Need to do things “Just so” to be able to call yourself a writer.
Need to Outline.*
Need to discovery write.
Need to listen when someone tells you, “You can’t do that.”
Need to continue to allow that kind of negativity to remain in your life.
Need to explain yourself to anyone.
Need to accept anyone else’s definition of success.
Need to write**.
Need to finish what you write.
Need to write what you love.
Need to take yourself outside your comfort zone.
Need to make grand mistakes.
Need to learn from those mistakes.
Need to ignore the trolls and random assholes that wish they were doing what you are, and can only make themselves feel better, by trying to Yuck your Yum.
Need to take care of yourself – you are the only one of you that you’ve got.
Need to remember that success is defined by what ~you~ think it is.
*This is, however, a useful skill to have if you decide on going the traditional publishing route. Once you’ve got a sale or two under your belt, you might be able to sell a book based on a proposal and an outline.
**This is primarily a writing blog, so I’m going to assume that, if you’re here, you’re at some stage of being a writer. If you’re an artist of any kind, feel free to replace the word “Write” with “Create” and you should be good.
Sometimes, when I’m writing, I feel like all I’m doing is just banging my head against my desk, trying to jar something loose.
I don’t feel like I’m doing anything at all.
That, of course, makes me feel like I’m wasting my writing time.
Which, of course, results in more, frenzied head-bashing.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that even when I’m sitting there, not putting a record number of words on the page, that I am still writing.
I don’t know how it is for you, but I am a linear writer. When I get going, I go from “Point-A” to “Point-Z”, and I have to touch every letter in between.
I’ve never been the type of writer that can insert a “Hey, Put something really Cool here!” note to myself and keep going. For those of you that can do that, know that I admire you in a puzzled sort of way. I’m happy with my process and, what you can do is pretty cool, but I’m not wired that way.
What this means is that sometimes I get stuck. I’ll need a name or I’ll need just the right word, or something just isn’t sounding right and it stops me. I’ll get stuck there until I figure it out. Sometimes that only takes a few minutes, or however long it takes to fire up Scrivener’s Name Generator, or to head out to an online thesaurus or dictionary. Sometimes It’ll take longer, while I get up and pace, running it over in my head (I have a tendency to twirl a drumstick – that I got from the Fit For Rivals drummer the last time they played The Shelter in Royal Oak – in my fingers while I do this…Don’t ask, I wouldn’t be able to tell you anyway)
Sometimes it’ll take longer. Sometimes this thing will need time, like a particularly tough cut of meat needs a slow cooker. That won’t stop me from the head-bashing, pacing, finger twirling, etc.
The aforementioned head-bashing is part of the process. I’ll make lists (Longhand. For some reason, these lists are always longhand) and I know that the answer to whatever I’m struggling with is in those “brain-shards” that come off and end up on the page…or, at least, part of it is.
I’ll put this list in a notebook, that I’ll carry with me back and forth to the day-job and I’ll find that it bubbles to the surface every now and again, during the day. Every day until I figure it out.
Sometimes it takes time…and that’s ok.
During that time, though, theres a part of me that feels disgusted with myself for “Going Slow”. For “Not Doing Enough”.
“See that writer over there, knocking out 5 books a year?” This part of me will ask, “Why aren’t you doing that?”
The simple answer is that I’m not that writer.
Neither are you.
If you’re writing, if you’re finishing what you write, how you got there is how you got there.
That’s what’s important.
Nobody is going to buy your book because you write every day.
Nobody is going to pick up that short story because you don’t write during the week and you binge-write 10,000 words over the course of the weekend.
Nobody is going to offer to represent you and your book because you outline, or because you’re a pantser. Or whether you write using Word, or Scrivener, or Notepad, or even via pen and paper.
None of that matters.
There is no “Wrong” way to do this. There is only your way.
What people will pay for, what will make them want to champion you and your work, is an awesome story. Nothing more.
Write how you write. If you’re still figuring out what works for you, that’s ok. Keep going, you’ll figure it out. Experiment. Use what works and never mind what doesn’t.
Finish writing what you start. Getting to The End is all that matters.
I did it for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was that I thought having a blog would be kinda cool.**
I’d also heard that if you were doing any kind of creative thing you would eventually want people to pick up and consume like a certain border collie I know goes for cheese, that getting a blog up there and updating it regularly would be a pretty good use of your time***.
