Guest Post : How to Plot a Novel

Novels are about characters and relationships (or should be), but plots are about something that happens. How can you be sure that your plot is properly structured and that your characters are playing the proper role in the proper way? By using this fun and easy method:

person typing on typewriter
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Get an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper and fill it with a Tic-Tac-Toe grid (or pound sign symbol, if you prefer).  Then enclose the lines with an outside box and you are left with 9 blank squares. Number the boxes from 1 – to 9 starting at the top left corner and going from left-to-right on each row.

Place the single major incident that happens in your novel in the center square, box number 5.  And since everything that occurs in a novel should somehow be connected to that one major event, this blocking scheme will help you place (and pace) appropriate characters, events, and twists in the appropriate parts of the story leading up to (and in the aftermath of) that event.  Boxes 1 -4 (the beginning portions of the novel) all must lead up to that major event.  Boxes 6-9 (the ending portions of the novel) involve the fall-out, climax, and resolution from that event.

Box #1 in the upper left-hand corner is typically where the protagonist is introduced, hopefully in a dramatic way that entices the reader. Box #2 in the middle of the top row is typically where the antagonist is introduced. You will also notice that since Block #2 is touching Block #5 directly below it and Block #1 to its left, that the antagonist must play a key role both in the protagonist’s character and in the major event of the story. Box # 3 in the upper right is where other major characters and perhaps (hopefully) the major love interest is introduced.  After all, what’s the point of reading (or writing) a novel that doesn’t involve love?

So in the top row of our grid we have The Protagonist, The Antagonist, and the Love Interest. Therefore, each major character plays the largest role in their own column.  Of course the protagonist is featured throughout, since he/she is the protagonist, but Blocks 1, 4, and 7 are his/her starring sections. The antagonist plays the largest roles in the middle column (Blocks 2, 5, and 8); and the love interest owns the right column (Blocks 3, 6, and 9). Not coincidentally, major turning points occur at the end of each row (always related to the love interest; it’s what the protagonist fights for, right?)

It could be argued that the center column is actually the most important, because that is the column where the major event takes place in Block #5.  Part of the point of this 9-block device is to ensure a book is properly paced, with sufficient build-up (ie, motivation), and sufficient fall-out, and all the emotional highs and lows that result.   But it would be a mistake to assume that just because the major event is in Block 5 that nothing happens until half way through the book.  The opposite is true.  Something notable must happen in EVERY single square (otherwise, why write about it?).

Now that we’ve discussed the columns, let’s discuss the rows. The top row involves the beginning of the novel, and if you’re a 3-act structure traditionalist, you would say Row 1 is Act 1, Row 2 is Act 2 and Row 3 is Act 3. In row 1 you introduce your characters, and lay the ground work and emotional motivations for everything that takes place in Row 2.  The plot-outline-blocks of this 9-Block device can help you determine where in the story each character should be introduced based upon that specific character’s involvement with the plot.  The middle row is arguably the most important (for the same reason column 2 is the most important) because it involves the major event of the story.   And finally, the bottom row (Act 3) involves the character’s lowest point, the turning point, and the dénouement (the final resolution), respectively.

Block #4 traditionally involves specific build-up and motivations to the major plot event in Block 5, which is the centerpiece of your plot. Block 5 is also the one square among all of them that is connected to the most adjacent squares, so important characters or events leading up to this plot point must be present in Block #2 and Block #4, while important consequences must be present in Blocks #6 and #8.

Block #6 in the middle-right is where another major turning point of your novel should take place, which is further complicated (and motivated/caused) by the major event that just took place in Block 5.  And, more importantly, that turning point in Block 6 should lead to the “emotional low” of your novel, when everything is at their darkest. This is Block #7.  A protagonist driven to his or her lowest point is sometimes driven to drastic measures and this is where events and characters introduced in Blocks 1 and Blocks 4 make another appearance, thus fulfilling requirements of foreshadowing, and demonstrating you are well in control of your craft as a novelist.

