Posts tagged ‘strategies’

October 18, 2016

Grow your online platform with Bloomtask

Michael T. Sheen, founder of Bloomtask and Dandelion Platform Design

Michael T. Sheen, founder of Bloomtask and Dandelion Platform Design


Bloomtask is designed for writers and other professionals to grow their online platform in about twenty minutes a day.

Bloomtask is designed for writers and other professionals to grow their online platform in about twenty minutes a day.

Last year, Michael T. Sheen of Dandelion Platform Design dreamed up a fantastic grassroots way to help his clients build an online platform: Bloomtask.

It started with his clients. Even after he provided some training, many of them weren’t growing their platforms.

“Some of them reached out and did things, but the majority of them would not,” Sheen said. “They said it was overwhelming and they didn’t know where to start.”

Sheen got to work. The result was Bloomtask, a task management center specifically built for growing platforms.unnamed-1

“It’s designed to be done in about twenty minutes a day,” he said. “All of the tasks I’ve created after months and months of research. If you do these things, your platform will grow.”

The task center includes tasks built specifically for Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. Sheen recommends starting with two or three channels. Channels can be added or deleted as needed, and the lists can be customized.

The pre-built task lists include five simple tasks per day for each social media channel. Some tasks are done daily, some weekly, some monthly or longer than that. Updating social media profiles shows up every six months. Tasks like unfollowing people on Twitter show up much more frequently.

If clients finish the daily list and want to keep working, there’s a button to add more tasks. There’s also a place to build personal task lists. This section can branch out beyond the social media task lists to include writing endeavors, editing projects, and other marketing tasks—even taking out the trash, if clients want to go that far.

Sheen designed the program to be friendly for newbies as well as for professionals who are already building their following. There are over a hundred video tutorials on the site. Many of them can be found in Bloomtasks’ Learning Center.

The Learning Center includes videos for newbies, like how to get started on twitter and Facebook, as well as more advanced marketing methods for these channels. Sheen says this will eventually be the Bloomtask blog, where he will share marketing methods he continues to learn and success stories from his clients.

“As we grow, we’ll add more advanced ideas,” he said. “We’ll do webinars and answer questions like how to make your own graphics. As we learn more things, we’ll add them, and we’ll review new channels as they come up.”

Bloomtasks’ Inspiration Center is a place for clients to take notes. Writers can keep their editorial calendar there. Bloggers can list their post ideas and even develop full posts right on the site, leaving them and coming back to them as needed. Sheen said he anticipates the site will eventually allow users to post directly to their blogs and social media sites.

“It’s something that we’ll continually add to,” he said.

In the achievements section, clients can track the number of followers they have in each channel. Sheen envisions adding fun activities like friendly competitions to help clients continue to grow.

Because work should always be rewarding and fun, that’s why, and Sheen believes that. It shows in his enthusiasm for his work on Bloomtask.

“It’s been a total blast,” he said.

Sheen talked to several people before he found and presented his idea to Sam Ouimette, Bloomtask’s programmer and Sheen’s 50/50 partner in the business.

“He loved it. He’s been working on it for about a year now,” Sheen said. “He’s put in hundreds and hundreds of hours.”

Hours which, apparently, have paid off, even during beta testing. One client grew her twitter platform with 40,000 followers in ten months. Sheen said every client he’s worked with on Bloomtask has had similar results.

The company had a soft launch earlier this year. Sheen planned to announce the full launch with an e-mail blast, but watch for it other places, as well. Bloomtask is designed for any professional who wants to grow an online platform.

It’s affordable, too, even for starving artists and writers. The monthly fee is $14.99, but anyone can try out a month for free.

Link here to get started.

Sam Oimette and Michael T. Sheen, founders of Bloomtask

Sam Oimette and Michael T. Sheen, partners with Bloomtask

June 17, 2016

Big World Network: Quan and Thompson work to save it, offer hope to ‘People and Dreams’

Meeting Jared Quan and James Thompson for the first time was a quietly impressive experience. Both are soft-spoken, and it wasn’t until five minutes into my conversations with them that I realized they are some of the most dynamic people I’ve ever met.

Besides being a successful marketer, Quan serves on several community boards, building partnerships between local cities and the League of Utah Writers. As president-elect of the League, he planned and facilitated this year’s spring conference. The partnerships he brought to the table resulted in one of the best spring conferences the League has seen.

That’s where I met Thompson. I was looking for a stylus, and he had one.

Several, in fact. As we sat behind the registration table, he told me the styluses he brought were part of his marketing plan, advertising his book. I learned he helped other authors with a company called Big World Network learn how to market their books. I learned that Big World Network published serialized books, and that both he and Quan had published with this company.

