Posts Tagged warrior-writer

Time Management for Writers–Getting More Done in Less Time

Photo via Happy Housewives Club, which is a FANTASTIC site, btw.

I have always struggled with organization, and frankly, if don’t make a list, I will be sorting baby pictures or writing out greeting cards in three minutes flat. I’ve always been envious of people who run their homes with military efficiency. You know the people I am talking about; those folk who aren’t afraid of their closets and actually know what is in every drawer. Show-offs :P.

Yet, I have to say that just because something is our nature doesn’t mean that we are to be a victim to our innate shortcomings. In fact, Bob Mayer gave a really interesting exercise in his Warrior Writer Workshop. He said to look at your Myers-Briggs personality…then look at the opposite of your personality, and likely that is the area you need the most work. I am going to take it a step farther. I believe that the opposite of our personality could be what keeps us from ever enjoying great success.

More on this in a second…

One of my all-time favorite books is Eat That Frog—21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracey. In Eat That Frog, Tracey gives an interesting rule.

Rule: Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.

 Tracey advises that you sit down and write out all that is required for you to do your job. We’ll take five for our purposes today. As a writer I must:

  • Have a good imagination
  • A solid command of grammar
  • Possess a modicum of talent when it comes to writing prose
  • Have the self-discipline to write
  • Possess superior organizational ability

When it comes to the first four, I totally ROCK….and then we get to that last part *winces.* Superior organization? Oh yeah.

That.

First of all, even when you write non-fiction, information needs to flow in an optimal way or it won’t be enjoyable reading. I just turned in my new book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer and one of the largest challenges was taking all these lessons from my blog and making them flow like a book…62,000 words of seamless lessons.

Eep! Yeah, it was tough, but after 42 versions and a lot of alcohol, chocolate and crying, I got there.

Same thing applies to fiction. If we hope to be a successful novelist, we have to be masters at organization. We have to balance narrative plot points, character arcs, POV, setting, dialogue and keep everything straight and give it perfect timing. The greatest part of dramatic tension is relaying the right piece of information at the right time. We have to manage all these components over the span of 60-110,000 words. This is one of the reasons many aspiring novelists never get beyond the “aspiring” part. They believe that the talent to manage all of this information is something writers are born with, when in fact it is a skill that 99% of the time must be taught, and then refined with a lot of trial, error and shots of tequila.

Writing a novel is an entirely different creature, yet many new writers mistakenly believe that they can jump from short story to novel with no problem. Sure. That is like creating a three-bar melody and then believing we are ready to compose a symphony with a 100 piece orchestra.

Not happening.

And, if I look at where I have had the largest struggles when it comes to writing…it has always been in my ability to organize (or lack of ability as the case may be).

Ah, but if we look at my Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFP, which means I am highly skilled at concepts and BIG ideas…but I fall apart when it comes to execution because I have a hard time managing the details. If we look at the opposite of my personality we get…my husband. Seriously, there should be a picture of my husband below the ISTJ.

 Tigger married Spock.

ENFP (The Inspirer)——ISTJ (The Duty Fulfiller)

Kristen, you are being illogical.”

I have creativity, imagination and enough energy to power a small city, but it is clear where I fall abysmally short. Ah, the devil is in the details. 

I think this Myers Briggs test is a great exercise for getting a clear idea of what specifically is in our nature that needs to be addressed. But I want to take it a step farther.

In Eat That Frog, Tracey also introduces the Pareto  Principle. In 1895, economist Vincent Pareto noticed that society seemed to naturally divide into what he called the “vital few” and the “trivial many.” 20% of the population had all the wealth power and influence and the bottom 80% got whatever was left. He later discovered that this principle held true in all economic activity.

In short, 20% of our activity will account for 80% of our results.

This means that if we have a list of ten things to do, TWO of those items will be worth as much if not more than the other eight combined. But can you guess which items we are most likely to procrastinate on doing? Right. The two activities that could make the most difference. We are also most likely to procrastinate where we are weak.

Can you guess where I procrastinate? Yep, any activity that requires organizational skills. Whether it is plotting my novel or filing invoices, I do everything I can to get out of doing the chores that require I operate where I am weak. Yet, remember the rule I began with?

Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.

This rule basically says that if I do not figure out a way to mitigate or correct my greatest weakness, that it will always be my single greatest limiting factor.

So what can we do?

First, buy a copy of Eat That Frog. LOVE this book and use its principles to get A LOT of work done. See, knowledge is power and once we become aware of our limiting factors, then we can take action. We aren’t at the mercy of our nature.

As far as time-management, I know organization will never come natural to me, but it does come naturally to my mother, my sister-in-law, and my husband. When I need a system worked out for me, I have learned that I don’t have to do everything. I can delegate. GASP! I know! Cool, right? Of course, delegating isn’t one of those things I do well, naturally either, so I have to surround myself with friends who will yell at me if I fail to delegate properly. Hi, Piper! Hi, Cid!

I also make lists every day and no longer try to just “keep it in my head.” I then look at that list and whatever item makes me cringe when I read it (FROGS)? That is what I do first. Remember, 20% of our activity is going to account for 80% of our results.

When I tackle the toughest items first, I actually get more accomplished overall.

How?

When we do the toughest jobs first, we get an endorphin rush from the sense of accomplishment. Also, since our toughest jobs are out of the way, the other “less important” chores go faster since we aren’t dragging our feet dreading the FROGS.

And how does this apply to writing? Well, I know that my prose is strong and I suffer no lack of imagination, BUT I do not naturally plot well. I used to get lost in the details and had a tough time keeping everything straight.  This is why most of the writing books I now buy have to do with various ways to plot. Instead of reading book after book studying my strengths (dialogue), I now focus on my weakness, because that area will be my limiting factor if left unadressed. I also know that my writing will be faster and clearner and require fewer revisions if I can strengthen this weak area. What is your weak writing area? Work on that FIRST.

So what are some issues you guys struggle with and how do you deal with them? Any books or resources you can recommend? Are you a master at organization and maybe can offer tips? Or, are you like me? A junk drawer junkie? How do you overcome the clutter?

I love hearing from you! And 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 every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

This Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique–Irene Vernadis

Happy Easter and happy writing!

Until next time….

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

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Twitter Tuesday #12

Welcome to the twelfth installment of Twitter Tuesday. In the spirit of Twitter, this blog will be short and sweet and to the point. The tips offered here are all based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. If our goal is to build an author platform in the thousands to tens of thousands, then we will have to approach Twitter differently than a faceless corporation or even the regular person who does not possess a goal of becoming a brandwill help you rule the Twitterverse without devolving into a spam bot.

This Week’s Fail Whale–The Covert Tweep

Covert Tweep is super-secret, and it is only if we know the super-secret password and use our decoder ring to solve the CAPTCHA of Doom do we get the blessed “privilege” of conversing with Covert Tweep.

Yeah…sorry. Not that motivated.

They key to building a successful platform is we must be accessible and low-maintenance. Don’t make people solve Captchas and go to sites to verify they are human. It’s annoying.

Kind of like. I don’t shop in stores where there are cameras and closed-circuit televisions everywhere to let me know “the store is watching.” I hate stores that have anti-theft everything to the point that I feel like I stepped into a world created by Orson Welles. Plainly put? I am not a thief and I resent being treated like one.

Now, the stores are free to do what they need to do, but I am also free to take my money elsewhere…and I do. Same with Covert Tweep. Covert Tweep is free to lock down all information, and I am free to ignore the Human Tests and move on to other friends who don’t treat me like a spammer.

Yes, Twitter gives us the ability to keep our Tweets secure, but why? If everything we post is a secret…doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose to being on Twitter?

And forget about those verifying services. Really.

We need to just let people follow us with a single click. DO NOT make people click a link to go to a site to prove they are human. That is treating people like they are spammers and phishers.  Always give the benefit of the doubt and assume people are friends.

Then, if they are a spammer…um. Unfollow, then block & report them. Two clicks. Very easy. Twitter will ban them.

I have had WRITERS (who I assume are on Twitter to build a platform), whom I have tried to follow, but couldn’t.

Sorry, this user’s tweets are private.

WHAT???$#%^&*( *

Or I try to follow someone, and they want me to prove I’m not a bot. Yeah, um I will get right on that…or not.

This Week’s Twitter Tip–Be a Twitter Pal

Covert Tweep might have a secret club, but it is gonna be really tough…ok, impossible to build a platform if we make others have to prove themselves first.

On the other hand? Twitter Pals rule!

Be a Twitter Pal and make it easy for us to be your friend.  One great way to be a Twitter Pal is to Follow every person who talks to you, mentions you, or RTs you. Just get in the habit of clicking the name, viewing the profile, and then hitting Follow. Slow and steady wins the race. Following a few people a day can gain you a massive and genuine following in no time.

