Writing Resources


National Novel Writing Month logo

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is one of the most well-known writing events out there. Every November, NaNoWriMo challenges you to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. People hold local write-ins in their communities, meet other local writers, and write like crazy.

And it’s hugely popular. Every November, every author community becomes NaNo central. Heck, I’ve had people who aren’t writers at all ask me if I’ve done “that NaNo thing.”

Despite this, I’ve never seriously considered doing it. I tried once–half-heartedly, for a week–during NaNo 2002, but it really wasn’t for me. And why is that?

Well, it depends on what your goals are.

When I didn’t know how to write a novel, NaNoWriMo was really stressful.

NaNoWriMo is a trial by fire. That’s the whole point of it. Hitting 50K in 30 days means you have to average 1,667 words a day every day of the month, without stopping. It’s not an impossible number, but it’s relentless, and missing just a few days can leave you struggling to catch up.

But when I was new to writing, NaNo was… agonizing.

I didn’t outline. I had never finished a book. I didn’t know story structure. I did write then, but I was all over the place–“writing,” to me, meant coming up with a half-cool concept and immediately starting on Chapter 1. I didn’t plan anything.

Consequently, I had no coping mechanisms:

  • How do you know what comes next?
  • What do you do when you run out of ideas?
  • What’s the difference between fluff and meaningful story development?
  • How do you break a big idea into a smaller, linear sequence of events?
  • How do you write the middle of a book without it dragging?
  • How do you finish a book? (Not like I ever finished anything back then.)
  • For that matter, how do you start a book?

For NaNo 2002, I did what I always did: I wrote 3 chapters, didn’t know what to do next, and quit.

NaNoWriMo is promoted as a great way to force yourself to write a novel if you–like so many people in the world–have an idea you want to write, but have never gotten around to doing it. It forces you to put in the hours and time to learn the process.

For some people, this is a great way to finally get their butts in a seat and learn this thing they’ve been putting off forever. It’s hard, and they struggle, but it makes it all the cooler when they finish.

But I’m not a “learn on a deadline” kind of person. If I don’t know how to do something and you give me a deadline, I panic. NaNo felt like failure to me. It was a great, big, glowing reminder that I had no clue what I was doing.

I needed to learn how to write every day, forever.

What helped me the most was creating a regular writing habit.

NaNo is not sustainable (at least for most people.) 12,500 words a week is a pretty high number for someone who doesn’t write for a living. But since I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to make writing part of my life, I needed a schedule that I could do forever. Every day. For the rest of my life.

And that was much, much less than 12,500 a week. Heck, even now I average somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 a week. When I started, it was closer to 3-4K.

Almost immediately, I started finishing novels. And since I didn’t have a deadline, so I couldn’t “fail.” I could take all the time I needed to learn.

This scheduled worked out so well that I didn’t feel like I needed NaNo. I usually finish an 80K to 100K novel in 4 months. Four months! That’s not terrible at all! And since NaNoWriMo pushes you to do 50K in a month, which isn’t even a full-length novel for most genres, I could win NaNo and still not finish a novel. I’d have to keep going another month.

So I’d be doing a 4 month project in 2 months. In exchange, I’d be stressing myself out. Was that actually worth it?

For a long time, it wasn’t.

But now that I have several projects under my belt, it seems like an interesting idea.

I’m in a very different place than I was 15 years ago. I’ve written several novels and have one published. And now that I actually know how to write a novel semi-quickly, there are some actual benefits to NaNo:

  • I have too many projects I want to do right now. This is the big one. I’m almost ready to query a novel (which could potentially have sequels), I have a new series bouncing around in my head, and… of course, there’s the book I already have out. Which ends on a cliffhanger. Oof. Too many books! If I wrote these all at my normal pace, I’d be done with all three books in 2021. Ahh!
  • I could make some local friends!
  • Since I already have a strong writing habit, writing 12.5K a week is less of a life-changing sacrifice and more of a manageable increase in my workload.
  • And, most importantly… since my next novel is going to be at least 80,000 words, I don’t honestly care if I win NaNo or not, since this project would take at least 2 months anyway. If I hit 40K and got halfway done, that’d still be twice what I do in a normal month.

So here’s what I’m doing this month.

I’m writing a sequel to Justice Unending. So, uh, all you people who keep writing reviews that include the phrase “I’m looking forward to the sequel”? It’s in the works.

