That’s what he said Thursday: Braegan shows the way

A blog I follow announced last week an online meme among writers and readers called, “That’s what he said Thursday”. What an awesome idea!

That's what he said Thursday ¦ Living in CynI decided not only to tip my hat to C.S. Wilde for sharing this idea with her readers, but also for acknowledging Carianne from Cuppa ‘n Critiques who led me to the blog Chapter Break — the apparent originator of this delightful challenge!

Because these days I’m mostly editing, and also rewriting a work of non-fiction, I thought I’d turn to someone whose work I’m currently reading: Megan Haskell.

Haskell is the author of “Sanyare: The Last Descendant”. In the scene quoted above, the protagonist, Rie, just arrived in the Shadow Realm to find the truth about the assassination attempt on her life. She just met Braegan, a vampire who has offered to help her find her way around town. If he hadn’t been so damn good-looking, she might have turned him down on the spot, but instead she gets a little closer than she should!

Join the fun! It’s Easy!!

“Post a favorite line from your book boyfriend to his heroine. These are direct quotes from dialogue in a book. It is not a physical description of a male protagonist or a paragraph of dialogue. It is a line spoken by our favorite heroes to their lucky ladies or guys!” ~Carianne

Go ahead and add your favorite line in the comments or link to your blog post in the comment below. (If you’re feeling extra ambitious, go ahead and share on Carianne’s, C.S. Wilde’s, or Chapter Break‘s websites as well!)

Tactical Tuesday Tip: 5 Essential Plugins for an Author Website (or any Website)

Deciding which WordPress plugins to choose can be pretty daunting. There are thousands. Having launched and set up several self-hosted WordPress sites for myself and friends, I have discovered which plugins I always go back to and load up to my WordPress site from the very first day. Most of them are simple — one is a little tricky. But none of them are difficult or impossible. (If you can keep track of multiple plotlines for 100-plus pages, you can handle this!)

5 Plugins to Activate. Before you even write your first post!

WP Plugin Akismet

1. Akismet

The basic Akismet plugin is free and will filter out so much spam, you’d be crazy not to add this. If you used to have a WordPress.com account, you probably already activated an Akismet API code. You can use that old code, or you can activate a new one. The next plugin, Jetpack (below), will want the same Akismet code. So, at least go with the free version.

2. Jetpack

Jetpack by WordPress pluginJetpack by WordPress.com. This free plugin will add a bunch (not all) of the functionalities you enjoyed as a WordPress.com user. So, if you had and enjoyed your WordPress.com experience, but decided it was time to start self-hosting, this plugin adds similar functions that will make your transition to WordPress.org mostly seamless and also enjoyable. (You might also find this in a search as “Jetpack by Automattic”. They’re the same thing.) Once your Jetpack is installed, there are some great functionalities you can launch right away — and configuring is very easy through Jetpack! I usually activate the following:

  • Access to all my WordPress sites through Jetpack.
  • Site stats
  • Enhanced Distribution
  • Publicize
  • Mobile Theme (Definitely add this if you’re using an older non-responsive theme, like Twenty Ten (you know who you are!!))

3. BackupBuddy by iThemes

BackUp Buddy by iThemes pluginBackupBuddy by iThemes. This one I paid for, and it’s worth every penny. Here’s why: I admit it — I winced every time I found out there’s a new WordPress update, because the first thing WordPress warns before uploading any changes, is that you back up your site. Which I didn’t — until BackupBuddy– because doing so usually meant logging into my host and then having to consider all these other dire warnings about the best place to save my backup to. Decisions like that have a paralyzing effect on me, and makes me lame. Now, I can back up my WordPress blog with the click of a button straight from my Dashboard.

4. Google Analytics Dashboard for WP

Google Analytics Dashboard for WP plugin

Google Analytics Dashboard for WP. The main prerequisite for this plugin is a Google Analytics account, for which you can sign up by clicking on this link. What I like about this, is that it gives me a snapshot view of my analytics whenever I go into my WordPress dashboard, so I don’t have to make the extra trip to visit my Google Analytics account. Usually, when I launch a website, I ignore these stats for the first few months, because the stats are generally not very inspiring — but, if I see a spike — this plugin is more detailed in reporting who (what link) referred a user to my site. Also, when there’s some action, I will check it against my JetPack stats (which have a much more user-friendly appearance that relates directly to the posts you launched and the traffic it generated).

5. The WordPress Editorial Calendar

The WordPress Editorial Calendar pluginThe WordPress Editorial Calendar in ActionThe WordPress Editorial Calendar. The marcoms in me just about freaked out (in a good way) when I finally discovered this tool. I loved being able to write several blog posts and program them into the future. (“Set it and forget it!”) But I always had to get a hold of a traditional calendar, to make sure that I wasn’t overlapping blog posts — setting two on the same day and skipping a week in the posting department. I have a sneaking suspicion that has happened in the past, and it will totally throw off my writing pattern.

Why does this matter to you as a writer, a blogger, and aspiring author?

At the moment that I typed “The End” into the last page of my work of fiction, a mild panic set in. Why? Because I knew that if I was going to be serious as an author, I’d also have to be serious about marketing my work — regardless of whether or not I would get signed on by an agent/publisher — because every author who wishes to sell and share her work also needs to have a platform on which to offer something of value (her knowledge, her words, her creations), generate followers, readers and just generally supportive people, who enjoy carrying on the conversation. (I have begun a monthly series of posts about desigining a marketing strategy as an aspiring author–that is, before you have any product on the shelves. Check out the first blog post in the series here.)

