Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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Why You and Your Characters Deserve some Ikigai

by Jenny Hansen

ikigai - interpretation of Japanese concept  - a reason for being as a balance between love, skills, needs and money - handwriting on a napkin with a cup of espresso coffee

Every so often, I read an article that makes me ponder this writing life and the characters we create. The one that prompted this post was Harvey Mackay's Try IKIGAI; The Secret for Happiness. "Ikigai" (pronounced Icky Guy) has been a hot topic in the business arena for a few years, but I hadn't stopped to think about the fiction possibilities until now.

What does ikigai mean?

This definition comes from Domestika.org:

"Ikigai is a Japanese word that loosely translates to 'a reason to live' or 'reason for being.' It’s a combination of the words iki (生き), meaning life and gai (甲斐), meaning worth.

"According to Japanese culture, we all have an ikigai: something that makes us happy, that we’re good at, and that allows us to make a contribution to our community. Finding your ikigai involves setting out on a continuous journey of self-reflection and personal growth that leads to the ultimate reward: a happy life."

You are here at Writers In the Storm because you have found your ikigai.

Or you're on a journey to find it, and you feel down in your bones that it's writing. You are at least facing forward toward your dreams, which is a mindset many people never achieve.

I am totally impressed with you, by the way! I hope you're impressed with you.

There are principles and books and tons of resources on ikigai. You can google and find scads of info. But data is not what's lighting me on fire today. Inspiration is what's lighting me on fire today.

This post examines how we can get some ikigai in our writing lives and how we can use our own journey for our characters.

How can you find your ikigai?

Circling back to that Domestika.org article I mentioned at the beginning of this article... "there’s no magic recipe, but two things can guide us: self-observation and a flow state of mind."

The authors recommend you ask yourself questions like:

- What do I enjoy most?
- What do I spend my happiest moments doing?
- When do I lose track of time?

You can ask yourself these questions, and I'd also recommend you ask your characters. What puts you into that "flow" state of mind?

What are the "Big Parts" of ikigai for writers?

Check out that photo up above. (Don't be distracted by that big cup of coffee or shiny pen. Look at the napkin.)

  • Outer Circle (going counter-clockwise): Love, Skills, Money, Needs
  • Inner Circle (going clockwise): Passion, Mission, Vocation, Profession

Now think about your writing life and what you like and dislike about it. Think about what frustrates you about it.

Some Outer Circle scenarios:

  • You love to write so much, you go get some skills. But the money doesn't come, and you still have needs.
  • You love writing so much, you stay at a day job to meet your needs while you get skills and (hopefully) start to make some money.
  • Maybe you don't love writing but you are so good at it that you make money doing it. You stay because it has become your passion and your profession.

An Inner Circle scenario:

  • Writing is your passion so you make it a mission to get some of that outer circle stuff. It becomes your vocation to get those stories out of your head. If you do great on the outer circle, it might become your profession.

I could keep going on all this around and around the circle, but it isn't my interpretation of it that matters.

It is your interpretation that matters.

Give Yourself An Honest Assessment

Sometimes when we get frustrated with the writing life -- or, heaven forbid, envious of someone who seems to "have it easier" -- it can help to take a look at that diagram and see if we are stuck in a particular place.

It's important to be honest, at least with yourself about where you are stuck and why.

For example, I have a day job that takes care of the money but I struggle with needs, which I see as time. Without time (because of the three-job-juggling act of day job, family, and writing), fiction can't be my full-time profession. Yet. Not without some unacceptable sacrifices on my part.

My Personal "Hard Road"

It was a long hard struggle for me to figure out how writing and publishing would fit into my life. I didn't really figure it out for my first five to eight years of parenting. Eventually, after many blows to my morale, I made the choice to let my writing take a back seat to parenting.

I'm not going to lie - I had to wiggle around and wrestle with my decision (a lot).

  • I tried multi-tasking
  • Writing on my lunch hour each day
  • Waking up one hour early
  • Going to bed one hour late
  • Giving up reading
  • Doing social media during tasks like cooking and movie-watching

And it stressed me out because I had no time for myself, and I was tired all the time. Babies teethe, get sick, wail, giggle, crawl, walk, and seduce you with that yummy smell on the back of their necks. I was so exhausted from trying to cram everything into my days that eventually writing became just another task on my parenting to-do list.

