDAY is my ANTAGONIST CLASS. NYC Time 12:00-2:00. Use WANA15 for $15 off. Have an idea for a book? Stuck and can’t move forward? Keep starting books you can’t finish? THIS class is the cure! You get two…okay usually more like three hours of instruction, the recording, detailed notes AND you can upgrade for personal consulting to help you repair or construct your masterpiece.

 

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28 Comments

Writer Victory!—#1 Voluntarily Submit

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I learn through anecdotes, examples, illustrations, images and I LOVE acrostics. My husband and I like to go to the Thursday service at our church, namely because the week has usually pounded us soundly enough that we need some spiritual encouragement. The group we attend is small, but the point is to nurture us so we can serve as guides and be the light for others.

Anyway, this week, the lecture used an acrostic for VICTORY. I was taken aback how remarkably this acrostic applied to my own fifteen-year-journey as an author. I wanted to share an author variation with you guys, because, in a world of “instant success” it is easy to become lost, discouraged and want to give up.

Today, we will discuss V, which stands for “Voluntarily submit.”

“Submit” might be a word that raises your hackles. We’re writers. We march to the beat of our own kazoo. Ah, but do we? Maybe we do more conforming than we care to admit.

Can we be successful being rigid? Likely not. There’s a lot of power in submitting. As anyone who practices Aikido or Ju-Jitsu can tell you—bending beats breaking ;) .

So…

Voluntarily submit to who you are. Writers don’t write because it’s a hobby or fun. We write because we must. We aren’t happy when we aren’t putting words on a page. This is part of why I blog.

Our craft often involves other things than the actual writing. It could be research or revisions. Maybe it involves watching entire seasons of Battlestar Galactica or Breaking Bad in order to better understand plot, arc, or character.

I think these times can be uniquely hard for us because we aren’t writing. I know when I dropped down to blogging maybe once a week, I fell into a funk, a weird depression I couldn’t name. All that was wrong? I wasn’t writing.

I learned that blogging or even simply doing a daily writing exercise is vital to maintaining my joy, essential for creative homeostasis.

Voluntarily submit to the idea that you will be criticized. We are criticized by others too scared to be different, too chicken to follow their bliss. Conformity is more important than creativity.

For years, I worked corporate jobs I hated to please people I didn’t like and impress those who didn’t care. These people didn’t care about anything other than my validation that being safe was sane. Paychecks were paramount.

So long as my life testified that dental benefits were more important than dreaming, no one was bothered. Ah, but when I had the audacity to challenge the status quo, I no longer reinforced The Great Lie, the Social Soma that keeps the masses medicated, caffeinated and indoctrinated. When I sacrificed my joy on the altar of people-pleasing, I had no pushback.

And life was very, very empty.

When we understand criticism is usually a sign of doing something right? It’s easier to not take it personally and keep pressing.

Voluntarily submit to the process. Understand it’s okay to be new. It’s okay to write junk (though please don’t publish it). Often we’re afraid to write that crappy first draft. We can get paralysis of analysis.

We read more craft books (which is great and KEEP doing this) and go to more conferences (again, AWESOME), but we can do this at the expense of doing the work. We can get so afraid of failure we never begin. Or, if we do begin, we edit and edit and edit the magic right out of our prose and never finish.

WANA, Kristen Lamb, We Are Not Alone, WANA International, how to be successful writer

Image via Marie Loughin WANA Commons

Because Draft One doesn’t read like Cormac McCarthy, we feel like failures, forgetting that even McCarthy’s first draft doesn’t read like Cormac McCarthy (thank you Jonathan Maberry). We are absorbing works from all our author heroes and it’s easy to forget that what we open (whether in paper or on a Kindle) is something that has been rewritten, revised, and then edited countless times by the author and also outside professionals.

It is a fully-formed pearl…not the gelatinous goo inside an oyster pried open too soon.

Voluntarily submit to honest and brutal feedback. Granted, we don’t need to offer our manuscript to people who just want to shred our souls. But we can’t shelter our WIPs from the world if we’re professionals. Professionals ship, they publish. I would rather be gutted in private and be able to repair my weaknesses than to send and ill-formed work into the world for public slaughter.

Many a writer has become angry with me when I don’t tell them every word is a unicorn kiss, but that’s not life. We don’t all get first-place trophies for trying. We can get one-star rabid reviews from nasty people with nothing else better to do than to be jackasses.

And these will come no matter how good our work. There is no such thing as the perfect book. The flip-side is deep down we will die a little if 20 reviewers blast us about things we could have corrected if we would have been humble enough to listen to correction early.

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I’ve fallen victim, myself. When I wrote my first book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media peers told me including MySpace was a bad idea, that MySpace was making poor decisions. I hated Facebook at the time and was really rooting for MySpace to pull its digital head out of its digital butt. They didn’t. And virtually EVERY criticism I have ever had over that first book revolved around me mentioning MySpace.

I learned to listen.

Voluntarily submit that there are rules that govern our art. Yes we can break the rules, but we need to understand them first. If we don’t that is being an amateur and not a pro. Pros study the rules then bend them or even shatter them, but pros understand we write for ourselves and for others. If we get too weird, we can confuse and frustrate our audience.

The Wright Brothers appreciated the RULES of gravity and physics, thus were able to create ways to DEFY them.

Voluntarily submit to the notion that this job is WORK. A LOT of it. There are a million reasons this profession is not for everyone. In fact, most will give up. Pros don’t find time, we MAKE time. Time isn’t hiding in couch cushions with the remote. We have to do a lot of things we don’t feel like doing—research, writing, social media, etc.

We can have no gain without sacrifice.

Right now? It’s four in the morning. Spawn woke me at 3 a.m. after sneaking into bed with us. I awoke to his feet in my face because there is some scientific law that dictates that small children must sleep like a CLOCK.

