The Power of Accountability

It’s Easy to Write a Book. Right? Right?

AcountabilityBack in Spring 2015, when the self-publishing phenomenon gathered momentum, I decided to write a book. I had done some research and had a good idea that I wanted to write something romantic with magical elements strewn in.

I grew up in Germany, and from early on, I was fascinated by fairy tales my grandmother used to tell me. Later, my parents encouraged my reading passion, and for Christmas, I received beautiful Reader’s Digest hardcover editions of 1001 Nights, Tales of the Caravan Serail, stories by Hans Christian Anderson, Bechstein, Grimm brothers, and collections of world legends. I devoured them all.

I knew my material. Couldn’t be too hard, then, to sit down and pen a love story set against the background of a magical parallel world, could it? I wrote 1500 words, submitted them to my local Writers Group, and got destroyed.

Writing a Book is Harder Than I Thought

“This reads like fan-fiction,” was one of the kinder comments. What a wakeup call! Apparently, the style of writing I was used to didn’t translate well for modern readers.

I dragged my sorry butt home and sulked. I nearly gave up the idea of writing altogether. Then I re-read my story a few weeks later, and some of it was really good. And some… just wasn’t.

Fast-forward a few more weeks. I listened to podcasts, bought some beginner writers’ courses online, and slowly began to understand why my first attempt had been so bad.

Ever heard of “Show, don’t Tell”? Yeah, I had told my story. When my heroine was sad, I’d written, “She was so sad that she cried.” Seriously.

Over the course of the next year, I learned how to outline. How to weave story strands. How to build a story arc with conflict and foreshadowing. How to write settings. How to avoid purple prose—the kind of dramatic, over-emotional writing that was popular in the nineteenth century. Boy, was there a lot to learn!

And once I’d figured out how to improve my actual writing, I realized that I had to learn about marketing and publishing as well.

By the time I was ready to return to my book, it was nearly two years later.

Writing That Book Should be Child’s Play By Now

The one thing I had still not mastered was consistency. I’d go WEEKS without putting down a single word. Frustrating, to say the least! I had a really cool concept, an outline, two memorable main characters, the title for the first, and ideas for two more books.

Every morning I got up, had a cup of tea and sat down to write. Then I’d remember I needed to fold the laundry. And do the dishes. And get lunch ready. Steven Pressfield writes about this phenomenon in his inspiring book The War of Art:

“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is. (…) Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt. It is experienced as a force field emanating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its intention is to shove the creator away, distract him, sap his energy, incapacitate him. (…) If Resistance wins, the work doesn’t get written.”

And yet, at this very moment, I’ve written and published two novels and four short stories (in two very different genres). I’m writing a novella, have outlined the third novel in the Spirit Walker series, and I’ve started writing a prequel in the same series. I have three books planned in a brand-new series, and ideas for many more in my ideas folder.

How Did I Finally Write Two Books (And More)?

Last year, I came across a series of writing exercises which led me to The Write Practice website.

The site owner Joe Bunting runs several programs aimed at motivating and teaching writers. One particularly cool one is The 100 Day Book Program.

Over the period of three-and-a-half months, writers must post a chapter each week. If they miss the deadline three times, they forfeit $100 which will be paid to the IRS. If they succeed, the money is returned to them. There is a fee involved which covers daily lessons, videos, mentors checking in with the writers.

Once the chapter is uploaded, the writer receives feedback from other participants, and has to provide feedback themselves to three authors. Kinda like a benevolent pyramid scheme!

The feedback was great and highly appreciated, but what made the program work for me was the accountability element. There were quite a few Thursday nights where I worked until late into the night to get my chapter done and uploaded.

The process didn’t run smoothly for me, but it got me 95% there after 100 days. I needed an extra week with my first book and an extra three weeks with my second. Most importantly though, I GOT THEM DONE! Two months later, they were edited and published as Spirit Hunger and Spirit Elfen.

Summary

For some reason, we writers are a fickle bunch. We talk ourselves out of writing every day, even though it’s our favorite thing to do in the world (mostly)!

