Tag Archives: motivation

Excuses, Excuses

Feb 17, 2016
New Year's resolution? Nailed it!

New Year’s resolution? Nailed it!

Ah yes! You know how New Year’s resolutions go. I had a great one too. Well, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to learn how to make donuts from scratch. BAM! There they are. I need a bigger donut cutter, but they were really tasty. Now to perfect the recipe and tweak it. Chocolate donuts anyone? 

But my other New Year’s resolution…. Well, this isn’t a Western Wednesday post, and there wasn’t one last week or the week before. So, yeah. That one kind of fell apart a little. But I have a really good excuse of why I wasn’t able to post about Western history for the past few Wednesdays. It’s because my dad, Richard E. Farmer, passed away on January 29th. He hadn’t been in great health for the past few years, so it wasn’t unexpected. What was unexpected was the sudden family trip to Huntsville, Alabama, where he lived. I pretty much lost a week of work.

 So why mention all of this? Well, if you’re bound and determined to make a career out of writing, there will come a point when the unexpected rears its head. As much as you plan and make a schedule for yourself, set goals and work diligently to accomplish them, there will be times when something entirely unexpected comes out of nowhere and blasts your plans to bits. For me, it was losing my dad. For my good friend Kirsten Osbourne, it was a thyroid cancer diagnosis which will mean surgery tomorrow. Don’t worry! Thyroid cancer is 95% curable, and her doctors are on top of it, but it’s going to push back a little something-something that the two of us have been working on for you. *wiggles eyebrows* 

The point is, you can’t plan for everything. You can’t plan for Amazon to change the way they tally page reads in their Kindle Unlimited program. (They just changed things, and the payout to authors for the month of January went way, way down… But many authors are theorizing it may go back up next month… Except, it might not) As organized as you make yourself, you can’t plan for another eBook platform going under…or another one rising up. You have no power whatsoever over traditional publishing houses merging or dissolving, and you definitely can’t control the amount of time it takes for them to make decisions about books. 

Bottom line is that no matter how much you plan and structure your writing career, things will come along that blow your plan out of the water. And yep, the same exact thing is true of life. My dad’s wife didn’t plan to lose her husband right after moving into a (giant) new house, while still renovating the old one and getting ready to sell it, and while also searching for an assisted living facility for her mother. Seriously. We may have had our differences in the past, but, whoa. But she’s soldiering on, and I’ve got to give her snaps for that. Makes me losing a week of work look like a day at the park. 

Two authors in the making...

Two authors in the making…

And that’s also the point. We run into hard times. Life takes unexpected turns. It ruins our plans and sends us back to the drawing board. But every time that happens, if we’re truly serious about the path we’re on, we have to take a deep breath, survey the situation, and figure out how to get back on track. Sometimes that’s as simple as making a list and checking it twice. Sometimes it involves a lot more shuffling, especially if other people are involved in your projects.  

The definition of a professional is someone who continues to do the work even when the going gets tough. Hobbies can be set aside, but when this is your job, you’ll find a way to do it. My solution to February’s setbacks has been to forgive myself for not keeping New Year’s resolutions, to write my fingers off when and where I am able, and to readjust my schedule to fit in with all of the crazy going on around me. And also not to make promises that I can’t keep. Like release dates. Sorry! I wish I could tell you when my next book will be out, but at this point I’m just not sure. But I’ll definitely let you know. (And, psst! You can sign up for my newsletter to find out—plug, plug, plug) 

And so, to close, I just want to say that even though we have had our differences over the years, my dad has always been a pivotal part of my writing. Like I said in the eulogy I delivered at his funeral, Dad was a storyteller. He used to tell me bedtime stories about the amazing characters and stories he was working on. (Dude, his character Sebastian Angel is epic, and I fully intend to use him in a sci-fi series I have in mind for the distant future) He was there when I was taking writing classes in college. We attended our first writer’s conference together. He even won a prize. But way back then, I vowed that I would beat him to publication. Which I did. Dad finished one book and worked on a few others, but the only thing he published was a sweet short story. I plan to fix that if I’m able to get the manuscript for the book he finished.

