Building Consistency Habits

Last week we discussed the basics of setting up a habit of writing (editing, marketing, etc.) regularly, but today we’re going to focus more on the nuts and bolts of putting together a plan for consistency. The more things you can do to set yourself up for success, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to get the results you want.

We’ve already talked about setting aside time, planning your goals, and setting up a “trigger” to help you get started. Let’s look at some other things to try.

  • Find inspiration. Some days, nothing wants to come. If you have ready sources of inspiration, things you can look at or listen to or think about, even if they’re not directly related to whatever you’re working on, they can get the old muse juices flowing and can help loosen up your brain when it comes to what you are supposed to be doing. I use Pinterest boards and an idea file for this purpose.
  • Give yourself something to aspire to. You know how they tell people who want to lose weight to hang “goal” pictures where they’ll be seen? You can do the same thing here. If you’d like to find an agent, you can hang the bio of your dream one on the wall. You can print out the book deal pages from Publisher’s Weekly and put them on the refrigerator. You can stick the latest bestseller list on your corkboard. Having a physical reminder of what you’re working toward can provide some extra motivation.
  • Don’t allow exceptions. If you give up your writing time every time something else comes along, you’ll never get anything done. Yes, some days things won’t get done. You’ll have sick kid, or a big project at work, or need to go visit your mother. But if you’re making exceptions for other things–watching television, playing video games, whatever–you’re doomed. One “Well, just for today” can turn into weeks, or months, of inactivity.
  • Remember that little bits help. Sometimes you can’t reach your daily/weekly/monthly goals. Life gets in the way somehow. Rather than giving everything up as a loss, remember that even partial progress still counts as progress. Sure, that 100 words a day may not be the 500 you wanted, but at the end of the week you’ll still be 700 words closer to your goal than if you just gave the time period up as lost.
  • Track your progress. This may be the most important thing to do (beside the “trigger” that we talked about last week). I know I am 500% more successful if I have some method of tracking going than if I don’t. I prefer to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. I have various ones–ones for month-long goals, ones for longer projects, ones where I can track multiple projects a month, ones for editing. I also highly recommend sticking graphs in your spreadsheets. There’s something very fulfilling about graphs. Even if you’re behind, I find that the graphs can still provide motivation to try and catch up. If you don’t know how to program an Excel spreadsheet to automatically create graphs when you input data, the Internet has a ton of tracking spreadsheets you can download and modify. But you don’t need to use a spreadsheet, if that doesn’t work for you. You can mark days off on a calendar, make yourself a sticker chart, use a word counter–anything that allows you to keep track of how you’re doing.
  • Make yourself accountable. Along with keeping track of how you’re doing, having some form of accountability can help motivate you to make sure you’re working. This can be a person–or a group of people–such as a writing partner or group. It doesn’t have to be, however. Maybe you don’t get to watch the latest episode of your favorite show until your writing is done for the day. Maybe if you reach your monthly goal you get to buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eying. And along those lines…
  • Reward yourself. These can be little, such as a daily reward of half an hour of reading or a piece of cake, or big, such as dying your hair purple after your first major publishing deal. While you shouldn’t rely on rewards to get you to do your writing, they certainly can help you feel better about the whole process, especially when you’re still working on building up the habit, and can help you through rough times.
  • Make it fun. Let’s be honest. If you hate something, all the triggers and tracking and rewards in the world aren’t going to make you do it. If you dread getting around to your writing, or you actively put it off, look at what you’re doing. Is there a way you can change things up that will make it more fun? Or more comfortable? Or easier on yourself? Challenges against friends can be a good way to spice things up a bit. Do you have to do things the way you are? Maybe you do, but there still might be a way to make things more enjoyable. Don’t be afraid to switch things around until they’re working for you.

