Challenge: Blog Daily, + 101 TIWIK

This morning as I was trying to wrap my mind around the heap of marketing tools at my disposal in the digital age, trying to sort them into some kind of shape resembling a plan, my eyes by pure chance fell upon an email from Story Cartel. It was titled “Blog Everyday.”

I have to admit I was somewhat annoyed with the emails I’ve been getting since I launched my book there. If you’re wondering, Story Cartel is a site where authors can offer their books for free in exchange for unbiased reviews. Its founder, Joe Bunting, hosts a course about being a writer in the 21st century. The emails I’ve been getting have been trying to convince me to sign up for the course. I’m resisting, and will likely continue to resist, but the post that showed up in my email this morning was timely.

Timely because one of the things I’ve been trying to sort out is how effective blogging is as part of my marketing toolbox, and how often I should do it. I’ve been wanting to blog more often. Joe Bunting’s post this morning gave me the little kick in the pants I needed to get started.

I think what impressed me most was that along with the obvious reasons to blog daily, like improving your SEO and gaining readership, Bunting gives you a less intuitive incentive: he says it’s easier to blog everyday because once you start blogging, the ideas keep flowing. When long periods pass between posts, you have to prime the pump all over again.

Finally he postulates that by blogging daily, not only will you be producing material you might use later in a larger project, but you’ll also be honing your writing skills and getting daily feedback from readers. Which leads me to what I intend to blog daily about:

101 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing my First Book

Awhile back I read a book by another Indy author that really needed to have been developmentally edited before it went public. (In case anyone is wondering, no, it wasn’t your book.) While there were a lot of redeeming factors in the book, there were a lot of rather substantial issues with plot, pacing, scene-work, tension, etc. The best part about reading this book was that it let me see how far my own writing had come. Many of the issues in the book were ones that I have made in previous projects and drafts. As I wrote a critique for the author, I thought of how all the things I was telling them were based on my own trials and errors, and how much I wished someone had told me the same things years ago, when I was stumbling around trying to write my first book.

Of course, people did tell me these things (most of them, a few I discovered on my own); but they told me over the course of years, in tidbits, in classes and books and through critiquing other writers.

In a fit of writer mania, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice to compile all of those things in one place, and offer it as an ebook for other writers? Nevermind that I was having hard enough time finishing the book I was already working on.

When I told Hans about the idea, practical thinker that he is, he said “You should write it in parts, on your blog.” He’s used to my writer mania, and knows how to diffuse it safely.

So, for some time now, I’ve had the idea ticking away in the back of my mind to write blog posts of all the things I wish I’d known before I wrote my first book. And today, as if fate were urging me forward, Joe Bunting’s blog post gave me the final push. If I can rise to the challenge, I should have 101 TIWIK within four months.

Without further ado, I present to you #1 of 101 TIWIK: Have a Plan.

1. Have a Plan

I started writing my first book when I was 14 years old, and planning was not in my lexicon at that age. Those of you reading this who are not teenagers might not struggle with planning as much. But since most of those of you reading this are writers, perhaps you do struggle with it.

Because writing is a creative process, it’s easy for people to dismiss the idea of planning on all levels of the process, from outlining the book to knowing what they will write, for whom, and how they will eventually sell it. I have never met a peer who said, “yeah I like to create a solid outline before I type a single word.” In fact, I would venture to say that there is probably a latent superstition amongst writers that if they plan out their work, they will stifle the creative process and jinx themselves.

And yet, without a clear plan, writers can spend years floundering and failing.

What is a Plan? According to Merriam Webster: a method for achieving an end; or an orderly arrangement of parts in an overall design or objective.

Notice the words END and OBJECTIVE. To have a plan one needs a goal. One needs to be able to see an end in sight. One needs to take their wonderfully wild, loosey-goosey writing process and package it into the confining method for achieving an end.

It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? For years I’ve known instinctively that my writing would be better, and my process vastly more efficient, with effective planning. I’ve tried over and over again to write outlines, then to write from my outline, and failed. The writing always veered from the outline, and after the writing had veered, the outline ended up looking like gobbledygook. After so many failures, planning begins to seem like a huge waste of time. The one time I tried to keep myself very strictly to my outline, the short story I’d written turned out looking like some bizarre caricature of fiction. Everyone in my critique group agreed that it was stiff and contrived. They didn’t know that I had processed this one any differently than any of my other writing, but it came across.

It’s enough to make a girl want to give up trying to plan, but what happens when you try to write a two hundred thousand word epic with six different POV characters without a plan is even worse. What you have is a big mess, with years worth of writing that has to be cut because it doesn’t end up fitting the story. That’s right, years wasted. And before that, ten years wasted–yes, a whole decade–on a book that didn’t end up working because the premise at its heart was flawed, and it had too many layers of unplanned drafting and revision to sort out.

Furthermore, planning applies not just to writing process, but to every aspect of the writer’s career. What do you want to write? Who is your audience? How do you intend to sell your writing? Or do you intend to sell it? How many books will you write? How long will they be?

When I started out at fourteen, I had a vague idea of writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. I didn’t really know the difference between the two. I knew what authors I loved, and I wanted to write like they did.

That was a good start, but it wasn’t enough. Here’s what I wish I had known then: Answer those tough questions. If you’re not sure how to answer them, do the research necessary to be informed about your genre and the writing market. Dream your dreams and follow them, but also form concrete, realistic goals on the way to those dreams. Be specific. The goal: to write a book is too vague. What kind of book? About what? How long? What is the goal of writing the book? Do I want to write it for the experience, to learn something, to teach something, to sell something, to entertain? Who will read it besides me?

Here’s the great thing about a plan: You don’t have to stick to it. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. Your plan should be inherently flexible to accommodate new information and the changing world around it. Think of it like a science project (stay with me, writers, this won’t take long): You pose a hypothesis (in this case, your goal: I think I can write a 1000 word short story about vampires and sell it to X magazine). Then you test the hypothesis, and adjust the original hypothesis based on the results. Can you actually write a 1000 word short story? Perhaps it turns out that the story you have to tell is actually 3000 words. Now you need to adjust the goal and the plan. Does the plan still fit the goal? Can you sell a 3000 word story to X magazine, or do you need to try to shorten it or find a different venue? Or perhaps X magazine is only accepting Werewolf stories this year. Now you need to either write a werewolf story or pick a different magazine.

The important thing is that instead of giving up when reality diverges from the plan, you adjust the plan and the goal and stay on track.

The same is true for the writing process. If you’re new to writing and think you might be a discovery writer, I urge you to try to find an outlining method that works for you. Try different ones until something sticks. You can read about the one I discovered for myself here: The Ancient Art of Storytelling. And remember that when you outline, you should plan to diverge from your outline as new information comes to light. For that reason, make sure that your outlining method is easily revised. Re-planning should be built into your writing process.

Go Forth and Plan! Tomorrow: Do You Struggle With Discipline, or Balance?

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