stevemedcroft.com
16Jan/190

10 Ways to Procrastinate Your Way to Writing Success

The author looking writerly (but streaming a UFC fight on YouTube for inspiration instead)

A day in the life of a real writer

It's one of those mornings. You have an assignment due or you're one chapter away from finishing the draft of a novel you're working on. Your goals for the day are set. You need to focus. You need to get to work. You need to hammer the words out on the forge of your creativity, polish them to a reflective luster, and send them into the world to be received with love and joy possibl some way to make money.

I've looked over the shoulders of hundreds, maybe even thousands of writers and from what I've observed (don't ask me how because I will simply refer you to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution). I watched the sweat fizzle on their brows, the blood tear in their eyes, and the words flow onto pages and screens. I've felt their joy as complicated yet beautiful language wove its way into existence from their amazing creative brains.

After exhausting analysis of people who classify themselves as writers, I am convinced that anyone can be. A. Writer. Do you want to be a writer? It's pretty easy. Just say "I Am A Writer" out loud, and you're on your way. All that's left (based on the common set of behaviors of those of us who call ourselves writers) is to make a plan to write something, then sit down every once in a while with the intention to write and follow these simple daily steps and you'll be as much of a writer as any of us.

Write anything other than your current project - If, when you sit down to write at your appointed time (be that 5 am or the 15-minute sliver of time while you wait at the gate for your flight to Madison, Wisconsin for a one hour meeting that will consume two days of travel time) you have energy, enthusiasm, and creativity available for the immediate Work In Progress (WIP), you're missing the opportunity to get some unrelated writing done. Write in your journal instead. Write a blog post and send it onto the Internet for your reader to praise you over. Write an outline for a new project that is even more inspiring than the one you should be working on, so you can abandon the WIP rather than face the danger of it actually being finished and having to go out into the world for judgment day.

No self-ordained writer worth the bottled ink in their fountain pen writes if there are chores to do.

Clean something. Be sure your house is clean before you write. No self-ordained writer worth the bottled ink they use in their fountain pen writes if there are chores to do, especially chores they would not otherwise get to. Surely you can find a trash can that needs a new liner? Remember that shelf-liner you bought seventeen months ago, the one that's sitting propped in the corner of the garage like a bow staff waiting to be called upon for battle against marauding invaders? As long as it sits there, you shouldn't sit at your desk. As long as anything exists in your home that belongs at Goodwill, no writer would possibly do their work.

Study writing - One way that many writer's use their writing time is to read books about writing. or watch videos about writing. Or get together in groups to give and receive praise or condemnation of other's writing. This is important mental work and can't be understated. Real writers harden themselves for the future they hope will come through the time-tested methodologies of comparison, overconsumption, and projection of your fears onto an unlikely prospective future.

Stephen King at his writing desk (sometime in the 80's)

Organize your writing space - No writer worth the price of their annual Grammarly subscription would ever sit down to work unless their writing space was the perfect and ideal version of itself. Having the perfect environment to write is a must for writers, and there are strict standards you must follow to be a real writer. You need either an elegant roll-top desk in a roomy home office under a southern-facing window, or an L-shaped desk crammed into a disorganized dark nook piled high with papers and books you plan on reading. The only other acceptable writing desk configuration for the real writer is the nomad setup; a plush lounge chair in a bustling and overpriced urban coffee shop, your Apple MacBook Pro open on your lap, a pair of Beats over-ear noise-canceling Headphones draped casually over your head, a Rhodia notebook and LAMY Studio fountain pen tucked into the Timbuk2 Spire Laptop nestled between your feet.

Check your phone - Every social-media account must be checked repeatedly. You might have missed something.

Watch Season Six of Project Runway - Substitute any show on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Vudu, CBS All-Access, or the six hundred seventy-nine other video subscription services you stream from for my specific recommendation (although season six of Project Runway is worth the binge). Based on the behavioral observations of writers at work, these shows provide numerous benefits to the creative process. For maximum benefit, they must be absorbed in their entirety, in as few sittings as possible (preferably one sitting). A real writer knows that in order for their work to remain current and relevant, it is impossible to stay relevant without consuming as much popular streaming television as possible.

