Sunday, in many parts of the United States was the start of Daylight Saving Time. A ridiculous practice in which we pretend it’s daylight longer by rolling our clocks forward.
I am exhausted and underwhelmed to have lost an hour of sleep.
I know that for people with children or pets or sleeping disorders, it can be harder. They’re not able to understand why we’re getting up earlier.
I console myself with the knowledge that I’ll get that hour back, come late fall.
But, all too often, we give away our writing time, without a government mandated clock adjustment.
This is going to be a ‘do what I say, and not as I do’ sort of post, that’s inspirational for me. I hope you find it a little inspiring, though.
When it comes down to it, all writers can categorize their time spent not writing into two types:
1. Intentional Time Spent Not Writing
We all have obligations and lives outside of our writing. Mouths to feed, chores to do, loved ones to support and cherise. Not to mention, many of us have day jobs — be they paid or unpaid. And all of those things deserve (or should deserve) our undivided attention.
And if you’re me? You probably want to fit some sleep in there. And contemplate exercising.
Plus, we all need downtime. Being 100%, all the time, is exhausting. Scheduling 100% of your time is going to lead you to be checked out, whenever you can get away with it. Schedule in the things that motivate you or refresh you. TV binge watching, marathon training, book reading, long walks on pretty spring days.
Whatever brings you joy and helps lower your stress level.
2. Unintentional Time Spent Not Writing
These are the time sucks. When you’re free to write, and you go to sit down to write, but instead end up on social media. Or watching three hours of Tiny House videos, or downloading some sort of tetris game, where the lines of blocks just slide sideways, and playing til you hit level 19…
These are just random examples off the top of my head, I don’t know what sort of things you people are into.
I wanted to call it stolen time, but that time isn’t stolen, you’ve just given it away. And then it’s 11:30 pm and you’re just starting your weekly blog post, and you still owe a beta reader some feedback. (But, at least your latest chapters are with your mentor, so at least she’s not waiting on you.)
If you’re not careful, you can lose all your writing time, in the blink of an eye.
For those of us without agents, we create our own schedules and goals, and we’re the only ones holding ourselves accountable.
Is the extra downtime puttering worth it?
I usually say that, unlike exercise or people, if you don’t have time for your writing or it’s not bringing you joy, you can always put it away for a few months… or decades, and it’ll be there waiting when you’re ready.
I’m never quite sure if that analogy is comforting or creepy, but hey. It is what it is.
But, the last person I said that to is past retirement age and reminded me, not all of us have that much time. And they’re right. Not to mention, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.
Only you can decide if goofing off and getting more downtime is worth giving up your writing time today. Maybe you’re having an off-day. Maybe you’re stuck in your writing and letting your brain try and process in the background without forcing it too hard, maybe you’re tired and brain-friend and don’t want your writing to look as coherent as a cold-medication-inspired ramble.
But maybe, you’re just not focused on the end goal and you need to buckle down.
Look at your dreams, your goals, and the people who matter to you. Decide what you’d most regret not-doing — that you KNOW you want to do — and start your list of priorities there.
This year? I’m going to do the same. But instead of talking about the external things, I’m going to talk about the internal things.
Giving Up My Fears
The fear of running out of ideas
When looking down the barrel at an empty page, I’ve felt the fear that I’m out of ideas. That I’ve finished telling all the stories that are inside of me. The ones I wrote were in me for so long, and anything new just doesn’t belong to me.
And then, I start to play around with some new world concept, or setting, or character. Then slowly, ever so slowly, a story starts to come to me from the shadows and I follow its path through the darkness and onto the page.
The fear of not finishing the story
Once I’ve committed to my new story, there’s always, there’s this lingering feeling that I don’t have it in me anymore. That I might have forgotten how to do this whole writing thing.
That I don’t know where I’m going with my story.
But, all first drafts stink. No matter how many times I have to rewrite it, that doesn’t stop my first, crappy ending from counting as a true ending.
The fear of not finding the right voice
I’ve got a story sitting in my drafts folder, that I haven’t touched since November of 2017. It has two different voices and neither of them are right for the story.
The story needs something else, and I’ve been scared to go back and rewrite it, the way it was meant to be told. I’ve been distracted with other stories — it’s true — but I know I’ve been avoiding it, too.
I started that story once before, though. And I liked that voice. I just need to rewrite the full draft in the voice of that false start.
The fear that my plotting is weak
I like my world building. It’s not like I’m a writer who plots out the world and creates a story to explore it, but I enjoy the ‘what if’ exercise, and following each choose to its repercussions.
I like my characters, especially my main characters. (My secondary and background characters aren’t quite two dimensional, but could use more umph.) And the choices of the main characters are what lead the plot.
