Thursday, August 7, 2014

8 Writer Tips To Keep Your Butt in the Chair

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



I like to reexamine what tips I would give to aspiring authors, or even experienced authors, when I get a chance to speak to a group. Invariably the question comes up on advice and I've noticed that what helps me now is different than what I might have found useful when I started. Below are 8 tips I still find useful. Hope you do too, but please share your ideas. I’d love to hear from you.

1.) Plunge In & Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly  – Too many aspiring authors are daunted by the “I have to write perfectly” syndrome. If they do venture words onto a blank page, they don’t want to show anyone, for fear of being criticized. They are also afraid of letting anyone know they want to write. I joined writers organizations, took workshops, and read “how to” articles on different facets of the craft, but I also started in on a story.

2.) Write What You Are Passionate About – When I first started to write, I researched what was selling and found that to be romance. Romance still is a dominant force in the industry, but when I truly found my voice and my confidence came when I wrote what I loved to read, which was crime fiction and suspense. Look at what is on your reading shelves and start there.

3.) Finish What You Start -  Too many people give up halfway through and run out of gas and plot. Finish what you start. You will learn more from your mistakes and may even learn what it takes to get out of a dead end.

4.) Develop a Routine & Establish Discipline – Set up a routine for when you can write and set reasonable goals for your daily word count. I track my word counts on a spreadsheet. It helps me realize that I’m making progress on my overall project completion. Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, said that he wrote his non-fiction books doing it a page a day. Any progress is progress. It could also help you to stay offline and focused on your writing until you get your word count in. Don’t let emails and other distractions get you off track.

5.) Have an Outline – Even a pantser like me needs a guidepost for a story. If I don’t have a good idea of general plot movements, I hit the halfway wall and stall out. I push through it, but it can take time. I posted an article on TKZ about my plotting/storyboard method. This method has helped me write my proposals with ease and I have a clear idea on major turning points in my novels. When you have deadlines to meet, it helps to have a good notion about your plot going in.

6.) Have More Than One Idea – I have recently tried writing different genres and have done something I never thought I would, which is write more than one book at a time. Crazy, I know, but I found it easy to work on my stamina and write a word count goal for one story in the morning session, then write a different project and shoot for a word count there too. I got the idea from a young writer friend, but it worked for me. That allowed me to make progress on two projects at once. This year I have pushed out of my comfort zone and have more than one project proposal with my agent on submission. I create a proposal that my agent can submit (synopsis and writing sample) then go on to finish the book while she’s taking it out. I’m not waiting by my desk for a quick response. I keep writing and moving on to finish my books so I have more options if I choose.

7.) Keep An Open Mind to Feedback – There definitely is a benefit to having beta readers. My agent also shares her invaluable insight to improve my proposals. I’ve found, in general, that if someone takes the time to share what makes them stumble or question my story (pulling them out of the world I want them to remain in), they are probably right. But since it is my story, how I choose to take their advice is up to me. By staying open, I often surprise myself.

8.) Know When to Step Away – If you reach a stall spot—some people call this writer’s block, but I choose not to believe in that—walk away and do something else. Your brain will work the problem, even as you sleep, and the ideas will come eventually. Trust your talent to find a solution or kick brainstorming ideas around with someone else. Often you will come up with your own resolution just by talking and explaining to another person.

So TKZers – What keeps your butt in the chair? What drives you and what works to keep you motivated?


Blood Score now available in audio from Audible Studios.

A dangerous liaison ignites the bloodlust of a merciless killer
When a beautiful socialite is savagely murdered in Chicago's Oz Park, Detectives Gabriel Cronan and Angel Ramirez find her last hours have a sinister tie to two lovers. One is a mystery and the other is a famous violin virtuoso. A child prodigy turned world class musician, Ethan Chandler is young, handsome - and blind. He's surrounded by admirers with insatiable appetites for his undeniable talent and guileless charm. From doting society women to fanatical stalkers and brazen gold diggers, the reclusive violinist's life is filled with an inner circle of mesmerized sycophants who are skilled at keeping secrets.

After Cronan and Ramirez expose a shadowy connection between Ethan and the victim with a private elite sex club, they discover intimate desires and dark passions aren't the only things worth hiding at all cost. A vicious killer will stop at nothing to settle a blood score.

