Reclaiming my blog

It’s 12:10pm. Here I am, writing a blog post, in my pyjamas.

Exactly how it should be.

No plans, I won’t even read this for typos (okay, maybe once, or…twice). It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my last blog post and the reason I haven’t written one is because I kept thinking about what to write, which led me in circles.

I realize I need to reclaim my blog.

Have you ever done something you thought was right, only to later realize it was glaringly wrong, and feel deeply embarrassed afterward? That’s how I feel about this blog.

First off, I’m no expert on writing. Let me absolve myself of that. You’ll find if you dig through my feed, an awful lot of posts on how to write. Let me be clear:

I don’t know a damn thing about how to write. I’m making it all up as I go. I try to fuck up a little bit less each time, and that’s progress. I try to learn and I love to describe what I’m learning, but I also know some people like masturbating in the corner and that’s not good manners (especially at a writing convention). So for that, I apologize.

I also am not smart, or wise, or any other kind of hybrid guru with expensive snake oil. I read a lot not to get smarter, but because I’m dumb and I hope I’ll become less dumb (it’s working). There’s really nothing to brag about here, just another writer showing his notes. So if you’re a new reader and you’re scrolling through my feed, you’ll see traces of my Wikipedia geek-a-thon, as well as my orthorexic Ultimate Reading Curriculum post. I still do that, and it works for me, and I like it, but really, opinions are assholes, and I have learned my manners now.

I don’t know what I’ll be blogging about, but I know one thing: future posts will be written like this, off the hop, ideally in my pyjamas before the night’s wind down reading (tonight it’s the November issue of National Geographic).

One of my editing clients once told me in another life I must have been a comedian. So maybe I’ll try to connect with that. George Carlin is my all time idol, though I’ll rein in the f-words if I try to find my voice in that direction (you have to buy my book for those). I can already feel a rant or two (but let’s save those for another night).

It’s 12:23 and that’s longer than I should be spending on a blog post. This really is like an email to a good friend. The microphone is up and I can’t edit what I say, so here it is. I’ll save all the editing for the books or courses you can pay money to read. There certainly is enough of it.

Goodnight all, and welcome to my blog with more cobwebs cleared away.

Now, time to get less dumb.

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Welcome to 2019! A new year, a new take on blogging

It’s a new year, and with that comes new opportunities. To start, I’m going to change how I blog.

Over the holidays, I was inspired by fellow fantasy author Bruce Blake. (Check out his blog here.) I’ve been following Bruce’s posts for several years. Like me, he’s a laid back Canadian who mostly wrote about fantasy or writing.

Bruce has done some amazing work. Be sure to check out his books if you wander over. When I go to his Amazon author page, I get inspired. This guy tells some great dark fantasy. Blood of the King (the first in the Khirro’s Journey series) is a tale of hope amidst darkness and corruption. It’s even got a Necromancer. This one’s on my to-read list.

But it’s Bruce’s new spin on blogging that caught my attention. More specifically, it was this declaration he made:

“Fuck writing.”

That’s right. Fuck writing, I couldn’t agree more.

By that I don’t mean fuck writing, and neither did Bruce. (Read the full post here.) The writing happens, and it’s beautiful. The thing to fuck in this case is all the pretentious “how to write better” and “how I write” stuff that’s cluttering the blog feeds like deadwood.

But I want to take this fuck a level higher. Fuck social media and humble bragging about word counts and what your MC just got up to in your WIP. Fuck writing about how you wrote your book as though you’re in a Writer’s Digest interview (unless you actually are). Fuck telling people why they should care about your book. Let the book do that work instead.

All these things flashed through my head the night I read Bruce’s post, but they’ve since festered. I nearly quit writing several times in the last few years. All occasions were related to being exposed to the “buy my book” buzz. Dread that hung on for days at a time, striking often monthly, that sense of comparison to other writers and thinking who am I kidding? It still goes on, but I’ve found better anesthetics, at least enough to keep me moving forward.

And the whole time, I went on blogging as though this struggle were secondary, as though I have to perform here with as much flare as what I try to do in the writing (and rewriting (and rewriting (and..))) of my stories.

Thank you, Bruce, for giving me a new perspective, one that’s helped me enter 2019 with a new spirit in this thing called blogging.

Here were my plans for 2019 on this blog:

-write a blog-based course on how the editing process works for writers

-write about the history of the epic fantasy genre

-write about how I make maps

Let’s play Abraham and Isaac for a minute.

All of the above is pretentious, and might not make it through the fuck writing filter. Who am I to tell you how editing works? Who am I other than some Wikipedia and Google hack to tell you the story of how the epic fantasy genre evolved? Who am I to tell you how to draw a map?

Now, hold back the dagger for a moment.

I can say a lot about how editing works. I started out as an apprentice editor in 2012 for a small press, then ventured into full-time freelance editing in 2014 when I started my own company. In 2016, we incorporated and presently our team numbers over 12 (almost 20 if we count everyone who lends a hand once in a while). I’ve seen hundreds of manuscripts go from finished draft to fully edited publication. I didn’t just see this, I directed it, using what I learned when I got started. I’ve been every kind of editor, from draft coach, to writing mentor, to developmental editor, to copyeditor, to proofreader. I’ve been a ghostwriter on 2 memoirs. I put all these hats on myself before learning how to train others to wear them under my direction. I learned what I did by reading books and articles on writing craft and the publishing business. This has carried me even further, driven by a passion for how the publishing process works and how to provide the best possible services for self-publishing authors (as well as for our newer startup publishing divisions). I’ve done the copywriting for nearly 100 publications. I’ve overseen cover art production and marketing plans for more than 70 titles. I’ve even been acquisitions editor and know the submission process as one who has been on both sides of the fence.

So, I could write about the steps involved in editing, though it would only be from my perspective. It would not be about writing, but about what I’ve learned, in the spirit of being helpful.

Item #2 gets the dagger, though. I write epic fantasy because I love it, because though I am 36 years old, there’s a part of me who still is that 8-year-old staring at the map to Wilderland, a boy who hated reading but was willing to learn how to do it just so he could see what kind of story went with that map. A boy who has never looked back (and is gradually getting better at reading as a result). So, there’s no reason to write about the history of the fantasy epic. I’m busy reading and learning about it, and writing my own epic to add to the body of work. My energy needs to go there. If I live to 100, I’ll still be that 8-year-old boy, intrigued by this world that feels ever-beginning, the prose that forever evolves like a fractal, the wonder that lurks between the lines.

Without even getting to it yet, I’ve already redeemed item #3. Drawing maps! Imagine this in my best Bilbo Baggins voice: “Oh, how I do love maps!” Yes! I could write endlessly on that.

But the fuck writing filter has helped me strain something important away: how to draw a fantasy map is quite a bit different from the kind of show-and-tell this is turning into. I will write that series of posts on how the steps of editing work, and I will write about the evolution of the map appearing at the front of A Thousand Roads next month (a 20+ year personal story), but in all of this I will be about sharing candidly about what I learned, and trying to be helpful.