Whether you’re an author with books under her belt, or an aspiring author still working on your first novel or non-fiction work, it’s never too early to build an author platform. One of many ways to do that is by engaging with other authors, and other bloggers.

Tactical Tuesday Marketing Tips Living in CynMy Tactical Tuesday column is designed for authors and writers to implement easy, strategic marketing tactics to help them grow their author platform. If you’re an author and you have a question, a thought, or a suggestion, leave your comment below, or follow me on Twitter @cynthiatluna with the hashtag #TacticalTues! See you soon!

Marketing 101: Aspiring Authors! Where do you see yourself? Set Your Marketing Goals

This blog post is part of a series for aspiring authors who are in the process of writing a book, know they will have a book in the near-ish future, and are wondering how they can get their author platform started. While you may simply begin here to develop a strategic approach, you might find it helpful to read my earlier blog post about taking stock of your digital assets first.

I’ve designed this post so you can set your goals in an hour. (Add some of the blog post reading time to walk through the steps, and you’ll have carved out about 1.5 hours of your day.) :-)

Without further ado, let’s move onward with setting strategic goals for building an author platform before your novel is out!

The Aspiring Author's Guide: Marketing Strategy, by Cynthia T. Luna - BLOG COVER

This moment is all about you, baby!

In this step, I strongly suggest stepping away from the content of your novel and its story. This is not the time to be thinking about your characters, potential readers, your competition, your friends and family. We’ll get to all those audiences (and more, probably) later.

1. Dream a Little Dream

Take out your trusty dollar-store notebook (or Moleskin) or any book you want to dedicate to your marketing strategy–and turn to the next fresh page.

 

Aspiring authors goal setting notebook

My baby is born!

Aspiring Authors goal setting on a timerAt this stage, I would like for you to write where you see yourself the moment you know your book is live. Approach this moment as if it were fiction in first-person narrative. Set your timer to 15 minutes and start free-writing! These are things you might write about:

  • How you know your book is done. Do you receive an email telling you the link in Amazon is live? Do you receive printed advance copies in the mail? Be descriptive.
  • Time period that you’re holding the first, finished product in your hands. I was pretty non-specific with this. I wrote “Spring 2016”. Other people might even know a month, a week or a day. (And if you’re one of those “other people” you’re probably an extremely driven A-type person, and more power to you!) If you’re like me and still actively writing your novel, don’t get too specific — a season, or a year is fine.
  • The appearance of your book. Have you designed the book cover/interior yourself? Have you outsourced it? If so, who did it? Again, be descriptive–if you can.
  • How seeing your book in “print” (digital or print) for the first time makes you feel. Why do you feel this way? (This part of my goal-setting was the longest because I found I had a lot of feelings ranging from excitement and enthusiasm to anxiety and a little angst.)

Maybe you’ll write 50 words, maybe you’ll write a full page. Anywhere in between is fine. Don’t reread your work, when your time is up! Just continue to the next exercise! (You’ll reread later, I promise.)

pexels-photo-long-view-CC0

Even now, a year later…

Turn the page, and on this next blank sheet, begin to write where you see yourself and that book, one year later. Again, do this in first-person narrative. Write whatever comes to mind. Obviously, some things, like the appearance of the book, will have lost its “new” feeling to you, but there will be other impressions or feelings you have.

black-and-white-hand-vintage-numbers-CC0Set your timer to 10 minutes. I’m including a couple writing prompts to get you started–you don’t need to use any or every one, just those that inspire you to express your vision!

  • Never in my wildest dreams would I have known that …
  • These last 12 months have been a journey that I can only describe as…
  • So much has changed, and so much has remained the same, since I published this book…
  • If I hadn’t published this book, I would not have been able to…
  • [Go ahead and fill in the blank here, or add your “year later” prompts in the comments below!]

Anticipate the Highlights!

Turn your page back one sheet, and at the top, write “Launch Goal”. (This title tops your page where you free-wrote about your new book going live.)

Aspiring Author goal setting Set your timer for eight (8) minutes. Then, reach for your trusty highlighter and highlight those “facts” that clue you in to what would make that goal feel real. In fact, you are basically story boarding your moment of success, pulling out the main elements that will clue you in to the fact that you have, indeed, made it to where you wanted to be.

This is it! The moment I’ve been waiting for…!

You may have drawn some elements out of your narrative that will probably fall under these categories: time, manner, place, style. And you can basically jot down in one sentence all those elements. Here’s your prompt:

  • “My goal is to have my book [manner: published/ represented/ printed/ designed] by [time] through [this place/ distribution channel: a traditional publishing house/ online platform/ paper print-out/ email newsletter/ whatever] and released on to the market with the [style: brand image — add words: ‘overall look and feel of a [fill in the blank]’ novel/book.”

The formal marketer in me always hesitates when I get to the part of “style” (brand image) because I want to start defining that right away. But, don’t worry, we’ll get to brand image in a couple courses as we define our strategic approach. For now, content yourself with the “overall look and feel of a proper suspense/ romance/ fantasy/ novel” if it’s fiction and if it’s non-fiction: “overall look and feel of a proper how-to/ self-help/ finance book”.