Take a day trip - Life is short. Experiences are more valuable than things. Travel is the greatest teacher. Before you sit down to write and let life pass you by, there are certain things that you must get out of the way. Writers know not to lock themselves into the horror and drudgery or their work until they have shaken free of their mental lists of things they want to see and do "one day." Didn't someone once tell you that the tacos at that truck in that farming community forty miles up the highway were life changing? Writers know that commitment to the craft means a commitment to living. You can only write what you know. And if you don't really know those tacos are transcendental, then action must be taken before real writing can be done.

Take a nap - From the National Sleep Foundation: "As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived... While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance. Nappers are in good company: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap." Who can argue with that? Nap approved!

Stock up on supplies - The worst thing that can happen to a writer, based on my observations of their behavior, is to run out of supplies half way through a writing session. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to start the flow of words onto a screen or page. Bringing the process to a halt mid-session could cause a writer valuable lost production. It could be days, weeks, even months before they tap the vein of inspiration again. When the rare urge to write overwhelms these delicate artists, be sure, make absolutely sure, there is nothing that can them off Mother Creativity's teat. I don't just mean make sure there are empty pages ready to fill and ink for the pen, but be sure the charger for the laptop is plugged in, coffee beans await the grinder, the phone is fully charged, and enough snacks to satisfy Justin Bieber's green-room contract rider are in arms reach. Oh, and while we're at it, do you need to replace any worn socks? Are you out of shampoo? Did you remember to put candles under the sink in case there's a power outage? Don't think too much about it. When you get the urge to write, just go to the store, you'll find something you need.

Real writers know that the best time to start new, life-changing health and wellness programs is right before you need to get cracking on a writing project.

Finally, start a work-out program - You know how you're always saying you really want to adopt a regular exercise routine? Do you need to lose a few pounds? Do you want to tighten up for a class reunion, or flatten the belly for a wedding you may or may not be going to in a couple of months? Real writers know that the best time to start new, life-changing health and wellness programs is right before you need to get cracking on a writing project you've had floating around for a while.

Bonus, 11th suggestion - Do none of the first ten things - In all my observations of writers at work, there is the occasional anomaly; the writer who actually sits down and gets the work done every day. You can spot them easily. They are the writers who parade their finished work -- their published books, their successful screenplays, their bylines in magazines and newspapers -- gleefully, like the parents of a needy third grader displays their participation trophies in the living room like their kid won the Nobel peace prize. Honestly, you have nothing to learn from these people. They are boring. They routinely show up at their desks and write as if they are punching a clock at a book-making factory. They keep regular hours. They accomplish specific word-count goals. They complete projects on time. They don't even wait for inspiration (some even claim that inspiration is something you turn on inside yourself by writing, not by waiting to smell it like the perfume left in a room after someone wearing it has left).

I hope you found this writing self-help post useful. If I missed any insight into how real writer's work that those of us who aspire to write full time can learn from, please share it in the comments section below. And get back to work (if, of course, there's not something else you'd rather do first).

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13Jan/190

Design your ideal work habit

Can we program our brains like a computer to do the work that will get us to our dreams?

Create a repeatable daily process to get your most important work done

What were you put on this earth to do? What is your purpose? What do you want to accomplish with your precious, albeit short, life? And are you doing the work you know you need to do every day to realize your dream?

If it only took intelligence or raw talent to achieve our goals, success would be so much easier. But because (except for the extremely fortunate) success requires that we apply ourselves and work really hard for our dreams, they seem out of reach at times.

My biggest challenge is that even though I know what I need to do every day to pursue my lifetime goals (write, publish, and promote my work), I battle with myself to get my work done. I wake every day with the intention to write, with a long list of ideas and even professional writing commitments, then I open my phone, check email, look at what's new on YouTube or Netflix and before I know it, my intention is buried under a day's worth of distractions. Without a process to get the necessary work done every day, reaching my goals is taking a very long time.