I couldn’t go back off to sleep so I’m here. Writing. And yes, tomorrow…today??? I will be tired. I AM tired and I still have a company to run and a house to clean (on top of writing my books). But 1100 words have been given new life and hopeful they will give YOU new life as well.

What are your thoughts? Are there areas you find harder to submit to? Do criticism crater you? Do you find a million things to do—laundry, dishes, organizing—because you feel guilty for writing? Are you too hard on your first drafts instead of granting yourself permission to not be PERFECT? What creative exercises do you do to put words on the page daily to keep your writing mojo?

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I will announce April’s winner on Monday. Sorry, didn’t see the whole Spawn School drama coming and I want to be fair.

If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have a FANTASTIC class TOMORROW to help you!

CLASS COMES WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

Understanding the Antagonist

If you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension.

Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . This is a GREAT class for streamlining a story and making it pitch-ready.

Additionally, why pay thousands for an editor or hundreds for a book doctor? This is a VERY affordable way to make sure your entire story is clear and interesting. Also, it will help you learn to plot far faster and cleaner in the future.

Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

I’ll be running the First Five Pages again at the end of May, so stay tuned.

And, if you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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71 Comments

Commitment is the Cure–From “Aspiring” Writer to Professional Author

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Tim Simpson.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Tim Simpson.

It’s been amazing and terrifying to watch the changes in our industry just over the past six years. For generations, there was only a handful of items a writer needed to do. Write a book. Query. Get an agent. Land a deal. Hopefully continue writing more books. Though this was far simpler, there was a horrific failure rate and most writers never saw their works in print.

In The Digital Age, we live in an exciting time. E-books have offered new life to many works that were simply a bad investment in the paper-based world (novellas, epic fantasy, poetry). Yet, with new opportunity comes new responsibilities.

We must understand the business side of our business. And, as someone who teaches at many conferences, I know that until recently it has been rare to find an in-person conference that offers training outside the old paradigm.

I’ve been to conferences with all NY agents, only a class or two on social media, nothing about formatting or indie or book covers. This leaves a majority of writers ill-prepared for anything other than a traditional path (but this IS improving).

Yet, as we watch the trends, we are seeing that even authors who traditionally publish are still pursuing other paths as well to 1) increase income harnessing the power of combined sales and 2) maintain fan excitement 3) broaden/strengthen the platform.

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As it stands, NY is limited to putting out a book, maybe two per year. Also, bookstores only have so much shelf space (which is negotiated by an agent/sales team). Due to the new mega-bookstore model, stores like B&N make more money off items other than books. Go into any B&N and the entire front of the store is filled with Nooks and Nook accessories (instead of books).

Additionally, they only can offer discounts by stocking only so many books and for a short period of time. This means authors with backlists generally will only have the most recent title for sale, unless they happen to be one of the big names (J.K. Rowling).

Writing now has merged art with entrepreneurship. We are essentially beginning a business (even if we choose traditional). Any successful business has a business plan. Also, we must invest in ourselves and our dream. There are a number of hard truths.

Regular People BELIEVE Writing is EASY

The average person out there has no concept of how hard it is to write a book. They think we sit and play with imaginary friends all day, which we do, but making those friends cooperate can be nothing short of a nightmare. Readers only see the final product. They only see what took months or years to complete. There is also this mistaken notion that because we have command of our native tongue, that writing a book/novel is only a matter of sitting down and writing.

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

Yes, butt-in-chair can be the greatest challenge, but developing dimensional characters takes profound understanding of human nature and psychology. Then we have to create realistic and interesting dialogue. Add in enough description and detail to build the world without boring the reader. We have to maintain tension on every page, know how to balance scenes and sequels, understand narrative structure and on and on and on.

But, it is this misguided perception that writing is easy that can derail us.

Forget What Other People Think

Often we are afraid to take risks because we fear failure. Yet, any true success is birthed from risk. We can’t think about what other people think or 1) we’ll quit 2) we’ll slack off 3) we’ll listen to bad advice.

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Everyone has an opinion. One way humans show love is by offering “advice.” This is fine, but we have to mature enough and grab hold of what we want so tightly that we can allow other people the right to be wrong.

When I started writing, my family didn’t talk to me for two years. I even had a church elder laugh and tell me essentially that I had a better chance of being abducted by terrorists than being successful as a writer. Other family members felt I should go to law school. For a time, I listened. I even took the LSAT and gained entrance to law school.

But, I remember standing there with my acceptance letter and I had to make a choice. Did I really want to be a lawyer? NO.

Thing is, other people can give advice, and often they do this from genuine care and concern, but remember…

Only YOU will pay the price.

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

When we allow others to talk us into “real jobs”, they won’t be the ones who die a slow death every day. They won’t be the ones who throw up every day on the way to work (been there). They won’t be the one with a broken heart, an empty life and a mental spiral of what-ifs that keep them awake at night.

Commitment is the Cure

Lately, we have been talking about WANACon, which is coming up next weekend and today is the last day to use the code Valentine for $15 off. It’s an affordable way to learn from top industry experts, learn about ALL kinds of publishing—self-pub, indie, traditional—social media, branding, craft, platform-building and all for a reasonable price and from HOME. New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling Author Shirley Jump will be the keynote and agent pitch sessions are available. We have over 20 presentations from top professionals.

WANACon is largely volunteer because I was living of Ramen my first conference. Even though it was local, it still cost me over $300 and a lot of driving. I wanted to offer something for those who might be on a budget or have time or geographic challenges.

Yet, here’s the thing. Do I want you to come to WANACon? Yes, we have a lot of fun and it will spoil you. Regular conferences are costly and a physical beating (especially for introverts). Most conferences also will charge extra for recordings and we provide them for free because we want you to succeed.

