In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (I)

In the time that I’ve been contributing to Self Publishing Advisor, I don’t think I’ve once talked about outlines and outlining––at least, not as the primary subject of a post. That’s about to change!

I can’t think of a better time to address outlining and planning than after a year of great upheaval and disruption, when so few things went according to design and the world proved time and time again the old adage about one’s best laid plans:

Unfortunately for them, mice have neither opposable thumbs or the ability to write the Great American Novel––and I must confess, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was one of my absolute favorite books as a child, so I wouldn’t have minded if they did. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t find a nimble mouse detective nearly so appealing.

For those of us who do have opposable thumbs and the desire to use them for writing, we have long debated the merits and drawbacks of outlining, of sitting down to build the architecture of our next book before hanging the wall panels and window frames upon it. There are those who are naturally drawn to this kind of thing; I remember envying them as a college student. Such orderly minds! As you might have guessed, I was not made from the same stuff. I was, as many authors now phrase it, a pantser, perpetually neglecting to outline any of my papers the way that American students are encouraged to do from middle school onward. I have also neglected to outline most of my creative writing projects over the intervening years, leaning on long late-night writing sessions to finish out drafts.

As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to experience the importance of cultivating the kind of “organized thinking” I’d only admired from afar as a younger person. I may not be naturally inclined toward rigorous planning sessions, but as my ability to draft for hours on end late at night has attenuated over time, writing became much more of a challenge to be overcome than a creative endeavor undertaken as easily as breathing. Writing, it turns out, takes time, and I am merely human in that my time is limited … and growing moreso as I age, and competing concerns such as family and work jostle within my planner for all available waking hours. (And naps. Let’s be honest. I find naps more and more mandatory as I age, too.)

So it is that I’ve come to regard outlining as both a science worth mastering and an art worth ever refining by constant practice. And I’ll confess, I absolutely do still struggle with the whole concept. Why spend valuable time planning what to write when I might just as well be spending that time actually writing, getting underway for real? But I need this slower beginning to a large writing project, it turns out, and I will waste far less time later in the manuscript drafting process if I remember what beats I am meant to be hitting and by which page number (or word count) I should begin curving my story arcs toward their denouements. Many of my novel-length works would have required far less editorial work later on if I’d only planned ahead and then stayed on target instead of simply meandering wherever my heart desired at any given moment in the writing process.

Of course, it’s one thing to say such a thing and it’s another to actually feel convinced that it’s true. Plenty of teacher, professors, and fellow writers have tried to convince me of the value of outlines, and yet I wasn’t ready to feel that truth until I’d stopped just short of finishing multiple projects because I couldn’t figure out how to get them back on track. This isn’t an issue for me if I have even a vague plan when I set out of what the point, purpose, and closing mood were supposed to be.

I know I can’t persuade you to outline before you’re ready, as I took a couple of decades to reach that conclusion myself. You might be one of the lucky ones, like those planners among my college acquaintances who seemed born thinking in bullet points, but truthfully outlining is a practice that can be picked up at any stage of life, and any stage of a person’s craft. You might be like me, and find yourself boxed into an ever-more-cluttered brain corner by the increase in mayhem brought on by 2020. And if you’re just on the cusp of leaning that way, of maybe taking your first baby steps into the outlining world, I hope my words of affirmation here will prove the encouragement you need in order to try it out.

I thought I might take this topic a little farther next week and offer some practical how-to tips of what to do once pen hits paper or you sit down to type up that first outline. There are so many competing ways of doing it––what do you think? Would seeing some options prove useful to you?

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

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Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, 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: Do we still need to talk about the pandemic?

Writing and publishing is difficult enough without added challenges being added on top of the usual brainstorming, crafting, editing, strategizing, and marketing that self-publishing authors take on as a part of the process. (Allowing, of course, for some variation, depending on existing skills and assistance provided by third parties.) We heard a great deal last year about some of the pandemic’s additional challenges last year, particularly during the summer, but much of that conversation has either died down or been reframed as a part of the “new normal.” So I just have to wonder, do we still need to talk about the pandemic outside of its health- and social-specific effects? Is it still worth grappling with the “extras” that COVID-19 has added to our writing and publishing lives?

I, personally, happen to think that we are entering a new phase of this whole thing. By and large, one year in, we’ve figured out how to live with the restrictions and their consequences (eagerly or otherwise). Two vaccines have passed all the standards that need passing in order to achieve wide distribution, and state governors are working on specific distribution plans for each state. Where I am just now, many of the restrictions themselves have begun to loosen, although most people I know are still being fairly cautious. Some schools are back in operation. My favorite bakery reopened! … and then closed again, then reopened again, and so on and so forth a number of times as the occasional worker came down with the virus. By and large, we are now well-acquainted with this open-closed-open-closed-etc cycle, and well-acclimated to last-minute changes in plans as the knock-on effects of the virus continue to manifest.