When I avoid those distractions and lean into a block of writing time, I am actually productive. I use the Pomodoro method to work in twenty-five-minute bursts of intense focus. I can make 2,000 words of progress on my novel, stay well-ahead of my copywriting deadlines, even draft, polish, and post an entire blog post in one two or three-hour early-morning writing session. So long as I write before I do anything else that day.

I could blame the world for my lack of progress -- it is filled with distraction after all (damn you high-speed Internet access!). I could blame my family (we all need to eat and have that pesky roof over our heads after all). I could blame my job (why do they need actual results for the money they invest in me?). But none of those things are the reasons I haven't achieved my writing goals.

No one is going to hand your dream to you

No one else in the world cares if we accomplish my personal goals. It affects no one. At the end of time, what we chose to accomplish or not accomplish with my flicker of our lifetimes won't make a difference to how it all ends. I alone need to accomplish what I feel I am on this earth to accomplish. I need to do it because what I am asking to happen only affects my life's experience.

It comes back to intention. I talk a good game, but unless I follow up my intention with actual work, I will always fall short of my ambitions. Successful people apply their talents and skills in clear, repeatable, and consistent ways. Accomplished people have a process to follow so they get things done. They are disciplined. They show up and do their work. They learn and iterate They stay their course.

Since intention is not enough for me to avoid my own productivity traps, I need to create a system, a process to make sure that I do the right things for myself every day. But how? How do you do create a work process that overcomes your lazy habits and programming?

This tattoo on my forearm is a reminder to work every day toward my writing dreams.

The epiphany for me was to think of my mind as a computer. In computing, algorithms (software code) are used to make computers perform all kinds of repeatable tasks for us. The computer is not smart or talented or focused, it is simply a machine executing the tasks programmed into it. Computers aren't subject to self-doubt and distraction, they just perform the commands given them. What I wanted for myself was a computer-style program I could run in my brain every day, an algorithm, a set of instructions to execute in a repeatable loop that led to a specific result (writing work output).

Re-writing your brain's programming to get shit done

To create the most-efficient work process, we first have to know ourselves. What time of day works best for us (are you mentally freshest in the morning or does your creativity flow best after everyone else is asleep)? How much time do we need to make progress (Can you spare an hour? Two? Five? What feels like the right amount of time you should spend on your work each day?) What environment suits you best (solitude and silence in the perfect home office, or the background bustle of a coffee shop).

We also need to know how we work. Are you task-oriented (make plans and lists and derive satisfaction from checking off tasks)? Are you goal motivated (thrive when there's a tangible reward at the end of the work)? Are you social (work best within a collaboration with lots of feedback) or introverted (need a cone of silence around you to work)? We need to design our process around our best flow. For me, it's tasks. I am most at peace when I get to check off a big list of things I needed to get done. I also enjoy the process of planning; set a goal, create a strategy for accomplishing the goal, create the tactical plan (tasks) to achieve the goal.

The final piece of the puzzle is to anticipate the potential barriers there are to the sustainability of your program and prepare in advance to manage them. For me, I needed to thwart what Steven Pressfield in The War of Art calls The Resistance; the inner voice that is constantly pulling us away from our creative work. I wanted a process that was so pre-planned, so clear a set of clear instruction, that it required me only to sit down at a certain time and follow it without overthinking. I want a recipe to follow, a formula, a paint-by-numbers approach to writing.

With my intention set, the best working time of day established, an understanding that I need task orientation, a calculation of the hours I can dedicate to writing, and an acceptance that the Pomodoro method is an ideal focus method for me, I wrote the following algorithm to reprogram my brain:

<PRIME - BEFORE BED> - Before I go to bed at night, I review my master writing task list (a OneNote page with lists of all my writing ideas). This master writing list contains every writing idea I have. Whenever I have a new writing idea, I add it to this list. They include copywriting and marketing assignments I need to deliver to clients, blog post ideas, article ideas for a personal project I'm developing, as well as fiction projects. The list could contain first-draft writing, editing, polishing, publishing tasks, any kind of writing work that leads to finished writing projects. Each night I set a specific intention for the next day to focus on five 'on deck' priority projects, sorted in order. Before I go to bed, I make sure I know exactly what writing I'll be doing in the morning, even typing up rough, bullet-point outlines. Planning the night before takes away all thinking in the morning. All I have to do is show up, put my fingers on the keyboard, set my timer, and write what the list says is next.