“Big World Network is unique,” Quan said later. “It’s serialized, so your content is available immediately to the public. I’ve always loved that. Since it’s a serial, it runs like a television series. You’ve got ‘seasons’ dividing up the book, and your chapters are called episodes.”

The conference itself was wonderful, but of everything I learned that day, I was most impressed with Big World Network and the friends who published there. In my mind, they found a solution that most indie authors seek: an interesting way to release their books, a close-knit community of other authors who helped promote each other, and the potential to sell their work through a publishing house.

It seemed like a buffet of hope.

A few days after the conference, I e-mailed Amanda Meuwissen, a media contact at Big World Network. She answered some of my questions, but said the company was undergoing some changes. I worried that the company was shutting down, and I mourned the loss of such a remarkable idea.

Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, I learned that Quan and Thompson were trying to help the company transition to a non-profit group. The end goal is the same: to help authors reach their publishing goals.

“What makes me truly passionate about Big World Network is the people who I get to work with,” Thompson said. “Truly a talented bunch! My editors are amazing. Amanda Meuwissen and Willow Wood have been the best at keeping me grounded, pointing out where I’ve gotten off track, and letting me know what does and doesn’t work. My narrators have been excellent. Matt Bowerman, Heather Johns and Charles Eades are amazing vocalists who have kept up with the French, Japanese, Gaelic and smatterings of other languages I’ve thrown at them. Our layout and graphic artist, Mario Hernandez, designed my magnificent cover and did a great job laying out my book and ebook.”

As part of the the transition process, Quan and Thompson set up a GoFundMe account to help finance legal, licensing, accounting and server fees. It’s expensive. The two friends say it’s worth the time and effort they’re putting into it.

“The problem for-profit companies have is they have to be particular,” Quan said. “ You can present traditional publishers with the best written story, but if it isn’t in their genre or isn’t trendy, they have to figure out what will make them money, and there is a chance they will turn it away. A non-profit company can look past the dollar signs, see the potential and make judgment calls on the merit of the work in front of them. I have met so many authors who have amazing stories that are so well written who are frustrated because no one is picking them up. Self-publishing is a respectable option, but we want to offer something else.”

“We do have an immediate business plan and a five year plan that we are working on finalizing,” Thompson said. “I can’t say too much about either yet. I can tell you that Big World Network relied upon quality writing from writer all over the world, and we plan on continuing in that vein.”

Thompson said over 60 authors have published with Big World Network, some from as far away as Romania. Most authors wrote science fiction or fantasy, but other genres were well represented.

“Our best sellers are definitely clean romance, and our sci-fi/fantasy, as well as young adult, though we don’t specifically request any genre,” Meuwissen wrote when answering my questions. “We have published even non-fiction.”

So far, feedback has been positive.

“My favorite feedback comes in the form of questions,” Quan said, “Like, how does that work?”

Another of his favorite questions: What will keep the lights on?

“We will look to be as author-friendly as we can when it comes to contracts, and make a little on those, but the bulk of our income will be grants, sponsorships and donations,” he said.

And one more: What will your focus be?

“People and dreams,” Quan said. “We want to help you achieve your dreams.”

That’s the reason the company started in the first place. Thompson said Big World Network was founded by Jim McGovern in 2011.

“Jim loved the idea of a ‘Netflix for books’ where the author could have more say, where readers could communicate with the writers about the story, and where readers could have a preference for their format, including paperback, e-book and audio,” Thompson said.

Meuwissen said even as a for-profit company, there were no paid positions. Volunteers for marketing and publicity, editors, narrators for audio books and cover design were always welcome.

“Everything is done pro-bono currently, as volunteers, but again, we are always looking for additional help,” she said.

The company had options for revamping previously published work and had even published a few novels from minors.

As Big World Network shifts from a for-profit company to a non-profit entity, it still seems to be about hope. It’s a shared vision for authors who like the idea of serializing their work, of having another publishing option, and of a built-in marketing support from everyone involved.

“I am very passionate about Big World Network because it gave me my first real shot and entrance into the industry,” Quan said. “I am really blessed, and I want the opportunity to help people succeed and reach their dreams.”

May 13, 2013

Write more and sell more

If everything you write is a pebble or a grain of sand, someday you'll have a beach where good things will wash up.

If everything you write is a pebble or a grain of sand, and you write a lot, someday you’ll have a beach where good things will wash up.

Does anyone else follow The Passive Voice? I’ve been getting updates from this site by e-mail for a while now. On the whole, there’s a digital warehouse full of good information for authors—what’s going on in the publishing world, for instance, and what’s going on in the self-publishing world, and tips for marketing your books so you can make money as a writer.