Typically a major twist leads to an epiphany and is what motivates the final climax (often some sort of emotional or physical confrontation), and this all occurs in Block 8. Given its direct proximity below Block 5, it’s probably no surprise that the epiphany or twist, as well as the climax, are all directly related to the event that takes place in Block 5.

The final block #9  in the lower right hand corner is where the dénouement begins and all the plot points are resolved, not out of the blue, but by connecting dots left in adjoining Blocks 6 (the second major turning point) and 8 (the results of the climax), while all involving the “love interest” or character/motivation introduced in Block 3.  Resolutions cannot occur without the proper foundation, and novels cannot end without making a statement (of some sort) about the nature of love.


brent sampson

In 2002, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Semi-Finalist Brent Sampson founded Outskirts Press, a custom book publishing solution that provides a cost-effective, fast, and powerful way to help authors publish, distribute, and market their books worldwide while leaving 100% of the rights and 100% of the profits with the author. Outskirts Press was incorporated in Colorado in October, 2003.

In his capacity as the President and Chief Marketing Officer, Brent is an expert in the field of book publishing and book marketing. He is also the author of several books on both subjects, including The Book Marketing COACH, Self-Publishing Questions Asked & Answered, and Sell Your Book on Amazon.

In Your Corner: Common Spelling Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

typo errors spelling mistakes

Have you ever made a spelling mistake?

Well, you’re human (probably), so I’m going to guess that you have. I definitely have. Just the other day, a friend went through a chapter of my latest manuscript and pointed out at least five typos and other errors which had slipped entirely by me.

So, how do we avoid these pesky little guys, spelling mistakes?

The first step is to recognize them for what they are: your brain being highly efficient, not deficient. Research indicates that typos and other errors rarely come from a lack of knowledge or training, but rather from the brain being focused on something else, like narrative, plot, characters, time management, and so on and so forth. These are higher order processes, really quite sophisticated, and as such they take a lot of brain power which otherwise might be spent looking for other things, like typos. Your brain is a beautiful and efficient thing, with certain priorities it doesn’t always share with you, but that’s okay. Just … don’t kick yourself too hard for each typo your friends catch when they read your manuscript. (Yes, I tell myself this, too. Every day.)

The second step is to know which mistakes are the most common. That way, you’ll be–yes–more efficient at catching them. There are struggles that come from words being similar in shape and sound but having different meanings, like foreword and forward. This is called a homophone error. One implies direction (forward) and one is a structural component of a book which serves as a preface or introductory note, usually including the “whys” and “wherefores” of the thing. Complimentary and complementary are also homophones. One means to deliver praise (complimentary) and one means to accessorize well or that one thing works well with another, as in complementary colors. These kinds of errors are what Google was invented for; never be ashamed to look up a word if you’re afraid you might not be catching all of its nuances!

Other common errors include trouble with suffixes and morphemes (substituting “-able” and “-ible” or “-ance” and “-ence”), defying the so-called ‘laws’ of spelling (i before e except after c, u always follows q, et cetera), mixing up how to pluralize tricky words ending in f or y, and composing adverbs. These are common struggles, particularly for people who did not learn English as their first language, and the only way to improve on these is to keep writing. A lot. And to keep a reference guide on hand, like this Business Insider article on these language acquisition-related errors. And again, don’t feel shame about hopping on Google for these.

The third step is to fix the errors yourself, if you can. Don’t rely on spell check for this, since Microsoft Word and other word processors rarely understand nuance, or know how a whole sentence fits together and which words do not fit. (Sometimes it will highlight perfectly acceptable sentences as grammatically broken, and not highlight sentences which need some work.) You should always proofread your work, but you want to make sure you do this after you finish getting all of the ideas out of your head. Some people prefer to set aside five or ten minutes after each daily writing session for this process, but the ideal time is after the whole manuscript is done and you can sit down and do it all at once. That way, you won’t struggle with continuity issues. Also, it’s just … more efficient! Keep a reliable resource to hand–something more comprehensive than that BI article, like the Chicago Manual of Style (there are pocket editions) or the Associated Press Style Book. I really like the MLA Pocket Style Manual, which is what I used in college. They’re updated every couple of years, these resources, so update your collection appropriately.