<START = WAKE UP> - This is the logical first step in my work block. I set Wake Up as the first step in the routine so that when I go to bed the night before, I know that when I wake up, I am immediately executing the writing algorithm. If I don't start at wake up, then I might allow myself to get pulled into distraction.

<MAKE THE BED> - I make my bed when I get up in the morning to declare to my mind that sleep time is over. It is a psychological act. I am also immediately priming myself by checking off a task that the time to complete tasks has begun.

<SHOWER and DRESS> - Again, this is psychological. I could wait to shower and dress until after the writing session is done, but by taking care of it first, I approach the writing desk ready for the rest of day. It becomes one less thing I have to stress over. Showering before working also gives me a few extra minutes to come fully awake, more time for my brain to prime for what's coming. And by avoiding any media, I give my mind fifteen minutes to ponder what I already know (because I prepared the night before) are the first writing assignments for the day.

<COFFEE> - I take a couple of minutes to make coffee before I sit down to the computer. Ritual? Need for caffeine? I don't even know at this point. All I know is that I like coffee, I draw satisfaction from the rhythm, and routine of making it, and by doing it before I start writing, I don't break my writing momentum by doing it halfway through my writing session.

<WRITING LOOP> - I use the Pomodoro method to focus when it's time to work. I've written about this before, but essentially the Pomodoro method is a system for removing all distractions. You set a timer for twenty-five minutes, work with complete focus on one task until the timer goes off, take a five-minute break, then start the timer for another Pomodoro. My first Pomodoro always starts with a handwritten page in my notebook/journal (about whatever is on my mind). For me, this opens the creative flow. I then switch straight to the first task on the 'on deck' writing list. I do five pomodoros in an unbroken block, working only on tasks from the master writing list. During the five-minute breaks, I get up and move around; let my mind work on the writing and let the blood in my body flow. I reward myself with five lovely marks in my notebook to record the session. And I get to check off any completed projects on the master writing task; both blissful, satisfying feelings.

<END SESSION> - I finish my writing algorithm with five minutes of filtering the email in my inbox. Checking and filtering email before I leave the house for work lets me commute without email stress. If I didn't have a plan to get to it, email would be on my mind all morning. I'll wonder if there is an important message waiting that must be taken care of right away (there ever is, but until I know for sure, the possibility creates anxiety)? By knowing that I have a specific time to check email before I move on to anything else for the day, I hold off that anxiety. My mind is at ease simply because I know I am going to get to it.

The whole routine takes me three hours from the moment I roll out of bed to the moment I walk out the door for work. That means I need to get up at 5:30 to leave the house at 8:30, which is not ideal for a non-morning person like me, but by sticking to this routine, I have had the least stress and most productive writing month of my life.

3Jan/190

The Writer’s Essential Toolbox

Stephen King at his writing desk (sometime in the 80's)

I love looking at photographs of famous writer's desks. Seeing the way another creative person works is pruriently fascinating. I can't be the only one. Websites dedicated to sharing famous writer's workspaces exist. Hashtags exist (#writersdesk). Kurt Vonnegut's wife Jill Krementz produced a book of photographs of writer's working spaces (the Writers Desk).

These images are like porn for a writer. Is Stephen King's desk cluttered or organized? Did Hemmingway write in pencil or typewriter? Does Dean Koontz use notecards to plot stories? It is so interesting to look at these images and try to glean some hint, some epiphany that can help my own journey as a writer.

