Writing Habits And Routines, Filling The Creative Well And More Tips On Writing And Productivity

This is an excerpted chapter from my latest book, How To Make a Living with Your Writing.

typing laptopYou can’t make a living from your writing if you’re not actually writing.

And while writing may seem easy to some and it has its fun moments, it’s actually really hard work!

I think it’s the best job in the world (for me) but it’s certainly not for everyone. Here are my tips on getting the words out.

(1) Sort out your routine and writing habits

Every writer is different but every professional writer also has some kind of routine to get the words onto the page. You can call this discipline if you like, but it’s better to think of it as a habit.

Habits are things you do without having to debate whether to do them or not. Like brushing your teeth, which you likely do at the same time every day and miss if you don’t do.

In my first four years of writing books and blogging, I also had a demanding day job as an IT consultant. Because I was drained by the end of the day, I would get up at 5am and write before going to work and also set aside a bigger chunk of time to write on the weekends. In the evenings I worked on my website, blog, podcast and social media, connecting with other authors and building my online platform. I wrote several non-fiction books and also my first three novels this way.

In many ways, it’s easier to write when you have a day job.

alarm clockYour time is restricted so you have to make the most of the time you have and you’re driven to achieve in that period. The financial side is also taken care of so you have less pressure. But of course, you’re likely reading this because you want to switch!

I switched to being a full time author entrepreneur in September 2011 and in the first year, it was very hard to find a routine. After 13 years of commuting and office work, it was difficult to adapt to working from home alone. I solved this problem by joining a library and taking the train into town with my husband, then working “office hours” and taking lunch or coffee breaks with other author friends, most of whom I met on Twitter.

You’ll need to play around with what works for you, but here’s what I’ve found for my own routine:

  • I’m a morning person so I need to write fiction in the morning and then do marketing/running the business activities after 2pm. I can also write non-fiction or blog posts/articles in the afternoon, but then I wind down in the evenings. Work out when your most creative time is and use it for first draft material.
  • Creating things is tiring. Writing fiction in particular can really take it out of you, so getting enough sleep is critical. I usually get 8 hours a night and sometimes I’ll sleep 10 hours after a big writing day. Our brains pay the bills so we need to look after them.
  • I need to write new words away from my home desk, because I also use that for podcasting, accounting and other things. So I write in libraries or cafes and I always plug in my headphones, listen to rain and thunderstorms album on repeat, turn up the volume and start to write.
  • Diarize your time and make slots for your writing as you would for any other appointment. If you think you don’t have enough time, then look at what to eliminate to make the time. You’ll find a way if you really want to write. It’s all about where you choose to spend your energy. You get what you focus on.

(2) Get the right tools for the job

We are super lucky as authors because the tools we need are minimal and cheap compared to other businesses. I used to run

jo tribeca

Running a boat is super expensive!

a scuba diving business in New Zealand – we had a boat and loads of dive gear, not to mention the costs of fuel, insurance, wages etc.

Now all I need is a laptop and an internet connection!

I have a MacBook Pro and I use it for writing as well as making videos, podcasting and emails, etc. Pro writer Dean Wesley Smith recommends having a separate computer for writing so you can get into focus without distraction, but I’ve managed this by changing location.

However, if you can’t escape the addictive pull of the internet during writing sessions, then maybe getting something basic to write on and disabling the internet on that is a good idea.

The other tool I couldn’t do without is Scrivener software. I use it to plot and (roughly) outline as well as write, organize and manage my books. I also use the Compile option to create my ebook files for Kindle and ePub formats. It’s incredibly powerful software and if you want to maximize your usage, I recommend the Learn Scrivener Fast training course.

You can also watch a 36 min video here where I talk you through my writing tips as well as how I use Scrivener for fiction and non-fiction.

(3) Understand first draft writing vs editing/redrafting

Words do not stream from a writer’s fingertips perfectly in order, each word exactly as it will be in the final draft.

Writers will usually create a first draft, a splurge of words and ideas that definitely will NOT be seen by others. They will then spend time rewriting, editing and polishing until the manuscript is ready for public consumption. I’ve also found this is true for blog posts and articles as much as books.

birdbybirdYes, there are some exceptions but understanding this freed me up enough to write books. I recommend you read Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird where she talks about this saying, “Write shitty first drafts.” Then clean them up!

Remember, you can’t edit a blank page. So just get black on white and work through edits later.

Here are some tips for getting that first draft done.

(4) Fill the creative well and then trust emergence

If you want to write for a living, you need to have a consistent flow of ideas that can be used in whatever you’re writing next. I still remember when this seemed impossible to me but once you start the flow, ideas will never be a problem again. The problem will be turning those ideas into words and finished products.

