Why Writing Alone is Bad For You

Why Writing Alone Is Bad for You

I have a tribe.

You see me thanking them in my acknowledgements all the time, but I don’t know if I give them enough credit for the innumerable ways they help me write my books and live my life. 

They each serve different purposes, and yet, without even one of them, I wouldn’t get anything done. From inspiring me with quotes to leading me in yoga to daily word count accountability, book and movie recommendations, business advice, research questions, and plain old gossip, I adore each and every one of them. Several of them read for me, which is a huge help when I’m developing a story.

This is advice I don’t often give to new writers, but it was on my mind today.

There is nothing, nothing, more important than having a few people around you that you trust. A tribe makes your work is stronger, deeper, more alive. Having a core unit to support you, inspire you, even keep you accountable makes writing easier because, as we know, writing is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it  

It’s taken me years to find my people, so don’t expect it to happen overnight. And do be careful as you’re getting to know your newfound tribe members. Don’t go all in with the confessions on day one. Work friendships are oftentimes more fraught than finding fun dinner companions — you’re going to be discussing money, and insider information, and contract stipulations and be asked to keep secrets about deals. There are jealousies to manage, and expectations. You won’t all be at the same point in your careers at the same time. Choose your people wisely. 

And when you find those people you can trust with your life, hold them close, and don’t ever let them go. They are a huge component to your ultimate career success, and your sanity as you navigate the treacherous waters of creativity.

Do you have a tribe?

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Prolific or Consistent?

1.17.17 - Prolific or Consistent?

*Warning: JT’s version of math ahead.
 

The other day, someone told me how prolific I was.

I countered that I am not prolific, I am consistent, and there’s a huge difference. 

I know in many ways, I could be called prolific. I’ve managed to average two full-length novels a year (and by full-length, I’m talking 100,000 words plus) since I began writing over a decade ago, and I’m writing #19 as we speak. I recognize some people don’t do that many books over the course of a career, so by it’s very nature, that number automatically equates to being prolific.

But I’d argue I’m not at all prolific. I have friends who started out the same time as I did who are 10, even 20 books ahead of me. Hell, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a million words of fiction last year, compared to my 217,000. A million words. That, my friends, is prolific.

What I am comfortable with is a label of consistent. Over the course of the past several years, I’ve been tracking my numbers. Here’s a quick and dirty snapshot.

You can easily see why I’ve got 18 books under my belt— over the course of eight years, I averaged 628 fiction words a day. That’s approximately 229,220 words a year: about two novels and a couple of shorts.

Some years were better than others, clearly. When I started tracking in 2009, I was aghast at how little fiction I wrote, and swore to make up for it. Bu contrast, in 2014 I almost hit the 300,000 mark, and I ran myself ragged doing it. 

But I still don’t feel I’ve hit my potential as far as consistent daily word counts. I do shoot for 1000 words a day, five days a week. If I were to hit that goal consistently, I’d be able to churn out nearly three books a year with ease.

Of course, that’s not how life, and art, work. Everything can be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet, yes. But does that capture what’s really happening? I think we’d all love to be machines who could crank out the same stuff day after day, but life gets in the way. 

Loved ones pass away. Children need tending. Pets need cuddles. Day jobs are priorities for many of us. It’s the rare few who can transcend the mundane daily issues to truly become prolific, writing huge amounts of QUALITY words. 

Oh, I’d love to be among them, trust me. But I think I’ll probably stick with being consistent instead.

Just a thought for today. I’d love to hear what prolific authors you like to read. And how prolific is too prolific?

 

1.12.17 - Silence!

1.12.17 - Silence!

I came across this article from The Economist on Twitter the other day, and was compelled to click because I’d just had a conversation with my husband about my need for large swaths of silent time. 

I’ve long owned my natural introversion, but I think there’s something more fundamental at play. Perhaps it’s from growing up in a forest, perhaps it is the introvert in me (with more than likely a touch of Aspergers to boot…) but I really like silence. I like the quiet that comes from spending the day alone. I like the evenings we spend reading instead of watching television. They rejuvenate my spirit, and bolster my concentration levels.

Who knows why and whence it came, but the fact is, when there’s too much sustained noise around me, I get very frachetty. I can’t concentrate. My thoughts fracture. I find even the simplest tasks hard. I get snappish and annoyed easily, and of course, the work suffers. 

I loved the piece in The Economist because it felt like permission to be true to myself.