Every time you start a new endeavor, be it getting fit, or completing a project, the first bit of advice you get is, “Find an accountability partner!”

I used to scoff at the idea. Until I tried it with writing. Knowing that there were people out there, waiting to hear how the story progressed, was a very powerful motivator. As powerful as potentially losing money to the IRS. Ugh.

The secret to writing, publishing, and becoming successful as a writer, is consistency. Find a mechanism to make yourself more consistent. You could do worse than checking out The Write Practice.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Have you suffered from Resistance and its little brother Procrastination? How did you get over it?

Facebook Ads Make Me Shiver

Literally. I’m running my first ad EVER and everytime I look at it, I get goosebumps. Bit pathetic really but doing all this marketing for my book feels like I’m a professional author. I love this feeling. It took such a long time to write Spirit Hunger and now it’s finally finished. Well, at the editor’s anyway, but sooo close to being finished!!!

So here’s the ad – please make my day and click on it, share and like 🙂

Thanks everybody, particularly to my friend Kathy who coached / goaded me into believing in myself and my sister Eva who’s been supportive all the way through (and allowed me to talk her ear off with story ideas).

How I Overcame Writer’s Block

How I overcame Writer’s Block

dawn-190055_640So for the last two days I haven’t been able to write. I’m literally 90% done with my novel. In theory, I should be flying through the final ‘boss battle’ and head for the home straight.

In practice I was terrified of that particular scene. I had no idea where to go. No idea how to get my characters through it. Not even from whose perspective I would tell the story.

So my dilemma wasn’t the kind of writer’s block, “oh no, a white piece of paper, what could I possible put on it…” It was more like, “oh no, what if the scene is boring? Or over the top? Or no one likes it?”

Why I suggest an outline

This has happened a few times throughout my journey to write the first draft. And each time it cost me WEEKS to get back to my story. What saved me was the fact that I had taken the time to write an outline.

I know this doesn’t work for everybody but if you get times where you just need to step back from your manuscript, I highly recommend you at least give it a try. This is what worked for me because I’m a detailed planner. It would equally work for somebody who doesn’t like planning but has a general idea where you’d like to end up!

I created a very detailed outline with each individual scene planned. That doesn’t mean that throughout the writing process, I haven’t changed it up. What it does mean is that even after taking a lengthy break, I can sit down with my document and have a pretty clear idea what should come next.

As I explained in my article on Dragon Dictation, it helps me to think about the scene for five minutes before I write. Maybe even talk aloud to myself like a crazy lady, just like I would tell a friend about a movie I watched and what happened next.

If you’re a VISUAL person, you got it easy!

I have no idea if this works for everybody. But I’d guess that if you’re a creative person, you’re familiar with the idea of day-dreaming. Have you ever imagined what it would feel like to win the lottery, call your boss and hand in your notice? Or how your spouse would react when you kiss them and say, “By the way, honey, I’ve solved our mortgage problems and ordered that Ferrari you’ve always wanted. No, I’m not crazy, I’ve won $10,000,000 in the lottery! No, I’m serious!”

Doesn’t that feel awesome? Can’t you imagine how the scene would be full of emotion, happiness, maybe a little fear about how your life would change? That’s the technique I use for writing a scene in my book.

I sit down, put on some headphones with binaural sounds, such as Inspire from iDoser – it costs $3 to download but I was happy to pay that. I find it works really well for me and I can use it as a timed sprint of 30 minutes exactly.

Then I visualize my scene. This has the double effect that it allows me to solidify my characters in my mind. I always cast my hero and heroine and that makes it a lot easier to do the next step.

I literally describe the scene that’s playing in my mind like a movie. I watch the two characters move, gesture, smile, snark, fight, get hurt, care for each other. Then I put fingers to keys and type like the devil, writing what’s already there in my head.

I usually end up with 600-900 words during a 30 minutes session. Word count isn’t as important as breaking through the barrier between my imagination and the page. This visualization technique allows me to do that and produce energetic, colorful scenes.

