Zero Hour & Zest - A-Z Challenge - Starting & Sustaining A Writing Career

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Today is the day. The time is now.

We've taken this journey together and now it's zero hour. In general terms, this is when a military or any other important operation is primed to begin.

At some point, a prolific writer will decide whether to take what he/she does as a hobby and turn it into a career. I must admit that because of the full-time job I held, I looked at writing as a wonderful pastime and approached it as a hobby. Over the years, my vision has slowly shifted and with more than a dozen books on the market, my writing has turned into something of a mini-career. I also write and edit non-fiction and these secondary pursuits have come through my love of fiction writing and now pay a major part of the bills.

When you take the decision to make writing a career, you must approach your goal with determination and zest.  Both these qualities will help you stay on course to becoming the writer you want to be. There are a host of things we learn on the journey and in this craft, we never stop acquiring new skills as the world of publishing changes. These days the average writer has to be publicist and marketing guru alongside the main task of adding to his/her word count every day.

Considering how the world of publishing has shifted, the writing world is your oyster. With a realistic plan and measurable goals, the rich landscape of avid readers is yours to explore and carve out a niche for your brand of storytelling or expertise.

All the best on the journey! I leave with you three gifts below.

The journey IS the goal. There is no ‘arrival’ to wait for. Celebrate TODAY.”
                                                                  - Nika Stewart

I know that I have the ability to achieve the object of my Definite Purpose in life, therefore, I demand of myself persistent, continuous action toward its attainment, and I here and now promise to render such action.”
                                                                  - Napoleon Hill

Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.”
                                                                  - Vaclav Havel

Congratulations on completing the Challenge! It's been a blast. Look out for the Linky list for the Reflections Post, which will be up from May 4th to May 8th. You will be asked to add the link that leads directly to your Reflections Post and not the URL to your blog.

Yearbook - A-Z Challenge, Starting & Sustaining A Writing Career

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Inside a yearbook, we expect to find details about what has taken place over the past twelve months. In thinking about the function of a yearbook, it occurred to me that if I dig though my memory bank hard enough, I can remember what books I published in 2014. After that, I draw a blank, at which time I visit Amazon to look at which books were published in what year.

So far this year, I've managed to write out a production schedule for January to June and the other six months are just a bit blurry. That description may sound clinical, but laying out a plan is the only way I get anything done within a pre-set timeline. My writing life has grown more hectic this year, which means I need to take more care to organize what I'm doing.

Along with my writing time and publishing dates, I use Pinterest boards for various projects. The pictures help me keep track of the promotional effort I put into each book in terms of promotional badges and other special promotions.

Right now, the monthly details on books written and published is just that. By year end though, when I'm looking back at what I've accomplished, my schedule will become a yearbook listing all the highlights of 2015.

Have you thought about cataloguing your activities in such a way that you have several years captured in a file or notebook? 

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.
                                              - Paul J. Meyer

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.
                                               - Alan Lakein

X-Factor - A-Z Challenge - Starting & Sustainng A Writing Career

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X represents an unknown or unspecified person or thing. It is also the first unknown quantity in an algebraic expression.  An X-Factor is a variable in a situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome, or a noteworthy special talent or quality.

When we set out on our writing adventures, some of us have an idea where we want to start and end in terms of the stories we tell and a vision of success. Most of us though, have no idea where our writing will take us, and which book or special ingredient will provide the X-Factor that tips us over into being a well-recognized writer.

After reading tons of information on writing and marketing, what is clear to me is that nobody knows which component will shoot a writer to popularity, be it good marketing machinery, fans who are mad about our stories, or coming to the attention of a kingmaker who can turn a host of eyes on our work.

Apart from the love of writing and our individual vision of success, we are spurred on by the hope that whatever our X-Factor turns out to be, that it will one day move us from obscurity to recognition.

Do you ever wonder what X-Factor will be your source of success? Are you working consistently on the business end of writing to help the process?