The fourth and final step is knowing when to let go. As in, when it will be more useful and efficient to place your manuscript into the hands of a professional editor. Trust me, this is no easy decision! The tendency is to feel resentment, or fear that the editor will change the material substance of your work in a way that will make it … less yours. But that’s not what editors are for, much less copyeditors, the professionals who dedicate their lives to examining other peoples’ writing on the sentence level. Know the difference before you go in–we’ve written about editors vs. copyeditors here on SPA before–and choose accordingly. But do choose! Friends and family make for excellent first readers, but you really do need that trained eye on your work if you want to catch the peskiest of all errors, because your readers will find (and mind) them even if your friends and family don’t.

Writing is hard. Finding errors is harder still. But …

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: How to Rewrite WITHOUT Going Off the Deep End

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? FAcing the manuscript, the first draft, with the question “What’s next?” dying on our lips, and a growing realization sitting like a lead weight in our bellies: Rewriting. That’s what comes next. The Elysium Fields of publication seem to hurtle themselves back into the distance, once so close we could almost touch them, and that’s how we find ourselves staring at our computer screens at six in the morning, wondering how not to tear out our hair over the rewrite process.

I have some thoughts on that.

  • Take a clue from your normal writing habits.

This is assuming you have writing habits, of course. I’m an extremely disorganized writer, which means I’m writing at all times of days, usually in my pajamas with a cup of tea, but sometimes with a bowl of pretzels. Still, take a clue. Rewriting is often a point of contention because it doesn’t feel like “real writing”–it feels more like butchering something you produced while doing “real writing.” So put yourself in the same creative space, frame of mind, and habitual place as you would if you were generating new material–and make the leap to recognizing rewriting as an opportunity for creativity, too. Maybe if you feel the way you do about “real writing,” you can trick yourself into resenting it less! That’s my theory, anyway.

  • Pay attention to your body.

Some of the writers I went through school with ascribed to the “starving artist” stereotype, churning out reams of paper on old-school typewriters at 3 AM fueled solely by cigarettes and certain controlled substances. These authors were incredibly productive–to a point. They were also complete emotional wrecks who could do nothing else with their days than write (often disorganized) manuscripts. But you and I? We can’t afford to burn the candle at both ends, to let ourselves be eaten up by life-destroying fuels like these. We have lives and families to take care of, that we delight in taking care of, when we’re not writing. So writing, of course, has to take its place among an ever-changing, always difficult to manage, list of priorities … and the only way to manage them all is not to go off the deep end. So: pay attention to your body. You will produce your best work, and leave the most room for life outside of writing too, if you take care of this collection of bones and blood vessels and brain cells to the best of your ability. Write healthy, with a full meal under your belt and a full night’s sleep just over with. Don’t rely on anything that’s not good for you to be your brain fuel–even the seemingly harmless caffeine, which in point of fact is a strong bowel irritant and likely to break up your concentration with a half dozen bathroom breaks each writing session. (It also, naturally, will dehydrate you–even if you’re constantly chugging caffeinated liquids.)

  • Alternate between a “GET-UR-DONE” attitude & a more forgiving one.

Look, for some people, it’s never going to be fun, this rewrite thing. But constantly punishing yourself for not getting it done is counter-productive, and will leave you feeling more and more dissatisfied with the whole process over time, just as constantly forgiving yourself for not working on it will also snowball into a giant lump of self-loathing and regret. So: set yourself some deadlines, and carve out some time just to slam away at that keyboard. But also: establish some boundaries within which you can forgive yourself for not being as productive as you’d like, and etc. Always remember that rewriting, like “real writing,” requires moderation in all things. So alternate between those driven and those relaxed modes of working, and you’ll find yourself chipping away at the monolithic manuscript, despite your fear of the thing.

  • Accept change.

