Psychology of Writing & Publishing

Reestablishing a Writing Routine

We go through great changes in our lives. It’s frankly inevitable. In fact, I remember someone telling me once in high school that in a twenty-five year period, it was likely that we would change our city/town, home, job, education status, socioeconomic status, political party, religion, and/or a whole bunch of other stuff. And when that happens, writing routines established over time and perhaps uninterrupted for years, are suddenly thrown out the window. And then where are you?

A couple of months ago, I moved into a new apartment so I could start a new job after a job search that lasted several months. Now, prior to this move, I would’ve said to anyone who asked that I didn’t really have a writing routine, that I just wrote wherever I could. Well, that is kind of true, because I do tend to write whenever I can if it’s convenient for me. But after the move, I did realize I had a routine of sorts established, and that routine no longer existed.

You see, while I was job-hunting, I lived with my dad, and in the evenings, I would settle down on the couch downstairs in the living room and write or edit while I watched whatever show I liked was playing that evening (you can get a lot written during commercial breaks). This routine lasted from late October 2015 to the end of May 2016. And my God, did it work! I edited the same novel twice and wrote more than a few short stories and blog posts that way during the job search, and it kept me sane while I looked for employment.

However, after I got employed and I moved for work, a lot changed for me. Yeah, I had increased independence, a nice location near work with a grocery store, a Target, and a library very close to where I live, and the chance to be as eccentric as I wanted within the confines of my own home without anyone judging me. But I also did not have a cable package, a TV, or a couch (though that’ll change soon with one of those). So suddenly the routine I had, which I’d been using for months and which I’d been comfortable with, was about as useful as an alchemy textbook at football practice.

For a while, I tried just writing or editing as much as I could when I sat down in front of the computer. Sadly, that worked horribly. I was moving at a snail’s pace, getting through only a couple of pages a week. A chapter could take up a whole month! With work getting busier and busier for me, I was starting to worry if I’d ever get back to the level of productivity I enjoyed prior to the move and in college.

But then a friend of mine gave me a recommendation that I found very useful. She had recently joined a group on Facebook where members sign up each month to try and write 250 words a day, and it had helped her get back into a routine of writing fiction after a pretty lengthy hiatus. That got me thinking: I can’t write every day, some days there just isn’t enough time. But what if I just tried to write 250 words every time I sat down in front of the computer? It couldn’t hurt to try.

To my utter delight, it worked like a charm. The first time, I ended up writing a little over the minimum 250. The next time, I ended up writing over 700 words! And the third, I managed to get out over thirteen-hundred words! It was amazing. Somewhere between words 150 and 250, a switch would flip and the story would just start flowing out of me like a river. In this way, I managed to get out the outline for my NaNoWriMo project in about a week or so.

Once that experiment had proven successful, I wondered if I could do the something similar with editing. It would have to be slightly different though, because editing is editing. Sometimes all you have to do work on is changing a word or a punctuation mark, and word count doesn’t change that much, but sometimes you rewrite whole sections and the word count changes dramatically. I ended up going with editing at least three pages per session, and that worked as well. After I rewrote the beginning of a short story I’d been working on and off with for over a year, I managed to finish editing the rest within a week (it helped that on the last night I worked on it, I was doing everything I could to avoid the presidential debates and I only had twelve pages to go!). Clearly this new routine I’d been working with was doing its job.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to adopt this routine if your old routine becomes impossible to do, but I am saying you shouldn’t just throw yourself into work and expect magic to happen. That didn’t work for me, and I’m not so sure it’ll work for you. Instead, take baby steps. Try writing a little a day until you find something that works for you and you’re at a level of productivity that works for you. If you do that, then I think that whatever life throws your way, you’ll be able to get back into the swing of storytelling with little to no trouble.

Have you ever had to change your writing routine? What did you do and how did it work out?

Categories: Editing & Rewriting, General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Deal with Idea Fragments

Imagine JK Rowling never thought of Harry Potter (I know, scary thought, but bear with me), and that you just had the idea for a boy wizard. You recognize that the story could be good. Very good, in fact. The question is, what else do you include? What does your boy wizard do? What is his world like? What makes him special enough to follow around? Obviously in the coming months you’ll come up with Hogwarts and Voldemort and all the other relevant characters and details, but until then Harry’s not really an idea but an idea fragment.