Most of the posts here have been reposted from other spots around the internet. My favorite so far was a post entitled What’s Your Novel Worth? NVP and Cash Flow, by author and publisher Jeff Posey (check out the comments on his site, too–some are very insightful).

He said this:

The most productive thing a publishing writer can do is write and publish.

And, a few paragraphs later:

Lesson: Write more, do other stuff less.

Posey has an MBA in corporate finance and uses this article to teach authors to think of their writing in terms of Net Present Value, or what your novel is worth financially. He uses three examples to show how to evaluate this, and then says it’s not cash flow. His advice, for authors who want to build a nice residual income, is to be persistent, talented and patient. It takes some time to get where you want to be.

This particular post was inspiring for me partly for two reasons:

  1. I was wondering how much time I should be spending marketing and promoting books. Although I believe this will always be a large part of the formula for success for any author seeking to actually make money through writing books, perhaps it still can be looked at in a different light. Writing and writing well is still the most important thing. That makes me happy! Writing a lot, and getting it out there where people can find it, seems to be a true strategy for success.
  2. Knowing that it takes some time to build up a clientele makes writing feel like a business rather than a hobby. It becomes something you can build a solid business plan around. Most of the writers I know hold other jobs, too, but this allows them to at least daydream realistically about the future when they will be able to set everything but writing aside.  I read somewhere else—and now I can’t remember where—that it takes nine years for a nonfiction author to build a solid platform for marketing books. Perhaps fiction writing is similar. (The lesson here, I think, is not to give up if your first few books don’t magically change your life. Keep at it, and chances are this dream can still come true. )

Although the analysis was geared toward authors, I bet this advice can be applied to photographers, painters, poets and artists from every other persuasion. Just enjoy what you do, and don’t give up. It’s the whole Rome-wasn’t-built-in-a-day thing.

With that in mind, I’m wishing everyone a happy and productive week. 🙂

May 11, 2013

Mom taught me five strategies for balanced living

My beautiful Mom as a young woman

My beautiful Mom as a young woman

I’m a people-pleaser. This gets me into trouble sometimes, because I have this deep longing to make the world right for everyone around me.  I used to joke with my closest friends and extended family members about this.

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a fairy godmother and go around granting wishes and making people’s dreams come true,” I said.

The truth was, I half-meant it. After all this time, I still can’t think of a better way to live than to try to make other lives better and happier. I’m getting better at it, and most of the time it’s completely enjoyable.

The trouble arises when I allow my ego to get wrapped up in what I’m doing rather than in what I’m becoming. When this happens, I accidentally base my sense of self-worth on whether or not people are feeling happier because of my efforts.

Most of the time, I realize I can’t control the emotional choices others make, and I shouldn’t try to. I should just do what I can and then move on and respect the decisions they live by.  Every once in a while, I have to take a step back and re-prioritize my efforts.

This weekend has been such a time. After two weeks of doing all I could to please a variety of different people in a plethora of personal catastrophes, my life began to wobble.

It wasn’t the complete I’m-off-kilter-and-I’m-going-to-fall feeling, but I wasn’t feeling the calm balance that I seek for, either. And—because I write best when the rest of my life is balanced—this kind of living quickly becomes an issue for me.

There are a few people I trust in this world completely, enough to allow them to give me a talking to when I need it. This time around, it was my wonderful Mom who set me straight.

“You only need to worry about five things,” she said. “Say no to everything else, and the pieces of your life will fall into place.”

We stayed up well past one in the morning discussing those five things. These really aren’t new life strategies for me, but they clarify what allows me to live and write best.

  1. Physical wellness—I am physically not capable of making the world perfect, and I need to remember that. Otherwise, I get too busy fixing problems to eat, too wound up to sleep, too nervous to settle down at my desk and just write away. Because of this, I need to say no to some opportunities to help so that I can be well enough to help well when real crises occur. (Also, who wants a busybody trying to run things? Really?)
  2. Emotional/spiritual wellness—this is akin to the physical wellness, but it has more to do with how I view myself. It means extracting my ego from all the things I do, including my writing, and detaching myself from the outcome. I actually feel love better and deeper when I set my ego on a shelf in the back of my mind and just enjoy the processes of life. Writing comes more easily, too, because in this position I’m able to withhold judgment from even myself…it’s the whole hold-the-inner-critic thing that makes first-draft writing flow.
  3. Environmental wellness—Part of life’s greatest joy for me is to create a specific type of environment around me. I seek for peace and beauty, but it takes time to keep things clean and orderly, to plant and tend flowers and trees and gardens, to keep clutter at bay, to raise the living room blinds and allow sunshine to fill my home. I sometimes have to say no to other people so that I can make these things happen around me. It’s worth the effort, because this kind of environment makes my family just as happy as it makes me, and their happiness is something I will always seek for.
  4. Meaningful time with family and others—Beyond creating a happy environment, this includes reading aloud to my toddler, chatting with my teenage daughters, staying up way too late visiting with my Mom, going to see Iron Man 3 in the theaters with my sweetheart, etc. This also means prioritizing the volunteer opportunities that arise so that my energy can make the biggest impact where it’s needed most. Keeping commitments to programs I believe in, like the scouting program, is a part of that, but it too has to be kept in balance.
  5. Writing—It seems like the first four priorities feed directly into this one. I cannot write consistently and well if the rest of my life isn’t balanced. By the same token, the rest of my life feels incomplete if I’m not taking time to write every day. It’s part of the joy of my life.

