Finding [Making] Time to Write

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I’ve recently started a small business. I’m also managing the planning process for a house renovation and am undertaking a technical two-year course sandwiched into nine months. To top it off, I’ve set myself a 3-month deadline to finish the final edit of my novel, Gunfire Lullabies, because ENOUGH NOW (time to move on)! In short, I’m extremely busy.

Guess what’s fallen by the wayside these last two months? Was it study or the renovation? No. Was it my novel? Yes! Yet not writing much was causing me stress to the point I was getting physical symptoms. Studies show that when people and animals lose control of their lives, this is the most stressful situation they can be in. I was caught in a vicious cycle of stress making me less productive, which resulted in even less time for my writing.

What to do about this? Make a plan, I thought, even though I’m not good at sticking to them. But writing is extremely important to me so I decided I’d commit. Here are my tips on how to make time to write:

  1. Prioritise – Are you trying to achieve too much? List your key annual goals and number them from most to least important. If writing is high on your list, move other tasks down the list. If it isn’t as important as you thought, accept that. Perhaps now isn’t the right time. This way you take the stress out of trying to do it all. I’ve decided to go slower on the social media side of my business, setting a strict time allowance for each session and limiting it to every second day. It’s working!
  2. Commit time – For me it’s critical that I write for my sanity, creativity, happiness, self-worth, health, wellbeing, identity and more. So I’ve committed to writing for at least one hour, six days per week before I work, study, do chores and so on. I also schedule my writing time, and just like any other appointment, I don’t let myself down any more than I would my best friend or doctor. Interestingly, I find that I pack much more into my writing time than I once did. By following through on my commitment to myself, I also feel I’m telling the world I’m serious about writing. What can you commit to? How serious are you?
  3. Be realistic – But don’t make unrealistic plans. If two hours per day is untenable, but regardless you’re determined to do it, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Plan instead to write for an hour or thirty minutes. Smaller, regular writing sessions are better than no writing sessions! Could you get up an hour earlier four weekday mornings, spend half an hour of your lunch time writing, write before bedtime, write on the train to work or devote every Saturday morning to writing? Be creative and find what works for you without adding more stress into your life. And stick to it! Remember, this is about regaining control and writing more.
  4. Unplug – When you make time to write, ensure you don’t fritter it away by ‘just checking that important email’ or ‘taking this phone call’. I’ve gone hardline and turn everything off while I write. Mobile phones have Do Not Disturb options and there are apps for computers that turn off email and so on. Maximise your productivity during your writing time by focusing. It feels great when you achieve this.
  5. Clear your mind – Turn off the TV and go for a walk in a park, do yoga or pranayama, meditate (there are some great free apps), exercise or use an app like these to calm the mind. When we’re in a state of stress, we don’t breathe properly, meaning our brain is deprived of oxygen and can’t function optimally. When we’re calm, the opposite is true. It may sound counterintuitive, but by finding the time to achieve calm you’ll gain greater control and be more productive during your precious writing time (as well as in all other areas of your life).

All the best. You CAN do it (if you want to badly enough).

 

How to get your [debut] novel published

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‘There has never been a tougher time to be a debut novelist.’
Kate Kellaway

‘Publishers seem enormously scared of too much originality. Many of the first novels we had to read this year appeared to be watered-down copies of something else.’ 
Kate Saunders on reading for the Orange Prize

So you’ve written a novel. What a feat! First, congratulate yourself. What do you do with it now?

Make sure it’s the best you can make it. Take it through a writing group, editor, beta readers and refine it ad nauseam. Writing is mostly rewriting. Remember that with agents or publishers you usually only get one chance per manuscript.

Then how do you get published in the current environment, which is saturated with good writing and where writing has been devalued (by Amazon – thanks!) many other forms of entertainment are on offer and publishers are by nature conservative?

As you ponder which method to try first, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How important is artistic control to you?
  • How much do you value acceptance and prestige?
  • What’s your financial situation?
  • How important are royalties and advances to you?
  • How much time do you have?
  • What’s your tolerance for risk?
  • Are you a multitasker, entrepreneur and social creature?
  • Do you hope to make a living from writing?

1. Get an agent

Find an agent who’s interested in your genre and approach them. Some are on twitter and put call outs for specific kinds of work, some check writing groups on Facebook (so always behave professionally), and others can be found through website searches. Their websites will tell you if they’re looking and what they’re looking for. Don’t be restricted to your country if someone overseas specialises in your type of work.