BUT, I don’t care if you go to WANACon or some other conference. Just go to a conference. Commit. Attend/ join RWA (Romance Writers of America) even if you don’t write romance. Surround yourself with what you want to be. Connect and learn from professionals.

Publishing can feel a little like THIS...

Publishing can feel a little like THIS…

I want to encourage you to take true professional steps that transition a dream into a reality. Invest in your domain name (the NAME that will be on your books). Commit to building a platform or blogging. Platforms capable of driving sales can’t be bought or POOF out of the ether. They take time and some money.

NY will not represent an author with no platform. Most agencies will google an author and if they can’t find us? Game over. Come back when we have a platform. If we go indie or self-pub? We’re dead without a platform.

The publishing world of today offers a much better chance for success, but we have to be educated and have a plan of action. We need to invest in that dream. I can’t tell you the difference my first conference made in how I viewed my career choice and even myself.

Perception is REALITY

The world thinks most writers are just wannabes typing away at a Starbucks. Why? Because a lot of us do that. I did. In the beginning, I didn’t take myself seriously. Why would others? But, when we commit and invest, this is when we change and others often do, too.

Image via Tumblr

Image via Tumblr

If you met someone who claimed to be an artist, but they simply carried around a notebook and drew cool pictures, we’d think one thing. But, what if we talked to them and realized they had a web site with their work, that they’d worked an extra job to train with professional artists?

Someone who sings in the shower or in the church choir is one thing. But what about the person who gives up every extra hobby to take voice lessons and record their songs? Or a chef who creates beautiful dishes for people at home, but then later takes out a loan to start a catering business?

Our level of commitment is a reflection of our passion and our genuine desire to do this thing for real. 

This is February. Most of us are struggling with the New Year’s Resolutions. We all do. But whether you attend a conference a professional workshop, take classes, begin building your platform, make that shift. Otherwise, our “dream” will remain an intangible. Sacrificing time and money, risking failure, ignoring naysayers, these are the things that separate the “aspiring writer” from the “pre-published author.”

Regardless of what you write, which path you choose, which conference you attend, we support you 1000%. It’s why WANA works so hard to offer you all the tools for success: classes, conferences, WANACommons (for blog images you can use worry-free), WANATribe (social network for writers), #MyWANA and Facebook’s WANA group. We want you to have education, encouragement, resources, and a support network. The rest is in the doing ;).

As a gift, we have a free recording of Gabriela Pereira’s “How To Get the Most Out of a Writing Conference.” Use this for WANACon or any conference of your choosing. You can sign up for WANACon HERE and use the code Valentine for $15 off.

What are your thoughts? Have you been bombarded with naysayers and dream stealers? Is it hard to believe that your writing is a “real job”? I know I still struggle with that, too. What are your biggest challenges, fears? What are some of your successes? Share and inspire us!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

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71 Comments

Tips to Make Us Stronger Authors—Both Fiction & Non-Fiction—Part 2

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sin Amigos.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sin Amigos.

Yesterday, WordPress (for some reason—I suspect evil elves) published my notes and many of you were sent my “Blog Haiku.” For those who missed it? Here it is:

Fill a Need

Go Niche

Get a Thick Skin

***

Now to expound…

Non-Fiction and Fiction Authors Have Similar Goals

Good non-fiction informs and entertains. Fiction entertains and fills an emotional vacuum.

Fill a Need

If we are writing non-fiction, the first thing we need to ask, is “What need is this filling?” Do people need to learn how to eat healthy, heal from divorce, manage time, balance their checkbooks? Do they want to understand and explore information left out of the history books? Do they want an informed opinion about economics, politics, or disease? Do they have a need to be intellectually stimulated?

Maybe readers want to learn about a subject that is beyond their intellectual grasp. I love documentaries about astrophysics, but whenever the alphabet (particularly the GREEK alphabet) enters MATH? I’m lost.

Doesn’t mean I might not be interested in sub-atomic particles and The Big Bang. I love writers skilled enough to take an unintelligible subject and then (through their writing) enable me to connect, understand, and appreciate something so complex.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of NASA.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of NASA.

Whenever we contemplate a subject, we must remember we are selling a product.

Secret Deodorant fills my need to smell nice at the gym and not offend those close (or sweat through my blouse and embarrass myself). A nifty car fills my need to travel from point A to point B, pay less for gas and have a sensor that tells me I’m about to run over the neighbor kid’s bike.

Insurance fills a need to prepare and feel secure that, if and when disaster strikes, I have a company watching my six and promising to make things right. Febreeze fills a need to make my home smell like autumn leaves. In Texas, this is an important need because in September, it is still 100 degrees and I need some promise it is REALLY fall.

With fiction, we are filling emotional needs. A need for excitement, adventure, love, intimacy, triumph, closure, healing, or even escape.

Go Niche

In non-fiction, this is particularly important, especially in the beginning. When we go niche, we minimize competition. We can establish expertise, grow deep roots and gain authority. Eventually, if we desire, we can use the niche success to broaden our platform.

For instance, when I started blogging about social media, I was trying to be like other experts because I was new and insecure.

Then I noticed the tactics other experts were teaching weren’t very author-friendly. Most of us aren’t IT people or power-marketers. Also, many of the experts were speaking to businesses who could simply employ someone to do their social media.

The owner of the business wasn’t in charge of creating the product, too.

Thus, I went niche. I made my content different and for a very specific audience—writers. Sure, WANA methods actually work for any small business. They are ideal for artists, photographers, stylists, lawyers, and any profession where the owner is required to also produce the product/service and lacks a department to delegate social media duties.

Yet, I remained focused on writers. One day I might expand. That’s the plan. But if I’d tried to compete with Guy Kawasaki in the beginning, I’d have been in a losing battle. I picked a field I could cultivate.

