November 2, 2018

by Sarah Cy

Have you ever noticed that many of the world’s most successful writers are also the most prolific?

  • Horror writer, Steven King famously writes 2,000 words a day, and over the course of his career he’s written nearly one hundred books (and counting).
  • Romance writer, Barbara Cartland produced over 720 novels in 75 years, winning a Guinness World Record for most novels written in a single year (23!).
  • And celebrated Sci-Fi writer, Isaac Asimov produced 500 published works in his career, writing in a variety of forms, from books to short stories, screenplays, and more.

What about you? How many books/articles/screenplays have you written so far?

What? Less than 500? Tsk. Tsk.

Just kidding. It’s okay if you feel like you can’t quite compete with King, Cartland, or Asimov. Writing that much, after all, is not easy. And we all have lives to live, families to spend time with, bodies to take care of.

But guess what? So did King, Cartland, and Asimov (and many other writers like them).

You can become a more prolific writer than you are right now, if you follow these four tips:

1) Gather (a Lot of) Ideas

Writers need ideas the way bricklayers need bricks. Without them, we have nothing to write about. But fortunately for us, ideas are everywhere. Here are three great places to find them:

Published content

The most obvious places to look for your next brilliant idea, is previously existing content: books, audiobooks, podcasts, Youtube videos, classes, etc. 

Anytime you are consuming content, turn on your writer brain and keep a notebook to catch the thousands of stray ideas that may be triggered by your reading.

Life stories

Mine your own and others’ stories for valuable material.

People love to talk about themselves, so not only will you collect fascinating ideas for your writing, you’ll be doing them a huge favor if you take the time to listen. Win-win!

Existing feedback

Another place to look for ideas is in the comments and reviews section on Amazon, Goodreads, or writing blogs.

Writing is about serving reader’s needs and answering their questions. So find out what those needs and questions are — straight from the horse’s mouth. 

Your collection system

Don’t forget to use a note-taking system to capture and organize ideas. You need to be able to review and access your raw material quickly and easily when you start writing.

2) Limit Yourself

In one Calvin and Hobbes comic, Hobbes asks Calvin when he will finish writing his story. 

Calvin says, “I’m waiting for inspiration.”

Hobbes asks what that entails. Calvin replies: “Last-minute panic.”

Can you relate? There is something about last-minute panic that brings out the “best” in us.

But why wait for outside deadlines when you can create your own? The following are two practical ways to do just that:

Limit your time and/or word count

Give yourself three months to finish your first draft, set a timer to write two pages in ten minutes, or set a daily minimum word count goal.

The key is to make the limit real. For example: some people post goals on social media, or giving their friend a check to their least favorite charity with instructions to mail it if they don’t hit the goal.

Another way to create constraints is to participate in a program with others. NaNoWriMo and Story A Day  challenge writers to produce a certain quantity of words or stories within a certain time.

If you’re feeling sadistic, you can also try Write or Die, which deletes your work if you stop typing. 

Limit your environment

Get rid of distractions. Clean your physical and virtual spaces. Clear your table, your desktop, and extra internet tabs.

Keeping yourself focused will go a long way toward helping you write more than you thought possible.

3) Work on Multiple Projects

Have you ever watched eating contest competitors consume a beverage or side dish alongside the main item?

It doesn’t make sense, at first — shouldn’t they be trying to conserve stomach space?

But there’s a reason for this: Variety.

Eating a massive amount isn’t easy, but add to that the mind-numbing sameness of one food-type, and it’s enough to make a person throw in the napkin…er, towel.

It’s the same with writing.

If you want to be a prolific writer, you should have a few works-in-progress going at the same time.

That way, when you don’t feel like writing your novel, you can switch to poetry.

When blogging bores you, you can brainstorm songs for your musical.

When editorials make you scream, you can work on your short stories.

It helps if the different projects you are working on are creative in different ways. You can even work on projects in different languages. 

