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Tag: Writing Life

Business 101 for Writers: A Note About Writer’s Block

So far in this series, you have been introduced to the principles behind writing as a business and we have talked a bit about the first part of the production process: writing some words and how to write more. What about those times when the creativity just doesn’t flow?

If you have heard me talk about writing at all, you have heard me say these words that seem to infuriate nearly every writer who hears them:

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

I’ll keep this post in the series short for two reasons. First, all of the other ones are long. Second, it’s really a simple principle I have shared dozens if not hundreds of times. The simple fact is this: by starting this series and reading along, you have at least entertained the idea of writing for a living.

You don’t get to be blocked in the thing you do for a living. A waiter does not get to have waiter’s block, nor does a teacher get to have teacher’s block. No one would go to a doctor who had doctor’s block.

In any other profession, if you are not able to work that day, you go home sick, your boss finds someone else who can do your job for you, or all of your work is waiting for you when you get back to the office, and you have to make it up.

The kicker is, you don’t get paid, or you use sick time. But as a writer, you don’t really have sick time unless you have set up a savings account just for that reason (which you should, but that comes later in the series on the business end of things). If you don’t work you don’t get paid.

No fairy comes behind you and does your work for you. It really is that simple. Does that mean there are not days when things are harder than others? Nope. Just like other jobs, some days you feel it more than others, and some days are more productive.

You can never have an extended bout of writer’s block, though. Any more than a couple of days, and you are really putting yourself in a poor position. So what do you do when you are just not feeling it? You either fight to get the feeling back, or you work anyway.

Trick Your Brain

You need to write every day. We covered that already, but what you are writing might vary. You may be writing a blog post, a technical article, or the next great American novel. You might even be editing your latest piece, or working with an editor on a project.

So trick your brain so it is ready for the work you are doing that day. Here is how it works for me:

  • I use Scrivener for creative writing, short stories, novellas, and novels.
  • I use Google docs for blog posts and some articles, depending on who I am writing them for.
  • I edit using Microsoft Word and do some technical writing in it.

I never use Scrivener for technical writing, and never use Word for the initial creation of a creative work, only for rewrites and editing. Why?

When I open up each interface, my brain knows what kind of writing we are going to do. I don’t have to stare at the blank page for long before my brain automatically goes into the proper writing mode.

You don’t have to use these programs the same way I do, or even the same programs, although I will make a big case for you using Scrivener for fiction writing (that will come later under what software you really need).

However, you can trick your brain by using certain software, writing in a certain location, or even using a different keyboard, location, or account login on your computer to write. For instance, I could have a Troy Lambert login and a Troy Lambert Author login with different backgrounds, programs, and that even limits access to the internet if that is a problem for you.

Whatever your method, your mind can be your greatest asset.

Write Something Else

I have also written dozens of times and on several writer sites about the need for more than one stream of income. So since you have already listened to that, and you are writing several things, you do have other projects you are working on, right?

So if you are stuck on one project, switch and write something else. Can’t get into the groove for the next scene in your novel? Write a blog post, article, or another short story. The point is when your butt is in the chair, and it is your scheduled time to write, write.

Writing does not include emails, Tweets, Facebook posts, or a letter to your long lost brother. It does include journals, plays, movie scripts, stories, articles, technical papers, ad copy, and dozens of other things, all of which can make you money.

Nearly every kind of writing you do is creating a story of one kind or another, from a blog post about digestive health to a brochure about your local furniture store. You just have to look harder to find the story arc (more on that in another post as well).

Writing one story usually sparks you to write another. And another. And another. One type of writing will give your brain time to process where you are stuck, and usually, when you go back there, things are flowing again.

Write Anyway

So you are stalled, and you only have one project at the moment, or one goal: to get this damn book/novel/story finished. Your brain will not let you get past this particular plot point.

Start writing anyway. Write gibberish at first if you have to. Your brain will kick in. Write another story about that character and how they got to this point in the story. The point is to write something anyway.