Going down the agent route can be time consuming as they have lists to manage. The minimum wait to hear back is at least six months. But agents can work well for authors. I have two friends who write sci-fi and have been published this way.

2. Traditional publishing

Traditional publishing is for books aimed at a general audience. Often they’re published by multinational or larger independent publishers who have minimum sales targets. In Australia, a very small market, this means around 10,000 books. But with overseas and other rights, possibly more.

Publishing new authors is always a risk and publishers must be confident they’ll achieve commercial success now and in the future. Publishing a book takes around 18 months of work, so the decision to go with a new author isn’t taken lightly.

Check websites to see if a publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts (meaning you haven’t been published before and don’t have an agent) and follow their submission guidelines to the letter. A few offer one day a week when they’ll look at a small sample of work and contact you if they want more. Sometimes approaching a publisher, even if they’re not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, can work too. But you’ll need to have a great hook to peak their interest so they read your synopsis. Make sure you’ve refined these along with your bio and similar books list to perfection. First impressions are everything. 

3. Independent publishers

These publishers almost always specialise in certain kinds of books that appeal to niche audiences. Often, you can approach them directly, which is a bonus. But as a result, it can take a while for them to consider your work. Check writers’ centres websites and manuals of independent publishers in your country. Again, make sure you satisfy their submission requirements and your approach is professional.

Be aware that independent publishers have limited resources, which will mean more work for you in terms of building your brand on social media etc. to generate sales. ON the other hand, they go outside traditional boundaries and in Australia are wining major prizes.

4. Self-publishing

Some people are avoiding the long wait of traditional publishing routes and self publishing. The many advantages include that you have full control, enjoy direct access to your audience, earn a bigger chunk of the retail dollar of your book and you can publish fast. It can be especially useful if your novel falls outside the bounds of typical publishing because of its nice audience, regionality, it’s experimental, has an unusual theme and so on.

But you’ll need to be the type of person who’s happy to drive the process deciding everything from the cover, editing, branding, what format to use (online only, if so with whom, or print to order etc.). Remember, you won’t be able to submit your self-published work into established prizes, although smaller self-publishing awards exist.

Genre books tend to do better than literary novels with self publishing. I have a friend who makes a living this way. She’s a fast commercial writer, highly disciplined and writes in the urban fantasy and chick lit areas.

5. Hybrid publishing

This is the middle ground between traditional and self-publishing. Usually this means the author pays up front to some extent.

Partnership publishing models offer authors willing to pay access to expertise, distribution, review sites and selling into the marketplace under a publishing banner that has a good reputation with booksellers. The manuscript will be vetted before being accepted or rejected, and will be subjected to the usual processes such as editing. This model is financially risky as the author’s investment may not be recouped. Publishers mostly don’t earn out their investments on books they acquire and partnership publishing is no different.

Alternatively, there’s vanity publishing, closely akin to self publishing, where an author pays a business to publish their work but not under their imprint. This won’t necessarily help your book succeed and is really about a business selling you a service for a profit. They usually don’t vet your work or care about editorial quality.

6. Form your own publishing company

This involves a lot of work, but if you’re an entrepreneur type and self-publishing doesn’t offer the kind of ‘legitimacy’ or recognition you desire, perhaps this is for you.

Going down this path means you’ll be responsible for choosing your genre and market, taking care of the registration aspects, creating a business and marketing plan, establishing distribution channels, knowing about bookshops and libraries, developing a network of reliable professionals such as cover designers, editors/proofreaders, getting on top of legal stuff like rights and options. Phew!

But this offers the opportunity to grow. Ask yourself, do you love the business of publishing? Will it allow you time to write?

7. Whatever you decide, network

Join your local writers’ centre, go to writers’ festivals, attend workshops and courses, and so on. In short, get to know the publishing industry and make valuable connections. From there you can decide what means suits you best. Having a name or being given a business card by an editor (a rare invitation to contact them) is a foot in the door.

 

 

 

 

Rejection

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You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.
Ray Bradbury

Rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.
Bo Bennett  

Perhaps you’ve sought these out, what you once thought of as author platitudes, but after receiving another rejection letter or email, discovered they have the ability to bring you comfort. They’re no longer feel-good trite, but ropes you can grab onto to pull yourself out of the deep hole of self-doubt, anger, pity, frustration and disappointment you’ve descended into.

Why is rejection so hard?

Rejection is difficult because it feels personal—that our our whole self is being rejected rather than the piece or manuscript we’ve submitted. It’s not just our writing, but our heart and soul and dreams and talents and abilities that have been rejected. It hurts.