Duh, right? Only … no. This is actually the hardest part: reconciling your original vision for a book with what’s coming off of the page before you. There’s no more obvious place or time for this to happen than during the rewrite, when your analytical mind is hard at work trying to sew up loose ends and fix flaws. But producing something with a mind of its own isn’t a flaw–it’s a natural consequence of creating interesting characters who evolve past your original vision and into something greater, more complex, and … different. If you can, take a step back and admire the reality of what you’ve written instead of wasting time and energy bemoaning the departure from your intent. Then approach your book the way a professional editor might, from a mindset of: “This is what I’ve been given to work with, so how can I make it the best possible version of itself?” instead of feeling cheated of something different. You’re your own harshest critic, remember? And whatever you’ve put on the page, predicted or not, changed or not, is magnificent and wonderful–and we’re proud of you for it. Work with and not against this new and wonderful thing! You won’t regret it.

rewriting

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: What is Criticism & What Can It Do For Me?

The latent question lurking under the title of this post is perhaps a more honest one, but we’ll talk about honesty versus insight in a moment. You might say we’re going to spend this post looking at:

Can Criticism Be Anything Other Than A Tool Of The Snob & A Misery For Everyone Else?

But as you can see, that title is a bit too long to fit, despite feeling more accurate (to me, anyway. I suppose I’m projecting some of my fears here. Apologies if that doesn’t hold true for you!).

The last time I was in a setting where I was exposed to criticism of my writing from multiple points of view was during my last stint as a student. For many of you, that will also be true, but some of you are lucky enough to have stumbled across writing clubs and manuscript exchanges where you can get some of the same experiences outside of academia. This post is geared towards any author who is looking to develop some serious skills in giving and taking constructive criticism, however, not just those in structured group environments.

Here’s a truth:

No matter how well-prepared you are to receive it, any kind of correction or less-than-enthusiastic take on your writing can fall like a blow. The only times where this hasn’t felt true to me were when I was completely wiped out from pulling all-nighters and didn’t have the emotional capacity to take in what I was hearing. (Don’t be that person. Don’t stay up all night to get this effect! It comes with other problems. It’s not an admirable skill to cultivate.) Accept that it’s going to hurt, or feel uncomfortable, or at the very least come awkwardly.

If you relax too much, you might fall into the trap of being honest instead of insightful.

What do I mean by this? I mean that not everything is useful to hear. I’m being serious here. Not everything is useful to hear. The key to giving constructive criticism is in paying attention to both your own personal needs and to the expressed needs and wishes of your fellow writers. Don’t, for example, spend a lot of time breaking down spelling errors and grammatical issues if the author whose manuscript you’re reviewing has asked you to pay attention to plot holes and characterization. Maybe the spelling stuff can be dealt with later, or will naturally resolve itself as the author moves into his or her next draft. But it’s not something that will help that author right now, so it’s best to focus on what will.

Pro tip: when you’re the one receiving the criticism, you can’t always get people to act this way toward you … but you should always be free to lay some ground rules and boundaries for what sort of feedback you want. I’ve had professors give caveats at the beginning of every semester about how to respect and support other authors, so it’s worth approaching whoever is facilitating your group meetings and requesting this, or if you’re doing it digitally you can store some guidelines as a file on Dropbox.com or Google Docs for easy access. If your consortium is a little more casual than this, maybe take a line from Christopher Nolan’s movie, Interstellar:

 

Cooper: Hey TARS, what’s your honesty parameter?
TARS: 90 percent.
Cooper: 90 percent?
TARS: Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.
Cooper: Okay, 90 percent it is.

But look, you’re not a robot or a space-farer (probably), and you are in need of the support and guidance of your fellow authors. So how do you take part in that community in a way that produces construction (the building of something good and new) rather than a cataclysm of doubt?

Simplicity is the enemy.

Seriously, though. Saying “this story was badly written and I dislike it” is definitely critical, but it leaves no room for construction. Along the same lines, unabashed praise–“I loved it! It’s great!”–creates a similar vacuum of opportunity. A few small compliments throughout a critique may be helpful for keeping morale high, but they’re not your stock and trade. They can’t be your bread and butter, or no work will get done.

So complicate it. And ask for people to complicate their feedback, if it’s too simple.

Giving is as good as receiving, if not better.

