No More Excuses About Writing. Fire The Muse And Go To Work.

At Harrogate Crime Festival last year, I heard Lee Child being interviewed on his incredibly successful Jack Reacher series.

hard hat area

When asked about his writing process, Lee mentioned being like a trucker. A trucker doesn’t get up in the morning and wonder whether or not to get in the truck and do his job. He just does, and off he drives. So, Lee said, he just gets in his version of the truck and writes. It’s a job, just do it.

This workman attitude also resonates through Steven Pressfield’s book ‘Turning Pro,’ which sits on my desk and which I re-read every new year.

In today’s guest post, author Anthony St Clair expounds on this theme, opening with a casual chat that sparked the idea.

“So, you what, sit down and wait for the muse?”

My father-in-law’s question made sense. A master electrician and project manager, he heads up the installation of massive industrial electrical systems. But when he asked me about how I write and work, something clicked.

“No,” I replied. “When you get down to it, my job actually has a lot more in common with yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“I view writing as less of an art and more of a craft or trade,” I said. “The ‘electrician muse’ doesn’t need to show up so you can do your job. You get up every day, put on your hard hat, and get it done.”

“I always thought writers need to be inspired.”

“Not anymore than you do, really,” I replied. “You plan out big projects and work on them piece by piece, day by day, until the larger whole is done. It’s the same for me. I plan out a project in advance. Then in the moment I deal with what’s happening on the page in a scene. I don’t wait for the muse. I don’t need a muse. I know what I need to do, so I work at it every day until the book is done.

This small chat between me and my father-in-law evolved my understanding of my writing and of my role as an author entrepreneur. Over the past year I’ve published 2 books and have a third coming out later this year. All my stories are based in an ongoing, non-sequential series that already has more material than I could write in one lifetime. And 5-6 days a week I get up, put on my metaphorical hard hat, and go to work.

It’s easy to think of fields like electrical work or plumbing as being inferior to writing. They’re not.

As John W. Gardner, former president of the Carnegie Corporation, once said:

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

The same holds for writing. So today I’m going to share four things that help me get my writing done. My goal here is to help you kick the habit of the muse and inspiration, and to motivate you to show up, write, and get it done, every day, in the manner that works best for you.

Put on your hard hat and go to work

Authors have an ongoing destructive love affair with the idea of the solitary, spontaneous creative binge. Our media love it too. You know how it goes:

OMG. Jane McWriterpants had this brilliant idea, locked herself in her room, drank 4 bottles of scotch and 20 pots of coffee, didn’t eat for 3 days, and came out Monday morning with a finished book. And did you see how many zeroes were on the check a publisher had sent her as an advance by lunchtime?

Isn’t that a great story? It’s something else: nonsense.

Architects don’t design buildings overnight. New houses aren’t built over a long weekend because the carpenter had a brilliant dream about lumber. Writers are no different.

At best, the spontaneous creative binge is an outlier. Mostly it’s just a lie.

It’s like the muse, which trips up many writers. The muse is counterproductive. You don’t need one. If the muse doesn’t show up to work every day, then fire the muse and keep showing up yourself.

Getting your book done means making it happen every day. Just like a building, there’s a lot to do. Part of your job is breaking down a massive project like a book into smaller pieces that you can work on every day, according to your needs and schedule, until you arrive at the end of the story.

Plan

Another lie of the spontaneous creative binge is that no planning is required. Some authors can pull this off. One of the best modern examples is Tom Robbins, who famously writes with no plan, but word by word follows the story until he’s done. You can just about typeset his first draft.

You are not him.

At least, I know I’m not. I’ve tried to just sit down and write. I fail. Most writers fail. Then they think they can’t write at all.

All that matters in writing is understanding—and applying—what works for you. What works for me is meticulous planning, but it’s also the planning that helps me be creative, find insights, and take new directions.

Planning a book does not mean an inflexible, unwieldy outline. Nor does it mean you have to know every minor character’s first job and second cousin. Planning a book means you have enough of an idea of what your book is about, who is part of the story, and why the story needs to be told, so that you can get up every day and keep making the book happen.

Believe it or not, planning also means being flexible.

Deal with what comes up on the job

Planning is important, but things don’t always go according to plan.

This is similar to working through problems on a construction site. You can have all the blueprints and meetings in creation, but until you’re actually working on the site with the real materials, you don’t know how things are going to go. You have a plan to rely on, but you also have to expect changes, be flexible, and adapt.

Each of my three books had points in the manuscript where what the story needed to do was not what I originally planned. I had to make changes not only to what I was working on, but sometimes to parts already written and parts I hadn’t written yet

Changes make me grateful for all the planning I’ve done. When I get to something that needs to change from what I originally planned, I can roll with it, adjust other parts of the story as needed, and keep going. By knowing in advance where I think the story will go, I can adapt when the story turns in a different direction.