Tweet ya later!

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Dare to Be Excellent (This Might Hurt a Little)

Years ago, when I first started writing, fiction was my passion.  The problem, however, is that passion devoid of training is a formula to end up with 174,000 word tome that is the stuff of agent nightmares.  I wish I was one of those talented people who “got it” from the start. I didn’t. I have had to take the road of hard knocks. But, in truth? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Over the years, I have hit a lot of roadblocks when it comes to writing fiction. For instance, I didn’t truly understand the antagonist the way I needed to.  We have a running joke in Warrior Writer Boot Camp that an antagonist is a serial killer (which can be substituted by ninjas if necessary).

For years, I could edit narrative structure, but I failed miserably when I tried to create a plot of my own. I understood conflict as a reader, but when it came time for me to ante up? Again, I stumbled away unsure how I ended up on the wrong road. I could spot plot holes in a microsecond when editing…but somehow developed tunnel-vision when it came to my own fiction.

Over time, I began to see I wasn’t alone. Others shared the same problem.

We have the ability to spot problems in the work of our peers, but when it comes to the construction side, we founder around like a goldfish out of a tank.

Why?

First of all, we aren’t emotionally vested in stories that aren’t ours. Sort of like, we can see the flaws in other people’s children, but ours are perfect little angels. We often lack objectivity.

Also, there are no great monuments erected to critics. Anyone can pull others apart. Criticism is easy. It takes more to create, to dare to dream, to admit when we are wrong and try again.

I started Warrior Writer Boot Camp for a very specific reason. I was president of a standard critique group. We did the typical read 5 pages and then everyone could chime in and give feedback. But, over time, I became frustrated and disillusioned.

Week after week I had the same complaints—no clear antagonist, fuzzy/nonexistent objectives, one-dimensional flat characters. Week after week I made the same red marks, but the writing never improved. I began to lose faith. I had become president of the group with the hope that I could change the format so we could make meaningful critique.

I believed there was no way to really fix a novel by looking at it through a microscope. A handful of other writers agreed with me. They too had begun to lose hope. No matter how we tried to pry our home group away from their addiction to line-edit…nothing changed.

So we never changed. We couldn’t grow.

Then I asked NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer if he would come to DFW. If he would come to Texas, I would fill a workshop. That core group of disenchanted members and I made just enough to make it worth Bob’s time.

Unlike the others, we were desperate enough to admit we were struggling. We knew we needed professional help. Bob was the answer to our prayers. In two days, we learned more about the craft than we could ever hope to retain. We felt delivered, but at the same time we were fearful.

Here we had this new insight and we were afraid we would lose it if we didn’t do something different. Bob had given us a lot of great tools, but we were light years away from being experts. We watched in awe as Bob pulled apart plots in minutes. He could hear three sentences and know if there was a story.

We wanted to be like Bob.

So we started what we called Warrior Writer Boot Camp. It was a gesture of thanks to Bob who had enlightened us with his Warrior Writer ways. We knew that without consistent practice, we would lose all Bob gave us, that his seeds of wisdom would die if not nurtured, and that the weeds (bad habits) would return.

Even though it was highly emotional and we lost a lot of people we believed were our friends, we pulled away. We started with Bob’s books, which I highly, highly recommend. Then, we totally changed the format to resemble what Bob did with our novels that fateful Saturday. We bought whiteboards and had to find a new meeting location.

We had no real idea what we were doing, but we had faith we would figure it out. We knew practice would make us stronger.

Once finished with Bob’s books, we added in more and more material, ideas and methods.  As de facto leader of this gaggle of misfits, I read every book on the craft I could find and added in other tactics and techniques.

But, the point of this blog is to share with you the lessons I learned and hope you might be blessed.

Find a mentor.

Bob was my first of many mentors. Bob’s teachings resonated, and so I bought every book he ever wrote. I even read the “bad” ones from when he was new. I wanted to look at how HE had grown. What made Z different from Area 51? Could I see where Bob struggled? How he changed? I sign up for all his workshops and I still read all his blogs. And I STILL learn something new every time.

I even started this blog to talk about all the things I was learning after Bob’s workshops, before I even knew I had it in me to become a social media expert. It was Bob’s teachings on fear that revealed a destiny I didn’t even know I had.

*Snorts and rolls eyes* I wasn’t an expert. I just spent too much time on Twitter.

Bob’s Warrior Writer Workshop helped me be brave and realize that maybe I did have something to say that others wanted to hear. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media might not have happened without Bob’s workshop. I still apply his techniques and have grown tremendously as a person and a professional.

If  I blog about Bob, his methods, his teaching, it is only because I can never express how grateful I am. I doubt I would have grown as much as I did and as quickly without his influence.

In time, I made mentors out of other writers. I read their books and studied their methods. I read their blogs and listen for the craft books they recommend. Twitter is an excellent way to make mentors out of successful people. Follow agents, editors, authors and pay attention to their habits, sign up for their classes, read what they recommend.

It’s okay to admit you don’t know everything.

It is hard to find mentors if we won’t admit we need to grow. When I left a career in sales to start writing, everyone thought I was crazy. I couldn’t admit I didn’t know what I was doing, because then I was sure my family would have me committed. It took a long time to let down my guard and set down my pride and humbly say, “Teach me.”

Every day I bow my head to others and humbly say, “Teach me.” Every day is an opportunity to grow, but we have to be empty vessels. If we are already full of our own “knowledge,” there is not room to be filled and refreshed by others. We become a stagnant, stinking pond of our own rotting hubris.

Dare to do things differently.

It was terrifying breaking off from a group I’d known and even led for 4 years. I had to open myself to new friendships, but that could only happen if I let go of the old. If something isn’t working, then do something different.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.

Break away from toxic people.

One of my favorite movies is The Devil Wears Prada. I love studying that movie. In the beginning, Andy Sachs lands a job as the assistant to one of the city’s biggest magazine editors, the ruthless and cynical Miranda Priestly.

In Act One, Andy is comfortable with her average friends and her average boyfriend. They regularly get together to gripe about their bosses and the unfairness of life. Their attitude is naïve in regards to success. They fail to see the work and sacrifice successful people make.

Act Two we see the tension build. Andy’s boyfriend and friends have issue with her new job. She is working long hours and can’t hang out like the old days. We see how they resent and undermine her. We know they will eventually force Andy to choose between her career and them.

Act Three, Andy has to make a choice. She can go after her dreams or make her old friends happy.

When you decide to become a writer, you will very likely lose friends. They won’t understand why you can’t hang out, go shopping, or even remain in the same old critique group. They won’t “get” your blog and will resent that you are changing.

Daring to dream will show you who your real friends are. The quicker you let go of toxic friendships, the faster you will make room for friends who love and support you no matter what.

Surround yourself with excellence.

When I broke away to create a content-critique workshop, a core group of friends supported me every step of the way. Had I remained tethered to my fear, I would have remained tethered to people who cared more about maintaining the status quo than they cared about me.

Why did I sign up for this? What was I thinking?

WWBC is full of the most talented, hardworking, amazing writers. I am inspired to try harder every time I am near them. Some of them not only blog multiple times a week, but they write thousands of words a day on their WIPs…and have families and school and other obligations. They raise the bar and make me work harder. I am honored to be part of such an outstanding team of committed professionals. It scares me every time I think how close I came to giving in, how close WWBC came to dying before it even began.

Remember…we can only shoot for the stars if we are willing to let go of the ground.

What are some sacrifices you have had to make for your dream? Has it cost you friends? Did you make new friends? How do you find excellence? What inspires you to keep going?

I love hearing from you guys, and 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 WANA 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 every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced). For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

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Searching for Treasure–The Winner Inside

Many of you reading this blog aspire to be professional authors, and that is a fantastic goal. I blog three times a week to help you guys reach that goal and far sooner than you imagined. Writing can be the best job in the world, but I feel too many beginners glamourize the profession and fail to get the proper emotional preparation before traipsing off to battle. That is a formula to get creamed. So, today I am going to give you some perspective and tools to be successful.

Becoming a professional writer isn’t all rainbow and unicorns. Let’s face it. Many of us are screwed from the beginning. We have our basic personality working against us. What do I mean? To put it bluntly? Writing is a vortex of flakes. We creative people are not usually known for our self-discipline. I’ve been there. I don’t know about you guys, but I am a notorious procrastinator. I was once the High Queen of Do-It-Later Land, a sorrowful place of forgotten Post-It Notes, where the roads are paved with shiny good intentions.

