I’ve been a facilitator for creative writing workshops, offered by my local community center, for a decade. One of the best things about this job is reading and listening to the stories of attendees who seek feedback for their memoirs, creative nonfiction, novels, and so forth.
What I’ve learned over the past decade is that being born and raised in Canada, has pretty much given me a sheltered life compared to others. I’ve worked with writers from Iraq, France, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, India, Australia, and other countries that have suffered greatly from war, droughts, violent misogyny, racial prejudice, disease, and poverty on a scale I couldn’t have imagined until I heard their stories.
I watch a lot of national news, which tends to capture short segments of hardships in other parts of the world. But these stations play the same clips over and over without digging much deeper except for the occasional documentary. Yes, the images are heartbreaking and shocking, but making a lasting impact is diminished when those images are constantly replaced by commercials for Ford trucks and super soft toilet paper.
I’m grateful to these writers for opening my eyes in vivid, excruciating detail. I hope they all publish their books one day, and then I will tell you about them and hope that you read them.
The other night, I was browsing through one of my bookmarked file folders on publishing and marketing. It was a shock to find nearly 200 articles going back to 2013 and I wound up deleting plenty. Some links no longer worked. Some of the information had been saved more than once at different time periods, and some was simply irrelevant now.
A number of how-to articles bragged about how easy it is to self-publish. Hmm. While writing and producing a book might not be rocket science for some, it’s incredibly challenging for others. For me, production is a months-long process that requires a lot of attention to detail.
I was also struck by the contradiction in marketing strategies. Again, many of the articles and blogs made their ‘5 steps to successful marketing’ sound simple. Some articles recommended getting on as many platforms as possible. Others said don’t bother with social media at all, just create a website and a mail list. As I write this, I’m still trying to sort through the articles which resonate with my current needs.
One thing is clear. The number of how-to articles on self-publishing and marketing articles is mind boggling. If authors are confused and overwhelmed, I get it. Because I have a clear understanding of my objectives, my budget, and the time it takes me to write, produce and market a book, I’ve also become more realistic and less patient with the ‘5 easy steps to self-publishing’ guides.
I imagine many of you are inundated with information on social media or blogs popping into your inbox. I’d love to know if you find any publishing or marketing articles that have been especially useful for you. Or are you paring down like I am?
Before, I get to today’s post, October’s mystery sales promotion is half over. If you haven’t had a chance, please take a moment to browse through a diverse roster of mysteries and thrillers. The $.99 sale for my books, Knock Knock and The Blade Man ends on the 31st. You can find the link HERE.
I have the entire week off from babysitting fourteen-month-old Ellie. At our Thanksgiving dinner last weekend, she discovered a love of pie, especially with a tiny bit of whipped cream on the side. She literally vibrated with excitement after her mom placed the spoon in her mouth. As you’ll see from the photo, meals are generally happy occasions.
I find myself with plenty of extra writing time this week. One of my ongoing challenges is to write and edit more efficiently, so I’ve implemented a strategy that’s worked before. First, I gave some thought to the projects I want to work on.
These days, it’s three novels. The urban fantasy is currently under weekly critiquing and my Casey Holland novella is nearly ready for beta readers. After working on notes, character profiles, and an outline, I’ve also started writing the first draft of a paranormal mystery.
Each project is given one hour during the day, give or take. After the first hour of work on a book, I stop for exercise. After the second hour on a different project, I stop for lunch. After lunch, I work on the third, and so far. If I want to work longer I can, or I can switch to marketing tasks.
This strategy works well if I don’t have appointments or other commitments, but because I find it tiring, I use this approach in spurts rather than month after month. I’ve always found that working on the same project all day, even with breaks, doesn’t always bring clarity, focus, or new ideas to the page.
On Monday, I’ll be back with Ellie for the next three days and feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot. 🙂
A story starts with an idea, like a flower starts with a seed. It’s planted. It germinates.
As with a book or the sunflower that just bloomed in my garden four days ago, it can take a while. Weeks. Months. Even years. The process is often unpredictable.
But one day, something starts to happen. Something fresh pokes through the many thoughts, or the dirt in the ground, and you’ve begun.