But what about when it comes to books? I see that the news posts here on the blog have dealt occasionally with the effects of COVID-19 on the publishing industry since March (summary version: book sales are up, particularly in digital, and so too with digital library offerings, as more library users make use of them). Most of the data, however, is coming from traditional publishers and indie bookstores (which are still struggling). Publishers Weekly (and probably many other organizations) keeps an updated list of COVID-19-related cancellations and postponements––again, privileging the traditionally published lineup, which is usually decided years in advance.

Getting a handle on just how this same situation is affecting those who choose to go indie is another matter. For one thing, self-published books don’t require the same long (up to two-years!) run-up to release as their traditionally published cousins, so there are very few compendiums of upcoming indie publications to build buzz. As we’ve seen throughout this last year, it is entirely feasible to progress from initial thoughts through writing and publication within two months with self-publishing, although we don’t recommend that many sleepless nights to everyone who wants to publish in the next year. (Chances are, anyway, that you have already been working on a manuscript before you read this post.)

Where do we look for self-published book statistics these days? Publishing through Amazon might be an indicator (and the company does love to release its self-reported statistics when they’re good news for them), but due to Amazon’s diversification and movement into the traditional publishing sphere with its own imprint and so forth, “publishing through Amazon” can look any one of a hundred different ways. It is not necessarily a good indicator of general self-publishing statistics anymore, in my opinion––the data I’ve seen talks big about the total amount its authors have earned in the last year, but the company hasn’t released any comparative reports to pre-COVID-19 times, or on whether their authorship has remained steady, much less grown.

About the only people reporting on the effects of COVID-19 on self-publishing are individual authors themselves, on their blogs or in their newsletters or social media feeds. To my knowledge, no one has a good handle on how many books are self-published even during a good year, much less this last year (this is because ISBN purchases, while tracked rather well, only apply to those authors who choose them––and they aren’t required for the publication of ebooks). Perhaps I’m so stuck on this because I myself work in the industry, and I want to know just how the virus’ long-term effects will challenge and/or benefit those authors I work with on a daily basis. Do we even know?

I’ve heard by word of mouth and on social media that many authors are struggling to write because of the persistence of work-from-home directives continuing for a large sector of the marketplace, and because many schools are also either working remotely or in hybrid systems. I’ve also heard that there is a huge wave of pandemic-related works in the pipeline for publication in the near future, although most traditional publishers haven’t quite gotten there without cutting corners. I’ve heard a lot of stories involving children’s books, particularly, when it comes to pandemic-related publications this last year, with the first ones appearing within months of the outbreak, published by schoolteachers and grandparents and other caregivers. But these are just the stories that I, Elizabeth, have heard. I am not representative of the entire industry, for sure.

What have you heard? Do you think we still need to talk about the pandemic when it comes to self-publishing, as I do? I’d love to hear your stories. And as always, I’d love to hear about your 2021 writing goals. ♣︎

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Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, 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: Welcome to Writer’s Block! Here’s the escape plan.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

–Charles Bukowski

Writer’s block. The two words that no author ever wants to have to mutter aloud, nonetheless suffer from. While a myriad of writing ailments get lumped under the cognomen, “writer’s block,” it can generally be summarized as an overwhelming feeling that you are incapable of being creative or productive in your writing.

What are the causes of the infamous writer’s block? One could be timing: maybe you’re not in a good headspace for writing or you need more time to process your thoughts before getting them onto the page. Make sure to not confuse the wrong timing for procrastination. If you’ve worked a 40+hour week and just need to catch up on sleep before starting that next chapter, then that’s probably a timing issue. If you just sit in front of the computer day after day with one Microsoft Word window open and another Google Chrome window clogged with Facebook and news tabs open that you can’t help but check, that’s an issue of focus and dedication to the task at hand.

Another cause of writer’s block could be a general fear: fear that you can’t do your big idea justice, fear that your work won’t turn out well or will be ill-received or even go unread. If you fear those things, it becomes rather easy to ask the question, “What’s the point?”––falling prey to the inactivity bred by hopelessness and despair. I’d be lying if I said I don’t ask that question in many aspects of my life. Who doesn’t have days when they wake up to the alarm they set for work in the morning and contemplate just hitting snooze? Sometimes there seems to be little point in heading to work to carry out what sometimes seem like meaningless tasks for a wage that doesn’t feel as though it reflects the quality of our labor. Yet, we crawl out of bed and show up anyway. If we show up for things like a paycheck, we should show up for things that are more near and dear to us, like writing, even if we have doubts or fears associated with it.

Maybe you’re a perfectionist, and the idea that your work isn’t going to be perfect if you start it when you’re a bit tired means you don’t want to start it at all. That kind of thinking is highly unproductive for many reasons. Writing is a practice, some days you won’t perform at your highest, but it’s important to keep the creative juices flowing no matter what. If you’re worried about perfection, focus your energy on something that doesn’t need to be perfect, like a stream of conscience journal entry, blog or social media post.