There is no secret to success except hard work and getting something indefinable which we call 'the breaks.' In order for a writer to succeed, I suggest three things - read and write - and wait.
                                                        - Countee Cullen

Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.

                                                        - P.G. Wodehouse

Writer - A-Z Challenge, Starting & Sustaining A Writing Career

Monday, April 27, 2015

Many of us write in isolation, we may share space with someone else while tapping out our stories, but our minds puts us in another realm. Apart from face-to-face interaction with other writers, the internet gives us access to a host of kindred spirits who are on a similar journey.

Without hesitation, I can say the internet has been a tremendous source of knowledge and without the people I've met online, I wouldn't be as decent a writer as I am today. I'm grateful to a host of people who shared their knowledge and critiqued my work when it was a mess that needed plenty of refinement.

When you have a bad review, low to no sales, rejections as well as positive situations, writers can identify with what you're going through and commiserate. On your journey, you don't know who might act as a kingmaker and turn your career around in a short time.

There are a lot more people who read than people who write, so other writers shouldn't be viewed as competition. If anything, seize the opportunity to learn from other who are further along on the journey or who have a keen understanding of particular areas, like marketing and promotion.

I believe other writers are perhaps the biggest blessing we have, so it's important to value relationships and be a true friend. When your friends and family don't understand you flaking out over a plotline that refuses to come together or a character who insists on taking you down a story path you had no intention of writing, a writer will.

Your friendship with other scribes will yield rewards you won't see coming until the time is right. Nurture your relationships. They'll get you through the vagaries of this craft we all love.

Can you think of any writers who have been lifesavers up to now? Are you being a friend and lending a hand to other writers?

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
                                                            - Jane Howard

When A Paternity Test Reveals The Awful Truth ...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My control went AWOL and I shoved away from the table and stomped around to where she sat. I stuffed my hands into my jeans pockets, because if I didn't I'd wrap them around Sonya's neck and squeeze until her eyes exploded and then I'd end up in jail.

I stopped next to her. "Not this kind, Sonya. There were three samples. Yours, mine and Zoey's. There is no way the test is wrong."

I glanced at my mother. "My parents had enough faith in me to do this so I could put my mind at rest. This cost them a lot of money and will eventually cost me, so do me a favor and come up with something that makes sense."

Moving closer, I stabbed the test results again. "This proves you are Zoey's mother and that I am not her father. I'll do what I have to, for now, but you need to find out who she belongs to—that's if you don't know already."

Sonya got up and folded her arms, throwing her head back. "Say whatever you want, but I'll take you to court if you stop supporting Zoey."

I breathed in and my lungs were blazing hot, as if my insides were burning up. My fury and shock must have 
been written on my face because Mom put up both hands. "Karim, don't say another word."

The fire in my blood turned to ice and I folded my arms, imitating Sonya's pose. "Mom, can you leave for a minute? There's something I need to say to Sonya in private."

Mom's mouth opened and I cut her off before she got a word out. "Don't worry. I have this."

She walked to the door and pulled the handle, reluctant to close it between us.

"Trust me," I said. "It'll be all right."

The door clicked shut, and I moved closer to Sonya. "I know you feel you're going to lose face or something, but you're not the first girl this has happened to and you won't be the last."

Her shoulders lifted, but I wasn't taking any shit from her, so I kept on talking. "I've been looking at Zoey since Mom laid this on me."

I smiled, although I had no reason to do so and didn’t feel like it, except for acknowledging myself as the biggest jackass in town. "I don't know why it wasn't obvious to me before, but if I know who the father of your little girl is, how can you tell me you don't know?"

Her head dipped lower and she moved so one of her hips jutted sideways, which hinted she still had some resistance going on.

I tipped her chin up with one finger. "You and I know I'm not Zoey's father."

Her shoulders drooped as if all the air had gone out of her and she sucked her lip into her mouth.

"Look, I'm sorry this happened to you, but you need to sort out your business, because I'm not going to keep shelling out for a child that isn't mine, especially since we're not seeing each other."