My goal is to get at least 40,000 words into it, which’d put me in an excellent position to finish a first draft in December. If I actually hit 50K? Sweet. But I’m not going to kill myself.

My main goal is to actually meet writers in the area. I’m capable of writing a novel already, but I am absolutely abysmal at getting out of the house. So that’s one of my main goals! I’m going to go to at least one write-in, and preferably more.

Because of this, blog posts will be few and far between this month. But I’ll toss in an update every now and then, even if it’s just on Twitter.

And if you’re doing NaNo this month, good luck and have fun!

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Screenshot of the Goodreads Giveaway for Justice Unending.I finished my very first Goodreads giveaway last week, and it was was awesome. Since it’s still fresh in my mind, this seems like a great time to share what I learned.

Let’s get to it!

You are going to need print copies of your books.

Goodreads only has one way to do giveaways at the moment, although that’s changing in the near future.

  • Print Giveaways. This is all you can do right now. They’re also free. (Well, “free.”) First, you have to get several physical copies of your own book. Then you run the giveaway. When it’s over, you have to get your butt down to a post office and ship those books to the winners.
  • Kindle Ebook Giveaways: These were announced in March 2017. The program’s in beta, and is not currently available for most authors. In the Goodreads blog post, they explain that you’ll pay a flat fee of $119 to give away 100 Kindle ebooks.

So if you want to do it now, you need print copies. Be prepared to buy and ship them at your own expense.

Think about shipping costs when you decide who’s eligible for the giveaway.

You can choose which countries are eligible for your giveaway. This is important if you want to keep your costs down. International shipping is pricey!

For example, I opened my giveaway to people in the United States and Canada. It cost me just shy of $4.50 to send an envelope within the country. It cost me $15 to ship the same envelope internationally.

So consider that when you make your giveaway. You can afford to send a lot more books if you only send them inside your own country–but you’ll also get fewer entrants.

You only have to offer one copy of your book.

But you can offer as many as you want.

I gave out 3 copies for my first giveaway, because it seemed like a nice, small number to test the program out on. I’ll probably do larger giveaways now that I know more about how it works!

Run your giveaway for at least two weeks.

I did a couple of things:

  • I ran my giveaway for just shy of a month.
  • I wrote the blurb (and timed the giveaway) around Halloween. Justice Unending isn’t a horror novel (it’s solidly YA fantasy), but it IS about being possessed by a murderer.

I had about 200 entries the end of the first week. The requests slowed down after that, then spiked heavily during the last week (due to the fact that Goodreads has a “Giveaways Ending Soon” list.) By the end of the giveaway, 1,149 people had requested my book.

So why did I run it for so long? I was only offering 3 copies, so it’s not like I needed hundreds more people to request it. But people weren’t just signing up for the giveaway–they were adding the book to their “to-read” list. And people added my book to their reading lists every single day that the giveaway was up.

So, speaking of that…

Expect a TON of people to add your book to their to-read list.

When I started my giveaway, fewer than 10 people had my book on their to-read list. When it was done, 488 had.

Of course, someone marking a book “to-read” doesn’t mean they’ll buy it. In fact, many people have thousands of books tagged on Goodreads–far more than they could ever realistically read. So it’s not clear how useful a metric this is.

But it does translate to awareness. And it can’t hurt, right? More than 480 people have tagged my book on Goodreads now. Isn’t that better than the 10 who had it tagged before?

And there’s one other benefit: if I do another giveaway for this book (and I will!), all of those 480+ people are going to get an email saying “One of the books on your to-read list is having a giveaway!” And that gets my book in front of their eyes all over again.

So what do I think?

Goodreads giveaways are awesome.

Like other forms of marketing, doing a giveaway doesn’t translate into direct sales. You’re giving away free books, after all–and there’s no guarantee that anyone will buy their own copy. Heck, there’s no guarantee that the winners will read your book, much less review the thing. (Goodreads does claim that a high percentage of winners do both, though.)

And since these are print books, this isn’t cheap. Even though I get a discount on purchasing my own print copies, it still cost me about $12.50 to send it within the country and $23.00 to ship internationally. And that’s per book!

