by John Peragine
One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to be organized and business-minded. We want to live within our worlds of fantasy and dare anyone or anything to break us away.
I am one of the lucky few who can say that their day job is writing. It is also my midnight job, my weekend job, my holiday job and my I’m-going-to-be-late-to-dinner-downstairs job.
I write non-fiction, fiction, and articles. A while back I realized that to be successful at writing, I needed a plan and a schedule. Not only for my writing, but for everything else that's part of being a successful writer (that I often procrastinated with).
Writing without a plan for publishing in some form is journaling. It is for your eyes only, equal to keeping those private words locked in a diary stuck under a loose floorboard.
But what if you want to see your work out in the world, have fans, and (hopefully) get paid for it?
I've found no magical formula where publishing and marketing your writing does not take time and effort. The trick is where to spend your time and resources.
Do you post on social media?
Do you write query letters?
Do you network and meet people?
What is the one best way to get your work out into the world?
[That last one is a trick question because there is no “one” way.]
It takes a myriad of cogs and wheels working together. Your job as the writer is to add quality parts, and to keep those parts oiled and maintained daily. Writing is a long game, where progress takes place over time.
Patience and diligence are the keys to a successful writing career.
Below are my Six Daily Activities to build a solid building career.
It seems simple, but writing often gets slotted in after laundry, floor scrubbing, and cleaning the duct work. I joke with my clients that the difference between them and a published author is that the published author finished their book.
Find the right time of day and just write. Some people do better with word count or time goals.
I spend time every day meeting new people or connecting with my sphere of influence. I make sure I keep in touch with the people I enjoy working with. This includes authors, agents, editors, artists, people in the publishing industry, and more. This is done via phone, email, snail mail, or in person.
These connections are vital, not only for your business but for your mental health. It can be lonely, frustrating, and even depressing to be holed up writing day after day. Connecting with other human beings in a meaningful way is important. I network for at least an hour every day in some fashion.
3. Connect with the world.
After I have connected with my sphere of influence, I step out into a larger sphere through the Internet. I blog, write articles, and get on social media. It can be a trap, and so I limit myself, and I have a daily plan of what I want to say and where.
This is how you build your sphere of influence with new people, connect with others you don’t talk to you as often, and also flex your writing skills for others to enjoy. You can let people know what you are up to, and give them the opportunity to see your work.
4. Query people.
I am always looking for the next opportunity. Writing is a numbers game. The more you query, the better your chances of being published.
Look for opportunities from your sphere of influence. I spend at least half an hour a day, sometimes more doing this activity. This can also include creating and signing contracts, or looking for opportunities to present at conferences.
5. Building your writing business.
This time includes activities like working on a website, or social media profiles. I order business cards and look for other swag that I can take to events and making sure my information is up to date, including a current bio and headshot. Old material or pictures that no longer look or sound like you are not effective.
I spend about a half-hour a day on this task.
Every morning I review my calendar and lists of things I want to accomplish for the day, week and month. I create goals for myself. I used to use a lot of slips of paper, but more recently I have organized myself by using my iPad and Apple Pencil. This way I can keep all my materials in one place. I spend about twenty minutes on organizing.
Setting goals and achieving them is important, and they are more likely to happen if you write them down. If you do the math, you realize these activities take 2-3 hours a day. But it is a business and your career is worth it. Commit the time, and the opportunities in your writing career will blossom.
What habits have helped your writing success? Are there things you tried that proved unsuccessful? Please share your experience down in the comments!
Hey, WITS Friends! John is a new member of the Writers in the Storm team and we are excited to have him. Please say hello to him down in the comments! Although he lives in the Midwest, he will be with me (Jenny) on the West Coast later this month when he presents two workshops at the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference (Oct 24-27). We hope to see you there!
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John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine Enthusiast, Grapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.
John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, The No Frills Guide to Book Marketing, will be released in Summer 2020.
