how-to

What Readers Want

Time and time again you’re told to identify your reader, to write what your reader wants to read. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could look into a crystal ball and find the perfect reader for your book? crystal ball by Jeffrey Beall

Have you tried to research what the reader wants? An internet search will give you more than 29 million results! Are that that many things readers want? Yes and no. The things readers want are greater than the number of readers. So what’s a writer to do?

Learn the basics.

1. We are born storytellers. Our sense, or need for, story is inborn. Need proof? How about 40,000+ year old cave paintings? How about the questions we ask? How was your day? Did you see the whopper I caught? Did you hear the whopper I told?

2. Learn about the psychology of story.

3. Learn what a story is.

Tell your best story.

1. Understand that your job as a writer is to tell a story about a character who wants something desperately and to make her struggle to achieve that goal.  If there is no struggle, no obstacles, no opposition, there is no story.

2. Learn how to craft a story, There is tons of advice out there on the wild web. Don’t just go with web learning. Find books by authors whose stories you love. I have a list of resources here.

3. Hone your craft. Learn to write a scene.

Learn who your readers are.

1. If you don’t have a mailing list or anything in print yet, look at your own reading habits. Pick one of your favorite books and look it up on Amazon. Look through the reviews for that book. What did the reviewers love? What did they hate?

If you’ve already got books out you can do several things.

Mine your mailing list. What can you learn from the names and addresses? What can you learn from comments left on your blog or emailed to you?

Use tools like the ones this post suggests.

Interview your readers. Or, look at the reviews you’ve gotten. Did your readers love your characters but think your setting was weak? Did your readers love the secondary characters? What did they not like? Careful with this one, you’re not looking for negative reviews, you’re looking for what your readers didn’t like or wanted to see more of.

2. Know the genre of your story. But my book is a blend of several genres you say. Sorry, you have to pick one that is your primary genre. Why? Because when you go to buy a breakfast food at the grocery you don’t go to the this-and-that aisle. You go to the meat section or the cereal aisle, then you make a selection. So you choose one primary genre and you make certain the obligatory scenes for that genre are present. Help your readers find your story.

Can’t decide which genre is your primary? Go to Amazon or other book sellers and look at the descriptions of books that are like yours. What’s the genre? Still can’t decide? Get a refresher on the basic genres and try again.

3. Study the bestsellers lists. No, don’t follow the trend. Read the best sellers in your genre. Figure out why readers love those books. Don’t copy the books, but take the elements that make them popular and use those elements in your own fiction.

Refine. Refine. Refine.

1. Improve your craft. Always. Get feedback from peers and professionals. Learn more about the craft.

2. Practice. Practice. Practice.

3. Listen to your readers. Always. That doesn’t mean give them exactly what they say they want, it means listen. Honor them by writing the best story you can with the elements that they love.

There are hundreds and thousands more references available to you. Reach out. Search for them. Get to know your readers. Your readers will thank you.

To help us all get to know readers better, I am running a series of Reader Interviews (with a tip of the hat to the Actor’s Studio). These aren’t limited to my readers. I’ve asked friends, family, anyone who reads to take part in this. Please help me thank them for their time and candid answers by reading and commenting. Look for the first in that series next week.

 

Image courtesy of Jeffrey Beall via Flickr.com

Consistently Inconsistent OR Striving for Consistency

Success Golden Key - Public Domain image courtesy Animated Heaven on Flickr

I am nothing if not consistently inconsistent. At least, that was my excuse. I used it all the time.  The ‘I have a family and a job’ excuse was helpful. So was the excuse, ‘I’m a slow writer.’ After I used those excuses, I beat myself up. I was a failure for not being consistent, for not making my writing goals. I went through this a circular reasoning day after day after year. Until I decided to change.

I’ve tried to change many, many times. And I’ve failed many, many times. This time I was determined to make it work. So I did some research—of course! The internet is full of well-meaning but useless advice.  I turned to some trusted experts: Marie Forleo, James Clear, Stephan James, Dean Anderson, and Henrik Edberg. From their insights, I’ve compiled a list of things essential for developing consistency.

