Posts Tagged becoming a professional author

13 Things Mentally Strong Writers Don’t Do

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As y’all know I do a ton of reading and this includes lots and lots of blogs and articles. Over the holiday I ran across one article that just had me jumping up and down and yelling, “YES! THIS!” The Business Insider article “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” is based off Amy Morin’s book (which I highly recommend).

It doesn’t matter if we strive to have a healthy marriage, strong kids or a killer career, these tenets cross-apply to all areas of life. Mental toughness is a key component to being successful. Yes, even for writers.

So I figured I would tinker with this and make it more directly apply to writers and what we must do (or not do) if we long to do well in this career. Thus, today we are going to discuss 13 Things Mentally Strong Writers Don’t Do.

#1 They don’t waste time on self-pity.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of David Rogers

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of David Rogers

This is a tough job with more than its fair share of rejection and insult. Even once we are successfully published, most people don’t take our job seriously. It’s easy to get trapped in doubt and negative self-talk when, for the 10,000th time a stranger asks you what you do and you tell them you’re a writer and their answer is, “No, I meant your real job.”

Mentally strong writers kick the dust from their feet and move on.

Ruminating over rejection letters, bad reviews, blog trolls or insensitive family members wastes valuable creative energy and is toxic to the muse.

#2 They don’t give away their locus of control.

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We are in charge of our attitude and for doing the work. This means we are going to have to get really good at setting emotional and physical boundaries. Successful writers guard their writing time and guard their creative energy. They also know they are the only ones in charge of their dreams.

Years ago, when I decided to go pro as a writer, I had a church elder scoff at me and essentially tell me that I had a better chance of being hit by lightning than being a successful author. I went home, dusted off the resume and was about to give up and get a “real” job when I realized he was not the boss of me. He wasn’t God and didn’t know everything. Instead of giving up, I threw every ounce of energy into proving him wrong.

Really glad I did😉 .

#3 They don’t hide from change.

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This has been especially critical in the past decade as the digital revolution has changed everything we thought we knew about the industry. A business that hadn’t changed much in over a hundred years was rendered unrecognizable in the span of 6 years.

This world changes fast and we can harness the wave and ride it, or let it toss us into the reefs and drown us.

#4 They don’t focus on what they can’t control.

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We can’t control Amazon’s rules or Smashwords’ terms of service. We can’t control whether an agent accepts us. We can’t control whether Barnes & Noble lives or dies.

We can control getting the words on the page. We can control building a brand capable of driving book sales. I see a lot of writers wasting a lot of energy over issues where they don’t have any control. That energy is better used elsewhere.

#5 They don’t try to please everyone.

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No one will ever write the perfect book that everyone reader loves. This is one of the dangers of critique groups. We work and rework and rework trying to take everyone’s suggestions and all we end up with is an unmarketable mess known as the Book By Committee (a.k.a. Franken-Novel).

Mentally strong writers also realize they can’t please everyone on the home front. Some friends/family are just going to have to get used to you not being available for everything and anything.

#6 They don’t fear taking calculated risks.

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Fortune favors the bold. If you’ve shopped that first book four years and no agent or publisher has signed it? You might want to try self-publishing. Let it go and move forward and let your work be tested. If it sucks? Pull it and learn. But maybe it doesn’t suck.

I had one of the top agents in NYC for my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital WorldHe couldn’t sell it because NY feared change, but good thing I didn’t. My book has risen to become the definitive guide for authors who want to create an on-line brand and platform and actually have time left to write lots of books.

RoM is still as relevant today as the day I published it, but where would it be had I feared change and waited on permission?

#7 They don’t dwell on the past.

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This can be a tough one. We are wired to learn from failure but failure, frankly, is not pleasant. I’ve made tons of mistakes and in doing so? Learned a lot of ways NOT to do things. There was a time I did too much crying over what I did wrong, of what I’d failed to see. Of people I’d allowed to take advantage of me.

But this is a fruitless use of energy. Energy that can better be used elsewhere.

Dwelling on the past might mean we are holding onto a manuscript we need to just stick in a drawer. Maybe that book was a learning curve and never meant to be published. We can spend another 5 years rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic or we can use what we learned and write more books and better books.

#8 They don’t make the same mistakes over and over.

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Notice in #7 I pointed out we needed to learn from the past. Sure, don’t camp out there but also? Take good notes. I think it is a fallacy to tell writers that the more they write the better they will get.

That is only half-true.

There has to be some guidance and reflection and readjustment. Sort of like if I swing a golf club 10,000 times and do it with terrible form, I won’t be playing pro golf but I likely WILL have blown disks.

If your writing isn’t working? Take classes, get feedback from experts on your areas of weakness. Pros in ALL fields do this yet we writers are notorious for believing if we need help or take classes we aren’t “talented”. That is bunk. Pro athletes have coaches and trainers. Pro musicians go study in conservatories. Pros learn where they can do better and get to work.

#9 They don’t resent other writers’ successes.

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Jealousy is one of many emotions all of us will feel in this profession. It is natural. Feel it then move through it and use it. The great part about our profession is we are really not in competition with other writers. Books are not so cost-prohibitive readers won’t buy more than one.

Just realize success will come in due time and channel envy into inspiration.

#10 They don’t give up after the first failure.

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Or even the 100th. Want to feel better? Check out 20 Brilliant Authors Whose Work was Initially Rejected.

#11 They don’t fear alone time.

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Writers have historically done better at this since many of us are natural introverts. But social media has altered our profession and it is really easy to get caught up in FB drama or Twitter rants and fail to spend enough time alone. We need alone time not just for writing. We need that quiet time of reflection to power up the muse and also to take stock of mistakes and learn to do it better the next time.

#12 They don’t feel the world owes them anything.

All of us have read books that made us go, “WTH? WHY is THAT book a runaway hit?” We have also probably read other books and said, “Why not THIS book? This book is awesome and yet it isn’t popular!” The problem with publishing is it is not a meritocracy.

