Always Back Yourself For The Better

Guest bloggers visit my website twice a month on Tuesday and Thursday. If you would like to be part of this, feel free to check out the Be A Guest Blogger page.

This week’s guest post is brought to you by Al. Thanks, Al!

Ever been stuck in a situation where you feel you have no control and no way out…?

When I first contacted Rachel about doing a guest post on her blog, my plan was to write about my journey into self-publishing. For the A to Z Challenge in April, I wrote a series of survival guides for a post-apocalypse zombie world… in haiku. Such a cliché, I know! As I was writing the posts, I had half a mind on potentially publishing them, depending on the reaction from my blog followers.

The reaction was positive. From some, REALLY positive!

Writing the haiku was the easy bit. I love writing poetry and short stories, mixing up a bit of humour with some darker themes, and throwing in some wider commentary on society and where civilisation is heading. (Following the best traditions of zombie writing, I used them as a cipher for a host of wider themes relating to man’s inhumanity to man, the environment, celebrity culture… anything really!) Looking back on them now, I’m really proud of some. Others may need a little tweaking 🙂

Then came a perfect storm of complications. I walked away from a (reasonably well-paid) job at the end of April. I left with immediate effect. No payoff. No income. No clue what to do next.

All thoughts of self-publishing went on the backburner. I had to focus on finding another job and poured my efforts into scouring the internet for potential work, completing applications, and following up leads.

It was exhausting, mentally. The way I had left my job meant that I was unsure how I would be received by future employers. I worried (incessantly) about the poor reference I’d be given, about finding another job before our limited savings were gone.

It also proved exhausting physically, as I became a full-time parent. Fortunately, my wife was able to extend her work hours to bring in some extra income, but it left me ferrying two young monkeys around on foot, to and from school and nursery, every day and entertaining them between times. I loved it, and loved the extra time with them, but without a car, it did involve a lot of walking around. (On days when I had to sign on at the Jobcentre, and pick both of them up, I would be out walking for the best part of a three hour stretch. On the bright side, I lost weight!)

When I did try and spend some time on self-publishing, I got completely lost in the question of how to format my manuscript. I had a clear idea of how I wanted it laid out, and wanted something high quality that I would be proud of, but my knowledge and skills were not up to the task.

It drifted. It’s still drifting.

I will get back to it at some point. I’ve installed Scrivener on my laptop and have saved a bunch of links to help me orientate with that software when the time’s right.

The job search paid off. I started back at work this last week. This job will be challenging, emotionally and personally, but the work is much more “me” than what I was doing previously. I have a chance to make a real difference to people’s lives. That’s what motivates me. This comes through in some of my poetry too, I think.

So, for those who have taken the time to indulge me here, what are the key takeaways from this? I’d suggest two things.

  • For your first self-publishing project, choose something you like, but don’t love. Use it as practice, so you don’t get bogged down trying to perfect something you don’t yet have the skills for. Learn, learn, learn!
  • Always back yourself for better. When I walked out of that last job, I had very real fears of losing everything… income, career, house… but I couldn’t mentally and emotionally handle what was going on, even if I had been able to survive the various plottings. Sometimes you need to have faith in your own abilities and do the best thing for your own emotional health. I got through it. You can too. You owe it to yourself. Always back yourself for better.

I’d love it if you stopped by to check out my work. You can find me blogging poems and short stories most days at https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/ . I plan on writing longer articles on blogging / writing on my website, along with my Dirty Dozen interview feature: http://www.alistairlanewrites.com/

I’m also on twitter @AlistairLane and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AlistairLaneWrites 🙂

5 Ways to Chase Inspiration

Guest bloggers visit my website twice a month on Tuesday and Thursday. If you would like to be part of this, feel free to check out the Be A Guest Blogger page.

This week’s guest post is brought to you by Nicky. Thanks, Nicky!

It’s a funny thing that when you most need inspiration (remembering you’ve agreed to do a guest post that’s due in an hour for example), that illusive entity of the imagination eludes you.

Artists, in general, all understand how difficult it is to describe inspiration and where they draw it from, but writers, in particular, seem to personify it.

Perhaps it’s because we all struggle with it at some point, or because our self-doubt expresses itself so clearly as a separate personality that our vivid imaginations can easily translate it into something that isn’t us.

Whatever the reason, and no matter how you choose to view inspiration, the general consensus seems to be that it’s not something that should be waited upon.

Inspiration is something that should be sought out, chased after, created. If necessary, it should be wrenched from its hiding place and forced to work for you, instead of against you.

With that in mind, there are several tricks that artists and writers, in particular, can use to generate emergency inspiration.

1. Ask a question. It can be about anything. Something that happened to you, something your character did in the last chapter. Whatever question it is, make sure it’s open-ended and can’t be answered with a yes or no.

2. Chat to other writers. Sometimes a discussion about your current WIP can spark a chain of ideas you never would have thought of. Not all of them will apply, but you’ll more often than not end up with motivation to continue that you didn’t have before.