Besides, your timer should have rung by now.

My! How you’ve grown!

Now, turn your sheet one page forward. At the top of this page, write the header, “Long-term Goal”. This title is at the head of the page where you free-wrote about where you see your book a year later.

fashion-man-wristwatch-model-time-watch-CC0Set your timer for eight (8) minutes. Then, reach for your trusty highlighter and highlight those “facts” that clue you in to that goal being accomplished. This is another story board for your moment of success.

You will probably find that your image of success takes on a different hue than in the earlier example. That’s because your long-term vision is a bit more general, more over-arching. If you’re writing a book, you’re in it for the long-haul, and your motivation has a more enduring hue to it.

Here are some prompts:

  • A year after launch, a number of readers have been contacting me to find out what happens to Mr. Protagonist next! I’m already wrapping up the sequel to…
  • A year after launch, I have not only entertained a large number of people, but I have also inspired them to take up writing too.
  • A year after launch, I have learned so much about the writing process that I am being asked to speak at public events.
  • A year after launch, I am committed to writing full time…
  • A year after launch, I have more clarity on how I can work for myself full-time as an author-preneur.

Everybody has a different motivation for writing a book. Your long-term goal needs to speak to that motive. You need to be able to recognize your success when you get there, because — well, a year down the road, you’ll have forgotten that where you are then (in the future) is where you wanted to be. (You may even surprise yourself and notice that it didn’t even take you a full year to achieve your wildest dreams!)

usa-usadream-milkyway-nevada-CC0

2. Holding Yourself Accountable.

Goals and dreams are nice and all, but they don’t really mean much, if you don’t attain them — or don’t even come close — or don’t even know if you did. (We can be pretty forgetful.) In the remaining 20 minutes of your hour, we are going to set a couple objectives with you.

Now, that you have your two goals in mind (the first describes what a successful launch/announcement looks like, and the second is where you’d like to see yourself a year from that moment), you can establish clear milestones for getting to both.

  • The word “milestone” helps me define the difference between a goal and an objective. People tend to use the words interchangeably, but really they are different, because a milestone is a measure of distance.

So let’s get to it!

Measurement is key.

Remember how we brainstormed our digital assets last time? And we drew quadrants for each of those assets? You can get the PDF version here and print it out, or just doodle it into your notebook.

time-train-station-clock-deadline-bahnhof-CC0Let’s turn back to the very first page in our notebooks and take the top three digital assets in our notebooks and create milestones we would like to reach for each of those three. Set your timer for 10 minutes.

  1. Label the bottom-left quadrant, “Sociability Objectives”. Then write a few engagement objectives you’d like to see improve or change in that platform. We’re going for your gut feeling here. Things you think might need to change to begin promoting your book. You’ll find this exercise easy by refering to the quadrant immediately above it. I’ll dovetail on the Facebook example I included in my earlier post about Taking Inventory:
    • Establish a Facebook page where I can keep my private (friends and family) connections and public spaces separate.
    • I need to think about the tone of my social engagement messaging — after all, I don’t want to sabotage my current employment situation.
    • I should review what kind of posts seem to encourage positive feedback and mirror those posts on my (new) Facebook page.
    • Just like I find out about hurricanes affecting my friends and family, I think some of my page followers would like to learn about things I’m learning.
    • I might switch Facebook with Twitter in my engagement ranking. I end up wasting too much valuable time in Facebook. (I actually wrote this last one in my Sociability Objectives.)
  2. Label the bottom-right quadrant, “Statistical Objectives”. In this quadrant, write three measurable, time-bound objectives. At this stage, because you have a small platform (and no sellable inventory–yet!), keep it simple, and refer to the stats you mentioned in the quadrant immediately above it. Here’s what I wrote in some of mine.
    • Current Facebook Page status: Zero Likes. Grow this Facebook Page to 300 Likes by December 2016. (I started designing this in October, so all my objectives have a December 2016 end date.)
    • Current Twitter Followers (October 1, 2015) : 480. Grow my Twitter followers to 1,000 by December 31, 2015. And to 2,000 by end of December 2016. (As I write this now, I think I might have been a bit over conservative, but it is written… And, hey, if I surpass this earlier! Success!! You can also see that I had surpassed the 1,000 followers a couple weeks early from the blog post linked above.)
    • This one is a must: “Email list”. If you have a measure on a list of people who follow your other work (a blog or a podcast, etc.) then you can start with that number. If you don’t, you can leave it blank for now. Essentially, your goal is to develop a number of email followers who are likely to be a key audience to your literature by a certain end date. I think in this case, it’s reasonable to assume that you’ll have three numbers:
      • 1. The number of email followers you currently have.
      • 2. The number of email followers you wish to have upon launch of your book.
      • 3. The number of email followers you wish to have 12 months after launch.

What jumps out at you?

As you go through this process, you’ll see two things happen.