No one owes us anything, not even a book sale. The more we go back to those earlier habits like focusing on what we can control, the better. I’ve run into more than a couple pissed off resentful writers because the book isn’t selling despite strong reviews and heavy marketing. Again, anger is energy better used to write the next book.

#13 They don’t expect immediate results.

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This is a BIG one. It is very unusual for the first book to be a runaway success. Most authors (traditionally and nontraditionally published) only start really seeing results with compounded sales. Three books seems to be a minimum.

The same thing goes for an author blog. Aside from the actual books there is no stronger way to build a brand and a platform (see class on this below) but a blog is not going to take off overnight. It will take time and consistency….then it will seem to take off overnight.

I blogged to the ether for over a year and a half until I had ONE post that changed everything. One post went viral BUT since I already had hundreds of posts in my archives, I gained MAD subscribers.

Who would have subscribed though if I had ten posts I’d long abandoned to the spam bots?

What are your thoughts? Have you developed better mental toughness over the years? How did you do it? Do you think toughness trumps talent? Do you still struggle with some of these? I know I do. I am a work in progress, too!

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

TREAT YOUR MUSE!!!! Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it because the holidays are crazy? No excuses! Take time to be good to yourself! All you need is an internet connection!

How to Get Your Book Made Into Film

Class Title: How to Get Your Book Made Into Film
Instructor: Writer/Producer Joel Eisenberg
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: WEDNESDAY November 30th, 2016 1:00 PM E.S.T. to 3:00 P.M. EST

How do you cull the essence of your novel into a feature film? How do you expand your short story for a television series? Finally, when the written adaptation is complete, how do you navigate the Hollywood maze for real money and credits?

Joel Eisenberg has been there. As an independent producer of over 20 years, Joel has developed content or sold projects to networks such as TNT, CBS-Decades, FOX Studios, Ovation TV and more. As the former head of EMO Films at Paramount Studios, Joel is also a professional networker, having hosted entertainment network events at the Paramount lot, as well as Warner Brothers, Sunset-Gower Studios and more. His work has been featured in many media outlets, including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, The Los Angeles Times, TV Guide and even Fangoria.

Important Class for After NaNoWriMo! You might have a New Year’s Resolution to query a novel. Doesn’t matter. Treat yourself to an early Christmas present!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

Class Title: Pitch Perfect—How To Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY December 2nd, 2015 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn. Synopses are often requested by agents and editors and it is tough not to feel the need to include every last little detail. Synopses are great for not only keeping your writing on track, but also for pitching your next book and your next to that agent of your choice.

This class will help you learn the fundamentals of writing a query letter and a synopsis. What you must include and what doesn’t belong.

So make your writing pitch perfect with these two skills!

Plotting for Dummies

Class Title: Plotting for Dummies
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $35 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: SATURDAY December 3rd, 2016 2:30 PM E.S.T. to 4:30 P.M. EST

Are you tired of starting book after book only to lose steam and be unable to finish? Do you finish, but then keep getting rejected? Do you finish, but it takes an ungodly amount of time? Sure, great you land an agent for your book, but you don’t have FIVE YEARS to write the next one?

This class is here to help. The writers who are making an excellent income are not doing it off ONE book, rather they are harnessing the power of compounded sales. This class is designed to help you learn to plot leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner (even for PANTSERS!)

Learn the basic elements of plot, various plotting techniques, how to test your seed idea to see if it is even strong enough to be a novel and MORE!

Blogging for Authors

Class Title: Blogging for Authors
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $50 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY December 9th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)?
What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
How can a blog help you sell more books?
How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre?
Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

 

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

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60 Comments

The Single Largest Secret to Success

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

All of us start out writing for different reasons. Perhaps we have dreams of seeing New York Times Best Seller or USA Today Best Seller in front of our names. Perhaps we long to be a household name like Stephen King or even a legend like J.K Rowling.

Some of you might want to see Winner of the Pulitzer Prize on the cover of your books or see your books made into television or major motion pictures. Some writers simply want to finish that one novel and publish it so they can say they wrote a novel.

Every dream is equally noble. There are no right or wrong goals only your goals (and goals evolve as we do). Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the level of sacrifice and self-discipline required to Write a Novel in a Year is different from the author who longs to be the next Neil Gaiman.

When I started writing I thought I knew everything. It wasn’t until I went to my first writing conference that I understood the truth. I was too dumb to know how much I didn’t know. When I later gained genuine mentors (professionals) I was horrified to realize my writing wasn’t the only thing that needed a major overhaul. My character, habits, and attitudes did too.

In all bluntness, I began as a lazy unteachable ass who believed in luck not work. Most of all I had no concept of how important it was to set and maintain boundaries.

I hadn’t yet learned to guard the muse.

That had to change if I was ever going to reach my dreams. Our muse is precious and there are some critical habits we must learn to keep her healthy. We need to feed her good things—rest, books, classes, music, good friends. But at the same time? We must also protect her. This is critical for success in writing (or actually anything for that matter).

Guard Your Energy

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons via Michele Africano

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons via Michele Africano

Energy is to the muse what blood is to the body. Drain out 3 quarts from your wrists and see how you feel. Similarly, we need to make sure we aren’t dragging the muse through emotional razor wire.

Trust me, legendary authors guard their energy the way a concert violinist guards her hands. Energy that leaks out into unproductive endeavors is stealing vital life-force from the muse and pros get that.

Yet how many emerging writers are clinging to writing groups filled with folks who complain and never write? Holding onto family members or friends who are addicted to crises? How many writers are reckless with posts or comments on social media?

All that mental energy hemorrhaging into drama or onto social media in fruitless ways is taking away vital creativity that could be going into their work. But instead of their talent being focused in a novel, it is being bled into arguments on Facebook threads, tweets or in a blog’s comment section.

Cut OFF Toxic People

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Ted Van Pelt

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Ted Van Pelt

The best way to have a healthy muse? Don’t poison her. If a friend or family is emotional gangrene? CUT THEM OFF.

