I love being an independent author-publisher. Being in control of my business gives me a great deal of satisfaction. It also gives me a lot of responsibilities and a heck of a lot of things to know. In part one of this series, I discussed some of the big picture things I wish I knew before I published. This multiple part series of posts originated last month on the Writers In the Storm Blog with Part I. Part II continues with big picture things.
You are a writer. You already know how much self-discipline it takes to write a book from first idea to polished product. Applying the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair may not be a problem for you when you’re writing. That kind of motivation is a big picture motivation. But what about the other stuff that a successful author must do?
Motivation for the Traditionally Published
A traditional publishing company will create deadlines relayed to you by your editor. Revisions are due on this date, approval of copywriting is due on a different date. Motivation to complete those tasks cannot be the money or the hope of publishing fame. It takes a distinct set of self-discipline skills to finish creative tasks in a certain time frame. Your publisher may dictate other things as well. Your contract may dictate where and when you make appearances. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like it. It’s part of your contract.
These situations and time-frames do not have to be negative. Many authors have very pleasant and lucrative relationships with traditional publishing. Educate yourself on what to expect. Ask authors published by that company what their experience has been like. Know what your contract obligations are. Understand yourself, your self-discipline, and your expectations. Be prepared and you won’t lack motivation.
Motivation for the Independent Author-Publisher
When you’re self-employed, no one will yell at you if you’re late to work or even skip a day. You have no boss to remind you of your deadlines. You must be self-motivated enough to glue your butt to the chair to get the work done.
Winging it isn’t the path to success. Have a plan. Have tools ready to help you stay on track. You also will need tools to get back on track when you’re depressed or after a hurtful review or an illness. When you are self-employed, you have to be worker bee, cheerleader, and taskmaster, sometimes all at once.
What I Wish I Knew About Motivation
I do not lack motivation to write. I love the entire process, from idea creation to rough draft to editing and polishing. What I wish I knew from the beginning…
Find out what I wish I knew about motivation, about copyright, protecting your rights, and on knowing your reader over on the Writers in the Storm Blog.
Your creative mindset two years into the pandemic may differ greatly from before the pandemic. Are you still creating? Are you more focused or less focused? Some of you may have encountered pandemic-based stressors like loss of income, concern about the health of family members or your own health, and the shortage of necessary supplies. For some of us, the stress has been more distant and less personal. There are those who are suffering from long-haulers symptoms, continued loss of income and associated losses. And there are far too many have lost loved ones either to COVID or for other reasons. No matter how distant or personal, the stress of two years of pandemic life is real. Let’s make an assessment so we can make realistic goals for the new year. How is your creative mindset after two years of pandemic?
The Creative Mindset
I believe everyone has some creativity. Those who doubt their creativity, or whose focus isn’t on their creativity, may deny they, too, have a creative mindset. There are some people who have very little creativity or choose a non-creative path. There is nothing wrong with that way of living, with that choice.
If you know you are creative, you have at least a gut-level understanding of what creative mindset means.
Having a creative mindset means you are open to opportunities and possibilities. You allow yourself to think “outside the box,” make fresh connections, and discover innovations or creations. A creative mindset can be limited if you doubt your abilities or cannot focus on creativity because of you are focused on other things, often life responsibilities. If you embrace your creative mindset, it can encompass many skills and become an attitude, a way of thinking, and a lifestyle.
Erman Misirlisoy Ph.D. posted There’s a Way to Actually Measure Your Creativity on Medium. The tests he’s suggests measure general creativity. They do not measure how you’ve managed through the past two years. I would like to suggest a more practical measurement. Answer the following questions. There are no right or wrong answers and you don’t have to share your answers with anyone. Be honest so you can assess yourself.
Have you made connections (Zoom, email, Skype, etc.) with your peers through the pandemic?
How many projects have you finished during the past two years?
Did you learn anything new about your chosen creative outlet?
How many new projects have you started in the past two years?
Did you finish any projects you started in the past two years?
How many days a week did you practice or work on your creative endeavors in the past two years compared to before the pandemic?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.
If Your Answers Disappoint
Give yourself one day to be disappointed. Then reframe your disappointment. What do I mean by reframing your disappointment?
Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique of identifying thoughts or feelings, then changing the way you view them.
How do you cognitively reframe something? First, record your thoughts or feelings. For example, you might say, I am so disappointed in my productivity that I state: I was too lazy and too depressed to do anything creative in the past two years.
That’s a negative and self-destructive, creativity killing kind of thought. So let’s turn it around, reframe your thoughts. For example, you might say, my creative mind took a break so that I would have enough energy to survive these past two years. Or, my creative mind protected itself by taking longer periods to recharge, since I needed time and energy to deal with how the pandemic changed my life.
If Your Answers Satisfy You
If you are saying to yourself, I did pretty well for all that was going on. Congratulations. You have been creative and during the pandemic. Good job. I hope you are being supportive of both experiences.
If you’re saying, I did okay. Do you secretly feel as if you could have done better? You may also benefit from the reframing technique. Try reframing it something like, I was strong enough to deal with all the pandemic stressors and even though that was difficult, I was still creative.
If Your Answers Please You
Congratulations. You’ve sailed through the pandemic with your creative mindset intact. Answer a couple more questions.
Did you use your creativity as a coping method to get through?
Did you use your creativity to hide or ignore the stress of the past two years?
Again, there are no right or wrong answers. These questions are so you can be self-aware. You might suffer some creativity burnout or fatigue as the pandemic marches on. Or you might need to take time to face and deal with the stressors in your pandemic life. Be aware that you might need professional help. If you are telling yourself needing professional help is a sign of weakness or a person defect, reframe your thoughts. Getting professional help is a sign of self-love and a desire to survive your stressors and be your authentic, creative self.
Your Creative Mindset Going Forward
Unfortunately, we are still dealing with a pandemic. There will continue to be stress and shortages and adjustments we must make. Review techniques that may help you and your creative mindset going forward. Do you have a mental health toolkit? Have a plan. Reach out to a creative friend and agree to support each other every day, once a week, or on an as needed basis.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It provides 24/7, free and confidential, support and help from trained counselors.
If you or a loved one are in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911.
Your creative mindset two years into the pandemic is naturally different from it was two years ago. That’s okay. You’ve survived. No matter how much or little you’ve created in the past two years, your creativity is surviving, too. Be kind to yourself. Recognize that you are, that we all are, in survival mode.
What have you found helpful for maintaining your creative mindset during the past two years?
I took a gamble and went to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. No, I didn’t gamble on slot machines or baccarat tables or any of the hundreds of games of chance there. The gamble I took was on myself and my writing. I attended 20Books Vegas 2021: a 20Booksto50k® educational and networking event. By gambling on an opportunity I found permission.
How it Started
The 20Booksto50k® Facebook group is a social learning group created to share knowledge and best business practices for indie-publishing and selling more books.
Michael Anderle, founder of 20Booksto50k®, and Craig Martelle, group leader and organizer, host the conference in Vegas every year(except 2020 when COVID-19 closed Vegas). They keep costs as low as possible to make it affordable for all writers.
This summer, generous donors created a scholarship fund for writers with limited means. Interested people answered essay questions. Awards ranged from covering all costs to partial scholarships to attendance fees only. Need and those essays determined who won what. They awarded more than 100 scholarships.
I took a gamble and answered the essay questions. Figured if I didn’t win, I’d lost nothing. And if I won, it was a sign I was meant to go.
They awarded me attendance fees.
Planning For 20Books Vegas
Even with free admission, going to Vegas was going to be a financial stretch. I needed clothes, suitcases, and more. I won which meant I had to go. Right? So I made a plan to make some extra money.
Besides more money, I looked for ways to cut costs. Especially hotel and food costs. Vegas is ridiculously expensive these days.
And money wasn’t the only thing I had to plan. It’s best to go to a convention like this with some goals. Otherwise you won’t know whether it was worth it. Of course, the goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time sensitive.
My goals were quite modest. I am an introvert’s introvert, so I wanted to meet at least 6 people in the field (Science Fiction & Dystopian fiction).
There were two learning goals as well. My weak spots are productivity and marketing.
I studied the program and identified several presenters I wanted to talk to. I even prepared some questions.