But for all I absorb this kind of imagery, obsession over how other people write is just another way we put off getting to work ourselves. The truth is that I have long settled into my own way of working. Looking for the silver bullet to getting writing done in photographs of other writer's workspaces is just another form of procrastination. I have what I need; a simple set of tools that are essential to me sitting down and getting my writing work done every day. Yes, I have a desk (three actually; one at each day-job engagement I have and one half of the big kitchen table at home). But the desk does not determine the flow of my work. I prefer to be mobile. I write wherever my butt and my brain happen to be when it's time to get the writing done. My workspace is virtual. My workspace is this set of tools:

Good, old-fashioned pen and paper: The most basic tool in my kit is a notepad and pen. To be a writer (to communicate in the medium of language), we don't need anything more than this. Paper and a pencil. A typewriter and a clean sheet of copy paper. A notepad and a pen. I keep my version of these tools close by at all times because even though I am digitally organized, as a writer, capturing ideas and thoughts at the moment they occur is critical to my writing process. So long as you have a pen and some paper close by, you have the most essential tools a writer needs to get started on any project. Mainly because I thrive under the stability of routine and known things, I am a bit particular on which notepad and pen I use; soft-sided, medium-sized, lined notepads from an Italian company called Legami (because I just fucking love them) and a LAMY Studio fountain pen with a medium nib and blue/black ink.

Any old computer: You can't post an article on the Internet using a pad and paper or submit a handwritten manuscript to a publisher or client, so a computer is essential to writing. I use the Microsoft Surface Pro because it's light, it has cellular service built in (which gives me Internet access anywhere whether there is WiFi available or not) and has a strong enough battery that I can work 5-6 hours without recharging. You don't need something fancy though. The great thing about being a writer (compared to say, a photographer or graphic designer) is that we need very little computing power. I've written on an iPad, at a library desktop computer, on whatever company machine was assigned to me in my day jobs, even my smartphone. Anything from the cheapest used laptop to the best credit will buy you will work.

A word processor: We lived in blessed times. There are so many options for word-processing software, that there is the perfect option for everyone out there. It almost doesn't matter which one you choose. For my work, I use one of four.

  • Microsoft Word - I use MS Word for my professional writing (copywriting, marketing pieces, and blog posts for business clients). It's the most widely-used word processor in business, so I can supply finished work in Word to any client without the problem of them being able to access it.
  • Scrivener - Have you heard of Scrivener? (What? You haven't? And you call yourself a writer?) Don't worry, I hadn't heard of it either, even after years of pursuing writing. Scrivener is a stand-alone word-processor and writing-organization system that is perfect for long projects (like novels or non-fiction books). Whereas Word is organized as a single document for each written work, Scrivener is organized as folders containing individual written files that make up longer work (like chapters in a book). As well as all the word-processing functions a writer needs, Scrivener provides tools to create outlines, synopsizes, and manage research material (among other things). It even provides the ability to output work in a variety of formats (so you can output formatted files for printing or publishing on all the available platforms). There's more but I can't do it justice in this small space. Check out Scrivener for yourself if you're serious about writing in long form.
  • WordPress - I built my personal website and my humanbeing.earth project both using the free web-publishing platform from WordPress.org. Its built-in editor is perfect for writing web posts. You can dynamically move blocks of text around to get the right flow, add images, videos, links, and every other element you need to make your work sing online. WordPress offers the ability to create and save drafts, to publish immediately, or schedule posts to go live at a specific future time. It manages versions. It's a powerful writing tool. I draft right into WordPress for content that is going to live on either website.
  • Google Docs - For personal journals or documents that I want to share, I use Google Docs instead of Word. It's free, works like a charm, allows you to create, edit, and share documents whether or not you have an Internet connection, or not. If you don't have access to any of the above and just need a word processor, I recommend Google Docs.
This is it - everything I need to do my writing.

Grammarly: When I started writing, just out of high school in the mid (ahem) 1980's, you spell checked and added diversity to your writing using a printed dictionary and thesaurus. Computer-based world processing, with spell check and grammar functions built in, saved us from that laborious task and made the printed reference all but obsolete. The spell check and grammar functions within Word (and other software tools) are robust and you don't need much more to put out clean copy, but I have recently adopted a tool called Grammarly and recommend it highly. Grammarly is a service you subscribe to that then plugs into your browser and word-processors like Microsoft Word which provides running guidance to help you perfect your written language skills. beyond basic spelling and grammar checking, Grammarly provides you with robust feedback on sentence structure and language-flow problems. You also get data on the kinds of mistakes you make repeatedly (words you use more often than needed, the fact that I miss that serial comma almost every time). Grammarly has been like getting critique-group or editorial feedback on my work as I write. While I don't follow every piece of advice the service gives up, but it informs my writing continuously and I feel my work is stronger after running it through Grammarly than before.