Remember, if your butt is in the chair and you are scheduled to be writing, write. No matter what, write. Even if it all has to be thrown away later. There are no wasted words except for those that remain unwritten. You cannot edit an empty page or the thoughts that are still in your head.

You may have heard that to become a proficient writer, you must put in 10,000 hours writing, or roughly one million words. Use your writing time to get some of the shitty words out to make room for better ones. Do not ever, under any circumstances, waste your writing time.

If you have to, start typing the phrase “I will always write during my writing time” and keep typing it until other words come. They will. But you must write to activate the writer inside you.

If you are going to write for a living, you are not allowed to have writer’s block. You need to work through it somehow. There are no sick days, and no one will come in the middle of the night and do your writing for you.

However you trick your brain, whether you write something else or just write anyway, you need to work when you are scheduled to work, and for those of us who are writers that means writing. Writer’s block is a sick day, and you can only take so many of those before you go broke.

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What Do You Know About That?: The Myth of Writing What You Know

If writers only write what they know, the world, and their writing, will be very boring spaces. Well, with a few exceptions.

Like many writers, I had a series of “careers” and a diverse education before I figured out a way to write for a living. I’ve described before how I do other things than just writing: editing, formatting, and other tasks, most of them relating to publishing. They all have one thing in common: writing about them is boring except to other writers.

So as an author, what do you write about? I mean, they say write what you know, but in many ways what I know sucks. There are only so many stories of fast food workers, Fed Ex delivery drivers, and ski bums that people can stand, right?

When we say “write what you know” we don’t mean your job, past occupations, and the criminal activities you may or may not have participated in in college. That is what research is for, and if you are not a writer you will often find them to be quite knowledgeable on several topics if you engage them in conversation.

This is because we, as writers, write what we get to know. We research, study, and become unqualified experts on any number of topics to make our stories richer. Therefore, from time to time, we get it wrong in our stories. Many of us are not police officers, doctors, lawyers, or other professions we write about. We’ve just researched them.

But there are things we can write about that we do know, and that is what we mean when we say “write what you know.”

Fear

If anyone is familiar with fear, it is a writer, regardless of how sheltered the rest of their life might have been. For the most part, though, writers have endured fear in many areas of their lives.

Every time you sit down to look at a blank page, whether it is to write an article or blog post or to start that next story or novel, a writer experiences fear: fear that the words won’t come this time, or that someone will discover how poorly we write, or worse that no one will read our work at all.

This fear is something we can put into our stories and our characters. When they are afraid, we can describe it accurately, show it to our readers. To do so, we must be open and allow our own fear to show through.

This is tough: it means we are making ourselves vulnerable. It means that in every moment of fear in our work, our readers catch a glimpse of what is inside us, and that makes for great fiction.


Blue October, Fear [Explicit]

Love

If there is one thing artists do an astonishing job at, it is love. We also tend to love imperfectly, because we are flawed, and our attention is often drawn to things it should not be. It’s hard to walk through the day and not be distracted by something that is the next story idea, even just an odd creative spark.

However, when we love, we love with everything we are and are loyal to a fault. Sometimes that love is misunderstood because our loyalties are so divided. We are loyal to our craft and our stories, often even our characters. It does not mean we don’t have enough love for others too, it just means we struggle with the balance between the real world and the fantasy we live in.

Writers are often broken and dark, and our writing is where the darkness goes so we do not spread it to those around us. When we are not writing and creating, we are dangerous, hurtful people, the gods forgive us. When we create and channel that darkness, we love with a fierce passion, and take our place among the gods.

Can we write of this struggle to love? Of course we can, because every story is a love story, whether it is in the romance genre or not. Every story has love of something woven into it. To be effective, though, we must show this love to our readers: the pain of it, the struggle, and the triumph.

Darkness

Speaking of the darkness we release through our writing, we must understand that to make it effective, we must not fear showing it to our readers. This is the thing we know so well, yet is difficult to write about. It reveals something inside us we don’t always want the world to see.


