Do Your Part Before You Ask Others For Help; There is No Easy Button

Too many novice writers don’t invest in the craft and expect seasoned authors to give them an easy button to publication

Do Your Part Before You Ask Others For Help; There is No Easy ButtonI post on this blog, send out a writing newsletter, and speak at conferences because I want to give back to the writing community, to share with others what I have learned over the years. By helping others the best that I can, I help myself. As I give, I also grow as a writer.

Though I can’t help everyone who asks and my time is limited, I do give a higher priority to those who are part of my writing community, those who journey with me to become better writers and share our words with others. These are the folks who put in the hard work to improve as writers, study the craft, and learn about the industry. They are worthy of receiving help. Not everyone is.

Recently a friend asked me and some others to review her manuscript. This is a big ask, and I had misgivings. As far as I know, my friend isn’t part of a writing group, doesn’t attend writing conferences, fails to write regularly, and neglects to study writing and the industry. Instead she seeks those who have put in the hard work for help so she can skip doing the hard work herself. She’s hoping for an “easy button” to turn her rough draft into a publishable book.Too often I’ve tried to help people who asked for advice but weren’t ready to hear it. Click To Tweet

And I’m not too excited about helping with this. I prefer to invest what time I have into writers who are putting forth effort to improve. Too often I’ve tried to help people who asked for advice but weren’t ready to hear it. They lacked the basic tools to receive, consider, and apply my input.

They wanted an easy button, but in writing there is no easy button.

What to Do When You Hit the Wall

When our carefully constructed world of work comes crashing down, follow these steps to reconstruct it

What to Do When You Hit the WallWriters are often amazed at the amount of writing I do on a daily and weekly basis. They ask how I manage to consistently stay productive. Part of it is my stage of life, part of it is discipline, and part of it is illusion. The reality is I seldom feel like I am doing enough of the right things and that I am careening through life trying to juggle five items, while I’m only capable of three. I do this as I speed on a motorcycle…in the dark…without headlights. Then I hit a metaphoric wall, and everything stops. Okay, maybe this is a bit hyperbole, but you get the point.

Hitting the wall happens to me on occasion. This time it was a combination of over-commitment, too many deadlines, excessive optimism about my productivity, family priorities, time away from the office, and a strange sickness that required me to sleep more and robbed me of my concentration. It was like a house of cards, carefully constructed and most tenuous. My house of cards imploded. Kaboom!

Here is what I do when I hit the wall:

Pause: The first thing I do is put some things on pause. Exercise is one. Reading is another. Social media is a third. All are important, but none are essential. I can put them on hold for a few days.

Scale Back: What activities can I reduce? I don’t need to listen to as many podcasts as I do. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what I’m not getting to, I merely pare back the quantity, unsubscribing from some and skipping episodes of others. I also curtail my TV watching and entertainment.

Eliminate: To make my writing life sustainable, I also look for things to eliminate. At one time I had five blogs, each with a different focus and strategy. A few years ago I stopped posting on two of them and just now stopped a third one.

Say “No”: I like to help people and don’t want to disappoint anyone. But I need to remind myself that sometimes declining requests is in my best interest or I’m of no help to anyone.If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. Click To Tweet

Reprioritize: If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. What is the one truly important thing in this moment? I do it and then move on.

Restore a Buffer: When new opportunities arise I try to squeeze them in. Before I know it, I’m living a life with no cushion. I need to re-establish some buffer to leave room for the unexpected – because surprises do occur.

A few months ago, I saw my wall looming. I took action to protect myself, such as scaling back the frequency of one of my newsletters, saying “no” to some new opportunities, putting one critique group on hold, and curtailing the amount of time I invested in Twitter. These were all good changes, but they were not enough. All these corrections did was delay the inevitable.

Today I am reconstructing my work and my writing life, striving for balance, sustainability, and a saner schedule. It will take time, but I will bounce back – hopefully with fewer projects and less stress.

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10 Tips to Improve as a Writer

To progress as an author requires hard work and diligent focus

10 Ways to Grow as a WriterI’ve been writing my entire adult life. In the early years my primary goal was to write faster, but for the past decade or so, my focus was on writing better. As I attended to learning the craft of writing, my writing has steadily improved. Along the way I have also begun to write with increased speed.

