Note To Self – Stop Thinking So Much!

Got to thinking today about how much time we lose over-thinking things.

We have a bright idea. Then we think of all the alternatives. Then we carefully think through each alternative including the benefits of doing nothing.

In the meantime our original idea has gone from pure energy to a whisper in the mist – full of fear and doubt.

Fear and doubt brings on a sense of urgency, and in our rush to do something, we choose between the two most obvious thoughts: what we’ve always done or nothing.

The hours, days, weeks and years tick on by. And we keep thinking.

Now if we flip things around: Do as much as we currently think, and think as much as we previously did – we might see different results.

Here’s a little haiku:

Whales sing across seas.
Trees weave with the universe.
Only people stop…

To think.

 

 

It’s All Noodles

OK. The Daily Dose of Fiction crashed and burned for a while. It started because I needed a break between projects but knew I needed to keep writing. Then I started the next novel (attempt number 8 or 9 – lost count) … and things got hard!

So I switched off.

Did it help?

I don’t know. The story I’m working on is still all noddles. You might have experienced this: You know what you want to say, you have the characters lined up, you have the world mostly mapped, you have a good sense of what you’re after… but you can’t find the end of the thread that, when pulled, allows you to turns “a general sense” into something you can write.

It’s like knitting a jumper out of steam.

I think you just have to trust your mind, your heart and your connection to the universe where all noodles comes from. Here’s a little Haiku:

Noodles in a bowl
Untouched they go cold and hard
Dig in and enjoy

Screw Plan B!

If you’re working on your first book/film/creative “thing”, at some point you’ll send it to an expert (or a buyer) who, you hope, will be instrumental in getting you published, on the big screen or otherwise into  the world.

While you wait for their verdict, you might find yourself in a form of limbo because (in your view) their view might be the thing that determines what direction you take next:

Plan A – Living the dream!
Plan B – Self-publish… trash the project… hide out in Bali… qualify as a shrink… start a finger painting club… become a monk…

If your expert declares that your work is “Genius and Ready To Go!” then Plan A it is. But if the verdict is slightly south of average, you might think you have no choice but to move to Plan B.

You’re a realist, right? Especially if you have a family to support. But you’re also a dreamer. So your thinking might go something like this:

“I have a dream to be a best selling writer/director/artist… AND I have a family to support. I don’t have a trust fund, so I have to earn a living while I create my magic. HOWEVER, I need time and mental space to create said magic, BUT I can’t spend an unknown length of time walking the tightrope between a practical job and creating my dream. SO, what to do?”

Do you create a Plan B in case your art is kicked back? Do you go to Plan B even though every minute you spend on Plan B saps the core out your soul?

What if you took the chance and focused completely and unflinchingly on Plan A? What if Plan B never entered your head? Would you write/paint/create in a different way if there was no Plan B? Would Plan A be better, smarter and more determined? If there was no Plan B, would you find a way for Plan A to work no matter what?

I think, when we give ourselves an out, we’ve already decided to quit. So no Plan B.

Be Brave, folks. Stick with it.
Tina

 

Can you force story ideas?

Can you force story ideas?Sometimes story ideas seem to blossom out of the ether. One moment your mind is wondering about the to-dos of daily life and the next you have an idea for a story that seems complete from beginning to end. Nice. Sweeeeeeeet! 

But what happens when these ideas just aren’t there and it’s been days and weeks and, like an addict, you feel the need for a bit of flash? What do you do?!! Can you force story ideas? Do you wrestle an idea from your imagination like some premature pimple or do you chill, sit back, relax and wait for it to mature and explode fully formed?

A bit of each, I think.

If your head seems void of story words, you need to feed it, fill it up, then switch on the tap and keep it flowing until all the dregs run out and pure water flows.

From my experience, here are a few things to keep the process flowing and story worlds building.

ONE: READ. Dammit! Just READ! Read fiction. Read flash fiction. Read short stories. Read story magazine. Read novels. Read newspapers (another kind of fiction all together).

TWO: Don’t bother about word count. If you get stuck on a short story that feels like it needs to end but you’re only 500 words in, then end it! The right length for a story is as long as it takes to tell. No more, no less.

THREE: Ask questions about what you see around you. It’ll spark story after story…

Examples:

If you want stories to flow, you need to give them something to feed on, then open the lid, switch on the tap, spill the bucket… whatever metaphor works for you, and write. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 140 character twitter story or a novel. A story is a story, no matter how long it takes to tell.

Be awesome folks.
Tina K.

LOVE writing? LOVE feedback! 5 ways to get the most out of it

Be brave. Pick a tough editor. The feedback will do your book good!

