Writing Tips: 7 Steps For Beta Testing A Story Idea

Writing is simple, but it's not easy. Sometimes you need a nudge to turn that blank page into something worth reading.

Beta test a story ideaIn today's article, Autumn Birt shares some tips on how to reboot your story.

Have you ever been writing and hit a wall to wonder, what happens next?

Or, worse, written until you realize you have no where else to go, the story just sort of dies right there under your cursor, and you’ve lost months of work writing something that isn’t publishable?

It doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is the only choice is not to plot every detail before you start writing in order to know that you have all the elements to create a solid story.

There is a lot of room between coming up with a story idea and hoping for the best as you dive into writing, and creating a twenty page outline.

Like, how about a technique that will take about half an hour, will help you organize the key points to your story, find holes or areas that need developed before you spend months writing to hit a dead end, and will, hopefully, get you more excited about writing instead of worn out from plotting?

The Framework of All Stories

storygridSome really perceptive folks figured out that all great stories follow the same path. Of course, you can find exceptions, but those are outliers to the norm.

The characters, settings, and other details of stories create uniqueness, but underneath it all is a hidden framework that you can use to build an idea, or discover it is only half-baked.

I consider myself a hybrid pantser/plotter as far as outlining goes. I create ideas for chapters as I write but leave it up to the characters to fill in the blanks of how the idea evolves into events.

But before that, before I start writing or even worldbuilding, I create a 7 step framework to know if the idea is solid enough to spend time on. If not, I develop it or back burner it until something new arises.

I even use this method for short stories because it is that effective and helps propel my writing that much.

7 steps. Half an hour. You can use this too (and then get on with the writing with a LOT more confidence!).

Step 1: Intro

Sure, as authors, we know so much has to be packed into the beginning of a story. You should start with action. Hook the reader in the first page/paragraph. And don’t overwhelm the reader with details.

But this is before all of that. It is the underlying foundation that you will build the prose on.

I like to frame the intro as a snapshot into a small everyday emergency. It isn’t the big problem the plot will pivot around (unless you are on book 2 or 3 perhaps). This allows you to start with action without overwhelming the reader with a world-destroying plot they don’t understand or care about yet.

keys keychainInstead, it is an ordinary moment like not-being-able-to-find-the-keys-and-the-main-character-is-in-a-panic-she-will-be-late-for-work level of problem. It is solvable.

The reader gets to witness the character in her element, problem-solving, reacting to a minor issue.

This allows you to introduce the world and provide basic information such as if the main character has a job, a partner, or is living with family.

Is the genre fantasy, dystopian, historical, modern? For the mini-outline, answer what is the mundane emergency your main character will be dealing with?

Plus, what is the genre of the story and the setting/location for the beginning?

Step 2: Inciting Incident

Remember that mundane emergency? It doesn’t turn out as expected or uncovers a bigger problem. Either way, the result alters the MCs world or worldview.

Those lost keys? The MC uses an app on her phone to discover they are in a room two apartments down. When she goes to retrieve them, she finds the door open and a dead body. She picks up her keys from a puddle of blood as the police burst in.

You’ve given the reader enough of a window into the MC’s life and world that they have connected with her, but not so long as to bore them.

Now, you grab their curiosity; what the heck is going on? How will the MC deal with this?

For your quick outline, you simply need to answer the question: What happens to shatter the main character's world?

Step 3: Reaction Phase

No one goes through a paradigm shift that changes their entire understanding of their world or catapults them into a setting they are unprepared for and lands on their feet. If they do, well, it doesn’t resonate all that well.

broken wine glassThe character needs to get her feet back under her and to do that, she often needs help or at least time.

The Reaction Phase is the time when the main character is the newbie, not thinking clearly, and is possibly overemotional. This isn’t the organized person the reader met on page one, who might have been having a bad day, but it was an ordinary bad day.

Life just became extraordinary and she misses the normal crap. In fact, she might want to simply return to the normal crap and might not believe what is going on, or take it as seriously as she should. The details can compound, pulling the character into deep danger.