What I didn’t know at the time was the amount of work that would be involved. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am neither complaining, nor am I saying that this is the equivalent of a part-time job or anything like that.
But there is a certain amount of work involved. Updating the blog weekly, I would say, takes up somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour to two hours.
On a Sunday. When there’s Rugby to watch.****
Now it might be argued that I’m responsible for shooting myself in the foot on that point because I tend to not plan posts in advance.
I’ve tried, and some attempts have turned out better than others, but the gist of it is that I kinda like flying by the seat of my pants most weeks.
Until no ideas come.
I’ll wake up on Sunday morning, make some coffee (so that I can tell what day it is) and realize that I’ve got a blog post to make and no idea what I’m going to say.
(OK, roll for creativity…)
That’s me on some days.
I can honestly say that the idea of skipping a week has never come to mind.***** So what do I do when the coffee kicks in and I check my brain for ideas and I get…
(Yeah…that idea…I got nothing.)
The first thing I do is not stress out over it. That’s not to say that I don’t think that the blog is important. I wouldn’t be here every week if it wasn’t important to me. What I mean is that I’m accepting that I’ve got nothing…now.
But that can change.
The next thing I do is start kicking around ideas. This is a pretty rapid-fire generate and discard thing. Some of the first ideas that show up are things I’ve already talked about. Others just don’t stick, I’m not digging, or I discard for a number of other reasons.
Also, at this stage, I get rid of distractions. Since I’m usually the first one awake on a Sunday, I’ll get mornings of quiet which I love. Other days, one or more of the dogs will hear me knocking around the kitchen and let me know that a ninja, I aint.
Let me tell you, nothing will cause my brain to skip like a scratch on vinyl like a barking dog. So I let the dogs out and get settled.
Normally when I’m kicking around ideas, I’m doing other stuff. Making coffee, and the aforementioned knocking around the kitchen. Eventually something will stick.
Once I’ve got that something, I’ll start “reading” lines in my head ****** over and over and expanding on it.
It’s usually around this time that I’ll sit down, come up with a title (which the “kicking around of ideas” has mostly knocked out), start thinking about adding pictures, (staying off Twitter and Facebook), turn on the music (I have a hard time writing anything without music…which I use as another layer of insulation against distraction), and start typing.
For me, that’s usually all I need, that toe in the door will get me started.
The rest of it is an eldrich mix of improvisation and sheer bull-headed persistence.
That’s what works for me. What do Y’All do when the well runs dry?
*I wasn’t 100% sure about that year, but it seemed reasonable. After checking, I discovered that I had started the blog in 2015, but I wasn’t posting regularly until January 1st, 2016.
**Yeah. I still think that.
***Like most things, there are no guarantees that any amount of blogging you do will have *any* impact on sales. There are also no guarantees that it *won’t* impact your sales and there are exceptions to every rule (See John Scalzi’s blog for example.)
****When I can find it. Seriously, restricting access to streaming video based on where on the planet you happen to be, is a stupid idea.
*****I won’t claim to have a perfect posting record either, life happens, but I’ve never skipped because I didn’t feel like posting.
******This is difficult to explain. It’s like theres a line that I want to be sure to incorporate – something that sounds cool. Often that line doesn’t look the same in the blog as it did in my head…if it makes it into the blog at all.
This is going to be a quick one today because my “To-Do” list is pretty damned long and I am bound and determined to not spend the *entire* day working.
So here goes…
In your writing. Write what you’ve never written before. Take that one thing (or pick one, if there are more than one) that you’ve never done, that you haven’t done because you’re either unsure how to do it, or are afraid of botching, and set your fingers (or hand, if you’re writing old school*) to it and begin. Accept that it might not be absolute brilliance the first time around – how many of your first attempts at anything are? Even if you put it away when you’re done and it never sees the light of day again, you’ll have at least taken that first step, and that first step is everything.
In reality. Change what you’re not happy with. Step outside your comfort zone and realize that your current comfort zone is not the same one you had ten years ago. It changes. It can change again. Take small steps, or huge leaps, but move. Move toward what makes you happy. Again, that first step is everything.
Accept that you may fail and may fail spectacularly. This is the price of admission for living. Not everything works out, even if you do everything “Right”.