But you know what? With other forms of marketing, I’ve ended up spending about the same amount of money for far less in return. Facebook netted me 65 clicks and one sale. Goodreads ads (which I haven’t written about yet) have, thus far, gotten me less than 30 clicks in nearly two months, and I’m not sure they’ve gotten me any sales at all. Those are low numbers for big bucks.

Meanwhile, it cost me roughly $35 in books, packaging and shipping to get more than 1,100 requests and 480 people showing direct interest in the book. That’s a lot more social interaction for about the same cost.

Will this actually result in any sales? We’ll see. The giveaway ended on the 21st, so it’ll be a while before I see if I get any reviews (or sales!) out of it.

But in terms of raw exposure, Goodreads giveaways are a straightforward, easy way to get your book in front of a lot of people. And it gives you a ton of bang for your buck.

Cover of Thanks for the Feedback

Image from Goodreads

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ve probably noticed that I looooove to break things down: “writing” isn’t just “writing,” it’s a collection of skills ranging from grammar to description to character building. You can’t just ask for an “edit,” because there are levels of edit.

So it’s no surprise that I love thinking about how there are multiple kinds of feedback.

I’ve been reading Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well because I wanted tips on giving feedback. And, er… that’s… not actually the focus of the book. But I still love this book.

You see, Thanks for the Feedback slots feedback into three buckets: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. And that got me thinking about how those apply to the writing world, where feedback often takes the form of a beta reading.

So let’s talk about the book’s three kinds of appreciation and how those look in betas!

Feedback Type #1: Appreciation

Thanks for the Feedback makes it clear that “feedback” doesn’t mean “stuff meant to help you get better.” It just means a response, of any sort, to what you’re doing. And sometimes you don’t want a deep, analytical analysis. You just want to be noticed.

That’s feedback type #1: appreciation. When someone’s looking for appreciation, they want acknowledgement, recognition, and encouragement.

I’ve actually gotten beta reading requests from people who only–or mostly–wanted appreciation. And that’s… dangerous. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because that’s not what all feedback-givers think to do.

For example, when someone asks me for a critique, I hear “give me a thorough explanation of what didn’t work, why, and how to fix it!” I mean, sure, I’ll mention things I like. I’ll throw in a compliment sandwich. It’s just not the focus. We’re here to find things to work on, right?

But if I default to that, and my beta reader’s hoping for appreciation, we’re going to have a capital-B Bad Time. Because I’m giving the next type of feedback: coaching.

Feedback Type #2: Coaching

“Coaching” is feedback that tells you how to improve at something. This is what people think of when they think of “constructive criticism.” When someone is coaching, they point out the things that need work and suggest improvements.

Sounds straightforward enough, right? There’s just one hitch: there’s a third kind of feedback.

Feedback Type #3: Evaluation

Evaluation is the third and most jarring form of feedback. Evaluation ranks someone: it’s giving them a grade, a yes or no, or a pass or fail. Unsurprisingly, this is also the most threatening type of feedback. No duh, right? It’s heavy stuff!

And while true evaluation is the realm of agents and publishers (the people who say “Yes, I want to read your full manuscript” or “I’m sorry, this isn’t for me”), a typical beta can still include evaluative feedback. For example:

  • When someone’s grammar is wrong. Grammar and spelling are either right or wrong. I may not be a bestseller, but I can still tell you that.
  • When you’re reading about something you have deep knowledge about. If you repair cars for a living, you’re qualified to provide right-or-wrong feedback on a book where car repair plays a major role.
  • When someone’s not following the unspoken rules of their genre. There are some things you are strongly encouraged not to do, like starting chapter #1 with a dream or a paragraph of description about a boring, uneventful day.

When I see these, I have a strong, knee-jerk urge to reply with “Don’t do this!” No suggestions, no corrections, just no. Wrong.

This type of feedback often feels very black-and-white: you’re right, the author is wrong, and they should fix it. But at that point, you’re not giving coaching, you’re providing evaluation. And because evaluation is the touchiest form of feedback, you’re more likely to get an emotional response from the author, whether it’s “I’m so embarrassed! I’ll work on that” or “Screw the rules! I can do whatever I want to!”

The ideal beta includes a mix of feedback types.

The most valuable betas combine all three kinds of feedback:

  • Appreciation helps tell people what they did right. This is the positive stuff, the stuff you liked and enjoyed.
  • Coaching helps you point out the things that you think could be improved.
  • Evaluation should be used sparingly and tactfully.

