Category Archives: Business

Obstacles May Be Closer Than They Appear

One of the first pieces of writing advice I ever received was that if you want it to be your occupation, you need to treat it as a business. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a business plan — though it doesn’t hurt — but you do have to set regular working hours, make goals, and keep them. Part of that, especially when self-publishing, is to set a publishing schedule and to stick to it. However, sometimes keeping that schedule is not always possible.

I do realize that there has been a great deal of discussion about publishing delays lately, and I’m not going to give any opinions on someone else’s schedule. It’s none of my business whether or not (insert name of big author) is publishing a book this year, next year, or at all. The only person whose publication schedule I can comment on with any authority is my own and as it so happens I’ve had to make some difficult choices of my own.

Knowing that my debut novel was launching last June, I started writing the next book in the series at a writing retreat the month before. I managed to write the first third that week and figured that at my normal pace, I could probably finish it by the end of the summer, October by the latest. That would have given my beta readers plenty of time to read it, and time for me to put together a short story collection (and possibly release it in the spring). It was also plenty of time for revisions so I could release book 2 in the summer. Well, we ended up being really busy and short handed at the day job over the summer and that left me too exhausted to get much done on the book. It took me the entire summer to write two chapters. That’s it. That’s all I got done.

As far as progress goes that’s dismal. However, I’m not going to feel guilty about it. I did get something done and it was impossible for me to do more. All of this meant that I had two choices. If I wanted to finish on schedule, I’d pretty much have to work myself to death for eight months. The other option was to put off the short story collection for another year, and postpone the novel release until sometime in 2019. It seems pretty straight forward as far as decisions go but what of the fans? There are people eagerly awaiting the next Oneiroi War book. Plus there’s the reader anxiety that seems to pop up these days anytime an author talks about a delay. On the other hand, I really don’t want to work myself to death for that long. It’s not healthy and the extra pressure would probably cause me to hate the book in the end because of what I had to go through to complete it.

I really don’t want to work myself to death and I don’t want to hate the book (because it’s really awesome) so I chose the latter but I do still feel bad about it — which is a bit insane. I shouldn’t feel guilty for putting my health and wellbeing first but letting down my fans still isn’t something that I wanted to do. It certainly isn’t something that I want to do lightly or make a habit of.

So what does all of this have to do with making goals? I think one thing that often is forgotten is that when setting goals it’s impossible to plan for every contingency. Yes, we can definitely keep our goals realistic, but that still isn’t going to prepare us — or our readers — for when things go sideways. When they do go sideways, it’s important to reassess the situation, and adjust the goal accordingly. Most importantly, it’s important not to see it as a failure; especially if circumstances were out of your control and you did your best in spite of it. After all, a goal is not a promise or a contract. It’s a determination to attain. The goal is still attainable…it’ll just take a bit longer than you originally planned and that’s okay.

 

In Favor of Failure – A Guest Post by Colton Hehr

A guest post by Colton Hehr.

“Don’t quit” is  one of the most common adages passed around the writing community. Don’t quit writing, don’t quit submitting, don’t quit your day job. We’ve all heard some variation or another and it’s not bad advice. Writing as a career requires playing the long game, so consistent effort is a prerequisite. Yet, at the end of each year, most of us can look at a check list of projects and find that we stopped working on one or set aside another. At some point in our efforts, we quit. 

If you asked most of us, we’d probably admit to quitting more readily than to failing, not only in writing but in other areas of our life: you rarely hear someone say “I failed my diet.” They say “I quit my diet.” Or “I quit going to the gym.” Or “I quit playing guitar.” We almost always couch these situations as quitting rather than failure. Failure has negative connotations and if we quit before we fail, then the failure never really occurs, does it?

I want to argue in favor of failure. I think it’s more useful to us as writers than quitting is. The terms might be synonymous to some people, but let me split hairs for a moment. Quitting and failure are only similar because they happen at the same time. To use a sports analogy, quitting is when you stop playing the game because you’re losing, and failing is when you play to the end and accept your loss.