  1. One of the digital assets you have outlined in the earlier exercise will rise to the top of your priority list, because you’ll see that it responds more closely to your over-arching goal(s).
    • In my case, it was Twitter. I have had a Twitter account since 2008, but I had a whopping (sarcasm here) 430 followers. So it was clear that I was going to have to switch gears in gaining followers on Twitter. (You can read about how I did that in this blog post.)
    • But maybe you have a lot more engagement on Facebook. I have one friend who always poses a question that results in so many comments and likes, that Facebook as a social engagement medium is a no-brainer.
    • I also didn’t have a realistic place for reaching out to folks on Facebook, so I’d be starting from scratch as far as a Facebook Page was concerned.
    • I did have a decent friends and family email list though. But I knew that it would be whittled down to maybe 1/10th of its size as far as attracting truly committed email followers.
  2. Establishing your marketing goals and objectives becomes a pretty personal experience, because it’s based on a blueprint of baseline information that is uniquely yours. One person might build their author platform by having a weekly podcast, and another might do so by posting to Wattpad once a week. In fact, from this point forward, your marketing strategy is developing its own appearance and establishing its uniqueness — and it will continue to do so through the next couple strategy-defining steps.

3. Now, for the final touch: Setting Your Goals & Objectives

red-wall-white-clock-CC0Remember that page where you wrote your Goal? Set your timer to 10 minutes. Go there and see if you need to tweak or adapt anything. Then, move on to add your three objectives further below:

  • “My goal is to have my book [manner: published/ represented/ printed/ designed] by [time] through [this place/ distribution channel: a traditional publishing house/ online platform/ paper print-out/ email newsletter/ whatever] and released on to the market with the [style: brand image — add words: ‘overall look and feel of a [fill in the blank]’ novel.”

Continue with the following language:

  • “My top three measures of a successful launch and first year of my book being on the market are” (You’ll have to use your language based on your brainstorms):
    • Grow X to this level by this date and this level by this date one year later.
    • Increase Y to this level by this date and this level by this date one year later.
    • Take my email list (dedicated author platform) from zero followers as of this date to this level by the launch date in (season or year, if you don’t have a date) and to this level one year later.

Wrap it up with the following language (or some version thereof) relating to your ultimate aspiration of dedicating yourself to writing literature:

  • “My ultimate goal is to …”.

Dear Aspiring Author, Setting your goals is the second step to developing your marketing strategy… And You’ve Just Taken It!

Congratulations! You’ve just done something a lot of people neglect, and wish (later on down the marketing road) they had done earlier. You took stock of your situation in reading the last blog post, and now you have set goals. Both of these steps are necessary, because they not only give you serious clarity about your current situation, but they also provide a clear view of where you want to be.

You’re just beginning your book marketing journey — while you’re writing your novel or non-fiction book. You don’t have loads of time. So, you want to be smart while you start building an author platform, because every minute of your spare time counts!

I am cataloguing and sharing my process for setting a Marketing Strategy with you in (almost) real time

At the time of writing this blog post, I do not have a published work for sale on the market. In fact, I am currently editing my first draft of a novel that I know I want to launch as an eBook in the Spring of 2016. Besides getting to the finish line with my novel, my goal is to start with laying the groundwork on my marketing plan and even implementing those parts of the marketing plan that I know I can.

The Aspiring Author's Guide: Marketing Strategy, by Cynthia T. Luna - BLOG COVERFeel free to join me on my book-writing and marketing journey. If you have any thoughts, tips or comments in general, please let me know via comment, Twitter @cynthiatluna or email at cynthia[at]livingincyn[dot]com!

If you are already a published author, any comments you have to impart on your experience(s) will be gobbled up and appreciated by the rest of us. Please comment, and certainly let me know if you think a “karmic exchange” from aspiring author to another aspiring author, or aspiring author to accomplished author might be worthwhile! :-)

Want to be creative? It’s time you’ve met your Inner Critic

Doing anything (even mildly) creative, like doodling hearts, stars and spirals in the margins of your notebook during Monday morning meetings, can be enough to lend a voice to your inner critic. As a writer, I definitely end up sitting next to mine during my daily commute from Quotidian to Creativeville — and I’ll find myself wondering when he’ll step off the damn bus already. Well, he probably won’t — unless he gets over me.

I realized at some point, if I was ever going to get around to writing anything, I was going to have to figure out how I was going to manage this disruptor on my team. I decided I would take a writer’s approach and develop a deeper understanding of who this guy is, what makes him tick, and how I can leverage his strengths to my advantage. The novelist in me decided to draw up a character sheet on him.

C.Y.N. Design Your Life, Creativity Hacks LivinginCyn

Let’s practice drawing up a Character Sheet, shall we?

My character sheets usually begin with a physical description and quickly evolve into them dialoguing with me (the writer) and/or the other characters in my story. (Unfortunately, today, it’s personal.)

My Inner Critic happens to be a small man. He looks like a gnome or a dwarf, and he gets around, bitching about the rate of inflation and the government’s trespasses on our privacy (… don’t get him started on the internet!). He’s definitely urban and grumpy, and he likes to think he’s been around the world a few times. He’s actually pretty smart — street-smart, in an annoyingly “I told you so” sort of way, which means very little gets past him, because he’s always coming back to make his audit.

I try to remind him, “You wouldn’t be so experienced, smart and well-traveled if I didn’t bring you along with me on all my journeys. Sit back, let me do, and if I need your help–”

This is where he’ll interrupt me and try to tell me the word I want to use is “when [I need his help]”.

Okay, sure, “—when I need your help, I’ll ask you for help, okay?”

The guy is no morning person. He’s a regular grump. He doesn’t appreciate that I get up so early in the morning to try to avoid him — it just makes him have to get up earlier and skip his coffee.

Great — my inner critic needs coffee too.

He’ll sit back and fold his arms over his chest and just watch me, one eyebrow raised.

