Posts Tagged ‘On Writing’
Q. I’ve been reading your blog posts for a while and I’ve gone back and looked at early ones. Many focus on helping others. How does spending so much time doing that instead of writing more books affect your career?
A. Frankly, I’m not sure. I could write more if I reached out to others less. That’s always been the case, and as it becomes more difficult to earn a living writing, there’s every logical reason to do so—focus more on writing and producing more books instead of mentoring and helping others. It isn’t that I’m unaware of the costs. Believe me, I am. But I’m not just building a career, I’m building a life. To be of value to me, my life must have purpose, and my purpose is to help the broken heal.
I try to do that in my books and articles, but I also try to do it through helping writers. That’s been a big part of what I’m about and the life I’ve chosen to build since I began writing. It stemmed, in part, from not knowing other writers early on. I spent so much time frustrated over the most basic things because I had no one to ask, and I promised myself if I ever learned anything about the craft and/or business of writing, I’d share what I learned. I’ve tried to do that and I’ve trusted that my personal needs would be met.
Over the years, that decision has made for some belt-squeezing times and some where I’ve had to take leaps of faith that everything would work out, but it always has. When agents suggested that I stop “helping” and write more to elevate myself, I’ve changed agents. While they were wonderful and very good at what they do, we didn’t have a merging of the minds on my purpose.
I’m not driven by money. It doesn’t define my success. Worth to me is more about caring, nurturing, helping others see their own potential and to assist them in seeing the best in themselves and their purpose. Honestly, that’s been a blessing and a curse and it’s made for some scary times. But during those times, you just keep working in faith and trust that things will work out.
The world looks at you and your work and sees less. That creates some challenges and disappointments, but they’re not as significant on the grand scale of things. Admittedly, times have changed in publishing and that too has created new challenges. Today, more so than ever before, it’s a bottom-line market. Publisher fiscal health depends on that, and the business side of me (I was in corporate for years before writing) understands that. So these days require bigger leaps of faith. And, being brutally honest and blunt, I will write until I can’t afford to write anymore. And I’ll continue to help others in ways I can until I can’t. It’s my purpose.
You know, it’s easy to do the hard things when times are great and everything is going your way. But when it’s not, it’s harder, and yet that’s when you define your destiny. Like everyone else, I’m standing to meet my destiny. Sometimes on rubber knees, but I’m standing.
Q. I read your Lost, Inc. books and enjoyed them. Are you going to write more books in that series?
I’ve been asked this a lot in the last month or so, but I can’t honestly answer that question at this time. I’d like to—I love the premise of people helping others who are lost find their way in life—and I certainly could write more of the Lost, Inc. books. The decision is currently pending. The publisher would like more of them, but I’m waiting to see how they are received in the market before making that call.
If readers embrace the books and want more of them, they’ll let me know. Now that the third book in that series, Torn Loyalties, is out, the answer won’t be far off. So far, the reaction has been good. Reader feedback has been positive and the book, like the previous two in the series, has been on multiple Amazon bestseller lists. So early signs are good. I just need to give this third book a little more time to let the reaction filter back to me and then I’ll know if more Lost, Inc. books should be done.
This is another situation where the business side of me says, “Definitely do it,” but the purpose side of me says, “Give it a bit to determine if it’s best.” Here’s the conflict: Any one writer can only write so many books. Time’s a hard taskmaster that way. So it’s really important to write the right books to do what you’re trying to do in writing at all.
I’m eager to write case stories in that series. I think those would be fascinating and fun to write. So I’m hopeful and indications are good, but I can’t say for sure right this minute. Another month or two of data and feedback and I’ll know. When I do know, I’ll share it in the newsletter.
Q. I’ve been writing ten years and always earned a living. But it’s hard now and I’m torn between writing and doing something else where my income is stable and I have benefits. Am I the only writer with this problem? Is it me or just the way things are now?
It isn’t just you. (See the first question above. ) Listen, I’ve written full-time since 1988. I sold the first book in 1992 and then nothing for two years. Since then, I’ve been publishing. There have been times in between when I had a year between contracts (I had a lot of eye surgeries in a short span of time that totally derailed momentum writing) and I faced the choice you’re facing. Should I return to corporate or stick with writing?
The truth is I can’t answer that question for you. Only you know what one needs to know to make that call. I did answer it for me, and I’ll share that for what it’s worth.
I did a lot of soul-searching and discovered my bottom line: I’d never be content not writing. There wouldn’t be a day that I wouldn’t miss it or a day when I’d know I turned my back on what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
It took a while to reach that bottom line, and it wasn’t a pleasant process. But it was an essential one and it did quell the questioning. There are no benefits and for most writers the money isn’t great. There are some for whom it’s fabulous and whether or not you’ll be one of those or one who struggles, well, you never know. Good writers land in both camps, and so do not-so-good writers. Readers make that call, and all writers can do is write their stories the best they can and pray. A lot.