The first reason I prefer failing to quitting is an unfortunate reality of commercial writing: I know that I’m probably going to suffer some failures or setbacks in my career, at some point, purely from circumstances outside my control. Maybe my manuscript gets passed in the slush pile because an agent has too many books from that genre. Maybe I send in a short story to an online market that goes under.  Any number of things could affect my career negatively, all completely outside of my control.

By holding myself accountable and acknowledging my own personal failures, I’m more prepared to deal with those uncontrollable failures.  It might be disappointing, but it won’t be debilitating. Our personal failures are sort of like callouses, they help us come to grips with whatever the world might throw at us.

The second benefit to failing is that I think we learn more from it than from quitting. When something ends, whether in failure or in success, there’s a sense of closure that quitting doesn’t provide (or, at least, that I’ve never felt from quitting). Failure is an important teaching tool in several endeavors, from music to athletic, and it can serve the same purpose for writers. 

Think of failure as a diagnostic tool.  When we acknowledge that we’ve failed, we can step back from the situation and examine it to find out what went wrong. When we’re at the point of failing, there’s three questions that we ought to ask:

1. What caused the failure?

2. Is it something that can be fixed?

3. If so, is it more beneficial to accept the failure and move on or to try and fix it?

As an example, I recently stepped away from a project in its outlining stage. I had been worldbuilding and outlining for what was supposed to be a horror novel. At some point, it evolved into a train heist story and I found myself stuck in a rut. Before I made the choice to set the project aside, I asked myself: 

1. What caused the failure? The setting gave me the opportunity to write a horror story, but my focus in the outline had drifted away from that and towards an adventure story. I’m not against organic story development, but the project had shifted completely from my original intent and it stopped me dead in my tracks.

2. Is this something that can be fixed? Yes. I could walk my way back through the outline and rework it from the beginning. I could set aside the first outline and start fresh with a new story, new characters, and a more conscious effort to focus on what I had originally wanted to write.

3. If so, is it more beneficial to accept failure or to fix the problem? In this case, I had another idea that I wanted to write, one that I felt was much more tightly focused. I also realized that, while the train heist wasn’t what I wanted to do in the first place, it still had the germ of a good story. In the end, I accepted my failure, set the project aside, and moved on to something else. I still have all the material, so I can come back to it another time, free from any of the frustrations that came from my initial failure.

Of course, a lot of the answers to the first question are outside of our control. Sometimes the “failure” is that we’re depressed, or that our day job has grown more demanding, or that unexpected opportunities have brushed aside other obligations. That’s okay; because failure isn’t negative, we don’t have to beat ourselves up over it. We can accept it for what it is and move on. When I looked over my list of 2017 projects, quite a few boxes were left unchecked. Each one of those was a failure and I did my best to learn from all of them. I don’t feel bad about a single one. 

Neither should you. Next time you feel like you need to quit a project, give yourself permission to fail and then learn from it.

 

About Colton Hehr:

Colton Hehr currently works as a direct care counselor in a residential treatment center for teenagers and adolescents. When he isn’t writing, reading, or lifting, he tries to pet as many dogs as possible. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma with his girlfriend Ariana. Colton’s first professional sale will be in the upcoming Writers of the Future 34.

Quitting with feeling

Quitting, as a word, has a real negative connotation to it. In the context of writing, I prefer to think of it as re-prioritizing my resources. Knowing when I’m not using my valuable writing time to the best advantage is a valuable skill to have. Like the song says, know when to walk away and know when to run.

There are any number of writing goals where the decision to quit or keep going might come into play, but I would like to focus on when to walk away from a story. The moment when you make that decision is an individual one, and will vary from writer to writer. My only goal is to provide the method that works for me, and that is a goal I will not quit.

To give my approach, I need to provide a little context on my professional life outside writing. For many years I have provided high-level technical support to customers on various pieces of network infrastructure equipment. Some of this is done through email, but a lot of the interaction is over the phone. Over time, a support engineer develops a relationship with the phone itself and its ability to provide the engineer with his or her task, which is the customer at the other end.

