Today’s guest post is by novelist Karen Pashley:
Traveling the writers’ road for the first time? Rest assured, you are in good company. Every single author whose books grace your shelves once walked the very path you are on.
If you’re like me, you may have days when you question the journey. You procrastinate, get frustrated, and endure gut-wrenching rejections. Will you continue? Will you have what it takes to shed those moments of hopelessness and press on?
Here are suggestions to help you avoid some of those potholes on the highway and encourage you to make it all the way to your destination.
1. Get Inspired
- Start your day with something that inspires you before you write a single word. I like to listen to my favorite inspirational speaker while walking on my treadmill. You might listen to your favorite songs, take your dog for a walk, or play the guitar. Paint something. Order one of those fancy cappuccinos with the heart drawn in the foam and enjoy it in the solitude of a corner booth. Whatever works for you.
- Keep a Victories Journal. Met your word count for the day? Jot it down. Received an encouraging comment on your work? Write it verbatim! Resolved a pesky plot issue? That’s worthy of a note in your journal. Keeping a list of your mini victories can be the shot in the arm you need when the world looks gray and your pages look like gibberish. Make journaling a habit, and you’ll be amazed at how many positives you’ll record
- Read excerpts from your favorite books. Sometimes, my creativity is as rusty as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. My mind squeaks, “Oil can . . . oil . . . can” as I stare at the computer screen, fingers at the ready, and . . . nothing.
What to do? Eat some M&Ms? Down another cup of coffee? Give up and try again later? I find it helps to pull out a favorite novel and immerse myself in the prose of someone whose writing I adore. I’ll read for a bit, marveling at the author’s vivid picture-painting, her mastery of dialog. I’ll ponder her brave rule-breaking sentences with wide-eyed admiration, amazed that she had the audacity to write something so captivating.
With my creative tank refueled, I’ll thank my trusty books for coaxing me back into my own imaginary world, where words flow without self getting in their way, and where I again find my voice.
2. Learn How to Network
How are you supposed to network when you don’t know anyone in the business? And you’re an introvert—a writer, not a social butterfly.
You’ve got to be on the lookout for opportunities. Be bold.
- Reach out to an author through her website or after a reading. I’ve been referred to agents just by introducing myself to an author after a reading and mentioning that I was preparing my query.
- Attend a conference or two. Before you register, choose an event that offers the biggest bang for your buck. Read about the workshops offered and decide which ones will benefit you most. Research the faculty, workshop leaders, and the agents and editors attending. Know as much as possible about the folks you hope to chat with. Conferences are business trips, and you are on a mission, so use your time wisely. Map out your daily goals—whom you’d like to meet, and when and where might be the best place to find them. Reach out to other writers during meals and breaks. Every person you meet is valuable. Smile! Strike up conversations. Get their contact info.
- If you attend a class, thank the speaker before leaving. Let him know what resonated with you. Everyone appreciates positive feedback. Ask if it would be okay to keep in touch.
- If you have a pitch appointment, send a handwritten thank-you note following the conference. This has started several meaningful conversations for me, and it’s a great way to begin building relationships with folks you’ll run into again and again.
3. Participate in Online Contests
I’ve received essential feedback that helped shape my query and my opening pages by entering free online contests. At the very least, these opportunities will help you improve your pitch. At best, you may find the perfect agent for your work. Here are just a few:
- http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitch-madness/ Tweet your pitch live to a group of agents seeking submissions. If selected, you’ll be asked to submit pages.
- http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitch-wars/ Agents compete for the pitches they most want to read more of.
- http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/ Janet Reid, aka the Query Shark, occasionally offers real-time critiques of query letters on her popular site. The event, known as The Chum Bucket, is a great opportunity to receive useful feedback on your query.
4. Develop a Stress-Free Method for Saving Your Work
How many times during rewrites did I find myself working on a document, only to realize it was an older version of the manuscript? Too many.
- Save yourself frustration by naming your manuscript file something unique and storing it in a folder on your desktop. Do not add any other files to that folder. Ever.
- Then name several other folders to store all your related goodies. They might be labeled Research and Notes, or Chapter Revisions, Future Blog Posts, or even Darlings Killed. (It doesn’t sting as much to hack off large chunks of your favorite passages if you can safely store them in this handy folder, like a squirrel hoarding extra nuts in case of an extremely long winter.)
- And for Pete’s sake, make sure you back everything up to an external hard drive!
5. Practice Your Pitch
Whether you pitch your project at a conference, a workshop, or at a friend’s backyard barbeque, you need to know what you’ll say, how you’ll say it, and how to answer follow-up questions.
- Practice speaking into a voice recorder. Play it back. Do you sound comfortable? Confident? Or are you fumbling for words, hesitating, or overexplaining?
- Have several versions memorized for different occasions. You may find yourself in front of your dream agent at your cousin’s wedding, with one shot at answering the all-important question: “So, what’s your book about?” Don’t blow it. Always be prepared.
6. Follow the 80/20 Rule
It’s advised that you dedicate 80 percent of your available writing time to your work in progress. The other 20 percent can be devoted to the areas I’ve mentioned above. Not possible, you say? Sure, it is. Write your plan; work your plan. You can do this.
A six-hour writing day might look like this:
- Write for 288 minutes, or roughly 4 ½ hours. Okay, you can use several of those minutes warming up by reading inspiring prose, or taking a quick look at your Victories Journal. Then attack that manuscript. No Facebook. No e-mails. No distractions.
- With your remaining 90 minutes, spend 15 minutes on Twitter. Aim to follow ten people every day who might be future readers. Follow those who follow you (that goes without saying, but I said it anyway for those of you who might make the mistake I did and lose followers by neglecting to follow them.) Follow me?
- Next, allow yourself 15 minutes per day to scan your Facebook, Pinterest, and other online hangouts. No, this cannot be counted as research! Be disciplined. You are working toward a lofty goal. Not finishing your book is not an option. Don’t get caught up here. It’s the single biggest time-sucker for many writers. Don’t take the bait. Get in, get out in 15.
- Block another 30 minutes for reading and commenting on blogs you’re interested in, scanning industry news, or exploring anything relevant to your writing career. Cut and paste useful tips and store in your desktop folder to refer to later. I like to open and read this folder on Sunday afternoons in preparation for the week ahead.
- Last, invest 30 minutes servicing your own website and blog. Work on drafts you’ve scheduled to post, and reply to comments left by visitors. Set a timer. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish in thirty minutes if you know that’s all the time you’ve got.
Don’t have six hours? Cut the times in half, but use the same proportions. You’ll still accomplish a ton, and be well on your way toward your goal.
So there you have it. Six things I’ve learned and implemented on my novel-writing journey.
Here’s to roads bravely traveled and destinations discovered. Happy Writing!
Karen Pashley started writing as a self-dare to accomplish something she’d always hoped to do. As words became chapters, and characters became her friends, her passion for writing grew. Her debut novel is currently in the trusty hands of her agent, Julie Gwinn, with The Seymour Agency, and is under consideration by several publishing houses. Visit Karen at her website here and follow her on Twitter.