January 2010

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose

the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

— William Shakespeare

Procrastination is an obstacle writers must learn to overcome at some point along their writing journey. But what lies at the root of procrastination? Often it is fear–either fear of failing or fear of succeeding. Let’s talk first about the fear of failure.

As in any profession — even life in general — fear of failure can be detrimental, even paralyzing. Many people never achieve their dreams because they’re afraid to take the risks necessary to accomplish them.

If you’re a writer, you must approach the fear of failure practically, and ask yourself, “If I don’t succeed, what’s the worst that can happen?” Usually that answer will include retruning to your day-job full-time or finding another career, and only writing as a hobby. But…what if you do succeed?

The benefits of being successful will, no doubt, far outweigh the effort and risks involved. Keeping your “eye on the prize” should provide enough motivation to keep you writing.

But, if not, take the following steps:

1. Write down everything you can think of as to why you’re afraid of failing.

2. Now, think of ways you can minimize your risk involved for each thing you just wrote. What are some practical steps you can take to minimize your risks? This may involve tightening your budget or setting aside some extra money for those rainy days. Or, maybe you can minimize your risks by investing in your writing career with classes or by attending conferences.

3. Next, develop a step-by-step plan of action along with specific and measurable goals for your writing. Where do you want to be in 6 months? 1 year? 5 years? And, how do you plan to get there?

Having a vision and a blueprint for developing your vision will go a long way to help you minimize your risks, and therefore, conquer your fears. Sometimes, the big picture is just too overwhelming to consider all at once. So break that picture up into smaller frames, tackling them a little at a time.

Take baby steps of faith, one day at a time. Before you know it, you will be well down the path to becoming a successful writer.

Next time, we’ll look at mastering the fear of success.

Last week I introduced you to author Monica Cane, who has become an expert of sorts in regards to self-publishing. In an effort to publish and market her own books, she has completed extensive research and learned many of the ins and outs of the self-publishing world. Today, Monica will continue her post by telling us about her most recent self-publishing experience.

Monica Cane

With my most recent manuscript, Fresh Inspiration, I went a step further in the self-publishing process.  I visited Lulu.com and found that I was able to put my manuscript together into a lovely book format by simply downloading the script into one of Lulu’s many templates.  I then was given the option to choose the font style and format I liked best and create the cover design by following Lulu’s prompts.  I used a clear nature photo that I had on my home computer,  and I have to say, it came out beautifully.

I literally did everything myself in regards to putting together my book. The most exciting part was that it didn’t cost me anything to create – only my time, which, of course, I didn’t mind investing.  Once my book was complete online, Lulu gave me the option to assign my book an ISBN number so it could be sold online.  I couldn’t believe how simple it was and how rewarding it felt knowing I had a hand in every aspect of creating the book—for free!

Sure, with self-publishing, ALL the marketing is on the author, but as the author, if you really believe in what you have written, you’ll want to share your book with others however you can throughout your lifetime.

My favorite author, Frances J. Roberts, sold over 1.5 million copies of her book Come Away My Beloved. The interesting part was that she self-published the book over 40 years ago, and she just kept sharing it with friends and family and whoever came her way.  Word of mouth travels quickly, and over time she sold so many copies of her self-published book that a traditional publisher offered to pick it up and publish it for her to reach an even broader audience through major bookstores.

Her book is now listed as a classic, but it started out as one person writing a manuscript, self-publishing it, then slowly but surely marketing and selling what she believed in. Self- publishing isn’t for everyone, but it is definitely something worth looking into if you’ve tried traditional publishers and have had little to no success or just believe you could sell your book as well as a traditional publisher could.  If you really believe in the manuscript you have written, self-publishing is a wonderful way to begin sharing your book with others.

If you’ve ever considered self-publishing a book, be diligent and do your homework. It seems the players in the self-publishing world are growing exponentially nowadays. You want to make sure to find a publisher that can best meet your needs and your budget.

If you have any questions about self-publishing, Monica would love to help you. Don’t hesitate to contact her at A Breath of Inspiration.

One comment I’ve had about my blog since starting it just a couple of months ago is how the subscriber enjoys that it’s for writers who “have” to write as well as for those who do it for the sheer enjoyment of it. If you’ve noticed my tag line, it reads, “Encouraging and equipping those who love to write. Rescuing those who don’t.” Consider this post a rescue post.