A camera: I know this is counter-intuitive, but every writer needs a basic camera. Why? I write short pieces for web publication on my own websites and to post on third-party publishing platforms like Medium and LinkedIn. Web articles need an image to draw the reader's attention. Sure, you can source images online (like the one at the top of this article), but to avoid rights and usage problems, you're better off using a picture you take yourself (like the one in the middle of this article). The good news is you probably already have the camera you need - your smartphone. Modern smartphone camera's take excellent pictures, plenty good enough for online publication. If you're writing for print, the images need to be of higher resolution. When I need something better, I have a fixed-lens Fuju X100T (the digital equivalent of the 35mm reporter's camera). I use GIMP and DarkTable, both free equivalents of Photoshop and Lightroom, for photo editing.

A process: The best tool I developed for my writing was a simple, repeatable process for getting my work done. I know this is outside of the realm of the what's-on-your-writing-desk nature of this article, but having a work process is just as essential to my writing as a laptop or the right software. We all struggle with getting our writing done. We procrastinate. We get busy with all the other aspects of life. It's hard to put your butt in your seat and fingers on the keyboard some days, but the only true way to progress as a writer is to write. You have to put down words, and put those words out into the world, to get better. I am old enough and wise enough to know where I am weak about writing. I am weak if I let myself get distracted before I work (when I check email, when I go to the office first, when I check in with the news). I am weak when I tell myself I'll write later, after I just do this one thing (or ten things) first. I am weak if I think I'll really, really focus on writing tomorrow. I am best and happiest when I write first thing in the morning, before I do anything else that day. I am strong when I use to the pomodoro method to focus. I am strong when I take a minute to start a writing session with a handwritten warm-up page in my notebook. I am strong when I already have a plan, a task list of writing that needs to be done. To take advantage of where I am strong, and to defend against where I am weak, I have developed an algorithm than I run every morning to get my writing done. I think of myself like a computer, a machine that just has to follow this programmed routine. All I have to do is show up to my writing space and follow the program. No thinking, no negotiation with myself, just show up and follow the instructions. The program works like magic. The writing gets done and I go off into the rest of the day with the sense of satisfaction that the most important thing i want to accomplish in life was done that day. So long as I execute this three-hour morning routine every day, I trust that time and intention will equal a great amount of progress in my writing.

Feedback: The last essential item in my minimalist writing toolbox is feedback. I identify myself as a writer, a human being who uses writing to communicate thoughts, concepts, knowledge, ideas, and stories to the world. I write just for myself occasionally, but my ambition is that my writing is to be read. It is meant to have an audience. Writing is, like Stephen King says, telepathic communication, transmissions of thought from one person to another. I put down thoughts from my mind. Someone reads them and inputs them into their mind. For writing to be effective, the original thought must transfer as comprehensivley as possible. The only way for a writer to know if their work is being received as intended is to hear back from the reader. What did they think of the message? Did they understand it? Did it lead them to wonder, to think, to be inspired? Or was it confusing or uninetresting? Feedback is the only way to develop as a writer.

That's it. Those are my writing essentials, my virtual version of a writer's desk. If I boiled my writing life down to the bare essentials, everything with a purpose and nothing unnecessary, these are the things I need to be a writer.

What about you? What's your desk? What tools are essential to your writing?

31Dec/180

The HumanBeing.Earth project

For 2019, I am launching a new writing passion project called HumanBeing.Earth, the proper launch of an idea that has been perculating in my mind for several years now.

I have always felt that one aspect of writing I was good at was the interview. I wrote a lot of interviews in both narrative prose and Q&A style when I worked for Cyclingnews.com, and always felt that it was some of my best work. I also always felt like it was the most rewarding work - I got to help tell someone's story, someone who had accomplished something, someone who had inspiration and motivation to share, someone another person could relate to or look up to. My favorite interview was a Q&A with a world-class mountain-biker named Marla Streb, who had written a memoir about transitioning from a life of scientific research into professional athletics.