The best beta includes a hearty dose of both appreciation and coaching. That’s straightforward, right?

Evaluation is the tricky one. It feels like coaching when you find something that doesn’t need discussion–it’s just wrong, and it needs to be fixed. And while this can be valuable information, remember: you’re not just giving coaching. You’re passing right-or-wrong judgement. And that’s feedback you need to treat with extra care.

The Solution: Be excessively explicit about what you want.

The trickiest part of a beta is that we all want different betas. Some people want 90% appreciation with just a dash of the gentlest coaching. Some people want the most brutal read you can give them.

The solution’s obvious: talk more.

What type of beta reading do you want? What ratio of appreciation-to-coaching do you need? Tell your beta. Be extremely detailed about what you want them to focus on, what you don’t want them to focus on, what you care about, what you don’t care about.

And if you’re reading, get as much information from the author as you can. Try to gauge where they’re coming from. Does the author seem confident and resilient? Or do they seem anxious, scared, and discouraged? Do they look like they can handle big, heavy evaluations? All this can help you figure out what kinds of feedback you should focus on.

That’s always the answer for everything, isn’t it? Communicate more! If only it was as easy in practice, huh?

The JUSTICE UNENDING Facebook ad.OK, first thing’s first: this is not a post about how to be successful with Facebook ads.

I created my first Facebook ad last month. I’ve run a single one-month test. I’ve got a lot to learn.

But if you’re an author who doesn’t know where to start–or what to even think about–maybe this will help.

Here’s what I learned from my very first test.

What did I do?

I ran one ad  campaign for my YA fantasy novel, Justice Unending. Here are the stats:

  • The campaign ran for 30 days.
  • It had a limit of $30 for that period.
  • I targeted men and women ages 10-40 who listed “fantasy books” or “young adult books” as one of their interests.
  • I ran two ads simultaneously for the first week, then switched to the more effective ad for the rest of the campaign.
  • I added a third ad, which only ran for one week, to promote my Goodreads giveaway.
  • I ultimately got 1,560 views and 65 link clicks.
  • I got 14 followers on Facebook.
  • I made at least one sale.

These are not amazing stats, sure. But I learned a ton from them. Let’s go into the details!

You should really make an fan page for yourself first.

A Facebook “fan page” is, well, a page about a topic, not a person. It’s not your personal Facebook page, with your friends and family and your super-tight security that ensures no one will ever see your pictures of your cats.

A “fan page” is a page about a topic–like that page about your local animal shelter or that government agency that posts tips on how to save energy at home.

And if you make an ad and link it to your fan page, your fan page will be linked at the top of your ad. This has a lot of benefits:

  • People who think your ad looks interesting can easily go to your fan page.
  • You can fill your fan page with fun stuff about you and your books.
  • If someone likes your fan page, then the things you post on that page will show in their news feeds.

And holy moly, people actually do this! They see an ad, which is trying to sell them something, and they go, “Sure, why not? I’ll follow that author.”

And then they’re fans of your page! Do you know what that means? Your ads only run for as long as you pay for them. But people who follow your page? You get those people forever! (Or until they unfollow you, at least.) When you post updates on your fan page–say, about sales or giveaways–those people will see those posts when they log in to Facebook! Because they followed your fan page!

Yes, Facebook has done a lot of tweaking to fan pages. And yes, the stuff you post on your fan page is not guaranteed to be seen by all of your followers, even if they’re active on Facebook. That’s all true. There are lots of things to think about when it comes to Facebook.

But if you’re going to run an ad, linking it to a fan page is an easy decision. It’s a pool of followers you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

People prefer Amazon links.

I ran one ad that linked to my website. Justice Unending is available in several formats, so I thought I’d give people a choice.

But that ad was absolute garbage compared to the one that linked directly to Amazon. The Amazon ad did so well, in fact, that I just turned off the other ad entirely.

So there’s a simple lesson: people trust Amazon.

The payment structure determines how much exposure you’ll get.

You get two options when you make an ad campaign:

  • Advertise every day and set a daily cap. Facebook will run your ad every single day until you manually tell it to stop. So if you do $5 a day, it will show itself to $5 worth of people, then stop. The next day, it’ll do it again.
  • Put in a monthly cap and a time range. If you do this, it will take the amount you want to pay, divide it by the number of days, then spend that much money per day.