Working the Plan
For extra money, I reached out to two of my husband’s friends. They had offered to help me sell off my husband’s business assets (products, supplies, etc.).
Caring for my medically fragile husband at home for so many years was expensive. I needed more than money for airline tickets.
My husband’s friends exceeded my wildest hopes. The sales they made provided me with money to buy everything I needed (and that was a lot). Plus, there was enough money to give me an ample cushion for nice dinners or entertainment.
A post in the 20BooksVegas Facebook group invited attendees to arrange sharing a hotel room. In a comment with a little about myself and what I write, I asked for a roommate. I found pretty close to the perfect roomie.
Airlines required all passengers to wear masks in the airport and on the plane 100% of the time. Plus, Las Vegas required masks for all indoor activities. That meant I would spend a minimum of eight hours per day in a mask. I bought more reusable masks. They irritate my face less than paper ones.
I had received the original two COVID vaccinations several months ago. So four weeks before my departure, I got the booster and my flu shot.
If you’ve never been to Vegas—it’s party city 24/7. Everything is LOUD. People are drunk. I had the pleasure of observing two young women (on separate occasions) vomiting because they were so drunk. Walking… walking… walking. Everything is at least twice as far away as it looks.
Everyone needs/wants a tip.
But there are also delightful surprises.
Yes, that’s a vending machine that sells cakes from the Cake Boss.
Authors of dystopian fiction had three meetups. I found my tribe. I had a couple of great conversations at a meetup for science fiction authors. And I attended a meetup for Wide for the Win authors (another Facebook group).
Unexpectedly, I met a dystopian author (who writes for young adults) from my neck of the woods. She lives less than 20 miles from me. We plan to get together soon.
Many of the presentations were inspirational. Those focused on helping new-to-writing folk. Some were full of actionable information.
During each of the presentations, I learned a few tips and techniques worth trying. The organizers and many of the presenters repeatedly said—the value of the conference isn’t in the presentations but in the contacts you make.
I did not take part in the book signing and sale, but it did well.
Business Lessons Learned
I took a business card with me. On the back of it, I have the new covers for my books. It was reassuring to have all the dystopian authors admire the covers (one even wanted the name of my designer.)
Lots of industry professionals attended the convention. I hadn’t prepared for that. That is something I will plan for if I go again.
For my first professional show in many years and my first after the death of my husband, I think things went very well. I didn’t take advantage of the big name authors whom I had the chance to meet, didn’t ask presenters the questions I had… I didn’t have the spoons for that. And this time, that was okay. However, next time I will take that opportunity.
Travel Lessons Learned
It was hot. I should have brought more short sleeved outfits, and no long sleeved ones. I used a lightweight Pashma once. But used nothing heavier.
I forgot my second pair of shoes. That was unfortunate since I walked an average of 7,150 steps per day. Because of some issues with my back, I avoided longer walks.
If I go next year, I will take part in the book signing and sale. That means I’ll either drive or ship the books there. Why do I say if? It depends upon how my books are selling, how my finances are, and what my goals are. All those things may change over the next year.
I brought more “extras” on this than I needed. Since It had been a decade since I last traveled, I give myself a pass on that one.
My Favorite Presentation
With 10-12 presentations each day, there was no way to attend them all. Of the ones I attended, my favorite was Six Productivity Myths And Why You Should Stop Believing Them Right Now by Becca Symes.
Her primary tip? Question the premise. Not all methods work for all authors or creatives. Anytime some industry leader says you SHOULD do something or that their technique ALWAYS works—don’t get sucked into thinking you failed when you try the should or the thing that works anti doesn’t. Always question the premise.
By the way, many of the presentations were recorded and are available on YouTube. Search for 20Books Vegas 2021.
My Biggest Take Away
When I first got home, I didn’t think I’d gotten a lot out of the conference. Some tips, yes. But I never felt an ah-ha moment. Didn’t know I was expecting one, but when I got home, I felt let down because I didn’t have one.
Then, a friend asked me what my biggest take away was from attending the conference. At first, I couldn’t say. I didn’t know. But as I told her about what I had been doing after I got home, I had my ah-ha moment.