What I have observed over the years is that very often, the personalities that are the most creative, also tend to be free-spirits who flutter around like fruit flies with severe ADD high off a case of Red Bull. Now, we are great at being creative, but unless it’s channeled and focused, creativity just looks like that kid who likes to run head-first into a wall over and over while giggling. Thus, it is easy to see why people might roll their eyes the day we announce we want to be a writer.

Writing is a very emotional business, and to write well, we must reach into the deepest parts of our being…and then place them out for public display. After running countless critique groups and helping hundreds of writers, I will share some advice that will help you reach your dreams. We will resume talking about craft next week. But all the craft classes in the world will not benefit you if your heart and mind aren’t in the correct place.

Persistence can look a lot like Stupid

Oh Twitter. It is so fun to watch all these writing quotes float by. One of the favorites of the newbie writer (Yes, it was mine too :P) is You know what you call the writer who never gives up? Published. I have no idea who said that, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great quote. But, it really kind of needs a caveat, because persistence can look a lot like stupid.

My goal can be to climb Mt. Everest, but if I am on Mt. Shasta then I am not persistent, I am a moron.

You are on the wrong mountain!

Can’t hear you! I’m climbing! Never give up!

But you are on the wrong mountain you idiot!

What??? You’re just a dream-stealer! My motivational coach said you would try to stop me! I’m climbing! Never give up!

I teach at a lot of conferences, and every year I see the same writers shopping the same novel that has been rejected time and time and time again. These writers show year after year spending good money, believing that they just haven’t found the right agent who will see the beauty in their vampire-mystery-romance-YA-horror-memoir. It is as if they are stuck in a feedback loop. They can’t move on until this book gets an agent. They believe that if they don’t get an agent for this book, then they are a failure. No!

I have been there. I shopped my first novel for three years then woke up one day and realized I was swimming against the current carrying a corpse. When you make a decision to become a writer, you will be swimming against the current. People are fascinated by people who dare to dream and do great things. But….deep down, while they admire them, they also resent them.

Do not expect your family to embrace your decision. In fact, expect them to believe your writing group is really a cult (see Writer Reality Check). So expect to be swimming upstream, which is a heck of a lot harder to do carrying dead weight. If your book is being rejected time and time and time again, move on. Maybe you will grow enough to fix that first novel at a later time. Or, maybe you will take it for what it is…a learning experience. Always be moving forward.

Persistence is a noble trait; tunnel-vision is not. Be persistent. Read more books on the craft. Sign up for on-line workshops. Read…a lot. Be persistent the right way and the payoff will eventually come.

Learn to Fail Forward

One of the biggest frustrations I have with writers is their attitude toward failure. I think we like being tragic. Goes with our artsy side.

Hand over the beret. Give. This is for your own good.

Learn to have a healthy relationship with failure. One of my favorite books is Failing Forward by John Maxwell. I highly recommend everyone to read it. This book changed my life.

I used to have constant panic attacks. I was absolutely paralyzed by fear. All I could see was what I hadn’t accomplished. I magnified my failures and minimized my progress. Instead of looking forward, I was always looking over my shoulder to the past, crying over the broken dreams and what ifs? That is a load of crap.

Want to know the difference between winners and losers? There are 2 critical differences.

1)      Winners have a healthy relationship with failure. Losers cry and whine and self-flagellate when they fail to meet the mark. Their focus is always on failure so that’s where they stay. Winners, however, look at failure as a stepping stone. They land on their tush and scratch their head and ask critical questions.

Why didn’t this work?

What went wrong?

At what point did my plan go south?

What can I do differently next time?

Do I need to adjust my goals?

All through the month of November I kept my eyes on the #nanowrimo hash tag column. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, a # symbol will put you in a group bound by that topic. Time after time I wanted to scream as writers posted crap like this:

My goal was 1000 words today. Only wrote 300. #nanowrimo #epicfail

I saw that stupid #epicfail over and over and over. Now how do you think the Epic Fail group fared for National Novel Writing Month?

But, I also saw tweets like this:

My goal was 1000. Only made 500. Hey, 500 more than I had. Will start earlier tomorrow. #nanowrimo

Which writer do you feel will have a better chance at success?

Hear me now—Where the mind goes, the man follows.

If our mind is always on our failure and where we blew it, then that is where we will go. But here is the thing, we are in control. We are the boss.

I’m going to give you guys a great tactic to keep your mind on the positive. I want you guys to picture a monster crouched in your soul. Every time you beat yourself up, call yourself names, whine about how life isn’t fair…you feed it. As you feed this monster, he grows larger and larger and hungrier and more demanding.

How do you kill him? You can’t. We are human and he is a part of us. We can’t kill him, but we sure as hell can weaken him. How?

We starve him.

Every time you go to open your mouth and gripe about some way you failed to make the mark, stop yourself. Take a breath and rephrase in the positive.

I didn’t make my goal of 1000 words…..BUT I did write 300 and that is 300 words in the right direction. Every day I am getting better and better. I’m not where I want to be, but I am not where I was.

Starve that monster in your soul and he will get skinnier and smaller and weaker. Eventually he will be starved long enough that he will lose his appetite, and you will be a happier, more optimistic person for it.

2)      Winners have an internal locus of control.

Your locus of focus is very important. People with an external locus of focus believe other people or things hold all the power to their lives.

Well if my family would just take me seriously, then I know I would write more.

If I just had a better computer, then I’d write more.

If I just had quiet time, then I would be more productive.

IF we want to be winners, our goal is to maintain an internal locus of focus. We are in control of all things. We cannot control others. We cannot control events. The only thing under our power is our attitude and how we react to other people, events, and circumstances.

Well, my family thinks I’m a nut. I hope that changes. The only thing I can do is work hard and maybe one day my work ethic and commitment will change their opinions.

This old laptop crashes every other time I use it. What can I do to get a new one? In the meantime, maybe I can borrow one, or go to the library, or even write long-hand. It isn’t ideal, but Shakespeare didn’t have a Mac. I can do this.

I know I need quiet time to be productive. Can I stay up later? Get up earlier? Either I need to actively seek quiet time, or I will just have to be happy with a lower level of productivity. At least I am being fruitful with my time.

Be the captain of your own ship; the master of your soul (Invictus). No one is control of your destiny but you, and you have a lot more power than you believe.

Face Your Fears

I owe my friend and mentor Bob Mayer a lot, but the biggest lesson he taught me was to learn to face my fear. Do what is counterintuitive. I know that if I start feeling a flutter in my gut, then I am likely on the right path. The best writing in you lies behind your greatest fears. Think of it this way. Just expect a dragon to be guarding the cavern of treasure. In fact, the bigger the treasure, the bigger the beast standing sentinel.

Courage is not being without fear.

Courage is feeling fear, but then doing it anyway.

Only idiots and sociopaths are devoid of fear. Fear is your friend. Fear is like a water witch guiding you to your greatest reservoirs of creativity and strength. When you feel fear, keep going. Likely you’re onto something. No one ever accomplished anything great staying in the comfort zone.

I hope you guys feel fired up, and that you’re ready to take on 2011. I’ll be here to help you every step of the way. So what are your biggest challenges? Any advice? Suggestions? Do you see fear differently? Do you feel more hopeful? What are your deepest fears? Toss them out there. Sometimes the monster in the closet is only a coat when you turn the light on ;).

Happy writing!

Until next time…

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books. Put that gift card you got for Christmas to good use.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

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2011 and Planning for Success in the New Year

 

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we are standing on the threshold of a shiny new year. It’s almost as good as getting new school supplies. The smell of virgin paper not yet touched by a ballpoint. A new start. No mistakes. Nothing but potential.

Okay, so if you are anything like me, your initial New Year’s Resolutions might look something like this.

  1. Lose 20 pounds by February 1st
  2. Run a marathon
  3. Go to gym 5 hours a day
  4. Win the Nobel Pulitzer by my birthday
  5. Save 85% of my income
  6. Go on vacation to Bora Bora (Note to Self: Look up actual location of Bora Bora)
  7. Clean out garage
  8. Paint house inside and out
  9. Finally have all my socks match
  10. Write 3 award-winning novels by summer

There is something about facing a new year that instills us with such hope that we lose all touch with reality (and I haven’t even started drinking yet). It’s great to set goals, but most of the time we are our own worst enemy.

Odds are, if you are a fan of this blog, you are likely a writer, an aspiring writer, or this is a condition of your parole. Regardless, all of you need to learn to set effective goals and learn habits that will keep you from sabotaging your success. Hey, I hear ya! I am the world’s worst.

But this past year, 2010, has been one of my best. I reached a lot of goals. Why? Because I learned some good lessons and applied them consistently. I hope to do even better this year. So I am going to pass these lessons on to you and hope that you will benefit as well.