Toxic people always have problems and they really aren’t interested in solving them. They might say they want advice or support but this is a lie. They simply want an audience to nod to their excuses and indulge their anger, self-pity or addictions. Hanging out with them is like volunteering to be in a constant emotional full contact sport.

And yeah I am mixing the hell out of metaphors but I want you guys to understand how important this all is.

Negative emotions are not only draining, but after prolonged exposure, we can become physically ill and damage the muse (sometimes permanently).

Toxic people are always in a heightened emotional state. Their behavior creates stress and stress is something our bodies will react to in a primal way. When we sense danger, blood transfers from the cerebral cortex (higher thinking centers) to the reptilian brain (fight or flight). This serves a purpose. If a car is on our child, this isn’t the time to remember all our clever Nietzsche quotes.

But the problem is our bodies can’t tell the difference between outrunning a bear and merely arguing with a recalcitrant sibling or a troll on Facebook.

Lizard Brain is NOT creative.

Additionally we are who we hang around. Thoughts become actions, actions become habits, habits become character and character becomes destiny.

Got people in your life who want to complain? Make excuses? Still partying like it’s 1999? Just let them go lest they rub off.

Beware of Overconfidence

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Over the weekend I saw the movie Doctor Strange and loved it! But how did Dr. Stephen Strange end up battered and broken in a temple in Nepal instead of being the world’s richest and most renowned surgeon? He grew overconfident and believed he could drive on rainy roads at high speed while talking on the phone and looking at e-mail.

And he ended up with two crushed hands.

Out of ego, he failed to guard what was most precious to doing his job. And yeah it is a Marvel story but there is a neat lesson we can use.

When we rant on social media, tweet whatever flies through our head, get tangled up in friend drama or family fiascos, that is being reckless with the muse. And sure maybe the first 393 times we speed down that wet highway talking on the cell phone and texting goes fine. But it only takes something going wrong once for us to drive off a cliff and crush the muse.

And most of us don’t have Plan B of living in a temple learning to fight in other dimensions.

Choose Our Battles

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It’s easy to believe that “we can handle it” but in all honesty? That is a dangerous game.

Toxic people have more access to our lives than ever before. One of the reasons I recommend writers avoid ranting about politics on Facebook (unless one longs to be the next Bill Maher or Anne Coulter) is that, among many other reasons, it is a tremendous mental drain that can have devastating consequences (refer to guarding energy).

One of the biggest reasons many emerging writers will never bear fruit is they lack the discipline to choose their battles.

We are anointed to change the world with books, not argue with idiots on social media.

We can get pulled into on-line tiffs with folks who have no intention of changing their views. Many are on there for the sheer joy of being contrary or even cruel. I even have a mantra on Facebook when I see something that someone posts that upsets me and I feel the need to “say” something and “set them straight.”

I am NOT the Jackass Whisperer.

Then I unfollow them out of my feed and move on. We must understand that social media and building a platform is our job, but we need to manage distraction and compulsion. Sure we might initially get that “feel good” zing, but the cost of fruitless battles are far higher than the payoff. Every time we do this we are stealing energy from the true payoff—our finished and published books.

Toxic people are a great distraction on-line but also in life. We might think, “Oh I will write after I help Such-and-Such” get sorted. The problem is Such-and-Such has zero intention of ever being sorted. Misery just loves company.

So why are we handing them our limited and precious creative energy?

Where the Mind Goes the Muse Follows

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Tequilamike

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Tequilamike

Years ago I had the pleasure of working with Ferrari and was invited to some pretty amazing events, including getting to meet professional race car drivers. When drivers are racing, the most important component to winning is not crashing. Seems silly, but it’s true. If your car is in flames, odds are a trophy is not in your future.

But when race car drivers train, the most vital lesson is to keep the eyes where they want the car to go. Where the mind goes, the man follows. Look at the wall? Hit the wall. Look at the finish line? Cross the finish line.

Thus, a big way we can guard the muse from crashing is to keep focusing on where we want to go.

In the end, any kind of success is all about discipline. Like anything else, our muse gets stronger the more we feed her the good stuff and the better we guard her from the bad.

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with distraction? In person or on-line? I know this time of year is hard on a lot of us when it comes to setting boundaries. Did you have to let go of writing friends who always complained and never wrote? Who couldn’t take criticism? Who refused to learn and grow? Did you find that you did better once you got away?

What are some ways you guard your muse?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

TREAT YOUR MUSE!!!! Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it because the holidays are crazy? No excuses! Take time to be good to yourself! All you need is an internet connection!

How to Get Your Book Made Into Film

Class Title: How to Get Your Book Made Into Film
Instructor: Writer/Producer Joel Eisenberg
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: WEDNESDAY November 30th, 2016 1:00 PM E.S.T. to 3:00 P.M. EST

How do you cull the essence of your novel into a feature film? How do you expand your short story for a television series? Finally, when the written adaptation is complete, how do you navigate the Hollywood maze for real money and credits?

Joel Eisenberg has been there. As an independent producer of over 20 years, Joel has developed content or sold projects to networks such as TNT, CBS-Decades, FOX Studios, Ovation TV and more. As the former head of EMO Films at Paramount Studios, Joel is also a professional networker, having hosted entertainment network events at the Paramount lot, as well as Warner Brothers, Sunset-Gower Studios and more. His work has been featured in many media outlets, including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, The Los Angeles Times, TV Guide and even Fangoria.

Important Class for After NaNoWriMo! You might have a New Year’s Resolution to query a novel. Doesn’t matter. Treat yourself to an early Christmas present!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

Class Title: Pitch Perfect—How To Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY December 2nd, 2015 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn. Synopses are often requested by agents and editors and it is tough not to feel the need to include every last little detail. Synopses are great for not only keeping your writing on track, but also for pitching your next book and your next to that agent of your choice.

This class will help you learn the fundamentals of writing a query letter and a synopsis. What you must include and what doesn’t belong.