I’m glad Mom was willing to stay up so late discussing things with me.  She is completely wonderful. She is the fairy godmother I’m going to be like when I grow up. 

March 11, 2013

How the Flylady strategy keeps my life manageable and fun


It’s time for another Flylady Reboot.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Flybaby, that I write better when my home is at least somewhat clean and that I really love my timer.

I do tend to get sidetracked, though. There are days the dishes build up in the sink, days when my ‘hot spots’ get cluttered, days when the folded laundry doesn’t get put away and promptly gets unfolded and stepped on by a helpful toddler.

There are even weeks like that–and last week was one of them. When the house gets out of control, so does my writing life. I feel guilty closing myself off in my office when the rest of my family still has to work around messes. If I do make it to my office on messy weeks or days, I’m too keyed up to write well, and my writing time is interrupted by a bazillion little emergencies.

I’ve decided it’s actually a time saver, on weeks like that, to set aside at least part of the day to catch up on laundry, make easy dinners ahead of time, make sure my daughters have everything they need for school the next week, etc. Saturdays are usually my day to do this. I think my Saturdays are akin to what author and life coach Sheila Williams calls ‘claiming days.’ (See her book here.)

Thanks to some decently evolving routines, I don’t have to spend all day long every Saturday doing this, but a few hours of reclaiming my life makes a real difference in my attitude the following week. This past Saturday was one of those days. I’m not even sure how many loads of laundry I had to catch up on. I didn’t get it all done, but I got it back to the point where I can do a load of laundry a day and keep up with it.

It feels good.

As this new week begins, I’m working harder on developing my routines. I’ll be focusing on evening and morning routines first.  Changes in my family’s schedule means some items previously in my morning routine have to be moved later in the day, and some things that weren’t really part of a routine will have to be accommodated.

I have an image in my head of my life as a strategic game. I HAVE to be flexible, to be willing to try different angles and strategies to reach my objectives. It’s part of my ‘level up’ philosophy, and living this way is both entertaining and fulfilling.

I like the fact that my routines are flexible. Life would be boring if I thought of my routines as a set of rules and regulations rather than tools to help me become the best person I can be.

Once I’ve got the hang of my new evening and morning routines, I’ll begin revamping my work routine. One area I really want to improve is having a set time each day to write fiction–no matter where I am. I’m looking forward to watching my routines, watching how and where I spend my time and finding a time I can consistently set aside for this.

I know it will change again in a few months. As the weather gets warmer, I’ll want to spend more time outside, and that will mean a change in schedule, again. It keeps things fun!

February 19, 2013

Make my book a movie: a guest interview with Jeff Bollow

Jeff Bollow, film producer, author of Writing FAST and developer of the FAST screenwriting system

Jeff Bollow, film producer, author of Writing FAST and developer of the FAST screenwriting system

As promised, here is the second half of the interview I had with Jeff Bollow. This section focuses on his screenwriting system.

Bollow asserts that this system can be used to improve any type of writing. What intrigued me about it was the idea that, with a little more knowledge and some practice, perhaps I could turn my novel idea into a screenplay that someone like Bollow would actually want to produce.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? I sort of wonder if author-driven screenplays will be the next gold rush as self-publishing becomes more and more common.