I defined my audience and dedicated everything I had into serving, informing, preparing and entertaining THEM.

If I want to write a diet book, a diet “that works” is a lot of competition. But what about a diet book for the woman who is breast-feeding and wants to lose weight, feel better, combat post-partum depression naturally and have a waistline again?

Niche.

This same principle applies to fiction. Many new writers are hesitant to pick a genre. We want to write a book everyone loves. In trying to please everyone, we please no one. Focus is key with fiction. Ask what you want your readers to feel and then focus on that. It will make your writing tighter and it will give it a greater chance of connecting to a willing audience.

We all recognize pizza in all its amazing and varied forms. Some weird casserole with a fancy name? Might taste better, but the pizza is an easier sell. Pizza CAN be creative. Yes, we can blend genres and use artistic abilities to offer “same but different” yet there needs to be a grounding point or audiences are left scratching their heads saying, “I know you SAY it’s good…but what IS it?”

Look for the vacuums. Demographics not being served. This is why I am so excited about Baby Boomer Romance. Still fills a need (love, excitement), it’s recognizable (romance), but it’s different. It can appeal to the 58 year-old who wants to read about a woman in her age group finding love.

Get a Thick Skin

Whether we are writing non-fiction or fiction, this is imperative. There are people out there who have nothing better to do than tear others down. Yes, I’m excited to now be blogging for The Huffington Post. It was a wonderful promotion as NF expert. Yet, a new level, new devil. I can’t moderate comments, and it didn’t take long to get the comment bashing me for using the word “Awesome.”

Um...thanks.

Um…thanks.

I used the word “awesome” ONCE, so I am guessing this is now a word banned from the English language? And I wonder if the commenter realizes she doesn’t look smart, just like a jerk. It took practically duct-taping myself in another room not to respond:

Awesome comment. It’s awesome you could take the time to make such an awesome observation. It’s awesome feedback like this that makes future blogs even MORE AWESOME. Thanks for being AWESOME.

But this goes with the territory *shrugs*.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Fiction authors? You cannot please everyone and if you try to? You start wearing your underwear on the outside of your clothes and take up collecting beer cans in a stolen Wal Mart cart as a hobby. Just don’t go there.

Fiction is subjective, so probably far more vulnerable.

One person LOVES description, and another hates it. One person LOVES lots of subplots, and others are confused. Just hone your craft, put out the best work you can and keep moving. Many of the bullies out there have been bullies since they were in fourth grade teasing the poor kid with the KMart clothes and a lisp.

Look at the bright side, we could be THEM.

What are your thoughts? Have you been on the other end of a bully? A Goodreads bully? Did you use duct tape to keep from hunting them down and burning dog poo on their porch? In your writing, has going niche offered focus? Do you have a clear vision of the “needs” your works should be filling?

I love hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Winner of 20 page edit. Troy Lambert. Please send your 5000 word Word Document to kristen at wana intl dot com.

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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34 Comments

The Personal Apocalypse—When are We REAL Writers?

Raise a glass to yet another BONK on the head.

Raise a glass to yet another BONK on the head.

It would be lovely if, when we decide to pursue our dream to become a writer, that friends, family and acquaintances would roll out the red carpet of support. Maybe some of you are fortunate enough to have had this happen, but I’d wager most of us could have joined a cult of UFO worshippers in New Mexico and received a better response.

New Level, New Devil (Thank You, Joyce Meyers)

Any time we seek to do something remarkable, something that deviates from “normal”… expect rejection. I was “fortunate” to experience a personal apocalypse so massive, that up was the only way to go. With a misdiagnosis of epilepsy, I’d lost my job, my home, my savings, my health, my identity, and my pride. I’d suffered such a sweeping personal extinction that I very literally had nothing left to lose.

Why not become a writer? I’d always wanted to, but was too busy trying to please those who would never be pleased.

Brief History of Kristen’s Failed People-Pleasing Attempts

I’d joined the military to make my father happy. He wasn’t. After being a high school drop-out TWICE, I worked my tail off and won a full medical scholarship to become a doctor and please my grandparents. My grandmother’s first words to me when I announced I’d won a $250,000 scholarship?

“They must have been short on their quota for women.”

I fractured my back in an ice storm in 1995. No more medical scholarship, so I majored in what interested me.

I earned a degree in International Relations, specifically Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. I was going to change the world! The day after graduation, I boarded a plane for Syria and lived with refugees and mingled among the Bedouin and tried to see how things could be “fixed.” They couldn’t. At least not by me.

Defeated, I returned home.

Lost as to what to do next, I went into sales to please my grandfather (the business brain of the family). I was terrible at it. And yet I kept trying to fit myself into worlds where my strengths and talents had no place. In trying to please others, my health deteriorated drastically from stress. I remember every day going to work and having to pull over and puke. I hated what I did THAT much.

After I lost everything due to that fateful misdiagnosis, I decided to become a writer. I’d been working on my tome for years. I was sure it would be a best-seller and shut up all my naysayers. It wasn’t. It was a train wreck. I realized this when I joined a critique group and they promptly filleted me and my manuscript.

Thus, in a new personal low, I reverted back to trying to please others and got another brilliant idea.

“I know. LAW SCHOOL.”

I bought an LSAT book but never studied. I guess I thought I’d learn through osmosis. Anyway, it would have been great if I’d tanked, but I didn’t. I scored a 168 without studying. Now I was truly in a panic. Until the day I received my scores, I hadn’t been honest with myself. I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I’d just thought maybe my family would let up on me for a while then I could write while I “studied” to do better.

But, no. I was accepted into one of the top law schools in the country.

CRAP.

