The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Category: Writing Productivity

Guest Post: A Ticking Plot by Jacqueline Garlick

So, it’s a new year and you’ve decided this is the year you’re going to write a book. Or, perhaps you’ve already written a book, but you’re not satisfied with it. According to Beta readers, your manuscript has missed the mark completely, and you have no idea how to fix it. The more you work on the manuscript, the worse it seems to get. You’ve somehow gotten lost in your own manuscript.

I sympathize with you, my friend. Been there. Done that. Several times.

I was so lost in a manuscript once; I wanted to set it on fire. I had an agent at the time, who was awaiting a new project from me, but I just couldn’t finish. For some reason, the manuscript wasn’t working, but I had no idea why. For weeks, I moved things, cut things, shuffled paragraphs around, then shuffled them back. It was tantamount to playing a game of never-ending, progress-less chess. The end result was a lacklustre compilation of meaningless words. I felt sick to my stomach. This was my big chance. My agent had gone out on a limb and sent the first few pages of my manuscript to a number of bigtime editors, who had expressed genuine interest in it. I was in way over my head.

I was soon to learn that plotting was not about writing out every word of your potential story in sequential order. It was about exploring your potential story in an orderly fashion.

It was right about then, I attended a story development course that would change my writing life forever. I’d been a Pantser up until that point (not that there’s anything wrong with that) with two feet firmly planted against the notion of ever becoming a Plotter. I hated the idea of writing out all the important parts of my book, only to write them again. I was sure it was going to kill my creative process. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was soon to learn that plotting was not about writing out every word of your potential story in sequential order. It was about exploring your potential story in an orderly fashion. (Huge difference!) I further came to learn that A) plotting could be an incredibly useful, time-saving, aggravation-squashing tool, and B) it would not destroy, but rather enhance my creativity— taking it to greater heights than I’d ever imagined.

As a result, I found myself more at ease with the process of plotting, and more creatively jazzed than ever.

Plotting (if approached advantageously) is about planning out the story path you’d like to pursue, by identifying or pin-pointing (and securing), a selection of pivotal story elements (or major plot points), in advance of starting the writing journey. By outlining these basic plot points, and working through them (loosely, of course), figuring out where and when they should occur (ie: solidifying the character’s basic trajectory, or arc) my mind was then freed up to concentrate on other things— like fleshing out the rest of the story, and the creation of poetic prose. Essentially, now that I knew where I was going, I was better able to take in the scenery. As a result, I found myself more at ease with the process of plotting, and more creatively jazzed than ever.

Since, in my opinion, story should flow from to beginning to end in one continuous circle, (instead of up and down, as I was forced to teach to students when I was a teacher), I’d always thought of my stories as a circle. Knowing that story follows Shakespeare’s three Act formula, with act two lasting twice the length of one and three, divided in the middle by the highest (or lowest) point of (emotional) action, it occurred to me that plotting stories on a circle might work. Even better, plotting stories on the four quadrants of a clock face would really be helpful.

I fell back into my pillow, amazed. I had accomplished all that in a fraction of the time, with half the frustration. I’d created a story map of my entire novel in less than two hours, and I hadn’t lost my mind over it.

I quickly revised my circle into a clock and began meticulously plotting. Discoveries began to flow. I soon found that the precipice of act one (where act one ends and the reader is launched into act two—that moment where a character enters their new world, or new circumstance, or sets out onto a new journey) fell splendidly at 3 o’clock on the clock face. Correspondingly, 6 o’clock (exactly, half way between through act 2!) became the hour when my character suffered his/her highest (or should I say, lowest) degree of emotional tragedy (ie: the most intense point of action— essentially, the point where he/she faces his/her greatest challenge/fear.) I continued working through my planned story elements, plotting them onto the clock face, and by 9 o’clock CHARGE! my character was launched into battle (ie: beginning of act three.) He/she had discovered the answers to long-sought after questions, and was off to fight for the kingdom, over throw the bad guy, or win back the girl! (whichever fits your manuscript.) By 11 o’clock, the battle was won, with enough time left over to show readers a little Afterglow (ie: the state of the character’s world after the fact, what was gained/lost or achieved, a snapshot of what life now looks like.)