Here are my ten tips to improve as a writer:

  1. Write: The most essential step is to just sit down and write. Some aspiring writers put off this tip waiting until they are ready. Guess what? I doubt anyone is ever ready. Not really. So start writing. Do it on a regular basis. Take it seriously. Make your writing time sacred. When I did this, my writing blossomed.
  2. Study Writing: We must study the art and craft of writing. I read about writing, listen to writing podcasts, learn from the masters, and go to lectures. If you’re in school, take writing classes.
  3. Read Broadly: Reading informs our writing. We see what other authors do. We learn what we like and don’t like. We need to read in our genre and outside it. Read for fun, and read to learn.
  4. Watch Movies: Cinema informs my writing almost as much as reading. Movies reveal insight about plot development, effective openings, memorable endings, character development, effective dialogue, and more.
  5. Attend Conferences: Writers often complain about the cost of conferences: registration, airfare, hotel, and incidentals. I get that, but tap into local conferences to eliminate the travel and lodging expenses. Some events are even free.
  6. Participate in Groups: Join a critique group, support group, accountability group, or some collection of other writers who have a shared goal of improvement.
  7. Pay for Help: If you need help, don’t be afraid to pay for it. This may be for edits, critiques, story development, or any other area where you struggle. What if you can’t afford it? Find a way. Be creative. Swap services. One enterprising writer “paid” her editor by cleaning her house.
  8. Give to Others: Share what you can with other writers. Give to the industry and the industry will give to you.
  9. Work in the Industry: If you have the opportunity to find employment that intersects with writing or publishing in any way, grab it. This may be part time or full time; it may pay well or little (and some gigs are volunteer). But the key is to put yourself in a position to interact with other writers. You will learn from your environment; by osmosis you will grow.
  10. Write: I end my list with the same tip I began with. That’s because too many aspiring writers become so busy, so fixated, on tips 2 through 9 that they skip the writing part. They don’t have time, become too distracted, or put it off. If you’re serious about writing, never stop. Writing is the most critical step to being a writer.

Writing is the most critical step to being a writer. Duh! Click To TweetFollow these tips to become a better writer. Pick one and implement it. Then add another. Keep going until you are doing all ten. You will be amazed at the results.

What is the Ideal Writing Process?

What works for one writer may not work for other writers and that’s okay

What is the Ideal Writing Process?Every writer has a different method of writing. I know that because many of you tell me.

  • Schedule: Some write every day (like me) and others do not.
  • Motivation: Others wait for inspiration and some sit down and write regardless of how they feel (like me).
  • Target Date: Some need a deadline to spur them on and others do not (like me – though a deadline does amp up my motivation).
  • Writing Mode: Others spew out a quick rough draft and fix it later, while some write with more intention to produce a reasonably good first draft (my goal).
  • Time of Day: Some write in the morning (like me) and others at night or random times (I occasionally do that, too).
  • Planning: Next are those who strategize before they write (like me) versus those who figure it out as they go. Many people call these two modes plotters and pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants), but I prefer the labels of outliners and discovery writers. They sound nicer.
  • Length of First Draft: Another consideration is writing long or writing short. That is, some writers write long first drafts and then edit them down. Others write shorter first drafts and then add to it. I’m neither. I have a target length in mind and aim to hit it.

The point is we all go about our writing differentlyWe all go about our writing differently. We each need to chart our own path. Click To Tweet

I write every day in the morning, even if I don’t feel like it, work to produce a good first draft from an outline (be it written or in my head), write to hit a target length, and mostly don’t need deadlines. But that doesn’t mean you have to follow my example. It simply means this is what works for me – in this season of my career. If this works for you, too, then great. But if it doesn’t, then figure out what does work and then follow it, adjusting as needed along the way.

There is no one correct way to write; we can all learn from each other’s processes. The only error is trying to force ourselves into a mold that doesn’t fit us.

What does your writing process look like? Is there anything you might want to change? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

4 Tips to Deal with Writer Envy

Writers need to guard against making unhealthy comparisons to other authors

4 Tips to Deal with Weriter EnvyAs writers we read the work of others, we look at their books, and we notice their successes. Though this happens in any profession, writing is a more public endeavor, so making comparisons is harder to avoid. Yet we should strive to sidestep assessing our work in the light of others.

Two dangers lurk when we make comparisons. Too often we look at another writer and deem ourselves as less than. Occasionally we do the opposite and puff ourselves up. Both are unhealthy conclusions, but let’s focus on the first one because most writers struggle with it. I call it writer envy. Here are four prescriptions to overcome it.

1) There is Only One You: Though our writing isn’t like (fill in the name of any famous author), remember that no one writes as we do. No one can write like you as good as you can. Just as Stephen King is the best at writing like Stephen King, you are the best at writing like you, and I am the best at writing like me. There are no others.