I don’t care what genre you write in, there is at some point darkness in your story. The moment the love interests part in a fight over some silly little thing, the moment the husband dies and the woman has to move on, or the moment the murder kills or the monster appears.

The monster is us. Those that are most real contain elements of our darkest secrets, our hidden flaws, the secret desire to destroy that lives within us, shrouded in the shadows of our hearts.

We must provide this darkness a place to play, to live in the light so that we do not harm those around us.

Triumph

Our victories sometimes are small. That one publishing credit. The one book or article acceptance. The one moment when we feel validated as a writer. The time when our child is actually kind or shares a story of their own. The time when we actually do get the girl (or guy), the one who understands us to our very soul and supports us.

These are the triumphs we know. These are the feelings, the emotions, the joy we can infuse into our stories the moment our hero slays the dragon, gets the bad guy, gets the girl, or finally overcomes that one issue in his life.

We must, whenever we can, balance the darkness with triumph. We must impart to our readers the one thing that keeps us going: hope.

You know more than you think as a writer. But it is the things you know in your soul that matter the most. These are the things you must write about. Write what you know. Learn what you don’t.

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GUEST POST: Treat Your Writing Career Like A Small Business

david-kirby-quote

Aspiring writers are a dime a dozen. As a writer myself I meet many like-minded individuals with dreams of pursuing a career writing full-time. Instead of treating it like a career, they instead view it as a far-off event that may or may not ever arrive. People like this aren’t convinced that they can make it happen, and might be living a self-fulfilling prophecy of literary underachievement. Today is the day to change that.

Fake It Till You Make It

If you want to become an Olympic sprinter then you need to run practically every day. It takes copious amounts of time, blood, sweat, and self belief. Writing is the same way. Don’t just aspire to become a successful writer – write consistently and fake it till you make it. There’s nothing wrong with being casually committed to the craft like most writers, but if you ever plan on living off your writing…being like most writers isn’t good enough. A better mindset to have is to treat your career like a small business

Once more with feeling: Treat your writing career like a small business. You’re the face of your company and your own best advocate. Do yourself a favor and take the steps that will enable you to succeed. That means consistency, documentation, and professionalism.

You Deserve To Be Paid

Try to recognize that your words are your product and worth payment in exchange for others reading them. A sort of culture has developed where people taking writing for granted. We consume news, editorials, reviews, and all manner of written content online constantly and for free. Somewhere along the line the public decided that since they consume it for free, it wasn’t worth anything. There are too many online publications that refuse to give their regular contributors a dollar, choosing instead to repeat the tired refrain of ‘publicity’ when there’s very little of that too.

Over time I’ve come to see that our writing only has as much value as we place on it. From the first moment you plant yourself in front of the keyboard you should keep the frame of mind that your writing is worthwhile and worth being compensated for. If your goal is to get publicity, then by all means accept it as payment. Otherwise remember that free content has its purposes but alone doesn’t put bread on your table. Getting paid does.

Get Help From Your Friends

It’s important to surround yourself with allies who are actively pursuing similar goals. Small business conferences and writing seminars are both great environments to cultivate your fighting spirit. You’ll need it for the road ahead – the name ‘small business’ already tells you what you can expect. It’s small and it will take time to grow. Seek out mentors that can help you gain a foothold in your niche. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes as long as you keep trying. Successful friends and teachers are guide posts that light your way. You won’t be able to duplicate their success immediately and that’s OK. I know quitting your day job tomorrow to pursue a life of pure bliss writing reviews of Bonanza re-runs sounds great, but that’s a long ways off. You have to earn it first. Writing as a business is not and has never been a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. This is a multifaceted process that requires your full effort. Don’t forget that you have friends that can help you on your journey.

Master Many Skills

Recognize that as a jack or jane-of-all-trades, your business is never just writing. You’re responsible for writing, sure, but you’re also responsible for promoting yourself and managing the small yet important financial details. You have to factor in the accounting side of running a small business or working as a 1099 freelancer. Navigating tax laws as a small business owner can be tricky, especially when taking into consideration tax credits and deductions. Small businesses often have narrow margins and you must take care to save money at every opportunity possible. Along the way perhaps you’ll also design your own logo or even design your office space. Having friends to help is good but you must also develop your own skills.