Do I want to hike to the top of a mountain and become a monk? Well, only sometimes. 😉 I dream of doing a silent retreat, but I would want to have my husband there to talk to at night. Does that defeat the purpose? I can’t imagine going more than a few hours without hearing his voice, and he mine. True love? Codependence? Who cares, it’s a fact. So the all-silent thing isn’t for me, I guess. I did get a kick out of the fact that the author of the piece thought a week-long silent retreat was going to be the best thing ever, and instead bailed and left after a day. 

Silence is not for everyone. 

I don’t see the boredom in silence. I see it as a state of being. A calm lake on a cloudless day. A snow-capped mountain set against a sapphire sky. A perfectly attuned book photograph on Instagram. Something that makes you pause in your day and say, “Wow, that is beautiful. I need to stop here and admire it for a moment.”

Your shoulders relax, you breathe a little deeper, your mood is bolstered. 

That’s what silence does for me.

I’ve always admired writers who can go to coffeeshops and work. I have a fun group of writers here who do just that, and I join them on occasion. They rack up word counts while I get business done. Emails, blogs, things I can do with half an ear cocked elsewhere. There are just so many people to look at, characters all. I find myself daydreaming about who they are, what there lives are like, what they do for a living, who loves them, who they love, why they’re in the coffeeshop at that particular moment… which is a great creative exercise, but it also means zero word counts, which defeats the purpose.  

Lately, especially, the computer itself is also an agent of noise, even when it’s not playing anything through the speakers. The screen clamors for attention, a siren’s call. The consumption of this particular kind of noise is devilish to me—a bargain that must be made. I need the research. I like the friendships. I adore the education.

But at the same time, this is why I’ve been working so hard to turn off my devices, to spend time in REAL silence, meditation and yoga, a general tuning in to the universe. It’s hard to tether a lifeline, but I’m finding it more and more rewarding to have these few hours of true silence in my life. 

This is probably why Cal Newport’s DEEP WORK feels so right to me, why I like to turn on Freedom and work. The quiet is permeable, an entity unto itself. It grows around me, a favorite blanket, allowing me to relax and create. To simply be. 

Something I don’t know that we do enough of. 

Are you the strong silent type?

1.5.17 - Choosing a Point Of View for Your Novel

1.5.17 - choosing a POV for your novel

I’m in the dreaded beginning of my next novel, and it’s been very slow going for the past month.

The first 25,000 words are always difficult for me (I believe I’ve compared it to pulling teeth) but this beginning in particular is being a pain in my butt. The point of view (POV) keeps wanting to shift, which tells me something is desperately wrong with the story. 

Normally I’d say it’s the story itself that’s the problem, but this time, I’ve completely outlined the book, from start to finish. I know the turns, the hooks, all of it. It’s a solid story, with a lot of subtleties (maybe too subtle to start, since I’m more used to writing wham bam thank you, ma’am beginnings, and I am exploring this as an issue). Maybe the outline and subtleties are a bit of the problem—my roadmap is too clear—but I think the real issue is the POV. 

There are five distinct POVs in this book: three women, Vivian, Lauren, and Juliet; one teenager, Mindy; and one male, Zach.   

Reason (and sanity) dictates I stick with close third for Lauren, Juliet, Mindy, and Zach. Vivian, for reasons that will go unmentioned at the moment, has a first person POV role of narrator. Which is all good. 

Except…

Lauren started talking in first person. And that confused the voice for Vivian in my head. 

I normally write in what I like to refer to as close third. It is a version of third person, past tense. Almost all my books are written this way. It’s a wonderful POV, very straightforward and easy to navigate.

What do I mean by close third? You, the reader, are very close to the character. So close that I could easily intersperse “me” and “I” for “she” and “her” and you might not notice right away. We are deeply inside the character’s head, observing and experiencing in real time, but I also have the ability to observe from outside, move into memories, and move to other character’s POVs. 

e.g.:

First person, present tense: I enter the room and see the bed is on fire. Smoke chokes the air from the room. I am terrified. I turn and run, slamming the door behind me. Juliet calls to me, her voice a beacon.

Third person, present tense: Lauren enters the room and sees the bed is on fire. The smoke is thick; she can’t see or breathe. She is terrified, and rushes away, slamming the door behind her. Juliet calls to Lauren, her voice a beacon.

First person, past tense: I entered the room only to see the bed was on fire. Heavy smoke permeated the air, making it hard for me to see. Terrified, I ran from the room, slamming the door behind me. Juliet called to me, her voice a beacon.

Close third: Lauren entered the room and saw the flames dancing, shredding the bedclothes. The smoke was thick enough to make her eyes tear, and she rushed out, terrified, slamming the door behind her. She could hear Juliet calling, her voice a beacon.
 