Feedback from a professional is the lifeblood of great writing. You can spend years on what you think is an absolute marvel but without feedback from people who know what they’re talking about (not your mother, best buddy or 3rd cousin Jethro) you’ll never know if there are gaps in your plot or holes in your characters. All you’ll know – if you put the book to market without feedback – is that people aren’t responding to it. You’ll know that something is wrong, but you won’t know what.

Now of course, sending your novel or short story to a ruthless, picky professional can be damn scary, but if you’re scared to send it out to ONE person to read critically, how do you think you’ll handle putting that same work online or on Amazon for it be shredded – or even worse – ignored by the public!?

You have to grow to LOVE feedback. Seek it out. Find the toughest, meanest, glass-eyed editors and beg them to leave mercy at the door! Don’t ask people who love you for feedback. Your mother will tell you it’s wonderful. Your best buddy will take pity on you and get you drunk. Your 3rd cousin, Jethro will probably ask for a loan.

Go to the professionals. Ask for honest feedback. Then do the following to make sure you can do something with it:

ONE: Let your book go. You have to. Once you hand it over to a professional, you need to detach yourself from it. If you don’t, the feedback you get might feel horribly personal. But when an editor says – your characters are weak and limp. She really is saying YOUR CHARACTERS are weak and limp. Not you. But if you are too entwined with your book, you’ll risk taking feedback personally and it could break you.

TWO: Listen! This is important. Really listen to what a good editor has to say. These people have read, reviewed, studied, considered, edited, re-written hundreds of books and short stories. You have written… what? How many? One? Three? Maybe 10 if you’re on a roll? A professional editor knows their beans. Listen to them.

THREE: Take their recommendations seriously. Don’t just THINK about them. Implement them. What’s the point of great feedback if you’re going to ignore it?

FOUR: Think for yourself. On one hand I say listen and take the editor’s recommendations seriously, but you also need to think for yourself. The very first novel I wrote (never published – still on a shelf) I included every suggestion the editor made. It ended up not sounding like me at all. So listen to everything, then do rewrites based on the feedback, not mindlessly including it.

FIVE: Make sure you give your best work to the editor. Don’t give your book or short story to an editor because you can’t work out what to do next. If your plot or characters are broken, do the work, fix them, then get the editor in. Your name will be on the cover after all.

Bottom line… Grow a thick skin! Feedback is part of the process. Don’t shortcut the process.

Happy growth spurt today!
Tina

If you’re a writer, eat the frog first!

If you're a writer, eat the frog first!I could write a 2000 word blog about this (Brian Tracy wrote a whole book!), but I’m going to be brief so you can get on with things. If you want to achieve the important things in your life (including being the writer you want to be), eat the frog first!

Do what’s difficult. Do what you’ve been avoiding. Do what you’re scared to do. Do what will honestly move you forward.

Look at everything you want to do today, pick the thing that will actually lead you to achieving your goal, do that first (no matter how hard/scary it is), then get on with the rest of it.

So if you’re selling something (book, short story, article, pot plant) and can’t seem to get started – make selling it the first thing you do. Don’t mess about with emails and internet research and other such excuses. Pick up the phone.

If you want to get fit but would rather have cream cakes for breakfast – get to the gym first. Don’t go shopping for new gym gear.

If you’re writing and have been putting it off – get your words in first. Leave social media and emails until later in the day. Why? Because once you’ve eaten the frog, you’ll actually have something to talk about and contribute.

For more about eating frogs, have a read of Brian Tracy’s book “Eat That Frog”.

Damn delicious, I promise you.
Tina

You’re writing a novel, so why bother with short stories?

A short story or two could be the solution to all your writing issues!Whether you’re in the thick of writing your novel, working hard at starting it, stuck in writer’s block or dreaming about your career as an author, you might find some answers in the unlikely lap of a short story or two.

But why take the time (that you probably don’t have) and effort (that’s dwindled to a puddle) to write a short story when every moment of your day is absorbed by either working on or freaking out over your novel???

In no particular order… 11 ways a short story can make you a better writer

ONE: Short stories are quick to write. If you’re stuck on your novel and need a distraction, pick a character and genre you’d never normally write in and blast a story out. You’ll be surprised how many rusted bolts that loosens up.

TWO: Short stories are an amazing way to develop a character. If yours are feeling a little two dimensional, pick an era in their lives (outwith the timeline of your novel) and write a short story about that. It will give you incredible insight into their back story and might reveal a few things about them that you didn’t know.

THREE: If getting your stuff out there seems terrifying, write a dozen short stories (at least) then send them ALL out for sale. Not competition. SALE. You’ll soon feel comfortable sending your work out, writing cover letters, finding the right publications and feeling OK if they say no. Why? Because if they do come back unaccepted, you tweak it and send it out again!

