Posts Tagged how to become a professional author

The Three “Acts” of a Writer’s Journey—From Newbie to Master

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

The mark of a great storyteller is they make our job look easy. The story 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 acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.

Act One—The 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.

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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. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.

Act Two—The Apprentice

The Apprentice Phase comes next. This is where we might 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 all the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest, but filled with the most growth and change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

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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.

Not to mention I sounded like someone was water-boarding a goose.

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

Same with writing. Many shy away from craft books because they fear “rules” will ruin their creativity. Truth? They will, but only for a little while ;) .

Eventually we realize that rules were made to be broken. BUT, the difference between the artist and the hack is that the artist knows the rules and thus HOW to break them and WHY and WHEN. We start to see rules as tools.

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 bend, break or ignore them.

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 Day One Master 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 now part of our DNA, our literary marrow, 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.

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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. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

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. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—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 as 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.

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? Frankly, I am in the trenches doing NaNoWriMo with you guys. I can say it is A LOT easier this year than in previous years. We can’t refine and edit words that don’t exist. Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master ;) .

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, 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).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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98 Comments

Do You Have a Psychic Vampire Critique Partner?

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WHAT do you MEAN I am head-hopping? THAT is my VOICE. You are ruining my ART!
(Image via Carniphage Flikr Commons)

Several months ago, in my Enemies of the Art series, we discussed Psychic Vampires. Psychic Vampires are all around us, and likely, we will never be rid of them. PVs are most likely to show up at a number of critical junctures. They sense the energy shift, and since that energy is no longer all about them, they will fight tooth-and-nail to bring balance to The Force (of Manipulation).

While many of my posts are directed toward writers, most people have these same issues. If we don’t learn how to guard against and handle PVs, we will always be their victims. Psychic Vampires will always feel renewed and refreshed, namely because they just sucked the life out of their victims (us).

Psychic Vampires abound in the arts, and they’re also prevalent in many writing groups. They are vamps dressed in writer clothing. Often they are so self-absorbed they can’t even see the reality of what they are.

This is why confronting PVs is almost always fruitless and will simply lead to conflict that only further feeds them at our expense. Our best option is to be able to spot them, then ignore them or RUN.

Beware the Psychic Vampire Critique Partner

I wish I could give all of you a nice, easy website to find healthy, professional critique partners, but unfortunately those don’t exist. We will have to trust, then use trial and error, then set tough boundaries. Some CPs will make it, but likely most will not.

Why?

Too many writers get into this business for the wrong reasons. They really aren’t interested in the life of a professional and just enjoy “playing author.” Writing is for attention and ego-stroking. Their goals are about THEM and this means anyone on board with them will go the wrong direction.

They will keep steering the ship the wrong way…toward the rocks.

Some PVCPs are touchy, sensitive and unwilling to learn and grow. Mistakenly, they believe that their art is just genetically coded into their DNA and that any feedback is just trying to sabotage their “art.”

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What do you mean too many flashbacks? YOU ARE SO MEAAAANNNN!

If you have a critique partner who refuses to listen to honest feedback. If she is touchy and oversensitive? Move on. You won’t grow. You’ll spend too much time propping up an ego that can never get enough propping up. The PV will be a continual vortex of need and if you don’t jump ship while you can? Expect to crash on the rocks with them.

This writer won’t make it unless she changes, and if you’re enabling her to be a PVCP, why should she?

We Are Who We Hang Around

I cannot recommend attending writing conferences enough. Yes, even WANACon counts.  We are having another WANACon the first weekend of October and deliver top tier NYTBSA talent right to you AT HOME. Right now we are having a special, the ENTIRE conference and recordings for $119 (which will expire soon). Just like a writing conference only no travel and at YOUR convenience.

We can arrange a TSA feel-up, but they work for tips :D.

Anyway…

The reason we need to choose friends wisely and surround ourselves with professionals, is that these writers have invested cold hard cash into getting better. When we forge relationships with writers who are professional or stronger, we grow. Water will always find its level, so make sure you’re rising, not sinking. Habits are contagious. This is one of the reasons I cannot recommend joining an RWA chapter enough (even if you don’t write romance).

