Today is the second annual Indie Pride Day in support of indie authors and their books. The purpose is to demonstrate support by posting at social media sites, re-posting other authors’ posts, and spreading the word all day. For more information, check out IndieBooksBeSeen.com.
Doubt punches me in the gut. Where’s Faith? Faith usually slips between Doubt and my gut, defends me, protects me, envelopes me in Hope. Religion is not the only arena where Doubt and Faith battle. Artists know this all too well. As a writer, I struggle often with Doubt, calling on Faith to boost my confidence and resolve. It doesn’t help when other people don’t take your creative expression seriously. Then Doubt whispers, “Am I a writer? Is my writing good enough for others to read? Is my writing publishable? Who’d be interested in what I have to say?”
Benjamin Moser captured this battle well in his Bookends essay from January 27, 2015 in the New York Times, “Is Being a Writer a Job or a Calling?” He talks about the type of writer he wanted to be, a member of a “priestly caste,” a writer “whose view of literature as a means of understanding the self and the world offered a noble possibility for my life.” I confess to having the same view of literature with a subtle difference perhaps: I consider writing a part of my learning and growth in this physical life, my way to explore, investigate, research, and learn about the human condition. I write first and foremost for myself, then an “ideal reader,” and then the rest of the world. And yet, when Doubt strikes, it is the rest of the world that I’m most concerned about.
Hobbyists don’t have this problem. And there was a time, years ago, when I actually decided to abandon writing completely and do something else. As I recall, that lasted about six months before my anger and peevishness annoyed my friends enough and they suggested that I return to being a writer. It was astonishing how not writing affected me physically, too. I became depressed, lethargic, acquiring a general malaise and wondering if I had cancer or something else terminal. No, hobbyists don’t have this problem. They write for fun and occasionally, not being driven by the creative fire inside, not needing to write as one needs to breathe.
When I returned to writing, I decided to approach it as a job, more for the benefit of the rest of the world than for myself. I structured my work day as I would a job, giving myself plenty of time for actual writing at my desk in the mornings, then taking care of research and the business of writing in the afternoons. But I was really writing all the time in my head. Ideas flowed out of my imagination, teasing me with their potential. I finally woke up to the fact that reading everyday and voraciously was a part of a writer’s job description, as well as leaving the desk to experience everything life has to offer. Without life experiences, writers have no raw material from which to write stories.
I’ve written before about writing as a vocation or avocation, and even created a job description for a creative writer. I’ve not written about the battle between Doubt and Faith. As I gear up for a couple of promotions for Perceval’s Secret and my blogs this summer, Doubt has come out swinging, pushed by fear. Would anyone really be interested in what I have to say as a creative writer? Faith confronts Doubt: “You are a unique individual. No one else thinks as you do. What you have to say is unique to you, and you have a unique way of expressing it. So yes, people will listen.” Moser supports this view: “The sense of inner purpose, so often unmentionable in a society enamored of professionalization, distinguishes a writer from a hack.” That inner purpose is Faith.
It’s actually helped to write this morning about Doubt and Faith duking it out over my writing. The act of writing supports Faith and my inner purpose, making Doubt look silly. And what do you do to reinforce your inner purpose so Faith can overcome Doubt?
I love to read. I’ve loved books since before I started school, and my parents were reading to me. My favorite book back then was Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. I gave it a five-star review by requesting it every time anyone offered to read to me. The truth is, we review things all the time — restaurants, movies, books, plays, jobs, bosses, politicians, everything and anyone. Usually verbally, but there are those who commit their thoughts to paper (or the computer screen).
As a writer, and especially now as a published writer, I’m occasionally asked to write a review of a novel, or a fellow writer will suggest reciprocal reviews. It sounds like a good idea, reciprocal reviews. The one thing to remember about them, or anytime a writer reviews a book for pay or exchange of services, it’s absolutely necessary to include a disclaimer in the review that identifies the review as for pay or reciprocal. Commercial reviews, i.e. those that appear in newspapers or magazines, do not need this disclaimer, only reviews by consumers. And if there’s no pay or no reciprocity? No disclaimer necessary.
To review or not to review? As a writer, I’d love for everyone who reads Perceval’s Secret to write a review at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or on their own blogs. Get the word out there! Let people know that it’s fun, compelling and worth the read! But of course, the reality is that most people don’t feel qualified to write a review (even though any thoughtful reader is) so they don’t write even a short review. They don’t understand just how important book reviews are for the promotion and sales of a novel. Especially for a writer like me who hasn’t already had a bestseller and has an audience just waiting for the next book. Word of mouth is a powerful force, and book reviews are a part of that kind of promotion. Think of a book review as what you’d tell your friends about the book when you’re having a beer at the neighborhood pub.