Our poor heroine is interrogated but doesn’t think she could possibly be the suspect. She doesn’t even know who the dead guy is! So she doesn’t ask for a lawyer. The detective twists her words. Finally, in a panic she asks for a lawyer.

Things don’t look good. She was found at the scene, her hand covered in blood that had been on her keys. Friends are shocked. Out on bail, she returns to her apartment to find her job gone and that she is shunned by everyone she knew. No one believes her. The lawyer tells her to accept a plea deal.

For this step, answer how your main character reacts to step 2. Where does he go? Who helps him?

Step 4: New Idea / Dark Night of the Soul

The main character cannot stay naive or she won’t survive. Or a bad decision will lead to the death of a close friend.

A second pivotal event occurs in the story that awakens the urge to fight back and to strategize how to succeed. She needs to do more and better to defeat what is against her.

Dark Street CornerSometimes though, this moment of change comes from something less severe than near death or the loss of a friend. A new piece of information can unlock a window to a path forward, one that the main character will leap to take.

Either a tormented night of soul searching or new information launches the deeper novel plot at last. The main character will move from wanting to return to where they were at the beginning to taking on something larger, which will result in the climax. Or at least things will start to move that way.

Our heroine can’t just let the system steamroll her. She starts to delve into the dead man’s life. She finds a clue he is from a different country, dodges her bail, and heads there to find out who he was and why he had her keys.

What event occurs to change the main character from reacting to being ready to take control? Does someone die? Is it new information? If so what and from who did they learn it?

Step 5: Planning Phase

The main character has enough information gained on who are friends, who is against her, and what the reality of this world is to navigate well enough to avoid capture.

Where the reaction phase had few wins that came mostly through luck or help, in the planning phase the main character starts to succeed on her own.

She gathers new allies. Her enemy starts to grow worried and becomes more active in stopping her from succeeding. The MC realizes the small problems and injustices she encountered during the reaction phase are related to something bigger.

Things are getting intense in the story!

For our heroine, some of the strange details the MC discovers in the deadman’s home country convinces a local policewoman to help her. As the policewoman realizes the MC is wanted by Interpol, a hitman tries to kill the MC.

The policewoman ends up protecting the MC as they evade Interpol and assassins while uncovering clues to the agency the dead man worked for. She finds papers on child adoptions and clippings of missing infants and children as well as medical data of experiments. It all leads to one international company.

For this phase, write how the main character progresses from what happens in step 4 to taking control of his life.

  • Are there new allies?
  • Who are they?
  • How do they help?
  • What is the big problem the character needs to solve that step 4 should have revealed and/or will lead them to discovering?
  • Who is the enemy that is trying to stop them?

Step 6: Climax

Everything leads to this moment. All the angst, loss, change, and growth of the story results in the climax. And it has to be worth it!

puzzle piecesThere can be no neat little wrap-up from a technicality or unforeseen help that solves everything for the MC. She has to be the one to solve her problems, with our without help, she leads the charge.

A local headline of a missing boy thought lost hiking makes the MC and the policewoman realize the kidnappings and experiments are still going on. Knowing they will be caught, they rush to find the missing boy.

The policewoman calls the Interpol agent who has been on their tail as they break into a secret medical facility just as the boy is about to be experimented on. They are arrested with a suitcase of evidence and the life of the unconscious boy saved.

For the climax, how does the main character solve the big problem of the plot, uncovered in step 4 or 5? How does he confront the antagonist? Is it a big enough problem to make all the issues that came before it worthwhile?

Step 7: Wrap Up

The wrap up leaves the reader with a final emotional impression for the story. And it is where you tie up loose ends or unveil a new problem, effectively beginning the intro to the next book.

Our heroine is cleared of all charges and cast as an international hero. The final scene in the book shows her walking to a rural house where an old woman on the porch rises to her feet as if she’s been waiting for her.

