Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
Achieve Your Writing Goals, Jim Dempsey (@jimdempsey), Writer Unboxed
Sometimes writing has an ease about it. There are some mornings I am compelled to write several paragraphs, but there are often moments when I stare at the screen and the blank page only has a few words. The next day I resist my writing, browsing the web and finding other ways to procrastinate. Jim Dempsey’s words are a familiar refrain many writers experience, but he cautions us to find better ways to channel our energy:
There will be days when you think it will be impossible to reach, and it seems so much easier to check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even clean the house. When you get to that point, however, there’s a better way to procrastinate.
When procrastination happens, Dempsey urges writers to identify barriers that feed this behavior.
Make a note of all the things that hold you back from writing, from all the things that prevent you from getting to the computer in the first place to the things that distract you in the middle of writing.
Examples could be anything from work, illness, a crying baby, and the need to make dinner to thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this,’ ‘I’m no good at writing,’ ‘This is too difficult,’ and ‘I wonder if I can beat my record time on Solitaire.’ You might be writing something based on your own life experience and painful memories might make writing difficult or certain sections of the story make you feel uncomfortable. Whatever it is, make a list of each barrier you encounter.
Once you look at the list, identify the external and internal barriers and know that these obstacles won’t necessarily impact your ability to write. Dempsey explains:
The point is that many external barriers can be solved with some thought and planning.
But maybe you’re just too busy to write. That could be true. It could also be that being busy is an excuse you tell even yourself.
In fact, your external barriers can often (certainly not always) be caused by internal barriers, and those internal barriers can be easier to overcome.
How do you overcome internal barriers?
Another strategy is to set smaller goals. For example, you can decide to browse the internet when you’ve written at least 1000 words.
When you have the thought that it’s just too difficult and you want to stop, write another 500 words and then stop.
If you’re worried about how much time writing takes out of your family life, you could explain this to your family and see if you can all work out how you can get more time to write.
Dempsey shares his thoughts to overcome resistance:
And don’t be too hung up about hitting those goals. Sometimes life will get in the way. Don’t be too disappointed if your writing doesn’t work out as planned.
Just remember why you want to write, why you set out to tackle the huge challenge of creating a novel in the first place. Remember why that was important to you, and try to focus on that when your mind or the world is trying to get in your way.
We all face procrastination, external and internal barriers and we always have the option to decide why we started a particular project and move forward with our goals.
Advice for Memoirists: No One Wants to Hear Your Whole Life Story, Sarah Van Arsdale, The Writer
The key thing to remember about writing a memoir is no one wants to hear your entire life story. According to Sarah Van Arsdale the common misconception is writers think memoir means autobiography. She clarifies the difference:
It used to. We used to think of old Colonel Wellington, settling in with a glass of sherry by the fire and writing his memoirs, recounting his childhood on the Thames, which in Volume Four brings him to the tales of the great lion hunting he did in the veldt.
But really, that’s autobiography, which starts at the beginning, goes through your whole life, and ends near when you do. It’s a real feat to pull this off; you have to have a vibrant, unparalleled writing style, a truly compelling story, and a lot of free time. And it doesn’t hurt if you’re Nelson Mandela, Katharine Hepburn, or even Ozzy Osbourne, and you can hire an assistant. In other words, if you’re famous.
There is no reason to pen down every single moment. Arsdale explains the writer must go deeper.
So while your early life undoubtedly informs the most interesting stories of your adult life, you often don’t need to include the stories that have accumulated; rather, you need to delve into your understanding of the stories.
There are ways to write a memoir and make it compelling.
The best way to approach memoir – the way that will keep you paddling even when the waters get rough – is by considering a particular problem that you’ve dealt with or a difficult moment in your life that has the elements of great narrative: a page-turning plot, interesting characters, and lots of conflict.
That last one is important to consider in choosing what to write your memoir about. Conflict isn’t two people screaming at each other. That’s drama. Conflict is someone wanting something, and there’s something in the way of getting it. Or wanting two things in direct opposition to each other.