Okay, maybe not better. But it’s important, this giving thing. Honing your critical capacities on someone else’s work–and seeing how other authors receive specific kinds of insights–will help you understand what to do with criticism when you’re on the receiving end of it … and it will also help you spot flaws in your own work before anyone else even looks at it. As other, wiser people have said: It’s one thing to develop a nagging sense that something is wrong with a work, but to be able to figure out where that sense of wrongness is coming from–character, language, plot, or something else–and then act to address it is what differentiates good authors from great authors.

 

It’s not personal.

It’s not, we promise, but it will sure feel like it is–especially if, as we mentioned earlier, someone takes a snobby approach (they’re no doubt working on some personal crisis of identity or insecurity of their own). Still, try to put aside your personal feelings, and bring an objective lens to what you’re looking at. Your manuscript and the manuscripts of others are mysteries waiting to be deconstructed and reconstructed. And even if you’re not a fan of the genre of manuscript you’re reading, you can still be useful to the author by putting your personal tastes aside and looking at the bricks and mortar of what makes for universally good storytelling.

Take notes.

Many workshops limit the author being critiqued from responding during the main critique session, but every group looks different. I’ve found that even without that restriction, simply watching and observing is more useful than trying to guide the conversation myself–if I do, I end up missing out on really useful advice I didn’t even think to consider asking for! So … take notes. It will distract you when the criticism is too pointed or your feelings too close under the surface, and it’s also just good advice for retaining detailed memories of the event. You can dispense with any advice that isn’t useful once you’re out and away from the session, or some advice might leap out to you later that didn’t in the moment. Time and distance is a great healer, no?

Lead with the positive.

Choose a handful of things the author did well–specific things–before diving into the rest of your critique. It’s also a good idea to end with a positive, for mood boosting effects. You can’t control how others do this on your work, of course, unless you make it a part of your collectively-agreed-upon rules for critiquing, as mentioned earlier. But remember, specific is vital. If you liked a character, what did you love about her? Was it her snappy dialogue, her peculiar tics and traits, or her back story as a mathematician during the Space Race that fascinated you?

Find your ideal reader(s).

Every workshop has one or two people who really know how to give good, useful, smart, and insightful constructive criticism. Latch on to those people and never let them go. Some of the people who were ideal readers while I was in college are still in touch today, and we still do good work together. There’s something symbiotic about it, of course–they get my work, and I get theirs, so the feedback goes both ways–but these people have become something more than just workshop fellows. They’ve become friends.

 

Joining a critique session is anxiety-inducing, there’s no mistake. But when everyone participates in good faith, it can be one of the most enriching experiences of your life as a writer.

“Don’t trust a mirror that only tells you how wonderful you look.”

― Matshona Dhliwayo

criticism

 

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

From the Archives: “5 Online Tasks for Self Publishing Authors to Complete Before NanoWriMo”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: October 22nd, 2012 ]

There is a little more than a week until NanoWriMo begins! If you’re like many self publishing authors, you’ve been spending the month of October preparing for the challenge. You’ve probably started brainstorming and outline and cleaning off your desk, but there are a few online tasks that you should complete before the official beginning of NanoWriMo. Here is your to-do list.

1) Make sure you are registered.

Before you start all the fun tasks below, make sure you are registered for the event. You can do so by visiting NanoWriMo.org. This will ensure that you have access to all the benefits and resources the challenge has to offer.

2) Create social media pages.

Social media is a great way to market yourself and your book, and many readers, agents, and publishers expect you to take advantage of this marketing tool. You could create social media pages for yourself, your book, or your characters. Be creative, and have fun with social media. This is also a great time to start a blog.

3) Connect with other authors.

Of the greatest benefits of  NanoWriMo is the opportunity to connect with other authors. They can encourage and support you during this project. You can connect with authors by visiting the NanoWriMo website as well as by searching social media sites for people who are participating.

4) Download some music.

Music is a great way to become inspired. Download a few songs that you can listen to when you need some inspiration. Listen to songs that your characters would be interested, or search for music that reminds you of your setting or plot.

5) Play on Pinterest.

Pinterest is a great way to find inspiration as well as promote your book. Create boards for your characters, setting, or plot. Be creative, and have fun with this. What outfits would your character wear? What food would your character eat?