Top 5 Habits of the Most Successful Writers I Know

Nov 30, 2015
My Facebook Page Today

My Facebook Page

After four years of working really hard at this writing thing, I think I’m finally at the point where I can say I’m doing a few things right. More than that, I have made a bunch of friends who are wildly successful. They’re definitely doing things right. It’s been a pleasure to watch them, to adapt my own practices to become more successful, and to really get a clue about best practices in self-publishing. So I thought it would be nice to share some of the things I see people doing that really, really work. They might not be things that you’ve considered before. Here goes…

They Put the “Social” in Social Media – Possibly the biggest mistake I see newbie…um, and seasoned…writers make is viewing social media strictly as an advertising tool. This means that on release days, they will post-bomb every Facebook page they’re a member of and Tweet every ten minutes about buying their book. Not just on release days either. All the time.

The truly successful authors I know use social media as a way to virtually hang out with fans. Not just their fans either, but fans of the genre in which they write. They interact on a meaningful level with fans, get to know them, post silly, fun things, post serious, personal things, and generally treat their readers like buddies. They even get together for special dinners with fans in local areas and beyond. Talk about a way to build loyalty!

They Work Together – The whole thing about socializing goes way beyond fans. The most successful authors I know hang out with each other—online and in the real world. I can’t tell you how many epic projects have been hatched over late-night (or early-morning in my case) Facebook chats, or across the dinner table in an Irish pub in Manhattan at a conference (for example). We are all creative, but when you mass that creativity together to bounce ideas off each other or come up with group projects, amazing things happen.

Remember, books are not a zero-sum deal. Readers are not limited to buying one book or one author. As such, we are not in competition with each other. It goes far beyond never saying anything bad about another author or their work. When we actively help each other, we help ourselves. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD'Tale crew!

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD’Tale crew!

They Travel (and Give Stuff Away Where They Go) – Conferences are an amazing thing. Whether it’s a professional conference—Like RWA Nationals or RT Booklovers Conference in the Romance world—or a smaller reader event, the most successful authors I know will make a point to get out there. There are so many choices for readers these days. Actually seeing an author in person and having them go out of their way to talk to them is a fantastic way to go from digital name to real, live person.

To that I would add that you can’t just sit in your signing spot watching the world go by at events like these. It’s all-important to smile and greet everyone who walks by your spot. Everyone. Even people who look like they’re ready to snap someone’s neck. Actually, those are the people I’ve had the best surprise responses from. It’s also important to give things away—pens, postcards, bookmarks, and, yes, BOOKS. Being stingy with your paperbacks is not going to help you. Give those suckers to everyone! Even if they don’t read it, they’ll give it away, and that book will be out there in the world, waiting for a reader.

Also, as I mentioned in number 2, conferences are where that bonding with your fellow authors happen and where projects are magicked into existence. Yes, conferences can be expensive. But they are worth every penny. EVERY PENNY!

They Plan Ahead – Don’t worry, I’m not necessarily talking about plotting. Although I have noticed that a lot of the most successful writers I know do actually plot at least a little bit. No, what I’m talking about here is making a business plan, of sorts. 2016 is fast approaching. Many of my author friends already have a schedule of what books they will be writing under what names and in which series when. I know I’m planned out about 15 books ahead, and I already have my next three books outlined. Super hard work? Not as much as you might think. It’s work that has me organized to a T so that I won’t have to dilly-dally about what I’ll be writing.

It goes beyond planning the books you’re going to write, though. I’m talking about financial planning too (the credit cards WILL be paid off in 2016!), and lining up conferences and stuff. All of that helps keep your eye on the prize, and lets you see where you’ll need to allocate your funds and your time going forward.

They Move On – One thing I have never seen any of the top, top most successful authors I know do is get their panties in a twist—over a bad review, over a missed deadline, over a harsh critique, or over a promo that didn’t work. I rarely even see the really successful authors bellyaching over Amazon and it’s Amazon-y ways (although short, sighing gripe sessions do tend to happen when the ’Zon makes a change that adversely affects us all). Why? To quote that awesome meme, ain’t nobody got time for that!

The really successful authors I know have already moved on to the next book, the next idea, and the next promo opportunity by the time negativity comes their way. It’s far, far easier to shake it off when you already have something else you’re excited about working on. It lessens the impact of all that criticism and sales disappointments. Disappointment is part of this job, but it doesn’t have to be your focal point. There’s always another mountain to climb.

I’m sure I could come up with five more habits that I see my really successful friends engaged in, but I’ll leave you with that for now. Also with this…patience is key. It takes putting all of these things into practice over a long time to reach the point where you can kick back, relax, and know you’re successful. Even then, we tend to redefine success every time we hit a milestone. So keep writing!

Life Imitates Art – Writer’s Block Edition

Oct 09, 2015

I wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t happening to me right now. Life really does imitate art, and in the most inconvenient ways.