Here’s my current tracker, for people who’d like to see an example. When I started this blog post series I realized that I’d let my own consistency fall by the wayside, so I’ve rededicated myself (and started this tracker on March 22, as you can see). And, not too shabbily, I’ve written 20,000 words in two weeks. This is my long challenge tracker, adapted from a spreadsheet put out by ROW80 (which I shall talk about next time). Another sheet has the graphs on it, and the color changing (from red to green when I meet my goals) is also very rewarding.

Tracker Example

(The reason why the numbers are all weirdly decimal-y is because I’ve divided 94,000 words by 71 days. There is a way to make your equations round up to the nearest whole number, but I have not been annoyed enough by the giant decimals yet to remember how to do that.)

Anything else you’d add, Squiders? Next time (which might be Thursday, or might be next Tuesday) we’ll discuss additional processes to help build up your writing habits.

Guest Post: Realms of Edenocht by DS Johnson

Good morning, Squiders! Today I’ve got a guest post from DS Johnson, who currently has a tour going to promote her fantasy novel, Realms of Edenocht.

Realms of Edenocht cover

Shazmpt has been prepared his whole life to complete the prophecy; however until recently, he was unaware of his true identity as a powerful war wizard.

Hidden on an island in a time realm not his own, he must now search for ancient relics in order to stop the growing evil in the world. All he wanted was to hunt in his beloved forest, but is thrown into a world of sea serpents, dungeons, enchanted castles, miniature men, and air buffs.

Driven by duty and hindered by self-doubt, he is sent on a quest to unite the magical realms once more. He must learn to harness his good and evil powers, but will he survive the shadow…?

Bio:

A little about me, first I want to tell you a story, about a young girl who thought she was dumb. Yes, in the first, second, and third grades this little girl, was in the ‘Resource’ program or ‘Chapter 8’ as I have also heard it called. Even though she was then put in the regular class, she knew all too well by then she was not a smart child. All the way through high school this girl struggled. She graduated with a glorious 2.9. Yes, it was heart breaking for those little numbers to reflect the great struggle and all the efforts she had put forth.

She went on to start beauty school, figuring she wasn’t college material. Suddenly, she learned that she wasn’t dumb after all. She was what is called a kinesthetic learner or ‘hands on’ learner. She LOVED it. She went on to do very well, for many years. Until, life got complicated. She had five children, a husband, and a disabled mother who now required constant care. While contemplating how to earn a little bit of extra income, now that doing hair wasn’t an option, a thought came to her, ‘Write a book’ it said.

She replied by looking around and with her finger pointing at herself, she said, “Who me? I graduated high school with a 2.9 remember?”

The little thought came again, “Yes, you. Write a book.”

It so happened, that she had been telling her children nighttime stories for some time, so she did. It took five years to learn from the internet, a few writing classes, some great blogs, a lot of practice, one very good editor and the awesome support of her family. But she did it, and now I bring The Realms of Edenocht Series to you! Yes, that little girl was me, but no longer.

Contact Information

Website: www.dsjohnsonbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzanne.johnson.12532

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/44211843-d-s-johnson

Guest Post on Writing Inspiration:

I shared a room with my younger sister growing up and she would make me tell her bed time stories every night until we fell asleep. Everything from pink unicorns to scary witches. When my parents divorced I lost my love for stories because I had to ‘grow up’. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I remembered I loved to tell stories. Now that I was a grown up and lived a long time without the child like imagination, I turned to things I knew about. My husband is a big gamer and he introduced me to the world of MMORPG’s. The vibrance of the characters and races, the fun worlds and story lines started to bring back the love of it all.

It took some time but I learned the craft of storytelling (showing) and now I try to bring in elements of our gaming, old forgotten legends and bits of history. I love watching documentaries and digging up forgotten tales. My writing is character driven so I like to use those close to me to take from their personalities, weakness, flaws and fears to give my characters life. I also like to people watch, so I observe their movements and how they interact with body language to add an extra element of depth to my characters.