But, I fear my logic is missing something obvious. Or that I’m following the most logical path for my characters, because it’s the path of least resistance.
My beta-readers, critique-partners, and mentor have challenged me, though. And I have reasons and logic behind most of their questions. For the rest?
I know how to fix them — by making things about my world more clear, so they don’t surprise the reader — not by changing them.
The fear that my story isn’t enough for agents or publishers. Or readers.
I’ve queried. A lot.
Not hundreds, but several dozen times.
I’m pretty happy with my query letter, but I haven’t gotten a lot of non-form rejections. Maybe my market is just too saturated and my story isn’t unique enough.
Maybe my potential readers think it sounds pleasant, but just doesn’t have that special something that makes them want to bring it home with them.
Then, I remind myself, that there are tons of agents out there, and one of them is bound to want my story. And if I can’t find them? I can indie publish and seek my own audience.
No matter the size of the audience, I’m going to have readers who love my story. I already do, just from my author-friends who’ve read my work. And they mean the world to me. (You know who you are <3)
What sort of negativity has infiltrated your life?
What are your fears that you’re ready to give up and face?
Earlier this month, I sent my synopsis to my mentor. Sunday, she sent it back with feedback and I eagerly– spent the rest of the day avoiding it.
I had dived into her comments on my first chapter. I don’t usually hesitate to read feedback.
What was different this time?
The synopsis lay my story out cleanly. In 3 pages, my mentor could see my entire plot. My characters’ motivations. Everything.
My Top Five Fears:
5. Just didn’t connect
The most common and frustrating reaction from agents — the pure defeat of “I just didn’t connect with the story/characters/plot”.
But, as a mentor, she’s going to give some sort of feedback. What if she suggests it go in a completely different direction, that doesn’t work for me or my characters?
What if she insisted I was telling a different story than I had? Or thought a different story would be more compelling to agents?
4. Found it confusing
Sometimes agents don’t connect because they can’t understand what’s going on. What if my mentor didn’t get my story because my writing was confusing? The motivations didn’t make sense and the sequence of events was unclear.
3. Found it too formulaic
Perhaps, she could have thought it was decently written, but something she’s seen a thousand times, with nothing unique for us to build on, to draw the agents and publishers in.
2. Found it too contrived
A critique-partner had already told me back in December that one of my plot points felt a bit too contrived. What if my mentor agreed, and thought MORE of the plot felt forced and contrived?
1. Found a massive plot hole
What if there was some logic my story was missing that broke the whole thing?
That would be a LOT of work. I’m emotionally prepared for edits and polishing, but a MASSIVE restructuring of my story would definitely knock me back on my heels.
With all that weighing on me? I indulged my cold *sniffles hard*, binge-watched tv, and avoided reading her email.
Finally, just after midnight, I gave in and opened the email.
No plot holes, just some clarification needed and slightly better justification for an almost contrived point.
I cleaned up my draft, sent it off, and I talked with her just before I wrote this post. She likes my story, loves my world building, and was pleased that I could justify just about everything in that synopsis.
How do you handle feedback? Is the stress worse than the reality of it?
Well, that was more complicated (and a little $$) than expected.
Until Monday, I Thought I Didn’t Need An Actual Email List
If you’re like me, you keep hearing how you’re supposed to cultivate that whole ’email list’ thing.
I hate email. I like to read, archive, and keep my inbox under 25 items–aiming for Zero Inbox.
Besides! WordPress lets people sign-up with their emails, so they can get the updates that way. Right?
Apparently, I missed a small little detail.
When I FINALLY (after like 4 years) re-signed up to see what my email looked like? I learned You’ve Got To Have A WordPress Account To Subscribe!
Don’t get me wrong. When I set up my blog, four years ago, I checked out the first several emails, to make sure they looked fine. But? I had a wordpress account, so I didn’t even notice.
Besides? If I want to check out my blog, I view it on an RSS feed.
What’s an RSS Feed?
It’s a way to follow blogs and get all their updates — like Facebook, only you’re following Blogs, not individuals. Tumblr is actually an RSS Feed, but you can only follow other Tumblr blogs.
I know that’s gonna turn off people who don’t want ANOTHER account.
That’s When I Realized I Needed An ACTUAL Email Newsletter
I did some quick googling, and went with the one I saw most recommended, most used, and was FREE! (At least with my level of followers…)
So, next thing I know, I’ve got a freebie MailChimp account (so long as my mailing has fewer than 2,000 emails a month, I don’t have to pay a thing!) Plus, they promise a seamless experience when you switch to the paid levels. $10-$30 bucks until I have over 2,500 followers. [Sign up HERE!]
I went to the website, created an account, set up some groups, and then?
