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March 28, 2012
This week, while working on a new novel plot, I felt about as creative as mud. Luckily I had the new edition, Writer’s Guide to 2012.
While I was encouraged by the positive news and lists of new publishers (more about that below), what saved my writing week were four articles at the end of the book in the section called IDEAS.
Getting Out of the Box
These are the articles that helped me maneuver out of my mental log jam.
“Loosening the Ligaments: A Writer’s Journal” by Judith Logan Lehne
“Self-Inspiration: Keep Yourself Writing Until Your Big Break” by Sue Bradford Edwards
“The Key to Writing a Book that Makes an Impact: Ideas & Theme” by Patricia Curtis Pfitsch
“Spin Zone: Remixing Headlines, Brainstorming Ideas” by Meredith DeSousa, who (I’m convinced after reading this article) must be the most creative “idea” person I know of!
Those great articles are just in the IDEAS section. There is a MARKETS section (ten articles), a STYLE section (eight articles), a BUSINESS section (seven articles), a RESEARCH section (four articles), the IDEAS section named above, and a CONTEST section. A detailed Index at the end helps you find what you need.
In these articles you’ll find everything from writing book proposals and early readers to structuring a novel and creating a website. There is just as much news on publishers: who they are, what they want, and how to sell to them.
What’s New and What Do They Want?
Do you know about book publisher and imprint start-ups like Electric Monkey, Scholastic Ruckus, Albert Whitman Teen, Jericho Books, Splinter, Downtown Books, Kensington Teen, Confluence Books, Signal, Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, and others?
They are all reviewed in Writer’s Guide to 2012.
As the Titanic Turns
After two years of demoralizing sales and profit declines, the American book industry has rebounded with two years of growth in both sales and profits. Overall industry sales were up by 5.6% in the latest year, unit sales by 4.1%.
Inside those numbers is the huge advance made by ebooks. E-reader use has doubled in a year. Amazon made huge news by having its first month ever when it sold more ebooks than traditional books, and that excluded free Kindle titles.
If I haven’t convinced you to buy the book, that’s okay. This particular offer comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. You have 30 days to decide whether Writer’s Guide to 2012 is a keeper. I’m betting that I know what you’ll decide!
March 21, 2012
How would you respond to this email?
“I know that publishing has changed drastically, but I don’t want to self-publish, and I don’t want my first book to be an e-book. I want to hold a published (by a traditional publisher) book in my hands. I’m willing to work hard—very hard—to improve my craft, and I’m willing to market, but I only have so much talent. Do I even have a chance of landing a traditional publisher?”
Songwriter Irving Berlin knew that while talent may first separate you from others, the advantage it gives doesn’t last long. “Talent is only a starting point,” Berlin said. “You’ve got to keep working that talent.”
Berlin sounds as if he’s saying that we all start with some talent–but there’s something we’re supposed to do with it. Your bit of writing talent is more than a given attribute, like your height or bone structure. It’s something to work with.
Okay, but do what with it?
John Maxwell, motivational speaker, often talks about finding your “strength zone,” or the areas you excel. He says the majority of people don’t do that. Instead, they waste time focusing on strengthening their weaknesses instead.
For example, I can write short nonfiction very quickly, and little rewriting is needed. On the other hand, I can’t write a poem to save my life. It would be silly for me to spend a large amount of time trying to write verse novels. Instead it makes more publishing sense to get even better at what I already do well.
Increase Our Talent? Really?
Most of us believe that we are born with a certain amount and type of creative talent that is fairly fixed. We know we can practice our writing skills and improve, but talent seems as constant as having blue eyes or big feet.
Is that true? Are you stuck with a certain amount of talent, and you just have to make do with it? Or are there ways to maximize whatever God-given talent you might happen to have? Maxwell (whom I follow on Twitter) says there are thirteen ways you can make the most of your talents. For writers–for anyone–that’s good news! Choose one of these ways today, and use it to help your talent grow.
- Belief lifts your talent.
- Passion energizes your talent.
- Initiative activates your talent.
- Focus directs your talent.
- Preparation positions your talent.
- Practice sharpens your talent.
- Perseverance sustains your talent.
- Courage tests your talent.
- Teachability expands your talent.
- Character protects your talent.
- Relationships influence your talent.
- Responsibility strengthens your talent.
- Teamwork multiplies your talent.
Get Started Today!
Many writers compare themselves to others and feel as if they were on the short end of the stick when talent was distributed. Even so, there are things you can do to help it grow. In changing publishing times, this is good to know.
Which one of the ways above can you choose to implement today? And then another way tomorrow? I challenge you to take each attribute and focus on one per week–and watch your talent grow in the coming months.
March 14, 2012
Not my “want to.” Just my drive.
For thirty years I’ve set goals, worked hard toward meeting them (some called me ”driven”), achieved most of them, then set more.
I happily set one-year goals, five-year goals, and ten-year goals.
Goals that Once Spelled Success
- Graduate from the Institute’s course. Check.
- Sell first article. Check.
- Sell first short stories. Check.
- Repeat many times. Check.
- Sell first novel. Check.
- Sell more novels. Check.
- Get agent. Check. Fire agent. Check.
- Sell first series. Check.
- Sell many series. Check.
They were busy whirlwind years, with writing, raising children, and teaching. But somewhere around Book #35 or so, I found myself losing the drive. Or so I thought.
I still loved writing and didn’t want to quit. But enjoying the writing and having a balanced life (e.g. more time to sleep and be with grandkids) meant more to me than the next contract, the next conference, or jumping on the next social networking band wagon.
Changing Times, Changing Goals
But last week, in a romance writers magazine that was given to me, I read an article by Barbara Wallace called “Defining Success.” Many definitions were as expected: get published, be represented by an agent, win an award, get fan letters. I almost stopped reading, thinking, “Same old, same old.” But then!