But this isn’t the case. Really, it’s our writing that’s been rejected, and specifically just that piece.

I usually let myself sulk (aka grieve) for up to 24 hours before I get back to business, pushing aside the emotions and taking a good, hard, clinical look at my work to assess whether I can fix it or need to move on to the next piece.

It might also worth asking why we feel our entire self has been rejected. Dig deep. Could there some underlying self-esteem gap that needs attention? If you truly want to write, you’ll continue to write despite your confidence or what others think. You’ll do it because you have to. See this piece on Defining (Writing) Success—perhaps you need to redefine what it is for you?

A side note: There are editors and agents out there who feel they have the right to stick the knife in your back and turn and turn it around. You’ll recognise it if you come across it. Ignore this kind of destructive feedback—which is about them and not your work—taking on the constructive comments only. Publishing is, to a considerable extent, a subjective industry. Agents and publishers have power over you right now, but they aren’t gods.

How to deal with rejection: Accept Learn Progress

  • Accept—If people weren’t willing to fail, new territory would not be traversed and creativity would cease to exist. Accept that rejection is an intrinsic part of learning and progressing. Some people wear it like a badge, and I can understand why, although you don’t want that to become your identity either. Also, remind yourself that to be rejected you created something whole. How many people can claim that?
  • LearnSeek feedback, whether you attend a writing group, call the agent or editor who rejected your work to get some feedback (yes, sometimes they will talk to you), do a free course, read a good how-to-write book, get a MS assessment done, or hire an editor or mentor. In other words, once you’ve licked your wounds, open yourself up again. You deserve it.
  • Progress—Put what you’ve learned into practice. And I mean practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter if it takes you three manuscripts or fifty poems or twenty short stories or ten years to get to where you want to be with your writing. Just do it.

Most important of all is NEVER GIVE UP. Don’t let the doubters—be they internal or external—win.

Why creatives need down time

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It took me a long time to work out that down time isn’t wasting time, rather it’s an essential practice to creativity. I had such a protestant work ethic in me it felt lazy taking time out from writing. But I eventually realised that having a break by walking or doodling or reading or cooking refreshed me. When I returned to writing my problems were solved, my words flowed into art and I made other breakthroughs.

Science confirms that taking a break by napping, meditating or walking in nature increases productivity, replenishes attention, solidifies memories and encourages creativity.

Professor Lajos Székely talks about the creative pause ‘…when the thinker interrupts conscious preoccupation with an unsolved problem, and ends when the solution to the problem unexpectedly appears in consciousness’. And I love this quote from Ferris Jabr saying ‘Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during down time’.

When you consider the apparently 18 things that highly creative people do differently, it confirms that down time is indeed fundamental to creativity.

Highly creative people daydream, observe everything, work the hours that work for them, take time for solitude, turn adversity into advantage, seek out new experiences, fail up (rather than taking it personally they use it constructively), ask the big questions, watch people, take risks, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, follow their true passions, get out of their own heads, lose track of time, surround themselves with beauty, connect the dots (finding vision), constantly shake things up and make time for mindfulness.

But down time can’t be spent just any way. In the digital era we’ve become addicted to the distractions of google, email, social media, TV and so on. Being distracted is easy because it stops us from thinking or feeling anything challenging. Yet sometimes this is exactly the place where growth and problem-solving occurs. If you hate being bored like I do, the reality is that it gives space for the mind to wander, which is where creativity can happen.

Here are some ideas about how to build down time into your life to expand your creativity:

  1. Create sacred space that’s technology free. If you go for a walk, don’t take your phone. Allow your mind to wander, feel the breeze on your face, smell nature, listen to the sounds around you, look at the people’s faces. Use it to connect with what’s around you.
  2. Schedule down time where you allow your thoughts to roam free. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way advocates going on a regular artist date with yourself, where for say two hours a week you commit time to ‘nurturing your creative consciousness’. She says it’s like spending quality time with or pampering your artist self. Take them to an art gallery or the zoo, wherever they tell you they need to go.
  3. Meditate. The practice of observing yourself and allowing thoughts to come through you without attachment or engagement allows things to come up in a safe way. Meditation promotes focus, calmness, clarity and insight.
  4. Listen to and trust yourself. If you feel you need a break, don’t chastise yourself for being lazy. Listen to yourself and trust that your mind knows when it needs down time. Creativity happens in mysterious ways.