7 Things Writers Should Stop Wasting Their Time On

IS09AL15JWe all know what a demon procrastination is. But what about the other things that get in the way of actual writing? I have a list of things that (some, not all) writers have a tendency to waste their time with. Whether it’s old habits that need shaking, or creative crutches that lead to excuses, the only way you’re going to write your book is when you sit down and do the work.

My goal, with this post and all of my blogs, is to help writers recognize their personal limitations and push through them for higher productivity and success!

So see if these apply to you, and decide if it’s time to let it go…

  1. Writing with one eye over your shoulder – So many writers hold back, especially when they’re writing their first novel. Whether it’s because it’s painful to go too deep, or they’re afraid what others will think, there comes a time when you have to stop looking over your shoulder and delve inside to find the truth of what you want to say.
  2. Critique groups you’ve outgrown – It’s hard to recognize the exact moment this happens because it’s a progression. I believe critique groups serve many functions: help to schedule ‘you time,’ assist in meeting personal deadlines, teach you observe critiques, and give others feedback. However, everyone knows that growth isn’t predictable or linear. It can happen in leaps or in steady climbs. But someday, you might outgrow your group, so have a plan for what you want to do when that time comes.
  3. Thinking you’re going to please everyone – This is a life skill as well as a writing skill. It’s a fundamental truth that writers learn one way or another. Every writer has the dream that they’ll drop off a manuscript to their agent or editor and they’ll say “I have no critique!” It’s a lovely fantasy, but an extremely rare one–and I think all writers know this; I’m not saying anything new. But don’t let a fear of failing to make everyone happy stop you from writing. Writing happens one word at a time, one day at a time. Do what feels right to you and your voice.
  4. Fancy technology, expensive retreats – These elaborate things don’t make you a writer (but they don’t not make you one either). If you have a habit of thinking the writing will come when you spend money on it, you’re finding a new way to procrastinate. I believe you have to protect your writing time–and if that means a writer’s retreat and you can afford it all the power to you!–but if you’re waiting to start your project once you can afford the retreat, software, workshop, or new laptop it’s another way you’re stopping yourself without even knowing it.
  5. Rewriting your first 5 pages before you finish your first draft – There is no reason to attempt to make a first draft “perfect.” Nothing good will come of it. If you have a habit of tweaking things over and over before you even have the first draft it’s going to lead to over-written work that you don’t want to cut because it’s become a darling. “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” — Margaret Atwood
  6. Twitter stalking – There is a time and a place for research, but sometimes Twitter can be a place that drowns your voice and makes you anxious. I’m all for social media breaks and I think it’s great to have an understanding of the industry, but don’t let Twitter or Facebook take over your protected writing time and take you away from your ultimate goal.
  7. JealousyI wrote this post last year and it remains one of my personal favorites. Please read it again. I think everyone in creative fields can relate. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 are points to come back to time and time again. Moments of jealousy and comparison are a perfect time to reflect on why you’re feeling that way and get out of your funk.

If you want to write, find time to write. You’re the only one that can make your dreams come true!

Q: Did you recently shake a bad writing habit or creative crutch? Tell us about it.

7 Ways To Build a Platform Through Your Online Community

Social MediaI wrote a bit about platform last week. It’s not the end of the world for fiction writers if you don’t have one. (What is platform? Let Jane Friedman tell you.) However, it’s great if you do by the time your book is on the market. Not necessarily at the time of querying your book, but coming up to the publication of your book. Once you have your publication date, something you can work towards to build momentum is your platform which in turn will be your readership.

1. Be sure to follow lots of people. The chances of them following you back are high. It seems like a simple tip, but if you want to get more followers, extend a hand and follow more people. No need to be a perfectionist about being online; it’s called social media for a reason. The best way to find followers that you might like is to go to the account of a writer you enjoy, and is active online, and look at their lists.

2. Once you start following someone on Twitter or Facebook, @-reply to something they say within the first 3-5 days. It’s a simple gesture that says, “I’m not a spambot. I think we have a lot in common.” That starts the dialogue early and increases your chance of people following you back as well as recognizing your image and name.

3. Started a blog, but not sure what to write about? This is NOT to say that you must blog. It’s certainly not. But many writers start their online identity with a blog and then run out of steam. Here’s a handy guide of 52 (!!) blogging ideas based on your book’s content. Now you can’t say you don’t have things to write about. The most important thing about a blog isn’t always the content (it should be good) but the consistency. Make sure people know when they will receive things from you or can check in: weekly? bi-weekly? daily? There is no right answer. It’s about what works for you.

4. Don’t be afraid of hashtags. Yes, too many are confusing, but just one can make all the difference. Do you post to your blog on Mondays? Use #MondayBlogs. Do you engage with other writers? Use #WriterWednesdays. On Instagram they are essential so use #amreading #booksofinstagram or others that relate to your topic. That’s how people find you. You can make up your own hashtags but you have to use them frequently enough for them to gain traction. For general posts, you’re best to join in with another hashtag that already exists and people recognize. Here are 100 Twitter Hashtags Writers Should Know. And a scientific guide about when to use those hashtags.

5. When you talk about your book–leading up to publication–you must use a hashtag that captures the title. There are no excuses on this one. If you want to connect your readers to you and each other, you must be providing a link of communication. A hashtag of your title is that link. Readers want to socially engage with each other. They want to share quotes, reviews, and more. Give them that opportunity by leading with example. It’s not cocky to give your book a hashtag, it’s a reality of social media.

