Category Archives: Work-Life Balance

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.

 

The Goal Post

I’m a football fan. Apparently that’s somewhat rare in the world of writers. I love a lot of different sports, including baseball, golf, basketball and swimming. By some crazy coincidence I am writing this post smack in the middle of the NFL playoffs. And this month’s Fictorian’s theme is all about goals.

So, this post is about goals, ergo, it is the goal post. See what I did there?

OK, I’m sorry. Still, it’s a decent lead in, and the sports reference is useful too. Because I happen to be one of those people who think goals are a critically important part of life. Goals give us something to strive for, something to measure our performance against, and something to appreciate when they are achieved.

Sports is famous for setting goals. If you talk to just about any world-class athlete, they will pepper you with their goals. Each goal achieved is one more step forward in their quest to achieve the greatness to which they aspire. Each goal achieved opens the door to new goals beyond.

I approach writing that way. Well, I approach a lot of things that way. But writing is one of them. That doesn’t mean I always achieve goals, but if I don’t achieve a goal, I don’t abandon my dreams, I re-calibrate and reset. Then I work toward my new goals. The more goals I achieve, the closer I am to the dreams I have.

Goals can be far-reaching and ambitious, like “I’m going to write a novel.” Or they can be direct and practical, like “I’m going to write 1,000 words tonight.” Then, the next night, “I’m going to write 1,000 words tonight.” If you string enough successful 1,000 word nights together, you can achieve your over-arching goal, “I’m going to write a novel.”

When I started writing, I used to keep a spreadsheet of how many words I wrote every night. I had nightly, weekly, and monthly goals for words written. If I came up short one night on a nightly goal, I could buckle down the next night and get back on track for a weekly goal.

Some people give themselves rewards for reaching goals. That’s fine, it probably helps some people, but for me the main reward for reaching a goal was… you guessed it, reaching the goal.

I’m just now wrapping up my fourth novel. I’m already planning my fifth. I remember when my loftiest goal was “I’m going to write a novel,” and that goal seemed light-years away and nearly impossible to reach. In truth, it wasn’t really that much effort, it was mostly all about sticking to my goals until I achieved them.

One of my favorite Robert Browning quotes is “Ah that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” That’s one way of saying that goals can help us achieve great things. It’s similar to “Reach for the stars, if you fall short, you might still reach the moon.”

Set some goals. Make them specific. Make them meaningful. Track your progress. Reward your successes. That’s not a bad way to get through life in general, and it just might finish that novel you’ve been working on forever.

Reading The Runes – A Guest Post by Nick Thacker

I’ve always said that we are our own worst critic… until you get married. It’s a tongue-in-cheek phrase, to be sure, and while my wife is certainly generous with her critiques of my clothing choices (“those shoes with that pair of pants?”) or my decisions regarding parenting (“you’re feeding them that?”), she’s been nothing but encouraging when it comes to my writing career.

In fact, she was the reason I decided to bite the bullet and go full time in 2017. I’d been writing fiction for around five years, and toward the end of 2015 I decided to begin treating it more like a business – setting a schedule for myself, word count goals, dabbling with marketing and advertising, and spending more than an hour a year on taxes.

It was sometime in January, during one of our scheduled date nights, when she asked me the fateful question: “So, when are you going to quit your day job and write full-time?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I’d made more money in the previous three months from my fiction than either of us had in our full-time day jobs, but the thought of abandoning it all and going full time as a writer was, in short, terrifying.

But she prevailed, and we came up with a plan: Sometime after Easter (I worked at a church, so doing anything major before Easter is near impossible) I would have “the talk” with my bosses. We’d come up with a solid plan for my transition out and into the world of self-employment.

My first day of full-time writing was July 1, 2017. I walked downstairs into my “new” office – the basement – and sat down to write. I wrote a couple thousand words, got tired, and went upstairs to get lunch. After lunch, I sat back down and tried to write and found out that writing all day long wasn’t something I could do easily. I was good for three, maybe four thousand words a day. On a crazy caffeine-fueled day, maybe five.

What was I supposed to do with the rest of the time?

Well, I soon found out.

Almost immediately my sales began to slump. They drifted down, at first on par with what I was making at the end of the previous year, then even lower. By August, I was down to what I was making at my earlier full-time job.

Then my wife quit her job. It was something we’d planned, and talked about extensively, and it was something that had been in motion for some time, but it had snuck up on us. And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time financially.

My book sales continued their downward sloping run until I was frantic, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. (“Is this the universe telling me I’ve made a horrible mistake?”) I tried reaching out to colleagues, tried launching the next book, and starting thinking about a contingency plan in case I had to start job hunting in the next few months. We had an emergency fund for this very thing, but I’d never thought we’d actually have to use it.

I kept churning out words, however, and I started advertising my work on Amazon and Facebook once again. I’d stopped when my sales were doing well, and I thought that perhaps the “lag time” from starting/stopping ads could be around 2-3 months, meaning that while I’d stopped them months ago, I was only now seeing the effects. That also meant that I needed to start advertising once again, and hope that sales increased in a few months.

Advertising and marketing became my full-time job, and writing my part-time job. I put in four to five hours a day analyzing sales data and planning campaigns, building ads and reading everything I could get my hands on about marketing and advertising. I went to conference in November with the sole purpose of learning the ropes of “writing as a business.”

My December sales are looking up, but I’ve learned that this whole game is one of risk, hard work, and countless unmeasurable variables. It has huge opportunities and the upside is great, but there are always going to be learning curves, pride-swallowing sessions, and perhaps visits to a counselor.

My 2018 will be different. I’ve learned what it takes to succeed as an indie author in the current era: to constantly be working on the next book, to build relationships with others in the field, and to never be sitting idle. I’ll be learning new things as much as possible, planning long-term goals, and treating my writing like a business.

I won’t be subjected to the emotional swings of seeing my hourly, daily, and monthly sales data, because I won’t be allowing myself to act upon short-term data. I will work to improve my craft and increase the number of assets I have available, and I’ll treat data as what it is: information. That information has no bearing on my success or failure – it’s merely a set of runes to be interpreted and used to my benefit.

I’ll get better at “interpreting the runes” and I’ll get better at learning how to be better. If 2017 was a year of “hard knocks learning,” 2018 will be a year of putting that learning into practice and seeing where this little career of mine will lead.

_____

Nick Thacker is the author of best-selling action-adventure thrillers, including the Harvey Bennett Thrillers series. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, two kids, and two dogs. He can be found online at www.nickthacker.com

 

Year in Review

Oh boy. Do I really want to go over the entirety of my journey? Can’t I just brush it aside and forget it ever happened?

Well…no. There were some really good things this year. Things like the release of my first novel, getting into the Epic Fantasy Storybundle, my Monster Hunter Files story being well received. There have been a a lot of really great things this year for me as an author. But what I mostly remember about this year was my failure to accomplish my main goal — take better care of myself.

I won’t go into a tale of personal woe. The short of it is that this year did not go as planned and it was all around much harder to find the time and energy to get anything done that I wanted or needed to. I think the only thing that did go as planned was that I learned how to use Dragon and that with my acupuncturist’s help my arthritis pain is the lowest it’s been in years. Too bad the rest of my life isn’t falling into line. But there is still hope for next year. Onward and upward, right?