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.

 

Crazy Ideas

When writing, should you use your ‘crazy ideas’?

Down below all the draft chapters of my new novel in my precious Scrivener writing program, I noticed a folder I entitled “Crazy Ideas.” I had stashed every outlandish plot idea that I had thought of in case I had the courage enough to actually use it. When I originally jotted down these ideas, I had doubted that any of them would ever make it into my manuscript.

I was wrong. All of them made it.

Why? And was it the right choice?

Let me explain the ‘why’ first. As the plot of my book unfolded, I had decisions to make: do I play it safe or do I try to push the envelope on this plot, making it more complex, more intertwined with additional layers of intrigue. Or should I play it safe and forget the crazy stuff because there is a risk to writing using the crazy ideas.

What risk?

Will I be able to make it all work?  Will it make sense? Will I be able to make sense of it? Will it stray out of plausibility and into unbelievable coincidence? Will it make the plot too dense, too heavy with overlapping objectives?

All of these are tangible risks of trying the crazy ideas. But I realized that I couldn’t do it any other way. If my novel is going to burn up under its own weight, it’s going to go down fighting with all its potential visible and apparent to the reader.

And now, as I’m writing the final few chapters of the book, I’m feeling the strain of my decisions. It’s hard making sure all the strands of this book will come together in a tidy and coherent fashion. It will take a lot of thinking, rewriting, revising, and good old-fashioned luck to pull this off. I’m going to try the best I can, which leads us to the final question.

Was using the crazy ideas the correct choice?

This ultimately will be a question for my readers.

 

In My Writing World

Here’s an update on what’s on my writing plate.

Book 1 of my new trilogy is currently with my editor. It’s weeks away from being finished. Tentative release scheduled for December 2017. This is a crazy one. More details to follow.

Book 2 of my new trilogy is 80% finished. (first draft, that is) I’ve been working hard this summer on this one to make it an exciting follow-up. Titles are still tentative for all the books in the series, but they are coming. This one would be on schedule to be released about 6 months after book 1. Tentative: mid-2018.

Last week, I took a break from novel writing and wrote this:

HundredPitchAtBatsmall

My first baseball story! It’s been a long time coming. I had such a fun time writing this last week that it spawned a whole series of ideas for more baseball stories. So I now have a long term goal of writing a collection of baseball stories that I’ll publish at some point in the future. I am a W.P. Kinsella fan, so my writing hopes to be in the tradition of his wonderful books.

Just finished a short play, “Silent Night: The (Almost) True Story” which is a modern re-make of the Hans Gruber and Joseph Mohr story about the origins of the song. This will be directed by my good friend as part of an upcoming Christmas show.

And long term, I have a musical project I’m working on with my composer buddy. Plus, I have book 3 of my new trilogy to write.

I also guarantee you that additional writing projects will be popping up at any moment because that’s how my brain works.

That’s a little update on where things are heading for me. What about you?

As 50,000 Loses its Luster …

Every novel accomplishment should be celebrated. That is why 50,000 still has meaning to me. I’ve told the story many times about writing my first novel and scratching and clawing my was to 50,000 words, feeling like I had accomplished the impossible task. I am a concise writer after all. It was a lot of words for me.

50,000 is the standard number that the industry calls a full-length novel. Nowadays, it’s nearly a non-issue for me except for the fact that every novel should be celebrated. Earlier this week, I broke through the 50,000 word barrier (now sitting at about 57k) for my seventh time.

It’s funny how a writer progresses. The count, in the past, became an obsession of mine, and probably still is seeing that I’m writing about it. But I’ve learned that it’s all, 100% about the story you want to tell, regardless of its length. This just so happens to coincide with my ability to write more complex and involving stories which easily produces a work well beyond the 50,000 word range. The book I’m writing now is a continuation of my 6th (yet to be released) novel, and I intend to expand it to be a trilogy which will top out over 200,000 words. That is a prospect I never thought I would be able to do: write a story beyond 200k. Are you crazy?

I guess I am.

Conquering the 50k milestone was a theoretical hurdle I had to become comfortable with if I wanted to be a novelist. That mission is accomplished. Now I’m tasked to write quality stories that engage readers and make them think. This is, of course, still a work in progress, and the struggle to write quality books will never end. One must always be willing to spend more time, revise two more times, and push the limits of one’s satisfaction and patience in order to produce the best book possible. From now on, this is my goal.

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 Anywhere. No Pen, No Computer Needed.

Writing is one of the most versatile passions anyone can have. To be productive, you need nothing but your brain and a little time.

Paper is helpful at some points.

Of course, a laptop is even more helpful.

But neither of those are needed. No. Not at all, or at least until “eventually” comes around. All you really need to be productive is an active mind and time to let it explore.

Here’s what I mean. I’m currently working on a variety of writing projects including book two of my first trilogy, a Christmas show for 2017, and a variety of other play ideas. But lately, I’ve been swamped and have had no time to actually write. Yes, it’s killing me, because I want to get back to the stories. I want to push them forward. I want to explore where they are going and how everything will piece together in the end. But, life happens. Weekend baseball trip to Bangkok, theatre projects, rehearsals, work requirements, etc… and I’m stuck looking at another day checked off the calendar without a word written.

But it’s all right. Calm down. Everything is not lost because writing is the most flexible of passions. The crucial element of writing is thinking. A writer must ponder, must weigh options, must zigzag around in the mind before the pen ever hits the paper. And that, the pondering, the zigzagging can happen anywhere at anytime. A stray thought during the day can bring a character to mind and make me wonder about what will happen next. A daily happening can lead to new ideas. The other day, one of the readings from my social studies class I teach talked about a certain type of snake. It jolted my memory of something I’ve written in book two of my novel series, and I started to ponder if I could actually use that snake in my story. I thought about throughout the day as I complete many tasks not related to writing. Finally, I concluded that it would be a wonderful idea and can really add to the story.

Now, have I actually added  it to the story yet? No. Like I said. No time. But I have furthered my writing. I do this many times in many different situations. Allowing your writing mind to connect to what you do in every day life is a great way to move things along and be productive  even when you have no time to actually be productive.

So I guess the bottom line is this: write at all times. When possible, use a computer.