So make your writing pitch perfect with these two skills!

Plotting for Dummies

Class Title: Plotting for Dummies
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $35 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: SATURDAY December 3rd, 2016 2:30 PM E.S.T. to 4:30 P.M. EST

Are you tired of starting book after book only to lose steam and be unable to finish? Do you finish, but then keep getting rejected? Do you finish, but it takes an ungodly amount of time? Sure, great you land an agent for your book, but you don’t have FIVE YEARS to write the next one?

This class is here to help. The writers who are making an excellent income are not doing it off ONE book, rather they are harnessing the power of compounded sales. This class is designed to help you learn to plot leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner (even for PANTSERS!)

Learn the basic elements of plot, various plotting techniques, how to test your seed idea to see if it is even strong enough to be a novel and MORE!

Blogging for Authors

Class Title: Blogging for Authors
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $50 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY December 9th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)?
What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
How can a blog help you sell more books?
How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre?
Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

 

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

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48 Comments

What it Takes to Be a “Real” Writer

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Since we are only a couple weeks away from NaNoWriMo, I thought this would be a great topic to discuss. If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is? You aren’t a real writer. Kidding! Calm down😛 .

November is National Novel Writing Month and it’s a fun challenge to see if we have what it takes to write a novel (50,000 words) in one month. Though the challenge is geared toward newer writers, I can attest that writers of all levels join in and it is my favorite time of year. Even though I have written millions of words and five books, I love being part of the challenge because of the creative energy new people bring to the table.

Countless folks will join the challenge just to try and see if they have what it takes to seriously pursue the dream of going pro. Fifty thousand words isn’t a whole novel, but it does represent the everyday pace of the professional. To finish NaNo we need to planning, skills, and persistence of the pros. Not an easy feat. It’s like playing high school basketball then spending a month working out with the Dallas Mavericks.

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But if you hope to finish NaNo or even just that novel? One question must be  answered NOW…or at least by the end of this blog😀 .

Are you a “real” writer?

When we begin this dream of writing, there are a number of hurdles we must pass if we hope to become successful. Some of those obstacles are on the outside, yet many are internal battles. If we waste precious energy fretting over the things we have no way to change? That’s valuable creative energy that can be focused on what’s within the domain of our responsibility.

Schrodinger’s Cat Writer—Who is a “Real Writer”?

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I see blogs about this all the time, and I’ve been through this myself. We fall into existential thinking. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it fall? Or, if a writer writes a bazillion words and no one reads them, is the writer a “real writer?” Personally, I am into practicality, not philosophy.

I don’t believe it is a case of “real writer” or “fake/poseur/hobbyist writer.”

Oh, I’m not a “real writer” until I’m published, making money and have a three-book deal.

Many of us are asking the wrong question. Real Writer? Hobbyist?

The question has nothing to do with a finished book, a published book, or even hitting a best-seller list. If we use these questions as a litmus test for our success, we will always feel we don’t measure up no matter how much we attain.

I’ve put boundaries on my family and write an hour a day, but since I am not published, I am not a “real writer” yet.

Oh, sure, well I finished a full novel and even published it, but I only sold a few copies. Not a “real writer” yet.” When I hit a best-seller list, then I’ll be a real writer.

Well, I hit the best-seller list on Amazon, but I’ll be a REAL writer when I hit the New York Times list.

We are all “real writers” (if we are putting words on a page) but this is a fruitless pursuit that generally leads nowhere because it’s the wrong question. The question isn’t whether having a finished book, an agent, a three-book deal, high sales numbers and best-selling lists make us “real.”

There is a Difference in the “Real Writer” and the “Professional Writer”

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-6-24-06-am

Why? Because I’ve seen many writers attend writing groups for five, ten fifteen years and I know they likely won’t make it in the business. Are they “real”? Sure, there are pages to critique and they do have that novel they’ve been perfecting since the Bush Administration.

Yet, are they going anywhere?

Being a professional writer is a shift in mind-set and how we view ourselves. We begin to look at our art as our profession even if that profession is the second job next to the day job.

Screw “Aspiring.” Aspiring is for wimps. Takes guts to be a writer.

I’ve attended conferences where attendees easily forked out a thousand dollars or more to learn business and craft. When I ask who in the room is an aspiring writer? Always hands raised. Trust me, anyone willing to put money on the line? That is a “real” writer. In fact, that is part of being a “professional” writer.

“Aspiring writers” are the people who say things like, “Yeah, my life would make a GREAT story. Hey, maybe you could write it. I give you the idea and you write it and we split 50/50.”

Sure, after I go bathe my pet unicorn.

Now, of course, there is the difference between a “professional writer” and a “published professional writer”  and then even a “successful professional writer.” Yet, I assure you if you learn to view yourself first as a professional writer then making your way to the next two levels will come far faster. It’s why I loathe the term “aspiring writer” and encourage titles like “pre-published writer.” Aspiring Writer is fruity-tooty and gives permission for us to be hobbyists and dabblers.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 6.20.53 AM

Professional writer assumes the victory.

The mind is the battlefield, and we have to master how we view ourselves and what we do in order to reach that final tier we long to be part of “successful professional writer.”

When I began, I was an “aspiring writer” too. I spun my wheels, allowed family to walk all over me, and believed my writing time wasn’t valuable (because it was really just a cute hobby since no one could yet buy my book). When my mother wanted to go to lunch or shopping, I stepped away from my work. When my brother needed a last-minute babysitter? Okay, I was only writing.

Transitioning to Professional Writer Gives Us:

Permission to value what we are doing.

We can’t reach our goals if we believe they’re unworthy, or that we are unworthy of attaining them.

Permission to set boundaries.

I remember when I finally put a boundary on my mom. She meant well and wanted to spend time with me. But I finally stood up and said, “I don’t show up in the middle of your shift at the hospital and then give you attitude when you can’t walk away from your job to go shoe shopping with me. This is my job. And no, I am not published yet, but I never will be unless I do the work. I love you and am happy to go to lunch, after I make my word count for the day. You are just going to have to wait.”