Novelty gives your writing brain a second wind, so use variety to prevent boredom and increase your productivity.

4) The Most Important Tip: Plan Ahead

If you’re serious about writing, you will need to know what writing project you are working on and set aside time to get it done.

According to Hofstadter’s Law, people tend to underestimate the time it takes for them to accomplish large projects (such as novels).

But people also procrastinate to fill time (Parkinson’s Law). Experiment with your writing speed and find out what works for you. 

Consider your health as well: It’s hard to write when you’re sick or tired. So plan to get enough sleep, exercise, and family time to keep your brain running. 

Why Should You be a Prolific Writer? 

Prolificacy is practice. Practice leads to skillful writing, and skillful writing leads to success.

Of course, writing prolifically is not your main goal as a writer. But mastering prolificacy can help you achieve other goals—reaching more readers, earning more money, etc.

Being a prolific writer is a matter of will and skill, and you can be more productive than you currently are, if you so desire.

So what are you waiting for?

The world is looking forward to your next book…and the next…and the next…and the next…

You got this!

Do any of these resonate with you? have you tried any of them?

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Sarah Cy is a blogger, copywriter and writing coach. Her mission is to inspire readers and writers through succinct, sincere, (and sometimes silly) writing. Get her free Write Purpose Manifesto to learn about writing to change lives--including your own!

October 31, 2018

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Boo! What better day to write about the body language of fear than the scariest day of the year!

Fun Fact: Fear and excitement create the exact same physiological response. What I mean by that is our bodies react the same way to both emotions. The difference between how our bodies respond to fear or excitement is how we internally/mentally interpret what we’re experiencing.

Scientists believe that pleasure and pain share some neural pathways. There are studies looking at how different painkiller medications also numb the ability to have an orgasm for instance. When in pain, the body flushes with endorphins and other pain-blocking pleasure-building chemicals that quickly shift the pain into pleasure. There’s such a thing as benign masochism – which is the intentional seeking out of pain while also maintaining an awareness that pain won’t cause serious damage. Think of everyone who loves tear-jerker stories, wild roller coasters, or scary movies! So, there’s a very close association.

* AHEM * Moving On

A Deeper Look At Fear

Fear can range from mild to paralyzing. What’s interesting though is that fear caused by a real immediate threat is rarely paralyzing. Our bodies and minds instinctually engage in a race for survival. Usually the fears that can leave us paralyzed are imagined (what ifs).

Chronic stress is in fact a low-intensity fear response to worry, daily insecurity, anxiety, etc. The more I learned about fear, the more I realized this is an emotion that every novelist should know more about because it’s laced in virtually every character arc ever written.

**Sorry if you thought this post was only for horror/thriller authors.** smile **not sorry**

4 Components Of Fear

Fear can be partly instinct, partly learned, partly taught, partly imagined. Pain causes instinctive fear – survival instinct. Falling is an instinctive fear present even in newborns. Past experiences can create learned fears – a young child will learn to fear bunk beds if they had a friend fall out of one and seriously injure themselves. Social context can teach fear of a particular person (avoid your uncle – don’t ever be alone with him) or various forms of racism. The fear of public speaking is largely imagined, but what’s really at stake is reputation, identity, self-worth.

What blend of fear does your character feel?

“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in.” 
― Stephen King, The Shining

The Role Of Intuition

Humans have this wonderful gift of intuition. The problem is we don’t listen to it often enough. We perceive a threat (could have been body language, past experience, a friend’s experience, an article we read a year ago) but we discount that perception in favor of what we can see. When you take that admitted predisposition and place a character in a situation that feels threatening but they can’t see anything threatening the fear is ramped up.

Gavin De Becker in his book The Gift of Fear talks about a woman waiting for an elevator. The doors open and inside is a young man in a suit who leers at her and bobs his eyebrows suggestively. Given the statistics about violence against women, her own past experiences and those of her friends, the isolated location, etc. she’s not crazy for perceiving this man as a threat. But rather than obey her intuition and wait for the next elevator, she’ll get into the sound-proof steel box – because he looks OK.