About three years ago, pondering my interview work one day, I had a spark of inspiration. The inspirational spark was that if aliens exist and they encountered earth, could a webste exist that gave them a positive view of human beings, one filled with stories of people overcoming obstacles, of reaching for goals, of pushing human knowledge forward.

I was sufficiently inspired that day to look up potential domain names for such a website and landed on an available domain of humanbeing.earth. It was so perfect. It seemed to say "Here we are! Human beings of Earth. There are seven billion of us, and we all have our own story."

I registered the domain that day. I could see exactly how the website should look - clean and with a focus on the subjects. Long articles, fully flushed out. With a clear message. A good, direct, black and white portrait image. Maybe a gallery of other photos that support the pitch of the piece.

But, I then talked myself out of the idea the next day. A year later, when the domain came up for renewal, I unchecked the auto-renew box to let the domain expire and didn't think about it again. Until...

What kind of writer are you?

In the past six months, I have been on an exploratory mission to try and work out what I want to do with writing. What kind of a writer am I? How can I use writing as my contribution to the world?

I published my first novel at the end of 2017 and spent much of the first half of 2018 picking away at my next one. But I was unsatisfied with the work. I joined a writer's group thinking I could workshop my way through the project, but I had fallen out of love with my current story. I was trying too hard to make myself a novelist. It wasn't coming naturally to me. I worried that I could spend a lifetime pursuing fiction and only make an average contribution to the world.

So I allowed myself to put that project aside and just write whatever came to mind. I wrote journal entries. I wrote blog posts. I took the copywriting assignments coming to me from one of the companies I work with seriously. And most of that work flowed quickly and was satisfying.

I learned that I could write easily, that measured up to my personal standard of professionalism, and that short pieces provided great satisfaction upon completion. I was onto something as a writer. I am better at shorter projects. I am better when I have several different ideas lined up and can create wherever the flow of writing takes me each day.

I wrote about my wife and I decluterring our house. I wrote copy for websites and catalogs. I wrote marketing emails and blog articles. Ideas for new pieces came easily. And as well as all the personal essays and paid copy work, I found myself continuously inspired to write about people. I met a guy at the bike shop who dropped a hundred pounds in one year riding his bike. I envisioned how I could adapt the podcasts I was listening to, which feature people talking about how the build their creative businesses from the Ground Up, etc. Everyday people all around me are doing amazing and interesting things!

And when I stumbled across information for a ghostwriting certification course, I got excited. It resonated. It clicked. I know what kind of writer I want to be. I want to write about people. I want to help them tell their stories.

And back came that same inspiration I had three years ago; feature articles that tell everyday people's stories, with a focus on what they have learned or accomplished that can be shared to help the rest of us.

Since my personal website is a hodgepodge of my personal interests and I didn't want to wipe it clean (again) and rebuild to serve this new set of content, I recalled the original domain name and website idea.

I logged in to my domain provider to see if I could re-register the humanbeing.earth domain and what the hell! It was already there? Already registered. To me! I took that as a sign and started planning out the next steps.

A mission-driven writing project

To kick this new project off right, I first need to clarify my mission statement, the summation of the brooding I have been doing for the past six months about what kind of writer am I? Here it is:

Personal Mission Statement: To use the gift of writing to help extraordinary as well as everyday people tell their stories to educate, motivate, inspire and elevate human consciousness.

That done, I think it's important to clarify the mission for the new project itself. So here's that:

The mission of HumanBeing.Earth: There are more than seven billion human beings alive today. I believe that every one of us has a story to share that can bring great and positive value to the world.

We so often focus our attention and energy on only the top, most public achievers in any area of human pursuit, but some of the most amazing people doing the most inspiring things operate with little or no attention.

The website HumanBeing.Earth is a place to help extraordinary as well as everyday people tell their stories, share their lessons, challenges, struggles, and successes, with the hope that the articles positively elevate human consciousness.