6. Once you have built a community, it’s not the time to spew links. You did the hardest thing, you build a nest egg following! Now, in order to keep them, you have to keep the promotional link spewing to a considerate amount. The point was to lead up to your publication date, right? Well, now that you have their trust you also have to respect their feed. Things like Goodreads copy giveaways and quote graphics are two good ways to keep things aesthetically pleasing. Think about it: what’s in it for them? Marketing is a call to action. A barrage of links isn’t what people want, but a free copy or story told in GIFs is! If you build it, they will come. i.e. If you have succeeded in creating good relationships they will support you when the book comes out because they like you not your links. Invite people to engage, don’t threaten them with spam.

7. Be memorable. What is it about your online persona that will keep people coming back? Are you an authority on something? Have a hobby other that writing? The best way to be memorable is to be you. If you feel like you’re putting on a hat when you do it then it’s not coming from an authentic place. Growing a following is a slow process, so it has to come from a place that you know. And that’s usually yourself and your writing.

Q: What are some surprising ways that you’ve connected with like-minded people online?

6 Tips for Author Self Promotion You Can Start Today

Quote3Self promotion has a sense of over-confidence about it. Only people who think super highly of themselves can promote themselves unabashedly, right?

Wrong. Self promotion has two sides to it: you and people who receive it. If you build a community online (whether it’s social media, a blog, or a website) self promotion is how to reach that audience. And if that audience is following you, they want to know what’s going on with you and celebrate with you.

6 Tips for Author Self Promotion You Can Start Today

1. Comment on blogs/websites, @-reply or ‘like’ equal to twice as much as you post original content. Shouting into the void doesn’t bring more people to your cause. If you engage with others in a way that doesn’t directly benefit you, other than that personal connection, you’ll find people will do the same for you.

2. Get visual. Have any graphic design skills? (If not, there’s an app for that.) Try putting text over images to create visual interest. Have a popular or new recipe or quote? Put it on an image. This is great for Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. See Taylor Jenkins Reid’s graphic for her novel AFTER I DO in this post. We’re a culture with short attention span. Capitalize on that.

3. Combine forces. You don’t have to do it alone! Do a Twitter chat with another author. Start a hashtag conversation. Guest post on another person’s blog. Have them guest post on yours. Bring new readership.

4. We are creatures of habit. Start a schedule. A posting or tweeting schedule is important to your sanity and creates reader expectation and anticipation.

5. Internalize a brand or message. Who do you want to be online? The informational resource people can come to? The funny, jokey person that loves to banter? The person that brings insight to causes? The person that shares their personal journey? You can be a mix, certainly, but think about the persona you are and the message you want to share. Start living that message today.

6. Collect email addresses. On your website or blog make sure there’s a place that people can subscribe. Don’t ignore this simple way to collect information for future use like an e-newsletter.

Ready to reach your audience?

Yes, Agents Google Writers

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This is the social media elephant in the room.

You don’t query in a vacuum. If you write a query letter and an agent is intrigued (congratulations!) the next thing an agent does is Google you or click on the links in your signature to see where it takes us.

A writer’s virtual footprint is their resume at that point.

Here are my ‘online guidelines’ for writers:

  • Make sure you have a landing page. It could be Tumblr, WordPress, About.me or a website. You only need one, but make sure you have one that has good SEO–Wordpress or a domain name is best for that.
  • Make sure you’re not a digital ghost. If we Google you and nothing comes up it makes us think 1) you don’t take this seriously and 2) that you don’t understand social media and the importance of an online presence and that worries us. It’s a red flag, because when it comes time to promote your book you should already have these things sorted.
  • Social media isn’t for spamming your following, it’s for community engagement. How do you sell books through social media? Indirectly. When you have a following that likes you for what you post when it comes time to promote your book they’ll be happy to spread the word.
  • Align yourself with conferences and organizations like SCBWI, WFWA, RWA etc.
  • Agents have changed their mind about an author after searching them online. Yikes! How do you avoid that? Making sure you don’t have websites or blogs that are ghost towns. Post regularly. And regularly can mean whatever works for you (once per week or once a day, but no less than a couple times a month!).
  • Being active on Twitter and Facebook means posting at least once per day, on average.

Don’t know what social media is right for you?

Tumblr: Ideal for images and short text. It’s a microblog.

Twitter: Great for short thoughts and sharing links.

Facebook: Perfect for integrating family and friends with your work, and sharing links that you have lengthy opinions about.

Pinterest: Works for behind the scenes thinks like character sketches, world building imagery, and visual content. Also, writing advice that’s image heavy like Tumblr.

Do you know the optimal times to post to social media?

Tumblr: Weekday evenings after 7pm-1am. Don’t post before 4pm. 

Twitter: 9am-4pm weekdays. Peak time: Thursday and Friday at lunch and early afternoon. Don’t post 8pm-8am or Friday after 3pm. 

Facebook: 6am-8am, Thursday and Friday at lunch, and weekends. Peak time: Sunday and Thursday. Don’t post 10pm-6am weekday or weekends after 8pm. 

Pinterest: Weekend mornings and weekdays 2-5pm. Peak time: Saturday morning and Wednesday at lunch. Don’t post 5pm-7pm.

There’s your checklist!

[Info via Hubspot.com, PR Daily, Track Maven, AddThis.com,  Social Media Week, Entrepreneur.com, Media Bistro, Fast Company.]