“While I’m at it, can you turn around please?” I’ll ask him, so I can at least flub without him breathing down my neck. “Don’t worry, I’ll call on you when I need your help,”

“Fine. I’ll go where my assistance is appreciated,” he’ll say in a huff. But I know he’ll be back. He always comes back.

I don’t have this confrontation nearly enough. I should make it more of a habit, a ritual, until I get around to doing the things I want to do more.

C.Y.N. Design Your Life Creativity Hacks by Cynthia T. Luna LivinginCynHave you met your inner critic? How would your inner critic’s character sheet read? Feel free to post your comments and thoughts. You probably have a more structured approach to Character Sheets, let me know!

Day 1 of testing dictation: The fully-dictated blog post

(Actually, it’s day two of testing dictation, but yesterday was such a mess that I don’t count it.) Dictation is an interesting concept. It conjures up memories of grade school exercises with my teacher walking up and down the classroom enunciating words loudly and clearly. She was reading, remembering to pause and say “comma”, “colon” or “full stop” at the appropriate times.

Here I am today, on the train, my dictation exercise cut short by a couple of guys who parked themselves next to me. My self-consciousness in overdrive. I have resorted to tapping my blog post into my phone.

Regardless of my shyness, dictation comes with clear benefits. The first of which is its hands-free words inputting system. Second, because of this, you can end up being extremely productive when normally you wouldn’t get anything done. (Because tapping into my phone has become so cumbersome, I have forced myself past my shyness hump, and I am back to dictating again–nevermind the two guys who parked next to me on the train. (Who knows, maybe it will actually scare them off?))

Blog by Dictation

One of the drawbacks of dictation, is that you have to think about punctuation as you go along. For instance, right now, I am actually saying out my sentences thinking them as if they were appearing on a computer screen. The dictation software I am currently using, Dragon Dictate (a free app available online for those of us with smart phones) is actually very good. I haven’t conducted any introductory tests with this program and it seems to be able to understand the words that I’m using very easily.

Another drawback of using dictation software, is really having to know what it is that you want to say. I am used to editing as I type. So I’ll punch in a few words and then delete a word and replace it with something new. With dictation, you have to know what it is you wish to say and edit or punctuate as you go along. Or maybe you have to have a good visual image of your words so that you can be edit on the screen in your mind as you go along.

All in all, the drawbacks of using dictation software is far outweighed by its greatest benefit, namely productivity. For example, right now I am actually dictating a blog post that I wouldn’t get around to writing if I were simply on my morning commute. And by the time I would have hit my desk, I would have forgotten what it was that I wanted to express.

I do think, though, that this will be kind of difficult for introverts as I am. At this very moment, for example, my train is just pulling up to my stop and I am basically talking to myself. On the other hand, I am pretty impressed not only with the dictation software, but also my productivity. I don’t think I have ever written a blog post on the train that, for the most part, is ready to post.

P.S. For those of you curious about writing your books via dictation, you might be interested in my word per hour result with this first attempt. This blog post clocks in at around 515 words (before the post-script) and it took me the whole 40 minute train ride to dictate, tap and edit it on my smartphone. Basically, it clocks around 769 words per hour, which isn’t bad for a first run.

My daily writing discipline (Day in the life of an aspiring author: Weeks 1, 2, 3 and 4)

Living a daily writing discipline is the only way that any writer can realistically become an author. So, an aspiring author’s main task is laying words on a page/screen daily. But…

But I also have a full-time day job, and I also spend 2.5 hours a day getting there and back, and I also have a relationship with my husband whom I love and cherish. So, the end and the beginning of the day, and the weekends, are all the “free” time I have for writing.

My daily writing discipline

Still, butt-in-chair time is the difference between getting a novel or a book done or not. It’s just, my butt-in-chair time is limited to half an hour. And during the week, it’s twice in the day (before leaving the house in the morning) and after getting back home in the evening.

Speed writing is critical for optimizing on this limited time segment. And given that I am also writing on my blog, any writing is writing — and supports the cause of “living my dream”.

I don’t see it as a coincidence that I discovered Monica Leonelle and her book, “Write Better, Faster“. She basically breaks down her speed writing formula into four parts; but the single, most important item for me was “time-tracking”. And this is mainly because I really had no baseline or knowledge of how fast I write and how much I write.

The first thing I did was fashion a time tracker for my writing, modelled on the one Ms. Leonelle created for herself. (If you sign up for my emails, you will get one auto-magically (as well as other freebies…).)

Week 1 in Review.

Now, a little more than a week into measuring, I can see that my writing speeds can range from a low (first writing segment) 687 average words per hour to a high 2306 average words per hour. That’s a pretty wide range.

I started with this baseline during an uncustomary time, Christmas week, when I didn’t have to go to work. There are plusses and minuses that come with that. On the one hand, I can test out good times of days for my writing habit. On the other hand, is it realistic for me to know that 4 pm in the afternoon (highest average word count) is my optimal writing time, when I will practically never get to enjoy that writing time? (It conflicts with my work schedule…)

Still, it’s nice to have the general statistics, so I can create SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals for my speedwriting and for meeting my dream of publishing several books in 2016.

It will be interesting to see how my word tracker will look once I start heading into the office and changing my life schedule. I am a lot more strict with my time, because I only can allow a half hour in the mornings, before heading into work and in the evenings, after I’ve come home, but before I sit down to dinner with my loved one.

