Eric Dontigney’s Blog has moved to it’s new home at http://www.ericdontigney.com/blog
Please update your bookmarks and links to accommodate this move.
Eric Dontigney’s Blog has moved to it’s new home at http://www.ericdontigney.com/blog
Please update your bookmarks and links to accommodate this move.
As promised, here is the official announcement regarding the move of this blog to its new home at www.ericdontigney.com. I think I’ve got the technical ducks mostly lined up and I’m expecting to make the transfer on Saturday, November 23, 2013. As I said, if I do things right, all of the old URLs should automatically redirect to the correct post at the new URL. I will keep you all updated about the status of the move.
While it’s not an exact equation, when it comes to writing for a living, there is a definite correlation between writing more and getting paid more. The tougher part is figuring out how to squeeze more writing out of yourself. This is where scheduling and accountability come into the situation.
For years, I followed a pattern of writing in fits and spurts. While this did sometimes lead to extraordinary burst of productivity, like 50 pages on a novel in one night, it also led to a very inconsistent income. I wasn’t happy with that inconsistency, but I stuck hard to my old routine even though I knew it wasn’t working. After all, I knew me and what worked for me better than every productivity and efficiency expert that ever put pen to paper. Right…sure I did.
So not too long back, I wised up a shred. I decided that I was going to try an experiment. Instead of writing willy-nilly, I would impose order on chaos. I would take some of those suggestions I’d read about and, when I’m honest, written about and commended to others….oh hypocrisy, thy name is Eric…and put them into action.
The first thing I did was impose a schedule for doing paying work. I would do paying work during the work week, Monday – Friday, and I would do it during more or less regular work hours. I would set daily and weekly earning goals. I also set writing goals for my personal projects.
What happened next surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. My productivity increased. The first week or two, I was still struggling against the changes and didn’t meet all of my earning goals, but I was making money way more consistently than ever before. More importantly, I was also being way more productive on my novel. Instead of thinking I could maybe, possibly, somehow get it written by the end of January, I was suddenly on track to finish by Christmas. The scheduling and goal setting was working.
The big change, however, was in terms of accountability. This happened for me by chance, but I suggest you impose it by design. I’d looped a friend of mine in on most of these changes and she began to act as both an accountability buddy and as a cheerleader. Once that happened, not only was I writing when I was supposed to be writing, but also writing more to meet my goals. That novel I was hoping to finish by Christmas is now on track to be finished by the first week of December.
I can’t really express the turnaround in my quality of life. My negative self-talk dropped off by something like 90%. I’ve finally started being able to take active control of my finances. I’m sleeping on regular schedule and sleeping better. Maybe, most importantly, my stress level has nosedived. If you’ve struggled with these same issues, learn from my mistakes. Embrace scheduling and encourage accountability. It can change your life.
For the last several years this blog has been proudly attached to the Samuel Branch website. When I first started it, the idea was to use the blog as means for delivering updates on the Samuel Branch series of novels that I’m still hard at work on. It was also there for the occasional foray into book and movie reviews, some thoughts on writing and a bit of social commentary.
As we draw toward the end of 2013, and thanks to a salient comment on Twitter, I’ve been giving some thought to the future of this blog. In the last year and a half, give or take, this blog has evolved away from its original purpose and taken on a different kind of life. While I certainly intend to keep my readers abreast about my various writing ventures, this blog now serve primarily as platform devoted to the professional side of writing and, to some extent, the particular challenges facing indie authors. As such, I believe it’s time for a change.
In the next month or so, this blog will transition to a new URL: ericdontigney.com, specifically. (For the curious: At the moment, there isn’t anything to see on the new site, but there will be soon.)This move will come as part of a consolidation of some of my varied projects and the new site will, with any luck, serve as central hub for those interested in just what it is I do and what I write. Transitioning the blog is the first step in that process.
