Habit: How to Keep Writing with a Full Time Job

Free today only! Click the picture.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Aristotle

Happy new year! A lot of people are starting new changes today. Some will give up quickly, some will doggedly persist until some kind of change has been achieved. The primary difference is forming habits. We sometimes dismiss the power of habit, usually because we’re thinking of bad habits. But if we make good habits, they are just as automatic and serve us well.

When I was little I realised that I could easily become the prisoner of my habits. I alphabetised my books and liked to have things in order in my little white cabinet with the sliding doors. When I found myself bound by habits, I became just as conscientious a rule-breaker. Neither was the answer. The only thing that works is choosing your habit and freely taking the rest of life as it comes.

But when you have long term projects, habits can help you reach the end without nearly as much stress. What the mind can do without thinking leaves you energy to apply to the more complicated solutions. When it comes to writing, the more time you save, the more time you can spend on the fun of being immersed in your words.

Two things: I’m offering a workshop based on my guide How to Keep Writing with a Full Time Job. I’m happy to share what has worked for me and to help you find the habits that will make getting your writing done a little easier. Here’s the details:

HOW TO KEEP WRITING WITH A FULL TIME JOB
Sat Feb 7: 10am-1pm
Universal Pathways, Berne NY
Cost: $50

Register here.

The other thing? My guide is free, today only! Get How to Keep Writing with a Full Time Job for nothing. But do it quickly.

Writer Wednesday: After the Marathon

2014-08-10 12.51.05

I’m heading down to London today for the first of two conferences with my pal Debi. It signals the end of my sabbatical and all the writing it has engendered. More importantly, it means I have to leave Dundee and those I love here, but I’m going to stick to talking about writing here (if you see me sniffling on the train down to London, you’ll know why).

When you get a great opportunity of time to write, it can be a bit overwhelming at first. I wrote about my first writers colony experience in the same vein. Like most artists, we fight to find the time to create, carving out time here and there. When we’re suddenly presented with extra time — whether it’s an unexpected day off or a week’s holiday or, yes, a year’s sabbatical — it can at first be overwhelming: I must do ALL THE THINGS!

But I learned from that first writers colony experience to give in to my natural tendency to idle. As Jerome K. Jerome reminds us, “It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.” So yes, I have idled a great deal as well as accomplished much (a small selection of recent publications):

 

But when the big marathon of writing and idling comes to an end, how do you go on? That’s where I am now. For a few days I’ll have LonCon and ShamroKon to entertain me and then I’ll be back in NY and the semester will be roaring to a start and acclimating will take up most of my energy — and then I’ll feel that pit of despair open up below me. You got too used to all that free time, the voice will whisper, you’re not going to get anything done now. I know better, yet I will hear that whisper and be tempted to give in to despair. Why? Because the truth is plain.

I won’t write as much.

That’s not a reason to despair; I need to remind myself of that, too. I’ll still write a lot. I have learned how to do that and life is too short to moan over what I don’t have (or where I’d rather be). My writing has brought me the wonderful life I have now. There’s every reason to believe that my writing will continue to make my dreams real (and help me deal with the inevitable sorrows of life). Writing is how I live in the world.

Most of all, I will remind myself that it’s all about having fun. And that will keep despair at bay.
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NaNoWriMo Begins

How to Keep WritingIf you have ever had any interest in writing, you have probably heard of NaNoWriMo, or [Inter]National Novel Writing Month. I haven’t actually done it before though I did take part in the Three Day Novel Writing contest and have actually written a novel in less than 10 days (which one? I’ll never tell).

November is seldom a good time for a project like this in my world, as I’m usually trying to juggle deadlines and grading with the swiftly disappearing semester. But I have a little more breathing room than usual, so I selected one of my upcoming projects to give a whirl on the NaNo timeline.

If you’re NaNo-ing, too, join up with me as a writing buddy or track my progress on Kit Marlowe‘s Knight of the White Hart.

Give it a go. If you need to figure out how to steal more time — as I do when I’m not on sabbatical — try my book, How to Keep Writing with a Full Time Job as it has a lot of techniques that have worked for me and generally encouraging things you might want to hear as you undertake this kind of project. Remember, anything you write is progress even if you don’t make the full target count.

Every little bit adds up — and creating is always worthwhile.

[Rabbit, rabbit.]