What's left now is to figure out who the first feature will be written about, then let the design and the promotional strategies flow from there.

What do you think? Comment below if you support me on this project. Or if you think I'm off-base somehow.

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27Nov/180

What kind of editor do you need?

I blew $1,500 on a copy editor to help me make Succubus the best novel I could produce, only to realize I needed a different kind of edit altogether. 

Independent authors hire professional editors

When you map out the professional process it takes to produce high-quality, long-form fiction or non-fiction, there comes a point where you need someone other than yourself to edit your work. A professional editor can catch errors, check for consistency and readability, provide direction, and highlight ares of the work that need improvement; find the grammatical and spelling errors that would distract a reader from the message of your work.

In the traditional publishing world (where you are awarded a contract business who will publish your work), that editing is a service provided by your publisher. For my two non-fiction books, my publisher provided a full-service edit when I turned in the manuscript. I received feedback and had approval over the final changes, but the task of choosing and working with the editor was my publisher's responsibility.

A typical workflow for authors working independently (where you put your work directly into publishing marketplaces like Kindle and Kobo), is to hire a freelance editor ahead of publication. For my novel Succubus, which I published to Kindle, I hired an editor directly. It worked like this: After I completed what I considered my very best draft (multiple revisions), I went online and searched for recommendations. I selected three potential editors, submitted pages for a sample edit, made my final choice, and booked into their schedule. The total cost was about $1,500 and two three weeks from time I submitted my draft.

The money I spent was an investment. I made it in the hope that it would help me write a better book. I intended to use what I learned to grow as a writer as well, to look for repeated corrections that show me what fundamental flaws I have in my writing style.

When I reviewed my edited manuscript, every page had suggestions. She caught grammatical errors, corrected some formatting issues she found, spotted duplicate words, etc. It felt like a thorough run-through. I was happy to see that she did the work. But, ultimately, I felt like I didn't get what I expected and I was disappointed.

What I didn't get (and what I really wanted) was any kind of global feedback on the story itself. What did the editor think worked about the story. What didn't work. Did she think I should add or change anything? Were the characters believable? Should I work on my dialogue? Description? Narration?

Choose the right kind of editor to move your writing forward

To edit Succubus, I had hired a copy editor. I didn't know that there were distinctly different kinds of edits I should have considered, and I had chosen the wrong one. In broad strokes, there are four different kinds of edit you could hire for book projects. Each one provides a different review of your work. Each one provides unique benefits. When you seek a partnership with an editor, it is essential to be clear on what kind of edit you're looking for.

  • Developmental edit - a broad review of your manuscript by a professional editor. Expect a developmental edit to provide feedback on your story structure, adherence to genre, include comments on tone, setting, dialog, etc. A developmental edit is intended to provide you with professional guidance on how the book is shaping up, and to give you actionable course-corrections to take into your next revision.
  • Copy edit - A more thorough review of the story than the developmental edit, a copy edit will focus on language and story flow. This kind of edit will include grammatical and other usage corrections. You might get elemental questions on your settings and dialog. You might see changes to the order of paragraphs or chapters intended to make the story stronger. You may also received notes and comments on sections to cut or that need to be fleshed out.
  • Line edit - an intense, line-by-line copy edit focused on sentence-by-sentence wording. The line edit will be the most thorough run-through of the manuscript. It will include grammar, spelling and usage corrections. A full line edit will likely not include notes on story or structure, but focus specifically on the mechanics of your writing.
  • Proofreading - even if you have revised your manuscript several times and paid for a professional edit, the last step before hitting the publish button is making dead sure there are no errors left for the reader to discover. Proofreading is the editorial step where someone clears the book of lingering typos or grammatical and  punctuation mistakes. This edit is not intended to introduce new ideas or corrections, just to read through the final, printable project and make sure it's as perfect as it can be before the rest of the world gets their hands on it.

My $1,500 investment in Succubus was not completely wasted. Even though what I needed when I hired a copy editor was a developmental edit first, I learned the valuable lesson to clearly define what kind of edit to pay for as I work on my next fiction project. I hope learning from my mistake helps you when it's time to get editorial help for your book-length project.

 

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