Which brings me back to Bruce. Beyond his powerful declaration, is the candid style of being humble and honest. And real. So real your sentences don’t read like they were finely tweaked and perfected to attract a certain market, or appeal to a certain reader.

If you’re still reading this, then it’s because you’ve chosen to follow this blog, or you visited and wanted to check out who this John Robin guy is. But you’re reading it because you want to know more about me, and it’s pretentious to assume otherwise.

So, going into 2019, you can expect more informal posts like this. My fantasy novel is coming out in print next month! I’m excited! But you’ll get that between the lines of my posts. I’m going to assume that if you’re interested enough to read my thoughts here, then you’ll decide on your own if you want to check out my book. This is the age of Google at our fingertips, after all.

I’ll be posting all about things that are actually interesting (I hope), not things I hope you’ll find interesting. I’m following my heart with blogging, just like as a writer I’m following my heart slaving away on tome-length epic fantasy (when that is the worst career choice any sane writer could make).

There’s something fun about this, and I think for the first time since I started blogging back in 2014, I’m actually getting what blogging is supposed to be.

My name is John and I’m a writer, but you know that already, so stay tuned for more more about me, the kind of stories you won’t get anywhere but here.

(Pardon any typos. I blame the cat who is right now curled at my feet, his second choice after losing the cuddle war for the keyboard.)

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A Thousand Roads is out!

This is my official book release blog post!

That’s right, after 6 years of work and 7 drafts, A Thousand Roads is now available for readers. You can find it on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble. Please go buy a copy and help me spread the word:

               

A Thousand Roads is the story of a boy who grows up under the sway of a mysterious blood magic. Necromancy and rites of darkness should be terrifying, but to him, they are the call of destiny. Intrigued by tales of the Dwarf Men and the Dragons who made the world, he is determined to learn about his power and its secrets, while somehow leading a life free of the corruption and intrigue tangled about him like a spider’s web…

Please reblog this and help me reach other fantasy readers, or share on Twitter.

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How I read as a writer — an easy-to-follow template

If you’re a writer, then most likely you’ll want to develop a reading curriculum. “Read a lot” is good advice, but what exactly should we be reading?

Here’s a break-down of the curriculum I’ve developed (and keep developing). My method is highly nuanced to my goals and how I learn, but I’ve tried to distill this for the sake of sharing how I work — knowing that all you writers in the crowd might get a few ideas and use them in your own practice.

Overview of it all

My reading discipline consists of the following main areas:

  1. Novels (fiction or nonfiction)
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Articles
  4. Annex

I will go into detail on each. I leave a review on all the novels I finish on my Goodreads page, but for the sake of demonstrating the larger principle behind how I choose what I read, I’ll still cover novels here.

1. Novels (fiction of nonfiction)

It makes sense if you’re writing novels that you should read a lot of novels. I devote 1/4 of my total reading time to reading 1 novel at a time. This comes to about 6-8 hours / week.

A quick word on method

It’s important to me to read slowly and analytically. This means I read about 10-20 pages / hour and, depending on the length of the book, take about 3-4 weeks to finish (longer if it’s an enormous book).

It’s worth stopping here just for a moment to talk about this: quality, not quantity. I’m much less interested in how many books I’ve read this year than how deeply each of these books has impacted me. 52 books read in 2018 means nothing if I haven’t taken away from each book dozens, if not hundreds, of unique impacts from interacting analytically with the text; if each book has not changed me radically as a writer and a human being.

There’s no rush! When I read, I imagine I am Bilbo Baggins and that means I have 100 more years at least to read, and oh what an adventure I’m going to have each year, with whatever is in front of me (and what stories each is going to inspire me to explore deeper in my work as a writer).

How to build your novel-reading list:

It’s easy to find a novel to read and I find my pile grows by zeitgeist, but I’ve also developed some structure to keep me from getting blinkered.

The following table is the template I follow when I decide on the order of my to-read pile:(I have this table laid out in an Excel file, but you can easily do this with a ruler and paper, or using Trello lists.)

How to proceed with reading novels by this table:

The process is simple:  proceed from left-to-right, top to bottom. So on this table, for instance, you’d start with a book in the writing/editing category (more about that below), then when you complete it, move to “classic” (i.e. Oliver TwistWuthering Heights, etc.), then educational, etc.

I put the date next to each row so I know what span of time elapsed. For example, on the first row of my table, I have the date range June 2017 – June 2018 because that’s how long it took me to get across (Pat Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and the dense, but wonderfully rich Guns, Germs, and Steel were the culprits for the slower pace here).

One of these sheets can represent years of your life. When you fill it up, print/make another, and away you go. You can fold it up and keep it near you and appreciate the broad vista of your reading journey in miniature.

What each column means

Now, this table is somewhat customized to my particular reading recipe. For example, I am a fantasy writer, in my heart of hearts, so it makes sense one of the 8 columns is “fantasy”. For you, replace that column with the name of your genre, i.e. thriller writer? Then this column would be thriller.

But otherwise this table has evolved through the process of surveying the major divisions into which fiction and nonfiction novels can fall, the idea being if you read books across a row, you’ll hit one of the 8 main categories, and will stay quite balanced as a writer.

I’ll talk about each briefly:

1. Writing/editing

If you’re a writer, then learning more about your craft is crucial. It’s the same as a teacher having to attend PD days. There are numerous books on writing and editing and you can put them down in this column so you have a sense of which to dip into on your next pass. I have the Chicago Manual of Style on here and yes, I will read it front to back as a book, and I’m sure it’s going to increase my edge as a writer that much more.

Other books on here for me: Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. Your list will differ from mine, but the idea here is the ones at the top should be the ones that you are most excited to jump into (and you can make amendments as time passes if your eagerness evolves), with the help of whiteout.

2. Classic

I set classics as their own category because in my mind a good balance for any writer is to dip into the books which are the foundation of the fiction-verse we are building today in the 21st century. Awareness of the novel and how it’s evolved since the 1700s is a very important perspective!

On this column’s top rows for me are Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (currently reading, 1 day from finishing), Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. These might change. The Iliad and The Odyssey are kicking at the door, though, as you’ll see below, this is what the annex is for, so they may get read in that other quarter of my reading routine.

3. Educational

You might notice a pattern in this list: it always alternates columns between fiction and nonfiction. I think this is very important for a writer because nonfiction styles and material will further lateralize your thinking and worldview and awareness of just what it means to be a writer.

Educational nonfiction is a category equally important, in the sense that it’s focused on learning more about the world. Textbooks can go here, as can any educational nonfiction. For example Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond is in this category because it served as a paradigm-shifting text that redefined my understanding of human history and diversity, especially the geographic and evolutionary impacts on how societies form. Can anyone say gold for a fantasy writer world-builder any stronger than that? (My thanks to L.E. Modesitt Jr. for recommending this to writers on this episode of Writing Excuses.)

