How to Create a Successful Writing Habit

I assume you are a writer if you are reading this and that you want to take your game up to A-Game level. You want to create a writing habit that is efficient, effective, and ultimately successful.

Being within the first few weeks of the new year, some of us have grand and lofty writing goals and resolutions such as: I will write every day. Or: I will finish this story draft by summer holidays.

But how do you create a habit? Or flipping that around, how do you break bad habits in order to form good ones?

I was listening to a podcast on Social Triggers the other day while driving across the frosty prairie and Derek Halpern was interviewing Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit.” He had some interesting things to say about habits. Namely that there is a cue that pops us into a reward system that creates a routine or habit.

For me, the cue is my son’s morning nap. He’s in his crib and that is my cue to ‘reward’ myself with a big cup of green tea and sit down and write (also a reward). If I don’t have that big cup of tea I begin thinking about it instead of writing. Drinking tea while I write in the morning while my son naps is my routine. It is a habit that works for me. I have even managed to transform a less efficient time of day into an efficient one with this habit.

But what if you don’t have a good writing habit? How can you make one? Well, I suggest you check out this awesome flowchart of Charles Duhigg’s. (Used with permission.) As well, you can get more background on this by checking out Derek Halpern’s podcast–you can listen to it straight from your computer–or reading Charles’ book “The Power of Habit.”

How to Change a Habit Flowchart by Charles Duhrigg

How to Change a Habit from Charles Duhrigg–click to enlarge. (Then click again until you get the ‘+’ button on your cursor.)

So how about you? Do you have a cue that signals that it is time to write? Do you have a routine that makes you successful? Think about it. If you do, share what works for you. If not, share what you think you might be able to do. Let’s make 2013 our best writing year yet!

 


*Originally posted on jeanoram.com in 2013

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Setting Goals Work Better Than Resolutions

Happy New Year.

Smack, smack, smack.

What was that? Me smacking the sense back into us.

New Years is a fabulous time to make promises to ourselves we just can’t keep. Instead of grand resolutions and promises to ourselves we know we aren’t going to keep… how about we make some goals?

Why goals?

People who set goals accomplish them. People who set goals accomplish more. As in 80% more according to some sources.

Setting goals also gives us something to work towards. But you have to write them down. This makes them REAL.

Did you know that making a to do list–or a daily goal list–each morning BEFORE you do anything else is the more beneficial than writing it down even an hour later? In other words before you have coffee and check your email, jot down your writing goals for the day. This prioritizes it in your mind.

It also makes it clear to yourself what you hope to accomplish. Where you plan on heading. It gives you a target to move towards.

So? What are your writing goals for the year? What do you need to accomplish them? Where can you find the resources you need?


 

*Originally posted on Jeanoram.com

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How to Get Your Author Newsletter Blacklisted

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF SPAM?

In Canada placing someone on your newsletter mailing list without their permission (without them opting in) can lead up to million dollar fines for breaking international SPAM laws.

What I’ve noticed over the years are authors who are starting their newsletter lists being afraid to have nobody subscribed and thus add EVERYONE from their contact list to their new newsletter mailing list. This is against international spam laws. Almost every month I have someone add me to a list I did NOT subscribe to. Sometimes there isn’t even an unsubscribe button which is so, so, SO bad!

I understand the feeling of having nobody on your list other than yourself from when you were testing things during setup. We have ALL been there. But do not add people. I repeat: Do. Not. Add. People. Without their consent. Not only are you breaking spam laws, but you are…

  • Sending out newsletters to people who may not be your audience–no sales or clicks from these guys!
  • When you reach the no-longer free subscriber threshold you suddenly have to start paying for people who don’t even want to be on your list.
  • Ticking off people who work really hard to keep their inbox clean.
  • It lowers your open rates (having people on your list who do not want to be there), this then ‘taints’ your list which then lowers your delivery rates.
  • It gets your email address flagged as SPAM which causes all sorts of issues I won’t get into here.

If you are starting a new list and really want to reach out to those people you know, I suggest is this…

Send an email to your contacts saying, hey, I’m starting an author newsletter. Here’s what it’s going to be about, here’s what I write, here’s how often I plan to send it out. Are you interested in keeping in touch through my newsletter? If so, you can sign up for it right here: PROVIDE SIGN UP FORM LINK. I won’t send anymore emails about this and you’ll be free to unsubscribe from my newsletter at any point if you feel it isn’t something you want.

And always use a mailing list provider. Don’t just send mass emails from your gmail account or wherever.

I hope this helps! Good luck!

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How to Finish Your Novel (After NaNoWriMo)

NaNoWriMoThere’s no doubt about it, NaNoWriMo* is a rush.

And it’s over.

If you were participating this year you either made it past the 50,000 word mark or you didn’t. Yes, it is that simple.

The problem isn’t whether you got down your 50,000 words or not. The problem is getting stuck. At some point in the long haul to 50,000 words in 30 days (or even regular novel writing), the words slow down. It’s like a small pothole. It may not be honest-to-goodness writer’s block, but it also isn’t that fast paced OMG-I-am-writing-like-a-fiend type stuff that happens early on in the NaNoWriMo month–or any novel writing process.