Believe In Yourself First

I think it all begins with a fundamental mindset shift from freelancer to business owner. Viewing yourself as a freelancer only can feel too much like being an employee or a tumbleweed that rolls from town to town in search of work. Instead, think of and treat yourself as a sole proprietor that sells quality goods (your words) and services (your expertise) to customers, no matter how big or small. It’s all part of how you market your work and it begins with empowering yourself. You’re the baddest in the west and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

You’re not the drifting gunfighter that roams from saloon to saloon in search of work. Give yourself more credit, because in many ways you’re the saloon itself. Gunfighters, wranglers, and farmers from all across the state come to your establishment in search of opportunities and a good drink. You’re a jack or jane-of-all-trades: tough, skilled, and with friends to boot. Seize your writing career today by treating it like the business it’s always been. 

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The Greatest Story Ever Told

tellstoryThere are religious people who will argue otherwise, but I would argue that the greatest story ever told simply has not been told yet. In fact, you may be the one to write it. There is only one way we will ever find out. We need to keep writing.

Write every day. I know it has been said before, and I would say I am sorry, but I’m not. The reason this gets repeated all the time, and that I repeat it myself, is because writers don’t listen. Many tell me they don’t have to write every day. True, you don’t. But if you do, it changes your mentality and the way you work. Another little secret? Writing daily makes you better at it.

Get out of your own way. The primary thing that kept me from telling my stories for years was the fear of what other people, namely my peers from Christian school, my family, and those churchgoers might think of what I wrote. Truth be told, I was long past interacting with most of them, those who were my friends didn’t care what I wrote, and those who did weren’t really my friends anyway.

But at some point I had to banish my fear and just tell my stories in my way. Once I did, I couldn’t stop writing. The primary person standing in the way of your success is you, and the primary reason you stand there is fear. Get over yourself, banish the fear, and tell your story. If someone doesn’t like it, get them out of your life. Don’t let anyone hold you back from writing the greatest story ever.

Seek excellence, and banish perfectionism. Realize that no draft will ever be perfect, and someone will always find errors in your work. Get it to the point of excellence. Make it as good as you can with the time and money you have right now, and then let it go. Move on to the next book, and do the exact same thing. Your work will never be perfect, but you will constantly improve. Each new work will be better than the last.

The greatest story ever told may be yours. Or it may already be told. Or even better, every person might have a different idea of what that story looks like, and yours may be the greatest they have ever read. Our words shape our world, and they make a difference to someone. So share what you have to say. At least, then we can still hope to someday read the greatest story ever told.

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The Value of Critique

There are times as an author when you need to seek the opinion of other authors and readers. You might not even find all of those opinions valid, but you just might find gems in their opinions. Gems that can do nothing but make your work stronger.

There is one issue with critique though, and for many writers it’s a big one. Ready? You have to let your work go BEFORE it is ready, so others can help you get it ready. I’d repeat that, if I was teaching a class. But it’s written, so just read the sentence above one more time.

Letting go is uncomfortable. Let’s face it, some authors even struggle with letting go after their work has been edited, and is supposedly ready. But without feedback from readers before the work is released, the author really only has the opinion of one or two people. People who may be close to, and even vested in, the words on the page.

The reader, or critique group has no such investment or love for your turn of phrase. Likely they will see plot holes and places where disbelief has not been suspended adequately, and places where you, as the author, just stepped over the line a bit too far. It’s hard not to take at least a part of it personally, because it is, after all, your work. But discomfort leads to growth, and that has great value.

Not everyone is right. Look around the room. Wait. If you are an author and reading this at home, wait until you next visit a coffee shop or restaurant. Then look around. Likely, if it is still summer (you should try this outside stuff. The smells are amazing), there will be people with iced drinks topped with whipped cream sitting next to folks with hot coffee decorated with colorful straws. Some will have two straws of different color, some will have one. Cream, no cream, a different bean here or there… You get the idea. Now look at the menu.

