In fact, to be honest, most days I don’t feel like writing, not at first anyway.
But regardless of how I feel, I try to write at least five days a week.
That’s the not so good news, not feeling like writing and then writing anyway.
But here’s the good news: Once I start writing, something magic often happens and the words flow and for some period of time I am transported outside of myself, into another world.
I lose track of time. I lose track of whether I’ve eaten. I just keep going and going like some crazed, literary version of the Duracell Bunny.
Here’s the best news I’ve got for you today: That magic has NO chance of happening if you and I don’t start writing. And I firmly believe that the best writing happens when we’re writing, not when we’re thinking of writing or planning on writing, but when we’re actually putting fingers to keyboard or pen/pencil to paper.
Oftentimes, I worry about how this scene is going to come out, or how I’m going to portray that character. I worry about pacing, plot, arcs, denouement, and a thousand other things. But these things tend to work themselves out during the writing process. It is miraculous. Yes, since I’ve become a writer, I’ve come to believe in miracles. We all should. I’m not sure books get written any other way. For think of the power of the imagination and what you can do when you express your ideas on paper.
My writing blocks come when I worry about writing, when I obsess about writing, when I focus on planning to write. Usually that anxiety disappears when I actually start writing.
If you’re suffering from writer’s block this might be the problem. You are worrying about what your writing is going to look like, how it’s going to sound.
But again, more good news. We’re not neurosurgeons. We don’t have to get it “right” the first time around, or the second, or third, or thirteenth, really. We just have to keep striving.
As I said on Facebook the other day, I have a long way to go to become the writer I want to be, but today I’m a little closer to that goal than I was yesterday. And for that I’m grateful. But I’m only closer to that goal if I write today. Because I’ve come to learn the hard way that we don’t improve our writing by thinking about writing, about having great ideas that we are one day going to commit to paper. We get better by actually doing it.
Will we make mistakes? Of course! Remember perfectionism is a demon that defeats you before you even begin, it is crippling. Make mistakes! For when we make mistakes it shows that we are writing, which is the best thing writers can do, if we’re striving to become the best writers we can be.
All the very best, and keep writing,
I can’t write a novel.
It’s true, I really can’t.
The fact that I’ve had two novels published and am working on a third doesn’t render my confession false.
But what’s going on here?
Either I’m mad or I’m lying.
The fact of the matter is that writing a novel is a maddening prospect.
As George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
The thing is, I doubt Orwell could write a novel. Or Dostoevsky. Or Tolstoy, for that matter.
But these are some of the greatest novelists the world has ever known!
Now, you say, that Matthew Peters has certainly gone off the deep end.
But what I mean is that writing a novel is too difficult to consider as a whole. There are simply too many things to keep track of: word choice, pacing, characterization, character arcs, plot, subplots, theme, imagery, when to reveal what, how to build to a climax, how to provide resolution, etc., etc., etc.
What we writers are capable of is writing a single chapter or, as I like to think of it, a single scene.
And, that to me, is one of the most important things I’ve learned about writing: you just do it one scene at a time.
To do otherwise is overwhelming.
The fact of the matter is that breaking things down to their component parts helps.
Anne Lamott, in her incomparable book, Bird by Bird, admits that writing can be daunting. She talks about how she keeps a one-inch picture frame on her desk.
Lamott says of the one–inch picture frame: “It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”
She also recalls E. L. Doctorow’s sage advice that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Lamott adds, “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
When all else fails, I break down writing to its smallest component: the word. One word. I use a trick I call the one word challenge. It works like this:
Open up your WIP. Yes, I know, this is often the most difficult part, but trust me on this one.
Read the last sentence you wrote (not more than this, because then you’ll want to start editing and editing can be a form of procrastination if you haven’t finished a complete draft yet).
Now, write one word you feel could come next.
Force yourself to stop with that one word.
Here’s the thing: I’ll bet you can’t stop at one word. Just like potato chips it’s hard to stop at one.
Try this next time you’re stuck, and please let me know how it works out for you.
All the best and keep writing,
A version of this post originally appeared on Margaret Mendel’s blog, Fish Kicker, on April 1, 2015.
Let’s start with a common refrain: something’s happened in the book world in the past few years, something that’s made selling books extremely difficult. This especially holds true for indie and small press authors.
I had two novels come out last year, both with small presses. I can say with certainty that marketing my books has proven very challenging.
