December 13, 2012

no. 8: five resolutions for writers

Blogger's Note: Welcome to day eight of Change the Word's 12 Days of Writing. Guest blogger Heather Wardell's book, Blank Slate Kate, was one of the first books I read this year to keep me up late reading, then made me say, "wow" at the end. (Read my review here.) It's great to have her here, today. Be sure to leave a comment for your chance to win a swag package.

No. 8: Five Resolutions for Writers

By Heather Wardell
Author of Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo, Go Small or Go Home, Blank Slate Kate and more

It's that time again. Time to think about those three little words nobody wants to hear. No, not 'credit card bills'.

New Year's Resolutions.

When Laura asked me to participate in this year's 12 Days of Writing, I knew I'd be writing this post while in the thick of my planning for 2013 so talking about some resolutions for writers seemed like a perfect topic. These are not the typical 'write every day' resolutions, and I hope they'll help you think about your writing in a different way and maybe even make 2013 the year that everything changes for you.

1. Make writing a priority.
I am a full-time writer, but I do not write every day. I can almost hear the gasps of shock. :) But I do not. I write Monday-Friday, and I often end up losing at least part of a week day to other things.

But what I try to do (and what I vow to do even more in 2013) is make writing a priority when I can do it. Right now, for example, I've spent most of the day planning a new book and editing the one I'll release in mid-December. My house, frankly, looks like some large creature has run through it tossing things merrily in the air and laughing as they land in cluttered heaps. (Frightening, considering I'm the only one here!) But I can clean all that mess up later when I'm done working. If I clean first, I don't write, and then all the stories inside me stay inside me.

The reason I started self-publishing was to share those stories. I'd tried the traditional route, and I'd gotten close to success, but the stories were still sitting on my computer and I hated that they weren't out there reaching people who might need them. Now they are out there, and I get email that proves that people did want and need them. If I don't make my writing a priority, I can't keep helping my readers be entertained and occasionally enlightened.

Know why you're writing. I do it partly because the stories want to come out but mostly because the readers want and need the stories. When I get bogged down, it hurts because I want to get the books out there for them. Whatever your reason is, I know it's just as important to you as mine is to me. Use it to push you in 2013. I have reader comments displayed as a screen saver on my computer. If I stop working for a while, their comments start popping up and reminding me why this work I'm doing matters. Find a way, whatever it takes, to keep your writing as a top priority.

2. Be you. Always.
Everyone says you MUST be on Twitter to sell books. I haven't been on Twitter for months and I have seen no reduction in my sales.

Everyone says you MUST post on various websites and forums to make sure everyone knows about your books. I email my mailing list and tell my Facebook fans and send free ebooks to a few select lovely bloggers (like Laura, of course :) and that's the sum total of how I promote my books.

Everyone says you can't make it in publishing without an active blog. I can assure you that's not the case.

Everyone says...

You get the picture. One of the most important things I have cultivated since 2005 when I began writing is what I call "the oogh". The oogh is a sensation I get right below my ribs when something isn't right. I have become finely attuned to it, and it has never yet steered me wrong. When the oogh hits during writing or planning a book, I know that I'm going the wrong way. Same when I'm considering a promotional opportunity - if it feels wrong, it is wrong.  It's not me.

"Me" is not a hard sales type of person. I never have been. I love to talk to people about my books but only if they've already expressed an interest. I hate the feeling of posting on a forum and essentially begging people to read my books. I did it early on and I simply despise it. I feel slimy and creepy and desperately oogh-y.  That sort of promotion is right for some people, but not for me.

Am I selling fewer books because I won't promote in those ways? It's impossible to say. But I'm happy with my sales and I'm far happier personally without twisting myself into shapes that just don't suit me, and that's worth far more than a few potentially lost sales.

Learn to listen to however your version of "the oogh" manifests itself. When you live in a way that minimizes your oogh, you will be being you, and I am comfortable guaranteeing you that things will go better for you than if you try to be someone else. Figure out who you are, and be that with every fiber of your being.

3. Push yourself.
Contradictory? I don't think so. I will not push myself to post on a hundred forums or hand out business cards on a street corner. Those things are not me. But I WILL push myself to work just a little longer, to get to the computer when I'm tired and feeling uninspired, to stick with a paragraph that's not working until I know it's exactly as it should be. Invariably I am happier after I do those things than I am before, and they help my writing be the best it can be.