So how do you start the flow of ideas?

For me, it’s all about research – this can be online or through books, but I also like to go visit places, immerse myself in new experiences and give synchronicity a chance.

I often find things in museums that end up in my books, or I am at an event and get an idea, or I’m watching TV or a film and something springs to mind. For example, I was watching a documentary on sharks and wondered how biohacking could be used to make human skin more like a shark’s. I just write stuff like that down. I don’t have to do anything with it now, just log it and I trust that I will come back to it another time. Or not, it doesn’t matter. But just getting used to the process of noticing ideas and writing them down will prime the pump.

Trust those impulses and write them down.

things appI use the Things app on the iPhone which syncs to my Mac and I have a special folder for ideas where I just log a line or two per idea. You can use a notebook or any other app, but definitely have some way to note them down.

When I write, ideas filter up from my subconscious, often from things I saw or experienced years ago. In Gates of Hell, I ended up writing about Safed, a little town in Israel that I visited way back in 1990. It emerged in the story somehow and my memories of it came back, aided by Google, of course!

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it’s a symptom of letting the creative well run dry. Go fill it up, get excited about things again and then come back to the page.

(5) Find your voice by writing lots

Here’s a question for you to consider.

If someone writes 10 books, which book will be the best? Number 1 or number 10?

Hopefully the answer is obvious, because practice and experience result in better everything.

But so many writers get obsessed over their first book, spending years writing, editing and polishing it without moving on to the next. We all have self-doubt, we all suffer from fear of failure, fear of judgment. That never stops, even for the most experienced writers from what I’ve heard.

How to Make a Living from your Writing 3DThe best thing to do is to write that book, then write another, then another, then another.

Work with a professional editor on every book, learning from their experience. Read loads and loads and learn from other writers. Practice technique as you write, focusing on different aspects per book.

Also, relax into it and have fun.

I used to take myself so seriously, but these days, I try to bring joy into my writing. This is not war and peace. No one is going to die (except in your stories!).

Focus on entertaining, educating or inspiring your readers and just write more.

This is an excerpted chapter from How to Make a Living with your Writing, available in ebook formats.

Images: Flickr Creative Commons: alarm clock by H is for Home.

On Writing And Mindset For Indie Authors With Susan Kaye Quinn

So much of becoming a successful author, indie or otherwise, is about mindset.

Today I talk to Susan Kaye Quinn about some of the biggest issues we all have as writers: self doubt, fear of judgement and comparisonitis. We also go into branding and tips on organizing your marketing.

SelfPubSummitSocialIn the intro, I mention the fantastic line up for the Self-Publishing Summit – including Jack Canfield, James Altucher, Steve Scott – and me :) – plus many more. It’s free to attend live or listen in the first 3 days, or just $97 for access to all the replays. Click here to register for the event.

Also, I have a free webinar coming up for my audience with Nick Stephenson: Put your book marketing on autopilot and find your first 10,000 readers. Register here for your free place or if you can’t attend live, you can get the replay.

I also mention my fantastic night at CrimeInTheCourt – you can see the pics here on my author FB page – the launch of How to Make a Living with your Writing, and the audiobooks of Gates of Hell and One Day in New York. It’s been a big week!

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna

SusanKayeQuinnSusan Kaye Quinn is a former rocket scientist now bestselling speculative fiction author and today we’re talking about her super book, The Indie Author Survival Guide.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below.

  • On the journey from rocket science to writing books.
  • On making a living as a writer and the indie-author revolution that the mid-listers are spearheading.
  • IndieAuthorBookOn the toxicity of comparisonitis and setting reasonable and personal writing goals and objectives.
  • The big lie of traditional publishing and the areas of validation and approval, as well as writers’ mission statements, and the personal reasons why we write, which can help with decision making in our writing careers.
  • ForLoveOrMoneyOn experimenting with what works for us and what doesn’t in our writing careers. Also fear of judgment and how it can hold us back from fully expressing ourselves in our work, and what we can do to deal with that. Susan has a video on dealing with fear on her site here.
  • Susan’s top recommendations for book marketing including the three key elements. What to do if your books aren’t selling and knowing your target market.
  • The longevity of writing careers, the long tail of book sales and the possible cycles of sales through a writer’s lifetime.
  • Using Scrivener for organizing book marketing materials and how this serves to keep marketing in a separate mental space from writing. [I also recommend the Learn Scrivener Fast training for getting the most out of Scrivener.]
  • The differences between writing for love or for money. The speed with which writers can now bring new works to market and the gap that is rapidly closing between writers and readers.

