The holiday season is here again. Bakers are baking. Shoppers are shopping. And writers, well, we are having an existential crisis.
Writing during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is hard. It’s easy to fall behind. So how do you keep things going when everything else is calling your name? There is no one answer, but here are a few things I’ve tried in the past to keep moving forward without losing what is left of my sanity.
Schedule Writing Time
I know I’ve discussed scheduling time before, but it is even more important during the holidays. It doesn’t matter how long it is. Maybe it’s 15 minutes right before bed or 5 minutes while you’re waiting in the school pick-up line. Even if it is only a few minutes, the work you get done adds up. It is better to do a small amount of work than lose all the momentum you worked so hard to gain.
Set Smaller Goals
You will not be able to get as much done as you usually do without losing your mind. It’s not going to happen. So, pull back on those lofty goals for a minute and set something a little more reasonable. Try cutting your goals in half, or even a third, until the Season of Giving stops trying to give you a migraine.
Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break
Okay. I know this is supposed to be about how to keep writing during the holidays but hear me out. Overly stressed people produce lower-quality work. While being Super Writer may make you feel more accomplished now, future you will pay for it. They will have to do twice as much editing. They may even burn out altogether. Let yourself say enough is enough and stop if you need to. Protecting your mental health and well-being will make you a better writer in the long run. Trust me.
The holidays are crazy. Don’t be afraid to make some adjustments to take care of yourself and keep what is really important in front of you. . . your loved ones.
Last time, we talked about voice and how we can use it to bring our characters to life. There’s another thing to consider that often gets confused for voice in writing, and that’s point of view or POV.
Point of view deals with the perspective of who is telling the story. There are a lot of subcategories when discussing POV, but to keep things simple, I’m only going to talk about the most basic form for now.
The two most common POVs are first and third person. First-person is telling the story as if you are the main character. It uses predominantly “I” pronouns when giving the main character’s thoughts and actions. “I am doing this.” This can be a bit more immersive for the reader, but it limits you to only being able to focus on one perspective.
Third person uses he/she/they pronouns and puts the narrator outside the action. They are observers looking down on the action and relaying the information to the reader. “She is doing this.” Third person allows you to have more viewpoints and see other parts of the story by involving more characters. Just be careful you aren’t head-hopping, jumping perspective, from one sentence to the next and confusing your readers.
There is one more POV out there. It’s not seen in many publications, but it can be a fun way for your readers to experience the story as it makes them the main character.
It’s called second person and uses “you” pronouns to make the reader feel like they are the ones doing the action. “You are doing this.” This one can be tough to write in. You have to be careful with descriptions to avoid pulling your reader out of the story. Describing a character that looks completely different from your reader when they are supposed to be the one in the story will break the illusion and ruin the experience for your readers. They need to be as featureless as possible so that the reader can superimpose themselves onto the character.
While POV is not the same as voice, it is just as important. It is the lens through which your reader will experience the story. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different POVs to see which one works best for your style and suits your characters.
One of fiction’s biggest trends is having “voicy” characters. But what does that mean, and how does it affect the story?
Voice is not the same as Point of View (POV). Voice makes an author’s writing unique. It conveys attitude and personality. POV refers to who is telling the story. (i.e., 1st and 3rd person)
The two types of voice authors run into most in fiction are character and narrator. Even in 1st person, these are not the same. Character voice will deal with how the character speaks to others. The phrases they use. Favorite words. That kind of thing. Narrator is how they tell a story. While it may be similar, it’s not identical.
Developing both kinds of voice is crucial in developing your overall writing style. Some ways to get into your character voice are to write things as them. Write letters to other characters or journal as your characters. This helps you get into their headspace and understand them better.
Narration has a little more wiggle room. This is where authors can let some of their personality shine a bit more. Keep in mind, some genres have certain expectations. For example, fantasy novels tend to have a lot of descriptions. They have to build a new world in a way contemporary romance doesn’t have to. While world-building is just as important in both, we approach it differently.
One thing you can do to help define your narrator’s voice is to look at popular novels in your genre and see if there are any common themes or traits that pop up. Do they use colloquialisms? Is it shorter one to two-syllable words, or do they like to go for the fifty-cent words with four or more syllables? Whatever the case, your voice is up to you.
The biggest thing to remember with voice is to be yourself. Emulating your favorite authors is great, but if you aren’t true to yourself, it will show, and your writing will suffer.