CatchAFallingStar_3DSo as it happens, my next release—book 3 in my contemporary romance series, Catch a Falling Star—includes a heroine who is a romance writer. One of the challenges this heroine faces is that when outside forces affect her life, she comes down with a bad case of writer’s block. Worse still, she doesn’t even have the benefit of time to work it out. Oh no, she has a deadline, and is expected to produce a bestselling book in a short amount of time. But when everything else in her life gets turned upside down, she has trouble getting the words out.

Well, since the beginning of the month, I’ve been in a slow process of moving, which has included cleaning and painting my new apartment. It has involved hauling all of my earthly belongings across town, getting things set up just the way I want, and paying people like movers. It has not involved a lot of writing, although I tried to keep at least a drip coming from the tap in the process.

Now that I’m moved in? Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Okay, well, not exactly nothing, but even though things have started to calm down (and the cats are back!), I’m finding it extremely difficult to get my brain back into normal, everyday writer mode.

Writer’s block happens, even to those of us who insist that we never get blocked. How could we get blocked? We have more ideas than you can shake a stick at? It’s not as if the well is dry, it’s just that we can’t figure out how to access the water now that the bucket has been changed. In a way, it’s the cruelest kind of writer’s block, because we can see what’s there, see what needs to be done, but rediscovering the will to do it is like turning on a rusty tap after a decade of not being used.

So what are some strategies we can use to overcome these annoying phases of our career?

My new work space...about 90% complete. I need art!

My new work space…about 90% complete. I need art!

I think the first and most important is developing patience. Not necessarily patience with our work. The words are the words. They will come when they come, even on the best days. No, the patience that we need to develop is with ourselves. I feel blessed because I was firing pretty much on all cylinders for the entire summer, in spite of traveling. Blessedly, it means that I’m actually a bit ahead of schedule in the writing department, although I would always love to write and publish more. So I need to take a deep breath and tell myself that unlike my heroine in Catch a Falling Star, I have time to figure this out.

There are also other things we can do within the realm of writing that will kick-start the muse and invite her to come back. I’ve written several times before about my practice of writing about my writing, or writing notes on the things I’m working on. So last night, I sat down and filled up four pages about the backstory of my characters in the novel I’m working on now. In the process, I discovered things about them that I wasn’t consciously aware of that will help to make the plot and their love story richer. You can never go wrong when you get out the old pen and paper and write about your writing.

The other big thing that I’m in the process of doing is following some of the best advice Stephen King gives in his book On Writing. He advocates creating a writing space and a specific writing time in your day and sticking to that routine in order to make the muse come. Well, moving, by its nature, has destroyed the writing space I formerly had. But I have a new space now, and I’m determined to sit in it at my old writing time and do at least some work. If that’s not hollering for the muse to come back, I don’t know what is.

At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do to bust through writer’s block is to write. I like to use a football analogy, of all things, to describe it. No matter if it’s inches or yards, every time you sit down to write, move the ball forward. Sometimes it’s only a few inches before first down, but if you give up and get paralyzed, you’ll never make it those last few inches. Write something, only if it’s a paragraph or a page.

So there we go. Writer’s block is real. It happens. But it doesn’t have to be a long illness. It’s something that you can break through with the right environment and a little determination. So what are your techniques for busting through the block?

Lessons from a Sunflower

Jun 25, 2015

balcony gardenSo for the last two or three summers, when I was living at my apartment, I built up a lovely container garden on my balcony. The way my apartment was situated, I got full sunlight all day, so I had varying degrees of success with different kinds of plants.

This is not a story about those plants.

Because this past winter, for the first time, I bought a birdfeeder. I plunked said birdfeeder into one of the dormant containers of dirt, and all winter long, my cats went nuts as they watched birds turn my balcony into the coolest bird hangout in the area.

This is not a story about those birds.

birdfeederWhen I moved to my temporary home for the summer, I brought my containers, complete with dirt, with me. They ended up scattered all around the garden at this house, the house I grew up in. I kind of had plans to plant flowers and stuff, but I never really got around to putting in the effort.

But someone had other plans.

Shortly after I got settled here, I noticed a couple of sprouts in one of the containers. I kind of knew what they were right away, but with an excited little grin, I let them grow, curious to see if they would actually GROW and end up blooming. Much to my surprise, they actually did grow. Very, very tall! I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. That’s what sunflowers do.