More and more, as companies cut back on their work force and try to do more with less, people who never had to write on their jobs are now finding that they have to. And for those who have been promoted into management positions, they suddenly find themselves staring down deadlines for reports, company memos, and executive-level communications on a regular basis.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of time. How do you now make time for the on-the-job writing that’s required of you and still squeeze all your “normal” work functions in? Here are a few tips that may help:

• Just as I always encourage the at-home novelists, block off your writing time. This is obviously harder at work, when you have meetings to get to and fires to put out, but as best as you can, schedule in an hour a day (more if you need to) where you do nothing but write. It’s a lot easier to write effectively and efficiently for a continuous period of time than to keep having to start back up after you’ve been interrupted with other tasks.

Capitalize on downtime. This could take the form of commute time, lunch time, or while you’re waiting on others to arrive for a meeting. Begin looking for opportunities to write, or at least, jot down ideas related to what you need to write. Always be prepared to write, as you never know when the perfect opening statement for your sales letter may hit you.

Work with your supervisors to carve out the time needed for your writing projects. Be realistic as you discuss with them how long it takes to properly prepare a sales report or write a compelling letter to a potential client. Review the process and time line with them and see what kind of daily time you can negotiate into your schedule strictly for writing.

Train others to help you. With some correspondence, you can almost use a template and simply change the names and dates involved. For such documents, construct an appropriate original and then train someone else to tweak the writing to fit the situation at hand. You will have to review it, of course, before it goes out, but at least it will save you some valuable writing time.

Take writing classes. This may not seem like a good solution for saving time, but in the long run it will. The more you learn about how to write properly, the easier writing will come to you, and therefore, the less time it will take you to write effectively. Writing classes are available at community colleges, through workforce seminars, and online. Choose those that are specific to your needs so you can zero in on trouble spots. You might even be able to talk your company into picking up the tab! I’m hoping to have some online writing courses available through this blog during 2010, so keep your eyes open for that!

Don’t forget to stop back next Monday, January 25, for Part 2 of Monica Cane’s guest blog post.

A few years ago, a new author contacted me to edit her book,  A Journey to Healing: Life After SIDS.  Her name is Monica Cane, and she and I have become email friends ever since. Monica is a wonderful writer, who’s worked in both fiction and nonfiction. She’s achieved success in the self-publishing world after investing much time in researching and navigating through the various avenues available.

Because of all the work she’s done in figuring out the ins and outs of self-publishing, I asked if she would share her knowledge with my readers, in hopes of saving them some time and effort if they ever contemplate self-publishing. So, here’s Monica…

Monica Cane

When I completed my first manuscript a number of years ago, I knew next to nothing about publishing options.  I contacted some of the big traditional publishers, assuming they would love my manuscript the way I did, and would want to publish it right away. Thanks to receiving numerous rejection letters, I discovered that having one’s manuscript reviewed and/or accepted by a traditional publisher was much harder than expected. It wasn’t a matter of the manuscript being bad, but as I learned, traditional publishers receive thousands upon thousands of manuscripts each year from first-time authors, therefore making it very difficult to break into the market.

While I eventually had success with a smaller traditional publisher accepting one of my manuscripts, A Journey to Healing: Life After SIDS, the initial rejection letters caused me to look into the option of self-publishing. I wasn’t sure how difficult of a process it would be, but the more I researched the different avenues for self-publishing, the more I found it to be not nearly as complicated as I originally thought it might.

I decided to plunge into self-publishing with one of my manuscripts, A Breath of Inspiration. I asked a local graphic designer to create the cover design, then found a good editor, which every author, whether self-published or traditionally published, needs. Then I hired a printer to put the book and cover together.

The price range of editors and printers ranged greatly, so I received different quotes and requested samples of the work done before making my decision. Both the editor and the printer I chose lived in different states, but thanks to email, we were able to communicate regularly. Both of them did a wonderful job!

By the time my self-published book was complete, the total cost for the cover design, editing, and printing of 50 copies was approximately $500. This was less than what I would’ve had to pay if I had ordered the same number of books from my traditional publisher of A Journey to Healing: Life After SIDS. Plus, that publisher made all the final decisions and maintained my author rights.