29 comments:

  1. Setting goals is what keeps me in the chair. When in a writing phase, I have to do a minimum of 5 pages a day or 25 pages per week. In a promo phase, I have certain marketing tasks to do each day. Long range goals are broader, like finishing certain books or planning a launch party.

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    1. You are really organized, Nancy. So I know you have that daily discipline. Thanks for sharing your quotas.

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  2. Jordan, good suggestions, and all (I suspect) learned by your own experience. The hardest for me is being open to feedback. Not too long ago I completely rewrote the first 10K words of a novel because my wife (who is also my first reader) said it wasn't going anywhere. After I stopped pouting, I realized she was right. The effort to rewrite was worth it.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. You will get revision/commentary from your editor, copy editors, and/or your beta readers. Over the years I've come to enjoy this part of the process, especially when you have a good editor. I look at it as a collaboration & the book is always better for it. Good for you that you learned from the input, Richard. It does get better.

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  3. Thanks for the great tips, Jordan.

    Another thing that has helped me is: Make the chair comfortable. I recommend a recliner. Two or three years ago I read an article in Writers Digest. The author (sorry I can't remember his name) advocated writing while reclining. I laughed, but I tried it. Less neck and back pain. Arms and wrists don't get tired. I could type faster with less looking at the keyboard (laptop). Now I have my favorite chair set up with everything I need at hand. I enjoy that chair.

    I do need some exercise after lunch, or I find myself snoozing. It's not good to wake up and find one's finger on the keyboard with three pages of zzzzzzzzzzzz's.

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    1. A nice walk after lunch exercises the body & frees the brain. I wish I lived closer to a scenic walking path. Afternoon sun is brutal here.

      Your recliner suggestion is interesting. My chair & posture could be better. Thanks, Steve.

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    2. Unlike Steve, I take a siesta after lunch. I love to nap. It's like death but without the commitment.

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    3. "Naps are like death without the commitment"

      That, Joe, has just become my favourite line.

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    4. Is that nap before or after your umbrella drink, Joe?

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    5. Death without the commitment. I like it. Thinking of the dirt nap Iike it's a choice, priceless

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  4. Excellent advice, Jordan. Lately I've been caught up in promoting my two published books and have let my writing slide. Not good! That won't get my third book out. I must follow your advice and set a daily writing goal. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. The daily writing is fantastic. Even if it's minimal because of other priorities, at least it's progress. Thanks, Jodie.

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  5. I loved the post because the advice given was so concise and well-written. If I read some of the topics before, I could rediscover and connect immediately.
    I also liked the idea with more than one project at the same time. Write now I use the second project as kind of prize for writing for the Work in Progress. I am in the plotting phase there and it is fun to just let the mind relax and come up with all crazy ideas, after the day job and after the hard work on re-writing and editing the work in progress.
    Thank you very much for the post Jordan. I shared it with my Writing Group on Facebook.

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    1. Thanks, Victoria. I can tell writing is a real passion for you. I can relate to squeezing in writing time after a long day of work. Somehow you can always find that second wind because it's something you love.

      Try the "more than one project" thing. I wrote my harder/darker project in the morning, but treated myself to a humor projects for the afternoon. That's why the double word count goal felt easy to achieve. I found it a fun exercise.

      Thank you.

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  6. Great post, Jordan! Way back when in the '80's, when a relative of mine was working toward a Harvard Business School degree, my father's advice to her was "Glue Butt in Chair." My preferred brand is Gorilla Glue, lol.

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    1. I tried staples a few times....but the blood stains were getting hard to clean

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    2. I bet it was a red Swingline stapler.

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    3. Bosch Pneumatic job actually....industrial strength.

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  7. For me writing and story telling is a natural way of life. I get to do it all day work as well as all night at home on my books. Creativity makes like fun, so I seldom have problems getting things going.

    Like this out of office memo I just sent to my customers at the Big Boy Job.

    I will be out of the office Friday 8/8/14.

    For technical assistance please call the IT Helpdesk at 1-888-555-5555 or email them at HelpMe@IT.Gov. Once a ticket is established the San Diego Network Support will assist you.