Me: How did FAST Screenplay come about? Did it grow out of Writing FAST?
Jeff: Actually, it was the other way around. FAST Screenplay came first. I designed FAST Screenplay to guide would-be screenwriters through the complete process. Basically, I said, “Look, let’s say someone has an idea for a movie. What steps do they need to take to turn that into a screenplay I could actually produce?” And I reverse-engineered the process. I realized there are four distinct phases to the writing process: FOCUS, APPLY, STRENGTHEN, TWEAK. That’s how you turn an idea into a page-turner screenplay. But as a producer seeking screenplays, I was already inundated with screenplays I couldn’t use! I didn’t want writers to generate more of those… so I had to break the process down even further. Before you start writing, you need to a) prepare for the job of writing itself, and b) understand what producers actually need in a screenplay. If we prepare you for that job, then your ideas will be aligned with producers’ needs — your stories will be screen stories. And then you can fly through the story development process. And then after you’ve got your page-turner screenplay, you need to get notes and feedback — and as a screenwriter, you need to be able to adapt what you’ve written to meet the needs of the production. We can’t always film what you imagine; can you align to the producer’s needs? I designed a step-by-step phase for doing that — how to understand notes and feedback, what to use and what to ignore, how to incorporate that into your writing without losing your artistic vision. And then, of course, you need to get your screenplay into the hands of the producer it’s perfect for. There’s no point sending Disney a horror script, for example. Similarly, you need to identify the ideal producer, and then connect with them in a way they can’t resist. I’ve been on the receiving end of submissions for years, so I mapped out the path to the sale.

When I realized that FAST Screenplay was a huge project that would take years (and hundreds of thousands of dollars) to build, it was beyond my reach. So I wrote the book, hoping to reach a wider audience of writers, and generate interest in the screenplay development system. It took about five years to finally begin work on FAST Screenplay, and then 3.5 years to actually build it.

Me: How many people have used Fast Screenplay so far?
Jeff: We’ve only just launched FAST Screenplay, so the people who have done it so far were part of my charter groups — like beta testers, they’re people who were doing the system as it was being built. At this point we’ve got a couple hundred people spread across 27 countries that are going through it. But I’m pleased to say that about 80% of the people who have completed the system as instructed have achieved professional results. And those haven’t yet are confident that they as they repeat the system, they will continue to improve until they succeed. That’s part of the system’s design: Each time you go through it, you improve a level and build on everything you’ve done before.
Me: If you could tell fiction authors three things about how this system could help them with their books, what would you say?
Jeff: The truth is, 90% of what’s in FAST Screenplay is applicable to any form of writing. Obviously, all the examples and a lot of the specifics are targeted toward screenwriting, but writing is writing. Everyone needs to do take action every day. All writers need to connect with the reader and pull them through their stories. Putting yourself in your reader’s shoes is just like putting yourself in the producer’s shoes. So the three things I would say that could help fiction writers with their books:
1) The Focus phase. In the book, I outline a simple path to turning an idea into a ‘road map.’ But in FAST Screenplay, it goes into extraordinary detail I just couldn’t get into in the book. The Focus phase is an organic story development process that starts with your own innate passion and turns that into a story.
2) The Strengthen phase. I’ve never before seen a systematic approach to rewriting. Rewriting is chaotic and complicated because if you change one thing, whole other parts of your story can unravel. Particularly with screenwriting, where every word takes up valuable real estate on the page, several elements can be intricately intertwined. I’ve devised a rewrite process that can help any writer navigate the chaos of the rewrite. FAST Screenplay is vastly more detailed than the book, because I can use the specifics of screenwriting to dig into the meat of the rewrite process.
3) The targeted goal. Screenplays only exist to be turned into films, so there’s a very specific end goal. Novel writing, on the other hand, has a much looser end result. You can experiment with the form a lot more; your audience is the reader. By understanding how screenplays connect with the producer (and then subsequently with the audience by way of the film production team), I think it helps writers deepen their grasp of what writing is really all about and how precisely to connect.

Me: How realistic is it for a fiction author to make viable screenplays out of their novels and sell them? Will it help them with marketing their original book?

Jeff: The two are very distinct crafts, and I think it may be a mistake to try to use one help sell the other. Novels can play with space and time and the various human senses in a way the screenplay cannot. Screenplays can only include what the audience can see or hear on the screen in the cinema. You’re literally re-creating the cinema experience on the page — one page equals one minute of screen time, and the format is very specific for a number of reasons (which we cover in detail in the system). I think if your stories are visual — if you could grab a camera and film them (or if you can make them more cinematic) — then you might consider creating a version for the screen.

Keep in mind the value of a book to a film producer is its built-in audience and/or its existing story. In other words, it has already been developed, and it has an audience that makes recuperating the film’s investment more likely. That’s why producers buy book rights. So if your book is unpublished (or self-published with no audience), there’s no great value in it to a producer. Even if the producer loves the book, it must be adapted for the screen and turned into a screenplay. If you (the author) can’t do that (and do it well), then we’ll have to hire someone to do that, which costs money. It’s not worth the investment unless there’s something extraordinary about the book. If your book is cinematic (and if you have an interest in screenwriting), you can craft a compelling screenplay and hook a producer with it. When interest is generated in the film, it may be possible to get a book deal out of it.