RWA is full of professionals who work their tails off and understand craft and the business. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the other. Refuse to be in a place that dulls your creative edges.

PVCPs Waste Valuable Time

I’ve been in critique relationships where the other person never learned to think for themselves. Why bother reading Story Engineering, The Writer’s Journey, Hooked,  Save the Cat or Plot & Structure when we can get Kristen to so all our thinking/plotting for us?

I recall two members of a critique group who attended every week with their crappy writing to be critiqued. Instead of learning, they just barfed down junk on a page and let the group “fix” it. Odd thing was, after over a year of enduring the world’s worst writing, nothing changed. When these individuals self-published? NONE of the writing had changed.

This ticked me off. How many hours had we dedicated to helping, when the writer had zero intention of listening? The critique wasn’t a place to grow; rather, it was a captive audience who had to listen to their dreadful “story” vomit.

Most of us are short on time. We often have day jobs, kids, chores, bills and we have to do social media and MOST IMPORTANTLY we need to be writing more books and better books. It’s easier to tread water if we aren’t dragging a PVCP anchor around our necks.

The PVCP Test

1. Is the writer touchy. Does she want every bit of feedback to be handed with a box of chocolates?

2. Does she attend regularly? Or does she always have an excuse of why she can’t be there—great-nephew’s birthday party, helping a friend’s garage sale, washing her hair?

3. Does the writer actually READ? Does she read fiction and LOVE storytelling? I’ve met writers who claimed they wanted to be NYTBSAs, but said things like, “Well, I just don’t like to/have time to read.” Reading is FUNDAMENTAL to what we do. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music. TIME WASTER.

4. Does the person give back? Critique partners should be partners. I’ve had writers who took and took for months. They wanted me to plot, then re-plot, then they had a new and BETTER idea they needed “help” plotting. Never once did it occur to them, that we hadn’t talked about my book in months.

5. Does this person ever grow? Or do they keep making the same newbie errors over and over? If they are? They aren’t listening, so move on. This is a PVCP. RUN.

What are your thoughts? Have you been the victim of a PVCP? What did you do? How did you handle it? What are your horror stories? How did you stake the PVCP? What might be some other ways to spot a PVCP? What might be some good resources for finding a good CP? I recommend trying WANATribe, join RWA or attend conferences. But, maybe you guys have some better suggestions!

BTW, Image number two courtesy of best movie ever Army of Darkness.

I love hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

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. 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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Steve Jobs and 5 Tips for Being a Successful Author

Image via segagman Flikr Creative Commons

Image via segagman Flikr Creative Commons

Yesterday, one of our WANA International instructors, Amy Shojai, wrote about the importance of reinvention, and I strongly recommend her class this Saturday (which is recorded if you can’t make the time). Use code: OWFI for $25 off. As authors, we are in a new paradigm that changes faster than we can keep up with it, thus Apple seemed to be a natural segue into the topic of reinvention and excellence.

Yes, Steve Jobs was known as a lot of things, including a tyrant and egomaniac. Yet, no matter how we feel about the man, Jobs remains the poster child for reinvention, and I found some quotes that make great lessons for all of us writers.

Granted, I was inspired by another blog. Last month, I ran across a fantastic post by Tiffany Reisz Wisdom for Writers from Steve Jobs which I strongly recommend you read as well.

Tip #1—Dare to Be Different

One of the major reasons a lot of other computer companies failed is that they tried to take on Microsoft, by being just like Microsoft. Instead of being brave enough to be different, they were imitators.

Imitators are not interesting.

In a world that has an increasingly shorter attention span, we must stand apart from the crowd. As writers, we are artists thus we have the power to create art in our work, not just some tired copy of something else. Be different. Be excellent. Put in that extra effort to stand apart from everything else.