This is going to sound harsh, but here it is—without any veneer or varnish to soften it:
If you can quit writing, quit. Get a job with stable pay and good benefits. If your heart isn’t in it, you’re better off to find a place your heart is. You’ll be more content there.
If you love writing, you won’t be able to quit. You’ll think on it and get to the place where you realize odds are stacked against you, you’ll work for an unknown amount of money with no benefits and absolutely no assurances (even signed contracts get cancelled) but a bad day or month or year writing is better than a good day doing anything else. You’ll take a part-time job doing what you must, if you must, to meet your fiscal needs, but you’ll write anyway. Because you need to write and want to write and the idea of not writing makes you physically ill.
That’s the best I do for you on this. It’s a personal call. There’s no right or wrong answer, only the right answer for you, and only you can make the decision.
I wish I could tell you that if you work hard and do your best, you’ll be fine. But I honestly can’t do that because sometimes it is fine and sometimes it isn’t. I know many writers who had successful careers suddenly tank and they were forced by circumstance to walk away. I also know many writers who had tanked careers and started over at the bottom of the ladder and zoomed to the top. Again, there’s no way of predicting which any one writer will be. You can do everything right and not reach fiscal stability. You can do everything wrong and stick to it like it was surgically applied. Writers can’t predict it, agents can’t predict it, publishers can’t predict it, booksellers can’t predict it. An author or project can look golden and tank. Or look like a midlist or low-income book and hit the stratosphere in sales. You write your book and take your chances. It’s that way on every book.
Whatever you decide, I wish you joy and contentment and peace with your decision. Spend some time with yourself and do your version of soul-searching. What most matters to you? Why? What do you need (versus want) and what must you do to get it? Ask yourself the hard, uncomfortable questions and answer them honestly. By the time you’re done, you’ll know what’s right for you.
Thanks so much for your questions. It’s a joy to hear from you. If I may, I’d like to thank you for the many notes you’ve written with comments and offering support and prayers for me (especially during the recent illness). I so appreciate being a part of your lives, and I’m grateful for your concern about me.
By Vicki Hinze
Life-defining moments. We all have them. Yet when we think of them in abstract terms, we think they’re these huge events. But the keys are often not in huge events. They’re in small, seemingly insignificant events that truly define to us who we are and who we choose to be.
As you’d expect, these defining moments don’t all happen at once, but over the course of our lives, and all through our lives we’re presented with opportunities to change our minds. That’s a good thing, because sometimes we take wrong turns, or as my darling daughter would put it, “We don’t make wise choices.” So we’re given chances to redefine ourselves.
Let me share a few examples.
In second grade, I had a buffalo-head nickel and a comic book that said it was worth a lot more than a nickel. We also had a jar on the window ledge in our classroom at school that was for donations. I had to choose. Do I keep the nickel for myself or put it in the jar to help others?
That doesn’t seem like a monumental choice, does it? A little thing for a little girl. But it was a life-defining moment. I could put my wants/needs first or try to help others. I knew it. Something inside me told me this was a big decision. I chose the jar. And it became a theme in my life. Oh, I didn’t define it as one then. But it did influence my focus and future decisions until as an adult it became a conscious way of life.
I chose the jar. And that put me on a path that had me adopting “I Serve” as a personal motto. When I can, I help others.
At about twenty, I was struggling. Money was tight, and, well, it was one of those times we all have where everything was hard. Like trying to keep your head above water when the water is molasses. Anyway, I went into a store and made a small purchase. The clerk made a mistake and gave me $20 too much change. That was a lot of money then. A week’s worth of groceries. Gas for the car for a month. I was broke and times were hard and I had to choose: keep it or tell the clerk she’d made a mistake. In that position, it was a mental war and the temptation to do the wrong thing was powerful—a life-defining moment.
That money would have made my life a lot easier, but my conscience would have hammered me. What kind of person did I want to be? I knew I was deciding that, standing at the drugstore checkout counter. I chose to be honest. Not noble. Had to, or I’d never have been able to meet my own eyes in the mirror again without feeling like a thief because that’s exactly what I would have been: a thief. So I gave the money back to her. That moment insignificant? Hardly. Definitely life-defining.
Later still, I was grown; a wife and a mother. I went grocery shopping and put a book in the top part of the cart so it wouldn’t be wet by the cold stuff. My handbag sat atop it. I checked out, paid for the groceries and went to my car. When I unloaded the cart and lifted my purse, I saw the book was there. I hadn’t paid for it. I checked the receipt to be certain, but sure enough, the book wasn’t on it. Yet another life-defining moment. Did I get in the car or go back into the store and pay for the book?