Permission to Invest in Our Business

Writing books, craft classes and conferences are now business investments. Yet, some people claim, “Yeah, well anyone can write.” No, you have to be literate and have a desire first. I counter with this. Anyone can be a salesperson (provided you don’t have social phobias and aren’t mute). But not everyone can be a successful salesperson.

There is no licensing or college degrees in “sales” only results. But salespeople have no problem claiming the title and then investing time and money into getting better at SALES, because the good ones embrace the professional status.

Social media isn’t a frivolity, it’s a necessity. How can we learn the dangers in our business, discover great agents, the right publisher, understand the climate of our industry, and network with people who can help us do better (discover great formatters, reviewers, book cover designers, beta readers, editors) if we are an island of one?

Without social media, how can we create a platform that will eventually support and drive book sales if we don’t invest the time in laying the foundation? Blogging isn’t an indulgence, it’s training to become a stronger, faster, leaner writer who makes self-imposed deadlines. It’s also the most stable form of social media and plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers WRITE.

This job requires self-discipline. Trust me, we learn self-discipline when we write no matter what, even if we are blogging to the ether. Yet, keep going and growing? And eventually that won’t be the case.

Blog like I teach you in Rise of the Machines (and in my class Blogging for Authors this Saturday) and eventually your future readers WILL find you, but they can’t find you if there is nothing to discover.

Professionals see value in all of this. They read books, listen to audio books, go to conferences, network, place boundaries (on themselves and others) and they do the WORK.

Permission to Embrace Small Beginnings

There are hair stylists with 6 month waiting lists filled with A-List Hollywood clientele. Guarantee you they didn’t start that way. But what if they gave up when they first began doing hair because only one or two people a day sat in their chair? Followings for blogs and books start slowly and grow with guided, intelligent, persistence.

Permission to Get the Work DONE

The world doesn’t reward perfection, it rewards finishers. Once we shift our view to “professional writers” we innately understand professionals don’t work when they feel like it or are inspired. Professionals have goals and a drive to meet deadlines and benchmarks. They get the butt in chair and work.

So instead of debating the issue of what makes a “real writer”? Which is all opinion and everyone has a different one. I say focus on being a professional writer, because those are far easier to spot😀.

Thus the question I want you to ask yourselves daily (and I do it too) is: Am I being a professional writer? This will make it far clearer to praise what we’re doing right and come up higher in areas where we fall short.

What are your thoughts? Questions? Have you called yourself an aspiring writer and had friends, family, pets and needy houseplants walk all over your writing time? Have you made the mental transition and found greater focus? Have you had to invest in a meth-addicted Tasmanian Devil with a gun to guard your office? A guinea pig with a mean streak who’s willing to violate his parole?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the NEW Plotting for Dummies class below!

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

NEW CLASS! FRIDAY October 21st Plotting for Dummies

Are you tired of starting book after book only to lose steam and be unable to finish? Do you finish, but then keep getting rejected? Do you finish, but it takes an ungodly amount of time? Sure, great you land an agent for your book, but you don’t have FIVE YEARS to write the next one?

This class is here to help. The writers who are making an excellent income are not doing it off ONE book, rather they are harnessing the power of compounded sales. This class is designed to help you learn to plot leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner (even for PANTSERS!)

Learn the basic elements of plot, various plotting techniques, how to test your seed idea to see if it is even strong enough to be a novel and MORE!

SATURDAY, October 22nd Blogging for Authors

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
  • How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
  • What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
  • How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
  • How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
  • How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
  • How can a blog help you sell more books?
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.

Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

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

 

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79 Comments

The Writer’s Journey—Staying the Course From Newbie to Master

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.13.54 AM

Some of you may or may not know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. BJJ is unique in that there are only FOUR colored belts (blue, purple, brown, black) and new practitioners are a white belt for roughly a year an a half before they can test for blue. I just earned my blue belt last Thursday. This is no small feat, seeing as how I am the ONLY female in a dojo of males much larger and most far younger than I am.

My first fight as a blue and SERIOUSLY? I get TYLER?

My first fight as a blue and SERIOUSLY? I get TYLER?

The parallels for BJJ and writing are profound though. In the beginning it really doesn’t seem all that difficult. Yeah, you just grab that leg, pull that knee, sure! Got it. Then? Once you get on the mats?

*head explodes*

The more you learn, the more you come to know how much you don’t know.

One would think I’d feel more skilled and capable with each class, but I don’t. Quite the opposite. As I peel back the layers and nuance? All I can see is how far I have to go.

Back to writing.

The mark of a pro is they make whatever we want to do look easy. From running a business to playing guitar to wicked cool Kung Fu moves, masters rarely seem to even break a sweat. Same with authors. With the pros? The story flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless and effortless.

As we take off for the holidays to rest and relax and ponder over what we’ve achieved in 2015, what we hope to still achieve in 2016, I want to close out the year with this elucidation regarding the process so that you have no surprises….

Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.

Act One—The Neophyte

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

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.32.50 AM

Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.

Act Two—The Apprentice

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

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

I’ve studied other forms of martial arts, but I am relatively new to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Right now I am in the span of SUUUUUCK. When I started as a neophyte, I “seemed” to do better because I just muscled my way around on the ground and being naturally strong? It worked…against an equally green opponent.

But it also wore me out and gave me more than a fair share of injuries. I had to learn technique. Technique looks awesome when Professor does it. It looks easy on theYouTube videos.

When I do it? Eh…not pretty and NOT easy.

But I am improving. As a beginning white belt, the upper belts just instantly laid waste to me. They had me in a choke or an arm bar in less than a minute. I made all kinds of stupid and reckless mistakes. I worked too hard. I used up too much energy. I used muscle power instead of brain power.