Writer Wednesday: Finishing Things

2013-08-04 12.23.26Okay, maybe the picture is a bit heavy handed 😉 but this is an important issue, one worth repeating. When I mentioned typing “the end” on my latest novel this week, the fabulous academic/comics writer Mary Talbot wrote (perhaps somewhat jestingly), “But do you really just write to THE END then stop? What about the endless revisions and inability to let go?” I do know a lot of writers who hold onto a manuscript for far longer than they should, so let me ask again:

Are you an inveterate tinkerer?

I know some people who have been revising the same novel for years. This is not a sign of craftsmanship. At the very least it’s a sign of delaying — and at worst it’s a sign of neurosis. Certainly part of it is fear: because the next step is sending it out there where it may be trashed, sneered at or worst of all, ignored and rejected by form.

You’ll survive. And the sooner you start building up a healthy level of skin thickness that all creativity requires, the sooner you’ll be able to brush off inconsequential comments and recognise the helpful ones. Constructive criticism allows you to understand how the story in your head is not making it to someone else’s head. Ah ha, you say, I need to spell out a little more here or cut this part that is clear and rejigger this other section.

No matter how long you’ve been writing, you’ll need to keep receiving and evaluating feedback. And you’ll be less crushed by it — and chances are, you’ll also be a much better writer. So why are you still revising that story/novel/script? Because you think it’s not done. Why are you wrong?

1) It’s as good as it will ever be.

This is likely true if you’ve been revising for a long period of time. What’s ‘long’? Well, that is tricky. I get bored really quickly, so my revision periods tend to be short. Times vary. If it can be measured in years it’s too long! Seriously. Send it off and see how it goes. The news may be good — and an editor may have specific suggestions for a last round of tinkering. Let editors do their job! That’s why they’re there. It can be better once you’ve had some objective advice.

2) It’s just not good.

When you spend a lot of time on a story, you become invested in it. This is one of the things that leads to endless revision. Sometimes you write a story and then recognise, “Hey, I just copied my favourite writer’s brilliant idea” or “This was just my revenge killing of X” (it happens) or “wow, this is a real cliché of epic proportions” (literally). Revising it will not help that basic fact. Make a folder called “The Trunk” and put your story in there. You will not ever use anything in the trunk, but when you look through it on days when you feel dispirited, you will realise how much better a writer you have become.

3) You can’t seem to actually write an ending.

This is difficult, no doubt about it. On the plus side, publishers love writers who can write series that go on infinitely (television even more so). But you need to be able to write a conclusion that gives readers enough of a satisfaction that they can take a breath and feel a sense of closure. If you can’t seem to come to an ending, this is when you could most use an editor, a writing coach or a writers group to help you find it. As your flight attendant will tell you, some exits may be located behind you. The ending may be a few chapters back and you just missed it because you were enjoying your world so much. Find it. Ask for help if you can’t!

Stories have a beginning, middle and end. The writing process should, too. Write, finish a piece, send it off, start another. Or if you’re like me (not recommended), start lots of things at various times, juggle your efforts between them unpredictably, but always finish each one!

And then enjoy a little idleness before aiming for your next goal (always have a next goal).

Barrie Golden

Writer Wednesday: Tracy S. Morris

TracysMorris cropped-pix-258x300I’m pleased to have Tracy S. Morris as my guest today. A fellow Broad, Tracy is not only a writer but a podcaster. She has photographed two of the Presidents of the United States, taken a hot air balloon ride and met two of her favorite sports legends from separate sports. She’s been a photographer, reporter, writer, fencer, historian, costumer, gardener, a black belt in taekwondo, and a self-confessed kamikaze speller. In 2012 she assumed her most challenging and rewarding role: Mommy. Tracy’s first novel, Tranquility was published in 2005 by Yard Dog Press. It was the runner up for a Darrell Award for Best Midsouth Science Fiction in 2006. Her second novel, Bride of Tranquility was published in 2009. It was a finalist for the Darell Award in 2010. Both books were picked up in eBook format in 2010 by Baen Books. When she’s not writing, Tracy goes by the name Tracy Godsey.  She lives with her husband Ryan, daughter Issa Belle and two shiba inu dogs. Ryan is a computer programmer for Tyson foods and administers her blog. The dogs do their best to avoid Issa.

International Branding

Imagine you dropped yourself in a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with no map, no compass and the vague notion that you wanted to go to Hawaii.

Do you think you would get there?

As insane as that sounds, that’s how many authors market themselves: by drifting along and hoping for the best. (If you actually plan to do that as a publicity stunt, you need a captain and the knowledge that Hawaii is in the Pacific.) Instead of drifting, you will get a lot farther if you build your brand intentionally.

