Should You Bother Outlining and Planning Your Story?

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The first word you put down says a lot about what type of writer you are. Is it the first word of your story, the first word of your outline, the first word of a text to a friend that you’re about to start a story? For many, very little thought goes into  this aspect of our writing because we assume that what’s natural is what’s best. Well, maybe you owe it to yourself to challenge that assumption. Planning out aspects of your plot, setting, and characters can benefit all writers. On the other hand, allowing a little more flexibility can get the creative juices going.

The Types

To understand why you should care what type of writer you are, it makes sense to first familiarize yourself with the possibilities. There are two broad types of writers. To put it simply, there are planners and doers. However, each type is more similar to a spectrum than a box.

Planners

Planners, as the name implies, plan. For some, planning is an extensive process that can take weeks and involves collecting research and planning out the smallest details of their characters and settings. For others, it’s a much more brief process of creating a skeletal framework for your story to fill in. Most writers do at least a little planning, even if it is mental.

Doers

Doers let the story and characters come to them as they write. How will the story end? They may not be sure, but believe the right ending will reveal itself as they become more familiar with their story. How will the chapter end? It will end when they reach a point that feels like a good ending. And if they don’t reach that point, maybe they’ll just try again. It’s all about discovery and letting the story unfold naturally and organically.

Advantages of Planning

Planning has a few very nice advantages. Probably the biggest advantage is that it allows the author to provide very satisfying endings. Think of the type of ending where “it all comes together”. One of my favorite authors who exemplifies this is Brandon Sanderson. The endings to his books are typically very satisfying because he knows how his story will end. This lets him methodically build in clues and steps that lead naturally to that ending. It also allows for the satisfying realization that you actually had enough clues earlier in the book to figure out the unexpected aspects of the ending, but would have had to read carefully.

Another advantage is that books, particularly in the science fiction or fantasy department, can become as complicated and intricate as you want. If you have a document tracking characters first and last names, relations, rank, or physical descriptions, you can avoid the moment when you forgot what name you gave to that guy forty chapters ago and avoid having to go back and sift through until you find it; writers have closed their word processors for the day over less.

Disadvantages of Planning

While it offers great advantages, planning does have a few drawbacks. For example, there is a sense of satisfaction and fun from jumping into a chapter and letting it take you where it will. If you have already planned your story extensively, it can feel like you’re just going through the motions when you sit down to write.

Many want to jump right in and get started. The idea of sitting down to think about their story in detail before they start it is enough to keep them from starting all together.

Others will argue that characters are more realistic and relatable if they are created organically. Though I would step outside the point of this section to say that very few writers will create natural and believable characters just by winging it. The natural human tendency is to make our characters do what we would do. We also tend to make them do things for the reasons we would do them, or the reasons we would like to see them get behind. It takes a little artificiality and a meticulous mindset to systematically avoid this.

Advantages of Doing

One of the biggest advantages of casting aside the planning and just jumping in to your story is that it’s fun. At first. It’s as close as you can come to reading your own book as a reader would. You don’t really know what someone is going to say next and everything is a surprise. How exciting!

Disadvantages of Doing

Disadvantages already? I forgot more advantages of doing? Nope. That was all. I’m admittedly a little biased, but I also come from the perspective of a former “doer” purist. I was the kid who would sacrifice a letter grade on my essays in school out of spite because I refused to outline my essays. So naturally, I approached writing the same way. I always loved my first chapters. My second chapters weren’t quite as good, then my third chapters started to drag. It started feeling like I was at the head of a runaway train before long.

Eventually, I would be stopped in my tracks by the overwhelming feeling that each new “discovery” I made about a character, the setting, or my plot, seemed to contradict something I had added earlier. “Dang,” I would think. “This scene is only going to make sense if X happens, but if X happens, I have to go back to scene 2 and make Y happen. But to make Y happen in scene 2, Z can’t happen in scene 1. . .” That was usually when I would close the word processor.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, so what. You’re disorganized and I’m not. I don’t have that problem.” Maybe you don’t. But even the best writers who write as they go create a very different style of book than planners. The style isn’t necessarily worse, but a true “doer” is going to write a story that has fewer connective themes running between scenes. They will also likely feel more episodic and meandering. You might not even feel like you know what a character wants or who they are until a third of the way through the book because the author probably hadn’t figured it out yet.