Also on this list, Life In A Medieval Castle by Joseph and Frances Gies. I read Life In A Medieval City by the same authors, 2 years ago, and this is the companion. Up next for me after I finish Frankenstein will be Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hirari (as it’s the next column in my sheet). At some point, there will be a math textbook here, and a large atlas by National Geographic, special edition, that I’ve had on my shelf since I was 9.

For you, put whatever nonfiction book on here you feel will expand your education about the world and how things work.

4. Genre

If you write a genre of fiction, then this category can be thought of as the generalization. For for me, fantasy books do not go in here. They get their own column! But here will go all the books in genre fiction that cover other genres.

I impose a few rules here to help me further explore the waters:

-every row must switch genre

-an author only repeats after 4 rows

This creates the following beautiful effect:

  • Over time, I will explore different genres
  • Over time, I will explore different voices in different genres

I even go so far as to try an alternate gender, i.e. prioritize a book by a female author if I’ve read one by a male previously. Diversity is the goal here.

For example, I read The Shining by Stephen King, and as much as I want to read more by this author, I’ve pushed the next read down a few rows deliberately. Unless there’s some kind of Bradbury-esque burning of books, King’s books aren’t going anywhere. So why not dive into another after I’ve not only read books in other genres, by other authors, but also by authors of a different gender. For this reason, J.K. Rowling’s Silkworm, under her Robert Galbraith pen name is next up in genre: it’s not only a different gender author, but a different genre too (mystery).

5. Improvement

This nonfiction column is focused on books that improve me. You might have a different goal, but I’m of a mind that this category is universal. Why not devote 1/8th of your novel-reading time on books that teach you how to be a better person.

This doesn’t just have to be self-help. It can also be books on author marketing or marketing in general, or if you’re like me and you run a business, books on how to be more productive and effective. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is on here, as is Influence by Robert B. Cialdini (next up on my current pass across this row).

6. Nongenre

Fiction is vast, so vast that sticking to genre fiction is going to cut you off from most of the the known fictionverse. I think it’s important to have a column just for genre, if you’re a genre fiction writer, so that when you get to this fiction column, you can focus on other great literary works.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is a good example of a book that would fit here (and which I finished on my last pass). I also try to follow my alternating gender rule, so the next on my list is Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, despite how much I want to read Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins (I’ll get to that on the next pass).

7. Old/foundation

This column might be thought of as nonfiction and “meta”-fictional. By this I mean it’s devoted to old works. Think: Virgil’s Aeneid, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, or The Epic of Gilgamesh. Sacred texts would go here too. I plan to read through The Quran and The Vedas, as well as other key texts to the world’s major religions.

I think of this category as the one that connects you deeply to the roots of our world’s cultures, the words that all we know in our daily life are built on. As a writer, nothing can interest me more as I search for the truest, most heartfelt stories to tell.

8. Fantasy

Need I say more? Aside from what I already mentioned above, this should be home base for you. 1/8th of your novel-reading discipline is focused on knowing more about your genre. I have made a list of all the major fantasy authors, and that includes older fantasy works as well. The gender-alternation rule applies as well.

2. Wikipedia

I could say a lot about reading Wikipedia as a writer. In fact, I already did, for those who haven’t read my post on how to read Wikipedia to become a better writer.

I will briefly summarize that post here, in brief, but please be sure to read that article on my Wikipedia reading method to get more background on what I’m doing here.

Reading for breadth: a caveat

I mention a caveat in that post that’s worth repeating here: Wikipedia is not sufficient to make you an expert on any topic you’re reading about. I like to think of it as reading for breadth, to complement reading for depth (which you get from the other 3 components of the overall reading curriculum).

Many writers / teachers object that Wikipedia is unreliable. This is true, in some respects. I like to think instead that it’s inconsistent. There is a degree of accountability on article accuracy and some topics have been internally challenged more than others. The general rule of thumb is, if reciting a fact you can trace back to something you read in a Wikipedia article, you better cross reference it before you place any stakes on it.

For a writer though, this whole caveat goes out the window:

The sole purpose of reading your way across the topic-verse that is Wikipedia is to get inspired, break outside of biases and limitations, and do so in a faster way. This is reading for breadth, and by that I mean roving the map to get a sense of all its contours; to complement reading for depth, where you deep-sea dive into the coves that interest you most (books, articles, artifacts).

My general rule is that my mind must get blown 10-20 times every weekday when I do my Wikipedia reading from the various nuggets of information that change how I think. That’s the quality vs. quantity part: if your aim is to learn literally everything and be smarter, you’re guaranteed to fail. When I began this endeavor, it wasn’t to get more smart, it was to get less dumb. In this regard, you can view this as a process that will only help more and more to further inform you, and this will translate into the fiction you write in thousands of interconnected ways, more and more each day / week / year you invest in the practice.

My main Wikipedia tracks

I talk about creating reading tracks for Wikipedia reading in my longer article on the process. Here are the 7 tracks I use:

  • Biographic
  • Major topic
  • Minor topics
  • Linguistic
  • Geographic
  • Chronological
  • Literary

I read Wikipedia for 50-75 minutes, Monday-Friday, and during this period I will cycle through all 7 of these, spending about 7-15 minutes on each (the time always depends on where specifically I’m at in any given article).

1. Biographic

Currently, I’m reading my way through the English monarchs. I began with William I and just today arrived at Elizabeth II (this took me about a year).

A quick note: when I say “read” I mean I read each article top to bottom, no skimming. I do follow linked articles, with the rule that, unless very short, I read only the summary to get a sense of the topic. No following links within those linked articles — that leads to hell.

The English monarchy was my starter lineage. You might wonder why I didn’t start with Alfred the Great, and that’s a great way to make an important point: there is no beginning but what you make it, since you’ll be able to double back to earlier lines each time you finish one.

For instance, when I’m done with the English monarchy, I plan to sweep back to Julius Caesar then read my way forward along a much longer arc, by way of the Roman Emperors. I will continue forward in time and follow various branches, such as Popes, Western and Eastern Emperors, French Monarchs, Spanish Monarchs, and so on. The rulers of Wessex may factor into this (probably when I read up on the lines for the 7 kingdoms that merged into England), in which case I will reconnect to that partial thread that evolved into the English monarchy.

I’ll update this page periodically as more of that picture unfolds.

2. Major topic

My major topic is math, so this is where my reading might not interest you. If you want to follow the same principle, pick your major topic and work sequentially over its main branching articles. Read my Wikipedia article for more explanation on the method.

You might wonder why as a fantasy writer I’ve chosen mathematics as my focus (why not epic fantasy?). I think this is a good demonstration that one can write fantasy and bring in diverse interests, so as to make that fantasy even more unique. It’s no wonder that my magic system, and the world-building at its core, is highly based on a mathematically-endowed beings (the Dwarf Men), though I promise readers of my books, this will remain background except for those who want to delve into my world-building appendices.