We allow ourselves to disregard our intuition if we can’t explain it logically – he doesn’t look like a rapist.

In fiction, the role of intuition -- especially if the character ignores it, is a great device to show the reader unease and discomfort and tip them off that something bad is about to or could happen. The conflict between internal dialogue and physiological response can be juxtaposed with what’s expressed outwardly.

“It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different – men and women live in different worlds…most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while women fear rape and death.” Gavin De Becker, The Gift of Fear

Answering The Why Question

Remember, we have to answer the why question for readers so we work backwards. Why is your character afraid? What is it exactly they’re afraid of and what’s at stake? What do they stand to lose?

Don’t just go through the motions on this. Really dig deep for these answers because the why is how you show the emotion. In deep point of view, we avoid naming emotions so you’ll have to show your reader the excitement or fear through body language, physiology, internal dialogue and spoken dialogue.

Your POVC has finally worked up the courage to ask a pretty girl out on a date. Ask him why he’s afraid.

Because she’s really pretty. OK – why does that make her scary or make talking to her scary?

Because he likes blonds. Nope – too superficial. Dig deeper.

She is pretty and he’s attracted to her, but she’s also friends with some influential people who could help his career. Ahh – there, now this is something we can work with. Which people? Why is their influence important to him?

He’s starting out at the bottom of the corporate ladder. Being seen in the right places with the right people is important. That she’s gorgeous and funny are icing on the cake.

…what if she says no? So, you’re afraid you’ll be disappointed?

I’m afraid my friends will laugh at me. I’m afraid that I’ll be stuck in this entry-level position forever. I need a girl like that to get where I want to be. I’m afraid that I’m not good enough to get a girl like that. That I’ll never be good enough for a girl like that. That she’ll turn me down because I’m nobody.

Now we have a better why—certainly better than “she’s pretty.” Now there’s more at stake for this character than having a pretty girl turn him down. Now he’s got skin in the game. Now, it’s not just his ego, but his career, potentially his self-worth—you get the idea.

The fear is partly instinct, partly imagined, partly taught. If she says yes, his fear is instantly turned into euphoria. If she says no, what’s he do with that? It confirms his worst fears. He’s lost his identity, his role or place among his friends potentially. What kind of man is he? What will he do with that tsunami of emotions?

How do we show this guy’s fear? Does he fall all over his words, does he overthink every gesture? Is one of these things (the girl or his job) more important to him? How could you show that? Does he cross his arms in a protective gesture or stand tall and use a power pose to impress her? Does he stare at the ground and tap his thigh? Does he have sweaty palms, a racing heart, a hyper-awareness of every other person in the room?

Fear is so much more than what a character says, it oozes out of every gesture, expression, pose, tone of voice, and thought.

“…there has to be an element of genuine loss connected to that fear—be it loss of life, limb, sanity, or loved one… “ Gary A. Braunbeck, To Each Their Darkness

Fear Amplified

Once fear is already present, it’s very easy to amplify so that even harmless events seem scary. You can prime your character to feel fear. The abusive man who comes home already angry, slamming doors, kicking toys out of his way, swearing – his family is now primed for fear. They’ll be on edge when he sits down at the table, hyper-vigilant to a threat, they’ll avoid meeting his gaze or contradicting him, and their posture will minimize their size (work to appear small). The father leans over to cut his four-year-old son’s meat, the knife scraping the plate. The child breaks out in tears and this angers the father even more – he didn’t DO anything to make the boy cry.

What Does Fear Look Like?