I had to learn to relax and breathe, which is counterintuitive when a 260 pound guy is smashing you. I had to instead, learn to use my small size, my speed, and my crazy flexibility. I had to learn to THINK. Now? I’m not winning my rounds, but I rarely ever lose and I fight some pretty big opponents who far outclass me. And YES, it is frustrating. There are times I’ve had to walk off the mat so they can’t see me cry. But, I have to give myself permission to be learning.

Same in writing. This gig is tough. There is a good damn reason not everyone can do what WE DO.

 

Many new writers will shy away from craft books because they fear “rules” will ruin their creativity. Truth is? They will totally ruin your creativity, but only for a little while😉 . It isn’t permanent.

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

In fact, one thing we do in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is we grapple blindfolded. The trick is to not get fixated visually, but to be able to flex and move in response to the opponent. THAT is how sensitive you want to become. Same in writing. We want to become so immersed that we can do this stuff blindfolded. We instinctively feel what needs to happen where without having to say “Oh, this is a scene, and this is a sequel.”

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

We just fight write.

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

Like anything, there is NO substitute for DOING. Watching Holly Holmes videos is a good idea for understanding ground-fighting, but it can’t take the place of mat time. Reading, taking classes, studying cannot replace writing crap until we don’t write crap.

At the end of the apprentice phase, writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the fighter who instinctively knows to arm bar an opponent without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

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

Master

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

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.36.54 AM

Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

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

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

Hey, I did.

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

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? It is okay, REALLY! It’s natural. What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master😉 .

I love hearing from you!

Just as a warning, I may blog between now and the new year. I am working on this “resting” thing, but then I do miss y’all. Alex also has some more amazing posts but I am saving those for the new year. They are too good to miss. Make SURE you sign up for my upcoming classes!

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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47 Comments

From Newbie to Master—Understanding the Writer’s Journey

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now?🙂

The mark of a pro is they make whatever we want to do look easy. From running a business to playing guitar to wicked cool Kung Fu moves, masters rarely seem to even break a sweat. Same with authors. With the pros? The story flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless and effortless.

Just check out Ronda Rousey’s 14 second record-breaking WIN from this past weekend for an idea of JUST how EASY pros make things look…

Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.

Act One—The Neophyte

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

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.32.50 AM

Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.

Act Two—The Apprentice

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

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

I’ve studied other forms of martial arts, but I am relatively new to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Right now I am in the span of SUUUUUCK. When I started as a neophyte, I “seemed” to do better because I just muscled my way around on the ground and being naturally strong? It worked…against an equally green opponent.

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

But it also wore me out and gave me more than a fair share of injuries. I had to learn technique. Technique looks awesome when Coach does it. It looks easy on theYouTube videos.

When I do it? Eh…not pretty and NOT easy.

Right now, I’m losing most of…ok, all of my rounds, which is tough on the ego but easier on the joints. I’m focusing more on “rules”, finesse and drilling the basics because I know that in time? It will pay off. Right now is NOT the time for me to try and be “creative.” There is also NO substitute for time on the mat.

 

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

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

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

We just fight write.

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

Like anything, there is NO substitute for DOING. Watching Ronda Rousey videos is a good idea for understanding ground-fighting, but it can’t take the place of mat time. Reading, taking classes, studying cannot replace writing crap until we don’t write crap.

At the end of the apprentice phase, writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the fighter who instinctively knows to arm bar an opponent without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

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

Master

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

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.36.54 AM

Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

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

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

Hey, I did.

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

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master😉 .

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of 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. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

The winner for February is Monica Karel. Congratulations! Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen @ wana intl dot com. 

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

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94 Comments

8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo

Attack of the Killer Plot Bunny. That rabbit is DYNAMITE!

Attack of the Killer Plot Bunny. That rabbit is DYNAMITE!

I promised not to leave you guys hanging with my last post. Now that I have a lot of you beating your shields ready for NaNo, I’m going to give you battle tactics to come out victorious (or maybe at least alive).

Sure, NaNo is great to just learn to turn off the Inner Editor and get those 50,000 words DOWN. But, if in the end, all we have is a gelatinous ooze that eats people and attacks the city? They call in the National Guard to take out our WIP, because no revision can tame it.

What to do? This post is incredibly redacted, but it’s a blog. So roll with it😉 .

These tips will work for any novel, but they are SUPER important in NaNo, lest we write ourselves into the Corner of NO Escape by November 10th. These tips will ward off plot bunnies, keep the muse cooking, and hopefully help you finish.

Last I checked, finished books sell the best.

Anyway….

Active Goals

Our WIP can feel a little like THIS...

NaNo can feel a little like THIS…

A lot of time when I’m called in to repair critically injured plots, the main problem is…well, the problem. It’s passive. If your story involves “protecting” something, “escaping” something, “avoiding” something? Not going to work.

Think of it this way. I want to write a story about protecting the princess or the world will be robbed of all glitter and chocolate and all the people will be super sad. Oh-kay. What’s the plot? Stick her in a giant human-sized hamster ball and make sure it’s heavily guarded? Guarding is not ACTIVE.

A teenage boy inherits the power to time-travel but he will rip the space-time continuum if he does. He must never learn he can time-travel or use his powers.

Again, oh-kay. So does the book involve distracting him with video games for 65,000 words?

I call this The Containing Communism Conundrum. Didn’t work in the Cold War, likely will be equally ineffective/frustrating in a novel.

And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I will get a bunch of comments with, “But Such-and-Such did this and it was a TOTAL HIT in 1875.” Have fun storming the castle. I won’t stop you.

I will, however, wager that the stories one might be tempted to cite, really DO have an active goal.

Core Story PROBLEM

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Novels are simple. Solving a PROBLEM. Why do we dig reading novels? Because of life. Life is just one problem after another and it never ends…EVER. Don’t believe me? Come check out my laundry room or peek at your e-mail. We like it when characters go up against something seemingly insurmountable and WIN. It FINISHES.

Maybe it takes 20 books to finish, but it does eventually END. As a caveat, within the series, the problem of that episode book will be SOLVED.