To put it into the perspective of this post, there was no ikigai in sight. No passion. Subsequently, there was no joy or meaning in my manuscript.

My biggest struggle?

Two messages -- inner and outer -- entwined and nearly choked the life out of me.

First of all, the dreaded "Should." The voice in my head lectured that "I should be able to be a new first-time parent while I work a part-time job, shop, cook, clean, blog, write, and complete any other number of tasks."

Pffffffft.

I could do all those things. But no, I absolutely shouldn't do all those things. Doing all those things made me lose my passion for almost everything.

The second (moronic) message bombarded me from the outside. You know the one. That sly innuendo society whispers, particularly to women, that "you can have it all" if you just [fill in the blank].

These two particular inner and outer messages were my death trap until my little one was about 6 years old.

Note: It doesn't have to be parenting kicking your behind. It might be caregiving, being the sole income in your house, or chronic illness.

For the record, you can indeed "have it all" IF...

  • You are independently wealthy, retired, or make enough money to hire out jobs like housekeeping, shopping, cooking, and childcare.
  • You give up things like leisure time, reading, and sleep.

I know so many writers who fall into these two ikigai-smashing traps. I know writers who give away all their energy to expectations and things outside themselves. I know writers who conserve nothing for themselves and their own joy.

What I wish for you, now and in the new year, is that you prioritize your own joy - that you chase your own ikigai.

It took me about five years to become 100% okay with my choice but when I did, my creativity blossomed. When I stopped stressing, I started writing more. It was magical.

This process of honest assessment about writing choices makes me think of Laura Drake's favorite quote from Randy Pausch.

Your Characters and Ikigai

You can put your characters through the same questions and scenarios we talked about above. Maybe they achieve ikigai through numbers, healing, childcare, building, farming. Maybe it's some other endeavor that transports their souls. Whatever their dream endeavor, you want to clearly identify the hurdles they must overcome to achieve it (so you can create some super-tall brick walls along their journey between page one and their dreams).

You are here at WITS, building on your writing dreams and creating community, so I expect that your ikigai is in your sights. Brava to you!

Have you ever explored the concept of ikigai? Which parts of the inner and outer circles are a struggle for you? What activities put you in a state of "flow?" We'd love to hear your story down in the comments!

About Jenny

By day, Jenny Hansen provides LinkedIn coaching and copywriting for accountants and financial services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.


Top Photo purchased from Depositphotos.

Inspiration Sources:

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Debunking the Myths of Developmental Editing

by Tiffany Yates Martin

Myth Busting stamped on an envelope

Thirty years ago, when I started in this business, having a writer directly hire a freelance editor like me was a relative rarity. With few exceptions you got an editor when you got a publisher—full stop.

But the explosion of indie and small-press publishing has seen a similar explosion in the services available for authors—which has also come with a roster of myths, hype, and confusion.

If you feel overwhelmed by all that noise regarding developmental editors, here’s a mythbusting primer on what you need to know.

Let’s start with the biggest myth:

You always need to hire a developmental editor

No, you do not. Authors have been successfully authoring for centuries, and yet the explosion of freelance developmental editors available for hire is a very recent phenomenon.

Yes, the publishing industry has changed—rarely can published authors expect the kinds of intensive hands-on in-house editing of a Max Perkins or Sol Stein these days; competition is far fiercer than it was; and indie and small-press publishing mean authors may get no editing at all unless they hire it themselves.

But the fact is, editing and revision are among the core skills that should be in an author’s toolbox.

Hiring an expert editorial eye can be wonderfully beneficial to your story and your writing in general—but let’s acknowledge the fact that developmental editing is a pricey proposition, often extending into multiple thousands of dollars. That is not within reach of every author—but finances are not and should not be a barrier to success in this field.

If you are self-pubbing or working with a small press that may not offer adequate editing, hiring a knowledgeable, experienced editor can be enormously useful in making sure your story is as effective and competitive as possible. (Learn how to make sure you’re getting that here.)

If you’re traditionally publishing you will have a dev editor—although it may not be as intensive an edit as you may want.

But there are other ways to get the objective feedback you need to see your story clearly—like good critique partners and beta readers­­­­. (You can find a beta reader questionnaire here to help elicit useful, actionable feedback; and find other alternatives to a professional edit here.)