I went back and paid for the book. I still wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to feel badly (read that, feel like a crook) every time I walked into that store, and if I hadn’t paid for the book, I would have because I would have chosen at that moment to be a crook.
Those are three examples. Seemingly small things but they’re significant to note because they were not huge events and they were not major incidents. In the grand scheme of things, they were little things. A nickel, twenty dollars, and a paperback novel aren’t exactly fortune-making or breaking. But they are character-making or breaking things. And that makes them huge things worthy of note in life and in writing.
In each case, I was totally aware that I had to choose. Each time, I knew that I had to decide how I would define my life. And I knew that I alone was responsible for the decisions I made.
We all have life-defining moments. Many of them. I didn’t always make the right choices. But when I have made the wrong choices, I have always been given future opportunities to change my mind and make wiser choices. From my observations of others, we all are given second and third and more chances to change our minds. To choose the type of person we want to be.
And that is my point. We choose. We might have endured horrific things, wicked events in our lives where we have every reason—some would say every justification–for being adults lacking character. But the truth is we become adults. As adults, we experience life-defining moments where no matter what we’ve endured or suffered or experienced, we decide. We innately know our options and we choose.
Once we choose, we are not the person we were. We are the person we have become.
Beneath all the mind-clutter, we discover that our own decisions define our lives. We are the people we choose to be in the ways that most matter. A lesson from my daughter: choose wisely. You will live with the choices you make.
The choices you make define your character. And your character defines how you feel about yourself. That image of you is projected in hundreds of ways to others–not by others, by you.
So today, you have homework–for yourself, and if you’re writing, also for your characters. What have been your life-defining moments? Who have you chosen to be?
And, yes, you may consider this an opportunity to revisit those choices and make wiser ones.
That, my dear friends, is the purpose of this post. ❖
© 2012, 2011, Vicki Hinze
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Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest releases are: Christmas Countdown (romantic suspense), Duplicity (mystery/thriller), One Way to Write a Novel (nonfiction). She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: www.vickihinze.com. Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact.
Article cross-posted from Social In Network (December 6, 2012).
When you write, everything relates—it’s all fodder. Every single incident, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, eventually relates. Sometimes incidents combine and we don’t notice them. We’re too busy with the mundane details in life. Sometimes we ignore them, because to notice them requires we step outside our comfort zones and actually do something we don’t want to do.
But then there are other times. Ones when we are graced (or body-slammed) with these magnificent insights.
At times those insights flow over us like heated silk and, like the butterfly, we emerge from them transformed. At other times, we rebuff the wisdom and then too often we’re later sorry for having done so.
But we shouldn’t be sorry, and I guess that’s the message in this–at least, for me. We get what we need when we get it and when we need it.
That’s been the case with me in understanding relationships, in seeing the forces that drive healthy ones into a bond that runs so deep it’s hard to tell where one person stops and the other starts.
I’m not talking about the physical chemistry between two people, I’m talking about the merging of lives, the compassion and understanding, the striving to be understood.
The comfort and joy of a relationship so special it can’t truly be grasped by anyone outside it. Love is powerful, able to contend with the worst and best in life. Able to overcome horrific circumstances and trials, and seeing two people work together to face what comes, well, that’s a beautiful thing. This happens in many romance and inspirational novels.
Sometimes to gain insights in life or to catch that lucky break, we have to wait for events and wisdom to line up like the proverbial ducks, so that we have the foundation we need to be able to grasp and interpret accurately the value and worth of what’s coming to us. That happens often in romance, inspirational and women’s fiction novels.
Perhaps, if we grasped the wisdom too soon, we would misinterpret it. Then, in following it as we inaccurately perceive it, we miss the true wisdom and it misses its proper place in our lives. We do more harm than good. Miss out on the best.
These are common meanderings that have gone through my mind while reading mysteries and inspirational and thriller and romance novels. While searching for answers as to why things happen as they do.
As a writer, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past two decades wondering about a lot of things. I’ve studied a lot of topics and subjects, places and history. I’ve jumped with both feet (on a wing and prayer) into situations that were far outside my comfort zone. I’ve learned a lot. About the power of love, the redemption possible in it, about cause and effect, consequences for actions (and inactions), and about forgiveness. Understanding. And so much more.
In writing about this now, I realize what I’ve most experienced are those amazing moments of grace that bypass the mind and speak straight to the heart.
Characters, like real people, have all kinds of experiences that shape them into the people they become. They’re more complex. They’ve known sadness and joy, they’ve feasted and hungered, they’ve lived. They’ve been kicked hard for crossing proverbial lines. And they’ve been blessed with unexpected moments of grace.