3. Minor topics

You can think of this as the larger parent tree from which the particular major topic you choose branches. What I’ve done is make a list of all the topics I can think of. There are about 40 on this list right now. Here are some of them, so you get the idea:

My main objective is to read my way through the main articles for each topic, i.e. cosmology, psychology, science, medicine, computer science, economics, law, business, etc. Then occasionally, double back on a topic I found interesting and read the main branching topic articles in it. For example, philosophy. I want to go back and read through the articles on the major divisions within this topic (i.e. knowledge, western philosophy, Islamic philosophy, etc). When finished, I’ll resume working my way through the main topic list.

The list will grow a bit as time goes on, each time I think of another vast topic that’s worth exploring. This way each time I finish one article, I have plenty to choose from.

4. Linguistic

My original reason for wanting to add a linguistic track to my Wikipedia reading was to gain a broader appreciation for the different languages in the world and how they work, the idea being that this will further inform how I use my own language, English, when I write stories. (It also helps me make more realistic languages in my fantasy world.)

So, I started at the top, reading the article on language. After reading it through, I decided I would maintain a meta-focus for a while before going into a survey of the main language branches, then starting to read more about some of the 6,000 languages of our world.

Of course I’ll never get anywhere close to reading about all of them, but the point of this process is to always give me a sense of “where to next?” that will drive me forward like the narrative of a story.

5. Geographic

Just like with language, I started meta on this one by making my parent article the list of sovereign states. As with language, it will take a while before I begin reading about the individual nations/states/regions of the world, but this time in the dugout is important to appreciate just what “nation” means, and how this concept has formed (and is forming) in our world today.

I’ll update this as I go, but for now it’s safe to expect once I finish the main branches of the parent article, I will focus on the commonwealth states, then the original 51 states of the UN.

Should I wish, as I proceed, I can read about the divisions of states, or former states no longer in existence, by way of doubling back. But the overall logic behind this track is I can always be reading about the world from a geographic lens.

6. Chronological

Reading with a chronological lens is also useful because it allows me to follow stories not tied to a region / individual. For example, I can read about the Middle Ages, ancient history, World War II, or the major battles of the War of the Roses. It also broadens my perspective a lot to avoid the tunnel vision I’d get by sticking to history through dynasties  (i.e. English monarchy tells me a lot, but what was happening in Japan? China? Southeast Asia? America?).

As with the previous two list-based tracks, I started at the top with the timeline of world history article. From here, it lets me read through all the major divisions and sub-divisions of historic events.

7. Literary

There are more than 100,000,000 books in existence (according to Google). I’ll be lucky if in my lifetime I can read 2,000. But meanwhile, I want to have a bit of a survey of the major books and read summaries of a wider vista, so I created this track.

Start here:

This one is not as easy to navigate, so I’m following my nose a little. You can use this as your guide (just be sure to refresh the page as every time I finish an article, I’ll be adding it to the tree). If you prefer not to, then the general principle is to start with the parent article (i.e. fiction or nonfiction) then read the main topics branching from it.

For example, within the narrative article I’m reading, the first paragraphs are a goldmine of major branching links, i.e. anecdote, myth, legend, short stories, novels, etc. I’ll likely branch off on those before I go back in and start reading about all the specific genres of fiction and more on representative authors and works.

8. NO MORE TRACKS

As much as I could keep going with this, I’ve set a limit, because I want to be able to spend 5-15 minutes / day on each one.

This brings up an important caveat: the goal isn’t to read all of Wikipedia.

The main purpose is to learn several interesting things every day. These tracks just keep that happening in a way that drives it all like the narrative of a story. Otherwise, reading Wikipedia is no different than reading an encyclopedia — there’s no order or structure to make it cohesive.

The story that comes together as you invest in this process evolves into beautiful perspectives over time, as you appreciate your progress, and how it can continue and continue. And Wikipedia will only continue to evolve into a more efficient epicenter of information as time and our technology progresses.

3. Articles

Articles are the other major component to reading.

I read from a curated mix that, like with Wikipedia and novels, I’ve created to try and balance me across my biggest areas of concern. It’s quite simple:

  • Every article of every issue of Scientific American
  • Every article of every issue of National Geographic
  • Every article of every issue of Discover Magazine
  • Every article of every issue of Writer’s Digest
  • Every article of every issue of Nutrition Action
  • Every article in the occasional miscellaneous magazine (i.e. Wildlife)

When I say I read every article, I mean that. I even will read ads and study pictures, this more as a writing exercise where I try to notice details about composition and how I would describe these, and what I can learn or appreciate differently.

On Saturday, I read:

  • Articles in email that I starred during the week (includes links to online articles I’ve decided are worth reading)
  • Highbrow courses
  • Other longer emails that require attention (i.e. author submissions)

On Saturday, I also always finish whatever magazine I’m reading. I read 1 magazine per week. I find this pace, with Saturday as catch-up-if-needed day, lets me read all those magazines listed above.

I also read the weekend issue of the local paper, The Winnipeg Free Press. I try to read it all. Even the obituaries. Actually, those are probably the most inspiring to read as a writer, not just the details of real lives lived, but the perspective through which those lives are told. My favorite one so far? “Goodnight.” That was all — nothing else, not even a funeral announcement. That had my creative brain going for a while (still does).

Reading the paper was the one part of reading I resisted the most, but I’ve been surprised. I would now say that, of all the things I read, the articles in the paper are a goldmine (x 1,000) for storytelling.

But there’s more behind my decision to read every article: I don’t want to be one of those people whose opinions about world events are based only on reacting to headlines or skimmed summary, but rather on the nitpicking details, all the angles behind different issues. I try not to have an opinion, since as a writer I feel my role is to focus on what’s behind the opinions one might draw from the basic details. This leads me to tap into more interesting characters, conflicts, and moral arguments than I’d come up with on my own.

4. Annex

Occasionally I just want to throw all the structure out and read freely. When I do this, I have a pile of things I like to think of as the annex.

The annex is what it sounds like. It’s the extra space where I can build a completely random reading queue, for that reading I might want to do above and beyond my targeted reading.

For example, my editor for my book gave me targeted reading on surrealism, and as I’ve tackled this reading, I’ve put it here. I also use this to explore wild cards, like comics or graphic novels. Beta reading, when applicable (but I do say no to 99% of requests because as you can imagine, this annex is small and must be filled with care).

5. Beyond all this…

Structuring reading time means having to say no to a lot of things, and be okay with that.

That said, I do practice skimming. Once in a while, usually on my breaks (I work in 25-minute blocks and take 4 minute breaks between), I’ll wander into a post or chat thread. I try to see what I’m missing, but admit I miss a lot.

A simple technique I use to add blogs or online articles that come up during the week:

1) Open a compose email in my email

2) Copy link to article in body

3) Subject: name of article

4) Email to myself

5) Open email and star it

This means I’ll read it as part of my Saturday star email reading. There, done. Now I can get back to work without getting off track.