What a good dev edit does is hold up the mirror to an author’s work so she can see whether her vision is conveyed effectively and fully on the page, and help her pinpoint areas where it may not be—and figure out how to address them.

I often liken it to hiring a professional contractor to manage a home renovation project. Will their expertise and experience make the job go faster, easier, and more smoothly? Very likely. But can you do the job without a general contractor? Of course you can. It may be more challenging, it may take longer, and there may be a sharp learning curve to get the results you want—but it can be done. (This self-editing checklist can also help.)

Dev editors are experts and know everything

Not always. In the explosion of services offered to authors since the indie- and small-pub revolution, there is a wide variety of skill and experience levels. There’s no official certification, standards, or governing body for developmental editors, so caveat scriptor—writer beware. (Learn what to know when hiring a pro here.)

Developmental editors are always right

Not necessarily. Not only do skill and knowledge levels vary, as in the above point, but storytelling and writing—as with any art—are subjective. A good dev editor is ideally reflecting back to you what’s actually on the page and helping you ascertain how well it fits your intentions and how effectively it’s coming across to a reader—and suggesting ways you might deepen, develop, or clarify these areas.

But these suggestions are only that. Ultimately this is your story and your vision, so take the edits that resonate and disregard those that don’t. (One caveat—sometimes a writer’s strong knee-jerk rejection of a suggestion may indicate a “darling” that could be hampering the story. Take time to let it sit and percolate, and consider whether the story might be stronger without it.)

Dev editors will "fix" your manuscript

That’s not what dev editors do. They aren’t a magic bullet or wand that will make your story publishable or a bestseller. They are a tool like any other tool in the writer’s toolbox—one that can help you see your work more clearly, deepen and develop it more fully and effectively, and get your intentions on the page. But the author is the one who must make the decisions of what to incorporate (or not) and how, and actually do the revisions, and that’s the hard stuff. A good editor can be your sherpa up Revision Mountain, but they can’t make the climb for you.

Dev editors know your story better than you do

No, they don’t. If an editor suggests they do, walk away. Good dev editors are working hard to understand your intentions, the story you want to tell—and to help you do that in the most effective way. We are drawing from the benefit of (ideally) extensive knowledge of craft and extensive experience working in the industry in helping to determine what is most effective and marketable. But you are the expert on your story; we are just the midwives helping you get it out.

Dev editors will pick your story—and you—apart  

Not exactly. Yes, a good dev edit is usually extensive and wide-ranging—and intense, what one author I work with called a “literary root canal.” But an editor isn’t (or shouldn’t be) looking to pick the story apart. I liken our job to that of a home inspector—our focus is to shine the light into every single corner and crevice and note areas where we see the story could be strengthened. We’re here to help you shore up the building so it stands strong, not to take it down. And editors can—and arguably should—also point out what’s already working well.

An editor’s overall approach should be respectful, constructive, and actionable. If they denigrate or dismiss you or your work, or try to take your story over and push their own ideas (rather than suggesting ideas drawn from your manuscript and supported with solid reasoning as to how they may serve your intentions), or tell you what’s “wrong” without suggesting ways to address any issues, find another editor. It’s not you—it’s them.

Dev editors should be successful authors themselves

Not really. Editing and writing are two closely related but very different skill sets, and just because someone is good at one doesn’t mean they are good at the other. Just as great conductors aren’t expert players of every instrument, or great coaches always star players, or great directors always great actors (or even good ones, often), great editors may not be great writers—and vice versa.

Judge an editor based on their editing: their experience, knowledge, and how well they seem to understand your work and intentions (from a sample edit, which I recommend never hiring an editor without)—not by their writing track record (or lack of it).

I’ve been a longtime contributor to Writers in the Storm, but scheduling conflicts mean that this will be my last post as I step away for now. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to be part of this wonderful, supportive, knowledgeable, and inspiring writing community.

I hope you’ll visit me at www.foxprinteditorial.com, where you’ll find free resources and downloadables for authors, more of my writing on writing in my blog, info on my workshops and classes, and more.