Whether in reading a novel or in living a life, we all have amazing opportunities to embrace a moment of grace. Sometimes we want to embrace these moments and we do, and sometimes we’re inspired to, yearn to embrace them, but for some reason, we let those moments pass.
We know too that there are times when opportunities only knock once. I’m reminded of a woman who in her old age was asked why she never married. She responded that because the last time she’d been asked, she hadn’t known it was going to be the last time she would be asked.
That moment came to mind in a novel I recently read and I worried, hoping that the character hadn’t blown off her one chance to be content and loved.
As I got nearer and nearer to the end of the book–just pages away–I had absolute knots in my stomach because there was no sign of that second chance. I prayed, pleaded, begged, but it just wasn’t happening. And honestly, the writer in me was pitching a fit inside and I was grumbling. XYZ (the author) had better not leave me hanging. I’ve trudged through the muck with this character and I want a happy ending!
The writer, woman and justice-seeking human being in me dove deep into full out rebellion and mutiny was but a few pages away.
Don’t give up. Don’t give up! I told myself that over and over. I hung onto hope by a thin thread, but this was a romantic thriller novel. Of course, I dared to hope. Of course I did.
And then, on the second to last page, there it was. That moment of grace.
And she took it.
So I suppose it’d be safe to say I’ve learned a lot both reading and writing novels. About love, about people, about life.
And I’ve learned that when you write, it is all fodder and merit wears many faces in many places in all moments of grace. ❖
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Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest releases are: Survive the Night (romantic suspense), Duplicity (mystery/thriller), One Way to Write a Novel (nonfiction). She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: www.vickihinze.com. Facebook. Books. Contact.
Kevan’s Question on REVERSAL
A personal note to Kevan:
Kevan, my most sincere apologies. I’ve lost your email address, but I am going to reply to the question here and hope you see it. (Please email and let me know you have so I can stop hunting for it.) Typically, I’m not so unorganized, but I’ve had medical issues with two family members and we all know what that can do!
REVERSAL© 2012, Vicki Hinze
What is a reversal in fiction, and how does a write use it to advantage?
A reversal is when something (character, plot) appears to be one thing, or going on way, and changes on a dime so that there’s a perspective shift and the reader (and characters) see that thing differently.
Let’s get more specific.
A reversal in character.
A character reversal would be like Colonel Foster in Acts of Honor. You think he’s a heartless, manipulating jerk. He puts the protagonist in the position of having to do something he knows she doesn’t want to do. If she refuses, a man dies.
During the course of the story, she comes to understand that if she succeeds, he gets to live and so does she—but only under specific conditions. (This sets up for the reversal. Where things look worse and not better.) That’s a commonality in employing a reversal in creative writing.
Later in the novel, an event occurs that flip-flops everything and turns the situation on it’s ear. What the protagonist and the reader believed to be true about him is true—but not for the reasons we both thought. (This reinforces the reversal so that it’s plausible when it occurs. We followed the Rule of Three. Established it, now we’re reinforcing it. And later in the book, we’ll enact it.)
Later still in the novel, a revelation occurs that causes a major perspective shift. We discover that the reason the colonel did what he did was to answer a question the protagonist has wanted answered for years and while the colonel had the answer, he couldn’t give it to her. He has enabled her to discover the answer herself—and this causes a major shift in how we see him.
For the majority of the book—until the last few pages—we don’t know if he’s good or bad. We go back and forth on our feelings about him. But at the point of the reversal, while there is still a question, there’s such a strong perception shift about him that we just can’t be sure we’ve tagged him right. He could be good or bad, working with or against her.—though not for any of the reasons we deemed. No, a new reason for his actions is revealed and it is one with even greater consequences.
Then, at the very end of the book, we discover which side of shift he falls on. The rationale is in place for the reversal, and it’s not a surprise but a sigh of relief that the reversal makes sense to us (the characters and readers).
So in short, a character reversal is when we perceive a character in one way and then discover that character is different from our perception. He can be better than we thought, or worse than we thought, but he’s definitely different than we thought. And yet when we learn his true nature, it’s plausible for him (and thus to the other characters and readers).
If you read Acts of Honor, or pull it off your bookshelf and read it following these points, the character reversal will be clear to you.
Another example is the male protagonist in Duplicity. Everyone, even his lawyer, thinks Captain Adam Burke is guilty of leading his men onto an active bombing range during a readiness exercise and causing their deaths and then abandoning them to protect himself.
There are two big character reversals (and plot reversals) in this book, and by its end, the other characters and readers see him very differently. The first is about him personally, and the second is about the depth of his character and the lengths he will go to live out his oaths (integrity reversal).
A plot reversal works pretty much the same way.
A character starts with a stated goal or objective, but due to events, a bigger goal or objective occurs and that character is forced to contend with it. An example of this is in Survive the Night.