She didn't move, but a tear rolled down her cheek. I watched it, fascinated, as it dripped on her chest and was sucked up by her tank top. She didn't make any attempt to wipe her face, and I sure as hell didn't want to touch her and give her any ideas. After staring at her like an idiot, I patted her shoulder and walked past her.

"You should get Zoey and go home."

I left her standing there and went to my room, closing the door behind me.

Frowning at the floor, I sat on the side of my bed. I'd thought about what it would mean if it turned out Zoey wasn't mine, and how my life would change. I expected to be relieved, happy—joyous even.

Instead, I was empty.
This #NewAdult novel is set in Jamaica and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and other platforms.

Vision (Write It) - A-Z Challenge, Starting & Sustaining A Writing Career

Saturday, April 25, 2015

In thinking about what to write today, something about Vision, I knew I had the perfect article that I've reworked for this purpose. It's a long one, but if you take away nothing else, remember it's important and write your vision down, commit to working at it regularly and do your utmost to make it happen.

          Write the Vision…Possess the Dream

All semi-serious writers have a desire to be published.  It might not be the position you started out from, but over time, the way you view your writing might have changed. You’ve joined a writing network, and started hanging out with other writers, so you know that ordinary people do get published.  Then you start to think, if he/she can do it, then maybe I can.  It’s all well and good to have the desire, but do you have a vision?

Without a vision backed up by a plan, you won’t be published.   Some writers are destined to stay dilettantes, dabbling here and there, trying out this and that, but never applying elbow grease and letting words and sentences frustrate them to distraction. 

Your dream of being published has to be more than something you work at on and off or ‘as the spirit moves you’.   You have to want it to the point where you’ll do everything in your power to achieve that dream.  Many of the motivational pieces I’ve read, have one bit of advice in common. 

Put your vision in black and white.

You can think about being published twenty-four hours for the day, but until you write that vision down, it’ll be like grasping after a smoke ring. Yes, that’s right.  Your dream will disintegrate, get pushed aside, forgotten.  I know it takes more time than you have to write ‘the dream’ down, but grab ten minutes out of your day to do it, if it’s important. 

And don’t just scribble vague notes.  Be specific.  Start with your fondest desire.  Whatever you’re aiming for – whether to publish a book, article, get an agent, self-publish, doesn’t matter.  After daring to put your hopes on paper or the screen, fill in the baby steps.  Write a short story or article each month, approach two agents per week, query one publisher per month.

You know better than anyone else what you’re capable of, therefore it’s critical to pace yourself.   Although it’s important to challenge yourself, it makes no sense writing down goals you’re not likely to achieve. Better to set a goal of an article per month, than to decide on two when you know you don’t have the time or inclination to get the writing done.

In the past, I’ve been lucky.  Once my stories get percolating, they pretty much spew out of my fingertips until they’re done.  The articles don’t work like that though.  I’ll write down the 3 or 4 points I want to cover, but if I don’t decide to sit down and get that baby written, I’ll drag the notes around with me for months and do nothing with them. 

Along with the vision, you must make a decision. 

I am going to be published and I will work at it.  There, now you have the resolve to make it happen.  This is kind of like having faith, for those who are believers.  Don’t just decide you’re going to do something, work at it for a few days or months, and then give in when you feel nothing’s going to happen for you.  D’you know how many rejections the big names got before they struck gold?  Check here and here after you’ve read to the end of this post. Stay with me, and keep your focus

The worst enemy we have is ourselves.  Time and again, I wondered if I’d be published, but I never let that thought settle in my mind for long. I’d be lying if I said I never had negative thoughts.  At times I wondered, who am I kidding? There are so many better writers out there.  Why should I be published?  But I never gave up.  I wrote Contraband in 2005, and despite thinking it was ready a couple of years later. It wasn’t, but that’s another story.  So, after tons of editing, it was finally ready in 2009 and was published the following year. 