I’d love to know, what are you doing to prepare for NanoWriMo?

– by Wendy Statina

Most of the time, we like writing.

Or don’t we?

Sometimes, writing feels like writing. And sometimes—not just because of Halloween, but for other reasons too—writing feels like one long protracted scream into the void. (My scream? “WHY ARE WRITING OUTLINES SO DARN HARD??” Yours might be different.) It’s realistic to expect that at some point during an intensive writing spree—whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not—you’ll face insurmountable obstacles and unstoppable forces and immovable objects. Or at least, you’ll face challenges that seem like all of the above: Writer’s Block, characters gone haywire, plot holes, inconsistencies, and that one thing you really really want to edit but shouldn’t yet because it’ll totally torch your forward momentum. You know, those things.

nanowrimo inkygirl will write for chocolate

If I’ve learned anything from my many attempts at NaNoWriMo—mostly unsuccessful insofar as word count is concerned—it’s that preparation and a little foresight goes a long way towards keeping November (or, again, any intensive writing spree—especially if you have to meet some sort of deadline) fun. Thus, I thought it worth reviving Wendy’s wonderful 2012 blog for both your benefit and mine. Her suggestions still hold true today, four years and many gray hairs later, even though social media and even relationship-building is a moving target (So long, Vine. You’ll be missed*sob*).

Better still, the principle underlying Wendy’s post holds true:

Think ahead.

Spend a day or two setting yourself up for success and you’ll not need to spend thirty-odd days obsessing over the details. Look for your inspiration and put together that inspiration board on Pinterest. Spend a few hours building an architecture for your piece. Take a moment to either hop on social media and give warning that you’ll be scaling back your presence to help with focus—or to lay the groundwork for increased involvement, predicated on the knowledge that doing this thing in community is so much nicer than doing it solo. Register with NaNoWriMo if you think that might give you a little extra motivation, or register with a local writer’s club for something in your own backyard. Swing on by your libraries for writing sprints! (Those things are wonderful.)

Whatever you do, don’t wait to do it! This post goes live the morning that NaNoWriMo gets started, but it’s worth doing all these things even if it takes away from one day’s word total. After all, you’re laying the groundwork for everything that follows.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


Kelly

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

In Your Corner : Summer Goals (Pt 3)

Two weeks ago, I started my blog series on summer goals by talking about writing goals–or at least, by talking about a few of mine.  And while I think it’s important not to slavishly apply another author’s goals to your life without first taking into account the very important fact that you probably live very different lives and face very different challenges.  Which is why, in the end, the goals I shared were both few and fairly general:

  1. Write, and
  2. Structure my writing … loosely.

Anything more specific would automatically render my goals into something else: A how-to guide for success at writing that assumes every author shares the same background and experiences, the same struggles and schedule…and the same lifestyle.

This last point provided a segwey into the second post in this series.  Last week, I talked about energy and energy budgets–how we wake up each moment with a finite amount of the stuff and have to use it and conserve it much as we do other finite resources.  That is, with care and restraint, with an eye for treating our bodies well.

Which brings me to today’s topic:

A Writer’s Lifestyle

And look, this is dangerous territory as well.  I couldn’t possibly project my own lifestyle onto yours without recognizing that A) you’re a very different human being, that B) I am not exactly anywhere near perfect myself, and that C) there are a million different ways to live healthy lives, and claiming any one of those ways is the *BEST* or *THE ONLY* way is in fact a complete and utter lie.  A tabloid-worthy lie.

Bear with me a moment:

Let’s consider for a second what might happen if we try to be authors out of the context of our bodies–if we, like Plato and many of the Ancient Greeks, divorce the workings of the human mind and the human body.  We can try to perfect each of these things separately from the other, but our minds and our bodies make up parts of a whole–and neuroscience is constantly revealing just how interconnected the mind’s activities and the brain’s physical structure are, and if we place work of an author within the realm of the mind then we must also recognize that it is affected by the physical structures of the brain, which are in turn affected by the other physical structures of the body.

Conclusion: If we don’t keep our bodies healthy, our writing will suffer.