So, what can we do to keep ourselves going when the end of our novel begins to feel farther away than Antarctica (and we’re in a row boat)? Here are five things that have helped keep me moving forward and finish writing that novel that’s sticking to me like a burr in my side.

How to Get to the End of Your Novel–In Other Words, How to Finish Your Novel and How to Get Past Writer’s Block and How to Keep Your Writing Motivation Up

(Wow. That was quite the heading.)

1. Don’t take more than two days off in a row.

Keep the momentum going. It’s much easier to stay in the rhythm and remember where you are going if you keep writing. Even if the first 1000 words per day feel like crap, keep writing. If you take days off it becomes easy to stay stopped, it gets more difficult to get back into the story and ultimately, to not finish. Plus, you spend all your writing time trying to recall where you were and where your story has been and is going.

2. Allow yourself to write crap–it may act as fertilizer. <–Click to Tweet This

You are writing the first draft. It’s an experiment. Characters are not going to be fully formed. There will be plot holes where you jumped ahead. That’s normal. Leave yourself notes (right in the document if you can) on where you are going, where you’ve been, what you want to change, but don’t go back to edit. You can change it, remove it, or edit it later. Right now, it is vital to keep it moving forward and not break your momentum.

3. Allow yourself to change direction.

Sometimes I stop writing because I’ve discovered I need to change direction on a plot line or internal character motivation. In NaNo there isn’t time to run back and change everything that has been written and will now be wrong. Shake it off. Keep going. Make notes to yourself. But don’t go back. Make your switch and keep going. (Sometimes that stuff you were going to change ends up being keepable in the end anyway!)

4. Screw the details.

I have one NaNoWriMo draft that literally looks like this: She ran down the street [INSERT SEASONAL DETAILS]. Arriving out of breath… Don’t stop to research or figure out tiny continuity pieces. Leave yourself a note, comment, or whatever you need and keep moving. You can fill in the seasonal/clothing/timing/right word/technical aspect/character name continuity bits later on. That’s what edits are for. Right now you need to keep the flow going and that story barfing onto the page.

5. Ignore the blocks.

If you feel blocked, ignore it. No, really. Keep applying fingertips to keyboard keys. Re-read the last 20 pages if you need to. Start writing a chapter or two ahead if it helps. (You can always go back and fill the in-between bits–there is no rule you have to write in the exact order it will be read.) And if all else fails, do the unexpected and push a character off a tower. No really.

I did this in a NaNoWriMo “now what?” moment. Turns out that it not only unblocked the scene, but it also provided insight into my characters, their relationship, and provided all sorts of great tension for the next couple of chapters. When I wrote it I told myself “It’s okay, nobody needs to read this. I’ll delete it later.” But it became an important pivotal moment in that story. So you just never know.

Remember: You can’t edit a story you haven’t written down. Keep writing. Even if you have to trash thousands of words in edits, it’s okay. Just keep moving forward and don’t be afraid. I’m rooting for you!

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? What are your best ‘get through’ or ‘keep writing’ tips?

*NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Writers from all stages of the game try to write a 50,000 novel (or more) in 30 days (November 1-30). Those who do it are able to claim a badge to display on their website or blog.

NOTE: This post was originally posted on my old writing blog.

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How ‘The Little Train That Could’ Got it Wrong

Short and sweet take away: Telling yourself “You can do it!” doesn’t cut the mustard long-term.

Did you know that those ‘pep talks’ where people say to themselves: “I can do it!” is actually less effective than if they were sit themselves down and ask: “Can I do it?”

According to author Dan Pink, people who ask themselves if they can do something opens the door for some serious cognitive engagement. They get the ball rolling in terms of arguing to themselves all the reasons why they can do it. (As well as a few arguments why they can’t.)

For example, say you want to become a popular, best-selling author.

Saying to yourself: “Yeah! I can do it! I can become a bestselling author, woot!” is great. You probably feel pumped up for at least two minutes afterwards. Maybe you even get the courage to stand up in front of a group of high school kids on career day to explain why being an author is the best job ever. But then what?

How about you say to yourself: “Can I become a bestselling author?” Hmmm. Well. That opens the discussion with yourself, doesn’t it? So, can you? You might then list all the reasons to yourself why you this is within your reach by reminding yourself of such positive traits and abilities such as having a wonderful work ethic, the ability to create build characters readers fall in love with, your background in sales, etc. But then you might also identify the reasons why you might not make it. You might identify that you always get caught up on grammar and it takes you too long to get a book out and you can’t seem to get on top of the rollercoaster you need to take to bestsellerdom because of it. And then you realize you need to get yourself a grammar editor or to take a serious grammar course.

Voila.

Because you identified what you are good at, you can hone it and cherish it–meaning you are less likely to inadvertently destroy it. BUT, you also now realize what some of your pitfalls and hurdles are. By identifying them you can form a plan to overcome them.

The lesson here–Be the skeptic not The Little Train that Could. <– Tweet that.

Sorry.