First person is always going to be the most intimate. But it’s limited to that person’s view alone. I can’t see what Mindy is thinking, or Juliet. The observations are straightforward and immediate. It’s not my typical novel form, and I don’t feel terribly confident in it for something long-form. Short stories, sure. But a whole novel? I fear it won’t hold up.

I switched to close third for Juliet’s first scene, and it felt very comfortable. But when I tried that for Lauren, it didn’t. Lauren was still speaking in first person, present tense. 

So I’ve been dithering for a couple of weeks now, wrestling with these changes in voice. WTF, right?

Finally, I started complaining that I’ve been stuck, and then sought out the advice of a couple of friends, one of whom read two chapters, one in each format. She affirms what my gut was saying—it was too jarring to move from close third, past tense to first person, present. I know authors who can do it. I’m not one of them.

So this morning I set out to change Lauren back to close third.

Of course, she didn’t like that at all. She wants to be heard, and heard immediately. 

And oddly, a whole new POV cropped up. Currently, she’s in third person, present tense (see above). Things are unfolding through her eyes in real time. It puts a bit of a crimp in my style as far as the other characters, but the intimacy is there, and I think we’re going to have to be in her head in some way for her story to have the proper impact.

This may all change another ten times before I finish. Storytelling is generally not this much of a struggle for me, so I’m still looking closely at why I’m having a hard time kicking things off. I’ve been blaming it on the research, of which I did copious amounts today, and that helped me leapfrog to the spot where the story really begins.

Which begs the question—have I, as I am wont to do, started in the wrong place? One of the big differences between thriller and domestic noir is the slower unfurling of information. Domestic noir isn’t as in-your-face upfront as the thrillers I’m used to writing, especially at the beginning. There’s a hook, for sure, but this one isn’t a drop-a-body-on-page-two kind of story. Not in the way you’re used to from me, that is.

This does have a wham bam opening, it’s just a little quieter and different than my normal, so I’m probably being too hard on myself.

Regardless, I will continue questioning myself and my story. Am I trying to be too omniscient? Not omniscient enough? And what’s with this chick wanting us to be inside her head? It’s not a great place, I’ll tell you that up front.

No matter what happens, it’s a chance to grow as a writer, for sure.

What do you think about POV? Do you have a favorite style?

2016 Annual Review

Welcome to my annual review!

For the past several years, I’ve been doing annual reviews of my life and work, based on the format from Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris’s system is exceptionally detailed, more so than I really need, but the gist is there. It’s a great system for those of us who are self-employed and want to do an assessment of our work for the year. Here’s the link to the actual post. Go on over there and take a read. I’ll wait.

And if you're interested, here are the links to my previous annual reviews for 200920102011, 201220132014 and 2015.


2016 SUMMARY

It’s hard to quantify things sometimes, but on the whole—2016 goes down as the best year I’ve had since I started writing. All the hard work of the past decade seemed to pay off at once, which was both gratifying and frightening, because dear God, what have I gotten myself into? Be careful what you wish for, right?

I spent too much time on the road, and definitely didn’t write enough, but had a major first for me: creative satisfaction. I finally feel like I’m hitting the mark with my work. And that gives me so much hope and excitement for the years ahead. Who knew giving up my biggest goal would allow it to get within my reach?

I’ve been in this game for nine years now, and over that time, I've learned a very important and valuable lesson: writing what you love, what scares you, and what you think is going to get you in the most trouble, is the way to go. My training wheels are off. I’m riding free and easy. And I haven’t been this excited and happy about my art since my debut year. That’s what 2016 gave me. And what a gift it is.


2016 - THE YEAR OF LENT


MY GOALS FOR LAST YEAR
 

This is the year I let go of all my earlier goals and preconceptions and live in the moment, focusing on controlling what I can control and not worrying about things out of my immediate control. No more striving, no more craving. As always, trying to make do with what I have, reading books I've already bought, minimizing clutter, allowing for better organization. I want to learn how to be more present, more involved in the now, which means more yoga and meditation. Taking all I've learned about writing and productivity and putting it into action. And letting go of the idea that I can't work on more than one project at a time, which is simply resistance. Continue meaningful and satisfying connections with friends and readers, be a good boss, a good wife, a good reader and writer, and learn how to sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

WHAT WENT RIGHT


All in all, I have to say, 2016 was a raging success in terms of sticking to my plan. I was absolutely more present, absolutely more focused. I worked very hard on tending my own garden and breaking a lot of bad habits. Professionally and personally, I feel like I got a handle on my self-destructive/procrastination issues, especially using the internet as a tool for avoidance. That’s gone. No more. And it has created so much space that I didn’t realize I was missing.

