What to Do When You Can’t Do It All

The list of advice for writers is long, seemingly more than is humanly possible to accomplish

Advice for writers is never is short supply. Just when we regularly carve out time to write, another requirement piles on our plate and then a third and a fourth. Before long we grow overwhelmed and want to give up.

I struggled for years to find time to write on a regular basis. Just as that skill began to solidify, someone dropped a bomb on my writing world. That missive said, “You need to read as much as you write.”

Yeah, right.

Now I have to take not enough time and cut it in two.

The next bomb, the most devastating of them all, demanded I build a platform. More requirements soon piled high on my list of impossible tasks.

Here are the main ones:

Write: As a writer, we need to write every day. Or at least we must write on a regular basis. For some people that means only a few minutes a day or maybe a couple times a week.

If we claim the title of writer and aren’t writing, something’s wrong. Writing is the first requirement of being a writer.

Read: To write well, we need to be informed. This means, we must read. We need to read in our genre and outside our genre. Through reading we see what works and what doesn’t. We discover the techniques we like and the ones we don’t.

By reading widely, we cultivate our voice, develop our style, and feed our muse. Reading fuels our writing. But while the goal of spending as much time reading as writing makes for a compelling quip, it makes for better rhetoric than reality.

Still, as writers, we must read.

Build a Platform: I’ll never forget the day an agent turned me down, not because of my writing or my ideas or my ability, but over the lack of a platform. Ouch. That hurt.

It seems writing and reading were not enough. I needed to build and then grow a platform, too. How much time should I invest in platform building? One piece of advice was as much time as I spend writing.

If you’re good at math, you’re seeing the rub: 50 percent of my time writing, 50 percent reading, and 50 percent on platform. If that seems impossible, it is.

The next question is when should we start building our platform. Unfortunately, if we’re asking that question, we’re already behind.

Study: While writing is a good practice to help us improve, we improve faster if we study about writing. That doesn’t mean going back to college or enrolling in a MFA program, but it does mean taking intentional steps to improve. For me that includes reading books and magazines about writing, listening to podcasts, and taking relevant online classes. These things take time.

Network: Next we must network. We need to know other writers. We need to meet agents, editors, and publishers. It’s good to have these contacts before we need them.

Market: Last is marketing. While this mostly takes place as our book nears publication, we must also market ourselves beforehand. We need a professional writer website, an active presence on some social media platforms, and the accoutrements of being a writer, such as a headshot, business cards, an author bio, and so forth.

Does all this seem overwhelming? It is? Does it seem impossible to give everything its due? It is.

Somehow as writers we need to juggle these expectations. We need to prioritize and squeeze things in and make sacrifices.

A few weeks ago, I ended the day with the irrational assessment that I can actually balance all these things. My satisfaction lasted for all but one day. I usually reach this place a couple times a year, which means for the other 364 days of the year, I’m pulling my hair, screaming, and crying that I just can’t do it.

And you know what. I can’t, no one can.

But as we try to negotiate this list of impossible requirements, there’s one thing we must never forget.

We must write. Everything else is secondary.

What well-intended distractions get in the way of your writing?

Are You Okay as a Writer?

It’s hard not to compare ourselves with other writers and dangerous when we do

As a teenager I remember reading the book I’m Okay—You’re Okay by Thomas Harris. As I recall, the book explained that we consider ourselves in one of two ways, either as being okay or as not being okay. Conversely, we judge others the same way, either as okay or not okay.

Combined, these two dichotomies result in four distinct perspectives of how we view and interact with others:

  1. I’m okay—you’re okay.
  2. I’m okay—you’re not
  3. I’m not okay—you’re okay.
  4. I’m not okay—you’re not

The first view is healthy, and the other three are not, with the book explaining what to do.

I fear a lot of writers struggle with the third scenario. They compare themselves to other writers—the popular, visible ones—and wrongly conclude everyone else is doing better than they are. By comparison they fall short, often way short.

I get this. I struggle with this from time to time. Perhaps you do, too.

We hear of writers who receive lucrative book deals with huge advances, ones we hoped for ourselves. We see authors who make some prestigious best sellers’ list or win a coveted award—sometimes on their first book—which we dream of for ourselves. Others have their books made into movies, which we yearn to experience. Then there are the indie authors who make six and even seven figures annually just on book sales, an outcome we secretly covet.

Then we feel small. Even our best accomplishment seems insignificant in comparison. Then that writer voice inside us says “They’re okay, but I’m not. They’re a success and I’m a failure.”

We need to stop that. It’s not healthy to our wellbeing, and it’s not helpful to our writing.

Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we need to compare ourselves to us. Ask two questions:

First, did I do the best I could with what I just wrote? If so, then be proud over our accomplishment.

The second question is, how could I do better? Pick one area, and set about to get better. Then our future self can look back at our present self with the firm knowledge over having improved. That’s success. Then we can say, “I’m okay.”

My hope for you is that you can truly say, “I’m okay—you’re okay.”

What steps do you take to avoid making unhealthy comparisons?

How Do You Find Time to Write?

Writers struggle finding time to write, but the solution is simple

I commonly hear writers complain that they don’t have time to write. Some say “no time” and others say “not enough time.” Time, it seems, stands as the enemy of writing.

Yet the fact remains that everyone has twenty-four hours in their day. From the busiest person to the least active, we each have twenty-four hours to use—one way or another. Some of this time goes for eating and sleeping. And if you work, that takes up about a quarter of the week (forty out of 168 hours). But the rest of our hours are discretionary.

Yes, some of our discretionary time goes to extremely important things. Caring for children, paying bills, and grocery shopping come to mind. Yet even with these essentials, we exercise a degree of control over when we do them and how much time we spend.

If we intend to write, we need to make it happen. We must carve out time if we expect writing to occur. This requires sacrifice.

What will you give up so you can write?

I suspect everyone can scale back on watching TV and the social media time suck. We might socialize less, not be so worried about work around the house, or eliminate non-essential tasks.

Depending on where you are in your life and the scope of your responsibilities, you may only be able to free up a little bit of time for writing or maybe you can find more.

The worst thing, however, is to put your writing on hold. I can guarantee you that if you’re too busy to write now, you’ll be too busy to write next week, next month, and next year. And don’t put writing off until retirement. I hear retirees become even busier, which is one reason I don’t plan on retiring.

I am a writer. Writing is a priority. I make sacrifices so that I have time to write. I do this every day, every week, every month, every year. And as I do, my word count grows.

Finding time to write is simple. Implementation is hard. We make sacrifices and give up other things so we can write.

When do you write? What sacrifices have you had to make?

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UR Turn: Do You Use Pinterest as Part of Your Author Platform?

Pinterest is a quick way to share images and connect with like-minded people

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...So far we’ve talked about Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as possible social media platforms for authors. What about Pinterest?

Of the four of them, I’ve done the least amount of work with Pinterest. Maybe that’s because I’m a guy and most Pinterest users are females.

Nevertheless, I do have the beginnings of a Pinterest presence, and it’s growing little by little. I pin my blog graphics and have a board for book covers. Other boards have sayings and offer encouragement. My favorite board has a growing number of church signs, from the humorous to the profound.

Are you on Pinterest? Follow me on Pinterest and I’ll follow you.

My page is www.pinterest.com/peterdehaan. Please share your Pinterest page in the comment section below.

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Before You Write a Novel, Start With Something Shorter

Write short stories to master the art of fiction writing

May is short story monthMay is short story month. I share this news in advance so you can consider how you want to celebrate. You might want to spend the month reading short stories or perhaps focus on writing a few. But regardless, give short stories some consideration in the month of May. Doing so will inform your other writing, whether you write fiction or not.

I know many beginning writers who sit down to write a novel. They have a vision and enthusiasm, but not much else. They start writing but soon give up in frustration. And for the few who do finish, their story isn’t that good.

I’ve often heard that novelists write several bad novels before penning a good one. Those first books serve as training for them to learn what works and doesn’t, to find their voice, and to hone their craft. They need to figure out plot and structure and story arc and character development and dialogue and a slew of other things. And they write several practice books to get there.

Why not write several practice short stories instead?

I took that path. In fact I focused on flash fiction: short stories with fewer than one thousand words. I experimented with first person and third person, present tense and past tense. I even wrote a second-person, present-tense short story—something I’d hate doing for an entire book.

Using short stories, I fine-tuned my dialogue. I worked on intriguing titles, strong openings, and satisfying closes. I practiced “show, don’t tell” and worked on word choice.

I did all this in preparation to one day write a novel. You see, I didn’t want to waste several novels practicing. I used my short stories for that. I got feedback from critique groups, hired tutors, and studied.

Then one day I wrote a piece of flash fiction. It started out as 900 words. But I liked the premise and added to it to produce a 2,500-word short story. I fell in love with the characters and wanted to write more. I did write more, a lot more. By the time I finished my story arc I had a 28,000-word novella. But it needed more. Next I added two secondary story arcs and the length grew to 46,000 words, enough for a short novel and about perfect for the YA (young adult) genre.

So my 800-word piece of flash fiction grew into a 46,000-word novel.

But the story isn’t over.