What I learned in Week 1. A quick table of results

Day 1, Avg. Word/Hr: 1018.94, Words: 1767
Day 2, Avg. Word/Hr: 1405.81, Words: 1789
Day 3, Avg. Word/Hr: 0.00, Words: 0 (Xmas Eve)
Day 4, Avg. Word/Hr: 0.00, Words: 0 (Xmas Day)
Day 5, Avg. Word/Hr: 2210.36, Words: 961 (Boxing day)
Day 6, Avg. Word/Hr: 1464.52, Words: 8965 (Sunday)
Day 7, Avg. Word/Hr: 1553.43, Words: 1576 (Went out w/ a girl friend)

WEEK 1
Totals: Avg. Word/Hr: 1093.29, Total Words W1: 15,058
Total Time all week: 12:45:00

My overall Average Word/Hour is just a little over 1,000. I would love to get up to an average of 2,000 to 3,000 words per hour. This way, I think it would be reasonable to get in 10,000 – 15,000 words down per week — whether it’s on fiction or non-fiction. On that note, nearly 100% of these words were generated for non-fiction.

Forgetting to log my writing times and word counts during Week 2.

So, I was riding high on a non-fiction book that I completed during this week. I knew that I wanted to get all the words on the screen, so that I could get the book edited by the end of January and published for a first round by the end of January.

Given that it would be my first published work ever, I was really nervous and excited about writing. I kept forgetting to take a break between Pomodoros, or marking the word count where I started up or left off. Very frustrating from a metrics standpoint; but extremely rewarding from a writing perspective, because I completed the rough draft, compiled it in Scrivener to edit, and shared it with a really lovely beta-reader who totally fits the target audience for this non-fiction book.

I would really like to look at my fiction work right now, because I have time (but I am struggling with editing, outlining after-the-fact and going through rewrites–both psychologically, and actuaScreen Shot 2016-01-14 at 18.37.29lly).

 

Feeling sorry for myself during Week Three.

Week three was decidedly worse from a productivity standpoint. (You can see that I clocked a little more than 300 words.) The main reason for this is because I fell ill and I returned to the office. I’m dealing with issues of being annoyed with myself, because after two days of struggling with the flu at the office, I went to visit a doctor who yanked me away from going to the office all week. Even though I wanted to write, I could barely muster the energy to get myself out of bed, let alone to think. So, I feel like I wimped out.

I did manage to get some reading in, though, but not as much as I feel I should during a week that I’m “off” and actually have time.

It’s also frustrating to see how hard on myself I can be when I’m ill…

Week Four: Back in the saddle and experiencing some serious chafing!

Even though I’m back at work and back to my routine life, my writing hasn’t really ramped back to where it was while on Christmas holiday. It’s frustrating, but also understandable–I mean, I knew that I wouldn’t have endless days forever, right?

Still: New Year, New Me, Right?

I signed up to be a part of a year-long Mastermind group for writers. Being in Europe time when everybody else is in U.S. time can be really overwhelming — in good and bad ways. The good way is that people are damned inspiring and have so many goodies to share. The bad way is that when I am on the train during my 40-minute commute, I burn the ride reading everybody’s updates on my way to work: time that I intend(ed) to use for blog dictation. Which leads to my next point.

I wanted to use this week to experiment with dictating blog posts to my phone. I only had one successful session (out of two). My big realisation is that I’m really going to have to up my outlining game. Dictation is not like typing (not yet anyway), so I have to practice, practice, practice. (Feel free to share or comment if you have any experience with improving your writing speed!)

On the fiction side of things, I have picked up a great book by Libbie Hawker called, Take Off Your Pants! It’s basically about the general outline of a novel and its plot elements. This has been the book I have been looking for, because it’s about the overarching structural needs of a story, and not just a sequence of actions that move characters from one chapter of the book to another! But even applying elements of my novel to this new outline isn’t really writing — it’s pre-production and post-production… not production.

On the non-fiction side of things, I have made some tweaks and adjustments to a booklet I’m gearing up to self-publish–but I’m nearing the point where I need to don my “design hat” and pull together a couple of worksheets.

Week 4: Results Roundup

All in all, I haven’t been doing any real writing (except for the blog) because I seem to be trapped in pre-production mode on my fiction and in post-production mode for my non-fiction.

I have made a note to self that I need to get an outline down for another book, so I can really get back in the writing saddle!

P.S. The idea is to write a weekly “Writing Discipline” post in this space on Saturdays. (Another one of my million goals for 2016…) I’m hopeful that by putting it in public like this I’ll hold myself accountable!

Sacha Black: Burn the candle at both ends and in the middle (e-Interview)

LivinginCyn e-Interview with Aspiring Author Sacha BlackMy introduction will be brief, because Sacha Black, blogger and aspiring author of several works (yes, she works on several projects; and has them all in the pipeline!) does such a great job of sharing her writing and editing process, while also dispensing some practical advice, that I’ll just cut the intro and let you enjoy. You can visit her website right away by clicking on any of the links she provides, or on the pictures embedded in this post! (LivinginCyn’s questions are in bold light grey type, and Ms. Black’s responses are in regular type.)