Get it done

As Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “Real artists ship.” Here’s what he meant: you can tweak and rework forever unless you stop yourself and decide you have reached a point where the book is good enough to release.

Or to put it another way, popular in American culture, “Get it done.”

We can wring our hands forever about a piece having flaws. Then an old journalism adage reminds us: “Done is better than perfect.”

It’s true.

Our job is to tell our stories truly and wholly, and to the best of our ability. If we can say confidently that we’ve done that, then it’s time to write “THE END” and celebrate.

Then it’s time to go through the next steps of getting the story into the world—beta readers, editors, designers, you name it. But for now, fire the muse.

Make your book part of your every day. Get it done.

Do this, and you stand a far greater chance of getting your flawed but finished story out into the world.

You can always do a better job on the next book.

And you will.

How do you get your writing work done when inspiration doesn’t strike? Please share your thoughts below in the comments and join the conversation.

home sweet roadGlobetrotter, homebrewer and writer Anthony St. Clair has walked with hairy coos in the Scottish Highlands, choked on seafood in Australia, and watched the full moon rise over Mt. Everest in Tibet. Anthony’s travels have also taken him around the sights and beers of Thailand, Japan, India, Canada, Ireland, the USA, Cambodia, China and Nepal. He and his wife live in Oregon and gave their son a passport for his first birthday. His latest book is Home Sweet Road, out now on Amazon and other ebook stores.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons hard hat area by Jason Eppink

Writing Fiction: 5 Lessons From Game Of Thrones

Game of Thrones fever is at its peak as Season 4 finally hits the screens.

game of thronesWe haven’t had a TV for years now, but in the last few months, we’ve watched the whole series, glued to the drama of Westeros and the battle for the Iron Throne.

As a viewer, I have been addicted to the story, and as a writer, I bow my head to a master story creator and world builder. It must be the ambition of every creative to see their work loved as widely as Game of Thrones now is. The adaptation to screen is fantastic, creating new fans outside the realms of the fantasy genre and drawing more into the books.

Even if you haven’t watched it, here are my lessons learned from the fantastic books and TV series.

(1) High stakes = excitement, anticipation and addiction in your audience

The stakes can’t get much higher than those fought over in this saga, and it keeps viewers hooked as the plot ratchets up all men must dieeach episode. The stakes include:

  • Control of the Iron Throne which guides all the battles. Who will rule the Seven Kingdoms?
  • Life and death. The body count is truly incredible, with no character safe from the executioner’s axe. Each character is fighting for survival – against the other families, against the cold and the supernatural forces of the north, against their own kind. Favorite characters are killed off all the time, and the shock of their deaths makes the uncertainty of existence ever more real.
  • Family honor. What use is your life if you haven’t upheld the honor of the family?
  • Religion. As the Lord of Light seems nascent, the followers of the Seven, as well as the Old Gods still fight for their believers.

(2) Take the audience out of their lives for a time

Life is hard, and in Westeros, life is even harder. To watch, or to read, is to live vicariously in a world where most die by the sword, or by the hand of famine, or war. To be immersed in this story is to leave behind a mundane commute, a row with a partner or child, a hated job and financial worries, even for just an hour.

Adding a supernatural element enhances this ‘other-worldliness.’ Who doesn’t like dragons? and particularly cute baby ones daeneryswho emerge from the flames on the beautiful naked body of Daenerys?

How about a demon shadow assassin born from the body of the Red Woman? Or the White Walkers, the undead?

(3) Give everyone a character to root for

There’s a character for everyone in Game of Thrones, whatever your gender, age or sexual appetite.

I write about kick-ass women in my own fiction, so I was thrilled to find lots of strong women in the saga. Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, is much more than a pretty blonde. ‘Drakarys,’ she says, and men are burned to dust. Arya Stark and Brianne of Tarth, feisty women who fight. I even find Ceisei Lannister, the evil Queen, fascinating, unflinching from murder, incest and lust.

There are interesting characters like Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, a dwarf whose arc moves from being a lecherous drunk into running the kingdom, loving and being hurt. I’ve read more of the books, so I won’t say where he ends up …

(4) Create humorous breaks in the carnage

The audience needs time to breathe, a moment of calm and a smile in between the bloodshed. Shakespeare did this so well in his tragedies, and George RR Martin does the same, creating funny interludes when things are getting too dark. The jokes often come out of Tyrion’s mouth in the TV adaptation, with Bron as a sidekick, although I have noted in the book tyrion lannisterthat there are fewer quips. One such moment is the squire Poderick’s sexual prowess, despite his innocence in bed.

 (5) Evoke emotion

Game of Thrones has it all.