One thing that may be important to understand is that very few original screenplays are truly viable. In my experience, screenplays tend to be written by “movie people” rather than by “writers.” Since screenplays are an interim document, writers tend to be more passionate about their words, and would rather write novels that don’t get changed by the production team. But that means that it’s generally much harder to find great original screenplays. In about 18,000 submissions, I think we found about 20 of them. I believe that the best screenwriters are actually writers — people who love writing — who have learned to master the art and craft of screenwriting. The odds of breaking directly into the top tiers of Hollywood may be slim for a first-timer, but with the explosion of independent production around the world, there are a vast array of opportunities today. The only things missing are great stories and great writing.

Me: If a novelist is thinking of switching to screenplays, what aspects of writing do they need to study most? Dialogue?
Jeff: Everyone thinks it’s dialogue, but no, that’s not the most important part. The most important part is understanding the form of movies. We effectively have 2 hours to tell a full, rich, self-contained story. We have to understand structure, the visual language, and how to highlight only the most important details to convey the maximum amount of meaning. Think of screenwriting like poetry. You have to select your words carefully. Writers look at the screenplay format and assume that it’s easier because there are fewer words. In fact, it’s more challenging because you have to say as much (or more) using fewer words. One of my students was a fantasy novelist who wrote three 800-page novels a year and thought she’s knock out screenplays in her down time. Six months later, I checked in with her and she said “screenplays are as much work as my 800-page novels.”  The only difference is she just can’t write all that detail. Incidentally, dialogue is important — very much so — but it’s should be added last, because it’s the first (and easiest) thing to change on set.
Me: Related–how does this impact the amount of money fiction authors can make?
Jeff: There are several ways to make money as a screenwriter: selling your screenplay outright, selling for a smaller amount and getting profit participation, getting paid to rewrite or to write on assignment, and so on. However, I would caution writers against looking to screenwriting as an easy source of money. It will take time to learn the craft, and to make connections within the industry. But the truth is that there is a chronic need for quality material, so make no mistake: great screenplays will get noticed. And money always comes down to supply and demand. There’s a big demand for great writing; if you can supply it, you will make money.
February 7, 2013

Another writing-fast post:strategies that apply to both fiction and nonfiction

I'm looking forward to trying some of these strategies out on my next nonfiction assignment.

I’m looking forward to trying some of the strategies described below on my next nonfiction assignment.

I enjoyed Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, write better and write more of what you love. So much so that, when I got an e-mail advertising similar titles on Amazon, I bought Writing as fast as you can think: How to write excellent content (of any kind) at the speed of mind, by Angie Dixon.

At first glance, it’s a completely different kind of idea. This book focuses on picking up the pace of nonfiction writing. Becoming an information-providing company that can provide great books and articles quickly can, according to Dixon, effectively increase your hourly rate of pay and even transform the life of simple freelance writers. From the standpoint of someone who has done quite a bit of freelance writing work, it’s certainly food for thought.

However, its strategies seem to be aimed at making writing as easy on yourself as possible, and I have to wonder whether the strategies described here can be implemented in fiction writing, too.

Dixon’s strategy is to turn the traditional writing system (research, outlining, writing and revising) around. If I understand correctly, her steps include writing an outline first, writing a rough draft around that outline using what you already know, researching to fill in the gaps and revising to get it right.

I wonder how different that is from plotting a fiction book, perhaps outlining it in detail like Rachel Aaron does, then writing a rough draft, researching and revising to fill in the plot holes and character development gaps, and then copy editing it for elegance and line editing it for proper grammar and spelling.

Dixon says this:

You have to let go of any thought of how important this piece of writing is. just bang it out. Later you can make it beautiful and amazing and important and everything else.

She also wrote this, which I think validates fiction writers more than just about anything else I’ve ever read:

We have this idea that writing has to be difficult and complicated. And yes, some writing is more difficult. Fiction is much different than non-fiction, for instance, and there is so much technique involved in fiction that many people don’t ever really master fiction writing, after years of trying.

A large section of the book was spent on choosing a topic. Dixon asserts that you should write about things you know well enough that hardly have to think about what you’re writing. It should flow.

That applies to fiction, also, in several ways. Who hasn’t heard that a book has to be believable in order to sell? If you know something about what you’re writing about–even if it’s just about human interactions in a fantasy world–it will be believable enough to resonate with readers.