1. Grant Permission to be Imperfect—Perfectionism is a noble trait taken to the extreme which can serve as an excuse for mediocrity and a mask for fear. Perfectionists tend to be self-saboteurs (I would know nothing about this *whistles innocently*).  We perfectionists nit-pick over every single detail often at the expense of the big picture. Perfection is noble, so it makes a great shield. I mean, we just don’t believe in churning out shoddy half-ass work, right? Um…maybe. Or maybe we have a fear of failure, or even a fear of success. So long as nothing is ever complete, we never have to face our demons and can happily fritter away our days perfecting our scenes and dialogue.

            Here’s the deal. No publishing house ever published half of a perfect book.

2. Give Baby Steps a Chance—All or nothing thinking, a close relative of perfectionism, can tank the best projects. It is so easy to fall into this trap of, If I can’t do X, then I do nothing at all. Baby Steps are still steps. It’s like the question, “How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.” Small steps, over time, with consistency add up. It’s sort of like working out. We can choose to show up January 2nd at 5 a.m. and work out three hours, but that is a formula to end up sore, injured and burned out.

So often when I go to the gym I am so tired I want to die. I used to be the person who went hell bent for leather, only to end up sick or injured. So two years ago I made a key change in my attitude. Now when I go to the gym I tell myself, “All I have to do is ten minutes walking on the treadmill. Ten minutes. If I still feel tired, horrible, sick, fatigued, disenchanted, etc. I can stop, go home, and climb back into bed. In two years I have only stopped twice. Usually all I need is to push past that initial wall and then I am off like a rocket.

Same with writing. Make small goals. “I will write 15 minutes.” “I will write 100 words.” Sometimes all we need is a little momentum. Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key. A good way to get going is to use kitchen timers. Set the clock and write for 30 minutes. I use sticky notes and set my big goal, then I divide it in half. One sticky note is on the left-hand side of my monitor (starting count). I then place the half-way point in the middle, and I am not allowed a break until I make that number (even if all I write is pigeon poo). The finish line is on the right. Getting started is always the hardest part. I generally find that if I can make it to the mid-point, I am golden.

3. Establish Accountability—Earlier in the week we discussed the pros and cons of a critique group. Critique groups and partners do keep us accountable. It is easy to blow off writing when it is just us, but when we will be a let-down to others? Different story. This is one of the reasons I LOVE blogging. Blogging has done so much to change my character. I adore you guys and love helping you and hearing your comments. I feel that you have given me your trust and that I need to always put my best effort forward. The funny thing is that this change in my writing habits, has sifted into other areas of my writing. Sort of like, when you get in the habit of going to the gym, you also start noticing that you take the stairs or don’t mind parking at the back of the parking lot.

This is why writing down your goals is imperative. If nothing else, it is a cue to your subconscious that you are committed to something. You will feel a lot more conviction if you write out a goal than if you decide to let it float around your gray matter. I would even advise taking it to the next step and sharing your goals with others. I feel this is why so many writers have a hard time saying aloud, “I am a writer.” To say it means we have to own it and that people will be watching. We are going to invite a whole other level of accountability and people will notice if we are screwing off. But I say that accountability is the best way to reach your dreams faster, so bring it on!

4. Small Change Will Grow into Big Change—Good habits have a way of filtering through our lives. I have a saying, “Smaller truths reveal larger truths.” We don’t have to do mind-blowing alterations in our routines to start seeing real change in our lives. I guarantee that if you just start making your bed in the morning that other things will fall in line. Soon, you will notice that your bedroom is neater, and then the kitchen. As your house gets tidier, so does your purse and your car, and so on and so forth.

Just start with small writing goals and I guarantee that bigger better changes will follow suit.

5. Understand that Feelings LIE—Modern pop psychology loves to ask about our feeeelings all the time. Feelings are important, but they are a lousy compass to guide our actions. Why? Feelings can be affected by so many things—fatigue, diet, too much sleep, too little sleep, jerks at the office, kid toys underfoot, PMS, hormones, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, cat vomit in our house slippers, and on and on and on. If I can pass on any lesson that will change your life it is for you to understand that your feelings will almost always take the path of least resistance. If we are going to accomplish anything in life we cannot let our feelings have a vote.

I blog whether I feel like it or not. I don’t wait until I feel like writing to sit my tuchus in a chair. Feelings can be the enemy and steal your dreams. The Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies will capitalize on your feelings and do everything in their power to convince you that you will get to it later when you feel like it. Shut them down. Don’t give your feelings a vote.

The best way to shut down your feelings is to make lists of goals. I make lists every day and it keeps me focused. I can be exhausted, disenchanted, disillusioned, but it doesn’t matter. I look to the list. It’s like my earlier example of the gym. I say, “Okay, I will just do the first three.” Funny thing is that once I get started, I usually keep going. Like most things in life, overcoming that initial inertia is the hardest part. Lists keep us focused and don’t give feelings a say.

6. Make a Plan—There is a saying in sales, Fail to plan, plan to fail. A good plan will keep you focused, accountable, and give you clear benchmarks to measure success. I recommend buying NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer. He teaches how to craft a plan for a writing career. In fact, at WDWPUB, they are running a special and you can order a special bundle package of Warrior Writer along with my agent-recommended book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media AND Bob’s Novel Writer’s Toolkit that will take you from idea to finished product. These three books are the basic pillars to a successful career. I also recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. For $20 a workshop, you can learn everything about self-publishing, writing a novel, social media, and on and on…all from the comfort of your home and for less than the cost of eating out one meal.

In the end? Just Do It. Put that slogan on a Post-It notes and paper your house if you must. Put a Troll doll on your computer to remind you to be wary of Crappy Excuse Trolls in your midst. If any of you are new and don’t know the M.O. of the Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies, go here. They make 12% commission off your shattered dreams.

And remember:

  1. Grant Permission to Be Imperfect
  2. Give Baby Steps a Chance
  3. Establish Accountability
  4. Trust that Small Change will Grow into Big Change
  5. Understand that Feelings LIE
  6. Make a Plan

What are some struggles that you guys have? What are tactics you use to keep focused? What are your goals for this year? Be brave and put them in the comments. What are some goals you’ve always wanted to reach but haven’t? Why? What is your advice?

Happy writing!

See you next year!

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32 Comments

Are We Being a Responsible Novel Parent or a Deadbeat Book-Daddy?

So this is the year. You are finally going to do it. You’re going to write a…no, you are going to finish that novel. How many of you have a bazillion ideas whirling around your gray matter at all times? How many of you have at least a half a bazillion ideas started and left unfinished? They are lurking in your documents, smoking and picking on the short stories. Maybe even writing gang tags on your recycle bin. The Unfinished are a miserable lot. Their lives began with such hope and promise, but then they were abandoned without so much as a good-bye. We are their deadbeat parents, promising that this weekend we’re going to spend quality time with them. But, we don’t. Why? Most of us are skilled at making babies, but we fail big time when it comes to being good parents capable of nurturing an embryonic idea to a successful novel.

Like “parenting,” we writers need to learn certain skills and gain good habits. We aren’t magically mystically born knowing this stuff. This is why I get such a bee in my bonnet when writers won’t say with pride, “I am a writer.” No aspiring. Aspiring writers aren’t responsible parents. They are the “Deadbeat Book-Daddy” of the writing world. They hang out with their writing when it is convenient and fun, and fail to stick it through when stuff gets hard. They don’t invest time, money, and resources into nurturing their work and maturing it into something they can be proud of and brag about.

My novel graduated today. She will be published this summer. Oh, I never thought I would see that day. *sniff, sniff*

And I am not busting your chops. I have a fair amount of Unfinished lurking in my computer too. They hang out with the spam cookies and send me e-mail about my inheritance in Ghana. But, I love them. They are mine. Some will one day be able to go to reform school. Others? Yeah…..we just won’t talk about them. They drool and say Baby Ruth a lot.

No one is going to fault any of us for making bad babies in our ignorance. My blog lessons, however, are here to educate you about how to take an idea and then lay a plan to grow it into a thing of beauty.

We have spent two months talking about structure. If you are new to the blog and want to write a novel, I highly recommend you go back and read the Structure Series so you have the tools to sally forth with the rest of the class.

Part of why ideas get started then abandoned is that writers really don’t get instruction about how to do this novel-writing thing. We believe we are born to write and for some reason that we should already know what we are doing. In our pride, we take off writing, then wake up one day and realize that we have painted ourselves into a corner. This is the point where most of us will do one of two things. Some of us will just give up and wait for the Inspiration Fairy to visit us in our dreams with all the answers. Others of us (yes, I have done both) will at this point (normally 30,000 words in) whip out the Literary Bond-O putty and slather that crap on until we have a “finished” novel that is so complex we don’t even understand it. Why? Because we had to create a secret government conspiracy, an evil twin for our evil twin and a rip in the space-time continuum all to explain why our protag wasn’t where she needed to be on page 100.