Is there a difference? Yes there is, at least how I write. To me, an idea has a bit more meat on it, like a summary or a prompt. You got this, and you can move forward coming up with all the details based on this little information. Using the Harry Potter example:

Harry is a boy who finds out he’s a wizard, and that when he was a baby, he defeated the greatest Dark wizard of all time. He goes to Hogwarts School to learn magic, and there his destiny begins to emerge.

Now in idea fragment form:

Harry is a boy wizard. That’s all I got so far.

See the difference? It’s just part of a summary. You can’t move forward without knowing a bit more, without deciding what direction you plan to go with Harry. That’s an idea fragment. And we all have them from time to time. Heck, I’m struggling with more than a couple right now. I know that with a bit of development they could be great ideas for stories, but until I add a few more details, I can’t write them down on any of my idea lists. And that makes them annoyances that you work desperately to make into full-fledged ideas. Which can be maddeningly difficult sometimes.

So in order to aid you with these fragments while you have them, here are some tips to develop them into full ideas:

  • First, write them down. Nothing is more infuriating than an idea you forget before you can find some way to make sure you don’t forget it (which is why I keep several lists for ideas and thoughts on my stories). While I’ve found losing idea fragments just to be slightly annoying–as far as I’m concerned, it’s just going back into the sea of the subconscious, to bubble up gain someday and maybe as an idea–it’s still good to write them down so they don’t slip your mind. Writing information down has actually been shown to help commit it to memory, so you’re making sure you don’t forget these possible great ideas-to-be.
  • Don’t stress on trying to turn them into ideas. You can spend your time turning over the fragments in your head, trying to do so until you’re frustrated will not help you come up with an idea. If anything, it’ll just keep you up at night and ruin your mood in the morning. So if you start getting frustrated with a fragment, here’s what you should do:
  • Take a break and distract yourself. Watch some Netflix. Read a book, especially if it’s in a genre or on a subject you’re not entirely familiar with. Go hang out with friends and talk about anything but the fragments. Dive into work, or another writing project, or your family, or whatever. When you come back to it, you’ll be a little refreshed and maybe also armed with new information or experiences to add to your potential idea. And psychology also shows that distracting yourself while trying to solve a problem actually leads to ways to solving it (there’s an episode of The Big Bang Theory, “The Einstein Approximation”, that illustrates this very well). So distract yourself. You never know what you might find.
  • Use a generator site. Idea generator, random word generator, story prompt generator, story plot generator, whatever generator. Do a Google search, you’ll find plenty of them. Each varies in what sort or how many parameters they require, and what sort of prompts they give as a result, but if you’re really stuck with some fragments, one of these sites might really be able to help. The downside is that some of the suggestions they give can be really silly sometimes (I tried a horror-themed one, and it gave me some odd plot summaries), while others ask for so many parameters you’re like, “If I knew all this, why would I need to be on this site?” Also, some people may feel that these sites are cheating or really lame last resorts, but it only matters if you think that.

While working on this article, an idea fragment I’d been struggling with for about two weeks finally became an idea. It helped that I was listening to a Stephen King audio book and that I read an article about a recent police operation leading to a huge arrest, helping me to think of something for the characters I had in my head whom I had no idea what to do with. So while these fragments can be a source of frustration, eventually they can become great ideas.

What tips do you have for figuring out idea fragments?

Categories: General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tackling Common Issues That Can Overwhelm Writers

Lorna Faith invited me on to her podcast, Create a Story You Love, to discuss topics that we will most likely face at one time or another as writers.  Below I will hit on the highlights of the interview, but you can listen to it all by going to iTunes, her blog post, or by watching the You Tube video below.

I want to give a special thanks for Lorna Faith for having me on her podcast.  I know a lot of work went into it.

I’m going to highlight and embellish some of the interview below, but I’m not doing a word-by-word transcript of it.

Why write?

One of the best reasons to write is because you have a story you’re dying to read that hasn’t been done yet.  But, you might find opposition when you decide to pursue writing this story.  (Even if you have a backlist already, people in your circle might not be supportive of the story you have in mind.  My family still won’t touch my romances.)  I would advise you to write the story anyway.  No one but you can write your story.  You will bring your own unique voice and twists to it that no one else can do.  That’s one of the beauties of working in a creative field.  Your story is as unique as your fingerprint.