Hey y'all! Meet Ellen Buikema, our newest member of the Writers in the Storm team. She is currently in a sleepy town in Mexico, writing her latest novel and practicing her Spanish.
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I can write anywhere. Right?
After my husband and I retired from high stress jobs, we sold or gave away most of our belongings and hit the road. I would write as we traveled. No problem. I can write anywhere.
As it turned out, major changes were not good for my writing.
Change #1: My writing pals went to heaven.
Before beginning our journey, I composed on my laptop in the kitchen or at the dining room table, always with a pup nearby keeping me company. Both our dogs crossed over the Rainbow Bridge a few months before our journey started.
Generally, I wrote in quiet. I never stay in front of my writing materials when I am stuck for what happens next. I’d lay on the living room floor and contemplate what to write. Bailey, our black lab and unofficial therapy dog, would often join me.
Change #2: The brain make-over commenced.
We planned to start our journey in Mexico. We’d studied Spanish for several months before leaving the U.S. so we felt confident about the language. But focusing on a second language had an unexpected temporary effect on my writing. Apparently, learning a second language causes some interference with the first one.
According to an article about neuroplasticity, the brain rewires itself all the time. According to the article, “When you change your beliefs, learn something new or become mindful of your habitual reactions to unpleasant emotions, you actually alter the neurochemistry and the structure of your brain.” We are the architects of our own brains. When we shift our perception and learn something new, it alters its neurochemicals as well as structure.
Changing our mind literally changes our brain. Exciting as that is, I didn’t anticipate the new language would temporarily hinder my writing. Code-switching, alternating between languages, is not fun.
Change #3: The journey began.
Stop 1 – Central Mexico
The first place we landed was gorgeous! We rented a home and set about to make it comfy. However, it was winter in Central Mexico, at an altitude of 6000 feet, with a fireplace that provided little warmth in an uninsulated house. Cold breezes blew through cracks around windows, doors, and walls. Brrrr.
Space heaters helped me warm up enough to edit, but new material - No way! It seems that discomfort makes me a cranky minimalist writer. In truth, altitude changes everyone’s brain.
Did you know that high altitude living makes you less hungry?
Excerpt from an actual conversation with my husband:
“Hey sweetie, are you interested in breakfast?”
“No, not really. What time is it?”
“Let me look at my phone. Oh wow, it’s afternoon!”
I researched appetite changes (I like research) and learned that the hormone leptin, which plays a role in metabolism and appetite control, works differently at higher altitudes. Losing some weight I always appreciated but I still wasn’t writing much.
Stop 2 - Western Coastal Mexico
Next, we traveled to western Mexico near the coast. It’s a party town with lots of things to do, great food, and scores of happy tourists and locals. At the first place, every morning began with someone serenading the neighbors. His fabulous singing voice didn’t make up for the 6 am wakeup from the courtyard. It reminded me very much of the movie Rear Window but without the Raymond Burr character.
I still wasn’t getting much writing done.
We moved to a condo with a glorious view of the shoreline with amazing sunsets. But those sunsets didn’t make up for the noise. Open air vehicles, pulmonias and auregas, blasted music into the wee hours of the morning along the Malecon (a thoroughfare) directly in front of our building. The condo was tiny. I developed a syndrome call, “Ooooh, a squirrel!”
Another month with little to no writing.
Stop 3: Quiet neighborhoods are the charm
Since moving into a relatively quiet neighborhood near the port, I am finally comfortable enough to compose new work. Our very patient neighbors help us with our Spanish hurdles (like conjugating verbs) and are patient with our phone translators, which are often out, even while we’re sharing a beer in front of the house.
The Lesson: Know what works for YOU.
From quiet to chaos was quite a lot of adjustment, and it was disastrous for the creation of new material. My husband and I dove headfirst into culture-shock and encountered more noise than I ever imagined.
Now that I’ve settled into relative comfort (and I’m not code-switching languages as much), the writing is coming back. I’ve begun a basic outline for my next YA historical fiction manuscript, and it feels glorious.