About Tiffany

Tiffany Yates Martin

Tiffany Yates Martin has spent thirty years as an editor in the publishing industry, working with major publishers and New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling and award-winning authors as well as indie and newer writers. She is the founder of FoxPrint Editorial and author of the bestseller Intuitive Editing: A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing and leads seminars and workshops for writers around the country. Under the pen name Phoebe Fox, she's also the author of six novels, including the recently released The Way We Weren't (Berkley/PRH). Visit her at www.foxprinteditorial.com.

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5 Secrets for Surviving the Social Media Apocalypse

by Lisa Norman

people staring at falling social media icons

Every day, authors ask me how to survive the current social media meltdown.

The bad news:

Here is some of the bad news authors are focusing on:

  • Twitter laid off 3,700 employees
  • Meta (Facebook) laid off 11,000 employees
  • Amazon is planning to lay off 10,000 employees
  • Alphabet (Google) is discussing layoffs
  • Preliminary statistics for book sales in 2022 are not great unless you are Colleen Hoover

There’s no denying it: these statistics are concerning. If you are an author who has built their entire platform on Twitter or Facebook, you may feel lost as to how to proceed.

There are some statistics out there that make it seem like very few people read anymore.

But there’s hope! Let’s dig just a bit into some options that can break our dependence on specific platforms and empower our marketing at the same time.

The good news:

  • New social media platforms are being created every day
  • Niche forums and interest groups are making a comeback
  • Authors are finding new ways to market and sell books
  • The future is bright for stories

I’m a chronic optimist, and I’ve been teaching authors creative ways of dealing with social media for years now. So, let’s change our focus! Allow me to share some tips to help you weather changes in the social media environment.

Secret #1: Social Media is about being social, not about having the biggest follower count.

Studies show that social media following alone is terrible at driving book sales.

Yes, TikTok is a current exception to that trend. Publishers and authors are rushing to build platforms on TikTok, to move their marketing dollars to TikTok, and to struggle to replicate the success that some authors have had there.

The problem is, they’re missing the point of TikTok and how those successes came about.

I don’t want to say that authors and publishers can’t have a powerful presence on TikTok, because some certainly are doing it. But the big success stories that we see were not driven by the authors! The big successes were driven by fans sharing books that they loved.

There’s a wholesome, grass-roots sort of feel to some of these book recommendations that drives sales in powerful ways.

Now yes, this has become a moneymaking business for some of these TikTok influencers. They’ll feature your book on their platform, for a price. I don’t have a lot of faith that these financial transactions will have as much power as a 16-year-old girl crying over the ending of her favorite book.

The most powerful TikTok sales are driven by fans recommending books they love, not by authors saying “buy my book!” This is the way of social media.

Size doesn't matter as much as we think.

I’m not saying that you can’t sell books through social media. What I am saying, though, is that the size of a person’s following does not translate to number of books sold.

There’s a difference between followers and super-fans.

Super-fans don’t just buy books, they sell them.

Social media is a great place to meet people and get to know them. It is a place to make friends and connections with people you might not meet otherwise. Social media is a place to meet and cultivate new fans.

Followers are just potential fans. Don’t show me your follower numbers. Show me your super-fans, the ones who can’t wait to buy your books and who can’t wait to tell others about them.

Give me 10 super-fans over 10,000 followers any day.

Want to dive deeper into this? Check out my marketing wheel analogy in a previous WITS article.

Secret #2: You can be a big fish in a little pond.

When you are in an enormous space with millions of people vying for attention, it is easy to get lost in the noise. You may be able to buy your way to a bit of notice, but when the money dries up, so does the attention.

Instead, if you find a small space filled with potential super-fans who love topics you are passionate about, you can meet amazing people, form lasting friendships, and make connections that can change a career.

One author I know has a tiny following, but among her devoted followers is an influential blogger in her niche. That one contact could open up connections with other bloggers in her niche and get her book a lot of exposure.

A super-fan with a marketing background contacted another author I know. When the fan realized the publicity challenges authors deal with, they took over marketing the book so the author could focus on writing the sequel. Don’t we all want to have a super-fan like that?

When you are in a small space, you can build connections with people who care about your success and want to help. We call these people our street-team. I’ve worked with marketing pros, and they tell me you can’t buy the power of a committed group of super-fans functioning as your street-team.

Look at any highly productive, successful author. I bet you’ll find a tight-knit group of super-fans.

Secret #3: People love to be around people who are having fun.

