Thursday, February 28, 2013

28 days of writing accountability

Three weeks ago I wrote here about starting a writing "challenge" - write every day for at least 30 minutes, and then report in to my accountability partners. The 28 days have finished, and I have written more than 20,000 words. It's rough first draft, sure, but I doubt very much that I would have written nearly that much in the same amount of time. More importantly, I'm creating a writing habit.

What has come out of the challenge for me? First of all, a sense of writing as a component of each and every day. An important component. After all, I'm supposed to be a writer so I should be writing - right? But too often life and other things get in the way, and too often we (I) put writing off for another day. It's sadly too easy to discover that "writing day" hasn't arrived in several weeks or more. So I found that every morning I was already working out when I would write. I tried to make it early, but some days it was the afternoon. Still, if I had something on in the morning, I was aware that writing would be happening later on.

I also have been working on something completely new, in a genre I have only written short stories in before, so it's a bit scary. There have been many times when I've hated what I've written and, at any other time, might have tossed it away and given up. The 30 minute commitment has kept me at it. I have to admit it wasn't until around page 55 that I allowed myself to go back and read the first pages! And I didn't hate them quite so much. But now I have pages to revise.

The other part of this is the accountability.  When I had done my 30 minutes, I had to email the others in my accountability group and tell them. A simple "30 minutes done" was all that was needed, and they did the same to me. The one thing that many of them have said is that they produced far more this month than they would have otherwise, and like me, became far more aware of making time to write.  Some have done double writing to make up for missed days. Not one of us has given up.

I've just started a second lot of 28 days, and some of my accountability partners are joining me again. Some have been talking about what they achieved, and have found new partners to get inspired with. You can start this with just two of you, on any day you like. Give it a go - you might surprise or even amaze yourself!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Writer's Glass - half-full ...

Last week's post on the pessimistic side of writing these days (The glass half-empty) struck a chord with more than one writer. So all week I was trying to plan out a post that shone with optimism, and fell foul of my own cynical outlook! But luckily, Lucia Nardo came to the rescue over a coffee, and there turned out to be lots of good things promised, once we brainstormed them.

1. You really don't have to write for a market (in fiction, in particular) if you don't want to. Publishers mean it when they say they want "the next hot idea", so if you're experimental and daring, and like writing stuff that no one else in the mainstream does, you could be "hot"! So stop playing it safe and following trends. Create your own.

2. If you have had a lot of great feedback on your writing (from people with experience and objectivity, mind) then you always have the option to self-publish, and to do it inexpensively via Kindle. There are other options out there, too - POD, other e-book formats, all kinds of stuff. Gone are the days when you had to outlay thousands of dollars for books that sat in your garage. Educate yourself on how to make it work, and away you go.

3. Lots of people feel it's PC to condemn social media, but if you are someone who enjoys it and can see how to have fun AND promote your writing and your books, you are ahead of lots of other writers. In the "old days", the only way you met or connected with readers was at festivals and conferences or by mail. Now your readers can connect with you in any way you want - and you get to choose. Don't like Twitter? Have some fun on Facebook. Want to be more professional? Use LinkedIn. All these things are out there for you to use, and they're FREE!

4. Following on from #3, you can now start or contribute to interesting conversations about writing and/or publishing, get a heap of information about publishers that used to be like some kind of weird secret, and enjoy videos and podcasts of writers talking about their processes that once you only got at a writers' festival. Instant inspiration!

5. Following on from #4, there are lots of ways to take writing classes on the internet. There are online university and TAFE classes (paid or free), YouTube videos on all kinds of topics, and free training on all those things you are struggling with, such as Wordpress, Excel or how to make a book trailer.

6. Thanks to the internet (include here the self-published writers who have been discovered  making publishers finally aware of what they were missing - as well as submissions via email instead of huge, weighty Post Office bag), many publishers who had closed to unsolicited submissions are now actively looking for them. Here in Australia, Penguin, Allen & Unwin and Pan Macmillan are all taking manuscripts at certain times of the month (this blog summarises). Now that's something I never thought I'd see!

7. Again, thanks to the internet, there are at least two good websites that assist you to query agents in the US, making sure you target the right ones in terms of genre and subject. AgentQuery is one, Querytracker is another. You can (and should) do further research, but that is a million times easier now, too.

8. While the economic crisis (and continuing panic by some bean counters in publishing) has seen a number of very good editors lose their jobs, the bonus for writers is that a lot of them have become agents, which means more agents who are willing and capable of helping you polish your manuscript to that highly professional standard now required.

So, have I cheered you up yet? I think I've even cheered myself up!

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Writer's Glass - half-empty and leaking...

Today I sat down to continue reading Writing From the Inside Out by Dennis, but as I read his ideas on psychological blocks and strategies, a few things came together in my mind. And one was: any new writer starting out would be entirely forgiven right now for just throwing in the towel and going off to do something else.