All will be well, poco a poco.
Have you had sudden changes to your routine halt your progress? How do you re-focus and get back on track? Share your tricks down in the comments!
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historical fiction.
by Lisa Hall-Wilson
Many people take my deep point of view master classes because they’re looking to create an emotional gut punch for readers. They want readers to feel like they’re IN the story, in real time, and digging deep emotionally is the powerhouse tool of deep point of view.
Many writers have heard of a story arc and a character arc (how a character changes over the course of the story), but I’ve found it helpful when writing in deep point of view to think in terms of an emotional arc. How does your character feel change (this can include thinking and decisions) not just over the whole novel but at a scene by scene level.
Emotion Stems From Doing
Emotions are reactions to things. It doesn’t always feel this way, I know. A thought, something someone says, something we see or hear or touch reaches a memory – it can all spark an emotional response. Emotions don’t spring up spontaneously, they’re caused by an action. Try to keep that in mind, because if the reader can connect what sparked that emotion they can often intuit WHY the character feels that emotion (show don’t tell).
Emotions aren’t a cerebral experience. We feel emotions physically, in a tangible way – it’s not just all in our heads. In deep point of view, the common rule is to avoid using emotion words (love, hate, angry, etc.) because it’s telling. Here’s why: emotions are felt in the body, reflected in how we think and talk to ourselves, how we react to outside stimuli. Emotions force us TO DO something.
When critiquing, I often write “I don’t understand why the character feels this way.” Emotion is the by-product of intention, not the goal. Back to my first point in this section, emotions are reactions – every reaction needed an action to set it off. Donald Maass, in his book The Emotional Craft of Fiction, talks about how story is a spider’s web: a tug in one small part of the web should cause reverberations felt through the entire web. If an emotion can be felt in complete isolation from everything else going on in the story, maybe it needs to be cut.
Facts Don’t Equal Emotions
Ever felt a strong reaction to something but not been able to pinpoint why? We can’t settle for that as writers. Here’s why. We might not be able to articulate WHY we feel a certain way, but if we get curious and ask ourselves why we feel that way, what this emotion makes us think of, what it reminds us of – there’s always context for that emotion.
It’s that context for an emotion that we need to show readers even if the character isn’t consciously aware of why they feel that way. It means that the memory causing an emotional reaction might not be revealed in the same scene where the emotional reaction occurs.
Writers are concerned about making sure a character’s emotions make sense – and fair enough – that’s important – but emotions only have to make sense to that character in that moment. If written well, you shouldn’t need to explain or justify why the character feels that way.
In KL Armstrong’s novel Wherever She Goes the main character is crippled by self-doubt to such an extent that it’s really hard to connect with her initially. But those emotions were visceral to the character and, not very far into the book, small actions cause big emotions. Because of that initial foray into the character’s self-doubt I never questioned WHY the character felt the way she did or why those emotions fuelled her reactions. Because of those painful initial wince-worthy self condemning pages, the decisions the character makes later in the book make total sense (even if it’s something I would never choose to do myself).
Emotions are confusing, irrational, and non-linear. A good writer is able to harness that to her advantage to add tension and conflict to a character’s emotional arc. Emotions aren’t stable; they’re subtle, nuanced, and very individual. They are based on personal experiences, goals, morals, and because of that should be incredibly intimate and individualized.
Yes, readers need to connect with a character, but emotions are the best way to grab a reader. Even if the reader has never shared that experience, they will understand the power of emotions.
Emotional Development Is A Long Slope Not A Steep Climb
Characters should grow and change incrementally over the length of the story. The growing intensity and conflict in the story causes/creates opportunity for emotional change/transformation. Each story obstacle should force greater tension, greater internal conflict, etc.
Many writers get confused with this. They want to write an emotional story and that’s fine, but there still has to be a story arc that causes the emotional reactions. Characters still need a story problem they’re constantly working to resolve. Without that, your story becomes a collection of episodic emotional gut punches without purpose. It won’t feel like it’s going anywhere, it’s a constant train wreck for the character for no reason.