What you won’t see is any major changes in the appearance of the blog, though a new header that includes a decent picture of me is almost certainly in order. When the blog makes the transition, I will leave a redirect page in place at its old location. If I do this correctly, old links should automatically redirect to their corresponding post at the new URL location. If I don’t do this correctly…well, here’s hoping I do it correctly.
I will keep you updated on this process and make sure to announce it before the transition goes into full effect.
Branch Novel Update
For those of you who come here mainly to find out about Sam Branch related news, I have some. I have recently crossed the 80,000 word mark on the third Sam Branch novel (Rises). With hope, and some luck, I’m aiming to finish the first draft by Christmas.
Like a lot of writers out there, I made a fundamental error for a long time. I assumed that success as a writer was a mark of successful writing. That’s not true. These are categorically different things and, as writers, we need to keep the distinction firmly in mind.
What is Successful Writing?
Successful writing is, in the end, writing that achieves its intended goal. Did you set out to write a novel? Did you write it? You did? Awesome! That’s successful writing. You set a goal and reached it. Did you set out to write an article about why the term “mommy blogger” is one you should avoid like the plague? Did you write it? If you did, that’s successful writing.
Finishing isn’t the only thing that matters, but finishing is the first major step in successful writing. If you don’t finish, the writing can never achieve any of its other goals.
Of course, successful writing also means employing a particular set of skills to the task of writing. Is it grammatically correct? Typo free? Does it use an appropriate structure? Have I chosen the right word and not its first cousin? Have I avoided fallacious reasoning? Are the facts correct? Does it evoke the proper emotional response or engage the intellect? Does it inform? All of these are hallmarks of successful writing as well.
Writing is an activity to which we can apply a loosely defined body of rules, conventions and techniques. If you’re doing that and, preferably, doing that well, you are successfully writing.
The question that does not apply to whether something is successful writing is this: Did it sell a lot of copies? Other variants of this question go along these lines. Did it get a lot of hits/likes/shares/pins/tweets/retweets and so on? None of these have anything to do with successfully writing something.
What is Writing Success?
Writing success, though sometimes correlated with successful writing, is about an entirely different set of rules, conventions and outcomes. Writing success is all about the sales numbers, the hits, the shares, the tweets, retweets and pins. Writing success is about reaching a level of popularity, not about how well or poorly you engage in the activity of writing.
We can all point to books, articles, and blog posts that demonstrate a profound failure in the actual activity of writing that are, nonetheless, writing successes. They are juggernauts that no amount of reason, critical commentary or the rules of grammar can seem to bring down.
Sometimes these bits of atrocious writing tap into something that’s been nagging at the collective unconscious of the country, world, or intercybernetwebspace. Other times they rise to the top by being the first to talk about a particular trend. Other times, there seems to be no explanation for it. That doesn’t mean the authors of these pieces are successfully writing, just experiencing writing success.
The next time you sit down with a piece of your writing, look at it from the perspective of successfully writing and not just from the perspective of writing success. Look at all the things you did right with it and forget about whether the world at large loves it to pieces. I bet you’ll discover that you are, in fact, successfully writing.
The title of this post is a bit of misnomer, but you work with language people will recognize. As has been said many times, by many people, time management doesn’t exist. What does exist is self-management. What all time management boils down to is using yourself more efficiently and effectively with the time you have. For writers, especially those writing full-time and from home, this is a particularly challenging task.
Luckily, there are a variety of systems, techniques, tactics, and a plethora of desktop programs and smartphone apps designed to help you out with this problem.
One of the most basic things you can do to improve your time management is to goal setting. Goal setting isn’t the same thing as wish listing. I may think to myself or put on my bucket list, write a personal essay while sitting at an outdoor café in Paris. This is not a goal in a useful sense. This is a wish. For a writer, a goal is something is something achievable, within a reasonable amount of time, which provides a benefit, and is not cost-prohibitive.
My hypothetical write in Paris wish fails on almost all counts. Write 1000 words a day, submit a query to a magazine, write a chapter on my novel, or pursue new clients are all goals. They are all achievable. Each can be acted on or completed within a reasonable period of time. All provide direct benefits to you and none are cost-prohibitive. A goal gives you something to pursue that will probably result in positive reinforcement, be it more writing done or more money.