I fell back into my pillow, amazed. I had accomplished all that in a fraction of the time, with half the frustration. I’d created a story map of my entire novel in less than two hours, and I hadn’t lost my mind over it. I had a (loose) story plan, outlining the pertinent events of my novel (the essential story beats), all affixed to a clock face by sticky note! I could now see where my novel had too many events happening, and where it didn’t have enough. I could fix stuff before I started! (Another benefit of the Tick-Tock Plot strategy—balance.) Sure, it took some time to figure out the plot points, but it was a lot less time than I’d spend rewriting scenes. I felt like I had unlocked Pandora’s secret box for writers, and unearthed the treasure within!

TickTockPlotNEWFINAL-2I was so excited about what I’d discovered, I started to share it with anyone who would listen. I later went on to teach—the Tick-Tock Plot strategy—at various conferences and workshops. The more I used it, the stronger a plotter I became. Friends started noticing that I was an excellent story puzzler and wanted to know what I was doing. I was becoming somewhat of a story plot guru, able to identify problem spots in others manuscripts quickly and help them work out solutions. After having so many writers ask me to help them plot, I decided it was time to write my strategy down. So, I created the eBook Tick-Tock Plot: How To Speed-Write Your Next Blockbuster eBook. Inside, I include loads of visuals, as well as a working example, using a well-known, modern day, popular book, to help readers better understand how to apply my method. I include a second example, for those interested in signing up to my Exclusive Reader’s List, on my website. It’s nice to be able to help other authors. I love that I’ve been able to share a useful tool that makes the writing journey a little easier.

PS: In case you’re dying to know the course that changed my writing life (*insert shameless plug here à*), the course is called StoryMasters . (*they can thank me later*) If you get the chance to attend. Do it. You won’t regret it. (PS: If you’re Canadian, I hear they are coming to Toronto this May!)

IMG_4124For more about Jacqueline Garlick, her writing, and her books, or to receive advanced notification of upcoming releases, specifically the Tick-Tock Plot for Writer’s Series, sign up to be a part of her Exclusive Reader’s Group at jacquelinegarlick.com. Tick-Tock Plot: How to Speed-Write the Next Blockbuster eBook is available on Amazon. (Now available in paperback, too.) Also, check out Tick-Tock Edits: How To Edit Your Own Writing: Ten Quick and Easy Tips To Strengthen Any Manuscript, Jacqueline’s second book in the Tick-Tock Plot for Writer’s Series, also on Amazon. Pre-Order her third book, Tick-Tock Character-OZ-ation: Developing Unforgettable Characters, coming soon. Jacqueline’s award-winning Illumination Paradox Series, can also be found on Amazon. Contact Jacqueline on Facebook, Twitter, website, email.

Make hay while the sun shines

It’s a calm night around the first of July. The sun’s just gone down, leaving a grey gloam over the fields of fresh-cut hay. Off in the distance, however, a wave of storm clouds threaten on the horizon. But instead of kicking back on the proch to watch the ensuing thunderstorm, I’m sitting on a tractor, raking hay and hoping the storm passes by.

Putting up hay, like many other aspects of farming, isn’t an endeavor that respects a schedule. You irrigate the fields nonstop until the water’s gone and then, when the hay’s ready, you put it up. Doesn’t matter if its your birthday or the Fourth of July — you’ve got about a four day window to rake, bale and stack the hay before it gets rained on. Hence the expression: make hay while the sun shines.

This same urgency would serve many lackadaisical authors as well. It’s easy (waaaaayyyy to easy) to give in to a thousand different excuses and procrastinate the writing. Here’s a sampling

  • It’s too early to write
  • It’s too late to write
  •  I don’t have enough time
  • I can only write at home on my couch
  • I can only write when no one’s around

And so on and so forth.

I’ve been there — I’ve found myself crippled in the past when, for one reason or another, I missed my “writing window” for the day or told myself I shouldn’t write at all because I couldn’t hit my word count. Sometimes it’s a roller coaster. In the winter, life slows down and I can stick to a balanced schedule better. Summertime, on the other hand, is an insane ride at hyperspeed with a thousands different things (including — you guessed it — putting up hay) going on. It’s easy to allow resistance to talk you out of doing something when your ideal conditions aren’t met. So what are we to do?