Crisis Point

I’d always believed in service. I was a Rotarian and had done mission work and humanitarian work for most of my life. So, my mother (my sole advocate) and I went to talk to the church elder to get some advice about law school versus being a writer.

For some reason I expected him to support my writing dream, but was basically told I was a fool and most writers wash out and starve and that writing wasn’t a “real” job.”

*Makes mental note of how many BOOKS were lining his office*

When I left, I was in tears and ready to give up on writing. Had it not been for my mother, I would have. I’d have gone off to law school then later hurled myself in traffic because I would have been chained to yet another profession that wasn’t my calling.

How Could ONE PERSON FAIL So MUCH?

Faith is the belief in things ahead that won’t make sense until we look back. This is one of the reasons I blog so much to teach you guys more than craft, more than social media. I want to teach you that it isn’t over until we give up and that failure provides the necessary ingredients for success.

If I hadn’t been a high school dropout, would I have had the tenacity to never give up?

If you read my new book, it’s loaded with neuroscience, economics, epidemiology and humor. If I hadn’t majored in Neuroscience for three years, then earned a degree in Political Economy, would I have been able to tether all these concepts together in a book that could help artists?

The same analytical skills that helped me on the LSAT helped me pull apart what worked and didn’t work with selling books. Why don’t ads sell books when they sell plenty of mascara, diet plans and computers?

If my first novel had been perfect, would I have had to take on jobs editing and reverse-engineered every book I’d ever read to learn? Could I teach craft had I naturally been “brilliant” at it? If I hadn’t landed on my @$$ so many times, would I have developed the sense of humor that makes all these concepts FUN?

Failure as Fertilizer

When we first moved into our new home, our yard was essentially mowed field. The dirt was nothing but rocks and hard clay. When I planted my first flowers, they shriveled and died. So I planted different flowers and they died too.

So then I planted different flowers and they caught on fire and fell into the swamp died too. But, finally, after rounds and rounds of dead plants, the flowers started to thrive. All that had died had provided what was missing, the vital ingredients for life to THRIVE.

THEY LIVE! Only took FOUR YEARS to BLOOM.

THEY LIVE! Only took FOUR YEARS to BLOOM.

Your “failures” feel like bull$#!&, but bull$#!&  makes fabulous fertilizer :D. You just need time, work and patience to bloom.

Embrace the Apocalypse

Becoming a writer isn’t easy. We get called “aspiring” writers until we land a sweet three-book deal with Random-Penguin. No one calls a pre-med student an “aspiring doctor.” They don’t call a pre-law student “an aspiring lawyer.” So, as I’ve said before, screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. You are NOT an aspiring writer, you are at the very least a “pre-published writer”.

Writers write, so if you are writing, you are a WRITER.

Ignore the naysayers. They’ll be your biggest fans one day when you prove them wrong. Raise a glass to your failures. They will provide the ingredients for magic in your future writing. Let the old fall away. A lot of an apocalypse is releasing the old, the out-dated and the junk that doesn’t work.

I had to let go of trying to please others. I had to let go of failing at destinies that weren’t mine. I had to let go of amateur thinking and take my job seriously, even if no one could walk into a bookstore and buy my book (yet). Know that you have stories only you can tell, subjects only you can teach or explore (for the NF authors). You were born to do this and ignore anyone who tells you any different.

If your friends and family don’t support you, the WANAs will. Join us on #MyWANA on Twitter or on WANATRIBE. When we try to hold onto the old and fail to embrace the apocalypse and embark on our true journey, we look a lot like this.

What are your thoughts? Did you have a personal apocalypse that prompted you to throw caution to the wind and become what you always wanted to be? Are you like me and struggle with people pleasing?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

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100 Comments

Entropy is REAL and Author Careers Need Feeding DAILY

Look! I made my own breakfast! Daddy left out CHOCOLATE!

Look! I made my own breakfast! Daddy left out CHOCOLATE!

One of the traps we can fall into is we believe the world is somehow static. We feel overwhelmed because we are doing dishes again, the laundry again, mowing the yard again and cooking meals again. It’s easy to feel caught in this loop that can get depressing with a quickness. The same thing can happen in writing.

The world does not reward perfection, it REWARDS FINISHERS. It rewards DOERS. What are we doing?

Our goals in life need daily feeding. Our writing needs daily care. Our brand needs daily care. Entropy is real, and she’s a $#@%$. She will make sure everything we do falls apart faster than a three-year-old’s sock drawer if we aren’t vigilant. Our In-Box will never be empty. The rest is easier if we just accept that.

Our Brand is a Living Thing

Living things need to be fed, just like pets, kids and husbands. They need daily care. We can’t say, “Sure, I fed the dog last week” and expect Fluffy to live long. A lot of writers (me included) whine about social media.

What is the bare minimum? What is the minimal attendance? Do we really HAVE to blog?

We can feed our kids once a week and they remain alive. Probably a super bad idea. We don’t have to play with our kids or even talk to our spouse. Yet, how healthy will kids, pets, family and marriages be if we only do the bare minimum to sustain life?

Our brand is the same. Our author CAREER is the same.

No one will haul us to writer jail if we only tweet once a day. Don’t use Facebook. No one will force us. But here’s the hard reality. In a world where people are inundated with advertising and free books, they have learned to “unsee.” The cerebral cortex is very efficient at processing chaos of the modern world.

How does the visual cortex keep our computer brain from crashing with all the massive influx? It ignores virtually everything but what we are specifically looking for.

Ads Don’t Sell, RELATIONSHIPS SELL

When was the last time you bought something off a Facebook ad? What about pop-ups? Ever buy anything off a dancing ad you didn’t ask for? Or did you shut that sucker so fast you couldn’t even tell what they were selling? What about automatically generated tweets? When was the last time, you bought a book off author link spam? Or a form letter?