Everyone likes different things. Your story and style will not appeal to everyone, so stop trying. Some people will misread what you are trying to write, while others will “get” it. Take the advice offered, and apply it to what you are trying to do. If you take every piece of advice, likely you don’t have enough confidence in your own ability.

Critique hurts, and isn’t always constructive. Writing is pain. Get used to it. Often our stories flow from a place of pain, and are very personal. Sometimes others who offer to critique your work are jealous for some reason, and lash out as a result of their own pain. Don’t judge them, or strike back. It’s pretty likely you do the same thing from time to time.

As much as writing is pain, it is also fraught with risk. Even when your work is as “done” as you can get it, well edited and proofed, putting out into the world is risky. There are those who will not like your work, and will tear it apart. Let them. Draw strength from it, and move on.

To make yourself the best you can be, you need to be able to take and apply criticism of all forms, constructive and otherwise. It’s frightening. It’s painful. It’s risky. But it’s worth it.

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The “Easy “ Life

laptopThere are times when I understand why authors used to, years ago, simply retreat from the world to do what they loved most: write. The publicity, the marketing, even the personal appearances went away once they reached a certain level of success. I’m on a different path: if anything I feel too visible at times. Everyone knows I am an author, nearly everywhere I go. Much of the time I deliberately reach out, in groups, by organizing conferences, and even holding author events like potluck BBQ’s with no agenda other than easing the journey we are all on, and steering others to avoid the many mistakes I have made along the way.

As writers, it often helps us to realize we are not alone. Kristen Lamb has built an entire model based on the principle: WANA, with an annual on line conference and thousands of followers. But sometimes to be effective at what we do, we need to be alone. In fact, there are times when I am sitting in a room with you, talking writing, sharing stories, while at the same time dreaming of being alone on an island, with nothing but me and my computer, and occasional but limited bursts of Wi-Fi.

The public eye is scary. Yes, it is great to feel a sense of community. But people can be cruel and petty. Jealous of each other’s success, and under the odd impression that everyone has it better than they do. And then there are those who simply do not like your work, or you as a person. There’s not a thing you can do about it, and no matter how good or nice you are, those people will exist.

Anyone can tell you they don’t take those things personally, but more often than not, those who say so are lying. The insults and cruelty, even indifference, hurt. And sometimes for writers, who often have large but rather fragile egos, it would be much easier to hide out and just be alone.

Creative people are often rebels. We are told, and rightly so, that to sell books we must be in the public eye. And we must, to one extent or another. On line, in person, or both. But when you tell a creative like a writer they have to do something, often the tendency is to do the opposite just to prove we don’t have to do anything “they” tell us. As necessary as it is, fighting that instinct is hard for us to do. It takes effort, and that kind of effort actually makes you tired.

Even a conversation, when I would rather be writing, or my muse is knocking at the back of my head with ideas can be not only exhausting, but infuriating. But there is no socially acceptable way to respond, especially if you don’t want to alienate fans and even your family. So I often smile and nod, while the whole time placing the person addressing me into a gruesome scene in my next novel.

We are busier than you think. Working at home as an author is far from easy. Not only do we have the responsibility everyone else has, but you must keep writing, every day. We must market the work we have already written. Most of us do other things to make money, like editing. We must study our craft, get better at what we do. We need to meet with other writers. Some of us must source cover designers and editors, maintain websites and blogs, and interact with you, our fans, on social media.

Being a writer is one of the greatest things you can do with your life. But it is far from the easy life some picture it to be. I’m not complaining, mind you. I often work really long hours many days in a row. But if you could see me when the words are flowing, when the stories stir within me, you would see I cannot contain my joy.

So in that way, at least, being a writer is the “easy” life.