I also plan to do more in 2013 to improve my writing. Having written thirteen first drafts has certainly improved it, of course, since there's nothing like practice. But I have a nice library of writing-related books which sits ignored on the shelf. In 2013 I will read those books, and more importantly I will integrate what they contain into my writing in ways that suit me. I am blessed to have found readers who like the style in which I naturally write, but I will not rest on that. I want every book to be better than the one before it and to do that I need to be bettering myself with each book.

You might not be writing four books a year like I am. But you ARE writing something (or you want to - in which case, start TODAY), and I guarantee you there's a place where you can push yourself for a little more quality, a little more time, a little more depth. I bet you know what it is. Make 2013 the year you really dig in there and make it happen.

4. Plan ahead.
When I released my first book, Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo, for free and then followed it with Go Small or Go Home, which included some of the same characters, I just assumed that people would find the free one first, read it, and then pick up the paid one and therefore read them in the 'right' order. I think a lot of them did. But I am about to release the tenth book in what became my Toronto series, and over the last few months I've received a lot of emails from people who are now discovering they've read book eight or nine and have thereby spoiled previous books for themselves.

What I should have done, and what I have now done, is label each book with its series number and include a note in the front letting readers know which book they might spoil by reading the one they've picked up. I'm not sure I ever thought that I would be ten books into a series, to be honest. But it's important to think ahead.

You've finished your first book and are about to self-publish it? Great! Take a bit of time to think about how you want things to go when you release your tenth and be sure that what you do now does not mess that up. I would have built a very different website, for example, if I'd known how many books I would self-publish (and I intend to build a new and better one in 2013).

Finished your first book and ready to query agents? Also great! You need to think about what kind of agent you want (and no, "anyone who'll have me" is not a good answer!) and how you want that working relationship to be.

It's too easy to drift along. Life happens awfully fast, and the older I get the faster it seems to happen. (I swear it was April yesterday!) Don't let it run away from you. Spending a little time to decide what you want to produce and how you want things to go pays enormous dividends.

5. Love it.
When you think about it, writing is amazing. We're making up stories and people and locations and whole worlds. Things happen during a book that the writer never expects (I'm a major planner and it still happens to me - my characters say things or do things and I just stare at the screen and wonder, "Who wrote that?") and our words can touch other people in ways we've never imagined or expected. I have literally been brought to tears on many occasions by reader email. The opportunity to change people's lives is immense, and every book I've written has changed my own life too.

Whether you're on your first book or your twenty-first, try to remember every day how lucky you are to be able to write. Even if nobody but you has read your words yet, they still exist and they still matter. Love them, and the process, as deeply as you can. Writing is hard work, and sometimes it might feel harder than you think you can bear, but the joy you can find in it is truly beyond what words can express.

Thanks so much to Laura for the opportunity to post on her blog!

About the Author
Growing up, I was an avid (rabid?) reader. I am a natural speed reader, regularly clocked at about 1200 wpm (I read Harry Potter 5 in just under three hours), and always have several books on the go, nearly all in e-book form on my Kindle.

I have always made up stories in my head, but never considered becoming a writer. Instead, I intended to be a high school music teacher. I was sidetracked by my enjoyment of my psychology courses in university, and ended up with a psychology degree with a concentration in computer science.

This took me to a major Canadian bank as a software developer. I stayed there for just over four years, and then went back to school to become an elementary school teacher. After four years teaching elementary school computer science, I took up the National Novel Writing Month challenge and attempted to write a novel in a month.

I succeeded, and the first draft of Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo was the result. I realized I love writing. I left teaching, and I haven't looked back since!

In my non-writing time, I read, run, swim, crochet, take care of my 55 gallon aquarium and my cat Trinity, and play drums and clarinet. Generally not all at once.

For More Information About Heather

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  1. Practical, do-able, and imminently sensible. Thanks for a thoughtful post to consider turning a lot of advice on its head!

  2. For me, I feel like I've gotten away from writing. I like the idea of a resolution that can be obtainable.

  3. Thanks, Sharon and Samantha, for your comments! I really do think that this stuff is so personal and there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resolution. (Except maybe 'listen to yourself'. :)

  4. Great resolutions and good ideas to file away if I ever decide to start writing myself!
    Side note: I'm a HUGE fan of Heather's books! I've loved every single one of hers I've read. My resolution is to finish all her past books and be caught up for her first book of 2013! :)