You may also succeed and succeed spectacularly. And, in that success, you may find that it’s but the first step to something even better.
You may find even more awesome along the way. Chase it. Chase the awesome. You may stumble, you may fall. Get back up and keep going.
Take chances. That first step is the biggest chance of all and it is everything.
*To this day, I LOVE writing longhand. Unfortunately, my wrists won’t let me do that for long – carpal tunnel – my fingers go numb and my handwriting turns from “Barely legible” to “Are those even words?”
If you’re any kind of serious about getting traditionally published, or if you listen to writing podcasts, or if you hang out with writers or writing communities, you’ve heard about the “Elevator pitch”.
It’s almost unavoidable.
But, if you’ve somehow managed to avoid hearing about the elevator pitch* let me wrap a definition around it.
The elevator pitch refers to a scenario where you’re at a con and you find yourself in an elevator with an editor or agent**. It’s just the two of you and, as the doors close, the brief conversation leads to:
Them: Oh, you’re a writer? What are you working on?
Here is where the elevator pitch comes in. The editor/agent is getting off on the next floor and you’ve got about 30 seconds to pitch your book, generate interest, and-hopefully-get a request to see some of it.
But your book is 476 pages long (not that you’ve memorized that, or anything). How can you possibly distill your Magnum Opus*** into a thirty second pitch?
Practice, practice, practice. It’s a skill, and a handy one at that, but you’ve got to work on it.
So how do you go about putting together your elevator pitch?
Well, there are a couple of tools you can use. You could start out by stealing from Hollywood. They’ve developed a kind of shorthand when talking about new movie concepts. What they’ll do is reference other movies.
Die-Hard on a bus.
Steel Magnolias meets Ocean’s Eleven.****
Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Firefly.
There are a couple of pitfalls here. First, the person you’re talking to has to be able to recognize the references you’re making, otherwise this description doesn’t do you any good.
Secondly, you may be tempted to compare yourself to Tolkien, or Shakespeare, or someone like that to ride the coattails of those names. Maybe give you a boost. Try not to do that. If you do, you’d damn well better be able to back it up.
Another tool that you can use comes from Twitter. Twitter regularly holds pitching events. This is going to be your elevator pitch classroom. Seriously. Join them, read them, learn what you can about distilling your book down to less than 140 characters*****
Maybe you’re already thinking about a pitch for your own book about this time. While you’re doing that let me relate to you a story that came out of ConFusion 2017.
I had the good luck to catch up with Dave Robison from The Roundtable Podcast on Saturday night in the hotel bar.****** I’d binge listened to the podcast for most of 2016 and I’d wanted to meet him since episode 5. We talked for a while and, during that conversation another gentleman came over and the conversation turned towards the book I was shopping around. What follows is (to the best of my recollection) a crash course on building an elevator pitch.
Him: So what’s your book about? (Sound familiar??)
Me: (Thinking I’ve got this nailed down already…) It’s like Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Firefly.
Him: Good! That’s definitely got me interested. But it doesn’t tell me what the book is About.
Me: (Not wanting to dive into a 30 minute description…they don’t make enough alcohol for anyone to want to sit through that. Desperate, I fall back on my Twitter Pitch) To fulfill her duty, Deanna must allow her crew to die. To save them, she must start a war.
Him: Now we’re talking. That tells me what the story is about. So what you do is you take that hook in the beginning and follow it with what you just said.
Me: (Light. Freaking. Dawning) It’s like Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Firefly where, to fulfill her duty, Deanna must allow her crew to die. To save them, she must start a war.
Him: There’s your pitch.
The conversation moved on from there. The man’s name, which I didn’t find out until later, was Michael R Underwood. The North American Sales and Marketing manager for Angry Robot books******* and an amazing author. If that guy isn’t qualified to critique a pitch, I don’t know who is.
So there you have it. Use shorthand where you can (Remember the pitfalls). Attend the Twitter school of pitching******** until you’ve got a tweet-length pitch that captures your story. Put them together and see how it rolls off the tongue. If it comes out rough, tweak it until it doesn’t. This is one place where you want a really smooth delivery.
Lastly, always be ready to deliver your pitch. You never know when someone’s going to ask you for it.