What about me? Do I write reviews? Yes, I’ve been working hard during the last year to get into the habit of writing a review of each book I read. I post the reviews at Goodreads and usually Amazon or the store where I bought the book. And I’ve agreed to do two reciprocal reviews. The first, I’m embarrassed to say, I have yet to do. I bought the novel and it sits on my Kindle, and that’s the problem. I prefer printed, hard copy books, usually paperbacks, and if I buy a Kindle edition, it takes me a long time to read it. I’ve been catching up on my reviewing “obligations,” i.e. reviewing books of writers I know and these are not reciprocal or even requested of me. I just want to support those writers. So I fully intend to honor my obligation to my first reciprocal review agreement, and I’ve set myself a deadline of August 31.
The second reciprocal review went in an unexpected direction. I bought the Kindle edition and read the fantasy novel immediately, fully expecting that its author was going to read Perceval’s Secret immediately and review it at Amazon. I think I sent him a free copy of the novel, too, to review. He did not offer to send me a free copy of his book. When I finished his book, I wrote the review and posted it at Amazon and Goodreads, and I sent him an e-mail alerting him to the review. It wasn’t a super, glowing, positive review, however. I had a couple problems with characters although overall I enjoyed the story and gave it four stars. And guess what? To date, I have yet to see a review of Perceval’s Secret written by that author. I am not pleased.
But then, I have yet to do the first reciprocal review, so who am I to judge? This is the risk. People won’t follow through on their agreements. So what’s a writer to do? Maybe try to make it easier on readers to write a review?
Here are some questions to answer when writing a book review:
- How did you come to read this particular book? (Maybe you love the genre, it was recommended by a friend, you liked the cover, etc.)
- What did you like about this book? (genre, atmosphere/tone, main character, secondary characters, setting, story, character-driven action, dialogue, language style, plot-driven action)
- What did you dislike about this book?
- Would you recommend this book to other readers?
The next time you read a book you love, please help out the author and write a review!
It’s summer. We have more hours of daylight which boosts my energy. I feel that I accomplish much more in the summer because the days are longer. So, I went through another pile of files and papers on my desk (I have four I go through periodically) and found again the notice for the North Street Book Prize (“Your self-published book can win up to $1,500 plus expert marketing services”) that I’d printed out last March. The deadline is June 30 and the entry fee is a somewhat hefty $50. I’ve been debating with myself about entering this contest. It’s been drifting in the back of my mind….
Then I read Damyanti’s take at Daily (w)rite about how men vs. women writers respond to a “positive” rejection, i.e. one that rejects the submitted work but asks to see something else the writer has written. I’m not sure a gender difference in approach is that pronounced, actually, although I think there’s a learning curve for dealing with rejection. Male or female. I tend to not think too much about a rejection anymore — an editor or agent could have so many different reasons for deciding to pass on the piece ranging from disinterest in the genre to being swamped with work — unless it comes with a note of some kind. Then I pay attention to what the editor or agent has written. I’ll think about it for days before deciding whether or not it’s applicable, and then whether or not I’ll take action on any suggestions.
What to do if the editor/agent requests to see something else? If I have something to send, I send it within a week of receiving the request. As they say, “hit when the iron is hot!” Wait longer and the editor/agent may not remember me or my work or her request. If I don’t have anything to send, I agonize. What to do? Earlier in my career, I did nothing, especially if I wasn’t working on anything I might be able to send at a later date. Now, I think I may write the editor/agent a thank you note, handwritten, of course, and not an e-mail or text message. I want to stand out with this person. I want to be memorable in a positive way. I want to begin a relationship with this person, even if it’s just the beginning of one because publishing is all about relationships, right?
Then I thought about my fiction. What do I have completed that I could submit? And why haven’t I been submitting lately? What are the most common reasons for not submitting writing to editors and/or agents?
- Fear of rejection: You can’t be rejected if you don’t send anything out. But if you’re going to be a professional writer, you need to make peace with the fear. Confront it. Wrestle with it. Stand on its chest and howl. You control your emotions and how you think about this. You can choose to think of rejection as an opportunity to try a different market, or an opportunity to make the piece better. An important point to remember: rejection in the writing business is NOT about the writer. It’s about the written work that was submitted and is as impersonal as the submission process should be.
- Fear of success: The flip side does exist for some people. It can be just as crippling. Success and the recognition, attention, etc. that it brings can be a very scary thing with which to deal. Overwhelming. It’s important to have a solid network of friends and/or fellow writers who can support you and help you keep your head screwed on straight when you succeed. It’s amazing how the confidence level increases with that kind of support.