Part of what gave me the drive to continue pushing was the comments from the other writers on The Next Big Writer.  Sure, some people are going to give you nice reviews, telling you how lovely your stuff is, others will tell you the same, but will temper their opinion with good advice. I like your writing, it flows well, you’re a good storyteller, BUT if you did x or y it would have take this piece a notch higher.  And then, there are the people who give great advice, but you feel like you’ve been raped after a review from them.  But I’m straying.  The point is, if 8 out of 10 writers tell you they think you’ve got something, then you’ve got something.  Work with it.  Writers are the most helpful people on God’s planet. Believe me on that. 

Now having faith in yourself is kind of like having faith in God, and the words in the Bible. Remember James 2:20?  It says faith without works is dead, so you can believe you have the talent to write and be published, but if you do nothing to achieve your goals, then you might as well kiss the idea of being published goodbye.

And another thing, I’m not just pulling random thoughts out of the air.  The things we do today, have been done for thousands of years by others before us and will continue long after we’re dead.  In the past, many writers have given up on their talent and will to be published and still others persevered and got that elusive ‘we would like to offer you a contract for…’

Yesterday, I was thinking about what to write for this post.  I decided on something in keeping with what people do at the start of a new year, so I thought about making plans, writing them down and following through.  I knew I was on the right track when I came across the following quote among the rubble in my office. 

It’s from Habakkuk 2:2-3 – “Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end, it will not lie.  If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”

Now you have the vision, what are you waiting for? Run with it and believe that what you hope to achieve is possible. 

I’ll see you at the finish line.

Cherish you visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul; the blue prints of your ultimate achievements. 
                                                            ~ Napoleon Hill

Underwrite - A-Z Challenge, Starting & Sustaining A Writing Career

Friday, April 24, 2015

At some point after you start spending money on writing, editing and publishing you'll wake up to the realization that you are underwriting your dreams, in other words financing and supporting your writing through whatever means possible.

If you're lucky, some of the funds will come from the money you make from selling your books, but if not, I hope you're in a position to afford the things you want to do to support your habit.

It's wise to keep a record of your expenses so you'll have some idea as to whether you're making money from writing. I know the vast majority of writers will continue to shell out money to underwrite today's dreams and hope they turn into tomorrow's success.

Writing is like any other business, if we approach it as such. If we believe in the product we have on the market, then we'll invest a fair amount of funds in the hope that there will be some return on our investment.

Needless to say, the statistics are not favourable as it pertains to what writers make off their work. It's a good thing most of us write for the love of it and not for the returns, but I do believe that with a constant flow of books and a push in marketing effort, we can come closer to our dream of making a career out of writing.

Does the thought of what you've invested in your writing make you gasp? Are you keeping proper records that will help you track your spending? Do you plan to put more or less into underwriting your work?

It's OK to have a plan, to invest in your future - for your financial security, your love life, your personal fulfillment, and even your happiness. To have personal happiness as a stated goal doesn't detract from it if you get there.
                                                                           ~ Karen Finerman

Technology - A-Z Challenge, Starting & Sustaining A Writing Career

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Many of us sit in front of a computer everyday and we write hundreds of thousands of words each year, but we shy away from exploring all the technology that's out there.

Listen up, writers. Technology is your friend.

It's given us the ability to be but a moment away from others by email and without any delay when we choose to use instant messenger or Skype. Blogging opened a new world to me when I was launching my first book and since then, I haven't looked back. 

There is now an App for just about everything and while it's never prudent to inundate ourselves with doodads, it's wise to work smarter, not harder.

Hootesuite, Tweetdeck and other social media managers help us get the word out in an efficient manner while preventing us from spending all day hanging out in TimeSuckVille. Programmes like iPiccy, Canva and Pixlr are great for making promotional images and messages.

I am barely hitting the tip of the iceberg with the things I've mentioned in this post, but I'd encourage every writer to explore and learn something new each day. The world is an ever-changing place and if you do much of your book marketing online, it pays to know what's happening in the world of technology and how you can use the tools designed to make life easier.