Final Thoughts

The message I want to send is that every writer can benefit from planning. Refusing to try is a disservice to yourself as a writer. To claim that planning stifles your creative juices is to lump all planning into one box. Imagine planning a painting. Would you just grab a random color and start making a line? Hopefully not, because most painters realize their art will be more beautiful if they take a second to think of composition.

Try it out. If you’ve never planned and think you’ll hate it, try it anyway. There’s nothing more detrimental to your writing than believing you are an expert.

New to Writing? Don’t Make This Common Mistake

I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of beginner fiction. Once I recovered from the eye-bleeds, I noticed a universal truth: new writers try too hard to sound like writers. If you’ve never seen this in action, you may be wondering what I mean. After all, isn’t the point of writing to sound like a writer? No! If you’re writing fiction, the point is to tell a story.

I’ll break down the ways to identify “writerly” writing in your own work as well as methods to eliminate it.

What Does “Writerly” Writing Look Like?

It looks ridiculous. Kind of like a baby in a business suit. But really, let’s go through some examples. I’ve noticed a few categories where beginner writers really over-do it, and I’ll demonstrate each.

The first is verbosity. The biggest word is not always the best word. In fact, most of the time, it’s not. There’s a few ways this problem can show itself. The more innocent is in a replacement scenario. The sentence goes as it normally would, and suddenly, a nine syllable beast appears.

“She affianced in fisticuffs with her alarm clock, exhibiting a promptitude for vehemence.”

Looks silly, right? This comes from the belief that being a good writer means impressing people with your vocabulary. The truth is that what impresses people isn’t a large vocabulary or using words they have to look up. People are impressed by clarity and a good story. Don’t let your writing get in the way of the story.

Verbosity’s Ugly Cousin

The other common form of verbosity is even more of a problem for your writing. It is a huge separator for writers with experience and beginners. So what is it? What could be worse than affiancing in fisticuffs? Refusing to delete sentences, paragraphs, or even whole scenes because you really liked how one part sounded.

Maybe you mentioned the way your protagonist saw their reflection in a window, and it was warped and you thought that was just seemed so cool, because her soul is warped at that point! Perfect! So what’s the problem? The problem is that you realize while editing that all the details surrounding that one sentence you liked should probably be cut from your story. Experienced writers will maybe light a candle or say a small prayer before laying down on the delete key. Beginner writers usually can’t bear to sacrifice a good sentence or idea.

My advice? Never get too attached. You have to be able to kill any single sentence or word you put down. If it makes you feel better, throw it on a document somewhere and tell yourself that you’ll find a way to bring it back from the dead some day. But for now, be ruthless

Over Description, or The “All-Points-Bulletin”

Maybe you’ve read this kind of description before. Crime novels and mysteries are particularly common perpetrators. Beginner writers love to over-describe as well. In fact, I met a beginner writer the other day. He was about six foot three, looked like he has about a size 32 waist, brown hair, blue eyes, strong jaw-line, calloused hands, walked with a limp, had a lazy eye, chewed on a toothpick—you get it. This problem comes from a lack of confidence. As a writer, you need to trust in your readers to read between the lines and fill in details. Your job isn’t to describe every single detail, but to give just the right details so your reader can picture the scene.

The common adage is that authors should “paint a picture” for their reader. I think this is a little misleading. It’s more like playing a game of connect the dots. Often, one or two strong details are more than enough for a reader to get the right impression of your character or scene. You could mention the way your character always checks to be sure the Gucci logo is facing outward on her purse. Maybe even that the purse seems well-worn. That’s a fun description. Readers get the satisfaction of thinking, “Oh, so maybe she’s kind of obsessed with how people see her. The purse being beat up probably means she’s actually not that wealthy but made a sacrifice to seem that way. So she’s probably a pretty superficial person.” You could throw in bleached blonde hair to complete the image. Granted, this description saves some words because it’s in our contemporary society.

Look at the following description from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five:

“He was a funny-looking child who became a funny-looking youth — tall and weak, and shaped like a bottle of Coca-Cola.”

Short, sweet, and to the point. The image will stick with readers and help them visualize scenes involving this character for the rest of the book. It’s unique and likely causes them to sift through people they know for an example of a “Coca-Cola” shaped man, which adds to their engagement with the text.