Working backwards to create a writing/publishing schedule.

I like to work backwards.  This is a method where you pick your release dates and then work your way back to what you need to do to get there.  One reason I love pre-orders is because it forces me to put down deadlines.  I estimate out three months longer for each book than I think it’ll actually take for me to get it done.

The further out you can set these deadlines, the better you can get organized on what you need to do.

For example, let’s say I put July 20 as a release date for a 60,000-word novel.

  1.  I figure it’ll take my editing team (two editors and 2-3 beta readers) a month to do their job.  So I have to have my book ready for my editing team on June 1.
  2. I contact my editors and cover artist to let them know my time frame for the book so they have enough time to pencil me into their schedules.  (The more advance notice you can give them, the smoother things are.)
  3. From there, I’ll count down how many words I need to write a day in that story in order to have it ready on June 1.  Today (as I’m writing this), it is Feb. 7.
  4. I write 5 days a week.  The 2 days off are either catch up days (say a kid gets sick and I can’t write) or it’s a day to take a break to avoid burnout.  Either way, I give myself 2 days a week to take a breather of some sort.  This way I don’t stress myself out.
  5. Counting back from May 31, I find I have 81 days of actual writing to get this book done as long as I start on Monday, Feb. 8.  (I like to work Monday through Friday when my kids are in school.)
  6. I divide the 81 days I have to write by the 60,000 word count goal.  This is 740.74.  Or 741 words a day I need to hit for each writing day.
  7. If I remove all the distractors (internet, TV, phone calls), I can write 741 words in 45 minutes, but I’ll allow myself an hour.
  8. If I’m overwhelmed by the thought of writing the 741 words on a certain day, I’ll start with a small goal of 250 words.  From there, I’ll add another 250 words.  Then I’ll add in the rest to finish up 741.  250 words is a lot less intimidating than a higher word count.
  9. When I get to chapter 10 in the story, I’ll start the initial round of edits.  I will edit 2 chapters a night. Doing this will ensure I have a second draft ready to go by the day I finish my book.  It takes me about an hour to edit 2 chapters.  I need it quiet and distraction-free when I do this.  I usually start while I brush my teeth and finish up in the bedroom while everyone else is in the living room.
  10. I hand in my second draft to my editing team at the same time.  (If I was a beginning writer, I would separate these out, but I have over 50 full-length books by now and am familiar with my process to make this work.  If you’re starting out, give yourself 3-4 months of edits so you can go and change things your editing team finds.)
  11. While the editing team is working on my book, I give it another read through, again doing this in the evenings.
  12. I give myself about 3 weeks for the finished version of the book to be uploaded via Smashords and Amazon to hit my pre-order date.  You can upload 10 days in advance and be fine, but I like to have it in for a longer period of time to play it safe.

Writing a character that is emotionally engaging.

The key to writing the emotionally engaging character is to write with our hearts instead of our head.  I have since done a couple of blog posts on this topic, so I’ll let you read those if interested.   Introduction to the Emotionally Engaging Character, Point of View, and A Deeper Look Into Point of View.

Marketing for Introverts

  1.  Pick 2-3 social things you are interested in doing.  If you’re interested in it, chances are you’ll stick with it.
  2. Build relationships and get to know people.  Sometimes you can bounce ideas around for a future book and get an idea of what your audience wants.
  3. Use your profile to let people know you have books and where to find them.
  4. Build an email list.  (I use MailChimp.)
  5. Bookbub will let you create an author profile where you can list your books.  People can follow you and be notified when you have a new book out.
  6. Book Launch pages will let you link to all retailers where you have a book up for pre-order.  When your book is out, simply update the page.
  7. Use back matter in your book to advertise your next book and email list.

When things get tough, what can you do?

Focus on the positive feedback you’ve gotten in emails, in blog comments, on Facebook, and through other avenues.  Reminding yourself that people out there do like your work can really help you get through the rough patches of bad reviews and lack of sales.  If you have some writer friends you can talk to about the ups and downs of the business, you’ll remind yourself you’re not alone.  Sometimes it helps to know you’re not the only person going through the downside of this business.

Ultimately, though, it all boils down to whether you (as the writer) like the book?  Would you write the book again if given the chance?  If you enjoy the book, that book was worth writing, and it has value.

Categories: Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Schedules & Routines, Social Networking | Tags: ,

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