In it, the protagonist begins the journey with a stalker. Her objective to out stalk the stalker however turns on a dime when a larger objective is revealed.
Now in this book, which is the first of three being released really close together, there is also a reversal that is known only to the reader. At the end of the first book, the conflicts appear to the characters to be resolved. But it is revealed to the reader that there is an additional conflict that will change the characters’ perceptions of events in the next book.
In that next book, the character confronts what the reader thinks is that plot reversal. And in part it is. At the end of that book, the character will believe that the conflict is resolved—and it is. Yet there is another challenge (plot reversal) revealed that tells the reader that the character is mistaken. And that mistake doubles the jeopardy to them all in the third book.
So a plot reversal is something that turns the plot on its ear. (In this case, multiple villains.)
And note that the characters might not be as up to speed on the reversal as the readers. Giving the readers an insight that the characters don’t have can be a wonderful surprise to readers—one that not only increases their interest in the next book, but that has them rereading this one to make sure what they thought happened is what happened. So it’s a bit of a mental pretzel that entertains the readers.
Another example of a plot reversal put simply is when the character wants to do something, does it, and then wishes s/he hadn’t because the outcome is the exact opposite of what s/he was after, or the outcome causes consequences that are in direct conflict with what the character wanted/needed/sought.
That’s the short-take on reversals.
If you have further questions, feel free to comment or email.
Hope this helps.
When writers come off a writing marathon, often they’re left scrambling to catch up on all the other things a writer must do and all the life must-dos that have been neglected during the marathon.
Already drained, the writer addresses those things—there are never enough hours in the day (and night)—and the one thing that doesn’t get addressed is the writer.
It’s easy to get on the marathon treadmill and go from must-do to must-do. It’s actually hard not to do that because there are always a lengthy list of things that need doing. So the human being in the writer is most often the one left short with no down time or personal time to refresh and rejuvenate.
This is problematic for any creative person, but particularly challenging for a writer who relies on everything for storytelling. When everything is fodder and the writer’s world and exposure to it grows ever more narrow, the opportunities for fodder-gathering diminish.
That’s not just problematic or challenging, it depletes the creative well from which writers draw to write.
I’ve often said that a reader can’t get out of a book what a writer doesn’t first put in it. If the writer limits exposure, s/he also eliminates his or her emotional reactions to that stimuli. Emotions, as you know, are the means through which writers and readers connect. See the problem?
If you have an empty well, you’re emotionally absent. If you’re emotionally absent, you have nothing to say. If you have nothing to say, you’re not sharing anything that readers want to hear. The writer becomes locked in a vicious circle of producing work that lacks emotional authority or investment and that translates to uninspired work and that translates to boring work. Boring, for a writer, is deadly.
In a time when authors are competing not only with other books but with all other types of discretionary claims on readers’ time, well, that’s not a good time for a writer to be boring.
The fix isn’t difficult, but it does require discipline.
Now before I get to that fix, let me address the comments I know I’ll get on this. I know you can’t create more hours in your day. I know that you can’t get up any earlier or stay up any later because you’re already doing that. I know that must-dos are must-dos and can’t be neglected without unwelcome consequences. And I know that you’re pushed to produce such a quantity of material that there just isn’t a whole lot of time left to do much else—especially something just for fun. And I realize that you’ve likely forfeited or sacrificed all the hobbies you used to have so that you can write. Been there and done all that, and I know it requires you to have more irons in the fire than there are irons. You still need to refill the well—because of what happens when you don’t.
Let’s get specific. You’re in an intense situation. If it’s rare, then you feel the intensity. But if the intense situation is constant, what happens? You get numb. That’s an innate protective instinct that happens to guard you against the physical challenges that ride shotgun to being hyper-alert all the time. That, or the stress of being hyper-alert all the time becomes cumulative and you croak from a massive heart attack or, if you’re lucky, intense panic attacks, which often have the same kind of symptoms and require a lot of your time to eliminate.
So you can spend your time recovering from panic attacks or a heart attack, or be dead. Or you can structure what you’re doing so that you pause and have the time you need to reflect and take care of yourself and refill that creative well. Your choice.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s no escaping that sustained high alert carries steep consequences. You can learn this the easy way—take this post and act on it—or learn yourself through firsthand experience. Your call.
1. Don’t overcommit. We tend to do this. A great opportunity comes along and we don’t want to miss it. But it is essential to weigh carefully the commitment and the return on investment.
Most of us want to do more, but we just can’t fit more into our schedules. If we say yes, telling ourselves we’ll find a way, we end up doing substandard everything. Manage your commitments so that what you do, you do your best. That’s the criteria question to ask yourself before making a new commitment: Can I give this project my best? If so, go for it. If not, say no.