The emotional arc needs to be scalable. It’s fine to start with shock and awe if you want to with your inciting incident, but keep in mind that the mirror moment in the middle, the all is lost moment, still has to out-do whatever emotions were present in the inciting incident.
Emotions Affect The Body
Emotions are primarily felt in the body, and we each carry emotion a little differently. Do you carry tension in your neck, shoulders, or in your gut? When you are stifling back emotions, what hurts – your throat, your chest, sinuses? This is all very individual.
Challenge yourself. Instead of writing that your character is angry, in love, attracted to, envious – whatever, get curious about how that emotion FEELS. How does that emotion affect the character’s body, their posture, their tone of voice, even internally – their throat, shoulders, neck, scalp, feet, etc. Study the body language of people having a personal conversation – even in the movies – and see how most of the time a person’s body language gives away more information about how they feel than their words do. We’re often very careful to guard our words, but emotions practically seep through our pores.
Do you have issues with writing in deep point of view? Are there tips and ideas you've discovered in your own writing? Share them down in the comments!
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Lisa Hall-Wilson is a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels. Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers, at www.lisahallwilson.com.
If you’re interested in learning more about deep point of view, make sure to check out my free 5 Day Deep Point Of View Challenge happening on Facebook starting October 14th. You can also learn more about my method acting for writers masterclass and membership from the Challenge group – both of those open up the week of October 14th as well.
Join Lisa’s deep point of view challenge group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/5daydeeppovchallenge/
by Julie Glover
This coming weekend, I'll be in Midland, Texas for the Permian Basin Writers Workshop Event where I get to present on choosing the right writing process for you.
In preparation, I've been reading up on writing process and personality and came across an interesting paper published by the National Council of Teachers in English (2009). The authors developed recommendations for writing instruction based on personality type as revealed in the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI).
Having long been a fan of personality type, I was curious to see what they suggested. And now I'm sharing with you!
What's the MBTI?
The MBTI has been researched, reviewed, and administered many, many times and found to be a helpful measure. (No, it's not perfect, and you can find plenty of articles that say that, but overall it's earned respect in the psychological community.) You can find a rough version that will provide your four-letter personality type at Human Metrics.
One of the personality spectrums studied in the MBTI is extraversion versus introversion. Some people think of this as being outgoing versus being shy, but that's not what they mean. Rather, extraverts (yes, with an a not o) are energized by interactions with others; that is, they thrive off being around other people. Introverts don't dislike people, but they aren't energized by interactions with others; that is, they get drained being around other people.
Since this is a spectrum, there can be a big difference between a slight introvert and an extreme introvert or a slight extravert and an extreme extravert, but we fall on one side of the other.
An easy way to think of it is this: After an enjoyable day with friends, are you more amped up or do you feel worn out?
What does this have to do with writing process?
The authors of the paper, "Personality and Individual Writing Processes," were a professor at Georgia State University and a staff psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. They observed 215 students in various settings and compiled recommendations based on their experience. One in particular caught my eye:
As predicted by theory, the extraverts with whom we have worked write with little planning, though they often feel guilty about not writing from outlines. They sometimes describe their writing process as "quick and dirty" or the "easy way." ... Extraverts often find freewriting a good method for developing ideas, for they think better when writing quickly, impulsively, and uncritically.
By contrast, they noted that:
[Introverts'] basic writing process often follows the prewriting-writing-rewriting pattern. They generally want most of their ideas clarified before writing.... They tend to find writing much easier when much of the essay if written mentally before they put pen to paper.
In other words, the authors suggest that extraverts are natural pansters (write by the seat of their pants) and introverts are natural plotters.
But I'm definitely an introvert, and the one time I plotted a novel all the way out, I couldn't write the prose. I kept getting blocked, because in my mind, the story had been told and I had nothing left to discover.
What do y'all think?