There are a lot of great blogs and other feeds. I’m missing those. But I’m not missing them.

I feel inundated by information, especially online. I avoid it all as much as possible. I’m quite active on Twitter for the networking and for promotion, but when I’m on there, it’s to connect and share and be open to opportunities.

I don’t feel like I actually get to read until I’m unplugged, and that’s the whole reason for developing the system I’ve developed. Take this or leave it, but my hope is if nothing else you’ll see the idea behind it and it will inspire you to create your own system so you can read with more purpose. There are so many books and articles out there, and our time is limited, very very limited (with respect to how much there is to read); therefore, there isn’t even a minute to waste on reading the wrong thing.

Some last words

I’ve been criticized by some other writers about how I read. “You take the joy of out reading, making it so systematic,” would be a common kind of comment I’ve heard in conversation.

While this may be true, it’s also true that any job takes the fun out of the activity (in a sense). For instance, if I had to make espressos and fancy drinks at Starbucks for a living (which I once did), I wouldn’t have the same fun making those drinks as I would making them for myself at home for friends.

The same goes with reading as a writer. What I’m doing with this method is defining reading as a job. Like any job, I want to do it as best as I can. Why? Because I fully believe (and have seen results) reading is as critical to my writing skill as triceps workouts are important to bicep curls for overall arm strength.

For the record, I don’t find this takes the joy out of reading at all! In fact, I love my job! I have even more fun seeing how this practice is evolving and growing. I also enjoy how every day I read I learn several small things that change me in large ways.

If you’re resisting this kind of structured practice because you’re afraid it’s going to take the joy out of reading, then I’d suggest you challenge that assumption. Reading might be fun right now, but with more tactics and strategy, you’ll trade in fun for deeply rewarding, and never look back.

Posted in John's blog, Writing Tips | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Twitter for Authors: The Writer’s Guide To Book Promotion

I’d like to welcome a special guest on the blog today — Michael Dinich, who runs Your Money Geek, and is here to share his expertise on growing an audience through Twitter.

Authors, get ready for a lesson on how you can reach more readers!

If you have spent even a minimal amount of time on social media, you’ve undoubtedly been pitched by some “guru” to make you a social media superstar. All you have to do is buy their course or eBook or hire them to run your account.

The new gold rush is the “make you famous” industry. Most of these experts lack a significant following and frequently the ones who do, all disagree on how to build an audience, and more importantly turn that following into leads and ultimately customers.

Today I’m sharing with you some tips, tricks, and hacks to grow and engage your audience, as well as some best practices to follow. But don’t worry, I’m won’t try selling you eBooks, courses or social media management.

My background? I’m a financial advisor (yawn, I know) and I am a huge geek. I am a serial side hustler who launched a blog in February 2018. It went from zero to over 50k monthly sessions in less than six months. I’ve landed interviews with celebrities and been quoted in major publications, all using Twitter.

Now, you might be thinking, “that’s great Michael, but I’m not a blogger.” Well, the tools to grow a Twitter following are the same regardless of the content you have to share. Plus, remember when I said I was a geek? My most successful blog post to date, is on the lessons of Grand Admiral Thrawn, so I’m not just some marketing guy, I’m a consumer and fan of fantasy /sci-fi.

How to Grow Your Audience with Twitter

First, to use Twitter successfully in promoting your product, you’ll need to invest both time and money.  Software is required to best identify and grow your audience, and spending time daily managing your following is a worthy investment.

There are a few commercially available tools; I tested almost all of them, and my favorite is Tweepi.com. They offer a free version; however, if you are serious about growing an audience, you will want to upgrade to the premium service. Tweepi allows you to target followers and identify those likely to follow you back based on keywords you choose.

Tweepi will provide daily recommendations on who to follow, who to unfollow, and what posts you may like. I skip the recommendations of tweets to retweet, however, as the software often recommends old and irrelevant tweets.

I do recommend when choosing keywords, you pick those most relevant to your work, but you may also wish to select some related to any hobbies you have. You want your Twitter audience to be diverse. Many of your readers may be tweeting about interests outside of books, such as video games, tabletop gaming, or even business.

I see this mistake with personal finance bloggers. They tend to focus on Twitter users who are solely focused on personal finance. Then they are surprised when their Twitter following is comprised of just other personal finance bloggers.

Real users will be much more eclectic in their interests, so feel free to connect with a diverse group of people. Should those people turn out not to be interested in your content they will unfollow and move on.

Tip: I also recommend this approach when sending out tweets. If you’re only tweeting out your book content, then people will not find your content interesting. If you’re looking for an excellent example of someone nailing it on Twitter, check out Delilah Dawson, author of Phasma.

A word of caution: leave politics off your Twitter feed. If you need to be politically active, make a second account.  Not only do you risk turning off people who disagree with you, but you also run the risk of turning away people who agree but are politicked out. The news runs in my office all day. When I want to geek out online, the last thing I want is politics from my favorite author.

Getting Your Content Out There

Next, I highly recommend the website/service Viral Content Bee. It’s is a free service based on a simple premise; users earn points by sharing the work of others, and the points you earn can then be spent to have your own content shared.

Viral Content Bee is an excellent tool for not only allowing your content to be shared by other users but also for the quality content it provides you to share. It also offers the opportunity to network with other content producers. (Read more on my in-depth review of Viral Content Bee.)

Viral Content Bee is effective for a few reasons.

  1. The points system is fair. Points earned or spent depend on the audience size of the person sharing the content. This prevents people with small followings from spending all the points you earned.
  2. Content is moderated, so you don’t have to worry about sharing subpar content from others.
  3. You can schedule sharing from within the website. If you are looking to build up points, you can log in once a day, add in the posts you want to share and queue up a day or two worth of tweets. Scheduling out the sharing of content prevents you from spamming your audience with numerous tweets at once.
  4. It’s not solely for Twitter. Content sharing on other networks is available. Using Viral Content Bee, you can focus your efforts on Twitter while ensuring others share your content on LinkedIn, Pinterest and Facebook.

Tip: While Viral Content Bee is a great way to get your content shared on Pinterest, to be successful on Pinterest you need to make great pins. You can create these yourself on Canva using one of the available templates, hire a virtual assistant to do it for you, or hire someone through Fiverr.

To be most effective with Viral Content Bee it’s ideal to own a blog. Having a blog allows you to interact with your fans, increases the odds of being found on Google, and builds your brand.  Blogs are inexpensive to set up and can serve as the basis for additional revenue via advertising or monetization of an email list.

If a blog is not feasible for one reason or another, I suggest reaching out to other bloggers to offer a guest post. Bloggers are always looking for additional content, and many would jump at the opportunity to host a short story or interview. (Especially with an offering to promote the post on social media.)

Tip: To get the best leverage out of Viral Content Bee, use it to diversify and expand your audience. For example, if you have a book don’t just add posts in entertainment. Consider other categories it may fall under, perhaps autos, technology, or even family. Not everyone on Twitter is one dimensional. Don’t be afraid to grow your reach.