Hope this helps you guys! Let me know if you tried this and whether you found it as great as I do 🙂

Dictation or Fighting the Dragon

books-on-dictationHave you heard about Dragon Dictation software? No? Let me enlighten you: I HATE IT! Not always but mostly.

Last winter I listened to Joanna Penn’s interview with Monica Leonelle, author of Write Better, Faster and Dictate your Book. Both books are available on Amazon and highly recommended!

Dictation Problems – am I the only one struggling with this?

Problem Nr. 1 – Accuracy of Transcription

So off I went and bought the dictation software and a microphone. Then I ‘trained the dragon’ where I read passages of text and allowed the software to calibrate to my voice. Not hugely successfully because I’m German, lived in the UK for 13 years and I’m married to an Irishman. So Dragon has issues with my accent. Fair enough, so does everybody else.

I started walking and speaking into a recording app on my iphone, then mailed the sound file to myself. Dragon transcribed the file with about 85% accuracy. Not great but I had to make allowances for distracting background noises like my  heavy breathing. This approach is not recommended for steep hill walking!!!

Problem Nr. 2 – Writing ADHD

I soon discovered the second problem: my thought process isn’t suited to dictation.

I type fast and my thoughts run through my fingers onto the page quickly. My eyes hook onto the words, and this establishes a feedback loop that works really well. About 1200 words-an-hour-well.

So when I’m walking and trying dictation at the same time, a large chunk of that loop is missing. As a result, my thoughts act like Dougal in Up. Squirrel! And there is goes, my train of thought…

It’s like herding cats. I think of 3 variations of the same sentence before I’m able to get it out of my mouth. There are gaps in my recording lasting 30 seconds or more while I think of a way to say what I want to say. Really inefficient. 600-words-per-minute-inefficient! 

Solutions – Where there’s a will

Solution Attempt Nr. 1 – Stay at Home

Since walking seems to make the issue a lot worse, I set myself up with my expensive microphone and my cute little Macbook Air at my livingroom table and started speaking. And it worked a lot better. Particularly during active scenes and dialogue, my speed increased dramatically. 2200-words-per-minute-dramatically. 

Holymoly, that was really cool! Only problem, I couldn’t be consistent. During slower passages like exposition or settings, I slowed right down again. And it felt like really hard work, remembering all the punctuations and line breaks.

So I reached out to Monica Leonelle via Twitter and she got back to me with some nice encouraging comments. She also said that maybe dictation was just not the thing for me. Bummer. I had dropped a lot of money on this:

Dictation Software $120, microphone $60, various dictation ebooks on best practices $15 = nearly $200, never mind the time I’ve already invested. No way was I giving up now!

Her words made me think though. Maybe she was right but instead of dropping dictation altogether, I needed to change my approach again.

Obviously a get-it-right-first-time-system doesn’t work for me because I’m too mentally disorganized. Or too creatively distracted, whatever sounds nicer 🙂

Giving my mind a visual structure in the form of letters on the screen works a lot better but not consistently.

So what about a hybrid approach?

fightingdragonmeme

Solution Attempt Nr. 2 – Loosen up!

I’m a planner so my novel is plotted out to scene level. When I sit down, I usually quickly type out a few bullet points of how I want the scene to go.

For example, the scene might be called “_ADI_ begins training with meditation and chanting. She hates it, Honi is super-strict.” The capitalization indicates the POV – thanks to Laurie Schnebly from Writers University for the tip! I might throw down beats like “Adi can’t focus and gets distracted, Honi increasingly irritated and shouts at her, Adi’s upset, they fight, Adi storms off”. Then I fill in the beats and hey presto, 700 words written.