Everybody needs people. Introverts, hold your horses. I know what you’re thinking. “No, I don’t. Introverts don’t need people.” I beg to differ. We all need a community that can rally around us and support us in reaching our goals. This is especially true for writers.
While writing is a solo activity, writers can’t succeed in a vacuum. We need people around us to support us in our journey. I don’t care if it is your first book or your thousandth. Having a group of fellow writers that can talk you off a ledge or help you work through the story issues causing chaos in your brain will get you a lot farther, a lot faster than trying to slog through it all on your own.
Writing communities are also a great place to find beta readers and street team members. We need people we can rely on to help us out. I can’t tell you the number of times someone signed up to be a beta reader or help promote my book and didn’t follow through, but do you know who has always followed through for me? Other writers.
We are all in the same boat. We understand how important these things are and will help each other reach our goals.
Fellow authors are fantastic resources. By networking with other writers, you can learn about the latest trends in your genre, best marketing practices, and much more.
The hardest part about a writing community is finding one, and even that isn’t difficult. Facebook has a wide variety of reader and writer groups. Doing a quick search will yield more results than you can shake a stick at. Look around and see if you find one that sounds right. And remember, just because you join doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Finding the right writing group is like finding the perfect pair of pants. Sometimes you have to live in them for a while before you find the right fit.
NaNoWriMo is another excellent way to find fellow writers. While the event may only be one month out of the year, several groups continue to interact all year long. They even offer home region groups that can meet in person if you do better with face-to-face interaction.
Speaking of face-to-face, don’t forget to check with your local library. See if yours has a writing group. Or even a book club. Telling an avid reader you are working on a novel and would like their feedback is like dangling a seal in front of a Great White. They will jump at the chance to be a part of the process.
There’s nothing quite like a kick-ass writing community to help you achieve your goals. They offer insight and feedback. They encourage you when you’re down, and they will party like there is no tomorrow when you get it right. Step out on a limb and connect with a community of your own. It is well worth it.
There are a thousand ways to draft a novel. They can be broken down by scene, chapter, character. The list goes on. They can be told in order or have scenes shuffled around like a deck of cards. A method I’ve learned about more recently is the skinny draft. A skinny draft is a complete draft that focuses on placing the plot elements in the correct order with minimum description. It can contain dialog and locations, but describing the setting and emotion is left at a bare minimum.
I know what you’re about to say. Erin, aren’t we supposed to use description and emotion in our stories? Of course we are. Those are the things that bring a story to life, but that doesn’t mean you have to have every possible detail in your first draft.
A skinny draft is designed to get you to a completed draft as quickly as possible. A lot of writers struggle with feeling discouraged because of the time it takes to complete their first draft. This method shortens that time and gives you a little shot of dopamine to help you stay motivated.
Another benefit of the skinny draft is the ability to learn more about your characters
and plot without having to sort through a massive word count. This can be doubly important for discovery writers or pantsers. Answering the “what happens next?” question can eliminate the need for as many drafts because the plot is solidified much faster.
While skinny drafts can keep you from writing a bunch of words that end up in the trash can, it is not a method that works for everyone.
I used the skinny draft method on my current WIP. It helped me identify issues a lot quicker, but I found that the overall process is going a lot slower for me.
I am an over-writer by nature. (Remember my friend’s wordy bitch comment?) My style tends to include a lot of fluff that must be cut later, but that is also how I learn more about my characters. It is much easier for me to take stuff out than put it in. Without those details early on, I don’t feel as connected to my characters. This makes it harder for me to keep working on it because I’m not as invested in their journey.
Regardless of your method, ensuring you get to the end is the most important part.
How do you do your first draft? Have you tried using a skinny draft? What method works best for you?
One of the many things I never thought I’d have to do when I decided to become an author was public speaking. My mentality was that book signings are only for big-name authors. Nobody is going to want a signed copy from a debut indy author. They only want best-sellers. Boy, was I wrong.
I recently did a book signing at a public library near where I grew up. I loved every minute of it, but there were a few things I could have been better prepared for. Here are a few takeaways I have after being a part of my first author event.
BRING MORE BOOKS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED People love signed books. I thought that since this event was in such a small town, I wouldn’t need very many books. The library was packed to the gills. I could have sold twice as many books if I’d had them. Next time, I’ll double the number of books I take. Turning people away because you are out of books is a terrible feeling.