My biggest take away was permission. In different ways, every presenter stressed how important it was for a creative to take risks and how most of us are our own biggest obstacles. We tell ourselves we can’t do something and we have lots of reasons we can’t.
Take a Gamble and Give Yourself Permission
By gambling on an opportunity I found permission. Listening to them restate the idea of giving ourselves permission to take risks, to do the thing, to scare ourselves… gave me something I didn’t know I needed. It gave me permission to take next steps. Gave me permission to move forward. To invest in myself and my writing. To be my best creative self.
Many of us have difficulty giving ourselves permission to take care of ourselves, to be who and what we are. Often, we aren’t aware that all we need to do is give ourselves permission.
I want to pay it forward. To all of you who are creatives, I encourage you to gamble on yourselves. Give yourself permission to take the risk, gamble on an opportunity, scare yourself. Be the genuine creative you. If you need it, I give you permission to gamble, to give yourself permission. Go forth and be your best creative self.
“What I learned in 2020” could be a joke. Sadly, last year’s problems will continue for a while. But I am a writer. And a business woman. A review of my year is still necessary.
I use a couple of systems blended together to record and track my intentions each year. (If you need help creating your yearly plan try Orna Ross’s Go Creative.) I divide my intentions into four primary areas: Make (anything creative), Manage (anything business related), Market (advertising and anything related to advertising), and Home (everything else.) Last year started with an extensive list of intentions. By the end of the year, I thought I’d failed most of them.
I always think I’ve failed to accomplish the things I wanted to do at the end of the year. Therefore, I regularly review my intentions and what I do and don’t accomplish.
The Make portion of my intentions consumed 66% of my time. This came very close to fulfilling my intentions.
The plan was to finish the first draft, the revision draft, and publish If I Should Die, book two of the Fellowship Dystopia. I also included a stretch goal of outlining a novella and the next book in the Fellowship Dystopia.
Did. Not. Fulfill those intentions. But I finished the first draft, created a revision draft outline, and had 25,000 words on the revision draft by the end of December.
Also on the Make list was blogging three times a week. I got 94% of the posts done and online.
What I learned in 2020 is that being preoccupied by pandemics and protests and national issues, revision takes more time.
This area includes reading, production, statistics, website stuff, learning, and general office chores. It took approximately 23% of my time.
I purchased new artwork.
Learning about ads and blurb writing and refining some writing skills were high on my intentions list. I completed 63% of the online classes I had intended to finish.
I read 66% of fiction books and 50% of the nonfiction I had intended to read. Ouch!
I did not finish setting up my new mail service and did not get newsletters changed over to the service.
For my website, I had intended to revise the front page and add a couple of new pages. Those things did not get done. I kept up with updating plugins and the content management system.
What I learned in 2020 was that I had to recover some time. I reduced the time I spent on Social Media. And I didn’t watch the news. And I could focus better.
My marketing intentions were small, as I only have two books to advertise. Trying out the various platforms and learning how to use digital ads took about 11% of my working time.
An ads class taught me how to advertise my books on Amazon.
I spent a lot of time studying blurbs and blurb writing.
A contest helped boost my newsletter membership.
Thanks to a friend, I appeared on the Mysterious Goings On podcast hosted by Alex Greenwood. My episode was fun thanks to the wonderful host.
What I learned in 2020 is that marketing is a whole ‘nuther skill.
I spent a lot of my energy, both physical and emotional, on the home front during 2020. (Are you surprised?)
My husband spent January in the hospital and a rehab center. February brought hours of doctor’s visits, physical therapy, and caregiving.
March brought the world a pandemic and self-quarantine. Just call me FaceTime Grandma.
July through September, my son renovated my large yard. He removed two overgrown (5-6 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide), old and scraggly bushes. Filled low areas of the yard with wheelbarrows full of soil. He verticut and re-seeded the lawn. I watered and watered and watered it.
Also in July, my 15-year-old Yorkie, Astro, became very ill. We eased his suffering and euthanized him on August 8th.
Car problems plagued us. The squirrels ate my Toyota Wheelchair van’s wiring. And my Suzuki needed a new ball-arm joint.