Here is the blunt truth. You need to be taught your craft. We all do. People with natural musical ability don’t feel they are “cheating” if they learn how to read music or take voice coaching. And I know all your family will believe that writing is easy, because, yes, even a chimpanzee can make a sentence.

All right. Enough of that.

So, no more Deadbeat Book-Daddy, and hello Responsible Writer Parent. Today we are going to talk about ways your novel can be hijacked, despite your best intentions. Many of you, in an effort to be a Responsible Novel Parent will go out and join a critique group. Excellent…but beware. I am going to explain how traditional critique groups can hijack your dream of being a novelist. But, I will also tell you how to side-step these problems and use the critique group to its maximum advantage.

Critique Groups

This is my opinion, so take it for what it is. I’m right :D–ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Seriously. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose. When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for publication in New York.

In a good traditional critique group you will learn that POV does not mean Prisoners of Vietnam. You will learn to spot passive voice. You will hopefully learn self-discipline in that you need to attend regularly and contribute. You will forge friendships and a support network.

The problem with traditional critique groups is that they lack the ability to properly judge the quality of a novel. Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults.

Traditional critique groups can hurt you in the following ways.

Get you in a habit of over-explaining—In a traditional critique group, those sitting at the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Cassandra end up in a meat locker wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.” Well, duh, of course they are lost. They have missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Your job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections your critique group can follow.

Book-by-Committee—Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a book-by-committee, also known as Franken-novel.

False sense of security—We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many traditionally published authors has the group produced? I’m not picking on self-publishing, but self-publishing doesn’t have the same rigorous peer review. How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond our group for additional critique.

 Also make sure this group is producing successful novelists. I began Warrior Writer Boot Camp because my old group of six years produced many successful articles, short stories and NF, but they had never produced a successfully published novel. I knew I had to create a different critique format capable of critiquing a leviathan work of 100,000 words.

Some writers naturally understand structure, and so they do fine in the traditional setting. I didn’t naturally understand structure, and my novel ended up on so many bunny trails I needed a pack of plot-sniffing dogs and a GPS to find my original idea. If you are the same, then make sure you take traditional critique for what it is…critique of prose. You might need to find or start another group on your own dedicated to looking at the big picture.

Or…be creative. If you can’t go to the mountain, make the mountain come to you.

Modify the content you bring to critique. Instead of bringing the first fifteen pages of your novel, write a fifteen page synopsis based off what you did when you were plotting with the index cards (discussed last week). Every scene card had a one-sentence summary, so writing a synopsis now should be a piece of cake. Write your one-sentence log-line at the top so they can critique that too, and also so they can make sure your synopsis supports the log-line.

Let your brilliant writer friends chime in on what they think of your story as a whole. Is it contrived? Is it convoluted? Boring? Does this synopsis sound like a book they are dying to read? Can they tell who the antagonist is? Is your antagonist dumb or the stuff of greatness?

Once you have your novel as a whole critiqued, take it to the next step. The next week take Act One and write a fifteen page synopsis of what happens in Act One. Get critique. Clean it up. Then, take Act Two and Act Three and do the same. Write fifteen page synopses about what happens in each act. Then take it to the next step. Break your act into scenes and write a summary of what happens in each scene.

This way you are cleaning up your concept. You are going beyond the prose. Your fellow writers NOW can help you by brainstorming better ways to build your mousetrap. They can offer insight into how to fix the idea before you invest the next year writing a book that is doomed from day one because the original idea needed to be fortified before it could support 60-100,000 words.

Once you have solid critique on all these summaries, take off and write that novel. Now it will be way easier because you know where you are going. Also, because your writer friends helped in the planning phase, they will be better trained to see flaws once they critique your final product. They will know why Cassandra is in the meat locker wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw.

I am going to warn you. This method will test your mettle. In traditional critique, we can hide behind our pretty prose. Concept Critique means laying our baby out there bare bones, warts and all. This will show you why you are in a writing group. Is it because you really want to succeed at this writing thing? Or, are you like me? I wrote really awesome prose and I got to hear every week how wonderful I was (even though the big picture was fatally flawed). I had to check my ego at the door when I started WWBC. Now I couldn’t hide. My ideas and story took a beating…but produced a final synopsis/outline that was brilliant (mostly because of my brilliant writer peers).

Being a Responsible Novel Parent can be tough on the ego. We have to face up to our “kid’s” problems and then look for ways to fix them. This means admitting we don’t know everything and being humble enough to look for genuine outside help.  Does our “kid” have Novel ADD and go off on a zillion bunny trails? Does our “kid” have Story Autism? It’s in its own little world and not connecting with outsiders? Novel Development Issues are not a sentence for our “kid” to be one of “The Unfinished.” Concept Critique will help diagnose these developmental issues, and then give you ways to solve them so your novel can have an excellent life and be a “kid” any writer parent would be proud to claim…and brag about…a lot.

What are your biggest “Novel Parenting” issues? Problems? Concerns? What do you feel about critique groups? Are they helpful or do more harm than good? Do you guys have ideas for other ways you could re-tool a traditional critique group to be able to better see the big picture? I love hearing from you guys. 

Happy writing!

Until next time…

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books. Put that gift card you got for Christmas to good use, ;).

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Writers & Forging a Plan for Success

Did you know that first-time novelists have a 90% failure rate? Pretty sobering. That means that 9 out of 10 writers will never see their second book in print. Is it because they can’t write? Maybe. Was it bad timing? Perhaps. Did they just have one good book in them? Maybe.

…or maybe it isn’t any of those things. Maybe, just maybe, it was a lack of proper preparation.

I have been in this business for going on a decade, and have had a lot of writers cross my path. Most got burned out, worn out or simply gave out. What is sad is that most aspiring writers will never make it to publication, and now with that staggering statistic above, we can see that even being published isn’t a true victory. We must stay in the game.

How do we do that? We plan for success. We plan to win.

There is this overwhelming mystique to being a writer that too often excludes thinking in business terms. We are lulled into believing that if we can only get published, all our dreams will come true. We surround ourselves with inspirational quotes and stories of writers who were turned down 973 times, but oh, on the 974th!!!!!…..boy, those 973 other agents were dumb *snicker, snicker.* Thus what ends up happening is we throw all of our energy and effort into our baby, *cough* book…and we fail to plan.

Fail to plan and plan to fail.

How many of you have a business plan? Nothing super fancy. Just a basic business plan. We don’t. We think that NY is going to whisk us off in a limo and that their PR people will take care of everything necessary to make us a household name like Sandra Brown. They’re not??? Nope. Yeah, I was kind of bummed too.

Hey, Kristen, we wanted to be writers so we didn’t have to do all that spreadsheet nonsense.

Oh, I don’t blame you. I still have to go through the Excel tutorial every time I try to use it. I would rather think of character arcs and plot points. But successful people don’t just do what they like to do, they do what they must do.

So what would a business plan look like? Well, no need to get too complicated. A basic business plan has four parts.

1. Description of the Business—What kind of author are you? We have talked a lot about brand. What is your brand? If you want to be a romance-thriller-fantasy-non-fiction-memoir author, you need to either focus or get a small business loan to hire a full-time support staff. Pick one for now. Your mission statement. I am a romance author, specifically Harlequin Intrigue series. I am responsible for a minimum of one manuscript per year.

Yes, use the verb I am. When you use the I will be future progressive, you give yourself permission to be unprofessional and to procrastinate.

“I can send farm animals all day on FB and cuss and rant on MySpace, I’m not a published author yet. This isn’t REAL marketing. This is fun time.”

“Oh, once I am published I will be able to afford a real office and it will be easier to write two hours a day.”

Your mission statement, like most businesses will evolve and change. It isn’t set in stone. But it will position your mindset and it will strip away your excuses. It will help you be taken more seriously and demonstrate to others that you are a professional (hobbyists generally are not known for having a business plan). Most of all, a mission statement will help you maintain your creative focus.

2. Marketing—It is never too soon to begin marketing your product…YOU. This is part of why I teach social media to writers. Social media is how people come to know you as an author. Hopefully one day it will be as a published author and they can buy your books. The sooner you start building your platform the stronger it will be. Do winners wait until the day before the big race to start training? No. Winners don’t wait to build a platform either.