2. Outsource. Writers have many commitments: writing, marketing, publicity, reviewing, editing, social networking, reading, researching and the list goes on and on. Look at what you’re doing and see what of it you can hire someone else to do. If that just isn’t possible, then scale down what you’re doing to that which is required and most productive.
3. Schedule time to refill the well. Whether it is to sit in the mall and people watch, have lunch out and listen to others chat so you connect to dialogue and what’s on people’s minds, or you take a walk, or see a movie, do something that is both relaxing and not mentally demanding. Or do something that is demanding but in a different way.
Example. I just came off a writing marathon. I wrote four books back-to-back, did the workup on three reissue novels, and prepared two detailed series, each with three books. My mind was tired. I was tired. I was empty.
So I switched over to video quick-takes on the books written. I had to study to do them, and then go about the task of actually creating them. Still mental work, but a different type of work. And a lot of fun.
In the process, I got the high of learning something new and seeing the end result. Also, I noted that while I was doing these, I was picking up tidbits of fodder. Looking at photos and footage clips are great fodder! I got more story ideas than I’ll ever write!
And the sense of accomplishment at something different was gratifying. Now, are they the best book videos I’ve ever seen? No. But they’re a start. Any skill requires investment to hone. I enjoyed myself and ended up with something I can share. I’m happy with that progress.
I also paused to watch a ton of movies. Some I’ve wanted to see for a long time, some were selected on the blurb, some on the title. Just like books! I loved that.
The bottom line in a short-take:
1. Manage your time.
2. Manage yourself. Discipline when you’re working.
3. Manage yourself. Discipline when you’re refilling your well.
Working and refilling the well are equally important. When you do both, you get the best results in both.
4. While writing is an all-consuming occupation, it is only a fulfilling life if it is balanced.
5. Make sure you find the right balance for you. Be mindful of it. Know what that takes for you. And Guard it!
I have to tell you. I don’t cry as much as I used to cry. I am often touched, but to tears? Not nearly so often as I once was. Which is why I was a bit stunned this morning to find myself bawling like a baby. Not in sadness, though this storm has been worrisome for so many in my extended family and lifelong friends, but in affirmative joy.
Well, it started out normal enough. I awakened to more rain and more tornado watches and bad, bad footage of what’s going on in Mississippi and near my childhood home on the west bank of the Mississippi River from New Orleans in Gretna. That pretty much soured my mood.
I hit my knees. (I’ve learned the hard way to do that not as a last resort but as a first reaction—God is the ultimate First Responder.)
Then I got two notes that made me really happy about two audio books in production. And then came the note that touched me so deeply, it had me squalling.
Writers are creative people. We build something from nothing and people it for purpose. But unlike actors who hear much about reactions to their work, or musicians who are present for those reactions, writers hear now and then readers’ responses. We keep writing largely on faith driven by the sense of purpose that powers us to pick up the pen and write in the first place.
That’s not to say we don’t desire feedback. Some do, some don’t, and most quite honestly only want to hear feedback that is good. We need good feedback to keep on going, to keep writing for purpose. And just as honestly, more often than not, we get little of it. But every now and then…
We go to say good morning to our Facebook friends and to let them know that we haven’t drowned in said storm (physical or emotional storms or spiritual storms), and we get the kind of feedback we need to infuse us with the determination to keep going. (This often comes when we’re at our personal weakest, our most vulnerable, our most uncertain.)
And we’ll see a note like this:
And it infuses us with far more than anyone (save another writer) can imagine.
Let me explain why a three-sentence note touched me so deeply.
In SURVIVE THE NIGHT, the heroine is mourning the loss of her only child and the resulting breakup of her marriage. It’s been three years, and she’s angry with God and struggling to find her feet again. She feels she has no right to a life. She wasn’t there to protect her son. Therefore, she should forfeit wanting anything… or so she believes…
In writing the book, there’s a poem she recites in her mind to comfort herself when she’s most hurting. At first, I feared I was going to be forced to pull the poem from the book, but my adorable editor thought it had been written by someone else. When I disclosed that we had permission to use it—that I had written it—then we were okay to leave it in the book.
I was relieved. I didn’t know then why, but I know that when my brother died and I watched my mother grieve, she would mumble “He’s in God’s hands” and feel comforted. That made this poem being in this book, comforting this mother extremely important to me.
And in this note from Jonnie Cole, I now know why. That a little poem I wrote has the potential to offer the comfort of God’s hands to a mourning mother . . . it overwhelms me. And I hope and pray that it does so for this mother and many other mothers who are mourning.
The mother in me, the daughter who watched and shared her mother’s grief, is moved and touched so deeply I can’t say where it starts or stops or even verbalize it. But, oh, do I feel it. And the writer in me is moved.