3. Find writing prompts. The internet is full of wonderful sites that offer writing prompts, and if you need one in a hurry, there are apps available for smartphones as well.

4. Observe. As artists, we often look at the world slightly differently, but we tend to forget that when life swoops in and insists on stealing our time. As writers, in particular, observing life as we experience it, gives us a wonderful selection of material to use for inspiration.

5. Just write. Even if you’re 100% certain that it’s going to be useless, write it. We may personify inspiration, believing it to be an uncooperative brat, but at the end of the day, no one likes to be ignored and if you ignore that sulking muse, waiting for it to creep up and offer apologies on a silver platter of ideas… You’ll have a long, long, wait ahead of you.

Instead, write as often as possible, whether you feel it’s good, bad or just plain awful. Because every time you write, it’s like taking inspiration out for ice cream and making it fall a little bit deeper in love with you.

Everyone knows that when you’re in love, you want to spend every moment together, so naturally, you’ll never lack inspiration again. Until the time for your next blog post comes round, anyway.

You can find Nicky on her website.

Writers Platform: Know Your Plan

Guest bloggers visit my website twice a month on Tuesday and Thursday. If you would like to be part of this, feel free to check out the Be A Guest Blogger page.

This week’s guest post is brought to you by Charli Mills, which she discusses various plans for your writing career. Thanks, Charli!

A writer’s platform is a presence you create around your name as a writer and what you produce as a writer. It includes your name, what you write, how you write and who reads your work. Think of your platform as both a billboard and a launching pad. It advertises who you are and promotes what you do.

Why Bother with a Plan?

If a writer’s platform focuses on your name and writing, for what purpose do you want that publicity? Because that’s what it is – your platform brings media attention to what you do or who you are. It’s promotion for what you write or sell. Before you build, plan.

We all know that a goal is something we want to attain. Typically a plan maps out the journey with our goal as the destination. However, ask a writer, “Why do you write?” and you will likely hear responses beyond an observable and measurable goal.

I write because I have a story to tell.

I have a book in me.

I’ve always wanted to write.

I can’t not write.

I want to be the Hemingway of my era.

I love words. I really, really love words. And cats. But especially words.

For these kinds of reasons, writers believe they don’t need a plan. They simply need to write. Plans are for the writers who want to earn a living, sell books and develop a career. Yet, often even these writers don’t plan because it seems simple – write, revise, publish, sell, repeat.

However, any writer who builds a writer’s platform needs a plan in order for that platform to work. It’s like having all the components in a box that make up a bike. If you don’t follow a plan, you’ll have metal bars, screws, tires and handles that take you nowhere. Why do you have a writer’s platform? What is your plan?

Different Plans for Different Reasons

Writers need to know three plans: a business plan is for a product or service; a marketing plan is for promoting a product or service; and a strategic plan is for clarifying purpose or establishing priorities. These plans can help you build a writer’s platform to fit your needs, and you can have one or all three.

First, know the differences.

If you think of your writing as a profession, then think of it as a business. Your books will be the products. If you freelance, your writing contracts become your services. A business plan quantifies what you have to sell and how you will earn money. It’s what a bank would ask for if you took out a business loan. They’d want to know how you would pay it back.

Marketing is more than flying the “buy me” flag over your book or writing services. A marketing plan shows how the business plan will work (make money). If the business plan is based on you earning a specified amount of money per book sold or contract gained, then the marketing plan shows how you will be profitable.

The classic marketing plan is based on an ongoing cycle:

  1. Define your market (who will read your writing or hire you to write?)
  2. Query your market (ask what readers want or what companies need from a freelancer)
  3. Innovate (improve upon what exists in your market based on your queries)
  4. Set your price (what do readers or companies typically pay for what you write?)
  5. Distribute and promote (understand the marketing channels and promote within them)
  6. Evaluate (evaluate your writing, your books, your plans and understand market changes)

Your overall strategy, and your reason for having a writer’s platform, can be defined in a strategic plan. This is your map to the stars. A strategic plan requires a vision. Think of your vision as your northern star and use it to guide your planning over time. Businesses will often use a strategic plan to predict and adjust to a changing market. A writer can use it to give purpose to writing, to flesh out what that answer to “why write” means to you.

Take Time to Imagine Your Plan

While many businesses start with the business plan, I suggest writers begin with a strategy. Just like you need to daydream about what you write, you need to imagine your northern star – your vision. You’re a writer, so you can imagine with flourish. Go ahead. Think big.

Write about what success looks like to you in your vision. 100 different writers will each have different visions. Some see success as a packed book-signing. Others see it as satisfaction with a byline on a cover. Many picture a series. What else might your vision include? Teaching workshops? Living in a remote cabin? Traveling? Never having to leave home? Be detailed in your vision. Have fun with it.