I went with option #2. I ended up doing $30 for 30 days. Facebook helpfully told me that my target audience–YA and fantasy book fans–was a large audience. I had a potential reach of many tens of thousands of people.

I did not reach that many people.

Why is that? Well, $30 for 30 days gets you about a dollar a day of advertising. You get billed for every view and every click. And while there’s no cold, hard number for how much those are worth, it meant that only a few dozen people saw my ad (and only about 2 or 3 clicked it) a day. And Facebook limited my exposure, on purpose, so I wouldn’t spend more than $1 a day.

So money matters. I’d be interested to see how more money on fewer days would have gone–for example, what would $30 on two weeks look like? Or one week?

You pay by the campaign, but you can put infinite numbers of ads in that campaign.

Basically, you have an campaign that is full of multiple ads. You pay at the campaign level. So you might set up “Book Campaign #1” to bill $5 a day until you stop it. You could then make as many ads as you want, which will all share that $5 a day.

This means your ads fight for money. The more ads you have, the fewer interactions each will get.

And it looks like Facebook does some calculations to decide which ad gets your money, because I definitely did not see an even split. I had one really successful ad that ran most of September. By the end of the month, I threw in a second one, to promote my Goodreads giveaway. It ran for a week and was seen by all of 4 people.

Why? I suspect that Facebook prioritizes the “successful” ads that got more clicks. My new ad had very little chance of competing against one that had been going for 3 weeks–and there wasn’t enough time left in the campaign to level the playing field.

(On the other hand, starting a campaign with two ads, then closing the one that wasn’t working as well did work. So timing is important!)

So how did it work?

As mentioned above, I got 65 clicks for my $30 experiment, at least one of which led to a sale. I also got 14 new followers to my brand-new author fan page.

And how does that measure up to other things I’ve tried?

Well, it’s definitely not bad. Far more people click on Facebook ads than Goodreads ads, at least based on my also-very-short test over there. It has a rather high amount of interaction, too: I got fan page followers, a fair number of clicks, and a sale.

Those aren’t exceptional results, and they certainly didn’t change my life. But they definitely got me some exposure.

There’s still so much I don’t understand about Facebook ads. They’re so complex, and they blow through your money so quickly! But they do seem to be a strong option, and I can definitely see myself experimenting more with them in the future.

Yes.

Post’s over! You can all go home now, guys. You–…what? I need to write a little more than that?

Honestly, this is one of those questions I’ve never understood. “The best writers are avid readers” appears in every “Advice for Writers” forum, book, and blog ever written. But writing communities are full of posts asking, “Do you have to read if you want to write?”

The short answer is yes. The long answer is the rest of this post.

Yes, because you must actually like books if you want to write one.

You know what just baffles me? Some of the people who ask “Hey, I want to write. But do I have to read books?” are actually trying to say, “Hey, I don’t actually like reading, but I do want to write a novel! So, uh, what about that?”

And that’s… hm. That’s a problem. Let’s take this question and apply it to other creative arts:

  • I’m creating my own videogame! What’s my favorite genre? Oh, uh, I don’t play games. They’re wastes of time. I really prefer movies, honestly.
  • My dream is to create my own movie! What do I watch? Oh, nothing. I can’t stand sitting down for that long and just watching something for that long. I just wanted to see my name on the screen, you know?
  • I’m learning to compose! But I hate music, and…

Okay, okay, you get the point. This is silly, right? Why would these imaginary people invest hundreds of hours of work into a medium where it’s hard to make something, harder to get it in front of people, and nearly impossible to make money off of? And why would they do it when they don’t even enjoy this thing?

Unfortunately, writing is seen as a low-skill task that anyone can do, so you actually do encounter people who hate books but also want to be a famous author.

So, yes. If you don’t like books, creating one will be especially difficult for you.

Yes, because it helps you learn how to analyze and dissect writing.

OK! So let’s say that you do like reading, and you do read for fun. But, you might wonder, does reading a lot actually help you write better in any appreciable way?

And yes! It does. Here’s reason #1: the more you read, the more you can practice reading critically.

It’s fine to read passively for pleasure, especially if this is how you decompress. I do that, too! But reading without thinking doesn’t teach you anything. To figure out what makes a book work, you have to really peel it apart and analyze it.