Many writers say they're technological dolts, but I believe know that if you're intelligent enough to craft a story, you've got more than enough brain power to learn how to use something that's meant to make your life easier.

Make a promise to yourself to take on something you fear using. Twitter? Pinterest? Scrivener? Whatever it is, make a bold step for your advancement. What programme have you stayed away from using because you're reluctant to try it out?

Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories.
                                                           – Laurie Anderson

Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.
                                                           – Stewart Brand

Signatures - A-Z Challenge, Starting & Sustaining A Writing Career

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A signature is a feature or quality you associate with someone or something. I saw a badge weeks ago that said 'Your culture is your signature.' and for me that has proven to be true.

Those who have read anything I've written are aware that Jamaica is a character in my stories. As you can see by the masthead on this blog, I've made the island part of my signature. 

There are several aspects of what we do that form part of our signature. There are our book covers—a series may carry the same feel to clue readers in to the fact that they are connected. Then there is the type and quality of the stories we write. What we do with each book and how well we do it, become part of what readers expect when they sit down with our stories. 

I want to be equated with excellent quality, both in terms of the cosmetics and reading experience that goes with each book. As readers become more familiar with our writing, they should have the confidence to purchase each novel without fear that they are getting a shoddy product. That's what developing your signature is about. 

Then there's your email and blogging signature. Your email is doing a promotional job each time someone opens your mail that includes your blog address and information on what you've written. Some of us get a little fancy and do something like this, which at a glance tells who I am and what I do. 

Have you developed a signature in terms of your writing and do you leave a footprint in your email and while you're visiting other blogs?

A signature always reveals a man's character - and sometimes even his name.
                                                  - Evan Esar

Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.
                                                 - Nhat Hanh

My other two trusty helpers on this A-Z journey are Sheena-Kay Graham 

and Susan Oloier

Please stop in with these lovely writers and show them some love! Thanks!

Regular Releases & Rewrites - A-Z Challenge, Starting & Sustaining A Writing Career

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When you've been writing for a while, you know what time frame works for you in getting a book completed. Maybe it takes you six months to get from that first sentence to publication. Maybe it takes a year or five, or you prefer to meander and get everything just so before you send your next book off to your editor. Publishers operate on schedules, so it's not a good idea to take your time with a book under contract.

Readers are always after the next good read, so if you're not serious about producing a book on a timeline you create, your fans will move on to the next great writer on their list.

I'm not suggesting you rush to get books to market. That's both a disservice to you and your reader, but if you're treating your writing as a business, it pays to settle on a production schedule that agrees with the time you give to writing and stick with it.

The term production schedule may rub artists the wrong way, but if you want readers to take you seriously, you have to wrap your mind around this paragraph and the one above. If you doubt you have the will to do what you say you will, make the information public. That will ensure a higher level of accountability and there's no better way to take what you do seriously than to hang out your shingle, advertise your skills and do what you say you're going to do to the best of your ability.

One way I motivate myself to get moving on the next book is to write a chapter and insert it in the back of the book I just finished. It's a promise to my readers and myself that I'm going to do something more.

In short, write consistently and shoot for regular releases.

Today on the Challenge trail, I came across a writer to whom I lifted my hat. Of course, I didn't bookmark the page, but the post was about Quills and that's in terms of actual writing. The writer shared that she goes halfway through a book and realizes that some things aren't working the way she wants them to or she needs to make plot points come together in a better way, and so goes back and rewrites the first half.

That boggled my mind in the same way that it messes with my brain when people rewrite their first chapters or write them in first and then third person point of view to see what works better. Am I the only one who gets a panic attack thinking about doing all that work twice? I have a streak of lazy a mile wide, which could be why I think about each first line and then the first chapter for a while. When I have both clear in my mind, I start writing.

Do you shoot for regular releases? What things do you do while writing that can be considered a whole lotta work? How often do you rewrite chapters?

                            Don’t be a writer. Be writing. —William Faulkner