Lately we’ve been watching the series Grimm. And yes, I’m slow to series namely because I like to binge and also, if I watch something in the first season and LIKE it? Surefire way to kill it. Still sorry about Firefly.

Anyway, for those who’ve not watched Grimm, it’s a take off the old Grimm’s Fairy Tails and the Grimms are humans with special abilities to spot and stop the beasties living among humans and causing problems. Granted, there is a BIG problem involving seven keys and world domination, but this is obviously not solved in ONE episode.

Now, the werewolf that robs the convenience store in the opening scene? He’s apprehended or killed by the end of 50 minutes.

ACTIVE: Wow, who/what ate the poor QT clerk and took all the Snicker’s bars and stole the Slurpee machine? This person/thing needs to be stopped.

Interesting Problem

Self-explanatory.

Stakes

And Grumpy Cat

What will happen if your protagonist fails? The bigger the stakes the better the story. These can be outward or inward stakes but there must be stakes. Oh, and inward stakes need an outward manifestation. They also need to be BIG or…who cares?

For the literary folks, I like to cite The Road. Man and Boy have an ACTIVE goal. Reach the ocean. No idea what’s there, but seems like a good idea. Here’s the kicker. Humans somehow did something that killed every living thing on the planet, except people (and I’m really ticked McCarthy never divulged what that was). Thus, humans have devolved to cannibalism.

The point of the book is less about making it to the ocean and more HOW they make it. If they stop to snack on some fellow travelers? They fail. The stakes are Would you die (stave to death) to protect what it truly means to be human, OR would you resort to the animal state?

Weakness

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Perfect characters are boring. Good story problems force the protagonist to do what he or she would NEVER have done in a GAZILLION years had the problem never surfaced. The inciting incident rattles the character’s cage and the first turning point is when the protagonist steps out of the comfort zone. The comfort zone is also a coping mechanism that has worked great up until said story problem.

For instance, in The Labyrinth Sarah is doing just peachy hiding in her room with her toys and costumes and refusing to grow up. It’s easier to resent her parents and baby brother. She calls on the Goblin King to take the baby away and WHOA! He shows up, takes the a baby and offers her all her dreams.

And any preteen girl who saw this movie took another 20 years to figure out why she didn’t take the deal.

But, since that would have made for a seriously short movie, Sarah has to go face the Labyrinth lest she be grounded FOREVER for selling little bro to the Goblin King. She must leave the safety of her carefully constructed world and see her flaws. Life isn’t fair and love is about sacrifice, not control.

Blind Spot

Oh, Scarlett

Oh, Scarlett

Every strength has a counterpoint. The very thing that makes ANY character good at what he or she does is also the Achilles Heel. Most characters are not evolved enough to know what their blind spot is and that’s okay because that would make them boring. Heck, it takes years of expensive therapy for most of us to pony up to what we always knew our biggest problem was/is.

I HIGHLY recommend the Positive and Negative Trait Thesauri for help. If a character is funny and charismatic, they can also be flaky and undependable. Show me a great leader and I’ll show you a control freak. Give me a loyal person, I’ll show you a sucker. Scarlett might have been a spoiled brat and a pit-bull, but she had what it took to keep it together when $#@! got REAL.

The plot serves to help the character see, then face, then overcome the blind spot/weakness and harness the counterpoint (the strength).

Secrets

RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN. You may need to know why such-and-such is a certain way as WRITER-GOD, but that might not be good for the story and the reader. Keep secrets. Reveal slowly. Ever been on a date with someone who told you every intimate detail of their lives and the waitress had yet to bring the Bloomin’ Onion? Don’t be THAT date writer.

The Force was better before it was EXPLAINED. Metachlorians?

Really?

Secrets drive great fiction, and for more on that, check out this post on being a great secret-keeper so that THIS post isn’t uber-long.

Restoration

Photo courtesy of JM Powers WANA Commons

Photo courtesy of JM Powers WANA Commons

Books must eventually end or they are called Days of Our Lives. Is Stephano still around?

When we create an ACTIVE goal for our character(s), our ending should be far clearer. I’m not a plotter. More of a plotser (I know my main story points and riff from there). But, though I don’t do outlines, I will tell you that it seriously helps to at least have an idea where you’re going.

In The Labyrinth we KNOW the ending. Sarah solves the Labyrinth and has baby bro home before she’s hauled away by police yelling, “The dingo Goblin King got the baby!”

The Death Star is blowed up. The Ring of Power is melted. Buffalo Bill is stopped from making more human-skin-lady-suits and senator’s daughter rescued (and has to have even MORE therapy about being a size 14). The Deadites have to be defeated, the portal closed, curse broken, disease cured, wedding stopped, Voldemort destroyed, Amway stopped, etc. etc.

These are the broad strokes that should help tremendously. They’re simple, but NOT easy. Despite what others may very mistakenly believe, writing a novel is HARD. Most people cannot do it. And just remember that the same folks who are telling you writing books is “easy” are the same people who were willing to pay you a hundred bucks to write a 500 word paper for them in college😉 .

What are your thoughts? Do these tips help? Make you want to go run in traffic? Have you skipped one or all of these steps and ended up with a plot so complicated you didn’t even understand it? Hey, I’ve been there.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

September’s Winner: Taylor Grace. Please send your 20 pages (10,000 word WORD doc to kristen at wan a intl dot com). You an also choose to instead send a one page query or synopsis. Congratulations!

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

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This Month, We Write IN HELL—To NaNo or Not to NaNo

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NaNoWriMo. There are a lot of opinions floating around about NaNo and I can’t tell you guys what to do. Wait, I do that all the time. Hmmm. Okay, I can’t MAKE you try NaNo, but I am the friend who will gently and lovingly shove you off a cliff because it’s good for you.

WHAT!!??? You SAID you wanted to go BASE jumping be a professional author.

In my 20s, I lived life like a Mountain Dew commercial. You name X Dumb Thing? Sign me up! One of my favorite suicidal activities was skydiving. If I was having a really bad time, nothing to perk me up like free falling from 15,000 feet. But I’m a natural idiot adventurer.