An e-Interview with Sacha Black | Writer, Thinker, Lover of the Strange and Unusual

Sacha BlackName/ Age When I started blogging I wanted to be anonymous, so I created an alter ego, Sacha Black. But I fell in love with the name and I’ve been using it as my pen name ever since. In some ways it feels more like my real name than my birth name.

I’m erm…. 28 and starting to freak out about the number 3….!

Occupation/Aspiration (related website?) By day, I’m a project manager in local government. By night I’m a writer, blogger and investigator of the strange and unusual. [Editor’s note: her website is, http://sachablack.co.uk/)

I write: non-fiction, flash fiction, short stories and novels. My aspiration is to be able to write full time and earn enough to pay all the bills and have a holiday every year…Actually, who am I kidding, I would love to be as successful as Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins or Veronica Roth!

I would also like to design and teach writing courses, be a writing mentor and have a couple of regular columns but that all feels like a long way off.

Where do you currently reside? What’s your hometown/origin?

I live in England, just north of London in the countryside. I have always lived in the countryside, although I grew up a little further north than here. My heritage however, is much more interesting. With a mix of Ethiopian, Cherokee, and White British, but that’s not all…. my father is American and Jewish and there is also a lot of Austrian/Hungarian blood in our family! You could probably pick any country in the world and there would be a connection, our family is bonkers!

Adultland (working cover) by Sacha Black.
Sacha Black wished for LivinginCyn to inform readers that this is simply a temporary working cover: “something I created myself as a motivational tool to get it finished”. Now you know one way she keeps herself motivated!

You’re currently working on your second fictional work while you allow your first/debut work to rest. Can you share a little bit about your writing process? Rituals you live/write by?

Ohh. That’s so hard. I still feel like I am learning. I wrote a post a while ago outlining my method, which you can find here. But I will summarise and see if I can think of anything else.

The most important thing for me in my first draft is to vomit on the page. It’s about speed and just getting the story out of my head and on to the page. Your first draft is never going to be anything other than crap anyway, so you might as well just get it done. I do a lot of sprint writing. I’m not one of these people that can write slowly and edit as I go.

That being said, I learnt a big lesson from my first book, and that was to make the major edits during that first draft. The tweaking of sentences can wait, but if you decide half way through you no longer want a character (which I did), you have to go back and write them out. I didn’t and now it’s a horrible daunting task returning to my manuscript knowing how much of a mess it’s in.

  • First draft, I focus on timeline and just get the story on the page.
  • Second draft, I develop and solidify characters along with the enhancing emotion and the setting starts to come to life.
  • Third draft is about refining, checking consistencies and silly mistakes as well as ‘beautifying’ the language.

Photograph from Sacha Black for LivinginCyn of her Manuscript, The KeepersThen I check and proof and send it off to beta readers, followed by another edit after their feedback.

Rituals that I live by? Sprinting for a start. In a sprint session I can write 1500 words an hour. It’s the most effective tool I’ve ever discovered and the more you do it, the better the quality of your writing during a sprint.

I also use an editing map. It’s literally a list of chapters. Anything I think of during a draft that needs editing or changing later gets written into the map. It’s so useful because if you don’t write those things down at the time, you forget. Plus, you also have a head start when you sit down to do your first edit.

Chapter summaries is also a biggie. I have a habit of not sticking to my outline. Which means if I don’t write a summary of the chapter as I complete it, I forget everything I’ve written. When you have a book full of chapters you can’t remember you are in a world of trouble; another lesson from my first book!

Why do you write stories?

Doesn’t feel like a choice to me. If I don’t write, I have a menagerie of characters shouting at me in my head, demanding stories to be written. I have all these ideas and worlds and stories in my head that need to come out. I really feel like this is what I was born to do.

It’s escapism, too, I guess. I adore fantasy and have always loved reading, it feels natural to create those kinds of stories too. I love world building and the richness that fills my head when I do. But more than anything, I have to write because it makes me happy.

Your recent blog post about portraying “authentic gay characters” (great blog post, by the way!) does more than provide tips — it seems to call for more courage among writers to include more diversity in their storytelling. Is advocacy one of your motivators for writing?

Thank you, and interesting question. If you mean, do I write to advocate rights for LGBT people, then: No. But, not for any other reason than, as yet, I haven’t had an LGBT character come to me and demand their story be told.

That being said, there is a middle-grade LGBT story bubbling away in my subconscious as we speak. I am hoping that I will be able to at least do my bit for advocacy with that. I guess I also don’t want to be labelled as a lesbian writer that only writes LGBT fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that I love fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, post apocalyptic, thrillers and chick flicks, there’s too many things I want to write to get pigeonholed.

Interestingly enough, I actually advocate more for fellow writers than I do specifically LGBT rights. I am a huge supporter of other writers. Oh, and a bit of a feminist, too!

How long did your first book take to write? Do you find the process similarly simple/difficult?

Ha. Exactly 292 days! I know this because I started writing it in a NaNoWriMo. It also took much longer than I would have liked. I am much faster at writing now. I think partially because I know how hard it is, but also because the more I write, the more desperate I am to write full time. So I am trying to speed up so I can publish sooner rather than later.

My major barrier to speed is having too many projects on the go. I am writing a Non-Fiction book, as well as editing my first novel, writing a second unrelated fiction book, and seriously considering this middle-grade book as well as the second in the series of my first book…

I think I will find editing harder than first drafts, so I have no idea how that will compare time wise. The most difficult part of all for me though, is finding time to write in the first place.