If I wanted to lead into a sequel, I could hint at a medical issue arising from the testing done on the main character as a little girl. The story could end with a text to come back immediately to discuss test results and leave the reader wondering what is wrong.

That is it, right? This book is ready to be written.

Not quite.

This exercise helps the writer look for things that don’t line up or see if an entire step is missing. The example has all the steps, but I never really explained why the dead man stole the main character’s keys? It doesn’t fit with the rest of the plot. And once I answer that missing piece, this story idea should be ready for writing.

And that is the key thing. The sequence of events should make sense and build off each other to carry the plot thread forward. This is why you should stick to the main character because he or she should move the plot forward.

Once you have all the steps and the answers make sense without unanswered threads, then you know the story is ready to be written – and you should have enough in place to write or plot with confidence!

Do you outline your novel before you begin writing? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Autumn BirtAutumn Birt is an award winning fantasy writer. You can check out her books at AutumnWriting.com. She co-runs the AmWritingFantasy.com website, which has information, videos, workbooks, and courses on writing, worldbuilding, and marketing, including free writer’s resources. You can also pick up a free video course on writing here. Happy Writing!

Writing Tips: 7 Steps For Beta Testing A Story Idea

Writing is simple, but it's not easy. Sometimes you need a nudge to turn that blank page into something worth reading.

Beta test a story ideaIn today's article, Autumn Birt shares some tips on how to reboot your story.

Have you ever been writing and hit a wall to wonder, what happens next?

Or, worse, written until you realize you have no where else to go, the story just sort of dies right there under your cursor, and you’ve lost months of work writing something that isn’t publishable?

It doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is the only choice is not to plot every detail before you start writing in order to know that you have all the elements to create a solid story.

There is a lot of room between coming up with a story idea and hoping for the best as you dive into writing, and creating a twenty page outline.

Like, how about a technique that will take about half an hour, will help you organize the key points to your story, find holes or areas that need developed before you spend months writing to hit a dead end, and will, hopefully, get you more excited about writing instead of worn out from plotting?

The Framework of All Stories

storygridSome really perceptive folks figured out that all great stories follow the same path. Of course, you can find exceptions, but those are outliers to the norm.

The characters, settings, and other details of stories create uniqueness, but underneath it all is a hidden framework that you can use to build an idea, or discover it is only half-baked.

I consider myself a hybrid pantser/plotter as far as outlining goes. I create ideas for chapters as I write but leave it up to the characters to fill in the blanks of how the idea evolves into events.

But before that, before I start writing or even worldbuilding, I create a 7 step framework to know if the idea is solid enough to spend time on. If not, I develop it or back burner it until something new arises.

I even use this method for short stories because it is that effective and helps propel my writing that much.

7 steps. Half an hour. You can use this too (and then get on with the writing with a LOT more confidence!).

Step 1: Intro

Sure, as authors, we know so much has to be packed into the beginning of a story. You should start with action. Hook the reader in the first page/paragraph. And don’t overwhelm the reader with details.

But this is before all of that. It is the underlying foundation that you will build the prose on.

I like to frame the intro as a snapshot into a small everyday emergency. It isn’t the big problem the plot will pivot around (unless you are on book 2 or 3 perhaps). This allows you to start with action without overwhelming the reader with a world-destroying plot they don’t understand or care about yet.

keys keychainInstead, it is an ordinary moment like not-being-able-to-find-the-keys-and-the-main-character-is-in-a-panic-she-will-be-late-for-work level of problem. It is solvable.

The reader gets to witness the character in her element, problem-solving, reacting to a minor issue.

This allows you to introduce the world and provide basic information such as if the main character has a job, a partner, or is living with family.

Is the genre fantasy, dystopian, historical, modern? For the mini-outline, answer what is the mundane emergency your main character will be dealing with?

Plus, what is the genre of the story and the setting/location for the beginning?

Step 2: Inciting Incident

Remember that mundane emergency? It doesn’t turn out as expected or uncovers a bigger problem. Either way, the result alters the MCs world or worldview.