I wondered how many people agreed with the authors' theory and how many were like me, challenging their conclusions with their process. So with the magic of social media, I posted this question on Facebook:
I ended up with 87 replies! What did I find?
Writers tend to be introverts.
Introverts were 66% of my sample with extraverts making up 34%. That's not surprising, given that writing is a solitary activity. You have to be comfortable working alone with your primary social contact being the characters in your head and on the page.
Writers dislike binary choices.
Oh, the number of people who didn't want to choose plotter or pantser! Mind you, these are not perfect labels. They exist on a spectrum too.
You can be a thorough plotter with a color-coded system of index cards and character analyses, a just-show-me-the-blank-page pantser who knows no more than setup or character before you begin, or you can be anywhere in between.
This is why you'll hear lots of other options given: plantser, plontser, quilter, puzzler, outliner. But this wasn't an open-ended question, so I made people pick. (Oh, the horror! ~grin~)
Introverts can be pantsers or plotters.
Good news! We introverts went about halfsies on whether we plot or pants our way through. At least it was good news to me, since it means I'm not alone, nor am I doing it wrong. (Not that I'd change the process that works for me if the results had been entirely different.)
Quite often, introverts answered with some form of "I outline a little, then start writing." That is, many know turning points, foresee the climax or ending, or have a good sense of scenes they'll include, but they don't map out the whole novel.
Then again, there were plenty of strict plotters, whose novel outlines resemble evidence boards. If you know one of those, give them office supply gift cards for their birthday. (Just a tip.)
Extraverts are largely pantsers.
You extraverts who plot are not common. Rather, by a 4-to-1 margin, extraverts pantsed more than plotted.
One interesting response came from an extravert who "was a technical and legal writer, so structure was drummed into me." So it could be that some extraverts plot because that's what they were trained to do. I'm not saying it doesn't work for them—it does for this writer—but that could be how their preference developed.
My Survey Results
Should you plot or pants your novel?
For introverts, I suggest you try both ways, try all the ways. Though maybe try it out on a short story before you waste an entire two weeks on a plot you'll never turn into a novel or pants your way through an entire book that turns out to be a heap of chaos.
Meanwhile, if you're an extravert who pantses her novel and someone tries to tell you that's not the way to do it, they may not have a clue what it's like to be you. Your personality type may well be best suited to grabbing the pen and paper or the laptop and just getting started.
But all in all, the writing process you should choose based on your personality type is...drumroll, please...the one that gets books written.
Seriously, go look up the writing processes of multipublished, bestselling authors and you'll see both plotters and pantsers out there.
As my Gen-Z sons would say, my best advice here is YOU DO YOU.
Are you an introvert or an extravert? Are you more of a plotter or a pantser? Have you tried the other way, and how did it go?
A long time ago, Julie Glover administered the MBTI in her master's degree internship. While still a fan of personality type, she now writes cozy mysteries, supernatural suspense, and young adult fiction. Be sure to check out her co-written Muse Island series, which begins with Mark of the Gods.
And in case you're wondering, Julie's more pantser and her co-writer is more plotter. But ta-da! Finished books.
by Janice Hardy
I work with a lot of new writers, and a common frustration I see is getting tangled up in the details of the story and being unable to see the larger problem. These writers have a general sense of what they want their novels to be about, but they keep focusing on the specifics of individual scenes and not the bigger picture.
Say your novel is about a couple who reconnect years after their relationship ended and rekindle their romance. You know there’s a history between these two, and that they broke up over trust issues, but you’re not sure exactly what happened. You feel confident you’ll figure it out later and write (or outline) away.
You create a slew of decent scenes that show them rediscovering each other, feeling that spark again, feeling unsure because it didn’t work out the first time, but also feeling the pull and urge to try again.
Then you start having trouble, because the setup is over and it’s time for the actual conflict to begin. You have them fight, but over silly, general things, so it feels superficial and not at all what you want.
So you tweak.