We make hay while the sun shines.

We do what we can when we can, because something is always better than nothing.

Sometimes (read: most of the time) if you’re balancing out a day job, a family and a million other things, it’s easy to get discouraged at the lack of progress on your latest project. Instead of getting down, however, you’ve got to attack it. By attack, I mean writing whenever you get a spare moment, pounding out a hundred words here and there whenever you can wrestle away a few minutes for yourself.

You’ve got to do what you can when you can with what you have.

It’s easy to convince yourself you need ideal conditions to write: a 67.5 degree room temperature, 38 minutes of quiet meditation beforehand, the sound of two gophers mating outside your window — whatever it is kick this crap to the curve and just do the work. Fifty words a day is better than nothing. ONE word a day is better than nothing.

Conditions and results will vary. You’ll likely get frustrated. But as time progresses you’ll learn to plan ahead for these crazy times and take advantage of what you’ve got, when you’ve got it.

Forget the notion that writing can only occur under ideal circumstances. It doesn’t. It happens whenever you make it happen. If JK Rowling could start Harry Potter on a napkin, you can make ten minutes.

As the saying goes. Make hay while the sun shines.

The epic post on how to succeed as an author

Disclaimer: As you may have guessed from the title, this post is humongous, so here’s the short version: Want to know how to succeed as an author? Write more, better books.

There. You can leave now. Go write a book. Get to work. But if you’ve got a few minutes to kill, proceed to the epicness below.

How to succeed as an author

It seems that as publishing continues to grow and evolve in our modern day, everyone is looking for (or selling) courses, books and services to help you shortcut your way to the top. The problem is compounded by the fact that what worked for Author A today might not work for Author B tomorrow. Let’s face it: growing your writing and authorness into a full-time or even decent part-time paycheck isn’t easy. There’s no straight, proven shot to success. Or is there?

Marketing strategies and tactics will continue to change and evolve, but as time goes on, I’m more convinced than ever that there’s really only one thing that matters. Are you ready? Lean in close and pretend you didn’t read the answer in the disclaimer.

Write more, better books.

I’ve just divided everyone reading this. Half of you are nodding your heads and the other half are probably ready to leave something in the comments about “getting discovered and increasing visibility” or something like that. I confess, I’ve hopped back and forth over that fence myself. But three months into my journey as a self-published author, I realized I was going to have to write A LOT of books (thanks to the Write. Publish. Repeat guys and Hugh Howey for this epiphany). The aforementioned sources made one thing clear: I couldn’t take another five/six years dabbling on my next manuscript if I was serious about making a living as an author.

Hugh Howey famously advocates sitting your rear in a chair and writing for ten years before you determine if this is for you or not. I see this as sort of a trial by fire. If you spend ten years writing books and making each of those books better, you can’t help but improve. And, if you spend ten years chasing this crazy dream, it’s a pretty safe bet to say you’ve got the willpower to spend the rest of your life producing. If you want to make sure you know what you’re getting into, check out this post by Howey: So you want to be a writer?

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some numbers

What are successful authors doing: the study

Last month, Written Word Media released a study of over 19,000 authors. They wanted to know what separates the “emerging authors” making > $500/month from the “financially successful authors” making < $5000/month. I recommend checking out their full report but for our purposes here, I’m going to touch on just one of the three findings they published. What do you think it as?

That’s right. Financially successful authors write more.

One more time. FINANCIALLY SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS WRITE MORE.

How much more? Almost twice as many books on the financially successful authors’ backlist (an average of 13.75 vs. 7.4 with the emerging group) and almost twice as many hours spent per week writing (16 for emerging authors and 31 for the financially successful). Not only do they write more, but the successful authors have been doing it longer (greater than three years vs. emerging who were all less than three years). At the end of the day, production is king. Scratch that. Production is emperor. If you’ve only got an hour each day to work on your author business, I’d argue that you should squeeze out every last second of it writing. Not just any writing will do, though.