Those lost keys? The MC uses an app on her phone to discover they are in a room two apartments down. When she goes to retrieve them, she finds the door open and a dead body. She picks up her keys from a puddle of blood as the police burst in.

You’ve given the reader enough of a window into the MC’s life and world that they have connected with her, but not so long as to bore them.

Now, you grab their curiosity; what the heck is going on? How will the MC deal with this?

For your quick outline, you simply need to answer the question: What happens to shatter the main character's world?

Step 3: Reaction Phase

No one goes through a paradigm shift that changes their entire understanding of their world or catapults them into a setting they are unprepared for and lands on their feet. If they do, well, it doesn’t resonate all that well.

broken wine glassThe character needs to get her feet back under her and to do that, she often needs help or at least time.

The Reaction Phase is the time when the main character is the newbie, not thinking clearly, and is possibly overemotional. This isn’t the organized person the reader met on page one, who might have been having a bad day, but it was an ordinary bad day.

Life just became extraordinary and she misses the normal crap. In fact, she might want to simply return to the normal crap and might not believe what is going on, or take it as seriously as she should. The details can compound, pulling the character into deep danger.

Our poor heroine is interrogated but doesn’t think she could possibly be the suspect. She doesn’t even know who the dead guy is! So she doesn’t ask for a lawyer. The detective twists her words. Finally, in a panic she asks for a lawyer.

Things don’t look good. She was found at the scene, her hand covered in blood that had been on her keys. Friends are shocked. Out on bail, she returns to her apartment to find her job gone and that she is shunned by everyone she knew. No one believes her. The lawyer tells her to accept a plea deal.

For this step, answer how your main character reacts to step 2. Where does he go? Who helps him?

Step 4: New Idea / Dark Night of the Soul

The main character cannot stay naive or she won’t survive. Or a bad decision will lead to the death of a close friend.

A second pivotal event occurs in the story that awakens the urge to fight back and to strategize how to succeed. She needs to do more and better to defeat what is against her.

Dark Street CornerSometimes though, this moment of change comes from something less severe than near death or the loss of a friend. A new piece of information can unlock a window to a path forward, one that the main character will leap to take.

Either a tormented night of soul searching or new information launches the deeper novel plot at last. The main character will move from wanting to return to where they were at the beginning to taking on something larger, which will result in the climax. Or at least things will start to move that way.

Our heroine can’t just let the system steamroll her. She starts to delve into the dead man’s life. She finds a clue he is from a different country, dodges her bail, and heads there to find out who he was and why he had her keys.

What event occurs to change the main character from reacting to being ready to take control? Does someone die? Is it new information? If so what and from who did they learn it?

Step 5: Planning Phase

The main character has enough information gained on who are friends, who is against her, and what the reality of this world is to navigate well enough to avoid capture.

Where the reaction phase had few wins that came mostly through luck or help, in the planning phase the main character starts to succeed on her own.

She gathers new allies. Her enemy starts to grow worried and becomes more active in stopping her from succeeding. The MC realizes the small problems and injustices she encountered during the reaction phase are related to something bigger.

Things are getting intense in the story!

For our heroine, some of the strange details the MC discovers in the deadman’s home country convinces a local policewoman to help her. As the policewoman realizes the MC is wanted by Interpol, a hitman tries to kill the MC.

The policewoman ends up protecting the MC as they evade Interpol and assassins while uncovering clues to the agency the dead man worked for. She finds papers on child adoptions and clippings of missing infants and children as well as medical data of experiments. It all leads to one international company.

For this phase, write how the main character progresses from what happens in step 4 to taking control of his life.

  • Are there new allies?
  • Who are they?
  • How do they help?
  • What is the big problem the character needs to solve that step 4 should have revealed and/or will lead them to discovering?
  • Who is the enemy that is trying to stop them?

