Writers: You Can Only Control the Process, Not the Results

Every writer wants to sell more books.

Every writer wants to find more readers.

But if you are writing for the purpose of results, you’ll be frequently disappointed in this cut-throat, highly-competitive business.  The faster you realize that, as a writer, the only thing you control is the process, the faster you’ll be at peace with the results – whether good or bad.

I figured this out long ago. I began novel-writing and play-writing because I couldn’t contain the creativity that started bubbling over in my brain. It became my release and eventually my passion. When I eventually decided to start putting my works out in the public eye, I received a rude awakening – not because the results were bad, no, because the results were good.

My first novel started to sell some. Then reviews started coming in, positive reviews, and before I knew it my first novel had racked-up 80+ reviews on Amazon. I was floored and even thought quietly to myself that this isn’t so hard after all.

Ha. That’s when my rude awakening began to seep in. I suppose it was more gradual than rude, but it was certainly real nonetheless. Book two, for some reason, seemed more difficult to market. Then the rules changed at Amazon, and certain big promotion sites changed the way they did business. Everything got more competitive, and before I knew it, I had no idea how to sell books anymore.

Well, it turns out that I didn’t know in the first place. When I think back upon it, I have no idea how my first book did so well in getting reviews. Am I doing anything different now? Yes, actually. I’m better at marketing now. I work harder now. And has it led to more results?

Not really.

So what’s the deal? For me, the deal is that I don’t know how to sell books. But who cares!

Not me. I know what I can control and that’s my writing process.

So I ask myself these questions:

Am I writing the stories I want to tell?

Am I putting the proper time into revisions: 2nd, 3rd, 4th drafts?

Am I meticulous in the editing process?

Do I have an editor helping me improve my book?

Have I recruited beta readers to give me early feedback?

Am I purposeful when thinking about cover design and book layout?

Do I put time and effort into recruiting reviewers who will post honest reviews?

Do I market with variety in mind?

Am I trying new marketing avenues?

Am I adjusting to new trends and reading up on new developments?

Am I reading other blogs to get feedback about process and the book industry in general?

Am I striving to be better?

If I can answer “yes” to every one of those questions above, then I simply do not care about results because I can’t control them anyways.

I can, however, control the process. If I can look back without regrets and say that I’ve written the book I wanted to write and I marketed it in the absolute best way I know how, then I think it’s safe to say that I have successfully fulfilled the requirement of my passion for writing.

How about you? Are you concerned with results or process?

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Commit to Your Creativity

There’s a lot of creative people out there hiding behind your non-commitment.

Creativity can be frightening. I get that. When one allows their creative works to be known to others, it can feel like a smack in the face if you hear a rude comment or a flippant laugh.

I work with a lot of students who are afraid to step out and try the unknown. Sometimes, if they let me read their play or their poem, a verbal addendum of apologies and clarifications as long as the train of a Queen’s gown is attached to it in order to down-play their work and lower expectations.

Again, I understand why. Creative artists are fragile beasts.

But if you want to improve, and if you want to move forward in your craft, I am convinced you have to commit to your creativity and just let it fly.

I dealt with an example of this today. I’m working on the ending of my upcoming show, and the final segment of the show is a narrative piece which is set to music. I’ve been toying all week with wanting to add a narrative introduction to the narrative piece as a way of setting the tone and keeping the audience’s attention.

After a couple days of brainstorming which yielded no fruit, I went back to my script and started pulling out phrases. Then I started playing the intro music and trying out different voices to see what I liked.

And then it hit me. My idea is rather weird. I think my actors are going to look at me as if I’m insane if I asked them to do this. I started second-guessing myself until I put my foot down and said, “No, this is my idea and I’m sticking with it.”

I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts and go for it.

Now is my idea really clever? Or is it actually stupid? I have no clue.

But the point is, who cares? It’s the creative idea that I currently have, and in lieu of a better one, I’m committed to it.

And that’s how creativity should work. Push your idea, try, mold, change, adapt, but in the end, let it fly, whatever it is and don’t apologize for it – even if someone chuckles at how silly they thought it was.

Trust yourself, and commit to your creativity. It might actually be better than you think.

 

Adding an Element of the Supernatural to My Writing

My writing, especially my novels, for the most part have been grounded in real life. It’s my nature to keep things focused on the tangible. I love stories of humanity, embedded in history and real-life drama. It’s what I seek in my movie-watching as well. I’ll take “The Bridge of Spies” over any Marvel movie any day of any week of any year. (Please, I hope I don’t get started on super hero movies. Please, no.) The only place I have dabbled in the strange and unrealistic is with my one-act short plays. I’ve written a bunch of crazy stuff, even about inanimate objects, but they are still all meant to tell human stories even if there are no humans in the story.