The biggest reward I found with self-publishing, in addition to the overall cost and being able to maintain your author rights, was being able to have complete creative control. When you’ve spent weeks, months, or even years working on a special writing project, it can be quite a struggle to turn your hard work over to someone else to make all the final decisions as to how the manuscript will be published and presented to the public.

With self-publishing, you can decide on your own book size, interior layout, and cover design, as well as the marketing plan and more. While traditional publishing certainly has its benefits, I would have to say there is something very special about being involved with your book idea from the beginning stage of a blank page to the very end, and having a published book designed exactly to your liking.

Next Monday we’ll hear more from Monica on her latest self-publishing experience as well as a tale of a classic book that began as a self-published book that the author kept selling on her own for over 40 years!
Be sure to stop back. And, in the meantime, learn more about Monica at A Breath of Inspiration.

My series on the Writing Life continues with today’s post on the good, bad, and ugly of working at home. I have to admit that I consider myself quite blessed to be able to earn a decent income working from home, especially while I still have young children at home. But there are days…oh, boy are there days…when I sort of wish I had somewhere to escape to!

After working from home for nearly 12 years now, I’ve decided that all home distractions can be corralled into 3 categories: communication distractions, family distractions, and household distractions. Let’s tackle these one at a time.

Communication distractions. We live in a communication-overload age. No matter how we want to communicate with others, there’s a tool for it right at our fingertips. This is good, except when you’re on a writing deadline. Here’s a couple tips that may help eliminate the communication distractions.

First, allow yourself to only check email at regular intervals, such as once an hour. Also, turn off the chime that alerts you to when you get a new email. When you do check email, give yourself only 10 minutes on it, then get back to work. Same with social networking sites. Check them at regular intervals only. I would also highly recommend putting your phone in a different part of your house and turning down the ringer. Unless you’re in a situation where you have to be on emergency alert for someone, I would suggest not keeping your phone near you when you’re trying to write.

Family distractions. I hate using this term, because your family should never be a distraction but a priority, but I think you know what I mean. If you have small kids at home with you during the day as I do, it’s helpful to block off time periodically to spend one on one with them. They may not have a real concept of time, but just to say to them, “I need to work for about one more SpongeBob, then you and I will play,” let’s them know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes, if I know I have a long day, I’ll tell my son that he and I will have a special outing together later that day or that night if I can finish up what I’m doing. That helps him be a little more patient with me. I’m not a big TV proponent when the kids are real young, so I’ll place puzzles, coloring books, or LEGOS in the office with me or right outside the door, so my son still feels a part of being with me.

If you’re dealing with a spouse who is jealous that your work time is cutting into his or her personal time with you, talk with them about a compromise and schedule. Maybe you can agree that you will not do any writing on the weekends if you can work for one hour each evening. Or maybe instead of evenings, you will block off 4-5 hours over the weekend.

Household distractions. By far, this is my biggest challenge when it comes to distractions. I am very organized and love a clean house, so I used to be quite distracted just knowing there were floors to clean, dishes to do, and household repairs to take care of. I have learned, however, that if I want to get any writing done, I need to block all those things out–at least temporarily. Now, for many of you, this poses no distraction at all, because housework is probably not real high on your want-to list. But even so, some things you can’t ignore forever, like laundry or grocery shopping.

My solution has been to block of a certain amount of time each day for household tasks–usually about an hour. If I do that every day, by the end of the week, just about everything has been taken care of. I also enlist the help of my family on the weekends for a thorough cleaning! I’ve also found that certain mindless tasks, like vacuuming, are great for ushering in creativity. In fact, when I get stuck on something I’m writing and need ideas or to find just the right words, I will leave my office and find something to clean. I’m not kidding! Something about doing a physical task helps me think better. In no time at all, I’ve solved my writing dilemma and head back to the computer. I must admit, some days my house ends up being really clean!

How about you? What distractions pose the biggest threat to your work, and how have you learned to overcome them?

I know there are many writers who have the luxury of doing nothing but writing for a living. But for every one of those, there are probably at least 4 or 5, if not more, who must work a “real job” while also working on accelerating their writing career. This is tough! So it’s for all of you that this post is being written.