FOUR: Short stories are perfect for developing and experimenting with story worlds. Write a short story titled “A day in the life of a lizard in my story world”. You’ll be surprised what you find out. Most of the time you view your world from character head height. What happens on the street? What do things look like from the ground up? What does your world look like from a totally different angle? If your main characters are very rich, write a short story about someone in your world who is very poor.

FIVE: Use short stories to fix your writing challenges. If you have a problem with good dialogue, write short stories packed with it. If narrative is an issue, write one with narrative only. Whatever your writing weakness, use short stories to work it. Once you’re done, send a few into competitions that offer a review. Get feedback from professionals, rewrite based on the feedback, then send it out for SALE!

SIX: If you can’t think of anything to write, then write a short story that starts with your name. Don’t plan. Don’t think. Just free flow. It won’t take much time and it’ll get things going.

SEVEN: Practice your editing skills. A novel is a mammoth thing to edit. More often than not it takes way longer than we expect, and certainly longer than we’d like! Get better at it. Write short stories, edit them well, then send them out into the world.

EIGHT: When you send your novel out, you’re at the mercy of other people’s schedules. If all you’re doing is waiting to hear back about ONE piece of work, you’re likely to crash and burn when/if you get a no. But if you always have multiple bits of work in the market, getting a no won’t have that much impact on your soul. You’ll have a bunch of other pieces of work out there. So rework what came back, and send it out again.

NINE: They’re fun! There isn’t a huge investment of time. You can write flash fiction if you like. A mere 500 words. When things are getting too serious, look around the space you’re in, pick 3 words and write a story that incorporates them. Make is as crazy and ridiculous as you can. Make yourself laugh! Then, if you like it, edit it and send it out to WORK!

TEN: Short stories allow you to build a great portfolio. One day, when you have a bunch of stories you love, you can gather them all together and publish a compilation. Never a word wasted.

ELEVEN: One of a writer’s fears it the notion of spending years on something that doesn’t go anywhere. A short story will give you a reprieve from that. Spend an hour or two writing it (1500-2000 words) then a week or so to edit and stew, then send it out. Use this little tool to beat your writing fears whether they stem from the quality of your work to judgement of it. Sod it. Put it out there anyway. What’s the worst that can happen? Oh… say it ain’t so… you might actually get really good at it and get result. RESULTS!

There are 11 reasons to write short stories. Any more? Let me know…

Happy writing today!
Tina

From the Experts: Caroline Konstant – Book Publicist

Caroline Konstant - Book PublicistVery handy… I have a wonderful and glorious aunt who’s also a book publicist: Caroline Konstant.

Based in South Africa, Caroline works with both publishers who don’t have their own in-house marketing and publicity teams, and authors (self-published and traditional) who want to get their books to their fans. I took a trip out there and asked her a few questions about what folk can do to get their books to the market and here’s what she said:

Question: How do bookshops choose what books they want?

Caroline says: “Each bookshop has its own demographic and good managers know their readers and buy accordingly. For non-fiction titles, most bookshops will take an order 50/50 – half on firm purchase (even if they don’t sell a copy, they have to pay you) and half on sale-or-return (SOR). Fiction on the other hand is always purchased entirely on a SOR basis (so if they sell none, you’ll get them all back as per your agreed time limit).  In most bookshops, books on SOR are kept for between three to six months. If they haven’t sold in that time, they’ll all be returned to the publisher who’ll usually pulp all fiction titles and keep the non-fiction in stock.”

Question: How do books get a good location in the shop (centre floor, counter top)?

Caroline says: “Other than pre-planned displays, when books are unpacked they’re put into their relevant sections. Display is mostly at the discretion of the unpacker or sales person in front of the shop. If a book is by a well-known author or is pushed as a best seller by the publisher, the bookshop orders lots of copies on sale-or-return (SOR), and they’ll be on display in a big pile in the middle of the floor or in a prominent position.  Often you’ll see these are a non-standard size called Trade Paperback.  Publishers print these first and use the smaller traditional novel size (there are many) when they go into a second printing.  As there’s a limited amount of space available on shelves, usually no more than five copies land up there. If the book is small then it may get a place on the counter because that’s where it’ll fit without getting lost – however, generally only gift-type books are displayed on counters.  If you choose to self-publish, be careful about printing small-format and/or no spine on fiction novels as the bookshop may not order them at all!  So stick to one of the standard novel sizes in paperback.”

Question: Can I (the writer) contact a bookshop directly to get them to stock my book?

Caroline says: “Bookshops don’t tend to deal with authors directly because there are too many and they have a reputation for being unreliable. For instance, if a bookshop has purchased direct from an author and then wants to reorder or return stock, tracking down that author can be difficult. They might have started a new project, gone on holiday, be distracted with other things or simply have moved house. So bookshop managers prefer to see sales reps that represent publishers and distributors.  However, if your book is very specific to the area then they will sometimes make an exception!”