Wide eyes, raised eyebrows, furrowed brows, flared nostrils, avoid eye contact, look the floor or hands, slouching, hunched, crossed arms, feet angled away, busy hands, shaking or tapping legs or feet, rocking back and forth, rapid breathing, speaking very quickly or not at all, hyper-awareness, weakness, pent-up energy, inability to sleep, sweaty palms, racing heart…

Always answer the why, work backwards and layer in the emotions. A character’s body language, tone of voice, internal dialogue, gestures, expressions, ticks – these are all the pieces of evidence you need to show fear to readers. Above all – tell the truth. Fiction is truth inside a lie, as Stephen King says.

What was the last story (book or movie) that left you feeling fear?

Registration is open now for my 8 week course Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers.  

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About Lisa

Lisa Hall-WilsonLisa Hall-Wilson was 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.

October 29, 2018

by Christina Delay

How do we keep moving forward when life decides to TP our plans? In other words, how do we keep going when we hit creative burnout?

In a season that my daughter likes to call “candy-tastic,” it may feel like we must throw candy around like everything’s peachy, but inside we’re dealing with the mother of all cavities.

What Creative Burnout Looks Like

Creative burnout is a tricky goblin. It starts small, with a little poke in your side that may say, “Is that really the best idea?” Or, it may just be this impending sense of doom that if you don’t do all the things, you’ll miss out on the one thing that could maybe lead to the big thing.

Here’s the deal. That doubt or anxiety to do it all? It builds. And it’s sticky stuff that has the consistency of tar. And before you know it, you’re tarred and feathered and can’t raise your fingers to the keys to type the words…because everything’s all gunked up.

After that initial doubt or anxiety, creative burnout escalates. We become defensive, taking action we wouldn’t normally take to protect ourselves. We begin to feel stuck in all areas of our lives. We get sick, depressed, irritable, and experience mental fatigue. We lose the ability to create.

Help! I’ve Entered Burnout and Don’t Know What to Do!

Creative burnout is inevitable. At some point in our life, we’re going to go through crap…and lots of it. The problem with being buried in crap is we lose the ability to smell what we’re wading through. We don’t realize how bad it is until someone else points it out to us and offers a hand to pull us out of the mess.

Knowing you’re in burnout is half the battle. (By the way, I prefer the term entering burnout rather than being burned out. Because if there’s an entrance, there’s a way out.)

Kerry Schafer, my co-host and the creative coach for Creative Wellness Retreats where we teach creatives how to prevent or get out of burnout and go deeper with their creativity, had to be my hand a few weeks ago. In her words, “it’s time to jettison the non-essentials until you get back on solid ground.” When we’re in burnout, we’re essentially in survival mode. We don’t have the capacity for all the tasks and responsibilities we normally do.

So, what next? We’ve let go of the non-essentials, but what do we do next to refill our creativity and conquer burnout?

Thankfully (unfortunately?), I’ve been through this before and have some tips to defeat creative burnout.

Insulate yourself.

Like a bear putting on his winter coat to survive the long months of hibernation, during burnout we need to insulate against illness, depression, and irritability. Take your vitamins, drink tea, exercise, get 8 hours of sleep (yes, this may mean not binging Netflix).

Practice healthy selfishness.

Say no to the things that don’t feed you and say yes to the things that feel indulgent. I’m not talking bonbons and wine here. I’m talking about the thing that you wish you could do if you just had the time. Volunteer, do the craft, bake the cookies, visit that antique shop.

Visit your inner child.

Practice daydreaming again. Lose yourself in a great book. Color a picture and don’t worry about the lines. Remember when you used to keep a diary and hide it under your mattress? Do that. Pick up flowers or interesting leaves or acorns on a morning stroll. Slow down the pace.

Focus on what excites you.

When in burnout, don’t force the creativity. Instead, focus on what does excite you. It may be something totally unrelated, like planting flowers or your morning coffee or holiday baking or cleaning out your closets. We have those urges for a reason, and that reason is not always procrastination. Go with it.

If you’ve entered a period of burnout, I feel for you. And I’m there with you. But practicing these tactics and getting rid of the non-essentials can greatly lessen the burnout time period.