Plan for Your First Day Back
All of us take a day off or a weekend off here and there and coming back is often an exercise in stumbling. Among several other excellent pieces of advice about beating freelance writer inefficiency, Carol Tice recommends building a to-do list for when you come back from your day off, vacation, or weekend. In addition to serving as an accountability check and getting you focused on the right things, clearing out your brain of all the things you need to get done lets you stop thinking about them when you take time off. Good self-management also means self-care and disconnecting from your work matters to your mental health.
Software and Apps
There are literally so many apps and pieces of software out there that can help you manage your work life it would take up an entire post just to list the tip of the iceberg. In point of fact, that is exactly what Passive Panda does with it’s list of 50 productivity boosting online tools. The time management tools start at number 20, but the project management and productivity management tools are all worth a look. The thing to remember about programs and apps is that you need to find what works for you, not one that you work for. If a particular app or program feels like it’s more work than it’s worth, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to try out more than one before you commit to using one or several of the options. I do, however, advocate for starting with free programs and apps before dumping money into one.
For more thoughts on productivity boosting, you can check out the post I dedicated to that topic here.
Also, check out Jamie Wallace’s excellent post for a more in-depth look at how to leverage project management software and techniques to your writing life.
Creativity is a crucial tool for every writer, whether you’re trying to dream up a new angle on business branding or to draft potent dialogue. Unfortunately, we also write in a world that places very real mental, physical, and emotional demands on us. I know that I find it much more difficult to when I’m tired or after an argument or when some unexpected expense comes along. Fortunately, you can help train your mind to stay creative with some basic techniques and tactics.
I picked this one up from The Iron Writer Challenge. Select a few random items or people and design a scenario or story around them. Just writing out a couple of paragraphs can help to cement the fusing process. The point here is not to achieve greatness, though kudos if you do, but simply to train your brain to make connections between seemingly unrelated things. If you can get your brain into the habit, you’ll likely get find it easier to be creative when you need to be.
There is deep link between curiosity and creativity. For a good overview of some contemporary thinking on the link between the two, David Silverstein has done a roundup on his blog here that is worth the read. On a different note, but no less compelling, is this TED Talk by physicist Brian Cox where he draws a link between the curiosity-based research and creative advancements, such as transistors and silicon chips, as well as some very cool information about the origins of life in the universe. I recommend watching the whole video. It’s a very well spent 15 minutes.
Expertise in a given subject or topic can serve as a springboard for creativity. In-depth knowledge enables you to see the path not taken and arms you to explore it. This doesn’t mean you need a PhD in Renaissance History or Biophysics; you’re a writer after all. What it means is reading and watching everything you can get your hands on in an area that is at your level of understanding. Start at the broad level and work in from there. For example, I’m fascinated by the Medici family, but I didn’t start by reading a biography of Catherine de’Medici. My fascination with them started when I was reading about Florentine history in the 1400’s and 1500’s to give me some context for Machiavelli’s political treatise, The Prince. Fast forward several years and I’m reading books about specific incidents in the lives of specific member of the Medici family. While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the level of professional scholars, I know the material well enough for it to serve as background and fertile soil for my fiction.
While everyone is going to have an off day, creatively speaking, developing expertise, being curious, and sometimes just plain random fusing can help to keep the creative juices flowing.
While there are a number of technical, logistical and strategic things that go into developing an author brand, there are some fairly straightforward, though unpleasant, things that go into it as well. This week, we’ll cover a few of the more unpleasant ones.
Yes, I know, most writers are introverts. I also know that pitching friends and family, people who are more or less obligated to feign interest, can be psychologically taxing. Pitching strangers on your work can be downright traumatic. In the end, though, as Machiavelli notes, fortune favors the bold. In the long run, the worst thing you really face is the prospect that someone won’t be interested. Is that unpleasant? It sure is. Will it kill you? No, despite all that irrational screaming from your subconscious, it will not turn out to be fatal. Creating awareness is a critical step in building any brand and awareness building means you need to engage in some shameless self-promotion.