BE READY FOR SOME NON-BOOK/WRITING QUESTIONS I’m a prepper. I spent time reviewing interview transcripts from authors I follow to try and see what kind of questions I would have to answer. I wasn’t prepared for the questions about me and my life. People find it fascinating that you were able to write a book and want to know about you. Not just your work.
HAVE SWAG AND TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT Everybody loves free stuff. Having a few free giveaways on your table is a must. This will help people find your book later if you run out, and it helps promote your brand. Just be sure you tell people you have it before they start coming up. The transition from Q&A to signing was so fast that I forgot to tell people I had bookmarks and pens they could have for free until they got up to the table. It does no good to have swag if nobody knows to take it.
DON’T FORGET TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOUR BOOK IS ABOUT I feel like this one should have been obvious, but I totally forgot it. I introduced myself and gave a bit of my background, but it took somebody asking me what my book was about for me to give the synopsis. Embarrassing, I know. Maybe lead with that one next time.
Author events are a fun way to get your book in front of readers and interact with them. While no two events are the same, it’s always good to cover the basics. Do some prep work ahead of time to be prepared when that inevitable curveball arrives.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Writing is hard. This is readily accepted, but what many of us never talk about is that it never really gets any easier. We expect more of ourselves as we gain experience and learn more about our craft. This can leave the door open for impostor syndrome to wreak havoc on our writing lives.
This is something I’ve been dealing with lately. My edits seemed to take my WIP farther away from where I wanted it to be. Every time I sat down to write, all I could think about was how god awful it was and how inept I was at fixing it. I was seconds away from setting it all on fire and walking away. That’s when I realized I needed some perspective.
On nearly every project, every writer will reach a point where they want to rip their work to shreds and call it a day. It’s the nature of the beast. So what do we do when we get like this? How can we possibly find a way to pick back up and move forward when we are convinced our work is a steaming pile of cow dung?
I reached out to some of my friends in the writing community for advice. I asked my personal circle and left messages on several writer community pages I am a part of. Everyone came back with the same basic answers. Space. Recharge. Critique.
Stepping away from a project is challenging. At least for me. I am one of those 100% completion kind of people. I will spend hours aimlessly exploring one tiny section in a video game. I make sure I find all the hidden items and mine as much XP from it as possible from the game. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it tenfold. There is no halfway. However, there are times when you just need to back away. Set the project aside for a while. And I’m not talking for a few hours. I’m talking days. Months even. It’s so easy for us to get wrapped up in the cycles of fruitless effort that we may as well just sit and bang our heads on our keyboards for as much good as it’s doing us. Getting some space from your work allows you to return to it with fresh eyes and see it in a new light.
I know I have referenced the spoon theory in previous posts, but I’m not sure if I’ve told you all about the “hamster wheel.” I often refer to my brain’s ability to function like a hamster wheel. When things are clicking, the hamster is running for all he’s worth without a care in the world. Those are good days. They are productive and leave me feeling accomplished. Then there are the days when I’ve exhausted the hamster. He’s just laying on the wheel, one little leg hanging off the side, gently rocking it back and forth just enough to keep essential bodily functions operational. Anything beyond that is simply out of the question. Don’t exhaust your hamster. Give it a rest and do something else to recharge your brain. Better yet. Try to do something that has nothing to do with books or writing. Watch a movie. SLEEP. Drink a cup of tea on the porch while watching squirrels chase each other. Whatever it looks like, let your hamster rest so he can get back on the wheel and keep running.
As authors, we spend a lot of time with our stories. It takes an average of three to five years to finish a novel. That’s a long time. Because we spend so much time in these worlds, our perspective of them can be a bit skewed. We know things about our characters and settings that never see the page. It may be useless drabble. Or it could be a crucial piece of their character that informs the overall plot. Regardless of what it is, we are too close to the work and need an outsider’s perspective. Finding a small group of fellow writers to read your work with a critical eye and provide feedback is invaluable. It lets you see where your story stands from a reader’s perspective while having a writer’s keen eye. They can help you brainstorm solutions to problems they find and pick you up along the way.
Regardless of the route you take, give yourself some grace. What you are trying to accomplish is not an easy task. It takes time. So give yourself some space from your work. Recharge your battery, and get some fresh perspective. It just might save your sanity and keep your WIP alive.