If you use Tweepi and Content Viral Bee together, your audience will multiply rapidly. Don’t get discouraged as you are building your Twitter audience when gaining and losing followers. It happens. As your account grows you may even hit plateaus where progress seems to stall, but if you keep following your daily recommendations, you will begin building it again.

Twitter may take some work and dedication; however, the effort is worth it.

Hopefully, this guide will have you Tweeting like a pro in no time. I would like to thank John for lending me his platform, and I look forward to connecting with you on Twitter @michaeldinich.

About Michael Dinich: Michael has worked in the financial services industry for nearly 20 years. He lives in rural PA with his wife, two children, and too many animals. Michael shares his experience, unique insights, and profiles inspirational success stories at Your Money Geek.

And thank you Michael for providing this great article for my blog! Here are some bonus tips to help you take your Twitter platform even further:

Best Practices when Using Twitter

It’s important to tweet purposeful content intended for your audience. Unless you are a marketing professional, your audience probably does not care how many followers you gained, how many you lost, or about your blog traffic.

These stats may be of interest to your network of peers but putting your focus on the interests of your current and potential readers instead is the smarter move. If necessary, make a second account for professional networking. This is a common practice among celebrities who may maintain one account as a brand account and another as a personal or networking account.

Do’s and Don’ts

Some of this I say as a fan and some as a professional.

Do follow back your supporters. I know some celebrities can get away with not following back, but unless you’re Mark Hammel you should follow back your fans — the exception being offensive accounts or bots of course.

Don’t follow people who don’t follow you back. Every person you follow not following you back is messing up your follow back ratio. If you’re interested in seeing the tweets of some politicians or celebrities, create a list so you can view their tweets without following them. Alternatively, create another account.

Do use hashtags but not more than two. Nothing says I’m a marketer on social media like hashtag stuffing a tweet. I understand you want your tweet retweeted but tagging some indie author bot with hashtags is not going to get you meaningful engagements.

Do post witty or whimsical comments or tweets.

Don’t use Twitter as a microblog to chronicle your daily routine. It’s not 2007 anymore. Followers are not looking for your daily play by play.

Do post often. The lifespan of a tweet is only about 18 minutes. As long as you’re not tweeting all at once, or the same thing repeatedly, you’re not going to scare off your audience tweeting a few times in an hour.

Don’t use Truetwit. The service is spam and should be banned by Twitter.

Don’t auto direct message people. But if you’re going to ignore my advice on this, at least don’t auto-DM people a massive wall of text asking them to join you on every single social media platform there is. Just because I follow you on Twitter doesn’t mean I want to be Facebook pals or let you crash on my couch.

Do use lists. Twitter lists are a great way to keep track of people. I have several lists, one being my most engaged followers. Every day I try to like or retweet some of their posts.

Do you have your own tips on using Twitter as an author? Dos and donts learned from experience? Please share in the comments!

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Why I write what disturbs me

My book is dark. Once, when describing it to an interested reader, I said, “Think of Game of Thrones, but darker.”

The thing about that though: I was describing the first draft, which was far less darker than where my revisions have taken me now in the 5th.

There have been times I hate this book and wanted to get rid of it. Not because it’s a bad book. Actually, I’m quite pleased with the prose and the storytelling.

This war inside me has been due more to a principle: if the apple’s rotten, there’s no use cutting out the rot. Throw the whole thing away and try another.

A Thousand Roads is a rotten apple. And yet, as I’m learning, that rot is exactly what makes it what it is. That darkness exists for a reason—there’s a reason it’s only compounded as revisions have gone on. That darkness is part of the story I’m telling.

I write what disturbs me. And the more I read, especially world history and world news, the more I am disturbed. I read a lot, because I want my writing to be that place where truth and personal insight meet.

Stripped of its darkness, A Thousand Roads would be very much a classic high fantasy tale: a young man in search of a home goes on an adventure and in the process discovers his place in the world.

Boring. That’s all been done, time and time again. What’s not been done, in my mind anyway, has been the dark inverse of Tolkien’s there-and-back-again story. The Hobbit meets the Alien franchise. Bilbo’s quest to confront a dragon becomes a young man’s journey into his own darkness—a dragon within his soul—and the tragic results of this. It is a there-and-back-again, but the end is bitter-sweet. The darkness has touched our hero, in a way that will not leave him, and yet somehow he is able to go on and become a figure of legend.

In fact, because of that darkness, he is able to become the great person he is. Only because of it can he rise so much greater, where there is true inner strength.

That, in a nutshell, is what my book is about.

I appreciate this view, here in the writer’s chair as I mentally rest from intense revision on the 5th draft, and prepare to go in just as intensely on the 6th. The darkness is calling, I can already hear its echo. I am terrified, and yet I am alive with it.

I’ve come to accept that writing what disturbs me is where to start. I believe there is great light and hope and all the highs and wonders found in literature that makes your soul shiver. I’ll get there, but I must start here. Just like Jak, my hero, must start with his own journey into darkness.

But it’s in claiming this darkness that I have, myself, been opened up to strange ventures of creative expression, ones which, you might have noticed, have been rippling across my platform.

One such darkness: becoming acquainted with the Manifesto of Surrealism by Andre Breton. I’ve been tweeting the parts of it that shake my foundations, not just because I as a reader am reacting, but because I as a creative writer with a story on a similar doorstep to the start of the surrealist movement (so I’m told) have felt a deep resonance.

My editor, Dale Lui, pushed me in this direction. On the last draft, he told me I was almost there, pushing the lines of point of view and showing how minds can join and self can be lost in the fluid exchange of being that is Necromancy at its height. That’s the heart of the novel and, while I was almost grasping it, Dale said I need to go deeper, right into surrealism itself.

So I’ve read, and so I came across that essay, and it changed me.

Probably the biggest change is Breton’s talk about automatic writing and the free movement of thought, beyond the confines of words. There was something in that that sparked my imagination. What if I simply let go and began automatic writing? Descended into that Freudian space of mind, that unmapped unconscious?

Why the darkness? That goes back to that same question, Why do I write things that disturb me? I don’t know. I just write them, and somewhere in that process I appreciate truth all the more, and I pass it on to others. Together, we all grow, each of us doing what we are most passionate about.

Meanwhile, I am preparing myself to write the 6th draft of A Thousand Roads. It’s safe to say my mind and heart are ready to go in deep and really discover, to not be afraid. I want to tell the story as true as it can be. Though there is still time (and plans) in the production timeline for further revisions, it’s the 6th draft where I’m hoping the most significant depths will open up, then I can busy myself in the early fall’s 7th draft with polishing and augmenting further, still with time before the final proofread.

I don’t have an objective with this blog post, other than to finally just get this pent-up darkness out of my lungs, somewhere just throw up my hands and say “I write dark things, I’m a dark writer, I love it, it’s what I am!” and feel acceptance by those in the crowd who throw their hands up as well and tell me they do the same, and now together, we can support one another in our quest for true stories.