Setting The Scene Efficiently

Setting a scene works the same way as describing a character. I always remember from the Wheel of Time series that the scene descriptions were painful. Every room was full of gilded cabinets, dressers, drawers, mahogany bed stands, intricate carpets, and lavish curtains. Worse, I knew this because the author spent about a paragraph each time a character entered a new room (and another paragraph describing what they were wearing). Obviously no writer is perfect and readers are okay with that; after all, the WoT series was hugely popular and successful despite the over-descriptives being a common complaint. But what could he have done differently? He could have trusted his readers to fill in the gaps.

Would you be able to figure out that a room was likely decorated richly if the wine was poured from a gold cup lined with gems? Probably. Would you be able to even assume the room was richly decorated if it belonged to a wealthy merchant? Probably. So am I telling you to never describe a room? Not exactly. A room that says something about its owner is worth describing. A prince’s room being Spartan, for example, is somewhat interesting. It makes the reader wonder why a wealthy person has no interest in wealth, and what he is interested in.

Final Thoughts

 

The lesson of the day here is to be concise. If you’re just jumping into the writing business, remember this. Seasoned writers will spot you like blood on snow if you try to sound like a writer. Also remember that all those authors you read in high school and college were probably at least a generation or so behind our culture today. They were writing for a difference audience, one with attention spans longer than seven seconds. If you’re writing for a wider audience than college professors and indie book-shoppers, the hard truth is that you can’t write like Flaubert and expect modern audiences to respect it. Just look at the biggest and most popular new books of the last decade. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, etc. If you’ve never looked between the covers of these books, I can tell you the writing does not strive to be literary. It’s all about telling a story.

Today’s reader wants a good story, and they want one that goes down easy. Every big, dense word is like a chunk in their literary smoothie. They don’t want to stop to chew. If it tastes good enough, you can get away with a few chunks, but if the flavor isn’t great, you had better make sure that baby goes down smooth and silky.

 

 

 

How To Create Compelling Characters In Ten Minutes

Photo Credit: Collegemagazine.com
Photo Credit: Collegemagazine.com

There seem to be countless schools of thought when it comes to creating characters. But no matter the method used, there is a universal truth to characters: they need to change and experience tension to feel real. Sounds easy, but for many, it’s anything but.

Plan It Out

Whether you consider yourself a natural, spur-of-the-moment type of writer or a meticulous planner, this is an area where every writer can benefit from a little forethought. Creating compelling characters that feel real and relatable can be relatively easy. Let me give an example:

Character Name: Gary Mordon

Why he resists change: His father always wanted him to do something meaningful—become an engineer, join the military, go into politics, etc. But his father abandoned him and his mother when he was fourteen, so he resists anything that seems like it would’ve made his father proud.

Opportunity for change 1: He really enjoys soccer and it looks like he might get a scholarship if he keeps with it, but his new friends at school sell drugs. He can start selling and using the drugs, but he knows he might get drug tested and kicked off the team.

Choice for change 1: He chooses the drugs. Ultimately kicked off the team.

Resulting change: He has moved toward what he thought he wanted, but feels a deeper disconnect. Struggles to know if he wanted success for himself or if he had only wanted it because his father did.

Opportunity for change 2: Dealing drugs is quickly becoming more serious. Harder drugs and more dangerous clients. If he wants to continue in his social circle, he will have to rip off a few gangsters to stay afloat. He’s terrified, but initially decides to go through with the scam because he knows his dad would’ve wanted him to get out safely. In the middle of the deal, he decides to back out and give the drugs to the men, making enemies of his former friends and putting himself in an even worse situation.

Resulting change: He realizes that the destruction he’s bringing to his life isn’t worth it. He decides that he wants success for himself, whether his father wanted it or not. But now that he wants to turn his life around, he fears it may be too late.

Final opportunity for change: His friend murders someone over a drug deal gone bad. He can turn his friend in, but will implicate himself in the process and risk a prison sentence. What will he choose?

What Does This Do For Your Characters?

To use the old cliche, it “fleshes them out.” I made up Gary Mordon for that example. Creating characters has never been my strong suit. In fact, I would consider it a weakness.

But using the method above, you shouldn’t need to be a great character writer. The first step is most crucial. You may have heard that every character should “want” something, even if it’s just a glass of water. I’m not trying to dispute that, but you may find it hard to write a compelling character just based on his wanting water. What works better for me is to identify want they want to do and why. Then, your story should essentially be a constant stream of them reaching for what they want and either getting something different than what they expected, or getting knocked farther away from their goal.