For more tips to defeat creative burnout, check out these creativity strategies from Leonard da Vinci, or join us on Whidbey Island in April 2019 for a retreat focused on creative wellness.

Have you ever entered creative burnout? How did you deal with it? What tips do you have to share?

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About Christina

Christina DelayChristina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and Creative Wellness Retreats and a multi-award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. When she's not cruising the Caribbean, she's dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or giving into the demands of imaginary people to tell their stories.

Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world.

Get ready to Dive Deep and join us on a 7-day Immersion Cruise with Margie Lawson this December to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel! Only TWO SPACES LEFT!

 

About Creative Wellness Retreats

Creative Wellness Retreats exist to teach you practical tools to go deeper into your creativity and learn how to protect yourself from burnout and creative blocking. If you’re already in burn out mode, our retreats for authors and artists will offer channels for healing your creativity, using effective techniques that are driven by your MBTI type.

Join us on beautiful Whidbey Island next April for a one-of-a-kind creative wellness experience.

 

October 26, 2018
 
Thank you, brave soul, for trusting me with your work. I hope you find this helpful.
 
I chose this month's submission to help explain a closer POV. This reads like a movie script. It is omniscient POV (mostly), which was great in the 1800's, but today's reader wants an immersive experience...they want to BE Katniss. This is like telling us a movie. You don't have to write really close POV if you'd rather not, but I'd challenge you to try, if only for the lesson.
 
Also, you have a very short space to hook the reader. Raising the right kind of questions pulls a reader into a story - like what's in the pack? Raising the wrong kind of questions - like logic and staging - cause the reader to put down the book.
 
Here we go:
 
My edits:

Black = original

Red = my thoughts/comments

Purple = text I added/altered

ORIGINAL:

Wearing multi-pocketed pants, a plaid red and blue shirt, and a pack, The Man shuffled with his eyes down. He was so accustomed to the smell of petrol from the oil and herbicides on his chosen mode of travel, that it did not register in his brain.  He was making a game of achieving the pace, which allowed each shoe to land on a crosstie. The amusement helped keep him attentive, as he was tired, and his alertness was not sharp, and his mind wanted to replace the current smell with salt air. The man looked up.  His hair lifted on the back of his neck. He stopped to listen for a train. 

            He heard footfalls, sticks breaking, and brush pushed aside to his left and turned to see a group of four uniformed men running out of the woods and down an embankment towards him. The Man angled to the right to get off the tracks so he could run unimpeded. But the group was fast and caught him and dragged him back up onto the tracks. There, they hit him and beat him on his body and his face, and he was thrown to the ground. He could smell their sweat and their fear, as they began removing his pack. He grabbed it and held it tight to his chest as they continued to hit him in the face. The nearby train-whistle made them all pause, and they released their hold on The Man and the pack.  

            With the train insight and a short distance away, their faces turned ashen, and their eyes sprang wide open. “Train-Drifter” took this opportunity to roll over the right rail and down the short embankment. He knew that trains in this area traveled fifty-five miles per hour and would be on top of them in seconds. 

            The group of blue-uniformed men with DVP stamped in yellow on the back of their jackets hesitated. Two of them jumped off the tracks and the other two reached with their arms as if they could somehow stretch far enough to catch the man. Realizing their intended prisoner had escaped, they jumped to avoid the iron monster. 

            The Man knew that this passenger train would be short and he did not have a lot of time. His attackers would be looking for him as soon as the train passed, so he ran for the woods as hard and as fast as he could. His fervent instincts caused him to run in the opposite direction of the trains travel, as he suspected the DVP men would continue to

My Thoughts/Comments:

Wearing multi-pocketed pants, a plaid red and blue shirt, and a pack, The Man shuffled with his eyes down. He was so accustomed to the smell of petrol from the oil and herbicides on his chosen mode of travel, that it did not register in his brain.  