But as I stood admiring the first of the two sunflowers when it finally burst into bloom the other day, I was struck by an amazing lesson that that simple flower had to teach me. That flower was not supposed to be there. I didn’t plant it and I didn’t plan for it. That seed was not supposed to grow and flourish. It was meant to be eaten by birds, not to have a life of its own. But somehow, through fate, the nature of seeds, and a little luck, what was supposed to end up destroyed for someone else’s good ended up becoming tall and glorious and wonderful.

sunflower

We may think our lives are destined for one thing. We may be convinced, by ourselves or others, that we’re no good or meant for nothing more than to be someone else’s tool. We might feel hopeless because of the odds stacked against us. But sometimes the extraordinary happens. Sometimes we are able to rise above the crappy circumstances we are thrust into to become something beautiful and glorious. It can happen, whether we see it coming or not.

So now, next summer, when I move into my new apartment, I’m going to plant sunflowers. A lot of them. Sunflowers will forever be a reminder to me of the amazing things we can accomplish, whether we are “supposed to” or not.

 

Writing Tips – Get The Party Started

Feb 20, 2015
© Photocritical | Dreamstime.com

© Photocritical | Dreamstime.com

I don’t know if you’re like me, but every time I sit down to write, it’s like one of those old cars where you have to crank the engine before it comes to life. What is it about getting started that feels like such hard work? I love writing—LOVE IT—and once I’m started, I can sit there and type for hours. But getting started? It feels next to impossible.

In her book Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling mentions that her eight-hour writing work day consists of one hour of working. “The other seven hours are preparing for writing: pacing around the house, collapsing cardboard boxes for recycling, reading the DVD extras pamphlet from the BBC Pride & Prejudice, getting snacks lined up for writing, and YouTubing toddlers who learned the “Single Ladies” dance.” The first time I read that, I cracked up, because I do the same thing. I’m pretty sure we all do.

But let’s face it, if we want to be productive and get stuff done, we need to make ourselves start at some point. So here are a few tips for cranking that engine and getting a move on.

1. Pick a Time To Start And Stick With It – Back in the days when I had a day job to rush off to, the only way I could find time to write at all was to get some work done before I left for the office and to get a bunch done before I got to bed. The inflexibility of my free time meant that every morning by 5:45am, my butt would be in the chair and my fingers would be on the keyboard. I couldn’t make an exception or I would have no writing time at all.

The funny thing is, since becoming a full-time writer, I still feel a visceral need to have my butt in my chair and my fingers on the keyboard, if not at 5:45am, then at 6:45. More than three years of keeping to strict writing hours out of necessity actually shaped me into keeping those hours, even when the extent of my morning commute is from my bedroom to my living room.

Even Stephen King in his book On Writing says that it’s best to have a specific time that you write. If the muse knows where and when to find you, then you’ll be more productive. I’ve found this to be 100% true. It doesn’t matter when that time is. Find something that works best for you and your life, then stick with it. The sticking with it is key.

© Daniel Constantin | Dreamstime.com

© Daniel Constantin | Dreamstime.com

2. Plan Ahead – Even before I crossed the great divide from being a pantser into being a plotter, I always knew what I was going to write before I sat down for any given writing session. Nowadays, since I am a plotter, I have an extensive outline that I work off of for any given book. I tend to read over the chapter in the outline that I plan to write that day, reminding myself of where I was going with things and what parts of the scene I want to hit with the most color. To me, that’s the equivalent of turning the crank on the old fashioned car.

But even before my outlining days, I made certain that I knew what I would be writing before I sat down to write. Often that meant stopping in the middle of a scene at the end of a writing session. That sense of the incomplete would spur me on to finish what I was excited about the day before so that I could be excited about it again. If that works for you, give it a try. I will say this, though, having your plan for the day written down is a powerful tool. I mean, we’re writers after all, right?

3. Challenge Yourself – Sometimes it’s just plain impossible to get the writing juices flowing though. Roadblocks and writer’s blocks get in the way and keep you from moving forward. That’s when it might help to do a writing sprint or to give yourself some other out-of-the box challenge.

I know a lot of writers who band together through media outlets like Facebook or Twitter to challenge each other to writing sprints. I love this idea. Not only does it provide you with a framework and guidelines for what the sprint might be (writing on a theme, shooting for a specific number of words, writing as much as you can in a given amount of time), it connects you with other writers who are in the same boat that you’re in. There’s nothing better for getting out of a rut then hanging out with your fellow writers, virtually or in reality.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways we can rev our writing engines and get creating. These ones work best for me. What are some of your tricks?
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