If you, or someone you know and love is suffering from this horrible condition, I have a few suggestions that may help get you back in line.

  • Go for a walk or a run. Get the blood flowing and clear your head. I find some of my best writing ideas have come to me mid-run.
  • Brew some coffee or tea. This gives you a break from writing, a fresh boost of caffeine, and who doesn’t feel more ready to write with a mug full of some delicious hot bean or leaf juice by their side?
  • Read. Read quotes, books, articles, blogs…anything. Reading is part of the writing process and if you’re struggling to find your voice, sometimes it helps to draw inspiration from others.
  • Freewrite. Stream of conscience writing can clear some of those spider webs of the mind. Sometimes I surprise myself when I write with reckless abandon. Maybe you’ll even come up with a fantastic poem or epigraph for your book.
  • Call a friend. Sometimes talking about writer’s block helps you get over it.
  • Change your environment. Sometimes I have to go to a library or cafe to get any serious writing done. When I’m at my house I’ll randomly find myself scrubbing the toilet or baking banana bread when I was in the middle of writing. I also find that being in an environment full of other people being productive makes me feel like I also have to be productive…to “fit in.”

Overcoming writer’s block is really overcoming a mental block. Figure out what your mental block is, face it head on (with a cup of joe in hand), and get back to it. You are a writer. Get back to writing!

I’d still love to know, what are your 2021 writing goals? ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth
 

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, 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: Here’s to 2021, the year you publish a book!

Welcome to a new year!

If you are like many writers, publishing a book is probably on your 2021 to-do list. Perhaps you even marked it down as one of your New Year resolutions! Hopefully, despite everything happening out there in the world, you’re feeling refreshed, inspired, excited––maybe a little scared or overwhelmed––and it’s likely that you’re hoping your dream won’t become another failed resolution that gets pushed to the back burner after the thrill of the new year wears off. (And after only two weeks, many of us are past the honeymoon phase already.)

Well, we are here to help. Throughout January, we will offer you tips and tricks to help you accomplish your goal of publishing a book this year––and afterward, of course, I personally encourage you to continue reading my posts throughout the year for inspiration, advice, and news that will help you become a successful author.

So let’s get started.

The first thing you must do if you want to accomplish your goal is break it down into smaller, more manageable and measurable tasks. This will keep you from feeling overwhelmed, getting side tracked, and losing inspiration.

I find it helpful to have a calendar in front of me when I complete this task, to help with setting deadlines and factoring in events that may impact my writing goals. I’ve also found it useful to separate my writing life from my bedroom and living room. Setting up a dedicated space for writing may prove difficult, depending on how your household is set up at the moment, but physically getting off of the couch is already a huge step in preparing me mentally for planning such a monumental task.

Now, let’s ask ourselves these questions:

  1. How much time do I need to dedicate to writing each day, week, or month?
  2. When do I want to start the publishing process?
  3. How will I fund my project?
  4. When do I want to complete my first draft?
  5. How much time do I need to edit my first draft?
  6. What tasks besides writing (i.e., researching, marketing, etc.) will I need to complete?
  7. What will help me be successful?

Using our answers to these questions, we next need to write down small, measurable goals for our projects and put them some place we will see them often. If you need a bit of support in defining measurable goals, I can’t recommend NPR’s Life Kit podcast episode from December featuring BJ Fogg, who works at Stanford in behavioral science. (Check it out HERE.) We also have to make sure to periodically check our progress and adjust our goals as needed. I’ve been making use of both digital and offline methods to remind me of this, including sticky notes and calendar reminders on my phone.

I’d love to know, what are your 2021 writing goals?

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth
 

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, 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.

Merry Christmas to You and Yours!

Merry Christmas!!

This year, the happy job of posting on Christmas Day has fallen to me, and I couldn’t be more grateful––for you, our readers, and for the chance to share even just a hint of the love and boundless joy at the end of what has been, for many of us, one of if not the most difficult years on record.

I took a moment this morning to think back over what we have already overcome in the last twelve months:

  • COVID-19,
  • Quarantine,
  • Isolation,
  • Separation from friends, family, and loved ones,
  • Intense regulation,
  • Civil unrest and a hotly debated political season,
  • Countless disruptions to routine,
  • Financial hardships, and
  • Loss and grief over all of the above …

And I just have to say, my friends, that you are absolute champions. You’ve made it through so much. And no, I don’t necessarily think that making it through to everyone’s favorite holiday or even turning the calendar page onto a new year will magically ease all of our burdens, but I do truly think we are on the cusp of something new and good. For some of us that may be the comforts that a favorite holiday or a new year will bring, and for others it might be the time to finally work on that next book, and for still others it might just be the space to finally draw breath and think of something other than surviving the next week with food on the table and a loved one to hug.

This has been a long, hard year. But amidst all of the hardship, I have been so very blessed to write to you, read your responses, and work alongside you to make the world just a little bit better, a little bit richer, by having your words and your stories in it.

Thank you.

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth
 

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, 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.