I'd recommend some scene-setting first. Why? Because we don't care what he's wearing until we know where we are. Earth, we'd assume, but what time period? Men jumped trains in the 1920's to find work - that's where my mind would go first. What time of year is it? Is it December or July? Don't tell us, show us. Is the air crisp? Snow on the ground? Is he sweating? What color are the leaves on the trees? Are there even trees? See how we don't know?  You say, 'chosen mode of travel', before we know what that IS, making the reader stop, and read back, to be sure they didn't miss anything. That's an example of a question you don't want the reader asking. Also, you have a POV violation - we're supposed to be in his head, so if something doesn't register, you can't say it. See what I mean? That's why I say this feels like omniscient POV, but it's not, because a narrator wouldn't know what's going on in his head at all.

He was making a game of achieving the pace, which allowed each shoe to land on a crosstie. The amusement helped keep him attentive, as he was tired, and his alertness was not sharp, and his mind wanted to replace the current smell with salt air. The man looked up.  His hair lifted on the back of his neck. He stopped to listen for a train. 

It's not until 'crosstie' that we find out he's on a train track. You say 'amusement', but that doesn't fit with the tone of the beginning - he's watchful - we sense danger. Why does the hair lift on his neck? You never say, and it's important. He'd have plenty of time to get off the tracks, so it can't be worry about the train. It's okay to build suspense, if you give us some context. 

I'm going to try to rewrite this, below. It may not be right for your story (I'm making some assumptions that might not be correct), but hopefully it will illustrate what I mean.

     The man shuffled through the dead leaves covering the railroad ties, his feet finding them more by repetition than by knowing. The smell of diesel and creosote mingled with the dying smell of autumn. Jobs were hard to come by this summer, and if he didn't get a roof over his head by the time the snow flew . . . better not to think of that now. He stopped, listening. There! Rustling from the embankment above. Five dark-jacketed men broke from the woods and ran toward him, yelling.

Now, we need to see his emotion - heart rate speeding, dread...etc. since we don't know why they're after him, if we see that it's important to him, it will help us care. Why? It goes to stakes. For example, if he's just been jumping trains because he has no money, the reader will have empathy for him. If he's a child molester, they're going to feel very different! I think it's important here to give the reader a hint. It doesn't have to be a lot - just something like: He hadn't meant to kill that girl--it was an accident. Couldn't they see that? 

            He heard footfalls, sticks breaking, and brush pushed aside to his left and turned to see a group of four uniformed men running out of the woods and down an embankment towards him. The Man angled to the right to get off the tracks so he could run unimpeded. But the group was fast and caught him and dragged him back up onto the tracks.

I have a logic issue here. He's on tracks. Tracks are dangerous. So when they catch him, WHY would they drag him back to where there's danger? They're going to have their hands full, capturing him as it is - why make it harder? I don't see a way around this without rewriting the beginning. What if he was asleep in the woods, and wakes just before they're on him? Then he runs to the tracks and they catch him there? See how that solves your logic problem?

There, they hit him and beat him on his body and his face, and he was thrown to the ground. He could smell their sweat and their fear, as they began removing his pack. He grabbed it and held it tight to his chest as they continued to hit him in the face. The nearby train-whistle made them all pause, and they released their hold on The Man and the pack.  

            With the train insight and a short distance away, their faces turned ashen, and their eyes sprang wide open. “Train-Drifter” took this opportunity to roll over the right rail and down the short embankment. He knew that trains in this area traveled fifty-five miles per hour and would be on top of them in seconds. 

To increase tension, cut words. We're in his head, and thoughts would be short, cut off, jerky. Don't describe every single thing, or repeat. Less is more, in tense situations. Show us how those blows FEEL to him, from the inside, and that he's desperate to hold onto that pack.  Why are they afraid? And why isn't he? There could be a really cool reason for this (maybe he has a bomb in the pack?) but you never tell us, so the potential cool thing doesn't really do anything.