I love to listen to soundtrack type music and letting the emotions of the music take me on a journey. I try to imagine my characters inside the same emotion I feel and how they might feel within the same music as it would apply to their situation in the book. Sometimes the scenes flow easily and others not so much but I always seem to have a deeper connection with them. I establish what their likes, dislikes, and such are at the beginning so that when something comes up I already know what they will or won’t do. Little by little my imagination takes shape and I surprise even myself.

~*~*~*~*~

If you’d like to pick up Realms of Edenocht, it’s available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Consistency Basics

Last week we looked at why consistency is important for building up a writing habit. Today we’re going to look at what the basics are for setting up a consistent habit.

Let’s dive right in.

  • Set goals. If you don’t know what you’re trying to do, it’s hard to know what you have to do to get there. It also helps to set a single goal at first and add additional ones as you become more comfortable with your habit.
  • Realize you can’t change everything at once. If you’d never run a step in your life, setting a goal of running a marathon after a month would be unrealistic. Along the same lines, if you’re having trouble finding time to write, a goal of a book of month is not going to be achievable. (Probably. There are always outliers on everything.) There’s a reason why so many people and books recommend “baby steps” when working on changing habits. Your baby steps will look different from other people’s. One person may need to start with a goal like “Write at least 10 minutes every day” whereas someone else might jump straight to “Write 2000 words a day.” Do what’s right for you.
  • Figure out how to make your goal happen. If you don’t make writing a priority, it can be hard to squeeze it in around everything else. Figure out how you can fit in your writing every day. Do you have a block of time that you can easily convert for writing? Will a simple change of routine clear something up? For example, I recently decided to start getting up half an hour earlier and write first thing in the morning.
  • But don’t sabotage yourself. While it’s important to plan out how and when you’re going to fit in your writing goals, you also need to be realistic with yourself and how you work. I can get up a little earlier and write because that’s when my creativity’s at its best anyway, but if I was someone who liked to hit the snooze button five times before finally dragging myself out of bed, I’d never be able to stick to my plan. If you know you always spend your lunch break chatting with your friend, you’re unlikely to be able to use that time for writing.
  • Define what counts as meeting your goal. Remember those writing challenge months that pop up every now and then? What can count varies by challenge (some allow work only a single, specific project, where others allow you to count anything you write, including schoolwork, blog posts, and work reports). Be fair to yourself and your goal. If you really need to get something done, don’t allow yourself to count words on a side project you’re doing for fun. Likewise, if your goal is just to practice without a specific end goal, then, sure, count the words on that fanfic you wrote while the kids were eating lunch. Does research count? Editing? Marketing research? Make sure you lay this out beforehand so you’re not tempted to improvise on the fly.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your goal as needed. If your goal isn’t working, don’t stick with a losing plan. Maybe you were too ambitious (“fly and die,” as we used to call it in crew) and you’re getting depressed at your “lack” of progress. Maybe you finished writing and need to transition to a different part of the process, so your daily word count goal is now worthless. Make sure your goal is working for you.
  • But don’t give up before you try. If you’ve set yourself a reasonable goal, figured out how and when you’re going to do it each day (or week, or however often you’ve picked), and have implemented appropriate baby steps for you, don’t give in to fears that you’re taking on too much at once. You’ll be surprised to see what you can get done when you put your mind to something and make sure you take the right steps.
  • Set a trigger. A trigger, in this case, is something that signals to your brain that its time to get down to business. A trigger can be literally anything, as long as you link it specifically to your consistency habit (i.e., don’t do it other times) and do it each time you sit down to write. For example, I have specific writing gloves I put on (they are specifically for wrist support for typing, and I would link you, but alas, the company went out of business) when working on a novel that I don’t wear at other times (like now) which are part of my trigger. I also put on fingerless gloves over my writing gloves, and put on a specific Pandora station.

Anything else you would add, Squiders? Next week we’ll talk about ways to help your habits become and stay habits.