That’s not writing — that’s typing

Excuse the Truman Capote reference, but you can’t just spend years banging on a keyboard with no thought about upping the ante with your prose, your plotting, your characterization or anything else. You can’t just write MORE books you have to write more BETTER books.

Last week, I read a great post from James Clear about staying the course and being consistent in your efforts. He also touches on Malcolm Gladwell’s famous 10,00 hours rule with one important distinction.

As Clear points out in his article, hundreds of thousands of people have likely put in 10,000 hours of writing through email. What’s the difference between them and a brilliant novelist whose prose drops your jaw and transports you into his story? Clear calls it re-work: “Average employees write emails once. Elite novelists re-write chapters again and again,” he says.

Re-work in our case is rewriting and revising. Taking that pile of first draft crap and shining it until it’s a diamond. To quote Clear again: “A lot of people put in 10,000 hours. Very few people put in 10,000 hours of revision.”

A lot of authors write a couple of “meh” books. Very few authors consistently produce books year after year all the while improving their craft. More from Howey:

“You’ll revise it to perfection and delete the bad parts. The key is to have something down to work with. So learn to fail. Keep going. Ignore the sales of existing works. Ignore the bad reviews. Keep reading, writing, practicing, and daydreaming.”

This isn’t just for self-published authors, either. If you’re going the traditional route, you might have to crank out ten books before you even get one that is picked up by a publisher. Sitting around shopping that first book for years on end doesn’t really help your writing skill. Sure, that book might get a little better and you might improve a bit, but it’s nothing compared to completing the process all over again from start to finish. Kameron Hurley sums this up perfectly in a post on her site called Finish your Sh*t. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’m constantly aware of my own mortality, and I have so many, many stories left to write before I go. If you want to be the best at what you do, you have to keep learning, and keep leveling up. I’m never content to stay in one place.”

Staying in one place doesn’t just mean not writing. It can also mean writing at the same level over and over. You’ve got to push your boundaries. More BETTER books.

In a post called the Calculus of Grit (hat tip James Clear for including this reference in his article above), Venkatesh Rao talks about a theory he calls the Three Rs. They go as follows: reworking (in our case, revising), referencing, and releasing. We’ve already discussed reworking and, for the sake of time, I’m going to skip referencing and go straight into releasing. Here’s what Rao has to say about that:

“If the environment is so murky and chaotic that you cannot strategically figure out clever moves and timing, the next best thing you can do is just periodically release bits of your developing work in the form of gambles in the external world. I think there’s a justifiable leap of faith here: if your work admits significant reworking and internally-referencing, you’re probably on to something that is of value to others.

“If a post happens to say the right thing at the right time, it will go viral. If not, it won’t. All I need to do is to keep releasing. This realization incidentally, has changed my understanding of phenomena like iteration in lean startups and serial entrepreneurs who succeed on their fifth attempt. It’s mostly about averaging across risk/opportunity exposure events, in an environment that you cannot model well.”

This applies directly to writing books too. When it comes down to it, the publishing environment today is “murky and chaotic.” Realizing there are thousands of factors you have to figure into author success, producing a bigger, better catalog is the one thing you have within your control. Marketing and advertising will change and evolve but having lots of good writing available for readers is your ace in the hole if you’re shooting for full-time.

There’s a reason Hugh Howey and countless others didn’t find success until they had several books published. Keep on keeping on, writers. Keep writing more better books.

Guest Post: How to keep creating when you need a day job

Chances are you’re reading this blog because you have a day job, and some part of you wants to make it as a writer. You’re spending your days in a job you really don’t care about, dreaming about getting home and putting fingers to keyboard. Over time it can seem like the soul is being sucked right out of you because no matter what, you aren’t spending as much time writing as you feel you should. How do you persevere?

A little about me – I’m an independent creative. I write. I make movies and I’m moving into animation as I write this. People often ask me “How do you do it all?”

It’s really simple – if something is important to you, you’ll make time for it. I make time for creativity. What follows is some of my advice for staying motivated:

Make the Writing the Reward

If something is important to you, you’ll make time for it.

I do a lot of stuff in addition to my day job, and most of it revolves around writing. A lot of people ask me how I accomplish so much. The answer is simple and a bit profound, and when you think about it, really powerful.