            The group of blue-uniformed men with DVP stamped in yellow on the back of their jackets hesitated. Two of them jumped off the tracks and the other two reached with their arms as if they could somehow stretch far enough to catch the man. Realizing their intended prisoner had escaped, they jumped to avoid the iron monster. 

Since I don't know what 'DVP' stands for, your mentioning it doesn't help. Even fast trains signal their approach by sound and vibration. They'd have plenty of time to get off the tracks before it was upon them. This is a bigger threat than losing their prisoner, so I don't understand why they'd wait so late. Unless, he has a nuclear device, or an airborne pathogen in that pack. But since we don't know, it doesn't make sense.

            The Man knew that this passenger train would be short and No time! Heartbeat chugging louder than the train, he sprinted for the woods.

Do you have problems showing close POV? Post a sentence, and we'll work on it!

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Like Laura's books/posts? There are two ways to get more!  Sign up for her quarterly newsletter, or her Write Stuff short podcasts on the craft of writing, and have them delivered to your inbox. What's easier than that? Would you like her to come speak or teach online to your group? You can do that here.  Oh and did she mention she has a December release?

October 24, 2018

by Amy Shojai

I didn’t set out to be a writer. I’m where I am due to a perfect storm of pet-love, frustration, boredom, and lack of funds. *s* Oh, and luck, a whole lot of furry good luck.

THE ACCIDENTAL WRITER

My publishing career began when my husband and I moved to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. You never know where a “real” job will lead.

With few opportunities in the small town, I applied for a position with a veterinary hospital. The interview happened during a Chihuahua’s C-section, with the doctor handing me puppies to resuscitate while I answered his questions. I got the job, maybe because I didn’t faint!

I fell in love with veterinary medicine and became fascinated with cat and dog behavior and care. In my spare time, I read voraciously, and—like many readers—was inspired to write. I submitted personal experience stories as a vet tech to pet magazines and collected a boatload of rejections until an editor took pity on me, and explained what I’d done wrong.

She explained they didn't print articles with sad or tragic endings but preferred hopeful, relatable experiences from which readers could learn. After that I sold 8 stories in a row to her magazine. All I can say is, doG bless mentors!

#1 Tip. Be a mentor! They’re the heaven’s gift to starry-eyed hopefuls and can make dreams come true. Help others, because a rising tide lifts all boats—you’ll benefit as much as anyone.

I graduated to assignments that required interviewing veterinary experts from all over the world. Telephone-tag interviews (this was before email) took place during lunch hours and after work. And then it happened—a New York editor called me to write a book. Mee-wow!

A New York editor read my Cat Fancy magazine articles, and phoned to offer two book contracts. Those titles, published in 1992 by Bantam/Doubleday/Dell, launched my book publishing career.

My third book came after I lost a dog-writing contest, but the editor liked my writing, and asked me to write a kitten book for a Simon & Schuster imprint. And my fourth book publication happened when an editor read and liked my Dog World articles, and asked me to write 16 chapters in a massive Rodale Press pet care book. I quit my day job to write full time, and continued to produce 30-50 articles and columns a year while pursing more book contracts.

#2 Tip. Include bio-notes and contact information in everything you write. Make sure editors and agents can reach you (do you have easy to find CONTACT INFO on your blog?) You never know where that can lead.

LITERARY AGENT—OH BLISS, I’VE ARRIVED!

I broke all the rules to get my agent. She’d turned down my fiction before (drat!) but had expressed interest in my nonfiction background. When her name turned up as a speaker at a writers’ conference I planned to attend, I (gulp!) took a chance and faxed her my pitch.

My relationships with experts in the pet products industry granted me permission to use an impressive imprimatur on two proposed book projects. Within 30 seconds, she called me back, and I had an agent.