My little brother? Was probably the more cautious/sane one, but I could tell from this spark in his eyes that he’d one day like to just go for it and jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

One day, I was headed out to jump and invited my brother. “Hey, you can just watch. Check it out. See if it might be something you’d like to try one day.” He rides out there with me and, to his horror, I’d signed BOTH of us up and paid for his tandem.

He should have known from our history together that Big Sisters are pathological liars. Also, I was the one who convinced him to jump off our roof with an umbrella when he was five, so, in fairness, he should have TOTALLY seen that coming.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time. You’ll just float down.

*CRASH*

Oops.

Little Bro was “fine.” But I didn’t make him do anything I hadn’t already done. Trust me when I say he was a changed person after that experience (and for the better).

Back to NaNo…

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

For those who have not tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), at least consider it. Even if you only partially finish (land on your knees and then get dragged through stickers by your chute that caught a sudden updraft) you are now part of a percentage of very few people who TRIED.

And, unlike skydiving, I’ve yet to encounter any NaNo fatalities.

The trick to NaNo is to appreciate it’s PURPOSE. It’s to propel us out of the comfort zone and show us what we are truly capable of if we put our minds to something and refuse to give up. It’s training for the pace of professional author. Pros have a VERY different operational tempo.

We don’t play to win, we play for keeps.

I’ve finished NaNo quite a few times (and fast-draft everything I write), but every day is NaNo for me. I have a thousand words written before most people wake up. Was it ALWAYS that way? Sure!  :D *thunder rumbles*

OKAY, I totally just lied. I used to be thrilled if I had three sentences by the end of the day. OMG, if I could like, write FIVE HUNDRED words a day, THEN I will be EPIC.

There were a LOT of roadblocks to me being a “real writer,” roadblocks that NaNo can help us face and overcome.

No Such Thing as Schrodinger’s Writer

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Want to be a writer? Write. That simple. Lose the existentialism. People who have time to discuss what makes a “real” writer have too much free time. The rest of us are busy writing. The single greatest thing NaNo makes us do is it propels us to sit our tails down and get to WORK.

Ditch Perfectionism

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Want a surefire way to NEVER finish NaNo, or any book for that matter? Edit Frenzy. NaNo is NOT for the perfect book ready for sale on December 1st. Sure there are some pros out there who can whip out a perfect book in 30 days…I think. I’ve never met one, but like Sasquatch, we like to believe they could exist.

The world does not reward perfection, it rewards finishers.

Learn to SHIP. No unfinished idea ever became a NY Times best-selling book.

Word Count

One of the complaints I hear about NaNo is there is too much focus on word count. Oh-KAY. Get a three-book deal and see how important word count becomes. Word count IS critical, because without words? We don’t have a BOOK.

The Muse

Kill it with FIRE.

Kill it with FIRE.

A lot of new writers wait until inspiration strikes. The rest of us go to work (paraphrased Stephen King). Inspiration is for amateurs and hobbyists. If we look to some of the most successful authors in history, a large percentage shifted over from journalism. Reporters who wish to remain employed can’t wait for the muse to report about the four-alarm fire. Learn from that and SHIP.

NaNo is NOT the Time for REVISION

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NaNo is for getting as many words on the page as possible in 30 days. Revise LATER. It’s NaNoWRIMo, not NaNoWriReviseAngstDrinkMoWineMo.

Humans have two sides to the brain—the creative side and the logical side. The reason NaNo is fabulous is it trains us to remain in the creative hemisphere of the brain. Stay in the fictive dream and play your guts out. Logic brain will have its turn…LATER.

Ignore typos, misspellings, run-on sentences and WRITE.

NaNo Pushes Boundaries

Most of us are capable of a lot more than we believe we are, but we dig the Comfort Zone. It has WiFi and lattes. Excellence is born in a fiery crucible. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

NaNo Strips Excuses

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Life will not change one you are a published or successful author. Today is my Dad’s birthday and the 15th anniversary of his death. Hey, he was Scottish and we are known for efficiency. My SIL went in this morning for serious and painful eye surgery to prevent her from going totally blind. I have Shingles, my house is a WRECK and I have a cat I love who’s teetering on death that I have to syringe feed every other hour. Our family business was half-flattened by squall lines last week and…blech.

But I write. Doesn’t mean I don’t CARE about those other things. But if I were in any other job, I might be able to justify a couple days away, but other than that? I’d have to show UP and do my JOB.

I know Mr. Smith has a tumor I was supposed to remove today, but my cat is sick and I am still tired from Shingles, have storm damage to clear and no clean SOCKS to perform surgery in and….

Uh huh.

Writer UP

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You guys don’t have to do NaNo or like NaNo. It isn’t for everyone, but neither is this profession. I participate in NaNo, support it and recommend it.

Just for the LOVE of all that is chocolate, DO NOT believe you are finished after 50,000 or more words. You WILL need revisions and edits, so hold off on the CreateSpace or the query. You might probably will have a literary train wreck. But you have a FINISHED train wreck. EXPERIENCE will teach you what to do and even what NOT to do.

There are ways to have less of a mess at the end, but we’ll talk about that next time.

NaNo trains speed and discipline. Style comes with preparation, time and practice, not nit-picking.

So *beats shield* come back with your first draft or ON it😉.

THIS…IS…SPARTA NANO!

Haters: We will darken the skies with our criticism.

Real Writers: Then we will WRITE in the SHADE.

What are your thoughts? Are you afraid of NaNo? Good. Now suck it up. Have you tried before and failed to finish? Why? Have you revisited the “footage” to see what you could change to improve odds of finishing? Do you over-edit? STOP IT. Do you have friends, family or activities that interfere? Hint: They aren’t going away.

Share your successes, monsters, defeats and we will raise our goblets coffee mugs and spears red pens to the Elysian Fields! We will forever be Brothers and Sisters at Arms. Sign up HERE for NaNoWriMo.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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145 Comments

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