    This should be the last bit of leave for me for a while probably, as upon my return the Evil Lords of the Outer-Dread Darkness (ELOTODD for short) should be fully vanquished this time. Of course it is always a gamble with such creatures as they tend to resist extermination quite persistently and with very vigorous determination. But I have a couple things up my sleeve that they don’t. Such as a pair of “Boots of Buttocks Smashing-In Power”, “The Singing Herring of Destiny” and my most potent weapon, “The Very Polite Smile of Doom” which when used in combination with the “The Singing Herring of Destiny” often causes the horns on their foreheads to invert and turn their creamy yellowish brains into custard. Have to be careful of course not to get that brain custard on me though, as that it is how they replicate, by spreading bits of dead ELOTODD brains on unsuspecting warriors and telling them it is actually custard which the warrior then licks off, enjoying several moments of the most delicious vanilla taste they’ve ever experienced then suddenly transforming into an ELOTODD. The poor victim’s voice suddenly ramps up to an involuntary falsetto soprano which, while it may seem silly at the first thought, is actually rather disconcerting coming from a nine foot tall horned demon with scales and talon like fingers.

    (Side note: my friend and fellow warrior Todd hates that acronym (ELOTODD), because everytime someone says it he turns around to see who’s greeting him. And now you hear ELOTODD in my voice in a British accent…and it just won’t go away…sorry)

    Oh…and please don’t break stuff while I’m out.

    So...yeah.

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  8. #7: "Keep an open mind to feedback." Certainly this makes sense, and if you have the advantage of reliable (key word) beta readers, more power to you. I don't, so I pay for a good hired gun to show me what I can't see for myself. It's like psychotherapy: you have to pay for it if you're going to take it seriously--at least for me.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Barry. Feedback is very important. I agree.

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    2. Another thing I've learned about beta readers, they each give you something different that you can use. One might be a good proof reader. Another could have good eyes for character motivation. The truly special ones can give you the bird's eye view of your plot & story arcs. Those are golden. It takes time to cultivate a reliable group of good beta readers, so have patience in finding them. Start one at a time & build from there, even if they don't give you everything you need. And keep looking for those special ones. They are rare.

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  9. I need to be better about allowing myself to write badly. It's really hard when I hit that inevitable patch where I get an idea on a new direction to take the story. Sometimes it's a great idea, sometimes it's completely wrong, but hip deep in the novel is hardly the time to evaluate. It used to paralyze me, until I finally made a decision and moved forward.

    The other one I work on is being really open to change. A lot of writers once they find a process refuse to try anything new. "No, that won't work for me. I can't outline/write without an outline/try writing the draft in all dialogue." Knowing what works for you is great, but I've gotten a lot of awesomness from being open to trying new things.

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    1. I love what you said about remaining open to change in process. I push different things each year & have found them helpful. The one thing I haven't been able to do is work the drafts. I have a rolling edits method that I quite like. It fits my OCD about certain things, but I might try it for a shorter story to get my feet wet.

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  10. All points`re relevant and seemed much helpful to me! Both points the third one & the fourth one are my "Strengthen" & the "Weakness" as well... at the same time. But this post`s giving me a new direction to walk on .. in a way to let the write go touch the finishing line! So, yeah.. what all I got from this insightful post is that “Let the ideas welcome and get filtered into the words in a hope to make the incomplete write “Complete” with the incense of new art” and "Do work in "Routine” & Don`t let the beats of "Discipline" go away of you" at all.

    You`ve also talk about "Passion" .. yeah, I think ... that`s the “main” thing which burns the flames of words into the depth of the heart to ignite the thoughts letting them all go upon the frosty layers of creations. In other words, With the passion, the Ideas go transform into action! And, The IInd most important thing what I loved about the post is that all points`re well written with the proper "length" .. & clearly defined in the short words. Furthermore, I think, the fifth point`s the grip of the writing process! I adore this point. After that, the sixth point`s too very creative, we all have to walk with hundreds of thousands of ideas because the thoughts ain`t know in which genre they are gonna get transform unto the blanks sheets which get bleed in disguise of words. so, yeah .. keep accommodating the thoughts to welcoming the creation!!

    Excellent Post!
    This post`s very inspirational to all the writers!

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    1. Thanks, Criss. Your comment made my day. Writers like you keep all of us here on TKZ excited about the family we are nurturing on our blog. Have a great weekend and keep the faith.

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  11. Great advice here. Some of these are not always easy to do, but worth the effort. I like your point about having more than one idea. I'm on the fourth draft of my first novel (science fiction), and I wouldn't have gotten through the doldrums of the third draft if I hadn't given myself a little mental refreshment by beginning to develop an idea for a murder mystery series.

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