#3 Tip. Leverage your expertise & know when to break rules. What you do in your “real life” when incorporated in your writing work can potentially bring you closer to your personal brass ring goal. Look for opportunities and be bold—worst case, they say “no.”

PUBLISHING DIES—I’M SCREWED

After September 11, news became more serious (rightly so), with warm-and-fuzzy TV pet segments no longer welcome. People asked Dr. Google for cat and dog advice (much of it bad or dangerous), rather than reading books. I couldn’t sell anything new, and several of my titles went out of print.

I believed my book career was over, and took a job teaching high school choir. But that led to frustration, so I continued to write in my spare time before work, during lunch, and until midnight or on weekends. And I wrote the pet-centric thriller I’d always wanted to read.

#4 Tip. Creativity breeds creativity. What other creative avenues feed your muse? Writers paint word pictures, composers sing symphonies of sound, and actors bring it all to life. Nourish your creativity. If you can’t write all the time, find other creative ways to feed your muse.

A weight lifted once I gave notice prior to the end of the school year, although I had no writing prospects. This leap of faith paid off within three weeks of leaving school when a book offer came my way (The American Pit Bull Terrier). As soon as I delivered that manuscript, a colleague invited me to write online behavior content for cats.About.com, which also led to me creating the entire puppies.about.com site.

#5 Tip. Be flexible. Dreams come to those who see the reality within the sparkly vision.

Ebooks revitalized my publishing career. I left my agent (OH MY HEAVENS, HOW SCARY!). I listened to my audience and gave them what they wanted and needed. Today my royalty percentage earns far more than any New York deal ever had.

#6 Tip. Look for opportunities in the disappointments. If my books hadn’t gone out of print, I’d never have gotten back the rights, which enabled my re-birth as an Indie author.

Initially I partnered with a small independent press to release updated print versions of my back list books, as well as new nonfiction titles. Together we launched my fiction career with LOST AND FOUND (now perma-free), followed by three more pet-centric thrillers. Attending professional conferences helped me network with established thriller authors like James Rollins, J.T. Ellison, Jon Land and others who actually (SQUEE!) gave me cover quotes for my thrillers.

#7 Tip. Ask for help. Just as it makes YOU feel awesome to be a mentor, graciously accept such gifts from others. Connect with and build a support group of others who share your goals and experience.

In January 2017, I left the small press indie-publisher and updated and reissued all my books under my own imprint. That has allowed me to better plan marketing campaigns, schedule updates, and take control of pricing and income factors in my business.

PASSING IT FORWARD

Other than hiring an outside editor, I can’t afford to pay others for work I can do myself. Besides, nobody cares as much about the end product as I do. So I learn from publishing and marketing experts, just as I learned from veterinary and pet products experts over the years. Today, there are many paths to publishing, and no “right” or “wrong” way to get there. I hope these tips help you reach out and capture the shiny dream that’s close to your heart.

Readers of this blog are already well on the path to writing and publishing success, so congratulations! Follow your muse and grab that writer-ly brass ring. If I can reinvent myself, so can you.

What do you think is the key to writing success? Do you have any questions or tips? Please add them to the comments!

If you’d like to go further, I’ve an exciting new project to share.

This past summer I launched WRITE SCHTUFF COACHING to consolidate all the knowledge from my writing and publishing sessions at dozens of writer conferences and corporate clients. If you’re like many writers, you HATE LEAVING HOME, hate the time and the cost of travel and expense of professional conferences. This 9-course series addresses your writer-icity pain from the comfort of your own space with prescriptive how-to advice, whether you’re multi-published or writing your first book.

Check out the first coaching call for free – it’s available all the time, so you can watch at your leisure: Beat Writer’s Block, stay Motivated & Write the #$%^! Book

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About Amy

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 30+ nonfiction pet care titles and Thrillers with Bite! Find more about Amy at https://www.SHOJAI.com You can also ENTER for a chance to win a paw-tographed copy of DOG FACTS or CAT FACTS.


2014-2018

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