In terms of the good things that happened, it was a magical year.

I released six books in 2016, two original novels (NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES); three paperbacks (THE END GAME, NO ONE KNOWS, FIELD OF GRAVES); and released my first print short story collection through Two Tales Press, THE FIRST DECADE.

A WORD ON WORDS was reupped for a second season, and the first season was nominated for an Emmy®! It was an incredible year on the show, with awesome authors and a fabulous crew. 

Catherine and I moved to Gallery with Nicholas and Mike at the end of 2015, and I’m loving everything about our new home. THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE is out next March, and it is hands-down my favorite book in the series to date.

I also signed a new deal with MIRA Books for another new standalone, and am doing a slight creative pivot to allow myself time to write both standalones and series books with them. Which is Very Exciting Stuff, as I’ve always wanted to write standalones. I have four books to come from MIRA, which is excellent news for all the Taylor and Sam fans out there and for the standalone fans.

My secret project from last year became my new standalone novel — LIE TO ME will be out next September 5. I’m hopeful it is a breakthrough novel for me. I know it was for the art. The sense I had when I completed it was utterly unfamiliar, until I realized it was creative satisfaction. It’s eluded me for a very long time, really since Jade’s passing five years ago, so I was relieved and grateful to have it back.

Amy has continued to be a godsend. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such an amazing right hand — because she’s much more than her titles — but under her steady leadership, I’ve felt more and more comfortable sticking with writing and interactions. (A note for writers here: you need someone to help. You really do. Even on an ad hoc basis for certain projects, clearing mind space for your work is a necessity. I’ve talked at length about ways to do this, from interns from your local colleges to virtual PAs. Trust me, it’s worth it.)

 

WHAT WENT WRONG
 

This list of what I didn’t do well is, as usual, long and varied:

  • I didn’t hit my word count goal
  • I didn’t read enough books
  • I definitely didn’t lose any weight
  • I lost my yoga practice
  • I didn’t play enough golf and my handicap went up (ugh)
  • I allowed myself to be distracted by things that didn’t matter and were out of my control

The biggest downside was the travel—as happened last year, I was on the road pretty much continuously from March to November. I had a several-month stretch where I wasn’t home for more than 2 weeks at a time, and there was a moment when we were actually counting down the events: only 10 more, only 9 more, 8 more…  I was unbelievably stressed by all the commitments I’d made.

This year, that is not going to happen. I'm putting real constraints on myself, curtailing appearances and declining opportunities. I simply have to stay home and write for a while, and focus all my attention on my work. It's selfish, I know, but art is selfish. I've resolved to unapologetically focus on me and mine for a while.

But the thing is, the positives of 2016 outweighed the negative so far that I can’t even start to complain. I am four years removed from my All Is Lost moment, when I seriously considered whether I should be doing this at all, and I am exceedingly grateful I didn’t give up.

 

NERDOLOGY - AKA THE NITTY GRITTY
 

Though it wasn’t my most productive year, I did complete two new books: THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE with Catherine, and my own standalone, LIE TO ME, plus started a new standalone novel, wrote three brand-new short stories, and started another.

2016 Word Total: 877,650
Fiction Total: 217,228
Non-Fiction Total: 126,882
Email: 533,600
Fiction Percentage: 25%
Books Read: 66 (of a goal of 70)

2015 Fiction Total: 203,749 (Fiction 28%)
2014 Fiction Total: 291,114 (Fiction 36%)
2013 Fiction Total: 270,000 (Fiction 34%)
2012 Fiction Total: 265,000 (Fiction 34%)
2011 Fiction Total: 252,300 (Fiction 35%)
2010 Fiction Total: 198,383 (Fiction 32%)
2009 Fiction Total: 135,738 (Fiction 27%)

It wasn't my most productive year. I failed to meet my 400,000 word count goal for fiction. With all the external commitments, it’s not a surprise, though I was disappointed in the final numbers. This year will be better. I’m setting a hard and fast goal of 300,000, and I will meet it. That equals three novels. Two are already deadlined, and I have to get ALL FALL DOWN done too. Those three books should take me right to the goal.

I went all over the country on two different book tours, one for NO ONE KNOWS and one for FIELD OF GRAVES. All of the events were fun and interesting, and I fell in love all over again with several wonderful indie bookstores.