In other words, your character should resist changing in at least one major way. Maybe they resist giving up alcohol, fighting, loving, helping a particular person, forgiving a particular person, forgiving themselves, accepting a part of their personality, accepting that they are a good person, accepting that they are a bad person, quitting a bad habit, etc. Once you’ve identified this, it’s pretty easy to throw obstacles in the way of their resistance.

Each time you challenge your character in this way, you give them opportunities to change. Maybe they thought they could resist but don’t, and that will shift their personality in some tangible way. As a reader, those moments are what make characters interesting. Maybe they even resist change through several trials, but in the end they do change, and because they resisted for so long it becomes interesting and rewarding to read about.

Creating a Satisfying Conclusion For Your Character

Writers Digest provides a great list for crafting a “moment of truth” for your characters. You will find this to be extremely easy if you’ve plotted your character out based on resistance to change and moments of opportunity. Their list is as follows:

  • Make it fit—It (almost) goes without saying that the moment of truth has to be the collision of the two contenders in the hero’s life. You’ve got the old way and the new way. In your character’s moment of truth, she decides between those two options.
  • Make sure both options are compelling—Your hero is stuck in the old way, which is hurting him on some level, and yet it gives him something he values. The new way has to be at least as attractive to him as the old way, even if he doesn’t see it at first. It must give him everything the old way is not giving him, and it must solve problems for him—but not without cost.
  • Include the cost of purchase—The moment of truth is not complete unless the hero understands not only what he stands to gain by choosing one option over the other, but also what he stands to lose. If he lets go of his self-loathing to embrace a positive view about himself, it will be a betrayal of his father, who always said he was worthless. If she lets go of her fear and moves on with her life, it will mean risking failure again.
  • Provide smaller moments of truth along the way—We’ll discuss this fully in the chapter on the escalation, but for now just keep in mind that you will need to think of ways for these two opposing options to skirmish before the decisive battle. Just as Frodo had temptations to use the ring at multiple junctures in the story (and in some of these, he chose wrong) and as Luke saw the promise of the Force over the limits of technology, your character will need to make minor yes/no choices between these two options before the big moment of truth.

Final Thoughts

This is just one method for planning. There are obviously many many more ways to plot out your characters, setting, story, etc. However, as someone who personally does not enjoy planning, this method is arguably the most complete and succinct way to gain both depth to your character and develop your story. I feel like I could write a novel about Gary after spending just ten minutes sketching him and his problems out.

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

Happy writing!

Kindle Direct Publishing: Is it The Right Choice?

Kindle Direct Publishing is basically Amazon’s platform for self-published authors. If you are planning to self-publish, it’s currently the most viable option for you to get your writing to readers and to make the most money. 

What Publishing Services Does Amazon Offer?

Amazon does publish a very small number of authors each year in the number of about 200. However, self-publishing through Amazon is a different ballgame. Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t edit or manage your book, the marketing, or any other aspect of your book. It’s the e-book equivalent of there being a large store somewhere that says, “You bring us a product already in packaging with labels and price tags and pretty pictures on the box and we’ll slap it on a shelf. If people buy it, we’ll give you 70% of what they pay and keep 30%.” It’s obviously a little more technical than that, but for all intents and purposes, that’s the deal.

Do I Need to Be a Technology Wizard to Figure It Out?

Nope. As long as you have grandma/grandpa-level skills, you should be fine. Amazon made the process intuitive and simple. The only way it gets complicated is if you have some really specific formatting needs. In that case, you would probably want to be passingly familiar with html. Otherwise, just type it in your word processor of choice and plug it in when you’re done. Easy as that.

Pricing

The simple version is that you have two royalty options: 35% and 70%. You might wonder why anyone would choose to keep 35% of their profits instead of 70%, but each royalty option has pricing and size requirements.