*crickets chirping*

Brands are Formed with Relationships and Relationships NEED FEEDING

I encourage writers to blog. Heck, it should be an area of strength—WORDS. Writers write. Blogs have the power to create long-term passionate relationships with…readers. Only about 8% of the population defines themselves as avid readers. This means 92% of the population still needs entertaining and informing. Most of them have smart phones, and a lot have tablets. They won’t go to a bookstore…but they will buy on-line.

Are we talking to them?

Again…Relationships Lead to Sales

Regular people (the 92%) like short works. They LIKE blogs. If they like our blogs, not a stretch to think they might even enjoy our books. Who cares if someone only buys one or two books a year if it is OUR BOOKS? People buy from who they know and who they like.

Blogs are the most resilient form of social media. Friendster? MySpace? *POOF* GONE. Blogs? Still here and going strong since the 90s.

Blogs grow in power the longer and more frequent we contribute content. It helps our SEO. Blogs can be harvested for books.  Blogging trains us to ship. Blogging helps us get over perfectionism and hones our skills.

We learn to meet self-imposed deadlines no matter what. Family drama, crises, injuries, sickness and housework don’t magically disappear once we are successful. If anything, the workload increases. With blogging, we learn to write, leaner, meaner, faster and better, because we are training. Blogs are the gym for the author.

How good is a gym if we go once a month? Our bodies won’t retain muscle and general health if we don’t train. Why would our writing be any different?

If blogs can create long-term, loyal relationships, and relationships lead to sales, how much are we feeding those relationships?

Don’t want to blog? Don’t, but DO focus on people. Focus on relationships. Serve first. Talk about kittens and laundry and kittens doing laundry. Just be human a few times a day and CARE. Relationships are about giving not taking. Do you like friends who only remember you when they decide to sell vitamins? Or when they need to borrow money? Noodle on that ;).

Writing is a Living Thing in Need of Care

Yes, the brand and platform is important, but only because it should lead to sales. Feed the relationships and feed the craft. Read, watch movies and write. FINISH. SHIP. Again, the entropy thing. Keep writing. Get stronger, better, write more books. Most authors (traditional and non-traditional) start seeing success/traction at BOOK THREE.

As I point one digital finger at you guys I have three pointing back at me. I’m not above this stuff. There are some areas I need to come up higher. I’ve been giving the excuses: But it’s so haaard. I don’t have tiiiimmmme. But I am not gooood at that. Well, if I don’t ever DO something, how can I expect to get GOOD at it? I am kicking my own @$$ about organization today, so this lecture is for me too. Don’t feel left out ;).

Yes, It IS a LOT of Juggling

I know when I get great at writing books, my blog starts getting puny. I start blogging really well and have to kick my own tail to get back to the WIP. It’s like a family. We have laundry and chores and yards and bills and most of us kinda want to stab Martha Stewart in the face.

Again, be realistic. Small steps every day. A lot of the SAME steps. Just like we have to cook dinner every night. Unless we cryogenically freeze our families, we will have to feed them, wash them and care for them every day.

The point of this post is to help shift how you view your career. It is a living thing, a member of the family and it needs tending daily. A lot of the SAME stuff. Once we accept this, it’s much easier and we are far less likely to get depressed and overwhelmed.

How well are you feeding your dream? What steps do you take daily to make sure your writing an brand are cared for? What obstacles do you face? What are your biggest challenges? Do you have an area you’re afraid to face? It’s too overwhelming? Hey, I do. That whole “getting organized” thing is kicking my tail today.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of May I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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79 Comments

Three Phases of Becoming a Master Author

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.31.06 AM

Image via Kristin Nador WANA Commons

Professional authors make our job look easy. That is the mark of a good storyteller. The work flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless. Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three stages in this career.

Neophyte

This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music.” We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.32.50 AM

Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training.

Apprentice

The apprentice phase comes next. This is where we read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, most of your family will likely ban you from “Movie Night.” Everything now becomes part of our training. We no longer look at stories the same way.

The apprentice phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest and filled with the most change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.34.46 AM

Image via KcdsTM Flikr Creative Commons

It’s like when I first started learning clarinet and I had to think of SO MANY THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. I was new at reading music, and I had to tap my foot to keep the beat at the same time I keyed notes (which I keyed incorrectly more times than not). I had to hold my mouth a certain way, blow air with just the right force, pay attention to the conductor…and most of the time I needed a nap afterwards.

WHY did I want to play clarinet? I wondered this a lot.

But as we move through the apprentice phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the apprentice phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.

We just write.

We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the “rules” are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to break rules.

Writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the clarinetist whose fingers now naturally go to the right keys without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

The trick is sticking it through the apprentice phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious.

Master

This is where we all want to be. In fact, we all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are deeply engrained, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte, it’s actually a real story worth reading. Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.36.54 AM

Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Not Despise the Day of Small Beginnings (thanks, Joyce Meyer)—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.

3. No One Begins a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie, too. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be “Masters” right away.

Hey, I did.

We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into “Apprentice” to refine our art even further.

While I am a huge fan of social media and authors having a platform, I will tell you that mastery will only come with writing. Focus less on marketing and more on writing books. That’s what will make the difference, not some algorithm or Facebook ad.

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Note: Due to Easter holiday/anniversary…okay video game marathon, I will be choosing March’s winner later in the week, so stay tuned.

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132 Comments

How Boxing Can Make Us Better Writers–Lesson Two ENDURANCE

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Fort Worth MMA and BJJ

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Fort Worth MMA and BJJ

Yesterday we talked about how important it is to learn to take a hit. We grow, get tougher, get stronger, and we learn where we’re weak. Sometimes those weaknesses are what keep us from moving forward professionally, so it’s good to find them and strengthen them.