**Most of the scenarios feature editors, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be an agent.
***It isn’t. Keep writing.
****Somebody needs to write that before I do.
*****You don’t even get 140 characters, because you’ve got the Hashtag the event, specify genre, age group. Sure you’re only using a single letter for most of this, but that well of 140 characters runs dry pretty damned quick.
******ATTEND BARCON!!! Easily worth the cost of admission on it’s own, this is the time after most -if not all- of the panels are done and the authors and guests are all hanging out down in the hotel bar. You don’t have to drink anything and you’ve got a chance to network with other writers. Many an anthology has come to life at barcon.
I did not write 5000 words today. I didn’t write 2500 words today.
Didn’t even get close.
I edited a chapter, it took me – probably – longer than it should have because I’ve got a cold-thing that has half of my head feeling like it’s been packed with concrete and my balance centers have me walking in circles.
Pretty much all the time, what you see on social media are the good writing days. The AWESOME writing days and, don’t get me wrong, those are definitely things to be celebrated. My 5000 word days are so few and far between, I feel the need to splurge on a steak dinner when they show up so, hell yeah, I’m going to drop that into Twitter.
You see everyone’s “A” game.
What you don’t see so much of are the “Lousy” writing days*. Think about it. When was the last time you saw posts that read:
“Spent my writing time today trying to wring something useful out of my brain and ended up with 350 words.”
“Feel like 10 miles of bad road covered by old yogurt, but I wrote. Barely remember what I wrote, but I got it down, damn it.”
“Really didn’t want to write today, but I did.”
Those are the real successes that we need to see more of. Those are the days that call for celebration. It wasn’t easy. In fact it was pretty daunting to sit down and make with the writing, or the writing didn’t come easy, but you did it anyway.
I call that a win.
If you’re anything like me, there are days where you need to know that the struggle is real for everyone, and that you’re not the only one banging your head against the keyboard, trying to make the words.
To that end, I want to encourage you this week to post about your writing day. Keep the varnish off. If you had a great day, post about it. If you barely managed to get anything done at all, post about it.
You’re doing the work and, damn it, that’s worthy of notice.
Even when it’s hard.
Especially when it’s hard.
I’ll be doing that this week and, if you post about it, include me. I want to hear about the day-to-day successes.
*There are no truly bad writing days. I know that, for myself, I try and hold to a sometimes unreasonable standard as to what a “Productive” day should look like. Most of the time I make it. Sometimes I don’t and have a tendency to discount the entire time as being useless, even though that is a total crap kind of thought.
Maybe you’ve heard this before: 80 percent of success is showing up.
I tried to track down who it was that originally said that and the closest I could get was a quote from Woody Allen, but he was talking about life.
I agree with the quote, but what, exactly does “Showing up” mean?
On the surface, I think it means exactly what it says. You’ve got to “Be there”. Whether “There” means submitting your work, going to a workshop, or a convention, or finding the nerve to go up to that person or (shudder) group and introduce yourself*, showing up is essential.
Looking at the blank screen this morning, trying to figure out what I was going to write about, I discovered a deeper meaning to “Showing up.”
Showing up is the Monday morning writing session after the convention has ended, before work, before the sun has risen. Showing up is working on a Friday night, when your gang wants you to other things. Showing up is getting the work done. Even when you don’t want to do it. Especially when you don’t want to do it. But you do it anyway.
Looking at it from that perspective, I’m going to bump that percentage up to 90 or even 95 and reserve that final 5-10 percent for the things that you can’t control.
That’s what showing up means. You put in the work. You practice. You improve.
90 percent of success is showing up and, if you keep showing up, you’ll succeed.
*This is something that I struggle with every time. And every time I manage to get past it – and there have been moments where I haven’t – it has been worth it. Every. Time.
**Luck would fall into that 5-10% of things that you can’t control, but I’ve found that the better prepared you are to capitalize on Luck, the more often opportunities to capitalize on Luck will arise.
I’ve seen the question posed by the title of this blog post a number of times over the past few weeks.
It’s a good question because, if you’re anything like me, current events and the latest outrages tend to hit you pretty hard, leaving you drained and tired and that’s not the best footing to start off on any creative endeavor.
For the professional writer, the quick answer is:
“You just do, because it’s your job.”
This has the advantage of being absolutely correct. If you’re making a living with your art, whatever it is, if you don’t produce, you don’t get to do things like pay the bills…
Pretty compelling reasons to get your butt in the chair and get stuff done.