Places To Be Shameless
Talk to local bookstores and see if they’ll carry your book or, better yet, let you do a reading/signing AND carry your book. Talk to your local library about carrying your book and doing a reading or signing. Offer to give a talk to local writers groups about some element of writing and bring along a couple copies of your books. Is there a coffee shop near you that also sells books? Maybe they would be willing to host an event for you and let you leave a couple copies on the shelf. Got invited to a party? Go and steadfastly talk to everyone. When you get asked what you do, tell them you’re a novelist or an author. 9 times out of 10, they’ll ask about your book.
How To Be Shameless, but Not Obnoxious
When it comes to places like libraries, bookstores and other businesses, you should be straightforward about what you’re after from them. Like everyone else, the owner, manager or staff person who makes the decisions about those things has other duties and their time is valuable. Don’t waste it. If they’re unreceptive, thank them for their time and let it go. Trying to convince someone to let you hold an event or carry your books when don’t want to will be more trouble than it’s worth. When it comes to new people in social settings, wait for the conversation to turn toward work. Don’t worry, conversations with new people almost always turn to work. People spend so much of their lives doing their jobs that it becomes a go-to topic. It’s something they’re comfortable talking about and that they know a lot about. When it’s your turn, it’s a perfect segue to talk about your book. As a rule, it’s bad form and horribly off-putting to just walk up to someone and start pitching your book to them. It’s the interpersonal equivalent of a telemarketing call at dinnertime. Don’t do it.
I’ve been off the radar on the blog recently, so here’s the Eric roundup. The great adventure to the north has wound down and I’ve returned home. I attended a wedding, which I expected, and gave a toast, which I did not expect. Pro tip – When faced with giving an unexpected toast, I strongly recommend going for the cheap laugh. I met way more people than I can possibly remember, let alone name, but I do recall that everyone was very nice.
Post-nuptial activities, I made my way up to the inestimable Fatman Comics and Games to do a signing. Despite taking place on Labor Day (totally my fault for not checking the calendar before scheduling the event), people still came out to meet me, buy books, get books signed and chat. Considering my no-name status, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout and the interest in my novels.
I caught up with some friends, a few that I hadn’t seen in more than ten years, and was surprised by how time changes people without altering the essential things that seem to define them. Then again, I imagine I probably wasn’t much like they remembered me from back in the day, so I get it all evens out in the end. 😉 Cognitive dissonance for all!
I also ate a whole lot of food, not a bit of it prepared by my own hands. This was something of luxury and a pleasure. As someone who takes likes the process of preparing food, I find it harder to actually enjoy the food I make. I spend eating time wondering what I could have done differently or what ingredient I forgot to put into the food. Eating food other people made freed me up to just eat for pleasure and I did…with considerable gusto.
Like all things, though, my trip has come to an end and it’s time to get back to work on that novel I keep promising people. 😀
Okay folks, here’s the skinny. On Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, I will be doing a signing at Fatman Comics and Games from 5pm to 8pm. I will definitely sign things. Preferably things I wrote, but I’m not picky. I might also do a reading, if people seem eager or masochistic about the idea. 😉
There will be a limited number of copies of my books on hand for purchasing/signing, but they will be sold on a first come, first serve basis. No reservations. As such, I advice ordering a copy in advance if you want to make sure you’ll have one for signing.
You can order a copy of Falls here.
You can order a copy of Turns here.
I will also be generally hanging out and chatting with whoever shows up. You should all turn out for this event, hang out, and buy loads of cool comic and games stuff at the store. They’re good folks, a local business, and if that’s not enough…I repeat, COMICS and GAMES.
There’s an event page over on Facebook here where, I think, you can sign up and let me know you’re coming. Excitement and adventure await…or you can come spend time with me. 🙂