We have to learn to take hits because the world is full of petty, nasty people who will go for the TKO. We might even be related to more than a few.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

I’ve written over 512 blogs over the past four years. Let’s say my blogs are 1,000 words long (which is on the low end for anyone who’s followed me for very long, :D). That’s over a half a million words just in blogs. This doesn’t count my books or guest blogs.

I blog for my city and am a featured blogger for SocialIn (with completely different content). My blogs reach hundreds of thousands of people in 26 major cities. Though I’ve easily written close to a million words in just blogs, I still have people infer I’m not a “real” expert/writer. Likely always will, too. Goes with the territory *shrugs*

And $20? It will happen to you, too.

Prepare for the:

“Well, you’re not a real writer because you didn’t traditionally publish.”

“Oh, you aren’t a best-seller so you aren’t a real writer.’”

“You haven’t made the NYT List, so who are you?”

“You don’t yet make your living writing full-time, so you’re not a real writer.”

Okay you win. You’re better than me. Um, I’ve got writing to do *checks watch*. Fun chatting, though :).

Roll with the punches and press on. Keep pressing and those people can just eat your dust later ;)…which leads me to today’s lesson.

Endurance Matters

Why we need to learn to toughen up is this—thick skin is vital for us to keep pressing even when we’re bloody, wounded or discouraged. Being a career writer isn’t a sprint. It’s a mega-marathon-mountain-climbing-Iron-Man. Many writers will fail not because of lack of talent, rather lack of staying power.

Appreciate that Training Often Involves “Other” Activities

Join a boxing gym and just expect to do a lot of jumping rope, running, sprinting, bag work, and you’ll get hit with a medicine ball…a lot.

Yet, at no time during my tenure “boxing” was I ever attacked by a jump rope or a medicine ball. Those “other activities” weren’t actual fighting, but they trained fighters for the endurance necessary to win in the ring.

Winning is frequently tied to staying power. Writing is no exception. Your mind, fingers and muse strengthen with focus, time, training and pain.

We’ll do a lot of things (I.e. blogging) that might not directly have anything to do with writing fiction…but it trains us to 1) meet self-imposed deadlines 2) build an audience with our writing voice 3) hook early 4) ENDURE.

I blogged for almost two years before I passed 50 hits a day. I blogged even when it felt like no one was listening, because I viewed it as part of my author training. Even if no one EVER listened, I was a better, faster, cleaner, more disciplined writer and I was investing in the long-term.

New Writers are Vulnerable

A boxer who’s been in the game for ten years, has a wall of title belts, has already been through the fire and gotten outside validation? It’s easier for that guy to jump in the ring. There’s a psychological advantage this guy earned with blood, time and pain.

For the newbies? Everyone thinks we’re nuts. They forget that even that title champ was a once a green pea tripping over the jump rope, too.

Becoming a writer is easy. Staying a writer is another matter entirely.

The beginning is a delicate time. It’s easy to get discouraged, but remember this:

Every NYTBSA, every Pulitzer-winner, every literary legend was once just an unpaid amateur with a dream, too.

Learn to keep going no matter what, and you cannot imagine the edge you’ll have in this profession (ANY profession).

Keep training. Keep blogging. Keep writing books, even bad books. Keep reading. Keep studying. Learn from everyone you can. It’s how we grow. How we learn. We can’t learn from the sidelines. We need to get into the fray even when we know it’s going to hurt because that’s what gives us staying power. And, as the great coach Vince Lombardi said, Quitters never win and winners never quit  ;).

Have you dealt with nasty people who tried to undermine your dream? What activities do you use to train as a writer-artist? What area do you need help? Where do you feel you’re weak? What’s your plan for strengthening that area? What activities do you think might help writers with endurance training?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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61 Comments

How Boxing Can Make Us Better Writers—Lesson One

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of familymwr

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of familymwr

Many, many moons ago I was in martial arts (I started Tae Kwon Do when I was 13). Because I’d had roughly eight years of dance, I tended to rely a bit too much on kicks when sparring, and I knew this was a weakness (especially since I was the only female competitor back in those days).

In short, I wanted to get better with my hands. So, when I was 19, I joined a boxing gym. This was 20 years ago, but the lessons learned in the boxing ring are useful for anyone in a creative profession, but particularly writers.

Toughen Your Soft Underbelly

Our profession, by its very nature, is delicate and connected to our soft underbelly (our ego and feelings). Our soft underbelly is exactly where critics will seek to strike.

Think of this job like boxing. We’re in the ring. Outside (and even internal) critics are going to seek to gut-punch and knock the wind out of us. Their objective is to drop us to our knees and make us give up.

These opponents might be nasty reviewers, mean critique group members, jealous people with too much free time, or even family members who will tell you you aren’t a “real writer.”

As a NF expert, I just know to expect the “you are really just a poseur fake and not a ‘real’ expert” jab.

Now, I am human. My first instinct is to raise my shield (my resume, my list of credentials in fiction and social media, my Mom’s sworn testimony that I’m awesome, cute and adorable), but we have to move beyond that and just learn to take the hit and keep moving.

“Roll with the punches,” so to speak.

I recall my first time doing an exercise with the medicine ball. My teammate, a giant black man who was apparently fathered by a Mack truck, stood over me. His job was to toss this “ball” at my stomach as I did my sit-ups. Of course, I just saw a ball, and didn’t put two and two together that this “tiny ball” WAS TWELVE FREAKING POUNDS.

Wasn’t pretty.

I curled over on my side gasping like a goldfish out of its tank, all the while wondering why I didn’t take Jazzercise instead.

Yet, after a few months of this, I swear someone could have hit me in the stomach with a crowbar and it wouldn’t have phased me. It’s because those exercises (which hurt, btw) toughened me up. In short, I learned to take a hit.