- Lack of confidence: This is “full of doubts syndrome.” You just have no sense of whether or not your writing is “good” or publishable. This is where trusted readers can be quite helpful, i.e. people whom you trust to be honest in their feedback and are good readers. Having said that, doubt can be a good thing, too. Doubt can be a force behind the drive to write the best that you can, i.e. doubting it’s good enough so always looking for ways to improve the writing. This can be taken to the extreme, however, so don’t get carried away.
- Lack of completed writing to send out: This is where I’m at right now. I have a couple short stories that are sort of done but I suspect could benefit from a close reading. I’d actually planned to self-publish them as short stories on Amazon eventually rather than submitting them to magazines. One is a horror story (at Wattpad here) and the other a sci fi story (at Wattpad here). Feel free to read them and leave feedback! I also have another sci fi short story idea that pushes against my mind occasionally, nagging at me to write it. I do have a self-published novel that I could submit to the North Street Book Prize, though.
As Damyanti says in her blog post, “Writing, and acceptance for publication are two different things. Writing is from a white-hot place of emotion, then pruning from a place of balance. Submitting for publication is just where the process ends — just like cooking ends at the table, and in someone’s stomach.”
Professional writers submit their work for publication, and they continue to write…because they must.
” In the meantime, this month, I’d like to talk about something that might seem counter intuitive—how having a relatively unvarying routine can help your creativity. That’s right, a dull, boring, same-thing-every day routine can actually be a boon to your creative process….”
Wise words, Charles Ray. If you’d like to read his entire blog post about how having a routine enhances his creativity, you can read it here. His post got me thinking about my present schedule, and how I’m struggling to feel and be creative under its lack of routine. It goes beyond being a creature of habit or needing a structure to my day. As Ray points out, with a routine, your mind doesn’t need to focus on mundane daily tasks but can just follow the routine without thinking. The mind (and imagination) is then free to play creatively.
I know what my particular problem is, of course. Every time I’ve had to work for someone else, usually in an office, I’ve struggled with re-establishing a routine for my writing work. When I worked fulltime, at least the work schedule was predictable and I could more easily schedule my writing around it. But now, I’m working part-time and my work schedule is not as predictable or regular. I’ve had to be more flexible in all areas of my life as a result. On the one hand, I’m learning more about “going with the flow” and flexibility. On the other hand, I’m having real problems scheduling my writing work and that has slowed down my return to writing regularly.
When I first began writing fulltime at home, I started by taking the time to think about a work schedule. I wanted to approach my writing as a job, not a fun pastime, and I wanted to be as productive as I could be, recognizing that there are several other aspects to working as a writer besides the actual writing, e.g. research, marketing, reading, etc. I planned to work on both fiction and freelance nonfiction. The schedule I settled on eventually has been in force for years and suited me very well, giving me also flexibility to deal with the business side of writing and life obligations. That schedule Monday through Saturday:
8:00 to 11:30 a.m.: Writing new short stories, novels, essays or screenplays or revision work, work on specific projects, e.g. blogs.
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Lunch break — a complete break away from my desk and usually involving cooking in the kitchen as well as eating.
12:30 to 1:30 or 2:00 p.m.: Journal writing usually, but sometimes work on essays or continue work from the morning, notes on new projects.
1:30 or 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.: Online work, reading, research, marketing/promo tasks, publishing blog posts, online networking. This is flex time and when I’ll schedule errands, appointments, etc. as necessary, or continue writing from the morning.
At the end of last year, I landed the customer service part-time job. Initially, I focused more on settling into that job but continued to write nonfiction essays as usual. My writing schedule was cut back, however. I thought I’d be able to figure out a new routine once I’d settled into the new job this year. Then, during the first half of this year, both my writing and work schedules were shot to hell because of serious illness. Suddenly, I had a different schedule or routine that focused on dealing with being sick, resolving the mystery of what was wrong, and medical treatment. I lost my ability to concentrate on anything for very long, and as a result, I could not write or read or do anything that required concentration. I knew I was getting better when my ability to concentrate returned a couple months ago.
My routine now is that I don’t have a routine. There are certain things, however, that I know I must have in my daily schedule, e.g. 1-2 hours of rest because I’m still healing (usually I read during this quiet time). The best time for this is in the afternoon. I seem better able to write in the mornings, as well as doing some online work. So the days I go to the part-time job in the afternoons, I’m at the computer in the mornings, and I rest as soon as I arrive home after work. Days I go to the office in the mornings have been the most scattered and the days I don’t get much done.
I’m confident I’ll eventually figure out a routine and implement it. Being completely healthy again will really help, and it’ll be several months still before I’ll be there. So, I will need to live with this frustration and sense of being unmoored probably for the rest of this year. In the meantime, I am writing: blog posts when I can, and nonfiction essays. Eventually, I’ll add fiction to the schedule, too.
Do you agree with Charles Ray, also? Or are you a writer who doesn’t need a routine?