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Time Off

I’m a hard worker. I’m not bragging, more confessing. I am a workaholic. I’d go to meetings to try to find a cure, but who has time for that, right?

Then this last weekend I took off to Garibaldi, Oregon to share a booth with a friend and fellow author at their sole annual festival, Garibaldi Days.

Be quiet. I know how physical book signings go in the digital age for thriller authors. I’ve done several, with varying degrees of success, but all coming with valuable lessons, and in this case another added value: time off and brainstorming with a couple of brilliant minds.

I took my full Samuel Elijah Johnson series, Redemption, Temptation, and Confession. A few copies of Broken Bones. Happily Ever Afterlife and Dragonthology. Sherry Briscoe wrote a book of short stories titled Mists of the Garibaldi (it is pretty good. You should check it out). A local read it, and e-mailed her with an invitation, which she kindly shared. Rochelle Cunningham came with us, the co-author of Crash Landing in a Field of Outhouses, several memoir style vignettes by Ken Bauer, an entrepreneur and pilot with some interesting stories. She brought her first non-fiction piece, Codependency: The “Normie” User Guide: How the Non-Addict learns to Love when Love Hurts with her as well. She is currently working on a short series of children’s books and the beginning of a romance series. We sold some books, not as many as we hoped. But overall we did well.

My intention was to write a novella while we were there, but my mind changed as we sped toward the coast. Perhaps to truly reset, I needed a few days without writing. This was a total change of pace for me.

The results were astounding. My creativity flowed, but toward business. How do you sell more books? How do you leverage projects you were going to do anyway toward more sales? What do I really want to write anyway? And what do I really want to do with my new-found author freedom?

Answers flooded into my mind. I looked at a house worth half a million dollars, and seriously considered that while I might not buy that one, in a few years I could if I wanted to. I started to see my writing life in a whole new light: the errors of the past, and the way forward.

This morning, I started another story. Worked on two projects in progress, reassessing their direction. Ordered a book on marketing, and determined to apply the principles to every project I do.

More announcements coming soon. I’ll be releasing a new book soon, a short story collection with Marlie Harris, titled Ridge Falls: Into the Darkness. The sequel to Stray Ally is nearing completion. I’ve started the first in another series, and have plans for several more.

But my mind is clear. My path set. My feet and legs ready to run. All because I took just a little time off.

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Eat, Write, Love

My wife and I have shared 13 Valentine’s Days together. But we have been together almost 15 years. That seems like one Valentine Day short doesn’t it? (Okay it seems like two, but we started dating March 5th, after Valentine’s Day 1999).

It is. We were separated for one. Still, we shared some things that day. Even when apart we were never totally separate. And she never gave up on me. For that, I can be eternally grateful, because I would not be where I am today without her. Days like today make me realize when the biggest change in my life came, and honestly, it was when I let the muse out of its cage, never to be imprisoned again.

climberThe muse seeks adventure. My muse has always been with me, and has caused the most trouble when I refused to satisfy his craving to create. If I am not creating through words on a page, or pictures on a screen, I still need release somewhere. Channeling the muse is vital. The need to tell stories is innate. If I do not write, and create fiction, he will create fiction and adventure elsewhere, with painful results. I need to feed, and soothe the muse, or disastrous chaos will ensue.

mustangThe muse must be harnessed and tamed. Ever see the show where they take wild mustangs and train them to be good riding horses in 100 days? Yeah, you need to do that with your muse. The trouble caused by not doing so actively through creating story can, and has for many, resulted in alcohol and drug abuse, and addiction across the board. Fair warning: none of these quiet your muse. It will resist numbing until it tears you apart.

The muse needs a partner. Unless you want to live alone, do nothing but write, and have no friends and family, your muse needs a calming partner. Someone who doesn’t necessarily have the same drive you do, but accepts your passion and keeps you grounded in life. My wife is that partner for me. If you have not found yours, keep searching. There is no greater value.

Do not imprison your muse. Set it free, tame it with practice, temper it with love. Happy Valentine’s Day. Eat, Write, Love.

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