I read some definitions of success written by women who had been writing quite a while, most of them published many times. Here’s what their current “definitions of success” were:
- Jackie Braun: Now, more than 25 books later, my definition has changed again. I see success as achieving and maintaining a happy balance between writing books and spending time with my family.
- Judith Arnold: Today, with my mortgage paid off and no more college tuitions to cover, I define success as writing the books of my heart. I define it as ignoring the commercial pressures and focusing on the stories I feel compelled to share.
- Donna Alward: If I never wrote again, I’d survive and I’d do something else. But if something happened to my family, I’d be destroyed. Figuring that out was really liberating and helped me rediscover the joy of writing.
- Pam Nowak: I feel good about what I have done. If I never sell again, I’ll know what I achieved, and I’ll feel good about having done so.
It helped me to see how their goals had also changed over the years. I could really identify.
Coming Full Circle
Actually my goals now aren’t so very different than when I started writing when my kids were babies. Back then, I worried about how to write without neglecting anyone. In my first interview, the reporter came to my farmhouse to photograph me with the four kids piled on my lap. I still recall her last question: “How do you choose between your children and your writing?”
It was a great question, and it solidified my priorities for the next thirty years. I told the writer, “I don’t choose. The kids come first. The writing comes after them. If I can’t do a good job at both, I’ll quit writing.”
Some Things Don’t Change
I feel the same way today, although it’s about grandchildren now instead of children. They also grow up very fast! And they won’t always love coming to Nana’s house more than anything else they do.
Does that change my goals? Without a doubt. Will it mean less money? Probably. But like the other ladies in that article, success today (for me) means having a happy balance between writing and family–and writing the stories closest to my heart, despite the current market trends.
What About You?
How do you measure writing success? Depending on where you are in the process, your answers will differ. There is no “right” answer either, so don’t let anyone else define success for you.
Do spend some time thinking about this. Your answer today may well change in a few years, and that’s to be expected. But you’ll be a happier writer once you figure out what success means to YOU.
March 7, 2012
The following statement got my attention:
“There is one discipline that stands above all else in the quest for writing success… It is the single biggest reason I was published in the first place, and have produced the books I have. It is, simply, this:
WRITE A QUOTA OF WORDS EVERY WEEK
The daily recording of the number of words you write is an invaluable incentive to get your work done. But set your goals on a weekly basis…If something comes up on one day that prevents you from writing your quota, you just make it up later in the week.”
Quota of Words Written or Hours Written?
I love the idea of setting a quota. However, the quota of “words written” only works for me for rough drafts, when you’re pulling words out of thin air and creating new pages of your novel. So little time, though, is spent writing that first draft.
Before that come hours of planning and writing character sketches and researching settings. After the rough draft stage, there are months of revision. Some days you might proofread five whole chapters. Other days, your entire writing day might be spent figuring out what’s wrong with your first chapter. Several more days might be needed to fix it. How many words would that be?
For those reasons, I like a quota of hours spent writing (instead of words written). My only restriction is that the time must be spent on my current work-in-progress. Not blogging, or reading writer websites, or Twittering, or being on Facebook, or answering email, or anything except working directing on the new book.
Nuts and Bolts of Setting Quotas
If you try setting a quota, keep track of time using a timer. I use a kitchen timer, but you can use one on your computer. When I am ready to actually start work, I hit the “start” button. I turn off the timer if I get up for a drink of water or to answer the phone. I only log in the minutes actually spent working. Each time I write sixty minutes, I log in another hour in my little notebook.
My quota right now is to average four hours per day, five days per week. That’s a quota of twenty hours per week. If I don’t get it done M-F, I make up for it on the weekend. (Last weekend we had a packed schedule that included much driving, so I finished my quota for the week in the car. The day I watch my baby granddaughter, I write before she gets up, when she plays, while she naps, and later that night.)
Do I always make the twenty hours quota? No, but I get close, and sometimes I go over. But the increase in writing hours is what amazes me. Before I decided to do a quota system, I was writing as much as I could (I thought). I worked around interruptions and marketing and babysitting and volunteer work, always believing that the writing was the most important thing.
But how much writing was I actually getting done? Maybe four or five hours per week. That’s right–per week. No wonder I was so frustrated!
Prioritizing Made Easier
With the quota system, knowing that it’s Thursday and you still have a lot of hours to work before you make your weekly quota helps you say “no” to a lot of other things that tempt you. It helps you get started earlier. It’s fun to mark off the hours and add them up in your notebook. It helps me not get behind earlier in the week too, as I don’t like working through the weekend.
But mostly, at the end of the week now, I love seeing how much progress I’ve made on a novel. I like how the book lives on in my mind after I finish for the day. Because I am finally spending enough actual time writing again, ideas and solutions routinely come to mind when away from my desk.
Set a Reasonable Quota
If you have a day job and/or have small children around every day, don’t copy my quota numbers. Be realistic about how much time you can set as a weekly quota. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
On the other hand, don’t aim too low either. You can write before kids get up, during naps, after they go to bed, while cooking supper, on lunch hours at the office, sitting in a car in the parking lot, in doctors’ waiting rooms, in bleachers…wherever and whenever. I know because I’ve done it. Push yourself to claim time for writing that maybe now you are wasting.
Your quota is personal to you, based on your unique circumstances. Don’t compare your quota to anyone else’s.
Commit to It
Your quota won’t help unless you make a commitment to doing it. If you need someone to hold you accountable for your weekly quota, find someone.
Reward yourself for the weeks you make your quota–which will be more often than not. Reward yourself on any given day that you meet your daily quota as well.
The more I read about successful writers with busy lives, the more I run into this idea of the weekly quota. It’s a tried-and-true strategy. It’s worth trying!