Common sense, right?  Healthy body >> healthy brain >> healthy mind >> healthy work.

lifestyle

The real struggle is how to get there, and how to sift through the tabloids and the magazines and the blogs and the Pinterest boards and the well-intentioned advice we’re constantly stumbling into.  And as a woman, I also have to recognize that it’s easy to confuse “beauty standards” advice with “health and wellness” advice.  But those two things are not the same.  Attaining 18-inch waist isn’t the same thing as eating right and eating food that feeds the brain, for example.  But low-impact activity three to five times a week–say, walking down to the park or mowing the lawn–is a great way to stimulate brain and body alike.  Anything that gets your heart rate up, gets you breathing, and breaks up the monotony of sitting at home.

Three things show up as common threads to every respectable writer’s advice column when it comes to lifestyle:

  • eating well
  • sleeping well
  • getting out and about

If any one of these components presents a challenge for you, it may be time to try something new.  Play around with integrating more protein-rich foods into your diet, like avocado and pinto beans.  Move things around in your schedule for a week or two to try out some new sleep hygiene habits or some new activities out and around the neighborhood.  Nothing dramatic–nothing drastic–just a little short-term experiment.  You’ll find out pretty quickly if one of these changes is sustainable and makes a difference to your writing.  I promise!

You are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner : Summer Goals (Pt 2)

A Question of Energy

Last week, I started this blog series on summer goals by revealing mine (to write, and to structure my writing … loosely at least).  Everyone has different needs and goals in the summer, however, because every author’s life looks radically different from the next person’s.  One thing remains constant, however:

It takes energy to write.

And in the summertime, that energy is a complicated thing to channel.  On the one hand, the days are longer.  More daylight means more time to write (or the illusion of more time) because there are more hours in the day to take care of the basic what-have-yous of summer life, including mowing the lawn and going for an evening ramble through the neighborhood.  More time outside in that daylight equates to more Vitamin D (or so my family doctor tells me), and more Vitamin D means an uptick in mood and–you guessed it–energy!

welding energy

So far, so good.

But there’s trouble in paradise.  (There always is.  Ask John Milton.)  Just because we have more energy and (the illusion of) more time in summer, we also have an increase in demands.  You heard me: the myth of a languid summer is one we absorb from a literary canon in which people go for long vacations, long walks on the beach, languid soaks in the hot tub, or whatever else they can dream up.  The problem with this is: most of us have to work.  The world looked a little different when we were still in school (and when resumes for college didn’t mandate packing our high school schedules with summer programs), and the world still looks rather different for people of means.  But the fact of the matter is, most self-publishing authors aren’t middle schoolers or millionaires.

Statistically speaking, most self-publishing authors (that we know of, at least) are of an age and demographic that they both work and have families to wrangle.  And while jobs are as diverse as the people who work them, I can safely say that my own job is busiest in summer–by far.  And with school out for the summer, wrangling kids to and from various social activities, sporting events, and so forth occupies a lot of my (supposedly languorous) time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this:

Protect Your Time. Treat Energy as a Finite, Precious Resource.

What does your energy budget look like?  When are you at your absolute best?  That’s the time you want to set aside to write.  For me, it’s the early morning hours.  Now, I know my basic instinct is to try and knock out everything on my to-do list first thing as soon as I wake up, to leave “more time for things I love later,” but the problems with this theory are that–

  1. the to-do list never ends;
  2. I burn myself out by midday; and
  3. I never feel like starting something new at the end of the day, when everything is quiet at last.

If I’m not careful, my best hours are over and gone before I know it.  Even worse, if I start prioritizing a to-do list instead of my writing, I end up being not much of a writer.  Luckily, my family understands this and they want to support me in my writing, so every evening as we negotiate the details for the next day, we make sure to set aside a little time first thing in the morning for me to do the thing I love–so that I can better be the person they love (and let’s face it, be a more happy and loving person in general).  I also have to remember that sleeping and eating well are vital components to feeling well and retaining energy throughout the day.  I know we all feel the pull towards strong coffee and starch after the lunch hour when our blood sugar is crashing–but I’m here to tell you we can do better, together.  More on that later!

You are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.