I created an automated welcome email and weekly RSS feed emails.
That’s when I notice something.
They’re posting my HOME ADDRESS. Eep! Not really something I want to provide to any online stalker. With a note that says US anti-spam law REQUIRES an address on any sort of mass emailing.
Fine. I’ll get a P.O. Box.
It needs a physical address?
A little research later and I found a nearby Post Office that also lets you use their street address. I sign up online, pay, and… need to go in, in person, to get the key and show ID.
I pop on over on my lunch break, during this gorgeous 68′ February flash-spring and present my Passport and Driver’s License. Only 2 people ahead of me in line.
After a short wait, I hand over my papers. Only problem. I moved last year and my driver’s license is out of date– despite me updating them.
I dash out to my car and rifle through my glove box. My insurance card doesn’t have an address on it. But wait, what’s this folded piece of paper. My voter information sheet, telling me where to vote? Does it count as my voter ID?
I bring it back in, fingers crossed. With no line, I beeline to the counter and hand it over.
Does she accept it?
A few signatures later (and $92 for 12+1 free month, otherwise known as $7 a month), I now have a PO Box. She gets me two keys to test and hands me the paper with the street address to use.
It’s a different zip code than the street address of the normal post office.
Long story short — I now have a PO box with a street address and an email newsletter.
(Now I can use THAT when I win random twitter contests, instead of giving my mailing address to strangers.)
Quick Humble-Brag Break
I’m well on my way to hitting my reading goal for this year, with 16 books already under my belt.
And? Last Friday, I talked to my new mentor on the phone.
Mentor? Tell me more, Morgan.
I sent in a mentee application just before New Years to the Broad Universe‘s debut program and found out I was selected two Saturdays ago. We’d been emailing back and forth for a week, before we finally talked to start making a plan and for her to critique my 1st chapter.
That poor chapter’s been critiqued SOO many times. But, getting enough world building that no one is confused, without overwhelming them with info-dumps is a hard balance — and likely in a different place for every reader. I’ve got a little more work to do there.
As you know, I was planning on a little polishing and tossing her back into the query trenches. I’m sighing a little and getting ready to delve back into a full revision. Oh well. I’ve got high hopes and a guide, this time.
But! Back to MailChimp.
Getting Started With Groups On MailChimp
After MailChimp walked me through setting up, I knew I wanted custom email levels. I HATE stores that send either 7 emails a week or NOTHING. So, I looked around and figured out how to set up GROUPS.
Step 1: Open the list
Go to the Lists tab (create one for everyone who’s received a welcome email if you don’t have one yet), and select the list.
Step 2: Manage your contacts
Select the ‘Manage Contacts’ drop down.
Step 3: Select ‘Groups’
Step 4: Create your groups
Click ‘Show Groups’. Then, select ‘Add Group’ and name it as you wish. If you do this early, like I did, you won’t have to add contacts manually, they’ll be prompted when they sign up!
And Ta-daaa! You’ve created groups, so people only get the emails they’re interested in.
My groups are:
Everything! (which I’m sure is what most people want *winks*)
Weekly Blog posts — which I plan to only send out once a week with all my newest blog posts inside
Occasional Updates — if I have news or such that I’d like to share with a targeted audience
And a group I like to call, “Actually Published Something“, for those people who support my writing, but don’t care about the details. Just let them know when I have something new coming out.
Creating The Actual EMAILS
MailChimp made this SUPER easy, with its built-in templates. But, there’s still a decent number of steps. You ready?
Step 1: Create A Campaign
We start off by selecting the ‘Create Campaign’ button.
Step 2: Select Campaign Type
In this case, I’m looking for EMAILS.
Step 3: Automate This Thing!
I set up 2 types of Automated emails, a simple confirmation/welcome email, and a weekly blog feed.
In this case, I’ll be showing the RSS feed, because it’s a bit tricker, but the flow is nearly identical. So, select the ‘Automated’ tab, and then pick your email type.
Step 4: Name Your (Email) Campaign
Set a name for the campaign and select the list you’re using. (Luckily, you’ve already got that list set up!)
Step 5: Map Your Feed and Schedule It
Enter the RSS feed address. Typically, your address plus “\feed”, but if you’re not sure, just put in the URL and MailChimp will check for you.
Set the email period – daily, weekly, monthly…, set the time of day, and set the days of the week you’d like to email (IF there is something new.)
I saw complaints about poor quality images in the email feed, and saw recommendations to UNSELECT the ‘Resize RSS feed images’, so I did that.
Step 6: Select Which Group Gets This Email
Decide who gets this email: everyone? a segment/tag? or a group? I’ve got my groups set up, so that’s what I choose.