And if you’re a writer, this is an invaluable skill to have. When you write a novel, you run into all sorts of problems. How can you make this section less boring? How can you make your characters more interesting? Why is your dialogue so ineffective? These are big, scary questions. And where can you get the answers?

Well, you can get a lot of them from reading! Good books are repositories of successful techniques. If you find a book with really good characters, you can pick them apart. How does that author make them seem real? What made the dialogue good? How did they grow? If you find a really fast-paced, exciting novel, you can study its pacing. How did it keep the action going?

Reading books teaches you how to identify problems, too. Even the most popular, most successful books will probably have a few… iffy choices. And that’s great! Learning how to identify those problems, describe them, and clearly articulate why they didn’t work will help you do the same to your own books.

Yes, because you need to know your genre.

It’s also good to know the genre you write in. Then you can learn:

  • What does a book in your genre look like?
  • What cliches are common?
  • What themes are popular right now?
  • What are the big names in your genre?
  • What are the most anticipated books of this year?
  • How does my book stand out from what’s out there already?

And so on, so forth.

I know people hate rules. But if you are writing a book in a particular genre, there are a few things you have to do for your book to function within that genre (even if it’s just “fantasy books have to include fantastic elements.”) The more you know what a book in your genre looks like, the more you can innovate–because you can point to what other people are doing and explain how your book’s unique.

Also, do you want to sell that thing? Do you want an agent? Then this is really good market research, because it helps you learn what already exists and what’s currently selling.

Finally, if you find novels that are similar to yours, that’s great! You can list them in your query letter as comps, and say “My novel’s like [this successful book], but [different in this way]!”

Yes, because it might help fill your creative well.

And, finally, reading can be important for writers because… well, if you like reading, then you’ll enjoy it, right?

Whenever I can’t write, I read. It always helps. What if I find a book I like? That’s amazing! I can spend days thinking about the things I liked and picking through why I liked it–was it the description? The tone? The way the information was delivered? “Could I do something like this?” I wonder. “It seems like so much fun!”

Or maybe I hate it! That actually helps, too! I can’t imagine how many times I’ve said, “I HATE THIS PARTICULAR TROPE” and then rage-outlined a story that inverts it.

But most of all, reading is relaxing, it’s fun, and it helps me remember the things I genuinely love. And if I’m neck-deep in a story I can’t figure out, which is driving me crazy and making me ragey, remembering that I do actually love this stuff–and that I can do it, too!–helps a ton.

So yes. If you’re writing, yes. You should read often.

This isn’t a judgey thing. You don’t have to be obsessed with reading. You don’t have to feel bad for not reading as much as you’d like to. If you like books and also like reading, you’re golden.

But if you want to be an author, you really should enjoy reading, at all, period, end sentence. That does make sense, right?

Yeah. I really could have ended this post after the first word.

 

First thing’s first: want a free copy of Justice Unending? Then check out my Goodreads giveaway! It’s running from Sept. 25 to Oct. 21 and is available to everyone in the U.S. and Canada (sorry, everyone else! Shipping is expensive.) Good luck!

Cover of Minset: The New Psychology of Success.

Image originally from Goodreads.

And now, on to the post! About a year or so ago, I read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the book itself, but I absolutely friggin’ LOVE the core premise.

Essentially, it argues that people approach failure and success from two mindsets: fixed and growth.

People with fixed mindsets assume their skills are unchangable. When they fail at something, it’s because they’re “bad” at it. They just don’t have the natural aptitude for it. They blame failure on their fundamental shortcomings and focus on things that they have immediate success with–the things they’re “good” at.

People with growth mindsets are focused on hard work and self-improvement. If they fail at something, they believe that they can work hard, get better at it, and eventually improve their skills. Failure doesn’t mean they are a failure, or that they’ll always fail–it means they have to work harder.

Is this simplistic? Sure. But as a way to analyze how we look at success and failure? Oh, man. It’s amazing.

In fact, I see examples of fixed mindsets everywhere in the writing community. I have seen so many people who believe that you’re either a natural writer or you’re not. And so many people expect immediate success, then throw themselves in the pit of “I guess I’m just not a writer after all!!!!” when they struggle to write, or query, or sell their first novel.

It’s not good, it’s not helpful, and it’s self-defeating. And that’s why I think everyone should be aware of how they approach success, challenge their own assumptions, and try really hard to be growth oriented.