It’s been a long work day and I still have many things to write, so on I go to those. This one will get published, unplanned, without schedule. There’s something good about breaking routine, especially when you have a routine as solid as cement blocks.

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7 tips to help you make a living as an Indie self-published author

There’s a certain allure to self-publishing your books. As an author, it gives you power to take charge of your brand. You are able to connect to your readers and grow your audience over time.

There’s no waiting and “aspiring” when you work at the keyboard. When you’re writing, you know you’re producing, and have a sense of where it fits. You get to make your own timeline, create your own production process, and analyze reviews and sales to help you know what to write next.

The challenge then is: how do you make a living doing this? How do you define yourself so you can get to the point where you feel like a successful Indie self-publishing author?

Tip #1: Believe your book has readers, and go find them

The thing that holds most writers back is what I like to call “gatekeeper syndrome”. You obsess and obsess (and obsess and obsess (and obsess some more)) about that first book and just what it will take to be perfect. You submit and submit (and submit and submit (and submit and…)) and get rejection, rejection, rejection that tells you nothing. Is it getting better? Are you getting closer? Are you writing the right thing? What is the right thing to write? Why have half your beta readers told you something completely different than the other half, and why can’t agents just tell you what’s wrong so you actually know what direction to take?

Don’t get me wrong. For the fortunate writers who happen to write the book that happens to be the big craze that editors in the Big Publishing World are buying, getting a 5-6-figure starting book deal and kicking off your career with that baseline security is wonderful.

But not all stories told from the heart and rendered with care are going to get the attention of the gatekeepers. That’s not because they’re bad. It’s just because, in terms of market data and sales predictions, those things won’t sell right now, or even more generally, they might not sell, or at least we’re not sure enough to take a chance. It’s also a case of the things in the top 99.9th percentile eclipsing all fantastic work in the 99.8th percentile and lower.

Self-publishing has been called the Wild West, but let’s think about what that means for us:

Not that it’s rugged and unpredictable and you might get shot in the head. What this really means is it’s a wild open space with unclaimed land and opportunity for those of us who confidently set out to establish our hold.

Go out as a self-published author and believe in your book. Believe in your brand—your author voice, your message, your vision. Put out that message and connect with the people who show up. Develop those relationships.

When those tough times come and you need to fight a duel at high noon, stand your ground. When your debut novel falls on an empty field and only dust devils show up, shrug your shoulders and move on. There’s plenty of ground to cover, and endless opportunity, because you call the shots, and book 1 is just the beginning…

Tip #2: Diversify

Making a living as an Indie self-published author doesn’t mean what you might think, and here’s why.

I quit my job more than 4 years ago. I’ve had no employer since then. I decided I’m going to make a living out of my dream.

What a wild ride it’s been, but here’s how I managed to keep doing what I’m doing:

I diversified.

My goal is to invest time in my writing craft. This means I’m making progress in the writing projects that are going to become published works and ultimately, units for sale that readers can buy. Already, I’ve seen that happen and I have a real sense of value on all the work that’s on my plate right now. Eventually, like any good investment, that value will go up and up until I can live off it.

But month by month, as I’m building this, I have to pay the bills.

I started a business on the side. I took on whatever small jobs I could. I dug into my savings and took on debt. At one point, I had more than 10 revenue streams, covering everything from tutoring to editing to residual profit-share payments to casual coverage work in a group home. I always made sure that, whatever I took on, I could still keep up my writing routine and meet my writing goals. I bent myself in all sorts of shapes to make this work. Eventually, things settled down a little as I expanded my editing company, then added a cover art company, then co-started a publishing company.

But in none of these did I go wholly in where I lost my focus. I could have become a full-time editor, but I chose not to, because it was against the stream of what I’m really trying to do. I could have become a full-time tutor because I had enough demand to fill my days from sunup to sundown, but in the end I chose to walk away from that.

They key thing for me was to get out of a day job that tied me down. Suddenly, all the pressure is on for me to define myself. I’m a writer, I’m laying the pieces of my career. All I have to focus on is paying the bills so I can be a writer this month, and making sure I can repeat next month.

This year, I’ve made a considerable amount just from writing alone. This has been rewarding for me. I’ve been able to cut back several revenue streams and spend more time writing. I’ve finally been able to cement a reading routine to complement my writing time, and it’s upping my writing skill exponentially, progress I notice in my work on an almost weekly basis.

It’s insane, but the moment you do it, there’s no looking back.

The big thing though is, you’re looking ahead. You’re no  longer “aspiring to be a writer” from your day job which you hope to one day quit. You are a writer, and you’re now pushing everything you’ve got into making it work.

When you take on additional jobs to diversify and add revenue, these are, specifically, additional jobs to diversify and add revenue. It’s moonlighting to pay the bills.

And even if you still hold a full-time job while you do this, you can still apply this inner logic: all that time at the office is just time in to diversify and add revenue for your career as an Indie self-publishing author. Like any other revenue stream, you’ll eventually drop the day job when your writing makes you more money, but until then, that’s what it is: a means to an end.

Tip #3: Diversify what you write

When I decided I wanted to be a full-time writer, I was focused on a work of epic fantasy. I used to think my goal was to be an epic fantasy writer, but I’ve since seen that’s not the case:

My goal is to be a writer.

I came to this realization when I pushed myself to write a lot every single day. When I was waiting between drafts of my epic fantasy novel, I had to find something to write. And that’s when things really opened up.

I’ve written courses for Highbrow. I’ve started publishing nonfiction relating to my journal system, the first of which is now available (Your Daily Journal: 100 Day Starter). I’m presently working on a related book about my productivity system. I’ve ghostwritten for other self-publishing authors. I’ll be reconnecting to my science fiction stories eventually (right now scheduled in early 2019 before I begin the 1st draft of A Thousand Roads‘ sequel, Blood Dawn). I’ve also started a crime fiction novel which I anticipate will be coming out near the end of the year under a different pen name (final plans for all that in the air right now). None of this is aspiring. All of it is stuff in the works with publication plans and a production timeline. I’m a cog in the wheel.

The point here is if you force yourself to write every day, then it’s inevitable you’re going to write other things. But this brings me to the next tip, a caveat.

Tip #4: Write from the heart, and from the market—both at once

Don’t write something just because you think it’s what you need to write to sell. It will come out stilted, and readers will be able to tell.

But don’t just write from the heart either. We all can fall in love with our prose. But if we’re the only people who love it, then if we’re trying to make a living as an Indie self-publishing author, that’s valuable time wasted.

Find the middle ground. That’s the place where heart and market intersect.

Right now, as mentioned, I’m working on a nonfiction book about my productivity system. Originally, I was going to just write a book about my planning system, after I finished putting out my journals.