When you’re writing part time,  and working elsewhere full time, time management becomes paramount. First, ask yourself what a reasonable amount of time would be for you to spend on your writing every day. Take into account family time and the fact that you actually have to sleep at some point!

If you say an hour, then determine what your most productive time of day is. For those early risers, you may want to get your hour in before you head off to work. For the night owls, schedule your time after your kids have gone to bed. If you’re neither (like me), you may need to jump on the computer as soon as you get home from work. Whatever it is, write it into your schedule and stick to it. Don’t even try to write “whenever you can find the time,” because I guarantee that you will never find the time.

Take advantage of time off work. Most people have the weekends off, but others may have a couple days during the week instead. When you get some days off, decide ahead of time how much more time you want to spend on your writing. I know one writer who blocks off 4 hours every Saturday. She gets up before her kids and writes until about 11. She still has the whole day ahead of her, but manages to get a lot of writing in during those 4 hours. Again, the key is to decide ahead of time what you will do–then schedule it. If you don’t, your days off will quickly fill up with everything but writing.

One final suggestion is to use downtime during work. We all have some during the work day. Whether it’s break time, lunch time, commute time (not if you’re driving, of course!), or whatever time you have that’s not “on the clock time,” take advantage of it. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in small chunks. Always have a notebook and pen (or its electronic equivalent) on hand. As you get ideas while standing in the lunch line, or finally figure out how to rewrite that one scene that’s just not working, you’ll be able to capitalize on the opportunity.

I recently read about a famous novelist who wrote an entire book in daily 20 minute blocks. It doesn’t take much, but it’s important to always be “on.” Be thinking about what you’re writing as you go about your day and have the writing tools available to jot down what comes into your head every chance you get. You don’t have to be in front of a computer to write. Start seeing your downtime as time that’s helping you move one step closer to being able to trade in your full-time job for full-time writing.

I’d like to hear from you on this one. If you are of of these part-time writers, or used to be, what tips can you offer to help others as they juggle their writing world? What has worked for you, and what hasn’t?

Just wanted to add a quick post about writers’ conferences before continuing with my Writing Life posts.

If you’ve never attended a writers’ conference, perhaps this could be your year! Whether you’re a total novice or advanced writer, you’re sure to come back with some nugget or connection that will make attending a conference worth your while.

Nowadays, there are so many conferences to choose from, you will most likely find one that caters to your specific writing niche or genre. Often, writers who don’t currently have a manuscript in the works will hesitate attending a conference because they feel they aren’t prepared. My advice is, even if you aren’t currently working on anything, if you find a conference that’s a good fit for your genre, there are several reasons you should still attend:

Networking, networking, networking! That’s really what’s it’s all about in this business anyway, right? You never know who you’ll end up meeting at conferences. I’ve heard stories about writers meeting others writers and becoming co-authors, writers meeting editors and selling their ideas for further review (even without manuscript in hand), and writers meeting publishers who they later submitted–and sold to.

Advancing your craft. As a writer, you should always be learning something new about your craft. Conferences offer hands-on writing experiences as well as workshops to help you stay on top of new publishing trends–something we all need to know about.

Writing time. If you’re like most writers, one of the toughest things is actually finding quality time to write. Although writers’ conferences are typically jam packed with activities, there’s still time to be found for writing. Usually, conferences are held in picturesque, resort-like locations, which are perfect for finding peace and solitude to ignite your creativity.

Ideas. If I get nothing else out of a conference, I always seem to come back with a boatload of new ideas. Ideas about new markets, ideas about new ways of approaching editors and submitting work, or ideas about writing itself. And we can never have too many ideas!

One of the hardest parts about attending a conference is knowing which one to go to. A good start is to find those that are specific to your genre and have a wide variety of faculty to meet with– editors, other writers, publishing staff, agents, marketing experts, etc.

I have compiled a list of various 2010 conferences throughout the U.S. on my Writers’ Resources page. You might also want to check out the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference where I will be teaching March 4-6. Take a look at their blog to read faculty posts for ideas of what to expect at the conference as well as some helpful tips if you do plan on attending.

Happy conferencing!

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