Last year, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a 49,000-word sequel. Then I mapped out a series. I’m ready to start writing books three and four.

Writing short stories prepared me to write novels. And writing fiction helps me write better nonfiction and memoir.

So celebrate the short story. May is short story month. It even has its own Twitter account: @ShortStoryMonth, which often uses the hashtag #shortreads.

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Writing a Novel is Like Running a Marathon

Before writing a book we need to train

Writing a Novel is Like Running a MarathonI dislike the phrase aspiring writer. Either we aspire to write or we actually do it. Being an aspiring writer is no more than hoping for a future outcome, one that will never happen because the aspiring writer spends all his or her time dreaming and no time writing.

Yet some people are truly aspiring writers. Then one day these aspiring writers say “enough is enough” and they sit down to crank out a novel.

This is like waking up one morning and deciding to run a marathon—that afternoon. While hardheaded determination may eventually propel the novice runner to the finish line, it’s not going to be pretty. More likely this out-of-shape entrant will realize the folly of running such a great distance without the needed training and drop out after a couple of miles.

This beginning runner vows to never run again. Or better is a decision to train before attempting another marathon.

So it is with an aspiring author. A few chapters, pages, or even sentences into the novel and the words crumble into frustration. The vision vanishes. The muse refuses to cooperate. Or the needed skills simply aren’t present.

The aspiring writer gives up and vows to never write again. Or maybe, just maybe, this novice stops aspiring and starts training. Of course some aspiring authors never do anything except train. That’s no good either.

Just as a good prelude to running a marathon could start with jogging, wise preparation for writing a novel starts with the short story.

As a nonfiction writer, I cranked out hundreds of articles before I attempted my first book. Though I completed it, the results were sad. Then I wrote a second and a third. At some point they became worthy of publication. (Thankfully the first one will never go past a couple of beta readers and a developmental editor.)

When I considered writing fiction, instead of diving into a novel length work, I begin with flash fiction: short stories under 1,000 words. This allowed me to experiment with different ideas and various techniques. If something didn’t work, I wasn’t out much. After I had several dozen finished, I stumbled onto one that captivated me. I couldn’t let go of the characters. I expanded it from flash fiction into a longer short story. Then it grew into a novella, and with later the addition of some secondary character arcs, it became a novel. Now I’m editing the sequel, with a series arc for twenty books.

And it all started by writing a short story.

By the way, May is short story month. Think about it.

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What’s the Difference Between Self-Publishing and Indie-Publishing?

Publishing labels are important and using them properly is critical

I often use the terms of self-publishing and indie-publishing interchangeably. I shouldn’t.

They mean different things. So what’s the difference?

That’s a great question. I turned to my friend Google to investigate. It turns out Google doesn’t know. It simply confirmed a lack of consensus. Here are the findings of my research:

  • Self-publishing and indie-publishing are not the same thing. However, the difference is a matter of perspective.
  • Self-publishing and indie-publishing both emerge as alternatives to traditional publishing. And we need those alternatives.
  • Self-publishing may be a subset of indie-publishing.
  • The difference between self-publishing and indie-publishing may boil down to attitude.

Here are my thoughts on the matter.

Self-Publishing

  • Self-publishing finds its roots in vanity publishing, a pay-to-be-published model. (Though four years ago I asserted that attitudes have changed and traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing, offering a stamp of validation that I, for one, want.)
  • Self-publishing is all about art, and making money from art isn’t the point—or so they say.
  • The motivation of self-publishing is making books available to the public.
  • The hardcore self-publisher does everything, from cover design, to editing, to interior layout, to marketing. Unfortunately it shows in the final product. And for that reason I hate reading self-published books.
  • Self-publishing finds its place with the writing hobbyist.

Indie-Publishing

  • Indie-publishing finds its roots in the entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Indie-publication is a for-profit endeavor with a clear objective to monetize the value of books as a business.
  • The motivation of indie-publishing is profit from the art of books.
  • The indie publisher assembles a team, tapping others to assist with the publishing process, from cover design, to editing, to interior layout, to marketing.
  • Indie-publishing finds its place with the writing professional.

From all this, I realize that when I say I plan to self-publish some of my books, I really mean indie-publishing. Though I view my writing as art, I also see the results as a business opportunity. And I’ve been an entrepreneur longer than I’ve been a writer—though not by much.

Yes, I still have a goal to traditionally publish some books. I also plan to indie-publish other books. Together they will help me to one day make a living writing full time.

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Should You Avoid Formulaic Writing?

Does using a story device guide our work or hamper our creativity?