I make writing my reward. I work in I.T., a field where long hours are supposed to be the norm. Sure, I occasionally have to work late to meet a deadline, but overall I spend more time with my nose to the grindstone so I can leave on time. I can leave the office, hit the gym, and then go spend some time writing.

You would be amazed at how productive you can be when something outside the job motivates you to work efficiently.

Do Not Fear Technology

I know many writers that are downright technophobic. The thought of learning new software sends chills down their spines, and they just want to spin yarns on a word processor. Many of these same people run around with a smartphone in their pocket, blasting Meghan Trainor or playing the zombie app of the month.

That phone in your pocket can become one of your greatest allies on your writing journey. Most people treat their phone like a toy – a flashy, fun toy that that use to stream movies, play music, or make the occasional phone call with.

Tons of Information is Available – Most of It’s Free

There is a wealth of information for independent creatives (heck, anyone else as well), and most of it is free. You want to write, but can’t afford a class? Sign up for Critters.org. It’s a free site to join, and you read and provide feedback for other writers. You read a number of stories, then your work gets into the queue. I went to grad school, and found some of the writers on there are as serious and dedicated as the grad students were.

That phone also gives you access to podcasts. Most of these are also free. Yes, you can listen to conservative talk shows, or the celebrity buzz podcast, or you can feed your brain and listen to writing podcasts. There are lots of them out there and the bulk of them are free.

The good thing about a podcast is you can be doing something else – writing, slinging code, or washing dishes – and you can learn about writing. And I don’t just mean grammar and punctuation – I mean storytelling. Marketing. Editing. These are things that will help you as an independent author.

I’m kind of lucky – my day job allows me to spend chunks of time working alone, with headphones plugged in so I can listen to a podcast. Some of you may not be as fortunate, but you could still benefit. Listen to a podcast while cooking dinner, washing dishes, riding the bus, or writing. You’ll be glad you did.

Some of my favorite podcasts: (all free on iTunes)

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list, but these should get you started.

I Should Be Writing
Mur Lafferty hosts a podcast that’s supposedly focused for aspiring writers, but I find her advice and guests can benefit writers of all levels, Mur focuses on scifi and fantasy, but most shows have advice that transcends genre.

On the Page
Pilar Alessandra’s posdcast targets screenwriters. She interviews screenwriters – period. If you’re remotely interested in writing movies, this should be on your must-listen list. And since movies are so driven by structure, any writer can benefit from the writing advice Pilar and her guests impart.

The Creative Penn
Joanna Penn writes genre, but also works in nonfiction as well. She offers a well-rounded podcast that offers lots of business advice and marketing tips as well as solid writing tips. It’s a great podcast for writers at any level.

Odyssey Workshop
If you haven’t heard of it, the Odyssey Workshop is an intensive summer workshop for writers of horror, scifi and fantasy. Only 15 people are admitted every year, and the experience can be so intense some people stop writing. The episodes in this series are short – most clock in at under a half hour, many are less than 15 minutes – but they contain some of the best writing advice on the web. In my eyes, at least. A must listen for any writer.

Sometimes the Stories Will Need to Wait

Life is life – there will be ups, there will be downs. There will be times when you can write a lot and there will be times when it feels like no words will ever come again.

As I wrap up this post, I know some of you have gone through spurts. I know I did. I went to college, got away from writing for a while, thought I was going to give it up (and those were undoubtedly the worst two years of my life, but that’s another story), then got back to it.

Over the course of my life I’ve gotten married, raised two children, survived three layoffs, the 9/11 attacks, the deaths of my parents and my kids heading off to college. And yes, there’s a LOT more but I don’t have the space to fit it all in. It seems like the one thing that’s stayed constant is I still need to write and create.

Life is life – there will be ups, there will be downs. There will be times when you can write a lot and there will be times when it feels like no words will ever come again.

When I was an undergrad, one of my mentors gave me awesome advice that I often share with aspiring writers to this day. The art will always be there. If you’ve got the spark it will never leave you. In those dark hours when you just can’t create, remember that. At some point the clouds will life – they always do – and you’ll be able to write again.