I know I’m a little late on this one, but New Year’s resolutions aren’t my thing. While I’m a big goals setter, I feel like waiting for the end of the year to decide to change something is a waste of time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t set goals for the new year. I do, but they are usually smaller pieces of a larger goal.
That being said, I set two main writing goals for 2022.
1. Complete content edit
Some of the edits for my first novel, Batter Days, came down to the wire. This made an already stressful situation a supernova of nerves and angst. I don’t want to live through that again. So I’m proactively setting early deadlines for myself to avoid it. One of the biggest pieces of this is the content edit.
A content edit is where a professional editor sits down and tells you where all the problems are in your novel. For me, this comes after my self-edits and beta reading edits. It’s the first time an editor will see my work and will likely be the most labor-intensive of my professional edits. Once complete, the story should be more or less set with only a good prose polishing needed.
2. Hold three author events/sales
Events are going to be a big part of my strategy moving forward. I want to spend time talking to readers. Maybe even hand out some free swag. Building a relationship with your audience is a sure-fire way to get your book in their hands. That’s why I plan on doing no less than three events this year.
I already have one on set, a book signing at a library near where I grew up. The rest are still in the embryo stage. Getting through this first event will help me understand what I need to make future events more successful.
I’m curious. What are your goals for 2022? Did you make any? Better yet, what’s your game plan for getting there?
Yes, my friends. Once again, it is time for the annual lists of all the things we liked this year. When I sat down to pick out my best book, I realized I hadn’t read many new releases. I focused more on getting through my ever-growing TBR list (take one off, put three on) than gobbling up the new stuff. So this year’s book is actually a 2020 release, but its literary power cannot be contained to a single year.
Publisher Summary: Book One of The Great Cities Trilogy tells the story of Five New Yorkers that discover they are the physical embodiment of their city and must come together to defend it from an ancient evil that threatens to devour it like so many cities that have come before.
This is one of the most original and intriguing stories I’ve read in years. Taking the concept that every city has a soul and building a world around it is genius. Every character is so vibrant and authentic that they leap off the page. Each guardian’s main traits are like holding up a mirror to the borough they represent. Their personalities and speech patterns reflect the different parts of New Your City in an elegant tapestry of words and imagination.
Not only is the story original, it is perfectly executed. It grabs you from the get-go and refuses to turn you loose long after the final page has been read. I don’t mind saying that I literally screamed for more when I got to the last page. I actually flipped back a few pages to make sure I hadn’t missed something because I wasn’t ready for it to end. Thank God it’s a series because I have to know what happens next.
I won’t give anything away, but the end masterfully sets up the future installments. No word yet on when book two will be out, but you better believe that I will be one of the first people in line to buy it on release day.
I think we’ve all heard the phrase “don’t be a quitter” at some point in our lives. Giving up has this negative connotation attached to it that I tend to agree with. Throwing your hands up in the air and saying “ta hell with it” because something is difficult is never the way to go. But what if you want to explore another path to the same destination?
That’s what I ran into with NaNoWriMo this year. The traditional goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I decided to go non-traditional and set a goal of finishing my first round of rewrites on the manuscript I won NaNo with last year.
It was going to be a heavy lift. I had to remove a POV, add a subplot, and fix a litany of general storytelling issues. The plan was to take the detailed notes I’d compiled during the drafting process and edit as I went. I knew the story well enough to start at the top and make the needed changes as I read through it. At least, that’s what I thought.
A week and a half into NaNo, I realized I was creating more problems than I was fixing. So I had two options; press on to win NaNo and fix it all later, or stop and take everything back to outline to get it right the first time.
I’m very goal-driven. The thought of not reaching a goal is crushing to me, so the idea that I wouldn’t win NaNo was devastating. I reached out to a fellow author friend of mine for advice, and they pointed something out to me. The only reason I was hesitating was NaNo. Not getting through the first rewrite in November wouldn’t impact my publishing timeline. In fact, forcing myself to keep going could do more harm than good because of the additional rounds of self-editing I would need. I wasn’t giving up; I was getting smart.
They were right. Not reaching my goal, while unpleasant, didn’t mean I was a quitter. It meant I was learning more about my writing process and what works best.
I learned that pantsing of any variety doesn’t work for me. Stopping a process that is not working in favor of a new one, does not mean you quit. It means you learned and adapted. As long as I keep working on my manuscript, I’m not a failure.
Changing course is not giving up. It’s allowing yourself to find the most direct route to your ultimate goal.