Let’s start with meeting your public.  

When you go to conventions, are you doing something to be memorable?  Or are you just another head of hair hiding behind Bookhenge at a panel discussion?  Try to craft a look that is uniquely you.  Before he was known for his writing, author Jay Lake was that guy who wore Hawaiian shirts at conventions.  Just remember to remain professional (let the cosplayers wear the chainmail bikini).

Try to keep something handy with your name and website on it (we’ll get into websites in a moment.) Most people expect a business card.  If you want to make sure your information doesn’t wind up in the bottom of a drawer (or worse, a trash can), attach your information to an (inexpensive) item that fans will find useful (like a bookmark, pen or notebook).

In person isn’t the only place to meet your public.

Once, conventions were the best place to meet fans and sell books. But with the explosion of eBooks, fans of your books may never meet you face-to-face.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t engage the fen. Instead, you’ll need to get involved with social media.  That means Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and an Amazon author’s page (also a website and blog, but these days the two are often one in the same).

There are good how to articles out there for each of these, so I won’t go into how to use them in depth.  I will say that you should spend a little bit of money and have a professional-looking author’s photo taken. This photo can do double duty as your publicity still for conventions, your website and your profile in Facebook and Twitter.

For Facebook and twitter, try to post about more than just your promotions and writing. Let people get to know you a bit (but avoid the temptation to over-share.  As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t discuss it with your grandmother or your religious leader, don’t put it out there for the world to see). Be transparent. People can tell when you’re being a phony.

Try to think about the name you are putting out there on your website, Facebook and blog. Use the name you are putting on your book cover, not “Superawesomewriter38.”  You want to convey that you are a real person, and a real writer.

And lastly, do not feed trolls.  Or flame reviewers. If it’s not positive, don’t send it out into the world.

Thanks, Tracy!

Writer Wednesday: Finish That

Al's getting a makeover

Al’s getting a makeover

Last week I urged you to send things off, to brave the market and try your chances. Some of you have not done that — in fact, some of you may never do that, because you have trouble letting go of a story.

Are you an inveterate tinkerer?

I know some people who have been revising the same novel for years. This is not a sign of craftsmanship. At the very least it’s a sign of delaying — and at worst it’s a sign of neurosis. Certainly part of it is fear: because the next step is sending it out there were it may be trashed, sneered at or worst of all, ignored and rejected by form.

You’ll survive. And the sooner you start building up a healthy level of skin thickness that all creativity requires, the sooner you’ll be able to brush off inconsequential comments and recognise the helpful ones. Constructive criticism allows you to understand how the story in your head is not making it to someone else’s head. Ah ha, you say, I need to spell out a little more here or cut this part that is clear and rejigger this other section.

No matter how long you’ve been writing, you’ll need to keep receiving and evaluating feedback. And you’ll be less crushed by it — and chances are, you’ll also be a much better writer. So why are you still revising that story/novel/script? Because you think it’s not done. Why are you wrong?

It’s as good as it will ever be.

This is likely true if you’ve been revising for a long period of time. What’s ‘long’? Well, that is tricky. I get bored really quickly, so my revision periods tend to be short. Times vary. If it can be measured in years it’s too long! Seriously. Send it off and see how it goes. The news may be good — and an editor may have specific suggestions for a last round of tinkering.

It’s just not good.

When you spend a lot of time on a story, you become invested in it. This is one of the things that leads to endless revision. Sometimes you write a story and then recognise, “Hey, I just copied my favourite writer’s brilliant idea” or “This was just my revenge killing of X” (it happens) or “wow, this is a real cliché of epic proportions” (literally). Revising it will not help that basic fact. Make a folder called “The Trunk” and put your story in there. You will not ever use anything in the trunk, but when you look through it on days when you feel dispirited, you will realise how much better a writer you have become.

You can’t seem to actually write an ending.

This is difficult, no doubt about it. On the plus side, publishers love writers who can write series that go on infinitely (television even more so). But you need to be able to write a conclusion that gives readers enough of a satisfaction that they can take a breath and feel a sense of closure. If you can’t seem to come to an ending, this is when you could most use an editor, a writing coach or a writers group to help you find it. As your flight attendant will tell you, some exits may be located behind you. The ending may be a few chapters back and you just missed it because you were enjoying your world so much. Find it.

Stories have a beginning, middle and end. The writing process should, too. Write, finish a piece, send it off, start another. Or if you’re like me (not recommended), start lots of things at various times, juggle your efforts between them unpredictably, but always finish each one!