Tim MorganTim Morgan is a New Hampshire based independent writer and filmmaker. He is the author of the zombie novel The Trip, and producer of numerous short films. You can find out more about Tim, what he’s done, and what he’s working on at his web site: http://www.timmorgan.us  You can also follow Tim on Twitter @tmorgan_2100

Writing Productivity: How to write like a journalist

Like many writers, my first professional gig with words came at a newspaper and I still do work as a freelance journalist. Although the articles I’ve written encompass a wide variety of subjects, there are a number of fundamentals no matter the beat. When I got serious about finishing my first book, I found myself falling back to these same writing productivity tactics to help me push through. Many authors have similar backgrounds as journalists or copywriters and will already be familiar with the tips I’m going to talk about. Even so, it’s always good to brush up (it helped me just by writing this) on these habits. If you don’t have a background in another form of writing, hopefully you’ll find a tactic or two that will improve your writing productivity. With that being said here are five ways to write like a journalist:

Give yourself firm, challenging deadlines

Writing on a deadline is the MOST important lesson I learned as a journalist. Nothing gets you past writer’s block like a firm, inescapable deadline that won’t budge. There were many times when I would return from a press conference and have an hour to hand in a polished, 750 word story. As a sport reporter, I needed to have a rough draft done before the game was over. Between transcribing quotes and checking facts, I never had the luxury of spending fifteen minutes getting that one paragraph just right.

Authors, especially ones just starting out, often avoid deadlines. They don’t set firm word counts per day/week and they don’t give themselves can’t-miss publication dates. This is a bad habit to develop. Give yourself a hard deadline that’s practical but still a challenge — a little stress, a little fire under your seat is a good thing. For starters, this can be something that requires you to write, revise and edit just a little faster than you’re comfortable with. Add some accountability by telling your friends, family, readers and editors what your deadline is too. And above all else, don’t let yourself off the hook for any reason.

Don’t edit while you write

This is a habit I’m guilty of even though I know how much it bogs me down. If you’re trying to hit a faster word count goal, going back and editing while writing will derail you. Onward and upward. A rolling stone gathers no moss. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, journalists don’t have the luxury of pondering over a single paragraph for fifteen minutes, let alone hours or days. Get over yourself and just write. If you’re worried about all of those typos and sentence fragments that keep popping up, remember this: the faster you write, the more time you have to go back and edit after you’ve got a first draft. On top of that, the faster your fingers move, the less time your brain will have to second guess itself. You’ll be surprised at the quality you can produce at high speeds. If you don’t believe me, read this piece by Steven Pressfield’s editor.

Keep it concise

The beautiful thing about print newspapers is that they only have a limited amount of space in them. In our new world of digital publishing, this isn’t the case anymore, but our attention span as a human race has diminished in direct correlation as well. I’m not going to pick a side on writing short stories and novellas instead of the next Great American Novel, but I am a believer in keeping whatever your write to the point. Long, flowery, descriptive language is a beautiful thing in creative writing class, but the hard truth is that it turns off a large number of readers who aren’t literary snobs. You can still write beautiful, elegant sentences, just don’t let them morph into beautiful, elegant pages. Write for clarity, not to show off your expansive grasp of language.

Collect story ideas

No matter if you write fiction or non-fiction, I highly recommend keeping some sort of physical notebook/notepad on your phone/Google Doc/Evernote file to keep track of any random ideas that come into your head. A good journalist has story ideas planned out weeks and months ahead of time (hint: this is how you write phenomenal articles on a deadline, you plan ahead). Keep track of any ideas you have and refer back to this document often. You’ll be surprised what your mind comes up with that you’d have forgotten if you didn’t record it somewhere. If you believe in writer’s block, story ideas are a great way to get the wind in your sails again when you stall.

Use an editor

There isn’t a journalist out there worth his/her salt who doesn’t use an editor. When you’re writing on deadline, you’re going to make mistakes, even if you have time to do a self-edit before publishing. The same is true for writing a book. You’re going to make mistakes. You need an editor. Not only do quality editors make your finished product shine, they also help you improve your craft. All of us have some type of writing quirk (in my case, several) that we struggle with. An editor can point out flaws in your writing you might be blind to and help you turn them into a strengths.

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