Know Your Why

—Marie Forleo

Marie Forleo lists this as her number one key to being consistent. Being consistent over the long haul is hard work. She encourages you to have a clear compelling vision for what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. Knowing what and why makes it easier to stay focused on your goals.

Being Consistent

Isn’t The Same Thing As

Being Perfect.

—James Clear

Oh, boy howdy, did this one resonate with me! Some say I am obsessed with perfect. If you, too, are obsessed with perfect, it’s time to change your mindset.

No one is 100% consistent. Life happens. Surprise and change interrupt every intention. I used to think I must function at 100% or I’m not successful. So when something knocked me off course, I was a failure. I’d curl up in a metaphorical, if not physical, ball and quit trying because I was a failure. How did I overcome this?

Aim for mostly consistent. Choose an achievable percentage that means winning to you—80%, 85%, 90%, 95%. There will be days or weeks when you are 99% consistent, but there will also be times when you’re 80%, or less. Keep your eye on the average.

Don’t Hurt Yourself

—Henrik Edberg

How many times have you thought that you aren’t motivated enough to do this thing? Stop listening to that! Telling yourself you’re not motivated is giving away your power of choice. Lack of motivation is a way to say you had no choice. It is a choice, you know. But you have to choose to work on your goal every day.

So, when you have a “I don’t wanna—“ day, don’t listen. Train your brain to ignore that voice. Get up and do it anyway. Pay attention to how you feel at the end of the day. And those days when you choose not to be consistent, to do the thing. Pay attention to how you feel on those days, too. Learn from that.

Focus on the process. Love the process. Acknowledge the process is work, but don’t associate the work with negative thoughts. Negative thoughts will beget negative progress. After all, if you do something that causes you pain, why would you choose to keep doing it? I don’t know how many times I have heard a writer say, “I hate to write” or “I can’t write when X happens.” Change your mindset. Associate the process with positive feelings and you’ll want to repeat the process.

Have a Plan

Without a plan, you won’t succeed. Steven Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but schedule your priorities.” How you schedule is up to you. I have an allergy to rigid schedules, so I don’t schedule by hour. I schedule by day of the week.

Dean Anderson recommends building momentum slowly. For example, if you want to exercise more, plan for a ten minute session once a week. Do that for a while (at least three weeks), then increase it to two days a week. After you’ve worked that into your schedule, increase it to include another day or more time each day. The key is to move forward step-by-step.

Many experts recommend that you take 5-10 minutes each evening and make a plan for the next day. It’s a flexible way to schedule your priorities. I know that my days are much more successful when I choose to take that evening time and plan for the next day.

If you have trouble scheduling your priorities, ask yourself Edberg’s three questions. What is the most important thing I can do right now? Is doing this bringing me closer to my goal? Am I keeping things extremely simple right now?

HAVE A PLAN B

When Something Goes Wrong in Your Life Just Yell "Plot Twist1" and Move On by zerotalking.com

Plan B is for those days when life surprises you. This has been my downfall over and over. People who are not consistent usually fail to have a Plan B. Plan B would have saved me angst during our power outage last week. Yup, this is a habit I’ve not had as successful with, but I’m working on it. (Confession: My first thought was that I failed at this habit. I’m working at changing my mindset!)

Life is a work-in-progress. So is being consistent.

Tell me, about yourself. Do you struggle with consistency? What steps do you take to be consistent?

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this blog. And thanks, in advance, for sharing your thoughts.

Credits: When something goes wrong quote and image courtesy of zerotalking.com (TinEye attributes first use of this on August 6,2013 to shadowfax42.soup.io however, I found this on dated July3, 2013 on zerotalking.)

Public Domain image “Success Golden Key “by Animated Heaven courtesy Flickr

10 Warning Signs You’re Doing Too Much

Are you like me and burning the candle at both ends over-committed yourself to classes, a day job, writing, blogging, and other activities? Perhaps you or a loved one has had a sudden, unexpected health problem. Or you’ve simply gotten worn down by the day-to-day things that get under your skin.