The loving father murdered in front of his daughters; the girl who loses her beloved pet; the beaten and abused wife; the mother whose sons are murdered; the fighter who loses his sword hand and his whole reason to be; the mocked outsider.

The emotional roller-coaster of the series hooks you in – and the TV show more than the book because it tightens the action and enhances it, cutting out the long lists of tourneys and the conquest of knights. The theme music even evokes a Pavlovian response in devotees. At least it certainly does for me now! I heard it played recently in the London Underground by a busker with an electric guitar, and I gave him some money because my heart swelled and I wanted more!

Are you a Game of Thrones fan? What have you learned from either the books or the TV series? Please join the conversation in the comments below.

See Your Book Idea Through the Lens of a Publishing Professional

One of the best things about being an indie author is that the creative control rests with you. You get to write and publish what you want.

magnifying glassBut that doesn’t guarantee that anyone will notice your book, or that they will buy it. If you take a business orientated view of the publishing and marketing side of things, you’ll find your chances to sell and make an impact will be greater. In today’s article, Nina Amir explains how to take your book idea to the professional level, giving it more chance to succeed.

For centuries authors, as well as readers, relied on acquisitions editors to determine if a book idea deserved publication. With the advent of indie publishing, today self-published authors decide whether or not to publish their own work.

The fact that you no longer need so-called “gatekeepers,” however, doesn’t make the job agents and acquisitions editors perform less valuable. In fact, the ability to evaluate a book idea for marketability remains an essential step for both traditionally published and indie published authors. No matter how you plan to publish, it behooves you to see your work, and even yourself, through the lens used by these publishing professionals. This is how you evaluate if you have a marketable book idea.

What Agents and Editors Do

If you don’t bother to see your work though the same lens used by an agent or acquisitions editor, you could:

  • Produce a book that is too similar to other published books
  • Create a book that isn’t necessary in its category
  • Write a book that sells only a below-average or average number of copies

In all three cases, this means your book won’t achieve bestseller status.

Create a Business Plan for Your Book

These problems can be avoided if, like an agent or editor, you evaluate your book idea for marketability. The first, and most essential, step in evaluating your idea is to create a business plan for your book. Indeed, agents and acquisitions editors rely on business plans, or the information within them. These plans are typically called book proposals.

The only way you can perform their job, or see your idea through the same lens they use, is to create a plan that includes all the sections of a traditional book proposal. A nonfiction proposal provides the most detail; therefore, it is the best choice for either a fiction or nonfiction business plan. Don’t think of this as a proposal unless you plan to traditionally publish; think of it as a business plan. Ultimately, that’s how agents, editors and publishers use a proposal. If you are an indie publisher, that’s how you, the publisher, will use it as well.

In addition to a general overview of your project, which would include a pitch, a list of benefits your book provides (for nonfiction) and a brief summary of the book, your business plan should include the following:

  • Market analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • List of additional books you plan to write
  • Promotion plan
  • Biography
  • Mission statement
  • Description of your platform
  • Table of contents for your book
  • Chapter summaries for your book or a synopsis
  • Description of resources necessary to complete your book
  • Profit and loss statement
  • Resource list (subcontractors, lawyers, etc.)
  • To-list, calendar with deadlines or timeline (or all of these)

Change Your Perspective

Whether you want to traditionally publish or self-publish, to produce successful commercial books—fiction or nonfiction, learn to see your book idea and yourself from a business perspective. Here are four ways for you to change your perspective so you can evaluate the information in your business plan as a businessperson.

  • Think of your book idea as a product. Don’t make the mistake of thinking of your idea as a creative endeavor, your “baby” or even a book. At first, it is just an idea, and that idea will become a product in the marketplace. Products are produced by businesses, specifically manufacturing businesses, to make money. The way the publishing business makes money is by producing, distributing and selling books. And the publishing business releases more new products than any other—thousands per day! Once your product is released (published), it has to have the ability to capture “market share” and sell.
  • Consider yourself a businessperson. If you only see yourself as a writer, you will never be able to wrap your mind around #1. If you plan to self-publish, this is especially important, because you create a start-up business—your own publishing company. You become an entrepreneur! It then falls to you to handle all elements of running a business, including determining what products to release to the marketplace. You only want to release those you feel will make money—unless you possess the funds to produce books you simply feel passionate about.
  • Think about your ideal reader and target market. It’s easy to create from a self-absorbed place. You are focused on your idea, experience or story and feel passionate or excited about it. Shift your perspective; consider if you are creating something your ideal reader wants or needs. Create with an eye on what people in your target market seek. Ask yourself: How can I best serve my target market and idea reader?
  • See your work from an agent’s or editor’s perspective. Step back and get a big-picture view of your project. Be objective. What would these publishing professionals really think if they read your business plan? Be honest. If you can’t do this, you might have to ask a proposal editor, a book coach or an agent for feedback.