Go play mind games on yourself and report back on how it worked out. I betcha you get further channeling that inner kiddo by asking yourself all those pesky ‘why’ questions. Good luck! I’m right here rooting for you!

Note: This is a repost from one of my old blogs.

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How to Know When You are Boring Your Reader to Tears

Ever wondered why your books maybe aren’t getting purchased? Finding an agent to rep them? Or just plain and simply catching on?

There are a ton of reasons why books don’t connect. Timing, luck, voice, content, etc. Some of these aren’t controllable. But one thing is.

Boring your reader to tears, death, or worse…having them put your book down in disinterest.

It happens. We can’t connect with every reader. And if we try, well, chances are we’ll end up with a book that connects with even fewer people. (Not everyone liked Harry Potter, believe it or not. They just stay in hiding.) But there ARE things we can do to increase our chances of connecting with our readers and one of the big things is not boring them.

I know, right?

How to Know if You are Boring Your Readers and What to Do About it

The easiest way to figure out if you are boring your readers is to see if you are boring yourself.

Seems too basic, doesn’t it?

Right now there could be some of you thinking, “But there isn’t a stitch of boringness in my whole story!” Could be true. Maybe you wrote The Hunger Games. If so, you’re excused. However, the other several billion of us did not. So, dig deep and fall out of love with yourself for a moment (shouldn’t be too hard–we are artists, after all where self-doubt and loathing is as common as cheap bar soap).

Here are a few inklings that things aren’t as tight and as exciting as you might wish them to be in your story and you might be boring your reader.

1) Anywhere you get bored in your story. No excuses. If you’re like, “But it is vital backstory and has to be there. I rewrote it ten times. That’s as good as it is going to get.” Wake up. Give yourself a smack. And keep reading.

There is a way to fix this! Add conflict. Add characters. Force that backstory to come out and play! Scrap the entire scene and start from scratch. Trying to ‘edit’ crap our of your soup and make it something thrilling doesn’t work as well as cleaning the pot and starting over with fresh ingredients. Crap persists!

So, when you rewrite over an old scene that needs major revamping, it is too tempting to use old witty phrases that don’t fit. Too easy to get locked into the very thing that wasn’t working in the first round. Tuck the old scene away (it’s doubtful you’ll go back to it, but it will make you feel better). Then start again and think conflict. Raise the stakes. Push your characters.

A quick example. I had a scene rife with backstory. The character was watching/stalking someone and listing every single reason why she needed to stalk this person from A to Z. From this moment back to ten years earlier. *yawn* Holy backstory trash alert!

I scrapped it. I pushed her sister into the scene–a sister who didn’t have a clue why the heroine was acting so weird. She also didn’t have a clue that her sister was struggling to keep a secret. And EVERYthing in that scene was a secret from her sister.

What did I suddenly have? Conflict. Tension. Unanswered story questions moving the plot forward. Heck, it even held my own interest.

2) You don’t want to read it to edit it. Then there is a big problem. Somewhere, somehow things went off on you.

(And yes, some people don’t like reading their work at all and always think it sucks. If you are that person and this one applies to your whole story, maybe you aren’t writing what you truly enjoy. OR maybe you are a bit hard on yourself. Or, maybe you have just been working too dang long on this story and need a break. Go write something fun and see what happens.)

Fix it. Go back to the last place you remember ‘enjoying’ the read/edit. Think about what happened between that point and where you just stopped editing. Did the characters lose their conflict or what they were fighting for? Did the plot stop moving forward? Is there too much rehashing? Can’t figure it out? Bring in a fresh set of eyes to help you out. (And I’m not referring to eye surgery.)

3) You are finding reasons to procrastinate. This is a biggie. Sometimes you are just tired and burned out. But if the scene really sings, you should be wanting to dive in and read it, tweak it, touch it up. (Not find other things to do like taking out the trash.) A good scene is like hanging out with your favourite person. It’s enjoyable! If you don’t want to hang out with a scene, chances are your reader won’t want to, either.

4) You glaze over it so you can get to the good stuff. Whoa! Stop the bus. This should alllll be good stuff. If you want to glaze it, so does the reader. There is no excuse for glazing a scene.

Yeah, yeah, there are bestselling books where it doesn’t ‘start’ until page fifty. Those are flukes. Are you a fluke? Likely not. Go work on your story.

Cure. Is this stuff you want to glaze over something that can be placed into scenes elsewhere? And can it be trimmed from three paragraphs to one line? And can it be held back from the reader until that last second–the second they need it in order to understand what is about to happen? Keeping secrets from the reader is okay. Leaving questions unanswered to keep them reading is okay. Heck, it’s essential! Another quickie–maybe you are repeating yourself? Cut it out. Be ruthless!

All right. Anything hit a button in the back of your mind? Go forth and play with your writing. Good luck!

P.S. I have been hit and miss on posting lately. You know, trying to publish a crap-load of books (7) in a year (see you in the funny farm) will do that to a gal! If you don’t want to miss helpful new posts, be sure to add your best email address in the box on the right. Then, new posts will instantly go to your computer/phone/tablet’s email for you to enjoy. Because I know you want to become a better writer and don’t want to miss the next great tips.

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