Now you barely have the energy to get through the day. Or you’ve caught the current flu bug or cold and you can’t seem to get over it.  Your body and mind are screaming ENOUGH!

Don’t let get to the point that you feel like a pile of burnt matches.  Know the signs that the stress is getting too much.

Ten Warning Signs That You’re Working Too Hard:

  1. Your Productivity Declines – you put in more hours, yet get less and less done.
  2. You Don’t Have Time – for a favor, a commitment, a date with your friend or sweetheart, or even for your cherished indulgences.
  3. You Forget – to eat, an appointment, where you put that report or your keys.
  4. Things Are Out of Control – you’re always late; your normally neat desk is a mess; the dirty dishes are mutating in the sink; the stacks of bills or laundry (or both) are quickly becoming a mountain you can’t climb.
  5. Lack of Focus or Creativity – you flit from one task to the next, never finishing and never find a solution; you struggle to come up with new ideas, solutions to problems, or how to express an idea.
  6. Loss of Joy – you are beginning to dread tasks that normally you find enjoyable.
  7. Sleep Issues – you can’t sleep; can’t stay asleep; or you want to do nothing but sleep.
  8. Irritability – you snap at loved ones unjustly; you find yourself ‘just one more stupid driver’ short of total road rage.
  9. Health Issues – you have migraines or stomach problems on a daily basis; your acne, arthritis or asthma flares more frequently.
  10. Warnings from Friends and Family – you haven’t talked in weeks; your significant other tiptoes around the house afraid to disturb you; friends and family tell you you’re always busy, or they sit you down for an ‘intervention.’

You don’t want to know how up-close and personal I know all those warning signs. Really, you don’t. 🙂 But you do want to know what you can do when you recognize the warning signs in yourself.

Five Things to Do to Beat Stress:

1. Check Your Body

  • Are you fatigued despite getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep? Is your urine dark? The first sign of dehydration is fatigue. Be certain to drink plenty of water every day.
  • Is your resting heart rate up? Is your blood pressure up? If yes, be certain you get more sleep and more exercise. It’s not a matter of ‘when I can fit it in,’ it’s a matter of get it done or pay a price.

2. Re-prioritize – take a day to look at what you want to accomplish.

  • Look hard at your list. Are there some things that really don’t need to be done right now? Put them aside.
  • Is there some pieces of what you do that you can outsource? Hire a laundry lady or a housekeeper; have the secretary type up those letters; or you can ask family to help with tasks for a while.

3. Make a new plan. Break the task into smaller chunks that are more manageable. Make goals that allow you time to do the next four items on this list.

4. Schedule Fun – do something you love. Even just one hour a week can help. Take a walk, a swim, a jog. Meditate. Listen to music. Watch a movie. Read a book.

5, Take time off – An hour, a day, a week or more. Do something entirely different, at a different pace. Give yourself permission to breathe, to laugh, to do absolutely nothing.

Slowing down is not something I do willingly. I tend to be a bit (hubby chimes in with “majorly!) obsessive. I throw everything I’ve got into a project. I forget to sleep, to eat, to call friends and family. This is true not just of my writing or blogging, but of attention to my day job, household chores, whatever I want to ‘get done.’ I don’t seem to know how to pace myself. But, I’m learning.

If you push yourself too hard, something has got to give. Don’t be like me and let exhaustion make it impossible to work. Yes, there are times when an extra work load is needed. Just remember to listen: Listen to your body, your mind, your friends, and your family.

It’s nearing the end of summer and I’m hearing and reading that many people are feeling a bit overwhelmed. How about you?

Are you nearing Burn Out? Which of the steps above do you think you’ll find useful?

Have you pushed yourself too hard in the past? How did you recover?

Or have you learned to slow down?

Your readership means more to me than you can know. And when you take the time to leave a comment or two, I am thrilled and honored you’ve chosen to spend your valuable time with me.