Library Book Sale Finds: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

Good afternoon, Squiders! Been a while since we’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? My archives tell me last June. In case you were wondering, I’m still working on the stack of books from the library book sales in summer 2015. (We didn’t go to any last summer, which is probably for the best. I think I still have over a dozen.)

You know, I picked up all these lovely science fiction and fantasy books, yet I keep reading the non-scifi/fantasy ones. (Okay, well, I have done seven of these–this is the eighth–and three were scifi/fantasy, so not always.) Admittedly, I just finished a 600-page fantasy novel (American Gods) which probably had a fairly major impact on the decision, which came down to “not fantasy, not huge.”

(And now I have Wintersong back from the library, so I’m back into another fat fantasy novel. Just a two-day mystery cleanser in the middle.)

On to it!

Title: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year:
1951

Pros: Great mystery, excellent use of misdirection
Cons: Weak, uninteresting beginning, too many characters?

I think I’m out of mysteries from the book sales with this one, though I do have several mythology collections and a book by Edith Wharton, so I can procrastinate on the scifi/fantasy for a bit longer if I’d like.

This is a Poirot novel! I’ve never read one before. I am familiar with Hercule Poirot, of course, because my family watched Masterpiece Mystery on PBS religiously when I was younger. It’s a far cry from the Miss Marple books, as it is in Poirot’s viewpoint (though it does occasionally stray into others) and also has a bit of a weird structure to it.

The book opens with the wrap-up of the trial for the murder of Mrs. McGinty, a charwoman (or cleaning lady) who was seemingly done in because she kept her savings under her floorboards and everyone in town knew it. The case has been rather clean and obvious, and Poirot took no note of the murder at the time because he found it boring. However, the superintendent of the police for the case, having worked with Poirot on a previous case, comes to him and tells Poirot that though he gathered the evidence, he can’t help but think that they’ve convicted the wrong person. He has nothing concrete to go on except his experience as a police officer. Poirot agrees to look into as a favor to a friend.

I found the first couple of chapters pretty dull. The book opens with an older Poirot wandering about being sad about the fact that he can’t eat constantly. Even once the potential mystery is introduced, the book still takes a few chapters to actually get into the act of mystery solving. For a while there, I actually considered putting the book down, which you know I rarely do.

Fortunately, for both me and the book, the pace picked up and got quite interesting after that point. Mrs. Christie throws in a good half dozen potential culprits and expertly keeps your attention off the real one. If I have one complaint, it’s maybe that she had too many suspicious personages in the end, because I’m pretty sure it’s never explained why–oh. No, never mind, I just figured it out. Nothing to see here.

I went to a mystery panel at a writing conference once, and one of the panelist said that you couldn’t know who did it, as the author, until you were most of the way done, because otherwise you’d  subconsciously write in too many clues that would point readers to the killer too early. So you have to write the book as if they all did it, so there’s enough red herrings and clues for any number of people. This book feels like it was written like that.

Anyway! I enjoyed it. I read the whole thing in two days, which I haven’t done in a while. So I’d recommend it, if you like classic mysteries and/or Poirot and/or Agatha Christie and/or if you’re looking to get into reading mysteries, which I also highly recommend.

(I use them as a brain cleanser.)

Read Mrs. McGinty’s Dead? Thoughts on Agatha Christie or Poirot in general?

A Human Element by Donna Galanti

Happy Tuesday, Squiders! Today I’m pleased to introduce you to A Human Element by Donna Galanti, a paranormal suspense novel. Donna’s also giving away a $15 gift card, so stick around at the bottom and enter to win!

A Human Element cover
Evil comes in many forms…

One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite in her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a madman, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his, and she has two choices—redeem him or kill him.

Excerpt:

“I am not here to hurt you,” the man said when Ben shrunk into the rock. “I’m going to cut the ropes.”

In a few swift movements he slit the ropes binding Ben, who staggered back. The man caught him and held him up, then ripped off the duct tape.

“Who are you?” Ben’s body trembled from the rush of fear and a fierce headache pounded in his temple.

