Monday, October 29, 2018

Ready, Set, Write! NaNoWriMo 2018

Photos via Green Chameleon, Thought Catalog & Raw Pixel
It’s no secret.

I’ve had a wicked-bad case of writer’s block for the better part of a year now.

Or perhaps “writing block” isn't the best way to describe it. Maybe it's more of a “finishing block.”

I’ve started over a dozen short stories and three separate novels in the past twelve months.

I’ve finished a grand total of 0.

I’ve completed six novels in six years. This dry spell is not typical for me.

The good news is that I have identified some of the gremlins gunking up my works. I’m got a plan on how to eradicate the little buggers (at least for now).

One of the best ways I know to get back into anything—exercise, healthy eating, writing—is to just get back on the horse and ride every single day.

Last week my post was about how to get and keep fans. One of the three points was about consistency (you can see the full post here). I have failed at my goal of greater writing consistency this year, but I'M NOT GIVING UP!!

Over the past ten years of my writing journey, I’ve learned that there aren’t many hard and fast rules in the world of writing. But there is one, and I’ll state here as black letter law:

There is no limit to the amount of editing you can do to a draft, but you absolutely cannot edit a draft that does not exist.

And this is where NaNoWriMo comes in. I “won” NaNoWriMo (I’ll use WriMo from here on) in both 2011 and 2012. I produced two finished novels from my work in those two WriMo years (Emily’s Trial was published in 2012 and Emily’s Heart in February 2014).

One of the great benefits of WriMo is the commitment the writer makes to herself to write every day (or nearly so) for a month. I recall feeling that it was easier to stay focused on the story because I was firmly planted in it by writing every day.

For me, stopping and starting while working on a novel can cause stall outs that turn into long-term parking. Perhaps you can relate to this.

My writing is rusty right now. I’ve been out of the daily writing habit for over nine months. Every day, I’m staring at a blank screen. I’ve full on planned three different novels (one of them I have outlined five different times!). Talk about a stall out! I’ve talked myself into assuming the story would suck before I’ve even written it.

The thing is, I know better. I talk with writers at comic cons and book festivals frequently, and the advice I give is to keep pushing through. Don’t read back over what you’ve written because you’ll talk yourself into thinking it sucks and not worth continuing. 

I know this because I’ve done it, but learned not to. That’s how I produced six novels (rather than giving up on the first and never writing again, something I know lots of people have done).

I know that I’m not alone; that the fear of the blank page affects most writers, even capable and experienced ones. (Check out this bit of advice from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver.)

The bottom line: I refuse to give up on the stories cawing at me like crows from pillars in my mind. This year I’ll use WriMo as a tool to get back on the horse and ride.

Are you with me?

Who else is doing NaNoWriMo this year? 

Drop a line in the comments if you've done NaNo before and let us know how it went? Any hints or tips?

And if you're a WriMo "virgin", shout out your intention to give it a try this year.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hey Writer Lady—How do You Get and Keep Fans

Photo via Unsplash by James Pond

A few months ago, follower Nick asked me on Twitter:

Any advice for aspiring creators on how you get/keep fans (without pandering)?

What a great question.

As soon as I read Nick’s tweet, I knew that I couldn’t answer it in a single tweet. I also immediately thought, “I wish I knew the answer to his question!”

If getting and keeping fans were easy, there wouldn’t be such a long list of one-hit wonders and endless lists of “where are they now” slideshows on Buzzfeed.

As I considered Nick’s question, what immediately came to mind was a quote from legendary dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, a woman who transformed dance:

Martha Graham by Yousuf Karsh (1948)
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

Writers are often looking for that elusive combination that will lead to the best-seller—the next big thing. They imagine themselves the next George RR Martin, JK Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham or maybe Patterson.

While there is nothing wrong with aiming high or hoping to have the next breakout novel (or song, or dance, etc.), chasing someone else’s tail is a losing game from the start.

I’ve been creating things nearly my whole life, and now at half a century and counting, I can say without the doubt that the more I follow Martha Graham's advice above, not only am I more content in life, but my work is more successful as well.

Look inside anything highly successful, and you'll be sure to find a person or people following their individual muse as they seek answers to their own questions. Each of us indeed is unique. When we unplug from the noise, ignore the inner and outer critics, and focus on that little voice inside that nudges us toward creation—then and only then do we create art.

Okay, you say, fair enough Natalie, but how do I get and keep fans?!

It is as simple—and ridiculously difficult—as this:

Consistently create content that you are passionate about.

Let’s break that down a bit.

1. Create content…

First, you need to have content. What do I mean by content? From blog posts to articles, poems to novels and short stories, songs, videos, social media memes, and posts, or any other creative content. The saying goes that “content is king.”

When getting ready to post or share any content, ask yourself this question: “Does this entertain, inform or provoke thought?” This is another way of saying, “Is it engaging?” If the content you created doesn’t help people in some way (i.e., entertain, educate, inform, etc.), then consider if you need to share/publish it. Not everything we create needs to be given voice to an audience wider than one.

2. With Passion…

If you are a creative person building a brand, you need to build your brand around something you are passionate about. You will spend countless hours talking about your product/idea. It’s something you may be working on for years. 

And, if you aren’t passionate about it, why should anyone else be?

Consider the Harry Potter franchise of books. Do you think JK Rowling was anything less than 100%+ into her story? Her passion for the characters and world she created is evident on every page. And that passion for her work comes through in her writing (and of course has led to a devoted following).

If you are new to creative work, take the time that you need to consider what it is that you are passionate about. What do you want to say? What is your unique contribution to the world?

Find the heart of your work, then throw yourself into it 100%+.

3. Consistently.

True confession, this is likely the hardest part of the formula for me. Being consistently productive can be difficult. Passion is great, but consistency takes planning and hard work.

Life can lead to setbacks, shifting priorities and unexpected pitfalls. (For example, my broken foot last year!)

Consistency may be the setback experienced by all those one-hit wonder creators out there.

As difficult as it is to have a bestseller, it can be even more difficult to have two.

Writers such as John Grisham, Robert Patterson, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, and Danielle Steele are like freaks of nature. These writers have not only (1) found their passion, but they (2) consistently produce works in their chosen niche year after year.

This is damned difficult to do.

Some creatives like to dabble in this genre and then try that one. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying new things (and if you are a young/newbie at being creative, you definitely SHOULD dabble). 

But swerving from lane to lane is generally not a viable way to create—and keep—a fan base. Creating and maintaining fandom should not be confused with the creative process itself.

If you are fortunate enough to gain fans of your work, they will want more of whatever it is that you create. And they’ll want it often, or at least know that it’s coming their way.

To sum it all up, I’ll leave you with this:

Consistently create work that you are passionate about.

That is the first—and most important—step to creating and keeping a fandom of your work.

Do you have any tips for Nick and others about creating and keeping a fan base?

If you are part of a fandom, what keeps you coming back for more of your favorite book/movie/art/music?

Featured Post

An Interview with Hugh Howey, author of Wool

Hugh Howey Author of Wool Robyn and I were super thrilled to have the opportunity to interview bestselling author Hugh Howey for our Ma...