2) Strive to Improve: Have the mindset that every writer can grow as a wordsmith. That goes for the beginner as well as the mega-bestseller, and it goes for you and for me. As long as we pursue steady development, our writing today will be better than our writing from yesterday, and our writing tomorrow will be better than our writing today. That puts things in perspective and reduces the urge to compare.Writer envy can overwhelm us or we can choose to move forward despite what we see others doing. Click To Tweet

3) Don’t Copy: One reason to read widely is to learn how to improve, but we never want to imitate other authors. Though copying another writer flatters him or her, it does nothing to enhance our writing ability (remember tip #1).

4) Help Others: There are always people we can help. Usually they are a step or two behind us, but they can also be at our level or even a couple steps ahead. That’s why I have this blog and post something, that is hopefully helpful, every week. I also occasionally give presentations on writing. I used to worry when a more advanced writer would listen in. But I eventually realized they have an attitude for continuous learning (refer to #2) and hope to pick-up something from my words. I hope so, too. As a benefit, teaching something is the best way to learn it, so by helping others, we help ourselves.

Writer envy can overwhelm us or we can choose to improve despite what we see others doing. May we all be writers who move forward without so much as a glance at our fellow writers.

How do you deal with writer envy? What steps do you take to keep it in check? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

The Power of Saying No

I have a tendency to be a people pleaser. I like to help others, and I especially enjoy doing things for writers: to encourage them, support them, provide feedback, buy their book, and read their writing.

Helping other writers is why I have my blog, Byline, and a writing newsletter, Write On!. Both my blog and newsletter are ways of helping writers and doing so on a bigger scale. Helping people in these ways, that is one-to-many, may not be as personal as one-on-one, but it’s certainly more effective and multiplies my reach.

The Power of Saying NoBut aside from blogging and my newsletter, I don’t have much extra time to help people. This season has been especially busy, jam packed with writing. It seems I write, work, eat, and sleep. I often lose track of what day it is.

I’m certainly not complaining about having too many writing assignments and projects. It’s just that I’ve found myself saying “no” a lot more often. Even though this is necessary, I still feel a small pang of guilt each time I do.

When an email showed up a few days ago from an author asking if I would review her book, I wanted to say “yes.” Her request was respectful and not demanding as some are. She was humble, yet hopeful. But I knew I had to decline. I barely even had time to read her email, let alone her book.

I paused, took a deep breath, and said “no” as nicely as I could. It went something like this: “Your book sounds interesting, and I’d really like to review it, but I just don’t have the time. Sorry.”Saying “no” now provides the space to say “yes” to something even better later on. Click To Tweet

A smidgen of guilt poked me in my gut. I paused and reread my words. I was nice, but firm. My words were not evasive or imply I might do so later. I had closed the door without slamming it shut. Then I hit send.

I felt good about my decision. There’s power in saying “no.” Declining secondary things allows me to better meet my current commitments; it also provides the space to say “yes” to something even better later on.

Do you ever struggle to say “no” even when you know you must? When has saying “no” provided the space to say “yes” to something even better? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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What Spurs You On In Your Writing?

Are you fortunate to love what you do?

In last week’s post I said writing is fun. While acknowledging that some writers don’t like to write, I am the opposite: I love to write.

A number of things contribute to my joy of writing:

  • I see improvement in my writing: Whenever I read my past work, I’m struck with the realization that my writing is better today than it was five years ago, one year ago, and even a few months ago. I am always learning and seek to apply new techniques. Though I will never complete my writing education, seeing progress is one cause for joy.
  • What Spurs You On In Your Writing?I find satisfaction in each completed writing project: Each time I finish a project, regardless of its length, I take time to celebrate my accomplishment. For smaller works my congratulatory pause lasts only a few moments. (When I finish this post I’ll celebrate with breakfast.) For longer works, such as a book, I might even take a day to revel in my accomplishment. And these emotional boosts cause me to anticipate finishing another project and re-experiencing the thrill of a job done well.
  • I make money from my writing: For freelance work and ghostwriting there’s the added joy of a paycheck awaiting me at the end of each job. The payoff is quick, and that motivates me. While some of my writing will never earn a paycheck and other work has a payout far into the future, each check I do receive makes me want to write more.
  • I give to others through my writing: Writing has many purposes. It can entertain, encourage, teach, or challenge. As others read my words I serve them in one of these ways. I write for my readers. I give them something of value. Your appreciation gives me joy.