If your book is over a certain size (3 MB = $0.99 and 10MB+ =$1.99) you are forced to set your price above a certain point. Beyond that, it would make sense for most authors to choose the 70%. One of the only reasons to choose 35% over 70% is if you have a problem with some of the conditions of the 70% agreement. The list of terms you agree to is relatively benign, with perhaps the exception of agreeing to a digital delivery fee. This is a fee Amazon tacks on for each megabyte of data you’re “delivering” to readers. The fee breakdown is as follows:

Amazon.com: US $0.15/MB
India: US $0.12/MB
Amazon CA: CAD $0.15/MB
Brazil: BRL R$.30/MB
Amazon.co.uk: UK £0.10/MB
Amazon.de: €0,12/MB
Amazon.fr: €0,12/MB
Amazon.es: €0,12/MB
Amazon.it: €0,12/MB
Amazon.co.jp: ¥1/MB

That means if a book published in the US is 13.26 megabytes or larger (that’s really big for an ebook), then you will pay more than $1.99 in transfer fees. Thus, it would make more sense to publish that particular book at the 35% royalty rate if you were interested in the $1.99 price point. Of course, if you thought it could sell for more than $1.99, you could just increase the price by more than 35% and the 70% would still make more sense.

Whew. I’m bad at math and that was mildly confusing. Just remember that 70% makes more sense in the majority of cases. If your book is loaded with pictures or extremely long, and you’re set on selling it at $1.99, then and only then would it matter to you.

For a better idea of how large an e-book is, check out these.

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Photo Credit – Safaribooksonline

This shows the average size of e-books in megabytes. If your book has little to know pictures and is average length, it will likely be around 1 megabyte or $0.15 in delivery fees per purchase.

Final Thoughts

Kindle Direct is a great opportunity, but it could also serve as a little false hope for many. The truth is, there’s a reason publishing companies still exist and they probably will continue to exist. They do the leg work: marketing, editing for audience, book covers, blurbs, sending out advance copies for reviews, etc. If you choose to self-publish, you have to understand that you can’t just throw your book on the internet and expect anyone to read it. I don’t care if you wrote the next Song of Fire and Ice, there’s a good chance it will get buried and never read.

Think of it this way. Your book is like a seed that you’ve been nurturing and building (pretend you can build seeds for the sake of my metaphor here) for months or years. When it comes time to plant it, you had better take the time to turn the soil, fertilize it, check the weather, and carefully plant it. It might even be a good idea to water it afterwards.

Good luck out there.

Why You Should Forget Traditional Publishing

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If you’re writing a book right now, one of the most important decisions in your future is whether to publish traditionally or to self-publish. The good news is that the choice may be easier than you think.

Unless you’re an extremely young writer, you grew up in an era dominated by traditional publishing. The dream was to have your book “on the shelves”, to stroll down a brick and mortar store and see it right there with your name in bold letters. Why? Because you were only a successful writer if your book was in stores. After all, what other option was there?

The New Reality

Electronic book sales are quickly outpacing physical book sales. This fact alone underlies the majority of advice I’m about to give. To understand why, let’s take a look at why traditional publishing used to be essentially mandatory.

  1. Books cost money to print. It could cost tens of thousands of dollars to print as many books as you expect people to buy. So if you didn’t have a big publisher to put the money forward and did it yourself, you could stand to lose a lot of money if fewer people bought your book than you projected. Also, if you went cheap and printed too few, you might not have the resources to quickly restock before demand for your book fell off.
  2. Advertising is expensive. Big publishers used to be one of the few ways you could manage to get the word out about your book unless you were willing to sink your own money into advertising.
  3. You can’t just grab 20 copies of your book, slap price tags on them, and put them on the shelves at bookstores. Publishing companies have deals worked out to get your book on shelves, but you don’t have that kind of weight to throw around.
  4. Publishing companies have internal resources to handle things like designing a cover for your book that will appeal to readers, edit it for the obvious but also for your intended audience, and make suggestions that come from their experience in your genre.

Okay, so if you’re planning to self-publish, the bad news is that the above is still true. The good news is that little factoid I dropped earlier changes everything. What if you didn’t have to predict sales of your book and print them ahead of time? And more, what if there was a type of book store that didn’t have to worry about physically holding your book? What if you could even market your own book with a little time and effort?

You guessed it. You can! Seriously, though. I can’t overstate how huge the e-book revolution is for new authors.

Why You Don’t Need A Publisher

If it’s not clear why e-books are such a big deal when it comes to self-publishing, let me break it down.