You change the job of the one character and the goal of the other. Instead of a clerk, he’s a sales manager, and instead of wanting to go back to med school, she wants to open a bakery. You create a whole mini-arc about his need to hit an impossible sales goal that’s creating all kinds of trouble in the romance. You give her a nemesis who wants the location she’s trying to get for her shop.
None of this addresses the issue of why they broke up or what their baggage is, so the plot still doesn’t work.
You change things further, connecting his sales problems to her bakery in some way so they’ll have something to fight about and create that much-needed conflict. You make the nemesis an old flame of his to add to the pressure.
And you still can’t get past the general setup of the novel.
By this time, you’re ready to rip your hair out and throw your laptop across the room, sure the novel is doomed and you’re never going to get anywhere with this story you love so much.
And you’re right, because you’re lost in the details and ignoring the bigger picture. No matter how many things you change, nothing actually changes because the real problem isn’t being addressed.
Luckily, there’s way out of this mess.
Step Back and Look at the Big Picture
Your novel has a main problem, and that problem will drive the plot (the core conflict). Your main characters—particularly the protagonist and antagonist—will have goals they need to resolve by the end of the book. It’s possible you’re lost because you’re not sure what that main problem is yet, or only have a vague sense of the premise. Being fuzzy about what the goals are will make if difficult to know what needs to happen in your scenes.
You can’t fully understand how the story details fit if you don’t understand the larger conflict behind it all. Knowing the couple has “a bad past together” doesn’t give you enough information to write their scenes, or know what’s really behind their romantic problems. Was that past infidelity? A lack of attention? Attempted murder? Know what happened matters.
Even when you know a little about it, such as “trust issues,” that often makes it worse, because now it feels like you know the reason behind the conflict. And you do, sort of, but the details are still missing. Those details are necessary to understand the backstory, and thus create the conflict that will drive the plot. How was the trust broken? Who broke it? Have circumstances changed that would prevent the same thing from happening again?
If you don’t know, you can’t choose the right details to bring the scene to life. You wind up choosing random details that don’t serve the story about past lovers torn apart by trust issues.
Look to Your Characters’ Goals and Motivations for Guidance
The goals might not be fully developed yet, but knowing what your characters want will guide you to crafting the right plot for them to get it. Ask what they want. Ask why they want it. Ask what they’re willing to do (and not do) to get it. If you can’t answer those questions, or can only give vague answers, that’s a red flag you need to spend more time fleshing out the goals and motivations of that character.
It could also mean you haven’t given enough thought to their backstory, which typically explains why they want that particular goal or why getting it is a problem. The stronger the character arc, the more likely the backstory matters to the plot. Past wounds will play a big role in how that character behaves.
Maybe you chose the goal before you decided why. It’s not unusual to know your character needs to do X for plot reasons, but have no idea why from a character perspective. Using my reunited lovers as an example, you might know they need to not trust each other because of their past history, but without knowing the details of that history, the mistrust feels weak. There won’t be any real conflict in the scenes to cause that mistrust, and the characters end up looking childish and petty.
Details are terribly important in a novel, so we need to choose the right ones to illustrate our story. But we also have to be objective enough to notice when we’re getting tangled up in the details and forgetting what the story is about.
Don’t get caught up in details that don’t serve your story. Do enough brainstorming to figure out the problems and conflicts facing your characters, so you know the right details to use to drive your plot.
How much do you usually know about the goals and problems of your characters? What methods help you discover this information?
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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy. When she's not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. Sign up for her newsletter and receive 25 Ways to Strengthen Your Writing Right Now free.
Want more on how to craft strong conflicts and solid story problems in your novel?
Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means) shows you how to develop and create conflict in your novel, discusses the various aspects of conflict, and reveals why common advice on creating conflict doesn't always work. This book will help you: understand what conflict means and how to use it, tell the difference between external and internal conflicts, see why conflict isn't a "one size fits all" solution, determine the type of conflict your story needs, fix lackluster scenes holding your writing back, and so much more.