But let’s start with me. Because I had a fixed mindset for years.

For me, a fixed mindset was an excuse to say publishing was something I’d never accomplish.

As a kid, I did well at school. My parents praised the daylights out of me: “Oh, you’re so smart! Look how easily these things come to you! The other kids have to work, but not you–you’re brilliant!”

They meant well, I know. But I took a terrible lesson out of this: if you are good at something, you don’t have to work at it. It’ll just happen–naturally, immediately, easily–because you’re talented!

So when I set off in the world, I avoided anything that challenged me. If I found a subject in school I had to work to understand, it terrified me–because if not everything is easy, I must not be that smart, right? When I went into the workforce, I avoided everything I wasn’t a natural at (instead of, you know, ever pushing my comfort zone. Goodness forbid I ever try something new! I might fail at it!)

This absolutely hobbled me. It also completely destroyed my confidence in writing. You see, it was always my dream to publish a book. And I finally wrote my first one when I was a university student.

It was garbage.

It took me four years to write what was, according to my outline, “half” of the novel. That “half” was a more than 120,000-word long series of 10K to 15K-long “episodes.” It was ridiculously paced and ended abruptly.

It wasn’t good, and I knew it wasn’t good. But that’s all right! I had a dialogue for this, too.

“Well, that’s… not really surprising,” I told myself. “Lots of people want to publish books. But most people can never get an agent. That means that publishing is an impossible dream, which only the most brilliant and talented people can ever hope to accomplish. So it’s not surprising that I can’t do it. I’m okay at writing… but not good enough.”

And since this was before self-publishing was a big thing, that was it. No agent = no publishing.

I didn’t write for two years.

I still wanted to write, though. I wrote as part of my hobby. I wrote as part of my job. I still dreamed of being a novelist, even with the little whisper of “you tried and you failed.”

Eventually, I got tired of this. Why was I not doing something I wanted to do? It was still my dream! So I faced that assumption head-on. I was going to write, on a schedule, every day. I was going to put in hard work and practice. I was going to write novel after novel until I got better.

And guess what? I actually did get better. And I did eventually publish!

The fixed mindset is absolutely everywhere in the writing world.

Go to a writing forum and read for a while. You’ll find examples of fixed mindsets everywhere. I have read countless threads like these:

  • They write their first book. It’s not perfect. “I guess I’m not really a writer,” they lament. “I’m just going to give up. I’ll never achieve my dream.”
  • They are terrified of failure and refuse to attempt projects that they might not succeed at. “I’m waiting to write a book. I want to make sure I study and read enough beforehand, so I can ensure my first book is good enough to publish.”
  • They refuse to put work into writing unless they can guarantee that the first book they write will be a complete success. “My first book has to get an agent or I’ll never write again. Writing takes too much time for me to invest time and energy into it–I have to take off right from the start.”
  • Their identity hinges on the assumption that they’re a naturally good writer, and they get extremely scared whenever everything isn’t easy. “I thought I was good at writing, but I just hit a terrible roadblock in this story and I… can’t do it. I can’t come up with any way to fix it. So now my entire identity is thrown into question. Am I NOT a writer? Should I give up?”

And all of these have one thing in common: they don’t want to struggle. They want to be good at writing, immediately. And sometimes, they’re so so so so so very scared of failure that they quit the moment they don’t succeed–or come up with reasons to never try at all.

You can’t fail at anything if you never try, right?

So keep an eye out for fixed mindsets. And challenge them.

A fixed mindset is never helpful–and it’s definitely not helpful when you’re struggling. If you’re “not good enough,” then there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no solution. There’s no exit. You’re bad, you can’t do it. Give up.

And you’ve probably heard that gung-ho stuff, right? That a writer is just someone who never gives up? That’s a growth mindset.

So keep an eye out for how you–and those around you–face success and failure. It’s always helpful to challenge your own mindset and to wonder if you aren’t making things harder for yourself than you need to.

After years of writing, I’ve learned a very strange thing about myself: when I feel like garbage, a story isn’t working, and I know it needs a lot of work before it’s “done,” the absolute worst, most demoralizing thing I can think is “but imagine what it’ll be like when it’s published!”

Yes, demoralizing. It makes me want to quit. It makes me want to wallow. It is the most depressing, most frustrating, most upsetting thing I can think of.