But I’ve been hearing from people as Your Daily Journal: 100 Day Starter has started connecting to them. I also learned a lot about writing for a self-improvement audience as I was completing my latest Highbrow course on logic puzzles (publication in progress). This all went together and my plans for this planning book evolved into something else. Something from the market, and—stronger—from the heart.

I’ve never been so on fire with writing as I have been with this book. It’s a book whose premise is derived entirely from knowing the market. It’s never something I would have written if I didn’t already have my feet in the water self-publishing fiction and learning from readers. I’ve found a place where market intersects with passion, and that ignites the voice and the prose that are coming together.

There are literally trillions and trillion of writing ideas you can latch onto. Your heart is the size of the universe. The space where market can live within it is its own planet. Find it, and center yourself there as a writer.

Tip #5: Hone your writing time with laser focus

Your time is valuable when you decide you’re going to make a living as an Indie self-published author. Everything you spend your time on should either be part of that means to an end that’s allowing you to keep investing in your writing career, or else the writing that defines your career.

Take this blog post, for example. It actually began 3 weeks ago as a “how to edit your own book” post. Entirely from market, as I was basing it on some of my most popular posts (which are the ones on editing techniques).

But my heart wasn’t in it. I knew I was wasting my valuable writing time, so I put it away. Then, I had a Eureka!

What if even writing blog posts are just like publishing fiction or nonfiction? What if I treat even this post as a publication? What are the stakes? Who is the reader? What do they want to hear?

That question helped me find the center where heart and market intersect. I tapped into the same voice I’m finding in my current book on productivity, but applied it to what I knew about writers who might want to read this. I’m not just coming up for air to fire off a blog post before I “get back to writing”. I’m writing, and this is as serious to me as larger fiction or nonfiction. I’m not just writing a post that I hope will become popular. I’m adding a publication to my archive of articles on my blog for access for all time by any reader who might stumble upon it—just like a book for sale.

Apply this concept to your own writing time, especially with blog posts or shorter fiction. If you have an author website you have to update, how can you reorient that to be part of your writing time? Can you get a friend to be in charge of the website and bake them cookies in return? Treat each web page as a page in a Word document then write it like a small publication that counts toward your writing time and writing output for the day?

Leave no stone unturned. It might mean having to say no to some things, or, even better, finding the middle ground.

For example, I am in charge of production for a small publishing company, Deep Desires Press. One thing that takes me a long time is the copywriting. It used to feel like a chore and I wondered if I had to delegate, but this is an added expense so I could not completely delegate everything right away.

But then I realized this is writing. I changed how I look at it. I now approach copywriting as a part of my writing day and block off concrete time periods to focus on it. The production wheel turns with the publishing company, and as a result of my writer focus going to this task, there’s real synergy in the copywriting that’s coming together and we’re selling more books and putting out products we’re more proud of. Doing this also helped me define a new process for more effective copywriting, such as developing a procedure that begins with an in-depth synopsis with the author and back-and-forth collaboration to really get at the core of the story premise and understand it before developing the jacket copy, log-line, and ad splashes. It’s also allowed me to bring on board a new team member who I’ve trained in this method, and who is now helping me with the copywriting (shout out to M.S. Wordsmith, a past blog guest).

Tip #6: Constantly self-improve

I decided I should spend as much time reading as I spend writing, but I didn’t want to just “read”. I wanted to be as deliberate in this practice as the time I spend writing. So, I developed a curriculum. In fact, I wrote a blog post about about how to become a better writer through reading. (And while you’re at it, you might also like my article about my Wikipedia reading technique that will make you a better writer.)

What I didn’t explore is the rationale. Since writing that post, I’ve gained a lot of perspective from the act of doing.

Ultimately, as a writer, you want to self-improve. We can only see so far when all we’re churning is the words on the page. It’s a bit like leaving a plant in a dark room. If you have high word counts but you aren’t reading a lot as well, then a good chance a lot of what you’re writing you might not have written if instead you balanced your pace with reading that reshapes you on a weekly basis.

We need to learn, constantly. As a writers, the best way to learn is through reading.

Why is that? Because when you read, you are seeing the inverse of what you’re doing when you’re writing. You spend your time at the keyboard typing words that make sentences and paragraphs and then scenes and chapters. Plots and settings and character arcs come together like weft between shifting warp threads. You conjure voice.

But you are one tiny leaf on a vast network of branches. When you read, you wander across the expanse of boughs, you see all the many leaves, all the angles. Then when you write, you write with the overall shape in mind, what you are, what the world around you is, how you can be a little different, channel a deeper message.

I also learn in other ways. If I’m doing anything that doesn’t require my undivided attention, I hit play on my podcast queue and I learn. I listen to information podcasts relentlessly, half of which are balanced news sources, the other half historic or academic series. I watch math videos on YouTube, usually to relax before bed.

I also learn through courses delivered by email, from Highbrow. You can read more about this method and how you can learn something new every day in just 5 minutes.

Whatever you do, continually self-improve and that will help you up your game as an Indie self-publishing author. You have a message to share with the world, and the world and the knowledge, as well as the many voices of other writers (be it authors of books, article writers, blog writers), will only compound that message further.

Tip #7: Don’t churn

You might begin your Indie author career fixated on one dream. Maybe you have a book that you want to make into a series like Harry Potter. You want that book to take off, and you’re already working on book 2. You’re visualizing all 7 books of your series.

But book 1 comes out and you get crickets. You’re already getting book 2 together, and you just have to write the whole series.

This is churning. Don’t do it.

Instead, reorient: book 1 and book 2 are gateways to a different kind of dream. This series you’re envisioning is just part of it. You might write it all, but in between books…

Diversify. Follow the tried-and-tested rule that you should always put a draft away and work on something else before picking it up and writing the next draft. Always work on something else.

You might be a romance writer who’s passionate about a book series idea. In between book publications, you might get other ideas based on what you hear your readers like. There might be other book ideas you would explore if you were done your series. Use this space between to write those books.

Some things might surprise you, but this is all part of the power you have as an Indie self-publishing author. You plan your publication dates, you plan what books you want to write,  you define for yourself, based on learning as you go, who your readers are and what they want.

The Wild West is open, and unclaimed. Go out now and claim the place where your author brand will live!

Last up…

If you want to learn more about how to start and maintain your author career, why not take my 10-day course through Highbrow, How To Begin (And Maintain) Your Career As An Author.

This course is FREE when you sign up, as you’ll get a month of the Premium for free. But I highly recommend after you take it that you check out some of the other amazing courses in the Writing section. If you have other interests, like how to be more productive, how to start a business, how money systems work, or anything really, Highbrow covers it all, and their catalog is growing.

If you love it and want to keep going, you can get $18 off the 1-year subscription ($30, reduced from $48), if you enter my coupon code: JOHNROBIN.

Like I said, there will be another course by me up there soon in the Mathematics section, a tour of 10 compelling logic puzzles and how to solve them. So go check it out, and thank you for reading this today. I hope you’re inspired to kick off your career.

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