Evaluate the Marketability of Your Book Idea

With this new perspective, evaluate the information contained in your business plan. Determine if your book idea:

  • has a large enough target market to ensure good sales
  • is unique and necessary in its category
  • has strong competition (similar bestselling books in the category)
  • represent a sound creative idea

Also decide if your:

  • promotion plan is solid and will help sell books over time
  • author platform is large enough to support your promotion plan—to help sell books in your target market
  • credential give you the authority or expert status to write your book

No matter how you plan to publish, if you produce a business plan for every new book idea and see your work—and yourself—through a publishing professional’s lens, you can produce marketable books—ones that sell to publishers (if you like) and to readers. Before you write a word, just tweak, retool and hone your idea until it is the most viable product you can produce.

Have you considered your book from a professional perspective? What do you think about the things proposed in this article? Please leave your comments and questions below.

Nina AmirNina Amir, author of the bestselling How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time (Writers Digest Books) and The Author Training Manual: Develop Marketable Ideas, Craft Books That Sell, Become the Author Publishers Want, and Self-Publish Effectively (Writers Digest Books), transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, author-preneurs and blog-preneurs.

author training manualKnown as the Inspiration to Creation Coach, she moves her clients from ideas to finished books as well as to careers as authors by helping them combine their passion and purpose so they create products that positively and meaningfully impact the world. A sought-after author, book, blog-to-book, and results coach, some of Nina’s clients have sold 300,000+ copies of their books, landed deals with major publishing houses and created thriving businesses around their books. She writes four blogs, including Write Nonfiction Now and How to Blog a Book, self-published 12 books and founded National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge.

Business Strategy And Creative Giants With Charlie Gilkey

I spent 13 years as a business consultant working in large corporates in Europe and Asia Pacific, as well as small companies across New Zealand. I bring the lessons I learned to the journey of being an author, and it’s fantastic to meet people who also come from business.

In today’s interview with Charlie Gilkey, we discuss how business strategy relates to aspects of the creative life.

I had a blast so I hope you enjoy the interview as well.

In the intro, I mention the fantastic Learn Scrivener Fast training course, as well as wrangling NookPress and my own writing progress, plus my plans for London Book Fair and Thrillerfest.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Charlie GilkeyCharlie Gilkey is the best-selling author of “The Small Business Lifecycle: A Guide To Taking the Right Steps at the Right Time to Grow Your Small Business.” His business at ProductiveFlourishing.com helps people with productivity and creativity, and Charlie is a champion and catalyst for creative giants.

You can watch the video of the interview here on YouTube, or listen to the audio podcast above, or by subscribing here. You can also read the full transcription below. Highlights of the conversation include:

  • Charlie’s background as a logistics coordinator in the US Army, as well as studying for a PhD in Philosophy, and now a business strategist running his own company online.
  • Logistics is the art and science of getting people and stuff from here to there. How this relates to the business world and how creatives can learn from this experience.
  • A philosophical way of looking at the world, and defining who we are, as well as our goals
  • Eliminate before you delegate, and tips for outsourcing so you can focus on the important stuff. Plus how you can work out what the important stuff is!
  • Aspects of strategy for business
  • On creative giants – and you can read the full definition here on Charlie’s site
  • The maturation of the self-publishing environment, and moving from hobby to business

You can find Charlie at ProductiveFlourishing.com on twitter @charliegilkey. You can read the full transcription below, and please leave a comment or question if you’d like to join the conversation.

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Building a Literary Community: Why And How

Six years ago, I didn’t know any authors. I thought they were magical beings that lived in another realm entirely, one that I could never reach.

circle of friendsThat all changed when I started using Twitter to talk about writing and publishing, and started blogging here in 2008, as well as starting a podcast to actually talk to ‘live’ authors. I started to find a community.

In the last few years, I’ve found that the best opportunities for connection with readers has come from other authors that I’ve connected with online, as well as live events I have attended. I had short stories commissioned by Kobo because of a meeting at London Book Fair. I’ve spoken in Bali, Zurich and Berlin because of Twitter. And I am part of The Twelve, hitting the NY Times and USA Today list together, via twitter and a live conference meeting. I cannot emphasize enough how important community is, and I have built mine online over the years – perfect for an introvert!

Today, author Daryl Rothman explains how he has grown a literary community and how you can too.

Grow an audience

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship,” notes Phillip Pullman, “stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Indeed. We each have a story to tell. But how do you build an audience, a platform, so that there will be people to hear them? Unless you’ve already landed a contract with one of the big publishers, then you are facing the same reality as most  of us—that to achieve the success you want, to ensure as many people as possible hear your  story, and read your book, you must become your own best advocate.

Take matters into your own hands

How to do it?

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