The man didn’t answer. He bent over one of the dead Samoans and pulled out a wallet. He looked inside and threw it at Ben. “It’s yours.” Then the man led him by the arm down the overgrown road where he handed Ben his clothes from the brush.

“Come on,” the man said. Ben looked back at the dead men sprawled face down. They oozed like two fat walruses sunning themselves in the moonlight. “Don’t worry about them. I’ll dump them later, somewhere they’ll never be found.”

In a daze, Ben followed his savior up the rough road, stumbling behind him in the dim moonlight.

“I’ll take you back to base and you’re on your own,” the man said once they reached his car, parked off the main road. “Don’t speak of this to anyone. Understand?”

Ben nodded and climbed in the car. He looked over at the stranger in black who had saved him. His mammoth biceps flexed as he drove, hunched over the wheel. Ben stared at him, and then a memory flickered. “Why are you following me? Why save me?”

“I’m an interested party. Leave it at that.”

“I can’t. I would have died up there for sure.”

The man didn’t respond.

“Thank you.”

The man looked at Ben. His green eyes glowed in the moonlight that filtered into the car.

“Someday you might not thank me. Someday you might not survive.”

Bio:

Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy (Imajin Books)  and the children’s fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem (http://project-middle-grade-mayhem.blogspot.com/search/label/Donna Galanti) . She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna enjoys teaching at conferences on the writing craft and marketing and also presenting as a guest author at elementary and middle schools.

Visit her at www.elementtrilogy.com and www.donnagalanti.com.

Connect with Donna:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

Goodreads

Instagram:

Purchase books 1 and 2 in the Element Trilogy

Donna will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter to win a $15 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

Why Consistency is Important

On to a new topic today, Squiders! But first, I want to tell you about a promo that’s going on through tomorrow, March 17. You can get a variety of fantasy novels or series for free or $.99 through here. I’ve got my first novel, Hidden Worlds, included. There’s some good stuff (I may have bought a couple myself) so take a look!

So, we’ll start with why consistency is important today, and then in subsequent posts we’ll look at ways to build up and maintain consistency as well as what to do when life is getting in the way. Like the submitting/publishing posts, there’s some stuff I’ll leave off the blog posts so that there’ll be some new info in the book when I put it out, though I’m not quite sure what exactly as I haven’t finished outlining this book yet. But that’ll be done before next week.

Merriam-Webster defines consistency as a “harmony of conduct or practice with profession” which is a bizarre way to put it, if you ask me. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “consistent behavior or treatment.” (And also “the way a substance holds together,” which is irrelevant to this discussion.)

If you do a quick Internet search, you’ll find several dozen articles on why consistency is the key to success. But what it basically comes down to is this: if you’re not regularly doing something, practicing it and improving on it and trying new things, how can you expect to be successful?

I heard a tenet once, many years ago, that said you have to write a million words of crap before you get anywhere. Not sure who said it originally, since the writing community picked up the idea and ran with it. A million words sounds like a lot. It’s 10 100K word novels. 20 50K, if that’s more your length. It took me about eight years to get through my million words of crap, and that’s not counting earlier stuff from my teens.

So, to be specific, why does it pay to be consistent with your writing practices:

  • Things get done. A novel can seem like an insurmountable goal, and if you’re writing once or twice every month or so, it very well could be. By writing consistently, you can break a goal into something manageable and see that you’re actually getting closer.
  • It helps improve your craft. The thing about that old “practice makes perfect” saying is that it’s true, to some extent. Sure, there is the occasional odd duck who can put out a story that gets them everything they want on the first go, but most people have to work at learning some aspect of the writing process, whether it’s plotting, description, characterization, structure, etc. Writing consistently can help you learn to see the errors in your own work, and also help you try out ways to fix those errors.
  • It keeps you from getting rusty. When I was younger, I’d write for, oh, six months of the year, and then take the other six months off and do other things. Whenever I came back to the writing thing, it was as if I couldn’t remember what I was doing. Sure, it’d come back eventually, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and pain if I hadn’t taken such a long break.
  • It helps you push yourself. Most writers have a list of things they’d like to get done eventually. For example, I’d really like to write a cozy mystery someday. Maybe set in space. By writing more consistently, you can get through projects faster, which leaves you time to experiment, or to say to yourself that maybe now, finally, is the time to try the epic time traveling romance you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Writing becomes a habit. And habits tend to get done in a day around everything else.
  • More opportunities will come your way. If you’re more consistent, you’ll probably build up a reputation in your writing community for being dependable, which means that when that editor needs a last minute story to round out an anthology they know you’ll be good for it. Or if that small press you’ve had your eye on opens a call for historical romance, you’ll have a novel waiting in the wings ready for submission. Or if you’re at a conference and overhear an agent say that they would give up coffee to get their hands on a MG scifi adventure with a female protagonist, oh hey, you just finished one up last month.
  • The writing business isn’t for the faint of heart. Writing can be very depressing. There’s a lot of waiting and rejection and a lack of response, and if you’ve got one novel done and you’re waiting for it to sell for a million dollars and make you a bestseller, you’re probably going to be disappointed. It helps to move on to new things, to have more than one project, to keep your mind off of what a single project is (or isn’t) doing and to keep your momentum going.
  • It keeps you up to date. The publishing world and its trends change often, and it can help you tailor your goals and what you’re working on if you’re generally aware of what’s going on.

Anything I’m leaving out, Squiders?

Poll Results, Project Switching, and Musical Aftermath

Okay, so judging from the poll last week, the next nonfiction topic we’ll focus on is writing consistently–why you should do it, strategies for doing it, and how not to beat yourself up about it if life has other plans. We’ll start that on Thursday. Woo!

So, in the continuing saga of breaking writer’s block by starting another novel, I have switched back to book one of the trilogy and…it actually felt pretty good. Not like pulling teeth at all. I think giving myself some distance really helped, and now hopefully everything will go smoother.

That said, distance has helped me realize that the new chapter one that took me a month to write is really, really terrible. I mean, okay, not terrible. It’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever written. But it is lacking in relevant plot points. It introduces characters, the world, the plot just fine, but the action in the chapter itself isn’t helping anything and isn’t terribly interesting on its own. The main characters go through training for much of this book, and so I introduced the training in chapter one. I also switched chapter one viewpoints (this story is dual viewpoint between a male and a female character), so I think I eliminated the training-related tension in doing so.

That being said, it’s not like there was a lot in the last version of the story, so I need to do some brainstorming on what to do about the first chapter in general. Maybe take the training sequence out, or add something to it to make it not just a standard day, or…

But, anyway, things for another time. When I was outlining this draft I’m working on now, I did consider taking the first chapter out and starting with the second chapter (where unexpected things definitely happen during training), but it felt too in medias res-y. I know there’s something to be said about starting in the middle of something, but when you’re setting up a high fantasy trilogy it felt like the reader would be too adrift without at least a smidgen of setting and worldbuilding and plot thrown in. (If you have examples otherwise, please let me know.)

I also considered writing chapter two both ways (from the female character’s viewpoint as the starting chapter and from the male character’s point of view as the second chapter) which I may still do.

But I’m leaning towards just leaving the beginning alone to percolate and plowing ahead with the rest of the draft, and then coming back to fix the beginning later. I’ve heard that it can sometimes help to write the beginning last anyway, since you’ll know your ending and how your theme plays out and can go full circle earlier.

So, that’s that.

Also, my musical is over (closed Sunday), so I can no longer use that as an excuse to not write. I’m hoping this means I can get a little more momentum going. I was, in theory, going to be pitching this draft at the end of April, but I’m not sure I can pull out a 100K word novel in a month and a half (or that I want to), so I may have to revisit that as well.

Musical went well! I’d do another one, if they’ll take me.

How was your weekend, Squiders?