You can find Susan at SusanKayeQuinn.com and her books,, The Indie Author Survival Guide and For Love or Money: Crafting an Indie Author Career, on all online stores.Continue Reading

Q&A On Writing, Self Publishing And Book Marketing

Today I’m answering some of your questions from The Creative Penn survey – talking about self doubt, what defines a good book, discipline and habits, ideal genres, editing and time spent on marketing.

In the intro, I mention the changes with Amazon Kindle Unlimited payments move to page reads as well as machine learning for reviews; Apple’s change to pre-orders allowing up to a year in advance without metadata. I also mention the Facebook Ads for Authors course and Self Publishing Podcast #62 show on autoresponders.

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.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!

joanna penn grinIt’s just me today! I’m assuming you know who I am – if not, check out the About Me page :)

  • On self-doubt about our writing, how it continues to affect even well-established authors. Strategies for tackling that doubt, including working with editors, and getting on and publishing despite self-doubt.
  • On why books sell and what defines a ‘good’ book. The importance of emotional resonance in books, and the impact indie authors have had on traditional publishers around what readers want to read.
  • Having the discipline to write and questioning if you need to write every day. Habits and their importance, your personal definition of success and why enjoying the act of writing matters so much.
  • On ideal genres for books, including paying attention to what you read, to your Creative Muse and respecting your readers.
  • On juggling work, life and writing. Can we have it all? And the importance of focusing on learning at the beginning of a writing career.
  • The process for editing fiction and knowing when to draw a line in the sand and stop working on a book, including figuring out what you want for the book, cost vs. return and investing money in your author business. Also what to do when the first book is finished.
  • On answering the question, “Who is your publisher?” and strategies for the reply, including comparisons to indie music and film.
  • On how much time authors should spend on marketing, including examining where your writing career is now, Business for Authors 3Dwhat end game you have in mind for your books and your career, and balancing marketing vs. creation.
  • Return on Investment for writers, examining the income return for the time you spend and how much being creative matters to you.

OK, I’d love to know if you enjoy the Q&A format. Just leave a comment below or tweet me @thecreativepenn

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Writing Fast, Building An Audience And Facebook Advertising For Authors With Mark Dawson

Recently, Forbes ran an article about Mark Dawson with the headline: Amazon pays $450,000 a year to this self-published writer. Today, I interview Mark about how he writes fast, the empowerment of being indie, Facebook advertising and email list marketing.

In the intro I talk about my cycling trip to Croatia which was a much needed rest away from the computer :) You can see some of the photos on Flickr here.

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.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!

mark dawsonMark Dawson is an internationally bestselling thriller author with the John Milton and Beatrix Rose series. He also shares his knowledge with authors at SelfPublishingFormula.com and has a new course about Facebook marketing here.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below.

  • How Mark got started in writing back in the late 90s. Traditional publishing didn’t quite go how he expected, despite a great advance. Dispirited, Mark stopped writing for a number of years. When he heard about the Kindle and self-publishing, he began to write again, starting slow but then writing nearly a million words in 2014. The number of quality books he produced catapulted him into sales success and then he began to grow his email list at the same time. In Nov 2011, Mark left his job to write full time.
  • A comparison of traditional publishing vs self-publishing. The change in mindset Mark has had to go through. The empowerment of going indie. The author can’t just write – you have to take control of your marketing and your business as well. The indie way is not for everyone though – it takes a certain personality type.
  • john miltonHow to speed up your writing. Mark’s first self-published novel, The Black Mile, took 14 months to write but he began to speed up. His early books were heavy on research in physical locations, but in order to speed up, he started writing the John Milton series which could be researched purely on the internet. Mark was fueled by a huge jolt of enthusiasm based on feedback – both through monthly income and emails from readers that encouraged him to write more, faster. Use Scrivener to roughly outline with key story beats and then just write between them. Don’t write to the market – write what you love to read. You can’t tell what the zeitgeist will be in 6 months – or even years ahead. We’re in this for the long term. Discipline and productivity through repeated routine.
  • Growing your audience with email lists and Facebook advertising. We refer back to the interview with Nick Stephenson around Reader Magnets and also Nick’s self publishing formulacourse, YourFirst10KReaders.com. Mark talks about how he uses Facebook ads to get new signups to his list every day, and also to drive sales to his boxsets. He covers how you can do this yourself in his new course about Facebook marketing at SelfPublishingFormula. We talk about how great FB ads can be but also how much testing you have to do in order to optimize your ads. It’s a real commitment and you have to be really careful around cashflow. Mark also gives advice on what to email the list once readers are acquired and how to keep the list warm, as well as how to build a street team and what to ask them for.

You can find Mark’s fiction at MarkJDawson.com and his course on Facebook marketing here.