Step 6: Climax

Everything leads to this moment. All the angst, loss, change, and growth of the story results in the climax. And it has to be worth it!

puzzle piecesThere can be no neat little wrap-up from a technicality or unforeseen help that solves everything for the MC. She has to be the one to solve her problems, with our without help, she leads the charge.

A local headline of a missing boy thought lost hiking makes the MC and the policewoman realize the kidnappings and experiments are still going on. Knowing they will be caught, they rush to find the missing boy.

The policewoman calls the Interpol agent who has been on their tail as they break into a secret medical facility just as the boy is about to be experimented on. They are arrested with a suitcase of evidence and the life of the unconscious boy saved.

For the climax, how does the main character solve the big problem of the plot, uncovered in step 4 or 5? How does he confront the antagonist? Is it a big enough problem to make all the issues that came before it worthwhile?

Step 7: Wrap Up

The wrap up leaves the reader with a final emotional impression for the story. And it is where you tie up loose ends or unveil a new problem, effectively beginning the intro to the next book.

Our heroine is cleared of all charges and cast as an international hero. The final scene in the book shows her walking to a rural house where an old woman on the porch rises to her feet as if she’s been waiting for her.

If I wanted to lead into a sequel, I could hint at a medical issue arising from the testing done on the main character as a little girl. The story could end with a text to come back immediately to discuss test results and leave the reader wondering what is wrong.

That is it, right? This book is ready to be written.

Not quite.

This exercise helps the writer look for things that don’t line up or see if an entire step is missing. The example has all the steps, but I never really explained why the dead man stole the main character’s keys? It doesn’t fit with the rest of the plot. And once I answer that missing piece, this story idea should be ready for writing.

And that is the key thing. The sequence of events should make sense and build off each other to carry the plot thread forward. This is why you should stick to the main character because he or she should move the plot forward.

Once you have all the steps and the answers make sense without unanswered threads, then you know the story is ready to be written – and you should have enough in place to write or plot with confidence!

Do you outline your novel before you begin writing? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Autumn BirtAutumn Birt is an award winning fantasy writer. You can check out her books at AutumnWriting.com. She co-runs the AmWritingFantasy.com website, which has information, videos, workbooks, and courses on writing, worldbuilding, and marketing, including free writer’s resources. You can also pick up a free video course on writing here. Happy Writing!

Writing Tips: Learn to Love Outlining by Finding Your Unique Planning Style

There is no ‘right' way to write. There is no ‘right' way to outline. You will find your own way to a process that works for you, but it's always good to know the options!

Outlining and planning styleIn today's article, writing coach Megan Barnhard explains the different types of outlining styles and gives tips for improving your process. 

Outlining is hands-down the best way to finish writing a better book, faster.

An outline ensures your book has all the right elements for its genre and keeps you motivated on those tough writing days.

Despite its benefits, outlining can feel restrictive and rigid. Maybe you’ve seen the way other authors outline and thought it’s just not for you.

That’s OK.

Outlining is a very personal process. That’s why it’s vital to find your own strategy for doing it.

Something that honors your creativity rather than squelching it. A process that helps you through writer’s block while also leaving you free to change your mind or give yourself over to the magic of your muse.

Whether you’re a die-hard pantser or a dedicated plotter, this post will help you embrace your
personal outlining style and write more effectively.

Outlining vs. Brainstorming

brainstorming wallFirst, let’s define our terms. Usually when authors talk about “outlining” they mean the whole planning process, minus any world-building or character development. That means not only putting events in order, but coming up with them in the first place.

I’m going to break things down into two distinct steps: brainstorming and outlining.

In this terminology, outlining refers to the process of putting your ideas in order and storing them in “writing recipes” so you know what to draft next.

Brainstorming, on the other hand, refers to the more free-form act of coming up with ideas.

Imagine taking a defibrillator to your brain and giving it a jolt of electricity to get your creativity
flowing.

Now, because you’re an author, you probably naturally think in story. You might plan emotional beats and escalating drama without even trying to. Woohoo! That’s fantastic.