There should be a keen understanding of the present moment from which your memoir launches and keen attention to themes.
When I say “present-moment story,” I mean that every narrative has a present-moment from which the story moves forward in time. As you start drafting your story, keep thinking about what the best present-moment is. It’s going start, probably, just before the most dramatic conflict moment and then move forward from there, with a bit of backstory woven in little by little.
It can help to think not only about times in your life that you may want to write about but also about themes. Consider what lens you’ll be looking through to write about yourself. We all have multiple lenses, and these can change as we move through life. At one point, you may consider your life through the lens of growing up in a biracial home; at another point, it’s the fact that you are dyslexic; at another, what fascinates you is that you decided not to have children.
The goal ultimately is to weave a narrative rich in conflict with compelling characters to move the story forward.
So either way, you have your present-moment story, with the most conflict-rich narrative, the interesting characters, and you’re seeing it through a particular lens, then weaving in what happened in the past or what happens later, in the future.
And either way, you’ve spared yourself, and your reader, from having to laboriously paddle through your entire life story; instead, the brisk winds of the present-moment story will push you happily to the shore of a finished draft.
The work in memoir becomes palatable when you accept you don’t need to write your entire life story, but gaze your attention to the key moments that speak to conflict and move you forward to a particular decision or resolution.
Becoming a Full-Time Author: Three Mindset Shifts Every Writer Must Make, Pagan Malcolm, Writer’s Digest
What does it take to become a full-time author? Pagan Malcolm discusses three insights that will put you on that track sooner. The first thing to keep in mind is the idea of overnight success. Malcolm points out:
It might feel like every other writer’s books are flying off the shelves overnight, but I promise you that they have spent months (if not years) working furiously hard to make that happen.
Writerly success is not as easy as writing the book, producing it, and hitting The New York Times bestseller list (though in theory, the process is that simple).
Producing a book that sells can take years. Finding the right publisher can take years. Producing it takes at least a couple of months, and don’t even get me started on marketing and readership growth.
Bottom line? It takes time. So be kind to yourself! You can be a bestselling author and not make sales on a weekly basis.
With long hours, rejections, and the uncertainty writers face with their work or income, burnout is natural. Malcolm explains:
I’m willing to bet that at the moment, you are writing in your evenings after a long, eight-hour work shift at the day job. And then, you’re promoting your book in every other moment you can spare in your day.
Basically, you’re working three full-time jobs. No wonder it’s so easy to burn out! Here’s the thing—writing might have started as a hobby, but it’s now a way for you to make a living, and if you want to actually make a living doing it, it’s going to require some strategic thinking.
So yes, you may have a day job that sucks up a lot of energy and time. But if you can confidently say that you only have two hours left in your day for writing and promotion, then you can ensure you’re making the most of that time.
Here’s a scenario: Would you rather be spending those two hours manually posting in Facebook groups to sell your book? Or would you want to spend it writing? Because here’s the thing—why would you be doing all that manual promotion if you can automate the sales process through an email marketing funnel?
*Insert lightbulb moment*
This is why you want to create systems—not only will it make your life so much easier, but it’s what a business owner would do.
Deadlines are tricky, but necessary. To embrace the transition to full-time author, writers need to be cognizant of honoring their schedules and meeting goals.
I know it might not feel like it when you’re functioning on your third cup of coffee and it’s approximately eight hours until your editing deadline—but life without deadlines is so much worse.
Picture this: You’re now a full-time author. You don’t have to work a day job. You have all day, every day, for the next three months to finish writing your book.
And … you don’t have any kind of writing schedule. So, you procrastinate, and procrastinate, because you have time, and before you know it the deadline has arrived and you’re only halfway through. Whoops!
Deadlines keep us on our toes and kick our butts into gear—so if you want to be a full-time author, it’s a good idea to get the hang of meeting them. To do this, having a writing routine (or some kind of writing system that works for you) is essential.
Thinking about your writing life, goals, and shifting perspectives can make the difference in recognizing what it will take to transition to becoming a full-time author.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!