If you’re dealing with marketing stress and forcing yourself into a toxic environment that is bad for your mental health, you may be wasting your time.

Here’s what I hear often: “Social media doesn’t work!” and then there’s a sigh... and a pause... and then a confession. “I hate it.”

And we wonder why social media isn’t working for them? Often this is followed by “shoulds” or “have tos” that they’ve heard, often from marketing advice intended for corporations rather than creatives. Here’s the good news: you don’t HAVE to be on any platform you don’t want to be on!

Find a space you love. Go there for the fun. If you need to set a timer and limit your time on social media so that you get your writing done, you’re on the right track.

Secret #4: Build your own space.

I remember a time before social media. Actually, I remember a time before the internet, but we won’t go there. I’ve watched social media platforms rise and fall. I’ve seen massive platforms that I adored (anyone remember Compuserve?) rise and fall.

You don’t want to build your business in someone else’s store.

Social media is great for meeting people, but in the perfect marketing scenario for writers, you’re going to bring them home to a place that you control.

If you are bringing your ideal fans back to your special space, it doesn’t matter when the platform you met on goes away. You can stay in touch via your email list!

Some authors are even building special gathering spaces for their fans. I was in a discussion recently with a group of authors who were wondering if maybe private forums were going to make a comeback.

I don’t know, but it is interesting.

Secret #5: Readers are hungrier than ever for stories.

Yes, the economy is looking pretty bleak. The BookScan (official sales) statistics for most genres these days are concerning. Note: books sold through author websites don’t show up on BookScan. Neither do ePub sales. Neither do library sales. There are vast swaths of the industry that are not always reflected in statistics.

Digital reading is growing!

Some people are even cutting down on their doom-scrolling through social media platforms and replacing that time with digital story reading. Much better for mental health.

In the past, I’ve mentioned the warning given by an Ingram representative to a group of publishers back in 2021. He warned that digital reading was a trend the industry must pay attention to. We don’t want to miss the trend towards transmedia-centered, fandom-centered, online digital reading.

Venues like:

... and many other fiction platforms are seeing growth.

People still want stories, but they aren’t always consuming them the way they used to.

We talk about the way people skim when reading these days. Especially, young professionals in our modern world want content that is available to them whenever they have a moment.

In the past, you would read a book and turn the last page and feel sad. You wanted the book to go on. Maybe you’d reach out to that author, try to find more books. But we accepted that losing the story world was a part of reading the book.

That is not how modern readers want to experience a story. They want to turn that last page and then have discussions with others who have read the book. They want to delve deeper into the characters and the topics of the book. Give them an opportunity to engage with the author and the story world, and they become devoted super-fans.

As we go into 2023, it looks like budgets may be tight. People may not be going on fancy vacations or spending money on expensive physical books as much as they have at other times, especially not with the increase in printing costs. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for adventure and escape! People need an escape from the everyday onslaught of bad news.

What better way to escape than with a story?

cat saying Please give me money
Image by Nnie - Buy Nnie a Ko-fi

Ah, but many of these newer venues don’t pay authors very well. Many super-fans are deeply aware of this problem, and they are happy to support their favorite authors. Fans are supporting their favorite authors through platforms like Patreon, Ko-Fi, and Kickstarter in exchange for stories.

In a discussion on Discord, an artist made this cat picture as a joke because I'd said that cat pictures rule the internet and we were talking about learning to ask fans for support. If you like it, maybe go throw a dollar at Nnie. Because that's how creatives stick together! That's how Ko-fi works.

Authors who have learned to embrace their super-fans, cultivate them, give them what they want, are seeing potential new opportunities where others are seeing disaster. I’m a big believer in author experimentation. It can be all too easy to do things “the way they have always been done.” But we often forget that even those ways were experimental at one time.

I grew up before social media. I remember a time before the internet. Go back into history and think about the revolution caused by the printing press. Look at the way committing stories to paper changed the forms storytellers used to craft stories.

Story is vital to human life. Story isn’t going away. But there are shifts in how people are choosing to interact with those stories.

As authors, we are especially prone to losing our creative energy when surrounded by negativity. Let’s share some positivity!

What are your secrets for success in the current social media environment?

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that she wrote her first novel on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, you can find her wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? Sign up for her newsletter to see upcoming classes!

Top Image by Deleyna via Midjourney

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