Are you a plotter, pantser, or a “plantser”?

Another cracking question. If you had asked me before I started writing my first book, I’d have sworn blind I bled plotter. But, thinking about writing a novel and actually writing a novel are two completely different things. Writing my first novel showed me I didn’t have a clue who I was as a writer. I am a pantser. That being said, I like to know the premise of the book, and a rough ending, I’m also partial to an outline, but nine times out of ten I’ll write an outline and then ignore it as soon as I open a fresh Scrivener document.

I’m an aspiring author who’s juggling her writing with a day job and other commitments. Do you have any tips or suggestions for writers leading this somewhat busy lifestyle?

Oh god, believe me I feel your pain. I work full time and I have a 2-year-old son. My wife also works two nights a week, and I run my blog, try to exercise and at some point attempt a social life.

If you want the honest truth, my advice would be:

Burn the candle at both ends and in the middle. Drink more coffee than allowed and definitely sleep less than you should. That’s the story of my life. I tend to run myself ragged in the pursuit of being a writer. But you know what? No one is going to do it for me and nothing worth doing in life is easy. So I sacrifice my sleep, I write on my phone walking to meetings, I carry notes everywhere, and I spend every waking second I can thinking about my work and my stories. I write To-Do lists constantly to help me remember things, including the snippets of dialogue that randomly pop into my head. But more than anything, I refuse to give up. There is some kind of carnal instinct driving me on to squeeze more and more time out of my day for writing.

I am selfish with my free time. I think until you are able to write full time you have to be. Unfortunately, that means the occasional sacrifice of quality time with my wife for quality time with my laptop. But I am lucky and she loves me and knows that I have to try and follow my dream. That kind of support is invaluable.

Make sure you take breaks from writing and when you do spend time with your loved ones, leave your phone, computer and all electronic devices in the other room, it makes the time you spend with your family worth 100% more and it really is ‘quality’.

Finally, the biggest distraction I know is social media. It’s a time drainer, I know it’s useful for promoting and marketing your work, but you actually need to produce work in order to have something to promote. I often disconnect my Wi-Fi so I can’t ‘just check’ Facebook and then find I’ve wasted an hour of precious writing time. I also schedule social media in advance, like blog posts and tweets. Hootsuite is an awesome tool for that.

Sacha Black 2If you could step into a time machine and pay a visit to Sacha Black, 14 y.o., what would you tell her? Why?

I’d tell her not to lose sight of her dream and to do something she was passionate about at university, not what she thought would be helpful for a career. I’d tell her the bullies really were just jealous and as hard as ignoring them is, it’s the best thing you can do. But more than anything, I’d tell her to prepare herself. Being unique means that lots of people will try and crush her, but she’s stronger than them, and being weird is what makes her a success, because for every person that hates who she is, there’s a hundred more that love her for that very reason.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Cook, clean and be a slave at work! Okay, I am messing… sort of.

I am mummy to a toddler, so lots of playing with cars and Lego. I try to go to the gym. I am a qualified Gel nail technician so I am always doing mine, or my friends’ nails. I am a film buff and obviously, I love reading. I also do a lot of research of conspiracy theories too.

Recent project/accomplishment you would like to highlight. Are you working on anything (or learning something) that’s fascinating to you?

Well, I finished the first draft of my first novel in August. That was a heck of an achievement, one of my proudest actually. It proved to me I could actually do this! It was a hard slog emotionally, physically and time wise, but getting that first draft done was the hardest part mentally.

I’m now 30,000 words through an unrelated book, I’m proud of that because it started out as a piece of flash fiction in response to one of my own weekly Writespiration challenges, this one to be precise. I had such a lovely response from people encouraging me to carry the story on, so I did, and now it’s turning into a full length novel. That blows my mind… how did that happen? How can it happen? It was just a piece of flash!

Also, in August I organised and hosted the first Annual Bloggers Bash. An event bringing bloggers and writers alike out from behind their computer screens and giving them an opportunity to meet in the flesh. We (the bash committee) are hosting the second one on June 11th 2016, everyone is welcome.

Finally, I am working on a Non-Fiction work, which I am really REALLY excited about because I never thought I would be able to write Non-Fiction.

Coffee or Tea?

Coffee, no question. I don’t see the point of tea! I drink coffee for the caffeine, I need hard-core energy! Also, I adore my Nespresso machine and all the wonderful flavours of coffee you can get!

Is there a question you wished I would pose to you? (or to anyone else? Who?)

Other than finishing a novel and having a child, what’s your greatest achievement? My answer… I trekked up to Mt Everest Base Camp.

LivinginCyn e-Interview with Aspiring Author Sacha BlackSo there you have it, folks: A bunch of things you wanted to know about Sacha Black–and then some! You can continue to follow her on her website (links all over this interview), Twitter (@Sacha_Black), and on her Facebook Page. I’m sure on any (if not all) of these places, you’ll be the first to learn of her book releases. I think we’re going to see a lot of action from her sooner — rather than later!

Want to be a part of LivinginCyn’s e-Interview series for aspiring authors?

Also, if you’re an aspiring author — that is, you are actively working on your debut book, which you plan on publishing — or you recently published your debut work, you qualify for this e-interview series. Submit your comment below or send an email to cynthia [at] livingincyn [dot] com if you wish to participate in an e-interview. This series is slated for the 3rd Wednesday of each month.