I also think it’s easier to ‘show, not tell’ when you know a topic well. Because you can fully envision a topic you know well, you know how people will react to it, the havoc it can cause, the solutions it can afford.

Personally, this makes a huge difference in how I write dialogue. When I know the topic, I tend to drop the tag lines and simply describe how my characters are reacting to it as they speak. I imagine this will only improve as I begin to get to know my characters better.

One other thing: I think writing fiction about a topic you know well reduces the amount of research you have to do to fill in plot holes.

I mentioned a while back that one of my books is with a content editor now, and that I was sure some of the original ideas I had won’t survive the next draft. This is at least in part because I didn’t write about something I knew about. These ideas don’t match up well with known science. The more I look at the manuscript, the more work I see I’ll have to do if I intend to salvage it.

Managing my time efficiently so I can meet deadlines of every kind is important to me. This adds to my obsession–and yet, I wonder if any of this will apply to revisions, rewriting and deep editing. I’m sure that’s going to be a process all its own, and I’ll enjoy that part of my education as much as I’m enjoying myself now.

Writing, in all its forms and with all its hard work, is one of my favorite games EVER.

February 5, 2013

Three steps to boosting word count productivity

On my Kindle!

On my Kindle!

If you’re a writer, you might understand lying half asleep at night, hearing the words you want to write run through your head but feeling too tired to get up and do anything about it.

I’ve read about people who DO get up when this happens, and who write both prolifically and well, and I think to myself, if only. One of these years when I don’t seem to need as much sleep, I’m going to try it.

Meanwhile, in my search to become a better and more prolific writer, I’ve come across an intriguing book: Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, write better and write more of what you love.

I was deeply impressed by the three-legged triangle that Aaron devised for herself–see more on this blog post. The three legs of this triangle include:

  1. Knowledge–For Aaron, this means knowning what you’re writing before you write it. If I understood her correctly, she spends a few minutes before every writing session listing out what’s going to happen in the next scene, in detail, and then she follows her notes as she writes. For authors who plot out their books before they write, this is just the next step. It sounds completely practical. More than that, it sounds wonderfully helpful. Aaron said she went from writing 2,000 words per day to 5,000 words per day in one week using this trick.  I’ll be trying it out myself soon.
  2. Time–Aaron began keeping track of how she spent her writing time, when her most productive hours were and where she wrote the best. After a detailed assessment, she was able to rearrange her writing schedule so that she was writing during the times and in the locations that were most conducive to good and fast writing. This strategy brought her word count up to 6,000-7,000 words per day. One thing she noted: the longer she wrote, the faster she wrote and the better she wrote. Has anyone else experienced this?
  3. Enthusiasm–Aaron discovered she wrote more slowly when she was writing scenes that weren’t that exciting to her. She started thinking ahead to what she would write the next day. If she couldn’t get excited about it, she changed the scene or got rid of it, and her word count shot up again. She wrote that by the end of her fifth Eli Monpress novel, she was almost two months ahead of schedule and was routinely writing 10,000 words per day.

Even a quick glance through her web site allows you to believe that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to writing a lot of words, and writing them well.

One of the most powerful pieces of advice from this book: if you’re not loving the writing process, you’re doing it wrong.

And a few common-sense words about writing, from this book:

If your goal is to become a faster writer, the most efficient change you can make isn’t actually upping your daily word count, but eliminating the days where you are not writing.

This is an area that I could certainly use some work. While I aim to write every day, I don’t viciously guard’ my writing time, as Aaron suggests, and it takes it’s toll on my word count. If I focus, and if I’m not working on a nonfiction project, most days I can sneak in 1,500-3,000 words of fiction. These are added a few at a time around helping my daughters with school work, playing with the baby, etc. I have some room for improvement here.

That seems to be okay, at least from Aaron’s perspective:

My ultimate goal as a writer is to be able to put out fantastic novels as efficiently as possible. I think that fast writing, especially at the first draft stage, is fun, inspiring, and freeing. But fast as I go, I never lose sight of the real purpose: telling good stories. I don’t think I have to say that quality of words trumps quantity every single time, because if you’ve ever read a good book, you already know that. So don’t be afraid to slow down and be inefficient if that’s what you need to do. It’s your book and your story. Enjoy it, and never be afraid to do whatever it takes to make your novel as good as it possibly can be.

It’s encouraging. More than that, it’s inspiring. I love books that I think can help me become a better writer, and this one fills the bill perfectly.

January 5, 2013

Deadline management strategies I learned from a leadership coach

Working on the clock!

Working on the clock!

Most writers feel the crunch of a nearing deadline at least a few times during their careers. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s apprehension, hope, pride and dread mixed into one great flurry of activity.