3. Finances—It is safe to assume most of you reading this are not independently wealthy. But, you are a business and businesses have start-up costs, production costs and maintenance costs. Yes, even you. Unless you want to write your novel long-hand or write on a library computer (which are viable options if you have no choice), you are going to need equipment.

How much money are you going to allot to becoming good at your craft? What are you willing to give up in the short-term to invest in your long-term success as an author? What are you willing to sacrifice to fund your new business? To grow your business? These are questions we would ask if we were opening a family-owned pizza parlor, so we also need to also ask them when we decide we want to write. Lay the groundwork for victory.

Think about it then make a list of what you will need. Get what you can afford and make a plan to get what is out of reach. Some people balked at my suggestion of MySpace as a free web site, but that is a minimum of $300 that could be put toward something else.

So what would your new business need?

List of Equipment: computer, printer, Internet access, software.

List of Training Materials: Funds to join a writing group, conferences, workshops, weekend retreats, craft books, magazine subscriptions

List for Marketing Expenditures: Funds to buy a domain, web hosting, software, money to build a web professional-looking web page. I suggest using MySpace as long as you can. New writers especially can use that money for a better computer or a conference.

4. Management: You are the only one who can produce the product, so how much time will be slotted to write per day? Blog? Read? Sift through research? Become more skilled at your craft? Those are jobs only YOU can do.

Now ask what tasks you can delegate, and who can you delegate to?

What is your social media marketing plan? Who can you get to help? How much time do you want to spend per day building and maintaining? (I teach how to do all of this in my upcoming book—We are Not Alone—Social Media Marketing for Writers).

For those who took my suggestion to build a MySpace en lieu of a web page, don’t automatically assume you must do it all. You are a business. Do what businesses do. Outsource.

Pay your teenager who is goofing off on MySpace anyway an hourly wage to add quality friends to your page. Have your blog pulled up in a Word document and get them to post it and link it and send out the bulletin while you’re cooking dinner. Now what you pay them is now a tax deduction because it is outsourced work.

Don’t you think your family would benefit from you being a famous, successful author? Recruit them to your team and allow them to not only support your success, but be a part of it.

There are a lot of exciting changes happening in publishing. The Internet. Social media. E-books. It is now possible for a new author to pitch a book to an agent, a strong platform included. That was almost impossible to do a decade ago. Now anyone with a computer, Internet access, and a good work ethic has a real shot at laying the foundation for success.

Yet, with these changes come new responsibilities and more competition than ever in human history. Now any knucklehead with a computer and an idea can claim to be a blogger or a writer. How will you stand apart?

You will plan.

You will show up on Race Day prepared and focused. You will work harder than all the other wanna-bes whose best strategy is to rely on dumb luck to get the golden ring. If you are reading this blog, then you already have demonstrated you desire real, genuine success. So go make a plan and I will be cheering from the sidelines when you crash through the tape ahead of all the other competition.

Happy writing.

Until next time….

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By the way! If you loved this blog and just want MORE? My book, “We Are Not alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” is now available. Buy one today and take charge of your writing career! My book is designed specifically for writers. I want to change your habits, not your personality. Harness that same creative energy used for writing and use it to build your platform.

I recommend Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer Workshops and book. WW training is an excellent resource for learning how to grow from writer to professional author. www.bobmayer.org

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Is it a Good Idea to Post Chapters of Your Novel On-Line to Build Your Platform?

As many of you might already know, I teach Social Media for Writers and I am also finishing a book designed to teach writers how to use social media to market and build a platform. I am all about helping writers get content up on the web and teaching you how to use that content to gather a following of readers. The largest component to building a Web presence is that you must post regular content that is informative, entertaining, and ideally, engaging. At this past conference, the question I got more than almost any other was, “Is it a good idea to post my writing on-line?”

My answer was, “Depends on what you’re posting. Most everything yes, in limited quantity. Chapters of a novel? No. No. Definitely…um, no.”

Yesterday, I ran across a blog post from Jane Friedman, a prominent member of the publishing community. “Stop being afraid to post your work on-line!” she claims. Ms. Friedman’s blog was excellent and made some really informative points, but I think there were a number of caveats that should have been included, which we will discuss.

Ms. Freidman cited all kinds of successes, blog-to-book deals and self-published books that landed contracts and success, but not one of them was a novel. She also cited the popularity of cell phone novels in Japan, but here I feel we have three large problems 1) totally different medium (text messaging) 2) likely a different format than a traditional novel and 3) could possibly be a Japanese idiosyncrasy.

I agree with Ms. Friedman that posting your work on-line is helpful for certain kinds of writing and it certainly worked for “Stuff White People Like” and “Julia & Julia”, but what about novels?

Well, fiction does tend to always be the sticky wicket where the rules don’t apply the same way. Ms. Friedman kept using the generic terms work and manuscript, but the successes she cited were all non-fiction, How-To, observational humor, etc . . . but, again, no novels (Japanese text novels being the strange exception).

Ms. Friedman’s blog is fantastic, and has great advice for all kinds of writers. Non-fiction and humor lend themselves to making good blogs and building an Internet following. But, for novels, many of the benefits of posting pieces of your book break down, and I’ll explain why.

Test marketing. Ms. Friedman asserts that posting your work on-line is a great way to test market.

Fair enough. But before you get too excited, there are certain inherent problems with doing any kind of accurate test marketing for fiction.

First and foremost, are you certain that you are getting an accurate statistical sampling when you post chapters of your book on your blog? Most of us cannot accomplish this.

In my experience, the majority of new writers do not have a statistically large following on their blog or even on social media.

Because chapters of a novel are a piece of a larger whole, they are extremely difficult to gain the following and fan base like “Fail Nation—A Visual Romp Through the World of Epic Fails.” In fact, “Stuff White People Like” had a Facebook following in the tens of thousands so it was easy to glean that it was popular and well-received. But chapters from an unknown, unpublished author? Tougher to duplicate these kind of numbers. Way tougher.

Thus, any posted comments about your chapters are a hard way to gain any genuine insight because of this huge problem of numbers (or lack thereof). The smaller the group sampled, the less accurate the Bell Curve. Ten or even twenty people who take time to comment, positively or negatively is in no way an accurate litmus test as to how well your story is being received.

Additionally, the individuals who are most likely to follow or comment on the writer’s work are generally a member of that writer’s peer group—friends, family, fellow writers. Thus, it seems to me that this is the digital equivalent of telling an agent, “All my friends and family just love my book!”

Can you test market fiction by posting on-line? Sure. Anything is possible. But I think it is a lot tougher to do than it seems, and requires a very large and diverse following to get an accurate idea of how good your novel really is. Not to mention that a writer’s work could look perfect and lovely when viewed in small snippets, but the novel as a whole, could be a disaster. I think there are better uses of a new writer’s time and better content to use for platform-building than sections of a novel.

Getting feedback on your work. Ms. Freidman is definitely correct on this point. Feedback makes us better writers. But again, I think this is one of those ideas that are way better in theory than in practice.

Sort of like, in theory I want my husband to tell me if I am gaining weight, but in practice?

The plain truth is that we have feelings and we all care deeply about our writing.

My issue with posting on-line is that it is a tough way to get accurate feedback for a number of reasons. When you get critique in your writing group, you know whose opinion is valuable and whose isn’t. When an agent critiques your work, you know that is a valid critique whether you agree with it or not. But when you open yourself up to the worldwide web, who knows if that person commenting knows a protagonist from a potato?

Additionally (this ties in to my earlier point), if you have a network comprised of mainly friends, colleagues and family (which most people do), do you really believe they are going to be brutally honest and comment publicly that your writing was awful? They won’t, because they aren’t jerks. They are your friends and do not want to hurt your feelings.

It is one thing to ask for our brutal feedback in person, discussed over a table in a local library during critique group. It is a whole other ball of wax entirely when you want us to post that same feedback on the Internet publicly and in writing. Most of us just aren’t going to do that to another writer, even when it comes to mild critique. If the writing isn’t that great, most of us just won’t say anything. And is that helpful to the writer for the purposes of feedback? Probably not.

But what about those who don’t care about your feelings, who aren’t personally vested in you?

Before you post anything, ask yourself one important question. Can I take someone eviscerating my work in a very public forum? Anonymity does weird things to people. Most of the time readers will be nice and kind and helpful, but sometimes they can be just plain horrible. If they tear apart a blog, that is one thing. That’s 500-1000 words. But with your novel? All it takes are a couple of negative remarks to crater your self-confidence and send even the best of us scurrying back to our laptops to rewrite our entire plot (and there might not be anything wrong).