These are reasons why I write. I’m fortunate I can do what I love.Do you like to write? What spurs you on in your writing? Click To Tweet

What spurs you on in your writing? Why do you write? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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When Your Writing Group Fails

I’m a big advocate of writing critique groups. My group has moved me forward as a writer and improved the quality of my work. And everyone who attends regularly has improved, too. We encourage one another, celebrate our victories, and never have to struggle alone. Plus, they’re a great group to hang out with.

However, I recently received an email from someone who wasn’t so excited about his critique group. To summarize his chief concerns: many people weren’t taking their writing seriously, he only respected the comments of a few attendees, and he feared his writing would get worse if he kept on going. It’s been a year since he last went. I used to go to that group and understand his frustration.

A few days later I talked with another writer who dropped out of that same group for similar reasons. However, unlike my friend who emailed me, she joined a different group; it is functioning at a higher level and meeting her needs. She’s glad she made the switch.

Not all writing groups are the same. Aside from pursuing different goals, they can function at different levels. If you tried a group and dropped out frustrated, don’t give up on them, but look for a different one. If you can’t find one, start your own.

Are you part of a writing group? What’s your experience with writing groups?

Does the Thought of Marketing Your Book Make You Squirm?

This blog is about writing. An important aspect of writing is marketing what we write, first to get it published and then to get it read. I don’t talk much about promotion because, like many authors, I don’t like to do it; I don’t even want to think about it.

Robin Mellom's book Perfect TimingWhen Robin Mellom told me she was thinking about self-publishing her next YA book, Perfect Timing, I encouraged her to do it and promised I’d help get the word out. Thankfully it’s much easier to “market” someone else’s book than your own.

Here are some easy steps we can do to promote another author’s work (which we can later apply to ourselves when the time comes). Consider these seven options:

Blog: We can blog about the author and the book. This can be direct or indirect. Even a brief mention with a link can help. We can also post a review of the book on our blog.

Amazon: We can review the book on Amazon. While every author wants five-star reviews, a book with only five-star reviews is suspect, so give an honest rating. Perhaps more important than the rating is the actual review itself and especially the headline we give it. If you spot another review that is favorable, mark it as “helpful” so more people can see and read it. More Amazon reviews mean more exposure to prospects by Amazon and more people likely to buy the book.

Goodreads: On Goodreads we can first flag the book as one we “want to read.” Then, as we read it, we can post our progress. When we’re finished, we mark it as “done.” Each of these steps shows interest in the book and helps other Goodreads readers to discover it. Of course, we can also write a review on Goodreads. Some book-marketing gurus think Goodreads is more important than Amazon.

Facebook: We can make status updates about the book and the author. For example, “I can’t wait to read Robin Mellom’s new book Perfect Timing” or “Perfect Timing was a real page turner.” Of course include links and even the cover. We can also follow the author; then “like” or comment on his or her updates. With Facebook, the more likes and comments an update receives, the more people who will see it.

Twitter: We can tweet about the author and the book. Use their Twitter handle and book hashtag. We can also follow the author and retweet their tweets. All these efforts increase their reach on Twitter.

Pinterest: Technically with Pinterest we’re only supposed to post our own images or ones we have the right to post, but what author would object to us pinning their cover? The more places it appears, the better.

In Person: Although we think about using social media for marketing, we can also go old-school and talk about books in person with our friends and family.

Try some of these options to help your friends promote their books. Then when it comes time to market your own, it will be a bit easier.

(And please check out Robin Mellom’s new book Perfect Timing.)

Do You Have a Writing Community?

As writers, we write alone. Even if we compose our words with people around us – such as at a coffee shop or the kitchen table – writing is a solitary effort. Often we must isolate ourselves for progress to occur; we say “no” to social activities in order to move our work forward or meet a deadline.

Our family and friends, as non-writers, often don’t understand this. With well-intentioned prodding, they urge us to emerge from our writing seclusion to embrace others and experience more of what life offers. And sometimes we must, but often, we must not.

What we need are comrades who understand, fellow writers who know the agony and the joy of creating art with our words. We need colleagues who can celebrate our successes and comprehend our discouragements.

We need other writers to walk along side us. We need wordsmiths who can guide us. And we need writers who we can help. We need opportunities to both give and to receive.

We need a writing community.

Too many aspiring writers struggle alone. When discouragement emerges, writer’s block hits, or self-discipline evaporates, they have no support team to fall back to. They abandon their vision, suppress their dream, and stop writing. If only they had someone to support them, someone to offer encouragement. If only they had a writing community.

Writing communities can happen in person or online. They can take on various forms and formats, with different goals and purposes. The important thing is to be in community with other writers.

Do you have a writing community? If not, what can you do to find or form one?