But when you brainstorm, make sure to give yourself space to come up with ideas even if you’re not sure where they’ll go or how you’ll use them. The key to effective brainstorming is to scoop up all the ideas in your writer’s net, without throwing any back because they’re too small or too weird or have seven eyes and lots of tentacles.

Eventually, you’ll dump the ideas you don’t need. But don’t skip the step of brainstorming. Often it’s when your mind is free to come up with any crazy idea that you come up with your best idea. It’s just a productive mental space to be in.

Now, with our terms cleared up, let’s get into how to do these two activities.

6 Different Planning Styles

There are tons of different ways to brainstorm and outline. Some of us start with the details and move to the big ideas. Some of us need to go in order or we get lost. And some of us aren’t quite sure where we’re going until we start moving, but moving gives us lots of momentum.

feet arrowI’m going to walk you through the six planning styles that I’ve seen work the most consistently in my 12 years as a writing coach. I’ll share the tools I’ve used again and again to help writers beat procrastination, writer’s block, and overwhelm.

I’ll also share a few strategies that have been especially helpful for authors who thought they could never outline successfully.

Think of this list as a starting point on your journey to finding your own unique planning process.

The more you explore and refine your process, the faster you’ll write and the more you’ll enjoy it. Experiment with these methods and keep track of what inspires your best writing.

1. Bottom-up Thinkers

You collect interesting moments and then tie them together into scenes or stories. You can imagine exactly how your protagonist looks as he stares forlornly into his cup of Earl Grey at the funky-smelling café with the broken air conditioner and the surly barista. But you’re not sure why he’s there or where this scene is going.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Carry pen and paper with you at all times. Jot down ideas for scenes on notecards,
    sticky notes, or in a notebook whenever they come up.
  • Freewrite about your characters and get clear on who they are and what they want.
  • Make a mind-map of the scenes or events you already have in mind. See what thoughts
    arise. Can you connect these scenes? Do they give you ideas for more scenes?

Outline Strategies

  • Arrange your index cards or sticky notes in the order that you want the scenes to appear
    in the story.
  • Type up the scenes from your mind map as bullet points.

2. Top-down Thinkers

convertible car top downThe why is more important than the what for you. You know the purpose and the reason for your characters and your scenes. You might write with placeholders, knowing that in Chapter 5 Ted has to meet someone who will push him to take a risk, but you don’t know who that person is or what that risk will be. You’ll figure out the details when you get there.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Brainstorm what to put in a scene focusing on “behind-the-scenes” details, e.g., Jim has
    to wind up at the abandoned theme park to start the climactic scene.
  • Brainstorm what to put in a scene focusing on emotional beats and how your characters’
    motivations would lead them to act, e.g., Rhonda wants to prove herself, so she
    sabotages the big meeting in some way.
  • Make a mind-map of all your characters and the conflicts and allegiances that connect
    them. See what ideas for scenes arise from these relationships.

Outline Strategies

  • Create descriptive chapter titles in the style of an old-timey book, e.g., Chapter 4: In
    Which Percy Realizes He Is Not a Normal Kid. You don’t have to keep these chapter
    titles; they’re just placeholders for you as you write.
  • Paste your emotional beat brainstorms into a planning doc below their corresponding
    chapter headers or scene titles.
  • Paste your “behind-the-scenes” brainstorms into a planning doc below their
    corresponding chapter headers or scene titles.

3. Associative Thinkers

One idea leads you to the next. You love the feeling of “flow” when characters seem to act of their own accord and tell you what they should do next. You can get lost in writing for hours and completely surprise yourself with the ideas that arise.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Freewrite for at least 10 minutes whenever you sit down to write. See what ideas come up and where you might use them.
  • Talk your story through with your writing buddies or a writing coach and bounce ideas off them. (Try a Book Clarity Session)
  • Write out a summary of your story. Don’t plan ahead; just let it flow and see what happens.
  • Make a mind-map of scenes or events and see what related ideas come up.