My novels, on the other hand have always been protected from the craziness. My debut novel, Beauty Rising, focused on a tragic story about thirty-something who finally grows up when he takes his father’s ashes to Vietnam. My second novel, The Recluse Storyteller, is about a secluded, lonely woman who tells wild stories to herself. The Reach of the Banyan Tree is my historical Vietnam novel about three generations of American men who were affected by Vietnam during three different time periods. A Love Story for a Nation is about an ex-writer, who after experiencing a terrible tragedy, decides to protest a brutal government regime by standing quietly in the city square. And finally, Which Half David is about a mission worker in Southeast Asia who becomes tempted by an old flame.

Human stories, real life, tragedy, drama, heart-gripping dialogue, and humor. No crazy fantasy or supernatural elements.

Until now.  And it’s a trilogy.

My soon-to-be-named trilogy is two-thirds written. Book one is having its final edit as I write. It’s coming soon. I have a book cover – still not revealed. Book two is finished. I’m working through it’s second draft and book three is partially outlined. And I’ve done it. I’ve expanded my repertoire.

I decided to write this on a whim, when I had a strange thought in my head, a small girl in a white dress, eating a pomegranate, hovering over an old man sleeping. That was the genesis of my trilogy. Why I had that particular image in my head, I have no idea. But it was there, and I used it.

I first had to start justifying the scene. This small person was hovering. People don’t hover, and they don’t do so eating pomegranates. That would be terribly messy. So I had to decide what makes her hover, who is she, what is she, where did she come from, why is she hovering over this old man’s bed?

That is where the exciting discovery part of writing took over. I just started writing and before I knew it, the old man was being whisked through time to various important points of 20th century history. As I wrote, I began including another character to help balance out the little flying one. Then I had to create their backstory and justify how they can do all of the things they do. I did all of that, but I don’t tell the reader everything. It’s part of the mystery for them to discover for themselves.

I’ve had so much fun writing these books, and while they are a departure from my normal stuff, they are, in some ways, not that different. I’m still telling human stories, embedded in history, but this time, we have some new and fun companions along for the ride.

I can’t wait to share them all with you.

Soon. Very soon!

 

Do You Have Writing Goals?

There is no better proof of being a writer than writing, and writing, and writing some more. I’ve met a lot of people in my years who have indicated that they wanted to write a book, or they have ideas for a book, or they have written one book, or they have started a hundred books. All of those are good in and of themselves, but for me, being a writer means producing varied works over a long period of time. It’s a daily task whether or not any digital pages have been written. It’s an all-encompassing passion which you cannot escape, literally, ever single day of your life. Writers do not become writers on a whim or because they finally finished their manuscript from high school. Writing requires discipline but writers don’t need to be disciplined to write because it’s a natural out-flow of who they are.

It took me many years to call myself a writer. I’m an author because I’ve published five novels. I’m a playwright because I write plays and have them produced. All of that has made me a writer. I don’t dare attach other adjectives to that moniker. I don’t consider myself a good writer or a great writer or an average writer or a poor writer. I’m simply a writer. Adjectives get attached to writers by critics and readers. I can’t control which adjective a reader attaches to my name, I can only control what I type on my blank screen. That’s it.

So it’s best not to think in terms of whether something is good or bad or just plain silly. In my view, a writer should think in terms of goals, long-term and short-term, and work towards accomplishing those goals. If you do that and put everything you have into your creativity, you’re a success, regardless of the adjectives plopped in front of your name.

When I just started out pursuing writing as something more than a passing whim, I recall telling myself that I wanted to write a novel a year for seven years and then see where I am at that point.  Well, I’m happy to announce that today, during my afternoon writing session, I completed my seventh novel. Seven novels in seven years. This on top of a regular job, family, and a myriad of other writing projects I’ve taken up over the years. I’ve done what I’ve set out to do and that, in fact, feels good. But achieving this goal is not the end by any means. I can’t wait until I hit double digits in novels written. Where will it end? Could I hit 20 novels written by the end of the next 10 years?

Who knows?

You don’t have to meet every goal, but they help you determine if you are actually serious about this writing gig or not.

I am. I have goals which I’m never going to stop shooting for.

What are yours?

A Writer on Pause No More

I’m a writer.

But it’s not what buys the bread and puts kids through college. For that, I am also a teacher.

But the best part of being a teacher and writer is, of course, summer. Summer is when I can hit the resume button and become a full-time writer again. I am at that blissful part of my year as I currently write this. Writing happiness has returned once again.

I’ve had the most wonderful writing routine the past three days, and it looks sustainable for the next month or so. I carve out of my day about three hours to sit alone with my laptop, immersed in my thoughts, and punch out as much coherent dialogue and description that I can during that time frame. Then I pack it up, get back to family time, cook some dinner, and ponder where my next writing episode the following day will take me.