The books themselves were very well received this year, too: 

  •   2 Okra Picks (NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES)
  •   1 Starred PW review (FIELD OF GRAVES)
  •   1 Starred Booklist review (NO ONE KNOWS)
  •   1 Romantic Times Top Pick (THE END GAME)
  •   1 Book of the Month Club Pick (NO ONE KNOWS)
  •   1 USA Today (!) showing (for reprint of ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)
  •   The Brit in the FBI books hit the top ten of all the bestseller lists
  •   One more awesome thing that's secret until sometime this week...


Really, I can’t ask for more than that!

I made several changes to my daily accountability processes, including starting a spreadsheet specifically for my non-fiction. It made this process so much easier. I felt like my non-fiction was more successful this year because I pulled back on the quantity and focused on quality, something that will continue into 2017 and beyond. I also started tracking social media reach in a sustainable way, and was happy to see a lot of growth in the newsletter, which has become the staple of our outreach. Hey, we own it, unlike other networks. I have very specific goals for it next year; we’ll see how I do.

Something else I need to look at—my email number is apparently the equivalent of five nice, meaty novels. I think that number, though an estimate, may be high. My calculations assume all things are equal, and runs the average from the number of emails sent (in this case, 5530 emails * 100 words). Of course, that’s not always accurate. Some emails were short, some were long, some were goofy meme wars. I’m not too bothered by the idea of 5 novels worth of email, because Amy and I do 90% of our work through email. And I don’t track texts, so those will more than make up any deficiencies on my end. That said, I do know I need to limit my email consumption and output. Noted for the future.

I also abandoned my first adopted status. I was able to get into a great bullet journal method, which I’ll be discussing at length in the coming year. I relied heavily on Scrivener, Freedom, and Wunderlist, and got a new laptop for Christmas, which I predict will help my productivity tremendously. In case you’re interested, I did a permanent link to my Writer’s Tools here on the site. I’ve streamlined and am very happy with my system now. It’s simpler, easier to manage, and doesn’t rely on trying every new thing that comes down the pike.
 

2017 - THE YEAR OF FLOW

MY GOALS FOR THIS YEAR
 

After purposefully pulling back from external commitments, 2017 is the year I give my art my full attention again by staying home and working on my writing habit. Consistent writing brings me great contentment, and that is my goal for 2017 — contentment through consistency. This applies to more than just writing; it is my personal goal as well. Staying home allows for regular habits to grow and thrive — not just writing, but yoga, golf, friendships, minimalism for the house, and lots of regular, protected deep work time. This deep work practice will create great flow, allowing me to focus and challenge myself in my work.

Home. Deep Work. Consistency. Contentment. 

These are such simple words, to go along with my simple goals.

  • I am going to stay home and write this year.
  • I am going to challenge myself to write more.
  • I am going to increase my deep work time.
  • I am going to lose myself in my habits.
  • I am going to regain my yoga practice.
  • I will create flow.
  • I will not allow external distractions rule me.

How am I going to achieve these goals? To start, I’m not scheduling anything on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays in order to create the space I need to write. I have a productivity course I’m going to take in January called “Zen and the Art of Work.” It’s the perfect way to start my year, in a contemplative and meditative examination of my productivity. I have arranged to go to a yoga class on Fridays to enforce my desire to reboot my practice. I’m already walking three miles per workout regularly, I’m going to add two more days a week.

What do I hope will come out of these goals?

Well, in addition to being more bendy and in better cardiovascular health, I want to finish three books. I will finish THE LOST ONE by April. I’ll finish Nicholas Drummond #5 by November. And if I get some free time in there, I will keep working on the new Samantha Owens, ALL FALL DOWN. And then, who knows what might happen? There could even be another secret project in the mix.  😊

I’m also going to take a real vacation, with no writing, somewhere overseas where I can truly allow myself to detach. Ireland, maybe. Or Spain. Someplace I’ve never explored before so I’ll want to be present and engaged. A beach with a pile of books would work, too.

I have two original novels releasing, two short story collection re-releasing, and a big surprise from Two Tales in the Fall. And I will continue mentoring new authors, helping my friends, and being a contributing member of the writing community, so long as my work is done first. It’s a relatively quiet year, considering. Fall will inevitably ramp up because of LIE TO ME's release, but that's 9 months away.

"Do. Or do not. There is no try."

Yep.  

That’s what the “Year of Flow” means to me. Doing. Lots and lots of doing.

It sounds very simple, and I hope it will be easier than I think. Thanks for helping cheer me along! Happy New Year!


The Deets: 2016 Writing