The journey isn’t easy. There are periods when nothing seems to be happening. This is because you can’t truly see what’s percolating in your subconscious, or what’s going on underground. Self-doubt creeps in. Maybe unintentional neglect. Or impatient waiting for some sign of progress.
Through the period of early growth, there are setbacks and obstacles. Illness, emergencies, accidents, or natural intervention. For my sunflower it was a summer of heat domes, toxic smoky air, and water from a hose rather rather than thirst-quenching rain.
Time passes. Obstacles fade. Dry toxicity turns into breathable air. Thoughts begin to gel. The story is making sense now, and then it really takes off. One day you look up and the stem is strong and two feet tall. A bud appears. The logical sequence to an approaching climax.
Finally, one day, you spot a vibrant little flower peering down at you, and you realize it’s survived a pretty long journey. Sure, the surrounding vines and tree are stronger and larger, but my sunflower stands just as proud, basking in the light of day.
When I wrote about World Elephant Day a few weeks ago, I also wondered when world Rhino Day would appear. My blogging friend, Jane Fritz, who writes incredibly interesting blogs, by the way, kindly looked it up for me. Thank you, Jane!
So, September 22nd is World Rhino Day! These large animals are among my favorites. Until this week, I didn’t realize there are five species. The white, black, Sumatran, Greater One Horned, and the Javan rhino.
You’ve likely already heard that they’re often killed for their horns, which are supposed to have curative properties, but they actually don’t. Also, the loss of income due to COVID-19 has led to more poaching and killing of these magnificent animals.
To learn more about the species and what you can do to help protect them, please check out the link HERE. You’ll also find a rhino-themed soundtrack of 35 songs on the World Rhino Day website, for your listening pleasure. Who knew?
Thank you to those who commented on last week’s blog. They inspired me to give more thought to writing productivity and editing, specifically, since it’s 100% of my writing life these days.
Whether I’ve had a good or lousy editing session depends on a number of factors, like how many other things I have on my mind, whether I’ve slept well, eaten properly, or even exercised. As mentioned last week, skill and time play a role in productivity. But here are two more factors that tend to slip off my radar.
One is location. After blogging about the importance of stepping away from writing to get a change a scenery, I’ve also remembered that editing in a different space from my usual spot often has a positive impact on my work. It can be a library, the car, (I did that a lot while waiting for my kids’ extracurricular activities to finish) or somewhere else. Those changes helped me see my work in a new light, literally and figuratively.
Last week, for example, I drove my husband downtown to have a minor medical procedure. While I waited to pick him up, I went for a walk and wound up in a food court at a large mall. I ordered lunch, found a table removed from everyone else’s and, after eating, pulled out the Casey Holland novella I’ve been working on. I don’t know if it was the lighting, the white noise, or what, but I suddenly found entire sentences that didn’t need to be there. Would I have done this had I been working at my home office? I don’t know, but I do know that those lines had made it through umpteen previous drafts.
Here’s another, often overlooked impact on my editing life. Moods. After times of frustration and annoyance at my secretarial jobs, I’d find a quiet place on my lunchbreak and start crossing out unnecessary words. There was something about a “let’s cut to the chase and bloody well get it done” frame of mind that helped cut superfluous words. So, if you’re in a lousy mood and don’t want to get down to editing, try it anyway. You might be surprised.
I’m not suggesting you’ll be a better editor if you’re experiencing negative emotions. If you’re really happy or relaxed, editing can go well, too. All I’m saying is that my moods have an impact on my work, so I now attempt to make them work for me. If I’m experiencing intense emotional or physical pain, however, that’s a different story, and probably a topic for another day.
Now, I need to thank blogger Jacqui Murray for today’s post. We were discussing a topic on her blog, which gave me the idea for this one. Thank you Jacqui!
I know many writers dream of writing full time. It was mine, too. I was lucky to have that opportunity for three years when I left the world of retail and took time to decide what to do next. By the time I ventured into security work, I was more than ready to return to part-time work, and not just for the steady paycheck. You see, I never intended to write full time permanently.
The truth is, some of my best ideas for short stories, essays, novellas, and novels, came from real-life experiences. In the podcast, Joanna and I discussed Casey Holland mystery #4, The Deep End, because it was the book that most draws on my experience. When I was a criminology student, I volunteered at a youth detention center and kept notes for a paper I’d be writing for a course. Let me tell you, those notes came in handy when I started that book two decades later.