To receive affirmation that what we do for purpose is received and used for purpose . . . well, it’s beyond moving. Being assured that your book was in the right place at the right time in the right hands and it carries a purposeful message for someone hurting who needs it—well, if that isn’t worth crying about, I don’t know what is.
Maybe affirmation is seldom seen, but when it is, it really is.
And so my point is to share with all of you who are doubting what you’re doing with your life because you sorely need affirmation you’re on the right track, doing what you’re meant to do, be reassured. Watch for signs. Often they come through from unexpected places at unexpected times and in ways you couldn’t have imagined. But you’ll know them when you see them. Their identity is found in the sudden and unexpected welling of tears. Your breathing will grow rapid, your heart swell, and you’ll feel amazingly full of affirmative joy.
It’s a rare privilege. Don’t squander it.
WARNING: This is a no-edit, chat zone…
Often writers set out on a course for their career and they develop the mindset to stay the course regardless of current market conditions or other career developments until such time as outside factors insist they alter their course.
This is a very human thing to do, but it is also carving a tough path for the writer to walk.
Let’s discuss why in practical, no-frills terms.
You write x type books. You embark on the path to become a great author of x type books. You’ve written a few and met with moderate success, and then:
1. The market for that type of novel collapses.
This happens. The market cycles. A few years ago, historical romances were in high demand. Then suddenly even the historical superstar authors saw sales drop significantly. Many changed to write romantic suspense and/or small-town contemporary romance. Why? The market’s appetite became more favorable for those types of books. Then still later, historical romance novels again found favor with readers. Some authors changed back, some didn’t, and new opportunities opened.
Regardless of what type of novel (sub-genre novels, too) an author writers, there are times when outside factors impact readers’ appetites. Market cycles are driven by reader demand, by interest. Reader demand and interest are driven by events and all of the usual people, places, things that shape public opinions.
a. The bottom line is authors can stay the course in what will for a time be a difficult-to-sell type book (a down cycle) and continue writing type x books and wait to sell or publish when conditions improve or
b. publish anyway, knowing that demand is low and sales will be also or
c. write something else that has better odds of finding favor with readers at that given point in time or
d. ignore the market and write what the author wants to write anyway, hoping the market will eventually catch up.
It’s really the author’s call. The choices are evident and the results of any decision are predictable. Some authors simply aren’t interested in writing a different type of novel. That’s their choices and calls, but it makes for a rough career path.
Some authors have broad interests and enjoy variety; they prefer to be flexible and cycle with the market. That makes for a smoother path in ways yet unless the author prepares his or her readers for the transition, the author can face challenges on not meeting reader expectations.
For example, if your readers know you to be a thriller author and you switch to write cozy mysteries or romantic suspense, you need to prepare your readers for this change or they’ll pick up that first cozy or romantic suspense expecting it to be a thriller. When it isn’t, they’ll be disappointed. Now, even prepared, some readers will make the transition with the author and some won’t, because readers have preferences and they might love thrillers but not care for cozy mysteries or romantic suspense novels. Now, readers who don’t read thrillers but love cozy mysteries or love romantic suspense can become new-to-the-author readers. The better foundation the author makes for the transition, the greater the odds of success. Still, no guarantees.
The thing to keep in mind is that markets cycle and authors should be aware of it and make deliberate choices on their reactions to the cycles. They can only do that if they assess their careers or reassess them at points in time where reassessment is warranted.
2. Some authors are determined to hold on to the bitter end.
Authors often resist change. They love to write what they love to write and keep writing it regardless of what the market does or where reader demand is at a given time. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided the author does so deliberately for the reasons given in #1 above.
There is wisdom in writing what you love and if all you love is one type of book, then that pretty much says all that needs say. It does mean that the author is in for a career of peaks and valleys, and some would say, those peaks and valleys are coming anyway, so one might as well stick with what one loves. There’s merit in that, to be sure, and some authors have the fiscal luxury of following that path. Some authors are also astute businesspeople who prepare for famine during periods of feast so that when sales are down, their fiscal needs are met and covered.
I hope you’re seeing the pattern: whatever you decide to do is great. Authors aren’t one-size fits all and their careers aren’t either. The key pattern is to understand the market, prepare for it, and have reasonable expectations of performance at various cycle stages during it.
Too often what I see are authors who hang on to the bitter end when they’re forced to change or can no longer sell because they fear change. Many don’t dub this as the root cause, but many do. They feel they’re established in a certain genre or type of novel and they should stick with it. Perhaps they have had moderate success and wish to build on it. That’s a good strategy. But if the author is lacking publisher support, or if indie, a successful marketing strategy, more often than not what happens is the author gets caught in a downward spiral. Let me explain in a practical example.