“Just do it” doesn’t, really, answer the underlying question. Whomever is asking “How do you keep going?” is probably very aware of the consequences of not producing their art if they’re doing it professionally. I suspect that, more often, it’s the people that ~Aren’t~ creating professionally that are asking the question. They want to create, but at the end of the day, they’re so worn down that they don’t have it in them to do it.
They’re asking for help.
So here’s what works for me. Maybe, by sharing this, it – or part of it – will help someone struggling out there.
Step away from it. Put some distance between you and the raging tire fire that social media has predominantly become. Sure, you want to stay current, but there isn’t any way that you can stay on top of it all, so don’t even try. If you ~Have~ to check in, don’t do it first thing in the morning.
Remind yourself of why you create your art. Remind yourself of how it makes you feel. What you want to accomplish. Once you’ve got that, arrange your schedule so that you’re creating your art before you do anything else.* This isn’t as easy as it sounds. I get up pretty early in the morning so that I can get my writing done, first thing. And, if you know me at all, you know that, left to my own devices, I really burn the midnight oil.
If that’s not doable for you, carve out time where you can do what you do, regularly. If you’ve done the first thing and put some distance between you and what’s going on, getting back into the groove should become easier.
I’d like you to take a moment to watch this video:
Yes, at it’s core, it’s an ad for headphones. If that’s all you got out it, it probably won’t do you any good to keep reading. Just so that your time here won’t be completely wasted, here’s a picture of the World’s longest scarf:
I watch this video on a pretty regular basis and I wanted to share it with you for a few reasons.
First, I ~Love~ the Haka. Might be that it you’ll find it as moving as I do. It speaks to me on a level that I can’t articulate.
Second, I’ve adopted the concept of “Start Again.” You do what you can for as long as you can, and then you stop for the day. The next day, you pick up right where you left off and you Start Again. That’s progress. Momentum. And if you realize that you’re making progress, it’s easier to keep going, despite everything else that’s happening around you.
Third, going back to the Haka, the name of the Haka is “We Belong here.”** Ultimately, the root of what the Haka is about is your “Belonging Place.” In the context of the video, this place is a physical location. I think that your art – whatever it is that you do – is also a Belonging Place.
You’ve heard me refer to it as other things. Slipping into “The Zone” is one of my favorites. Wherever it is that you go to do that one thing that calls to you, be it a track, a studio, a theater, or your imagination, you go to your Belonging Place.
And when you’re in your Belonging Place, there is no room for the things of the world that would drain you and keep you from creating.
Hell, things like Time have to work to squeeze in. I listen to music when I write. I’ve got Blind Guardian‘s entire catalog and I set it to loop. When I am in my Belonging Place, the music registers, but it’s completely in the background. I don’t even hear the words.
The more often you go to your Belonging Place, the easier it is for you to get there. In your Belonging Place, it’s just you and your art.
That’s how I keep going. Looking back at the last 800 words, you could say that I’ve, basically, said “Just do it”, but I don’t think so.
“Just do it” gives you the “What”. It doesn’t give you the “Why” of what you’re doing and, without that, it becomes mechanical, cold, and that won’t get you anywhere.
So take care of yourself. Limit your exposure to things that will wear you down. Remind yourself of why you do what you do. Tell yourself that you ~are~ making progress. And go to your Belonging Place, that one place where you do what only you can do.
Who’s job was it to keep an eye on the author this month?
Oh, yeah…it was mine.
So I’ve kinda fallen off the wagon when it comes to getting a blog post up each week. Some of it – ok, most of it – was simply a mental energy deficit.
We’ve all got our own number of spoons to get stuff done with* and, for the past little bit, that’s been writing in the morning, the day job, and home.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been other stuff going on. There has been, and I might be able to talk about it soon, but it’s been draining and, at the end of the week, I just haven’t had the energy to get anything down on the blog.
The warmer weather and, I’m thinking more importantly, being able to see the blue of the sky, and the sun has given me a boost. With luck I can keep the momentum going and get back on a regular schedule.
In the mean time, if you’re sticking it out with me, thanks. I appreciate it.
Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Once you’ve done that, everything else will fall into place.
Hey there, Y’All. The Trials and Tribulations Blog tour is starting up.