  1. E-books do not cost money to print. There’s no predicting sales and calculating the risk of printing too many versus too few. You can literally upload your work to a digital bookstore like Amazon or Kindle Direct for exactly zero dollars and collect money for every purchase. Pure profit! 
  2. Advertising can still be expensive, but the social networking age gives new authors more ways to market their work for free. My own blog, for example, is a platform that I hope will market my own work. You can use sites like Reddit, Twitter, Digg, etc to build interest and a small following for your book by posting a few chapters or collaborating with the community. You can guest post on blogs about writing in exchange for shout outs for your book. You can give your book away to reading lists to have reviews from day one of your launch. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity and willingness to put in time.
  3. Amazon only stands to benefit from having your book on their site. Even if you only sell ten copies of your book, they still earned a profit. You don’t need any muscle or influence to get them to put it on their site.
  4. You can again turn to social networking for cover ideas. There are enough tutorials out there and software that even a novice could design their own cover. I wouldn’t advise this, by the way. But if you’re going for the zero cost method, it’s there. Alternatively, you could likely find aspiring artists who would be happy to design a cover for free in exchange for the chance for their work to be seen and generate interest for themselves.

The Numbers

The facts are clear. Electronic books are getting more popular, which takes away the relative monopoly publishing houses had. But just how much more popular are they?

trade-pub-author-earnings-split

Photo Credit: Authorearnings – The Data Guy

I recommend reading the entire article from authorearnings.com, but here’s the takeaway: author earnings from fiction e-books were 28% higher in 2014. A quick look at the rest of the data in the article indicates that 2014 was just a point along a rising trend. Even big name authors are earning more money from their e-book sales than print sales, and the gap between the two has been increasing.

10k-earners

Photo Credit: Authorearnings – The Data Guy

Keep in mind that this data was only about 1/4th of the way into 2014, meaning you could almost triple the figures seen here to see that the indie publishing group is still growing. It’s also worth noting that the trend was the same for authors earning 25k, 50k, and 100k+ per year.

Final Thoughts

Traditional publishing still offers some great advantages if you’re able to land a deal. However, publishers will need to quickly catch their business model up to the changing times. The current trend of publishers expecting new authors to do most of their own marketing and handling of auxiliary tasks involved in getting their book pushed out will likely need to fade. If publishers want to entice authors to pass up the quick, easy, and profitable route of self-publishing, they need to make the cut they take seem worth it to an author.

Until then, self-publishing is far less time consuming, far more doable, and far more potentially rewarding.

The Five Biggest Mistakes Busy Writers Make: Mistake Two

Beware the Routine

Routines can be helpful if you’re busy. Your day may be full of projectile-grade baby poops, urgent emails, unexpected traffic, and appointments—not to mention your day job. It seems like it makes sense to find a regular place to sit down and peck out your thousand words for the day. So what’s the problem?

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The problem is that you are training yourself to wait until conditions are perfect to write. You’re making it okay to pass up all the little moments that present themselves throughout the day to spend some quality time with your writing. Not only that, you’re only tapping your brain at one specific point in time each day for creativity. If you sit in the same chair with the same atmosphere day in and day out and do the same thing, how likely are you to be able to think of new ideas?

Write Everywhere

First of all, let’s tackle the physical side of this problem: where you are writing. I’m not advising you to only write in strange and unusual places. It would benefit you to have a standard location for your writing. What I’m advising is that you let yourself write in the between time and the between places. For example, I spent ten minutes working on this blog post after eating my lunch while students were beginning to flood into my room for class. I spent another thirty minutes working on it in the time students are allowed to come see me if they need extra help after school. Then I finished it in my “normal” writing spot. It’s easiest for me to go back and make my sentences more concise and clear and to organize in my normal spot, but I come up with my best ideas outside my bubble. I know it’s anecdotal evidence, but give it a try for yourself and see if you don’t find some strengths you didn’t know you had when you push your comfort zone.

How to Find the Time

So if you’ve been telling yourself that you don’t have enough time, what you’ve probably meant is that you don’t have enough time to write in your special, preferred little bubble. So write outside of it. You’ll also find that your brain does not think the same throughout the day. If you measure cognitive performance for any individual, they will have peaks and low points. As a general rule, younger people tend to peak intellectually and creatively in the late afternoon, while older individuals peak in the early hours through noon. You’ll find that some parts of the day are better for you to organize and structure your writing while others are better for you to create new and interesting ideas. You’ll also find that writing in new situations stimulates your brain in different ways, making your writing more varied and alive. Not to mention, you could potentially avoid establishing a routine at a time of day where your cognitive ability is naturally at its lowest without realizing it.