A friend died of cancer in December.
I learned to roll with the punches. And I learned that good happened amongst the bad. My husband’s health is stable for the first time in six years.
What I Learned in 2020
I am human. I care about other people and the country. So I learned to acknowledge that caring takes energy. Even remote in quarantine, caring.
I learned to be kind to myself. Finding an hour or two of personal time each day became one of my priorities. That meant I would not meet some of my intentions. What I learned in 2020 was to be okay with taking care of myself during this unprecedented time. Did you learn to take care of yourself during 2020?
Whether you write by the seat of your pants (a pantser) or you have a detailed outline (a plotter), or anywhere anywhere on the line in between, you’ve likely gotten stuck in your story. That’s disconcerting at the best and devastating at the worst. The story comes to a screeching halt and you beat yourself up. Yes, this happens to plotters sometimes. Unfortunately, it happens to pantsers more often than not. But don’t worry. There’s a way to solve or prevent most stuck-in-the-middle events. Use goals & obstacles to fascinate your readers.
In story writing, a goal is what your main character wants. It might be the blue ribbon in the county fair or to save the world from a weapon of mass destruction. But you knew that, didn’t you? So why am I harping on it?
And it isn’t just a want. It’s a need. To fascinate your reader, the main character’s want must mean something. It doesn’t have to be a theme-heavy, my-soul-will-be-destroyed type of meaning. But if your character does not achieve their goal, they lose something valuable. This irrevocable loss changes the principal character’s life for the worse (at least in the character’s estimation). A high schooler believes with his whole being that if he doesn’t win the football game and impress the recruiting agent, his life is ruined forever. That can make for a page-turning story.
More About Goals
The more concrete you can make the goal, the clearer it will be for the reader. How do you know your goal is concrete? By asking yourself, can the character take a picture of it?
You can add a layer to goals and make the story deeper, more complex.
Add a Layer
To deepen the story, you can add a layer to the character’s goal by making it misunderstood. What the character THINKS she wants and what she NEEDS to avoid that sense of loss are two different things. In the high school football player above, what if he’s suffering from a chronic illness that will eventually destroy his ability to walk? He may think he wants the memory of the football victory to sustain him, but what he needs is to learn to cope with his illness. And when he loses the football game but gains a new understanding of how he can live and be happy, it will be a satisfactory ending.
But even if the path to a goal isn’t straight, it isn’t interesting, Use goals & obstacles to fascinate your reader.
Most how-to write instruct you to have lots of conflict in your story. But that word has connotations and meanings that confuse many of us. What it really means for a story is to prevent your character from achieving their goal. Set obstacles in their path. Obstacles can be a person (or persons), a place or environment (nature), or the character herself.
In a successful story, there is usually a single major obstacle, often a person we like to call the bad guy or the antagonist. Initially, the bad guy has all the control. It’s the bad guy’s moves that cause the protagonist to react, to choose an alternative path. And the bad guy hones in on the main character’s flaws with every obstacle he throws in the path to success.
More About Obstacles
Vary the obstacles your character must overcome. How do you do that? With subplots. One subplot could be the foul weather on the last day of practice that causes a temporary injury or maybe the opposing team kidnaps the main character and dumps him in a location so he can’t possibly get to the game on time. Almost any subplot will work. Though it will have more impact if it’s at least tangentially related to the want and need.
If the character does not overcome many obstacles, the story isn’t satisfying. And if the obstacles are all the same, the story isn’t satisfying. If at least one obstacle doesn’t make the character back up and try again, the story isn’t satisfying.
A successful, satisfying story is one that keeps throwing obstacles in the character’s attempts to get what they want. The obstacles make the character work to achieve their goal. The harder the character works at achieving his goal, the more satisfying the story ending.
The most successful stories all use goals & obstacles to fascinate the reader. Don’t believe me? Take your favorite stories and analyze them.
You and your imagination are the magic idea generator. But your magic story engine is the push—pull, the try-fail, the never-quite-successful moves toward an important goal. First drafts are supposed to be messy. That’s okay. Fine-tuning is for the rewrite process. For this first draft, use goals & obstacles and you’re well on the way to fascinating your reader.