Today I decided to drop best practice and just talk. Instead of dictation, I pretended I was telling a story to a friend. I added dictation when I remembered but basically just let rip. My accent was stronger because I spoke faster and more naturally so I had to go back and clean it up a little. This is the result:

Pre-Draft Word Vomit

“So this is a situation Honi sitting there and it is added looking lectured in front of him and she’s basically bend over she staring into space she’s not taking any notes, and and Honi really starts to wonder what is going on. He’s trying to take down his own notes. The teacher’s droning on and on, it’s not particularly interesting, and everything just rises to a crescendo of irritation in the classroom. There’s people collectively clacking next to him there’s people whispering behind him, there is some guy throwing spitballs at a girl and HOni thinks he’s back in high school. So his just sitting there, legs stretched out in front of as far as it can go, is arms crossed in front of him. He’s given upon taking notes now even though he knows that this is a really important class but he’s just so worried. He starting to notice more things about Addie. Her fingernails are bitten down, she seems to be twitchy, she keeps throwing quick glances of people and then immediately looking away. Then he hears somebody whispering what the hell is going on with that girl? Is she on drugs? And Honi starts to wonder. Because she does seem to be on drugs. Then he notices that she keeps nodding off. Her head drops, her eyes drop, her face goes slack and then she just jerks awake again. And he notices that she scared, really scared.”

I threw 700 words on the page within a few minutes. This is the skeleton, now I can work with it. And this is the result after 60 minutes typing: 1700 words. 1700 fun-filled-awesomeness-words!

Not any faster but wow, it felt so much different! I typed quickly, the words flowed and while I was typing, I could feel the next scene emerging. My productivity had dwindled lately because I was unsure of how to get words on the page. It felt like splitting rocks! This was the first really productive fun writing session I had in a while! This is so cool! And here’s the result:

Cleaned-up Draft

“Diepger moved through the material at break-neck speed. Honi had to hustle to keep up and he tried hard to commit key points to paper. Next to him, a girl typed away on her notebook. She worked so fast with perfect 10-finger-technique that the clicketyclack sounded like morse signals. It irritated him so much that he threw a dirty look at her. The girl glanced at him, then did a double-take and frowned back. Honi sighed. No need to let out his frustrations on other people.

For the next few minutes, he continued taking notes and ignored the noise level in the hall. Now that his hearing had tuned into the subtle tapping of fingers on keys, it seemed to come from everywhere. Honi didn’t have the money to buy a new Macbook and his old one had given up the ghost not long ago. Who knew spilling juice on the keys would cost as much to clean up as a new one. Writing by hand after years of electronically taking notes made him even more antsy than he already felt.

With a grunt, he flung his pen down on the paper. Maybe he could convince Sean (confirm friend’s name) to let him borrow notes. He was already so far behind, he may as well leave it for today. He settled back into his seat, folded his arms in front of his chest and just looked around. Most students had their heads down but two rows ahead of him, a young man dressed in a grey canvas jacket and a scarf took a clump of paper out of his mouth and aimed it at the girl ahead of him. Honi shook his head. That dude dressed like a hipster and acted like a kid. What a douche.

“Hey, what’s up with that girl up ahead? Is she on drugs?” Honi sat up straight. The two boys behind him were talking about Adi, no doubt. “She’s messed up, man, look at her twitch,” one of them said with a chuckle. Honi’s eyes were drawn back to the girl and sure enough, her head made tiny jerks to the side and back again. Except Honi knew that they weren’t twitches but frightened little involuntary responses to something she saw. If her appearance hadn’t tipped him off, her behaviour sure did. Her visions were getting the better of her.

Adi lifted her hand to shield her eyes at one point and Honi could clearly make out her fingers. Her nails were chewed to the quick and one of them was crusted with blood. No wonder people thought she was taking something. She looked ill, psychotic even.

After a while, her head dropped lower, just to jerk up again. She seemed to fall asleep right in front of the entire class. Come on Adi, don’t give Diepger an opening, Honi thought. The teacher had noticed her odd behaviour but rather than challenge her as he did before, he looked at her with a satisfied smirk. Then his eyes met Honi’s and he smiled wider, as if he was in on a joke and the young man wasn’t.     