I’ve found plenty of inspiration and motivation by simply going out in the world. Whether through employment, fitness centers, volunteering, socializing, hobbies, writing events, or riding public transit, there are endless opportunities to pick up snippets of great dialogue, create a character, or define a setting.
During those three years, it turned out that I wasn’t that much more productive than I had been when working part-time jobs. I’d learn to become efficient with time management. If I only had forty-five minutes to write, then I got down to it. If I had a whole morning, I’d browse the net and answer emails before opening up the WIP. The point is, you don’t have to be a full-time writer to be a productive writer.
Even if you’re writing world-building fantasy and science fiction novels, your stories still need conflict, relationship, and dialogue, and ideas for your plots can certainly come from real life.
If you’ve already put decades into the workforce and have done plenty of volunteering, hopefully you have notebooks full of ideas, bits of dialogue and setting notes. Still, there’s nothing like a change of scenery to help you get a fresh perspective on your work, to see or touch or smell something new. And wouldn’t it be great if the best of those moments were woven into your manuscript?
If you find you’re at your best writing full time, then go for it, but take those breaks, try something new, a new exercise regime, a new recipe, a new place to visit in your own locale. You might be amazed at what’ll it do for your writing.
Before I get into today’s post, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been on a sales promotion blitz for my Casey Holland mystery series. Until August 28th, all six books can be purchased for under $10 (US) The first one, The Opposite of Dark, is free and the next two are $.99 each. You can see all of the books and sale prices on one page at https://tinyurl.com/myhvfzjp These sale prices are also available on other platforms.
Now, all writers who hope to make a living from their work, or to at least supplement their income, face many challenges. For me, those challenges often boil down to three primary things: time, energy, and skill.
Those who need a day job to pay their bills, are raising kids, or caring for aging parents, are all-too familiar with the time challenge. Over the years, I’ve developed strategies, mainly by preparing for the project(s) I intend to work on that week, and minimizing internet and TV time. I’ve also carved out time by giving up exercise or housework. Not a huge sacrifice really, but there’s a price to be paid regarding exercise, which leads me to my second point. Energy.
Even those of you who’ve carved extra time for writing might discover a lack of energy for a variety of reasons. COVID hasn’t helped, especially with mental health issues, but there are other physical health challenges that I’m finding as I age. For instance, I need to nap more often because my brain becomes foggy after 2:30 p.m. Second, I’m dealing with neck and shoulder pain these days, which has flared up off and on for twenty years. Other writers are enduring health issues that drain them of creative energy or even the inclination to sit in front of the keyboard and start working. Grief, stress, loss of income and/or home, and other uncertainties all contribute, as I’m sure many of you know.
Last but not least, is skill. For newer writers, the question often is, can I do this? Will I ever be good enough to write one publishable story? Is there a better use of my time? For more experienced writers, it’s the inability to find an agent or publisher for their finished novel(s) that results in the same questions. For those who’ve been published, self doubt creeps in with lousy reviews, poor sales, or the sinking feeling that you’re not good enough to keep doing this.
I’ve dealt with all of these issues, and more, over the past four decades, and here are two things that have kept me going. First, I still love writing, editing, publishing, selling, and even some of the marketing stuff.
Second, I don’t constantly berate myself over mistakes and disappointments. At the end of every week, I conclude that I did the best I could with whatever time, energy, and skill I have. I’ve used this mantra for years and it’s helped me come to terms with things. If you think it’ll help you on your creative journey, feel free to use it. You deserve to acknowledge your challenges, and you deserve to give yourself a break. The mountain you’re climbing will always be there, you don’t need to break your back, or your spirit, over it.
My babysitting duties are in full swing, which has been great fun so far. Ellie’s started dancing to songs in one of her musical books. Thursday to Sundays are my days off, which also means catching up editing, blogs, book reviews, and other things, so these week’s blog is a short.
My World Wildlife Fund calendar reminded me that today is World Elephant Day, so I thought I’d share a link for further information on how to protect these beautiful creatures before it’s too late. You can find it HERE.
World Elephant Day began in 2012 and is acknowledged every August 12th. All elephant species are in danger, and given the state of the world these days, I’m going to focus more on how I can help the environment. Donating and writing about are just two of those things.