When that phone rings, you feel something. Excitement perhaps, or anticipation. Where the alarm bells start to go off for me is when that ring would produce negative emotions like irritation or even anger. Now I don’t like this customer and I haven’t even spoken to him or her yet. That’s a problem, and a sign that I needed a break or a change of pace.

For me, writing is the same. When I sit down at the keyboard I should want to be there. I don’t have to completely like all of my characters all the time, but I have to be excited to write about them. If I’m not – if I’m dragging myself to the keyboard with a grumble as I dread another session with this story, that’s when I think about walking away.

The nice thing about writing stories though is it’s a job you can quit and come back to as many times as you want. I have ‘quit’ many stories for a time, only to come back at them fresh some weeks or months later. Many of them I ended up enjoying and finishing, and if I didn’t I at least learned something by thinking about why that story didn’t grab me in the end.

So, quitting is not bad thing and it doesn’t have to be forever. The skill of knowing when to quit is just another tool in your writer’s toolbox.

New Goal: Stop Making Goals

Growing up, I kept my goals mostly to myself. Even in my mind, they didn’t seem like goals.

“I want to be the lead in the musical.”

“I want to crochet a blanket over Christmas break.”

“I want to graduate with a 3.5 GPA.”

I don’t think I realized that I was actually setting goals. I saw it as simply evaluating what I wanted to. I don’t remember making to-do lists until my first job after college when the mass of small responsibilities became too much for my brain to hold.

Now? I’d panic if I ever accidentally deleted my to-do list. I’ve made countless pages of long-term and short-term goals. Part of me gets near-sexual satisfaction checking off a goal as completed. Oh, what’s that? Too much information? Soooooorry. 🙂

Almost exactly a year ago, I realized that I might be too far on the pendulum swing toward my Type-A tendencies. I was born an extremely Type-B girl and learned to function as a Type-A thanks to difficult and stressful jobs in my 20s. When I looked back on my teenage years and early 20s, I realized I had been juggling a *lot* of different hobbies, jobs, school, and obligations with little or no stress. But in adulthood, stress and anxiety seems to follow me everywhere I go, no matter how few my responsibilities at any given time.

A major component of my more recently developed stress and anxiety comes from, surprisingly, making goals. I have an almost militant reserve to complete every item on the to-do list, make sure every goal written down manifests. I’ll write down the smallest items on my to-do list, like “Text Stephan back” or “Research if wrapping paper is recyclable,” all the way to the biggest, like, “Edit book.” (You know, just edit a book. No problemo. I’ll do it after I clean out the litter box.) Clearly, there are big jumps in my goals and to-do actions which can, and more often than not, becomes overwhelming. I can knock off two or three things on the to-do list while that big task simply looms, bothering me and holding me hostage to its size and long-term commitment.

Watching a big goal hover over you every day, I’d argue, can incite a negative reaction instead of a positive one. While completing one’s goals usually makes people feel great, not being able to check a time-consuming one off the list for months or even years can make a person grow apathetic toward it. Which was exactly what was happening to me.

So, last year around this time, I made one goal. Stop making goals.

It forced me to live in the moment instead of in the future. “What do I want to do today?” replaced the question, “What do I have to do today?” Instead of beating myself up for not taking steps toward a big goal, I enjoyed focusing on what was in front of me that needed attention, time, and care.

I wasn’t able to cut loose my to-do list. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully let go of it (my preciousssss). But at least now, I’m able to split my goals into smaller, easier to-do items that don’t intimidate me nearly as much as those big, looming goals did.

If you’re finding that setting goals is sapping your energy and leaving you apathetic, try taking a break from it. Enjoy what’s in front of you at the moment, take care of the immediate things that need your attention. When you’re ready, you’ll come back to some of those long-term goals with new enthusiasm.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
-Greg Anderson