Here’s a list of things I’ve tried:
- Posting in Facebook groups/doing paid ads on Facebook
- Tweeting about my books
- Doing a virtual book tour
- Hiring a publicist to help with promotion
- Doing radio shows
- Holding a book launch
- Doing readings/signings at bookstores
- Creating Facebook pages for both novels
- Telling everyone I know about my books
- Reading tons of stuff in books and online about marketing and promoting
These are the things I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more.
The bottom line? None of these have proven singly effective in selling books.What has been most effective is meeting people in person and online and forming relationships with them.
There is one last marketing venue I’m considering: Bookbub. I’ve heard nothing but good things from authors who have been accepted and advertised through them. If you’ve had any experiences with Bookbub, please share them in the comments.
So several hundred dollars and not a tremendous number of book sales later where do things stand?
After reading endlessly and talking to numerous authors and readers, I have come to the conclusion that the best way to sell a book is to write another one. This is particularly true for those of us who write series.
However, I say this with some trepidation.
Now, I am not opposed to writing more books. After all, I consider myself an author, and that’s what authors do.
What I am opposed to is increasing quantity at the expense of quality.
Let’s face it: Amazon and other publishing services don’t really care about the quality of books we put out there. They’re just interested in skimming profits off the top. But the fact of the matter is we should care about the quality of the books we publish because they are a reflection on all of us in the writing community.
So let’s forge relationships and let’s write more books, but let’s also make sure they are of high quality. Everyone benefits that way. And let’s keep sharing our marketing experiences so we know what works and what doesn’t. Because at the end of the day, professionally speaking, all we have is one another.
May we take pride in that.
Yours in writing,
But it does have something to do with a quote by Edgar Rice Burroughs, in his book The Beasts of Tarzan:
“We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.”
The fact of the matter is, and here I’m sharing one of the best insights I know when it comes to quitting unwanted habits, we are all creatures of habit: for good or ill.
This is an incredibly simple, yet awesomely powerful realization.
Let’s step back for a moment and figure out exactly what it means when it comes to quitting unwanted habits, like smoking and drinking.
First, it’s all about our daily routine.
And the fact of the matter is this: if you don’t do something every day for a long enough time, you really won’t miss it!
This occurred to me when I quit smoking. I smoked on and off for years, and when I smoked I often did a pack a day. I can’t begin to tell you how much I looked forward to that morning cigarette, especially with a hot cup of coffee. I thought there was no way in hell I’d ever be able to wake up and not want a cigarette. But you know what? I’ve been waking up every day for the past several years without even thinking about smoking.
How did I do it?
Well, at first I used the patch, which worked for me, but may not be right for everyone. Please check with your doctor before you consider using something like that. But more importantly, it was a matter of waking up and not having a cigarette for enough days in a row, to the point where I even stopped thinking about smoking in the morning.
How does this work? Well, I don’t know the physiological and psychological details, but it revolves around the fact that we are creatures of habit, just like Burroughs says. Fact: if you wake up enough mornings without smoking a cigarette you will stop craving a cigarette in the morning. That’s right: we are creatures of habit for good or for ill.
The same is true for drinking, although of course you may need to be medically detoxed from alcohol. Again, check with your doctor.
Let’s take religion out of it. And let’s side-step the question whether alcoholism/addiction is a disease. The fact of the matter is if you go enough days without drinking, you lose the habit of drinking. Why? Because you’ve essentially created the habit of not drinking, just like you create the habit of not smoking by waking up enough mornings without lighting a cigarette.
Now, how many days do you have to go without a cigarette or a drink before you get into the habit of not drinking or smoking? That answer differs from person to person. It might be several days, it might even be weeks, but the great news is: it gets better. You will not always crave a cigarette or a drink as badly as you do when you first quit. There may be times when a craving surfaces, but if you just hang in there long enough, it will pass. Please trust me on this one.
The rest of the Burroughs’s quote reminds us that when we stop trying to implement a new behavior (e.g., when we stop developing alternatives to drinking and smoking) then we fall back into our old ways, which is pretty darn accurate in my experience.
I have found this insight remarkably powerful when it comes to quitting unwanted habits. Truth be told, it’s also helped me instill some good ones, too, like writing a certain number of words a day.
That’s right. Start by writing a certain number of words a day—I do 500—and then do that every day for a certain number of days. Given long enough you will find yourself actually missing writing if you skip a day.
Do you have a habit you’d like to give up?