Question: Can writers influence booksellers and therefore book buyers?

Caroline says: “It’ll be well-nigh impossible because there are too many spread over too many areas. Instead, chat with the sales people in the BOOKSHOP once the books are in stock…. But beware of being too pushy – it could backfire!

Question: If I self-publish, can I sell directly to a bookshop?

Caroline says: “If you’ve written a book relevant to your area then speak to your local bookshop manager and ask that they take your book on. They may take your book on a sale-or-return (SOR) basis or, most likely, on consignment (so you only get paid as the books get sold). You’re unlikely to successfully sell your book to national bookshops on that basis so you need to find someone to market, sell and distribute your book for you. This will cost, but it’ll get your book on the book manager’s system. However, don’t just focus on bookshops. If you’re self-published, get your book into other outlets: coffee shops, restaurants or boutiques for instance. Arrange to have talks and book signings at the library, the garden centre or any other outlet that might stock a book like yours.”

Question: How do books get into libraries?

Caroline says: “Libraries buy from library suppliers. Most of the time, they work to a budget and will buy from suppliers who give them the best discounts. Irrespective of budget, librarians try to stock the library with books that are in demand, i.e.: by well-known authors, because that’s what their readers ask for. If yours is a local book, then your library will probably pick that up for the local section. Also, most libraries have a manifesto with guidelines on what to buy so there isn’t much leeway for the buyers.  Again, if you’re self-publishing, be careful not to make your book too small or too slim for comfortable display on the shelves.”

Question: If I have a series of books to write, is it better to finish them all so the bookshops have the whole series to sell, or should I finish and sell the first one and follow it with books two and three?

Caroline says: “A bookshop will most likely buy one copy of each of a series or, if they only have the first in the series, then two or three of the first book. They will only buy more of what sells, so write the first one, get it sold, then write the others.”

Question: Does the cover have a big impact on how well the book sells?

Caroline says: “In publishing, books are judged by their covers. Book buyers might see up to 40 book reps a month. Most of these reps will have between 10 and 100 new titles each month. That’s a lot of books to choose from. So a great cover has a huge impact. Make sure it’s relevant to the target audience. Don’t make it frilly if you want men to read it. If it’s fiction, don’t make it look like a factual book. Look at other books in your genre to see how trends in cover design change.”  (NOTE FROM TINA: In my experience so far, if you’re putting your book out through a publisher, they will create the cover for you. You’ll be asked your opinion and if you really hate it, they’ll review it, but they have experts who know how to make the most of the cover and will generally do a great job).

Question: Should a book have a photo of the author on the back cover?

Caroline says: “A photo and bio of the author is nice. It helps to make a connection between the reader and the writer.”

Question: Should a writer do bookshop tours or leave the PR to the publisher?

Caroline says: “Author activity can never be underestimated. The author must do author signings and take part in anything that will help promote their book. Publishers might kick the book off with one book launch, but not often. If you’re working with a publisher then ask if they have a publicist and what they’re going to do to promote your book, then work with them. Independently, arrange to give book talks in local bookshops, libraries and coffee shops.  But before you get onto the radio or onto local TV stations, discuss with your publicist – you may be duplicating efforts.  Publishers will do the initial sales push into bookshops and one launch to the media, then they’re onto the next book. It’s up to you to sell it after the launch. At that point, hire a publicist who will help you promote your book further. Keep in mind however that any further media promotion will have to be from a new angle because the media won’t want to duplicate a discussion on radio or anything already in print.”

Question: How does a book become a best seller?

Caroline says: “Nothing is guaranteed. A book by a first time novelist could go viral, thanks to social media and word of mouth. It all depends on audience response. If your book hits the right pulse and readers spread the word, then the publisher will see they have something that the public have taken hold of and put money behind it. Most likely, the author will be put on tour and must be willing to do it. Unless a book lands in a channel that turns it viral, a reclusive writer is a no-go. To that end, don’t underestimate Twitter and Facebook and other social media. It’s marketing and luck. There are tons of great books out there that have never made it. It takes a lot of energy and money to be a bestselling author.”

Question: Anything else?

Caroline says: “First, proofread! Do it well. Don’t ask your high-school teacher to proofread for you because she’s good at English. Get a PROFESSIONAL to review your work. Even if a story is brilliantly told, if the grammar and punctuation are wrong then people are unlikely to bother reading it. Second, beware of the greatest misconception new authors have: writing one book rarely means you can retire a millionaire!”

Thanks Caro!
Have a perfect week. Write like a CRAZY PERSON!
Tina