Whatever you do, hold it up to this vision. Walk backwards from the dream outcome to find the path that becomes reality – the steps you need to take. Your strategic plan includes building a writer’s platform  that will connect you to your vision. If you see yourself successful with a published book and teaching classes, then start volunteering to tutor, or lead a local writers group. Build up experience that will take you to your north star. Make decisions based on how it fits your long-term strategy.

If you want to sell books, you need at least a marketing plan. If you are interested in crowd-sourcing or seeking a literary grant you need a business plan.

You can find templates online or through your local Small Business Administration. Now that you know what these plans are and why they are important to you, you can also alter any templates to fit what you are doing as a writer. Start with your vision. Hold onto that dream. Always.

You can visit Charli Mills on her social media:

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Aristotle’s 6: The Elements of Compelling Fiction

Guest bloggers visit my website twice a month on Tuesday and Thursday. If you would like to be a part of this, feel free to check out the Be a Guest Blogger page.

This week’s guest post is brought to you by Rollan in which he discusses Aristotle’s six elements of drama. Thanks, Rollan!

Aristotle's six elements of drama

Centuries ago, Aristotle discovered the six substances of compelling art. Why art? Sure, Aristotle coined them for drama, but these elements apply to all forms of art. They are the elements that draw us to mediums: movies, music, paintings, speeches, etc. I like to apply them to writing. Like a general contractor wielding raw materials, these elements determine the type of structure we will create, and make it livable, or even more importantly make it enjoyable.

What are the elements and their purposes? How much of each is one to use? That depends on the type of structure we want to create. Continuing with the structure analogy, let’s explore each element’s purpose.

Plot (The frame and the foundation)

Some buildings have an elaborate frame segmenting various types of rooms, some are minimal and more open. The same goes for the plot. In a story, plot determines where everything goes. Plot-focused works are like an office building. Plot points are rigid. They need to be placed in proper order (not necessarily chronological) to keep a story compelling. Mystery and Thrillers tend to be heavily plot-centric. Other element-focused works may be more like a studio apartment (or a teepee). Even then, if the sequence of events flow illogically or dully, it can kill a story.

Character (The walls and roof)

Frame, walls, and roof are the essentials of a building. They are enough to protect us from the elements. (Not enough to make us want to live there.) Add walls and a roof, then a house looks like a house. Likewise, add characters to a story, then you have the elements to drive a plot. I mean, how can you have conflict without characters conflicting. But, character is more than a driving force for the plot. It’s a work’s personality.  It’s an audience’s means of injecting themselves into the medium. We want someone (or something, people aren’t the only ones with personality) to identify with. Dramas and comedies are often character-centered.

Diction (Wiring and Plumbing)

A structure’s wiring and plumbing work out of sight, as does diction (sort of: depending on its purpose and how well it’s done). An oversimplified definition of diction: word choice. The purpose of diction is choosing and organizing words in a manner that lets people fully understand your message.  A connotative understanding. It’s the seeking and straining for the right words to express our thoughts, to get others to feel the way we what them to.  We do this primarily via grammar and voice. Grammar, eh, following those universal rules that the masses have agreed to adhere to. Voice adds the shades of meaning that enable an audience to get inside the artist’s head to understand them deeper.  And, diction’s function is not to draw attention to itself.

Music (Décor)

Nothing invokes certain moods in a house more than the décor. The color of paint, the plushness of the furniture, the fabric of the curtains. Décor creates an atmosphere, as does music in art. Music, however, is not solely our denotative understanding of the word. In Aristotle’s understanding, it is the overall flow and rhythm of a work. In painting it is the length and shape of the strokes. In writing, it can be word choice according to the way words sound or flow. Sentence and paragraph lengths. I sometimes find, diction and music butting heads. One word describes something better, while the other word sounds prettier, or harsher, or more monotone (all depending on the mood I’m going for). Songs (obviously), poetry, musicals, and operas are all music-centric works.

Theme (The Family)

Yes. A house is still a house even if no one lives there, but it is pointless. And, a story is a story, even if it doesn’t have a theme. Themes are what we have to say. What we want others to learn. What we want our audience to think about. I don’t know how many struggle with what they want to say, but I struggle with how to express my themes. I could go right out and say, “I believe you should…” But, compelling art gets people, even those who rabidly disagree, to ponder themes. The more radical the theme, the harder it is make our expression of it compelling.

Spectacle (Wow Factor)

A flashy car pulls into the garage, an infinity pool whooshes in the back yard, and marble counter tops make even spoiled fruit look tempting, these all get the neighbors to drop their jaws. But, they are not necessary. Aristotle said spectacle was the least import of the 6. Although, many modern day action flicks start with spectacle and then build the other elements around it. Well… Who doesn’t love a good explosion? So, what is spectacle? Anything that makes us say, “Whoa, that was cool.” In writing, it might be a detailed fight scene… Or a graphic something-or-other scene. Maybe, it’s a good gimmick.

If you liked this post, feel free to connect with Rollan on his social media sites:

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