This was terrible. Adi hadn’t struck him as a user but you couldn’t always tell. One of Honi’s friends back in high school abused ritalin that he scored from his younger brother. He said afterwards it helped him feel more awake during school. Nobody knew until he collapsed at a rave and nearly died. His parents sent him to rehab but he never recovered from his addictions. He went on to abuse over-the-counter meds and last Honi heard, he was serving time for dealing harder stuff. He had gone from a gangly kid with his whole life ahead of him to a broken wreck of a man, so badly emaciated even his parents didn’t recognise him last time they visited.

Honi began to think hard. Adi was obviously much worse than before. Worse than a few days of bad sleep would account for. What if there was truth in the whispers, what if she were on drugs? As he considered the possibility, Adi’s head dropped to her chest again. This time it stayed down for a moment. Then her whole body seemed to convulse, her arms flew in the air and she slipped precariously sideways on the smooth surface of her seat. For a split-second it looked like she might topple but instinct took over and she righted herself.

A wave of giggling rolled through the room. Everybody had witnessed her near fall. Adi looked around and the sheer terror on her face made Honi’s heart go out to her. She looked so small, so scared, huddled into her fleece, her eyes wide-open and blood-shot. He wanted nothing more than to fold her into his arms, to hold her and whisper to her until she wasn’t so scared anymore. In that moment he made up his mind. She needed his help and he would find a way to help her. He wouldn’t allow that girl he held in his arms only last week, to slip away because she was too stubborn to accept help. He had never been that determined in his life. He’d find a way to convince her. He would hold out until the end of class and then talk to her again. If she did take drugs, then only to be able to handle the visions that terrified her. Handle the visions, handle the drugs. Easy.”

Never Ever Give Up!

So give it a try and above all, don’t give up. I’m convinced that dictation is a great tool for every writer but like with every tool, you have find a way to integrate it into your own workflow. I hope I’ve figured out how to do this, and who knows? Maybe instead of Training the Dragon, I can Train my Mind to think in a more linear fashion, at least for the first draft!

Let me know what you think below!

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good by Bryan Cohen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound GoodThe story

Struggling to find new readers? Learn how a compelling synopsis can make your book fly off the digital shelves!

Do you hate writing blurbs? Do you wish there was an easier way to summarize your novel and get more sales in the process? Author and copywriter Bryan Cohen’s book descriptions have hit both the Kindle Store’s Top 50 and the USA Today Bestseller list. Let him show you exactly how to craft the copy you need to hook new readers.

After writing hundreds of book descriptions for other authors and helping thousands with informative training, Bryan has learned what all the best book synopses have in common. Through easy-to-follow tips and helpful examples in a variety of genres, How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis gives you the tools you need to get a steady stream of online book browsers to click the Buy button every single day.

In this book, you’ll discover:

  • How to simplify your plot to create a short, engaging synopsis
  • Why using certain words can make customers fall in love with your story
  • How to shed unnecessary subplots and make writing your blurb a joy instead of a chore
  • The step-by-step system for writing and editing your synopsis for rhythm, momentum, and clarity
  • Why you need a synopsis cliffhanger, and much, much more!

Finally, you no longer have to take on the challenge of copywriting alone. With a more intriguing synopsis in place, all your future promotions, ads, and marketing campaigns can perform significantly better. You want more readers to buy your books, and Bryan’s system is a great way to make it a reality.

If you like detailed writing guides, plenty of examples, and a touch of humor, then you’ll love Bryan Cohen’s look behind the scenes at how he creates copy that sells.

My take on it

This is a short book, aimed at solving a problem: how do I write a book synopsis / description to go on the back of a print book or for listing my novel on e-book stores?

I was wrestling with this problem and after listening to Bryan on a webinar, I worked my way through the book. Bryan addresses issues and challenges succinctly and gives homework to deepen understanding of the material. I wrote my initial synopsis, then followed the easy steps as laid out in the book. By the end my synopsis had improved massively. It flowed better, was tighter and should entice the reader to click the buy-button.

Highly recommended for anybody who is ever asked to summarize their story! Short and sweet 🙂

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