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Making Time to Write When You Have Young Children: Mission Impossible?

When I speak at writing events, one of the most common questions is how to find time to write when life is just so busy for everyone.

alphabetWe all struggle with this regardless of our family situation and I’m happily childfree (by choice), but I have lots of friends with children who juggle multiple conflicting priorities.

Today Ali Luke, author, blogger and Mum of two, talks about her situation and gives some tips on finding time to write.

If your days are anything like mine, they involve lots of noise, fun, mess, squealing, laughter, laundry … and not much time to yourself.

Whether you’re a mum, dad, or other carer, and whether you work or not, finding even a few minutes to write can seem next to impossible.

I’ve got two little ones (a two year old daughter and a baby son) and while I love them dearly, writing has definitely fallen a bit by the wayside over the past couple of years.

And all the great time management tips that worked for me when I was a student, when I was working full-time, and when I started my own business?

Turns out they don’t easily apply to life with two small and unpredictable children.

Here’s what I’ve learned along the way. (And I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.)

Make the most of any writing time you DO have

If you have any time at all to write, squeeze the most you can out of it. Earlier this year, I could sometimes fit in a 15 minute slot of writing while both the little ones napped. (Sadly, my two year old has now dropped her nap!)

While 15 minutes might seem like nothing, it’s long enough to make real headway. I actually found I wrote more in some of those 15 minute sessions than I used to manage in an hour or two when I was a student.

Even if you can only find five minutes to write, perhaps after you’ve had some time to unwind in the evening and before you tackle the dishes, use that five minutes.

If there’s someone else responsible in the house, let them listen out for the kids while you put headphones on and forget about the world around you.

Consider which projects to commit to

I often urge writers to stick to and finish one or two projects, rather than starting half a dozen. When you have small children, this is doubly important. If you only have a few minutes here and there to write, you want to be making measurable progress.

If it’s realistic (and I know it often won’t be), you might want to focus on short projects where ‘the end’ is easily in sight. That could mean short stories rather than novels, or blog posts rather than non-fiction ebooks.

You may also want to hold off on any projects that are going to have a steep learning curve, or require tons of research, so that you can spend most of your writing time actually enjoying writing.

Of course, sometimes as a writer you don’t so much choose the project as it chooses you and if you really want to be writing your epic fantasy trilogy or your weighty academic textbook, then by all means go for it!

Get a great team behind you

I’m lucky that I have no idea what it must be like to be a single parent and huge kudos to anyone reading this who’s managing a little one (or several little ones) single-handed.

If you do have a partner who can help, make sure you’re both getting some time for yourselves and for your own needs. Self-expression and the chance to pursue your dreams are needs, so don’t let anyone suggest you should forget about writing for now.

Enlist other supporters, too. That might be your parents. I’m really lucky that mine live just round the corner or try your siblings or close friends.

If you can pay for help, do. We have a wonderful cleaner who we found when our oldest was three weeks old, and it’s made a huge difference.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent, don’t feel that you have to do everything yourself. Just as you’d hire an editor and cover-designer to help you publish a high-quality book, there’s nothing wrong with hiring professionals to tackle tasks for you while you get on with the important work of being a parent and of getting your writing done.

Don’t feel guilty

There are enough guilt trips involved in parenting – so don’t let making time to write become yet another one.

I mentioned above that self-expression and the chance to pursue your dreams are things you need. Your writing is important. You deserve time to write, and your well-being will suffer without that time.

(It doesn’t matter whether you make money from your writing or not. It doesn’t matter if your writing is literary or not. What matters is that you feel happy when you write – or at least happy when you’ve written!)

I struggled with this one after my second baby was born. I felt like I should be able to set aside my writing for a few months. It took an episode of Charlie Gilkey’s podcast The Creative Giant Show to change my mind: Cultivating Creativity During Motherhood, with Lucy Pearce.

Of course, one huge source of writer-guilt is not writing. As a parent, you’re inevitably going to have days when you planned to write but it just didn’t work out. Whether it’s a childcare crisis or plain exhaustion, if a writing session doesn’t happen, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Its not easy to be a writer mum or writer dad – but it is possible. I’m definitely working this one out as I go along, and I’d love your tips on how you manage, or managed, to fit writing around small children. If you’ve got suggestions, or questions, just drop a comment below.

Ali LukeBio: Ali Luke runs Writers’ Huddle, a community / teaching site for all writers, with monthly seminars, in-depth ecourses, supportive forums, and more.

It’s only open for new members until Friday June 12th, and we’re about to start a new Summer Challenge for accountability (and prizes)! If you think you might be interested, check it out now.