Author writes x. Publisher has a decent track record for selling x type novels. They agree to terms and form a strategic alliance. Author publishes three books and sales are less than expected for whatever reason. So say that bookseller A ordered 20,000 copies of Author’s first novel and sold 12,000. Book 2, Bookseller isn’t going to order 20,000 copies. S/he is going to order 12,000. Let’s say author sells 85% (sell-thru), which is a very respectable sell-thru. That’s 10,200 copies. How many books does Bookseller order on book 3? Exactly. Simply put, orders are based on sales of the last book, so the downward spiral becomes evident.
Now it isn’t just a lack of publisher support that can toss an author into a downward spiral. As we saw in #1, it can be reader demand, market conditions, preferences. All sorts of outside influences impact sales.
What happens often and is extremely difficult for the author is when to say whoa, time to make a change. Knowing that specific point in time is only clear if the author is watching. And too often, authors are so tied up with writing, marketing, promoting, social networking and doing the many other tasks that are significant to authors, they don’t notice the beginning of the downward spiral. Often, they don’t see the spiral until they’re entrenched deep in it.
Publishers hesitate to address the matter until contract time because frankly it is to their benefit to work with an author who has a positive mindset during the writing. There are other reasons, too, but nothing impacts creativity as much as the author’s mindset.
So you have an author steeped in the work who might ask but is given obscure information on numbers until it’s time to go back to contract. Many are stunned to discover then that the publisher doesn’t want to go back to contract, or that an offer will be coming but at a greatly reduced rate. Here again, you see the challenges that come to the author who is unaware of his/her status and support and sales. I receive notes frequently from authors who are blindsided by the news that the publisher is no longer interested in seeing future works.
That’s business, pure and simple. It’s about the bottom line. Before you bash the publisher for that, ask yourself if you really want to form or keep a strategic alliance with a publisher who isn’t fiscally sound. You want your publisher to be wise and prudent and responsible. If not, the publisher won’t stay in business. That’s the real bottom line.
So how do you recognize the downward spiral? Look at the example. If you’re seeing shrinking numbers and you’re told that the market is shrinking, that’s a sign. The market is changing and fast. But it is reshaping. A few years ago, ebook sales barely impacted overall sales. Then they exploded. And in many areas, our collective tipping point has been reached and we’re selling more ebooks than print books.
The author who willingly remains in the dark on the market and on how his/her books are doing relative to the market risks finding him or herself deep in the spiral. It takes time and effort, but it’s a good investment in your career to assess and reassess.
3. Authors, not just their books, grow and change.
You’re not the person you were when you started writing, or the person you were twenty, ten, or five years ago. You’re not the person you were yesterday. You are the person you are now, today, and your interests and desires and purpose for writing changes.
If you don’t assess yourself and reassess on a regular basis and not just when necessity gives you no choice, are you best serving yourself?
That might seem like an odd question, but it’s at the very heart of you, the human being, and that makes it critical. Not important, not a suggestion that would be beneficial to follow (though it is), it’s critical. Why?
As we experience and age, what most matters to us changes. If we don’t assess, we miss the opportunities afforded us by the wisdom gained in our personal journey through life. We might start our career writing x type books but something happens and we feel driven to write about it even though it’s very different than anything we’ve written thus far.
The key word is driven. That’s a signal that we’re passionate about this new type of book. And that passion and drive are signals that we’re hitting upon purpose. While purpose can be physical, emotional or spiritual–and certainly can be all three–we might not make the connection between writing to our purpose and our personal sense of fulfillment and accomplishment–to success.
I’ve known many authors. Some define success by money. But for most, money isn’t enough. It takes more to reach the contentment zone–a sense of purpose and worth in what you’re doing. The earlier you recognize this and factor it into your decisions, the fewer regrets you have later on.
Some experts recommend you assess your career once a year. Others suggest you have a five year plan. I say, assess it as frequently as you must to stay confident you’re doing what you need to be doing to reach your vision of success.
I’ve always had a five-year plan that includes writing goals and publishing goals. But I have to tell you that the market is changing so quickly, five years ago it was hard to imagine that the market and landscape in publishing would look as it does today.
More changes are on the horizon, and a lot closer. That makes a five-year plan still valuable and the annual plan valuable, but it also offers the author the insight that even more frequent assessments are in the author’s best interests.
Understand that when I speak of a five-year plan, or an annual plan, I speak of a plan that addresses me on all levels–physical, emotional and spiritual. While some things change at the speed of light, some remain steadfast, but one’s approach to them requires modification. Things happen that impact methods and means everyday.
The benefit of staying in touch with yourself and aware of who you are and what you want and how you plan to get it is I hope clear. Will things always work out as planned? No. Actually, rarely. But because you’re focused and aware, more of what you’re after will be accomplished, and for real life, that’s pretty good.
I hope this helps.