This week has been more reading, reading, reading to slim down my TBR pile. Most of the books I’ve read in the past couple of weeks have been independently published because it turns out independent publishers are mostly the people I know and thus their books are the ones I get to hear about.
All my friends are virtual
A lot of my online time is spent in a couple of Facebook groups dedicated to authors who have all taken on the challenge of self-publishing and the purpose of the groups is to share experience of what works (and doesn’t) and keep morale up when things go wrong.
A lot of what I’ve read recently has been written by people in these groups because I’ve heard about what they’re up to and been interested to read their books. Maybe it’s also because they are all eager for reviews and happy to provide review copies which fits perfectly with my current free reading challenge. And it occurred to me as I was reading what an enormous amount of talent there is out there.
Oozing with talent
There is a lot of grumbling about standards in publishing (I know I’ve been guilty of it myself – don’t get me started on publishing houses that appear to have opted out of the requirement for proof-reading a book before publication), but I think a part of that is just because the pool of books is now so big that if you’re looking at the wrong part of it, all you can see is wall-to-wall typos and cliches.
But as I scheduled yet another 5* review on the Paisley Piranha site yesterday I realised how much excellence is also out there. I’m a very fussy reader (if it doesn’t look like it from my reviews, that’s because I only select books I’m pretty sure from the preview I’m going to love, and if I don’t have anything good to write about a book I won’t review it), and I’ve been constantly both impressed and delighted by both the nuts-and-bolts quality and the imaginative verve of what I’ve read recently.
My conclusion this week: don’t grumble that standards are slipping – find the authors whose standards haven’t. I promise you, there are plenty out there!
I’ve been making a deliberate effort to increase my productivity lately. I’m now a self-published writer looking to increase the audience for my fiction. One of the sure-fire ways to do this is to write more books (everything I’ve read about self-publishing says the key is to write more and get more books out if you want to find an audience, with 5 books often mentioned as the breakthrough point). I published my first book in November 2014, and my next in November 2015 so I need to speed up. Here are the methods I’ve used to help me increase the number of words I write.
1. Write more often
Like many (most?) self-published writers, especially those still establishing their careers, I still have a day job, which for me involves working shifts. This means writing has to fit into the gaps left around paid work and family responsibilities. When I launched my first book I would often have two days per week when I “couldn’t” write.
Taking inspiration from writer friends who shared their 500-word challenge on Facebook, I decided this had to change. I lowered my standards of what was an acceptable result for a day’s writing, but in exchange I expected myself to write every day. Whatever else happens, I will write 500 words every day. This doesn’t sound like a lot (which is why I let those words slip out of my grasp), but it adds up. 500 x 364 days (you can have Christmas off, if you like!) makes 182,000 words. It will depend what genre you write in, but for me, 182k words is two and a half books (my YA urban fantasy novels come in around 70k). Two and a half books from a measly 500 words a day, get in!
2. Write more in the time you have
You may be grumbling that it’s all very well for me, but what if you can’t write even 500 words in a day? Well, if you really want to fit them in but you only have a few minutes, I’m going to suggest the deceptively simple strategy of writing faster.
If I feel in any danger of procrastinating, or the deadline for the school run is drawing close and I haven’t written enough words, I use a timer. Twenty minutes of focussed writing rarely fails to net me at least 500 words. If you genuinely can’t find twenty minutes together, write 100 words in 5 minutes and do that five times. That can fit into time waiting for your bus, waiting for the pasta to cook while the kids play, or use your tea breaks. Scribble in a notepad or use the notes facility on your phone – you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve if you fill in time that’s usually wasted.
3. Write more useable words
Oh, but that’s horribly bitty – how are you supposed to keep your train of thought on a scene if you’re writing it in several sections? Best way to do it is to plan – which is also a great way to increase productivity by ensuring you don’t waste any (well, many; things will always change in the edit) of the words you write.
I’m releasing my third book in June (only just outside that 6 month window), but it could have been out in the world much earlier if I hadn’t spent so much time writing myself up blind alleys.
I don’t have time for that any more, so I’ve evolved from being a complete pantster (oh, the hours I spent staring at a blank screen and running out of ideas at the 20k point!) to planning very clearly. Before I start writing I know the overall shape of the book and key elements that have to happen in each chapter. Before I sit down to do my day’s writing (whether that’s 500 words or – hopefully – more), I sketch out the scene or scenes I’m about to write. Five or six lines outlining what’s about to happen makes writing a thousand word scene a straightforward proposition – I know what’s going to happen, I can see it in my mind’s eye; all I need to do is write it down so my reader can also see the scene.
Combining these three methods has had a dramatic effect. I drafted a 70k word novel in six weeks during November/December, revised it in January and it’s now with a beta reader. Onto the next and I’ve written 58k words of the first draft since February first. The third is already taking shape in my mind, so I hope by the end of the summer to have three books ready for editing, so they can be launched early in 2017.
4. Celebrate your words
As you can see above, as I write, I also fill up a grid with pretty stars (I have stickers, but couldn’t find them on 1st February, and I’ve been too focused on the words to look for them since!). Each square represents one thousand words, which can be split up to mark off 500 words if that’s all I’ve managed that day. When I’ve finished my writing I find the appropriate sharpie and star off however many words I’ve added to my first draft that day.
This provides a visual reminder of how much progress I’m making. Just as I like to have a written plan on post-it notes and a whiteboard, this provides a record away from the computer word count of how I’m doing. It’s incredibly, childishly satisfying to see a book take shape like this. And it’s a tool to help me keep going. If I’m flagging I can look at it and I know I don’t want to let myself down by giving up or telling myself it’s okay to miss a day. This sheet has had at least one star added every single day since February 1st – I can’t fail now.
5. Enjoy every word
Having just read back my post, I wanted to add a caveat. I’ve made this sound very focussed and driven. To a degree, that’s right because I am. I love writing, and getting my fiction into the hands of eager readers is all I’ve ever wanted to do. But at the same time, I’m doing this because I love it, not because I have to. I love every part of the writing process: thinking through the plot, getting to know my characters, drafting, writing, re-writing, editing. Writing should be a pleasure, and while sometimes it’s tough and you need to grit your teeth, you should never lose sight of why you took up writing or why you want to write this book you’ve started.
These methods work for me, right now. I hope they’ll continue to work for me so I can write three books a year for as long as I can hold a pen and think up stories. But, I’d still be writing even if I thought I could only write one a year, or half a year.
Like all writing advice, if these methods strike a chord, try them and see if they can help you write more. But if they don’t work, or if you don’t want to write at this rate, then don’t.
It’s your book, write it your way.
If you try these methods, or if you do something different to get the words out, I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below.