I remember a couple years ago I posted a humorous piece for public critique on my MySpace blog. I must have had 20 people who told me is was awesome and hysterical. But I had one huge jerk who posted a really hurtful mean comment, and I am still not over it to this day. I never felt the same joy about that article, and all it took was one person’s nastiness to crush it. Was my response logical? No. But it was common. Humans are emotional creatures, and when you look up “Emotional Creature” in the encyclopedia, I think it says, “See Writers.”

Even published authors have a tough time when someone posts a nasty comment about their work in a public forum. But there is a difference. They have a published book, professional validation, and sales figures to ease their pain. The rest of us can just end up feeling like we are trapped in Hell’s Dunking Booth.

My professional opinion is that for all other kinds of writing, go read Jane Friedman’s blog. The link is posted at the end. But for those who desire to be successful, published novelists, chapters of your novel are not the best choice for content on your blog or your web page. I recommend my blog from two weeks ago, “Where are All the Readers?—Social Media & the Writer’s Revolution” for some ideas of what makes good content (instead of chapters of your novel).

Happy writing! Until next time…

By the way! If you loved this blog and just want MORE? My book, “We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” is now available. Buy one today and take charge of your writing career! My book is designed specifically for writers. I want to change your habits, not your personality. Harness that same creative energy used for writing and use it to build your platform.

Jane Friedman’s blog

http://writerunboxed.com/

(specifically) http://writerunboxed.com/2010/04/23/stop-being-afraid-of-posting-your-work-online/

To learn how more about the publishing business, I highly, highly recommend Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer book and workshops (now on-line, so no excuses). Sign up today at http://www.bobmayer.org.

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Editing–Meet the Novel Killer

Sorry for the delay in posting, but have been very busy with writing jobs, which is a good thing.

The topic for today is an interesting one and even possibly controversial. Editing is great, but it can KILL a novel. If you are hoping to either one day be published or even write that break-out novel, you could be your own worst enemy.

Some of you reading this may be on Twitter, and if you are, there is a hash tag group called #writegoal (the brainchild of talented romance author Anna DeStefano http://www.annawrites.com). Definitely worth following and even joining. The purpose of #writegoal is to inspire and to create a system of accountability. Other writers will cheer on people they have never met, and there is something oddly convicting about posting “Goal today is 500 words.” There are no writing police to drag you away if you fail to meet those 500 words. Yet, those who participate feel they must at least give it the good college try in order to appease the group. But, I digress. Accountability is important, but a topic for another day.

I keep tabs on #writegoal, and #amwriting and even on MySpace and FB groups. One consistent post I see looks like this. “Looked at the pages I wrote last week and now editing. What crap”…or something to that effect.

Editing can be CANCER to a novel. Yes, editing can be devastating to shorter works, but doesn’t have quite the killing power it possesses when introduced into longer works. In a novel that can span anywhere from 80-120,000 words (depending on genre), editing can be catastrophic if done at the wrong phase.

Think of it this way. Driving is great. It gets us from point A to point B much quicker, and we do not know what life would be like without our cars. Yet, do we hand car keys to an eight year old? NO! Why? Because that child needs to develop into at least pre-adult (known as an adolescent) to be handed a two-ton piece of metal and fiberglass. Is it because we sit up at night thinking of ways to make the lives of our eight year old children miserable and that we take sick joy in depriving them of fun activities like driving? Um, no. As older wiser adults, we know the child doesn’t have the height, motor skills, and cognitive development to take on such a task without possibly fatal results.

Yet we edit novels three chapters in? No!!!!! Can you edit a novel this early? Sure. But just like handing an eight year old car keys, prepare to endure some consequences.

In my opinion, a novel has not developed enough to sustain any reasonable edit until at least the first draft. Your first draft is essentially your fifteen year old who can now go to Driver’s Ed.

Some of you might be screaming right now. “Kristen! What do you mean? Are you mad? Are you suggesting I leave a document rife with spelling errors and grammatical flaws just lying around?”

Yes. Yes, I am. You will thank me later.

If you are writing a novel, you need to leave any kind of edit for once you have finished the entire first draft. Breathe. Get a paper bag. You will be okay. Just trust me.

Now is it okay to reread what you have written in order to get grounded? Sure. And when you reread, it is even okay to make notes of things you believe at the time should be fixed or even expounded. But don’t you dare hit that backspace button! Nothing gets deleted. Period. Feel free to highlight. Make a note that you believe something should be taken out at a later time, but leave it be. Also, anything you decide needs to be added needs to be written in any color other than your main document. Red, purple, blue. Doesn’t matter. Just make it a different color.

Also, if you take part of your novel to a writing critique group before you are finished with the first draft, then you are taking a HUGE risk.

But, if you choose to do so, I recommend that you still follow my rules of editing. Any changes or suggestions need to be inserted in the form of notes (highlight possible deletions and make a notes as to why this section needed a change). Any additions need to be in another color…then sally forth.

Don’t look back, or you will turn into a pillar or unfinished novels.

Premature editing is very dangerous for three reasons:

1. Uproots Subconscious Seeds—Your subconscious mind is an amazing machine. It sees the big picture in ways the conscious mind cannot. As you write, your subconscious mind is planting seeds that, when viewed in a microcosm of one or three chapters, will likely seem to make no sense. Duh. That is like an acorn trying to envision life as a 100 foot tall oak tree. These seeds need time to gestate. When you edit prematurely, all you see is a hunk of something smooshy. You don’t realize that a possibly mind-blowing idea is trying to take root in the fertile soil of your story. By editing too early, you can possibly cripple your novel. By the end of the first draft, however, you will be able to look back and see sprouted weeds, which you can feel free to uproot. But the sprouts will be mature enough to distinguish from seedlings that need to be nurtured to their full potential.

2.  Makes us Mistake Busy Work for Real Work—Premature editing indulges our fears. Many times writers do not continue forward due to subconscious fear. Deep down we might know our original idea is flawed, or not strong enough, or convoluted, or unclear. We may know that we don’t have a solid outline or framework to support a 100K words. We may realize our characters have problems, but it is going to take work and honesty to fix them. Or all of that might be just fine, but we fear failure or even success. We fear writing the gritty stuff because it leaves us exposed and vulnerable, or we fear writing real conflict because our human nature is to avoid it. Premature editing gives us a false belief that we are being productive, when in fact it is sabotaging our work and reinforcing our fears by permitting us to procrastinate. Fears can only be conquered by facing them, and premature editing keeps us “busy” and gives us justification to stay mired.

 ***This is one of the reasons I started Warrior Writer Boot Camp, based off Bob Mayer’s teachings about fear. I felt that, for many, the traditional critique group of piecemeal edit kept writers from facing and really working on the real weaknesses.

 3.  Premature Edit Can Discourage and Keep a Writer from Finishing—This is another reason that traditional critique groups can be counter-productive. Other writers are seeing your work in a microcosm, and that limits how well they can critique. This is why I suggest using the techniques we discussed earlier. Just make notes. Your fellow writers are invaluable, but you have to appreciate that they are seeing your work from a limited point of view. Their opinions may be dead-on (We HATE your protagonist and hope he dies), but they could be far off-base and serve only to uproot those subconscious seeds we discussed.

If you continue to go back changing things chapter by chapter, changing, changing, changing, either due to critique group feedback or your own self-edit, what happens is that you KILL your forward momentum with a big ol’ red-penning, back-spacing machete.  Do that long enough, and it becomes hard not to be discouraged and ultimately give up. If you have been reworking the first act of your book for months, it can very easily end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished works.

Now I know all of you care about your work, and you desire to put your best foot forward. If that means waiting a few months before you bring anything to read at your critique group, then so be it. Mark my words. It will take a lot of self-restraint NOT to go back through your writing with pruning shears after a hard critique.

But writing a novel is like planting a field of green growing things that will eventually bear fruit. If in the beginning, you can envision the magnificent rows ready for harvest, then it is easier to be encouraged and to refrain from digging up the seeds and starting over.

Good luck and happy writing!

Until next time…

Here are some resources to empower you on your journey to successful published author:

I highly recommend Candace Havens website. Candace often runs on-line writing workshops with Rosemary Clements-Moore that teaches Fast Draft techniques. http://www.candacehavens.com

As  always, I recommend, Bob’s Novel Writers Toolkit as a foundational text to learn how to write a novel and also suggest Who Dares Wins as a fantastic book that teaches how to address and conquer fear. Bob also runs the Warrior Writer Workshop, designed to develop amateur writers into professional authors. Bob now offers the course on-line for greater convenience. http://www.bobmayer.org

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Welcome to Hell–Surviving Fiction

 

Writing a novel? Welcome to hell. It will tear your soul apart.

Just kidding (not really).