Avoid Formulaic WritingIn many books and most movies something will happen about three-fourths of the way through. With the desired goal within reach, a roadblock pops up to thwart our protagonist’s progress. While this is sometimes an ingenious plot twist, too often the problem seems contrived, predictable, or avoidable. But maybe I’m overly critical because I expect it to happen, and I wish it wouldn’t.

The reality is that this plot development is both intentional and prescribed. It’s part of a formula, a well-honed and recommended part of a blueprint for producing a compelling story. And I don’t like it.

I know it’s going to happen. I just don’t know what it will be—at least not usually. I’m braced for it and irritated by it. This plot twist doesn’t surprise me, at least not in the big scope of things. What does surprise me is when it doesn’t happen, which is rare.

If you study fiction writing you have likely heard about the seven basic plots, the three-act structure, the story grid, the twelve stages of the hero’s journey, the eight-point arc, and so forth.

Maybe I’m not experienced enough in fiction writing to know what I’m talking about, but these models seem to restrict creativity and stifle a truly good story. I don’t want to follow a formula when I write; I just want to create an interesting story.

I don’t care which of the seven basic plots my story falls into, if I hit the prescribed marks at the ideal points, or if I can check off each item on someone’s must-have list of requirements.

When I write a story I know the beginning and write to reach the end, which I know before I start (though I’m open to it changing). What happens in between unfolds organically and isn’t constrained by a formula, grid, or blueprint.

Yes, I could follow one of these devices and end up with a good story that will please most readers, but I think I can disregard them and produce a better result that will please even more.

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Your Turn: Do You Use LinkedIn as Part of Your Author Platform?

LinkedIn is the Social Media Platform for Professional Networking

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...We’ve talked about Twitter and Facebook as social media hangouts that many authors use to connect with fans and engage followers. Another social media platform to consider is LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is the social media platform to make professional connections, for networking, and to find work.

Are you on LinkedIn? I’m there. Visit Peter DeHaan on LinkedIn.

If you’re on LinkedIn, what do you use it for?

If you’re not on LinkedIn, what made you decide not to?

Please share your thoughts below, and if you have a LinkedIn account, be sure to include a link.

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Should You Go with a Traditional Publisher or Self-Publish?

Be open minded about the options available for book publishing and then pick the best one

Traditional Publishing is the New Vanity PublishingMy goal as an author has always been to be a hybrid author, one who self-publishes some books and goes with a traditional publisher for others. What changes over time, however, is the emphasis I place on one over the other. On this, I waffle frequently. Some days I favor the allure of being traditionally published and on others I lean toward self-publishing.

Though I embrace both as viable options, many people do not. It seems that many writers view one of these two options as the only choice for rational people, while outright dismissing the other for those uninformed. The problem is that some land squarely in the camp of traditional publishing as the only way to go, while others adamantly pursue self-publishing as the only sane choice.

I understand both perspectives.

What I don’t understand are people who are so obstinate toward their point of view and so biased against the alternative. They need to open their eyes: both traditional publishing and self-publishing have their pluses and minuses. Consider them, evaluate them, and then go with what seems best for your particular book at this particular time.

That’s my plan.

Here’s why:

Traditional Publishing: Traditional publishing pays authors to be published. But getting a traditional publishing deal is hard. In most all cases we need an agent first, which takes time. Then our agent needs to find a publisher to publish our book, which takes more time. Then our book goes into their publishing machine for edits, marketing, production, and so forth, which takes even more time. It often takes several years from writing a book to having a traditional publisher make it available to the public—assuming it happens at all.

Once we land a book deal, assuming we can, traditional publishers do most of the work and take all of the financial risk. Yes, they still want us to help market our book, but they do everything else—as we lose most of our control over the product and the outcome.

However, once the only real option for authors, technology has provided a viable alternative: self-publishing.

Self-Publishing: With self-publishing the author becomes a businessperson, investing money into a product in hopes of turning a profit. Success isn’t guaranteed, but the benefits are many. The author maintains control over the product, can get it to market fast, and will make much more per book. There are no gatekeepers to stand in our way, no one judging the size of our platform, and no one turning our baby into something we don’t like.

Self-publishing was once decried as vanity publishing, but now I actually see traditional publishing as the new vanity publishing. Being traditionally published implies a stamp of approval. It says we’ve been accepted, our work has gained approval, and we have jumped high hurdles. This strokes our ego.

I get that. I want that.

Yet the very things that make us attractive to traditional publishers—a stellar book and a huge platform to promote it—are also the very things that make us an ideal fit for self-publishing, where we control the product, take a risk, and make a profit.

I get that, too. I want that.

My leanings, one way or the other, change often. What I do know is that I want to publish books, and I’m taking a hybrid approach to get there.

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