Make It a Priority

My last point on the topic is one that works especially well for me. When the universe takes away your time to write and create, write anyway. Write as if the universe had a personal grudge against you and you’re writing to spite it. Find the small cracks and the places it overlooked. Wouldn’t you do the same thing if the universe said you weren’t going to have time to sleep? You would catch sleep whenever you could, even if it was five minutes on the train or in a waiting room. If you care about your writing, make it a priority, a part of yourself that is and will always be regardless of outside forces.

The Five Biggest Mistakes Busy Writers Make: Mistake Number One

Mistake Number One: Not Setting Goals

“But I did set a goal,” you say. “I want to be a famous, wealthy, inspirational author!” Okay, sure. That is a goal. Is it a goal that’s going to make your life any easier? No. So for now, take that goal, put a little bubble wrap on it, and toss it in a cabinet. I only want you to worry about goals that are going to take advantage of your own brain chemistry and psychology to make writing easier for you. After all, it’s all about results.

Set a Writing Goal and Track Your Progress

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I started with this tip because it’s the most important. Often, the first thing that goes out the window when our schedules get busy is writing time. This tip will help you prevent the biggest and most detrimental hazard to your writing: not writing.

The right kind of goal helps your brain chemistry work for you. When you set a goal and reach it, your brain releases dopamine, which is like a Scooby Snack for your body. Even no-brainer goals that take seconds to complete will give you a dopamine fix and help you establish a positive association for your brain between writing and satisfaction.

What does that mean? It means you need to set short-term, easily obtainable goals. My suggestions are to set at least three goals for yourself every day and track them.

Three Goals That Work For Me

Goal number one: Open the word processor every day. Whether you write in Word, Scrivener, Evernote, on the cloud, Yarny, or on your uncle’s hairy back with a sharpie, make goal number one to open the word-processing program every day (or un-cap the sharpie).

Goal number two: Write one more sentence when you feel like stopping. Even if you only write two sentences and just aren’t feeling it that day, write one more and check that goal off on the spreadsheet you will be using. As an added bonus, forcing yourself to write just one more sentence after you want to stop does two great things. It forces you to push past whatever obstacle made you want to stop, which often will lead to many more sentences. It also helps build your mental muscles and strengthen you against the desire to just call it a day whenever you run into a sticky situation in your writing.

The first two goals are your freebies. They protect you from the inevitable moments when something comes up and you can’t meet your word count. This gives your brain two shots of positive reinforcement to outweigh the negative feelings that can come from failing to meet your third goal.

Goal number three: Write X amount of words per day. A lot of authors swear by 1000 words a day, but you can find what works for you or even plan to write more on days before a holiday or an event that you know will have you out of commission.

Try Svenja Gosen’s beautiful and artistic spreadsheets for tracking your words.

You can also use a more utilitarian approach through google sheets. 

Isn’t There Research Against Setting Goals?

Yes. Kind of. If you set goals like the ones above, you’ll be fine. If you set goals that are too hard to reach, your brain gets confused. It has a lot of trouble telling the difference between “want” and “have”. So your identity gets wrapped up in what you want. This can feel good at first. Think of the New Years resolution syndrome. It felt great to promise yourself you would go to the gym every day for the rest of your life. For a while, you even started identifying as a gym-goer and started thinking of yourself as a healthier person. But even if you do keep going, the results often don’t match up with your expectations.

The problem is that big results like a better physique (or a successful writing career) take a lot of time. Eventually, cognitive dissonance will begin to sap your motivation and get your brain to send out chemicals that are in no way good for your progress. So it is okay to have that goal on the back burner, but don’t put it in the trophy case and show it off to everybody you meet. Focus on the small goals.

Keep It to Yourself!

The last tip about goals is probably the toughest. Don’t tell people about your goals or that you’re planning to accomplish them. Your brain gives you the same feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction from receiving praise for having a goal as it does for completing the goal. So if you read this article and got hyped up about writing and planned to go tell your significant other that you’re going to start writing 1000 words a day and tracking your progress and so on and so on; well, don’t. You’ll get the same feeling of accomplishment from talking about it that you would’ve gained from doing it and chances are that you won’t actually do it.

In short, keep your goals daily and simple, keep track of your progress, and keep it to yourself. You’ll be happy that you did.