Why? Well, let’s dive into my psyche. I might just be hyper-sensitive and neurotic (I probably am, actually), but hey! Maybe you work the same way.

The problem with focusing on big successes is that they don’t always happen.

Here’s the long and short of it: when I’m depressed about writing, dreaming about a wonderful future where I’m a successful author doesn’t help, because:

  • That success is far away.
  • Achieving that success requires me to not be depressed.
  • I still have to put in dozens (or hundreds!) of hours of work to get to that point.
  • It’s extremely common to write something and have it never sell anywhere, or never find an agent, or never find a publisher.
  • Even if you self-publish, it’s extremely common for you to put out a book and have it receive middling-to-non-existant sales.

Which means that if I’m anxious or depressed, dreaming about eventual success is poison. I can guarantee you that my mind is not going to say “Don’t worry! You’re worried now, but you’re going to feel great when you succeed!”

No. My mind is a jerk. It thinks evil things. It’s going to say, “Imagine what it’ll be like if you never publish this story at all, and the 6 months of work you put into this was wasted because you got stuck right now and you never got over it!”

So, uh, that’s bad.

The solution: focus on very, very small wins.

So what does work when I’m deep in a pit? Celebrating small successes like:

  • You wrote today! You haven’t written for a week or so, so THIS IS GREAT. Hurray!
  • You wrote 1,000 words! That’s super fantastic!
  • You accomplished something! Accomplishing something feels good, right? Don’t you want to feel like this a lot? Remember this feeling!
  • Write a to-do list, where the task for every single day is “Just write anything.” Cross off today! CROSSING OFF STUFF FEELS GREAT
  • Good golly, did you finish a chapter?! One down! WOO!
  • You sent a query! Cross that off your QueryTracker list! Who cares if they ever respond? You did your side of the work, which is writing a good query and sending it out. DONE. YOU SUCCEEDED. HURRAY.

OK, so these sound cheesy. They are, really. Believe me, I know. I can’t sincerely throw myself a party for writing 1,000 words, either.

But I do feel genuinely content when I finish something. So that’s what I focus on: the small, nice feeling of accomplishing anything.

So here’s my takeaway: when I’m most depressed, I need to accomplish something.

That’s basically it.

“Hey, maybe you’ll sell this book someday” is not something that I can do in a weekend to snap me out of my slump. But I can do a tiny bit of work.

This stuff is not easy for me. When I feel bad, I want to second guess my accomplishments. “Yes, I wrote 1,000 words, but are they objectively good ones? Because maybe I’ll just have to write those words over again later, and this time was wasted!” or “I wrote a chapter, but there are 27 in this novel, so at this rate it’s still going to take me 3 months to finish this thing, at best!” I’m realllly not a very positive person, usually.

But you know what feels good? Accomplishing something. Accomplishing anything.

The only way I can drag myself out of depression is by accomplishing milestones. Little ones. Preferably ones I can accomplish every day. I won’t cheer myself up by thinking “You won’t feel like garbage 3 months from now, when you’re done!” I have to find something I’ll feel better about today. Now. Something like:

  • You sketched out notecards for every scene that’s working in your novel, up to the point where it isn’t
  • You brainstormed ideas for how to fix your current problems
  • You wrote a reasonable amount of content
  • You wrote something else, and it was fun and liberating
  • You read a book about writing and it gave you some ideas on how to fix your writing
  • You sat down and used your dedicated writing time for something writing-related for once, and you’re going to do it again tomorrow.

All of these are small victories, and you can do them today. They don’t require you to succeed at anything, or to complete a lot of work, or to fix everything. They’re just tiny baby steps you can do today, and tomorrow, and the next day.

It doesn’t always work, of course. But it’s better than clubbing yourself over the head with things you can’t do today.

I still get writer’s block. I seem to fall into a pit of depression about once a year, swear to give up writing forever, and stop writing for a week or two. It happens. And every time it happens, it feels like I’ll never drag myself out of it.

But I always get back on that horse and try again. And it’s never because I remembered that it’d be Really Super Amazing to get a TV show based on my novel. It’s always because I did something small, and writing felt possible again, and accomplishing something felt good, and I figured I should do that more often.

So, yes. Perspective shifts: helpful. Maybe they are for you, too?

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