In this business, we must learn to take a hit.

Hits Can Reveal Weakness

If someone strikes, and it hurts? That might be an area of weakness we need to actively strengthen. Clearly, if I’d possessed abs of steel when I began this boxing class, the medicine ball wouldn’t have rendered me into a weeping ball of wimpy. Thing was, I hadn’t trained and strengthened that area. 

When I was in critique and received a brutal punch to my WIP? It showed my weaknesses. When I was a new writer, I was notorious for overwriting. I never met a metaphor I didn’t love. What did I do? Cry like a sissy little girl?

Yes.

But then I started writing flash fiction to train myself how to employ economy. I wrote flash fiction until I started winning awards and being published in flash fiction. Being forced to cram an entire story into 500 words or less trained me to appreciate that less is often more.

When I wrote my first novel and was bashed by my beta readers for lack of structure? I started reading every book I could find. Scene & StructurePlot & Structure, Story Engineering, Save the Cat, and The Writer’s Journey are all must-haves. I started working as a line-editor first, then later as a content editor. I’ve critiqued hundreds of plots. I also kept writing until I finally had two novels win major contests.

Even then, I had more to learn. I won because of good stories and witty dialogue, but judges kept telling me that I wasn’t hooking early enough. This led me to Les Edgerton’s HookedI started studying beginnings in books and movies. I took classes and soaked up every bit of knowledge possible.

I’m still learning and growing and always will be. My next challenge is to publish my novels. Winning contests is great, but I want that next challenge.

Hits are Valuable

Yes, getting hit sucks and can even make us suck wind; but hits that hurt show us where we need to focus. Hits weed out the uncommitted, those who are in this writing business for the wrong reasons. Hits save time and help ramp us up to the professional level faster. People who can’t take a hit, won’t grow. They won’t know where they are weak and they won’t possess the toughness to endure this profession.

So the next time someone hits you where it hurts? Walk it off and just remember.

It’s all part of going pro ;).

Has someone hit you where it hurt? What did you do? How did it make you stronger? Did you nearly give up? Why didn’t you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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66 Comments

Enemy of the Art Part 6—The Land of Good Enough

They don't even know they're dead....

They don’t even know they’re dead….

Countless people aspire to be successful writers (The Many), but of all of those, only a small percentage will make it (The Few). Why won’t The Many make it? They get side-tracked and wander in circles in The Land of Good Enough. One of the largest problems with The Many? The Many believe in “Safety, first.” They trade short-term thrills for long-term happiness. They are often depressed, overweight, stressed because, on some level, they feel in their souls that they sold out.

And they would be correct.

I’m not judging The Many. I spent over a third of my life among them in the Land of Good Enough. The Land of Good Enough is an easy place to end up. In fact, most of us live there at least a time or two in life.

It’s the breaking free that’s the trick.

The Land of Good Enough is the realm of paycheck-to-paycheck living, dead end jobs that suck away our souls, routine, safety and predictability. It’s a place where we settle when we are too scared to step onto our sacred path and dare to see if we have what it takes to be a real artist.

Most people aren’t even aware they live in The Land of Good Enough. They dull the pain with food, TV, addiction and drama. They need all kinds of artificial stimulation because they have traded authentic passion for the Devil’s shill. It makes me think of a C.S. Lewis quote:

The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

Of course, when I use the term “Hell” I’m not referring to a fiery inferno where bad people go to be stabbed for all eternity with pitchforks. I am referring to the very real hell many people live in, the hell I barley escaped and that I still must guard against every day. Most of us don’t even realize we’ve landed in hell until we are already there.

And that is the scary part.

When I was in sales, I had to pull over every day to throw up. I hated my job THAT much. But become a writer? Are you nuts?

Really? Just, really Kristen. Because puking every day because of stress was so awesome. NOT.

Many of us follow the rules and listen to our teachers and what Madison Avenue tells us and we don’t realize that the landscape is sloping gently downward and the temperature is slowly rising.

In this type of Hell, The Many die even while they’re still breathing. They become the walking dead, those who go through the motions, not yet dead but never really living. They are caffeinated, medicated zombies who have traded safety for their very soul. The Land of Good Enough makes me think of the line from The Sixth Sense:

I see dead people. Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead. All the time. They’re everywhere.

The Many live in a delusion, they don’t know they’re dead. In their minds, they are practical, safe, and normal (and have a great job in sales *head desk*).

Creatives seem to be particularly vulnerable to getting stuck in The Land of Good Enough and that is why it is on my list of Enemies of the Art. We face different hurdles that other professions and I feel our journey from amateur hobbyist to professional is more fraught with danger than any other field. The price is also higher. Yes, many people will settle in The Land of Good Enough, and it is a personal purgatory. But, for Creatives, the Land of Good Enough is far more insidious.

True artists don’t create because we can, but because we must. When we are disconnected from the muse, we die a deeper death than most, and what makes us different is that when we die, we are not the only ones who suffer. The world suffers. The world our unspoken art failed to change.

Embrace the Resistance!

The Land of Good Enough is an easy place to get lost. This is why we must fight. Write goals, revise goals. Have friends that will send in the flying monkeys if we don’t hold to deadlines. Press. Keep pressing and understand the pressing never ever stops. That’s what we sign up for when we strive to be excellent in out craft.

But it’s worth it ;).

Have you been trapped in The Land of Good Enough? How did you break free? Are you still struggling there? Why are you afraid to step away? I love hearing from you!

Remember to check out the new Worldwide WANACon. This is an affordable, on-line conference with some of the top talent in the industry delivered to you right in the comfort of home. No travel, no pile of extra expenses, ALL AWESOME. We even have AGENT PITCH SESSIONS!

Again, I LOVE hearing from you…

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of February I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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90 Comments

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