Whoa! I’ve been teaching writing for many years and I love helping people to learn the craft and get published. I had to sit back a moment and ask myself why I was being so pessimistic. Well, it’s coming from a variety of things right now, and here are some of the things I have gleaned from industry newsletters, blogs, sources and online chat.

1.      Advances. How low can they go? Some publishers are trying to get writers with debut novels to sign contracts with NO advance. They plead that the market is untried, the budget is strained, the writer is new … Why would you spend several years (at least) working your guts out on a novel and then accept no advance? Because you really want to be published by a “legit” publisher and you figure it’s worth it. The problem is: it’s not. No advance means no real incentive to market your book. You’re on your own with that.

2.      Along with lower and lower advances (citing the state of publishing right now) comes the warning to the less-than-best-selling writer. You’re mid-list and you’re not selling millions so we are forced to reduce your advance. There are murmurings in the UK and Australia that some publishers are starting to “shore up” their argument for lower advances by assuming that PLR and ELR will “make up the difference”.

3.       A lot of children’s and YA writers in particular are feeling jammed between the rock and the hard place – the dollar-making (but often brain-sapping, inspiration-sucking) series treadmill and the stand-alone quality novel that might get shortlisted for an award. If you want to write what’s in your heart and do your absolute best with it, where is there for you to go? Only a few books each year make important shortlists, and then sell more copies. If that’s what you want to write, you can be forgiven for wondering if you have any hope of getting it published. But with every second writer trying to pitch a series, that’s a torturous road, too.

4.      The move to self-publishing, especially in e-books. Yes, 50 Shades of Whatever is making a bomb. So are some others. An awful lot of writers are self-pubbing because they can’t get their books published by traditional publishers, and yes, a lot of those books maybe shouldn’t be published at all. Let’s not get into that. Let’s ask ourselves why writers with really good books (like Hugh Howey with Wool) are self-publishing and then retaining e-rights, or after years of trad publishing, are going it on their own.
Why is this happening?

Because the internet for writers is a combined publishing news service/information update/gossip hub. Savvy writers read and listen and see what is happening, and they don’t like it. They don’t like the low advances and the way they’re expected to do the marketing themselves, so they figure they might as well do it all anyway. If you were an author with a popular blog and a lot of followers on FB and Twitter, wouldn’t you consider it?

You know, I wish I had some answers to all of this. Two years ago, I thought by now that things would have settled down, and to some extent they have. E-book buying has leveled out. Mad-selling books are still with us but we don’t get quite so het up about them. Publishers are still doing great things with great books. But I also wonder (sadly) if trad publishers, in the backs of their minds, are relieved all those writers are self-publishing, and hoping they’ll all just go off and stop submitting unsolicited, and let “real” publishers get on with the job of making money out of “real” books.
Sheesh. I need a glass of wine. While I can still afford it! But I will return - with a post on the glass half-full (metaphorically speaking).

Friday, February 01, 2013

Being accountable for your writing

Everybody knows what a deadline is. Lots of writers I know secretly love a deadline because it is the one thing that stops procrastination and gets you writing. But when you are writing "on spec" - writing without anyone in particular waiting on you to complete, polish and submit by a certain date - it can be hard to stay motivated. Especially with novels. The writing of a novel can go on for years (let's not think about decades!). It can help to be in a writers' group, whether you are workshopping chapters with them or not. The support and encouragement of other writers can be magical sometimes.

Some of you will know from my posts that I am a goal-setter. Years of doing this has proven to me over and over that it works, if you find the right way to approach it that works for you. But it's the day-to-day stuff that gets most of us. It's so easy to spend the whole day on busy-work, doing much and achieving little, least of all writing. If you work in a paying job, it's easy to simply feel too tired to write at night, or even think about writing. Get up half an hour early to write? "I really need my sleep," you say.

So when a billion blog posts (OK, I exaggerate a little) came along at the end of the year about goal setting and procrastination and all of that, I remembered a seminar I went to a few years ago with a hard-talking fitness/motivation guy called Craig Harper. Craig talked about changing or aiming for one thing at a time. For 28 days, and only 28 days. If, at the end of it, it worked for you, give it another 28, and then another. By then, you have a habit. I wrote a lot about this on my ebooks blog.

The key is accountability - checking in with someone. So in January, just through talking to some other writers, I ended up with a couple of accountability partners. Then some other writers wanted to do it as a group. I now check in with both groups. It's not up to me to "police" how they are going at all. I'm only doing this for myself. This is the other key. You also become accountable to yourself.

Right now, I'm up to Day 5. Hardly worth writing about just yet, you might think. But I have 15 pages of a brand new novel already. I have confirmed that yes, writing first is much, much better than trying to do it at the end of the day. Yes, all that other stuff will wait. Yes, my brain does work better in the morning! Best of all, writing for this 30 minutes, no matter what, means I have to push away the dread that the novel is going to be a pile of garbage and just keep going.

As for the first time I tried this after listening to Craig - three years later I am still walking every day for 20 minutes, come rain, hail or shine. Now I'm thinking about my novel while I walk!