After almost a decade in the business, I must attest that fiction is the toughest form of writing. It’s like trying to create and conduct a symphony with only black letters on a white page. So many things have to be balanced perfectly so as not to provide a natural spot for a big fat bookmark. The author must first have a hook that makes the reader want more, and then create a protagonist who possesses a story-worthy problem that makes us desire to spend the next 80-100,000 words giving a crap…without tipping over in the TDTL category (Too Dumb to Live). On top of that, there is pace, tone, POV, characterization, etc. It can be a dizzying experience that can frustrate even the most highly motivated.

Back last summer, I had the privilege of attending the first Warrior Writer Workshop by NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer (Bob just released a Warrior Writer book, by the way–more on that later). Anyway, several of my writers from my Fort Worth critique group also attended this landmark event. We realized after day one with Bob that we needed to make a serious change to the way we were approaching critique. Truthfully, we’d known it for a couple of years, just didn’t really have a solid idea how to change things. Bob’s Warrior Writer gave us the answer.

For my one year as VP and four years as Prez of this particular group, it had been a never-ending battle trying to get rid of this sick dependence on line-edit. Too many members believed that showing up twice a week to look for every “was” cluster or dangling participle was actually productive. In my opinion, there were too many members mistaking mere “activity” with meaningful “progress.” And the tragic part is the writing never improved. Week after week, the characters still remained flat, the POV switched so much that reading required Dramamine, and the plots had more holes than cheesecloth. And there were also some great writers, but this format of 5-10 page critique in a microcosm was merely a formula for frustration when one was working on a piece that spanned 100, 000 words.

What bothered me most was that I saw a lot of highly motivated writers in the group who wanted more, and who possessed the talent to write great material…if they could just see HOW. I’ve also fought the battle (in another group) with some extremely talented (published) writers who firmly believe that if members just attend and pay attention at critique, that, by osmosis, they will learn what they need to learn to write a darn good book.

Um, no.

That’s like saying if I hang out long enough at the Dallas Symphony practice, I will eventually be able to pick up the cello and play by ear. Now are there people who learn that way? Yes! And boy are we ever jealous of those guys. But, the reality is that, as a leader, if I cared about those in membership, I had to appreciate that not everyone learned the same way. Thus, we broke off and created Warrior Writer Boot Camp. This was a group designed specifically for those who desired to write a novel.

Making hell a little more manageable, :).

Before any writing (or rewriting) takes place, Warrior Writer Boot Camp runs attendees through a series of steps designed to provide a much stronger framework for a story, and hopefully a much greater likelihood of publication.

Today, we’ll discuss two Warrior Writer Boot Camp steps for success.

1)      In WWBC, we have the author place the one-line conflict in the header.

A woman must choose between her love for her husband and her love for her country when she finds a box of mysterious letters indicating the man she loves is a Jamaican spy.

This one line is to make sure that all that follows after this point in critique falls in line with that conflict. All other group members at all times know what the story is about. We are reminded of the big picture. This makes it easier for us to catch an author who’s gone off on a tangent. Or, sometimes the tangent is better (subconscious working) and then the group can help the author modify the one-line conflict accordingly. This simple tactic prevents “critique in a microcosm”—the five or ten pages might be great, but if they have nothing to do with the main conflict, then the scene needs to be cut or rewritten and made salient.

This one line is the very first step. And, to be blunt, at this point in Boot Camp, it doesn’t matter if it sucks. This next step will likely change that one line anyway.

2)      Plot every detail, no matter how small.

As a writer, your subconscious mind is one of the greatest assets you possess. By plotting “every” detail ahead of time, you provide all sorts of fodder for your subconscious to get creative. In Warrior Writer Boot Camp we require members to detail everything (using the Character template in Bob Mayer’s Novel Writers Toolkit). The more detail the better. And give your details underlying reasons.

Write down that your protagonist loves Frosted Flakes because it reminds her of happier times when she was a kid before her father died. This way, later, when you get to writing and you have a stressful scene for your protagonist, what is going to be a natural choice for comfort food? Frosted Flakes. This will prevent a lot of your characters doing the same things. When we have to think of things on the spot, often we insert our own likes/proclivities. I recently edited a writer who had every single character drinking coffee when they were stressed or thinking. Guess what this author drinks when he is stressed or thinking?

If I know ahead of time that my protagonist is a Christian (religious beliefs are part of the template), then it is logical she pray when faced with an EOE (emotionally overwhelming event). If she is a Christian with wavering faith, the prayer will be different than a person of more solid beliefs. You get the idea.

Getting an idea of looks, manner, habits, beliefs are all vital to creating rich characters and a great story. It’s like going from a palette of paint with three primary colors to suddenly having one of those super-duper paint sets with hundreds of colors.

If you ever attend one of Bob’s Warrior Writer Workshops (and I certainly hope you do), you will probably hear him talk about the characters in Lonesome Dove. McMurtry did such a great job of creating characters that there was no question what each would do when the inciting incident occurred. Think about this in your own life. How would your mother react to being mugged? Now your father? Your best friend? The guy at the gym who teaches Cardio Kickboxing? Each of these people would have an entirely different book with the same inciting incident. Why? Because everyone is comprised of a different set of experiences, skill-sets, attitudes, beliefs, and abilities. All of these elements are going to directly affect HOW they react, or even if they react at all. This is what you the author are doing before you ever start the novel.

In WWBC, we create the antagonist first. Why? Because without the antagonist, the protagonist doodles on and has a happy conflict-free life. We don’t really give a rip about Luke Skywalker unless Darth enters the picture. Our WWBC goal is to make certain the writer is creating a worthy adversary, one whose defeat will elicit cries of joy from a riveted reader. It also makes it much simpler to create a protagonist perfect for taking him/her/it out (Week Two). These short dossiers make it much easier to adjust characters, goals, agendas, plans ahead of time before the author gets 50,000 words in and realizes there is a huge problem.

Pantsers need not cry out in pain. This method will not impede your creativity. I can attest to that, being a long-time pantser myself. It’s just that we get an opportunity to get to know and adjust our characters/plot/setting ahead of time. This will help keep us on track once we begin writing our novel. We can still be pansters, but it will be far easier to see the difference between getting creative and just jumping off the train altogether and landing in a tar baby. This tactic also creates characters that are richer sooner. As a pantser, I always found that my characters were kind of flat until about 40 pages in. Well, it took 40 pages for me to figure out who the heck the characters were! By doing all their back-story first, I now find my characters coming to life on page ONE.

To all you plotters, this method is good for helping you focus on characterization, which is often a weakness for the plot-driven author. It will give depth and texture and provide information to your subconscious to help make your plots even better.

Never underestimate the power of collective minds. In WWBC we now can have qualitative critique that focuses on CONTENT. When a new attendee brings his antagonist (with the one-line conflict in the header) the group now gets an opportunity to say, “Whoooo. Can’t WAIT for the book!” or “Seriously? Are you high?” (we’re not that mean). We get a chance to help the author make the strongest antagonist possible before the writing ever begins. We can say, “That goal seems silly,” “His goal needs to be bigger,” “What she wants is way too complicated, and I’m lost,” “Your bad guy isn’t scary, he’s annoying,”“That isn’t logical,” “What does this goal have to do with your one-line conflict?” Of course, we also can say, “I like that, but it might be stronger if you did X,” or “Great plan. Now make sure your protag’s greatest fear is X, because then you’ll have your arc.”

One doesn’t have to be a published author or a professional editor to do this sort of critique. We are ALL readers, and we know what we like, what will make us stay awake until four in the morning reading. We also know what will make us toss a book with great force across the room. The WWBC method allows problems to be addressed and fixed ahead of time, and I can attest that critique time is now put to far better use than merely looking for repetitive words and misplaced commas. Critique is also much more productive because instead of an author hearing, “Well, your protagonist is unlikable,” the writer now can get feedback from the group as to WHY the protagonist is unlikeable and can be given suggestions as to what would fix that problem. As authors, we often get tunnel vision, and can’t see the forest for the trees. WWBC alleviates this problem by providing different perspectives at all critical stages along the genesis of any work.

Critique now becomes a crucible where all the “impurities” can be fired out.

Over the coming weeks, we will delve deeper into this method of critique/constructing a book. Although having a group setting is ideal, a lot of these tactics can be used by an individual. In WWBC, we are actually a group designed to work for all kinds of learners (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, combination). Mostly, this format provides accountability, practice and repetition. Writing fiction can be hell, but no one said we had to do it alone.

Until next time…

For a Warrior Writer Workshop near you, contact Bob Mayer at www.bobmayer.org. Now ON-LINE! And Bob just released “Warrior Writer–From Writer to Published Author” so go buy a copy TODAY!  http://whodareswinspublishing.com/

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