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”~Steve Jobs

Lack of flexibility is one of the current weaknesses in the traditional publishing paradigm. Because this is a business with a lot of overhead (beholden to shareholders), frequently, publishers will look to books they believe they can sell, which is code for “something like the last big thing that sold.” This doesn’t mean these publishers are putting out bad books, but it does mean that their business model limits the boundaries of creativity and innovation.

For those of you who decide to take a non-traditional route, you have more freedom and flexibility to be daring. Daring is exactly what we need to be to stand apart, versus being just another brick in the wall.

Ask yourself, Why me? Why my book? Why would anyone choose my book over another? And if it’s just because of price, prizes or freebies? TRY HARDER.

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One of my all-time favorite Demotivationals.

Tip #2—Dare to Be Excellent

Learn the craft. Read. Learn this as an art form. If you choose to self-publish, find beta readers who can give honest feedback and let you know if your book is ready. One of the biggest mistakes self-published authors make is that they publish too soon. Invest in good editing and a knockout cover. If you blog (and I recommend you do) be excellent. This is a sample of your voice, of you. In a world of cheap Taiwanese imitations, people long for excellence.

When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through. ~Steve Jobs

Ask yourself, Have I done all I can to make this work as good as it can be?

Tip #3—Keep it Simple

New writers often try to reinvent plot as we know it. Three-act structure works. It’s worked for thousands of years. The greatest stories of all time can be summed up in a sentence. Simplicity leads to complexity, where as complicated leads to confusion. Great stories are very basic. There are no new plots. I could hand ten writers a great idea for a story and we’d end up with ten totally different novels. It is all in execution.

Same with social media. WANA methods are simple. Be kind. Be focused. Be consistent. Be authentic. Add value. Be part of a community. Serve others first. That’s it. And yes, I have written a new book, but everything I teach can be summed up in those seven sentences. Algorithms and fancy marketing plans can quickly overrun the most important part of what we do—write books/create art.

That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. ~Steve Jobs

Ask yourself, Could I tell what my book is about in less than three sentences?

Okay, now make it ONE.

Tip #4—Love What You Do

Writers have more opportunity to succeed than ever before. For the first time, we are seeing novelists make six and seven figures. But, if you look at all the successful authors (traditional and non-traditional), they work their tails off. And, the funny thing is, it rarely feels like work. Why? To really do well in this business we have to LOVE IT.

Yet, there is a hard truth about love.

Love is not all kitten hugs and rainbow kisses. Love is work. Love has good days and bad days. Love requires sacrifice. It requires boundaries. It requires prioritization. It demands toughness and tenderness all in the same space. Whether it is our marriage, our family, our kids or our craft, love is not all a glittery unicorn hug.

I speak at a lot of conferences, and I generally can tell the writers who will succeed versus the ones who won’t. One type of writer wants to make hard cash. He loves money more than craft. He attends all the social media classes and marketing classes that promise to maximize his book sales. Sales, sales, charts, algorithms, outsourcing, programs! Yay!

The other writer? She believes writing is floating around with the muse being inspired all day. She is in love with a romantic vision of being a writer…not the craft or business of writing. She doesn’t need social media. “A good book alone will sell itself.”

Uh huh.

Take a gut check and make sure you love writing. If we seek to do this writing thing professionally, then there is a lot of changing diapers writing, staying up cleaning puke out of the carpet revisions, taking the kid to school every day blogging, toy box explosions social media.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. ~Steve Jobs

Ask yourself, Am I willing to do the unfun stuff, too? 

Tip #5—Embrace Failure

We didn’t learn to ride bikes by hopping on one day and pedaling away perfectly. Most of us fell…a lot. We all had our fair share of skinned knees and elbows before we looked like we knew what we were doing. Writing is the same.

If you aren’t failing then you aren’t doing anything interesting. Failure teaches us more than success ever will. Our greatest successes often will be birthed from the ashes of many doomed attempts.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. ~Steve Jobs

Ask yourself, Am I open to learning? Do I view failure as a tombstone or a stepping stone? 

What are your thoughts? What struggles have you faced in the new paradigm? Have you had to learn to set boundaries? How did you do it? What are some of the tips and tricks you’d like to share?

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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64 Comments

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