Managing these deadlines–especially if you’re working on multiple projects–can be tricky.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a series of one-on-one sessions with LaVonn Steiner, president of Excel Leadership. We focused on time management, and it changed my life.

Here are some of the things I learned:

Set your priorities first. Once your priorities are set, you know what your goals should be and whether or not they’re realistic.

This strategy also helps balance your life, since overall priorities can include family time, personal time and the like.

When it comes to work alone, setting priorities gives you a feel for the type of work you like most and do well, which can lead to an area of specialization or new education. Then you can pick and choose your jobs–and the deadlines that go with them–according to what’s really most important.

Use a journal. This simple tool allows you to keep track of the people you work with as well as your deadlines. Writing about the people you work for connects them to your writing work, helping you stay on task.

The insights you gain into  how they work can help you communicate efficiently and professionally, as well. This translates into time saved because you know what they expect from you. The chance that an article will be sent back for revisions and rewrites goes down.

This strategy can be especially helpful for freelance writers who work from home and don’t have a lot of daily, face-to-face interaction with their clients.

Also, writing out your emotions can keep your priorities in line and provide momentum for your goals.

Take time to daydream. For me, this includes a quick series of brainstorms that cover every part of my life, from what I’ll make for dinner to a plot outline for a possible new book and questions I’ll ask a certain source.

Doing this every day before I hit the meaty part of my work means I’m less distracted and work with greater clarity and focus. It also makes life fun.

I’m a firm believer in fun. I think it makes all of us better writers and better people, and it certainly eases the stress of working on the clock.

January 3, 2013

Three strategies to jump-start sluggish writing weeks

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

Sluggishness happens to everyone occasionally. These are the days when you can’t seem to stay in your seat, when you wander around your office or home doing menial tasks rather than focusing on the writing that you know you should be doing.

I’m not fond of wasting time like that–it feels like a bad dream where you’re trying to run, and you can’t.

It’s not exactly writer’s block. For me, sluggishness happens when the rest of my life catches up with what I’m doing in the writing world. I still have plenty of ideas to work on, but I feel guilty enjoying my quiet writing time when there’s so much to do around me.

Catching up from a holiday or vacation always creates a sense of sluggishness.

These days, there are dirty dishes in the sink and a few extra loads of laundry to do, snow to be shoveled, paperwork to file and bills to pay.

When I’m in my routine, these tasks seem to take care of themselves. It’s those fun interruptions that take their toll…and the longer those interruptions are, the more sluggish I tend to be when I finally do get back to work.

A decade or so of writing work has taught me three strategies for dealing with sluggish writing days. I’m listing them in order of my favorite, most used methods, here:

Use your timer, and work in a pattern. I set my kitchen timer for fifteen or twenty minutes, and I write a short pattern on a sticky note to help me get started. My pattern might look something like write, housework, write, housework or write, paperwork, play with baby, repeat.

On these days, the point is just to get started. One or two repetitions, and I find I’m feeling better about everything. I see progress in all the pertinent areas of my life, which allows me to relax into my writing.

Once this happens, I put the timer away and focus on the work at hand until I’m finished. So far, this has been my most successful strategy–and yes, I used it today to help jump-start my 2013 writing!

Use your timer, and work in big blocks. I use this strategy on days when I feel completely overwhelmed by deadlines or when I’m so into a book project that I simply can’t put it down. The house could be on fire and I’d still need to write–so the idea of the timer here is really to limit the time I allow myself to write.

I know, it doesn’t sound like a sluggish start at all, until you know the background of it: If I allow myself to write to my heart’s content, everything else in my life gets so overwhelming that once I leave my office, I have a hard time getting back to it. It might take me a day or two to finish all the little projects needing my attention, and by that time, my inspiration is usually so impatient with me that she’s gone. Just gone.

It’s better for everyone if I limit my writing time to, say, two and a half hours, then get up and do an hour or so of other work. I can come back to my writing later, when I feel like the rest of my life is back under control, and my muse is merely amused at how distracted I can be.

Use your timer, and let writing be its own reward. Well, writing IS its own reward, as far as I’m concerned, which is what makes all of these strategies work–but this strategy takes advantage of that by making me wait to write.

On these days, it’s something to look forward to, a treat for when I get the shopping done and the groceries put away. I set my timer for about an hour and rush around getting things done for my family, then allow myself twenty minutes of writing time.

It might seem counterproductive from a writing standpoint, but the truth is, if I know I’m going to get to write on one of my favorite projects in an hour, my mind becomes a prolific idea generator. Those twenty minutes of writing are truly enjoyable and super-productive, and it makes the non-writing work speed by like a daydream.

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