Three hours is typically the maximum amount of time that I can concentrate on writing. Sometimes only two depending on how the chapter is coming together. By the time I reach the two or three hour mark, I’m ready for a break. I need to allow what I have written to sink in my brain and make sure it is exactly where I want to take the story. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself. Three steps forward. The next day, I’ll backtrack and re-read what I wrote. Edit and revise. Check and double-check, and then plow on to the next chapter or segment. When I get to do this this everyday for two or three hours, I can make a lot of headway, and within a month, I can have a solid outline for a complete novel.

I’m currently working on book 2 of my first trilogy. I’m already over the 42,000 word mark while cruising into the latter half of the book. I’m having a blast with this story and can’t wait to see where it will take me.

A summer where the pause button is no more. The pedal is to the metal. Full speed ahead. It’s exciting. Stay tuned.

How about you? How do you carve out time for writing?

Writing Progress isn’t Always Visible

A month ago, I boasted that the first novel in my first trilogy was complete and the second novel is half-written.

Today, I can boast that the first novel in my first trilogy is almost complete and the second novel is half-written.

Wait. What? Am I moving backwards?

It may feel like that. Writing has a way of moving at a glacial pace. But that is okay, even preferable. Sometimes you need to take a step backwards if you want to jump two steps ahead.

I started writing this first novel back in December 2015. Trust me, I’ve never dilly-dallied so much. The issue arose when I decided that the story needed to continue, so I put the brakes on my novel in hopes of mapping out where I wanted the story to go.

I assured myself that the first novel was still complete. Just in waiting.

I was wrong. So I revised it once again.

Then I pushed on to novel two and got about half way through it when I realized that novel one still wasn’t sitting right in the pit of my writing stomach. I sighed deeply and decided to look at it once more. I am so glad I did.

Besides fighting back some discrepancies which arose from writing book 2, I found a host of other mistakes and poorly worded phrases which I swear were NOT there the last time I edited it. Those blasted writing gremlins. Sabotage. Clearly. I had actually sent this previous version to my editor whom I am glad hadn’t started reading it yet. Because, no! Stop! It wasn’t ready. Just kidding.

It can feel like I’m getting nowhere because book 2 is still only half way complete. That was last month’s news as well.

But I look at it like this. I am strengthening the foundation and core of this entire story. By revising one more time, I am pushing the quality to a new height which will benefit all three of the books of the trilogy.

Writing progress comes in many forms. It’s not only when you write a new chapter. It’s also when you put the building blocks in place to create better chapters in the future.

I had an artificial timeline of when I wanted to release this first book, but all that must take a back seat to quality. Must. Timelines and expectations have to wait.

I want to do this right, so let the unseen writing hand get to work.

 

 

 

 

You Should Tolerate Bad Writing

I’m not a perfectionist. As a writer, this can be a disadvantage. I’m confident there have been times when I could have improved a piece with one more revision or one more re-write. But I must admit, I become bored and just want it to be over so I can get on to my next creative idea.

On the other hand, not being a perfectionist as a writer has its distinct advantages. One of those has to do with the writing process and that enigmatic term we like to call writer’s block. I’m not completely convinced that writer’s block actually exists. Sure, there may be times of uncertainty where one needs to put in the requisite amount of thinking before it becomes clear where a plot should go or how a character should act. However, I do think that, perhaps, sometimes writer’s block is just not be willing to tolerate bad writing.

We have good days. We have bad days. Sometimes the words are clicking with clarity and ease, the phrasings are coherent and the descriptions vivid. Other times every single sentence is a chore and when you look back over your last paragraph, you realize that a second grader could have sounded so clever. When that happens, it’s precisely the moment that you need to be tolerant of bad writing.

In 2002, I started my first novel. The writing was so bad that I stopped on the second page. It took me 10 more years until I finally finished my first novel.

I couldn’t tolerate bad writing. Therefore, I paid for it, languishing away in non-writing pursuits.

Recently, I was working on a section of my new novel and that self-criticism reared its ugly head: this isn’t particularly good. But I made a decision to move on. I didn’t care if it wasn’t good, I told myself, it will eventually BE good.

That’s the key. Bad writing doesn’t necessarily need to remain bad writing. I’ve come across parts of my manuscripts in the past which are terrific and then I’ll reach a section which is quite less than great. I’ve learned to appreciate these sections. For one, I’m happy I can recognize bad writing when I see it. Two, I appreciate the fact that I motored through a bad writing session because it does help further the story. It’s much easier to rewrite and improve a poorly worded section than it is to come up with a completely new section.

Bad writing should be embraced. It’s one of the backbones for good writing. Don’t get discouraged when the words aren’t flowing. Keep moving forward, even if you have to use your 2nd grade vocabulary. On revision day, I’m sure you’ll be glad you have something to work with.