Select the question under ‘Groups’:
“Which emails would you like to get”
Select the modifier, and the groups they’re in.
Maybe this email should only go to people who selected Occasional Updates AND Actually Published Something?
But no. I went with “one of” and “Weekly Blogposts.
Step 7: Select Your Campaign Options
To be honest, I didn’t know what all of these options were and just sort of used my best judgment.
I like stats (that are free)
I’m happy to have formatted contact names — especially if it lowers the odds I’ll be tossed in the SPAM folder.
As my blog already retweets to twitter and facebook, I didn’t need those options.
I did select auto-convert video because of posts like this one with youtube embedded.
Step 8: Select Your Template
I like the basic template. I don’t want fancy columns that end up with emails about 3 words across and an eternity’s worth of scrolling. I wanted it simple and clean.
So, I selected the basic template and hit ‘next’.
Step 9: Add Content To Your Email
For this example, I dragged the ‘RSS Items’ content block onto the email preview and then ‘Social Share’ (whoops, image has the wrong one circled), so people can easily share links to my blog if they liked the post.
Put it in an order that makes sense to you.
Step 10: Decide How Wordy Your Email Should Be
Decide how much of your blog post you want displayed in the email. I opted for ‘Full Content.”
I’m torn here: I’m not huge on busy emails, so I’d probably prefer the Titles, or Excerpts. But. This isn’t for me. People who want an email are likely people who don’t want to go to my blog all the time. I have to remember that not everyone consumes the internet the way I do.
Maybe I should set up 2 ‘weekly blogpost’ emails — one full text and one not?
Then? You just confirm the email and hit publish! And you’re email is ready to go. You can pause and edit it at any time, without messing up the feed.
AND! Best of all? You can preview the upcoming emails.
If you’re interested in signing up for this awesome newsletter/blog update, there’s a bar at the bottom of my webpage, and a tab-link on my facebook author page I also set up. But, I figured I gave you enough step-by-step directions for today.
Do YOU have an email list? If so, do you have any tips for a newbie? If not, are you contemplating one now?
As an American with a Pagan dad and a Southern Baptist mom, I celebrate both Solstice and Christmas. As a person with friends who love hosting over-the-top parties, every year I spend a couple days helping prep for a massive New Years Eve party.
I know I’m fortunate to be at a company that shuts down for a week at the end of December. My previous company didn’t but it’s a great way to help cut down some of the holiday stress. Or give me more time to fill with family and friends…
And believe me, my schedule has been jam-packed. Full of people I love, but definitely busy.
There was one thing though, that I missed. Despite my moderately-distracted efforts.
I missed the taste of wonder, of peace, of heart-filling joy that I usually can find this time of year.
For me? Usually, it’s after sunset. Either outside, in the still and the quiet of the night, with the chill nipping at my nose and the moon shining down. Or inside, with all the lights turned down low, just sitting and basking in the light of my tree.
Well, I found a quiet moment outside with the moon shining down — took a picture, and ran off to the Solstice celebration a friend was hosting.
I found a few evenings with my lights turned low and my tree all aglow. But, I didn’t get my sense of basking.
I don’t know if I was distracted or tired or if I just wasn’t in the proper frame of mind, but I missed it.
Now, this isn’t to say I’ve had a bad holiday! Not by any stretch of the imagination. Minimal drama, seeing almost all of those I love, lovely and thoughtful gifts, delicious food. All the things that make the season bright. But I missed the magic.
As for my writing?
I’ve done nothing this month. But, that’s not unusual for me with my post-NaNo hangover, chore backup, and seasonal plans.
Some reading? Yes.
Some incorporation of beta-reader feedback? Only read the summary.
Some blogging? Of course.
Now? I sit and contemplate what I want to do next. I’ve debated incorporating the feedback and hopping back on the query road, revising a rough draft, or finding a new project.
Because? There’s the never-ceasing sensation that a deadline is looming. Only one problem with that. This writing thing? The only deadlines for are the ones I give myself. I have no agent, no editor, no contracts. True, I’d like to have that sense of ‘done’, that feeling of accomplishment. But there is no one, other than myself, staring at the calendar and waiting for me to finish. To find a publisher or publish it myself.
I think need to take a break from the writing until I’m ready. Until I’m excited once more to see how much better I can make my story. Until I’m ready to dive back into the query trenches or the editing doldrums. Until I can find the magic again.
Meanwhile? I’ll think about my worlds, I’ll take notes when inspired, and I’ll keep blogging–sharing advice I’ve received from people who DO have deadlines and have already found their audience.
And? I’ll read.
Did you celebrate the holidays? Did you find your joy?
If you’re writing for yourself, do you have trouble letting yourself take a break?