Outline Strategies

  • Color-code or number your mind-map to put scenes in order.
  • Copy and paste key scenes from the summary of your story into a planning doc as chapter headings or bullet points.

4. Big Picture Thinkers

mountain sky sunsetYou need to be able to zoom out and see the big picture. Too many details slow you down and make you feel overwhelmed or impatient.

You like graphic organizers, and arranging ideas from top to bottom or left to right on the page helps you orient yourself. You love knowing where it’s all going. You can see the finish line even from the start.

You have a clear vision, but you can sometimes get bogged down in the details or run into writer’s block for individual chapters.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Write down key moments or anchor scenes (inciting incident, climax, final appearance of protagonist, etc.) on separate pieces of paper and brainstorm possible events for each
    one.
  • Create a mind-map with the central conflict in the middle and possible scenes clustered around it.

Outline Strategies

  • Create a circle outline with the central conflict in the center and each key scene as a “slice” of the circle going in order clockwise or numbered.
  • Color-code or number your mind-map to show the order of scenes.
  • Create any kind of one-page graphic organizer that lets you see the entire story at a glance. Think mini-storyboard that includes the major plot developments rather than every single scene, or even a flow-chart of events showing causes and effects.

5. Know-It-When-I-See-It Thinkers

You tend to feel limited by outlines. You don’t want to commit to a particular plan because you know some brilliant idea is just around the corner. You’re inspired by details, able to fill an entire page describing the look of an object or a character’s expression.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Freewrite about a character, setting, event, scene, or possible plot point, seeing where your writing takes you.
  • Interview yourself about your story and your characters. Just say whatever comes to mind without judgment. Record yourself.

Outline Strategies

  • Transcribe key points from the recording of your self-interview.
  • Highlight key ideas from your freewrites. Use these to create scene titles or chapter headings on a whiteboard or a piece of big poster paper. Jot down the various possibilities you’re considering for each section on the whiteboard, or on sticky notes.
  • Once you pick “winners” move the other ideas down to a storage area so that you can use them in other places if you like.

6. Linear Thinkers

road lineSkipping around drives you nuts. You like moving from Point A to Point B, and only then figuring out Point C. You are very logical, using what you see in your plan or your draft to help you move naturally to the next scene or chapter.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Tell your story out loud off the top of your head while looking at a plot hill or a story
    template for your genre. Record it.
  • Write out a summary of your story. Don’t plan it first, just write.
  • Use stepping stones: Think through “which leads to…” and “which would have happened
    because…” to generate both causes and effects.

Outline Strategies

  • Turn your story summary into a list of bullet points and add those to a planning doc or white board with space to add more scenes as needed.
  • Create a storyboard.
  • Write all your scenes or chapter headings on index cards or sticky notes and put them in order up on a wall or in a box.

Take Action

It’s not necessary to pin yourself down in one of these categories. The point is to experiment and learn what works for you.

Here’s an easy way to get started: Determine whether you tend towards top-down or bottom-up planning.

If you’re more of a top-down thinker, start by determining which category you’re most drawn to.

Where do you see yourself most? (Hey, maybe in the top-down category!) Once you’ve decided on a category, pick one strategy to try.

If you’re more of a bottom-up thinker in general, it means you should start with details (different brainstorming and outlining techniques) and work your way up to categories (what kind of planner you are).

Skim back through the brainstorming techniques until you find one that sounds fun or interesting. Give it a go!

However you start, the key is to take action. Pay attention to your process. Keep what works in your Author Toolbox and leave behind what doesn’t.

Again, outlining is a personal process. It takes some trial and error to find your jam. But once you find it, you’ll be able to repeat the process.

You’ll write better stories faster and with less frustration. What’s not to love about that?

Do you outline your books? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Megan BarnhardMegan Barnhard is a writing coach for inspired entrepreneurs and conscious creatives who want to make an impact with their words. In her 12-year career as a coach, she’s helped hundreds of writers tame the writing process and share their stories in books, blogs, websites, and essays.

If you’re interested in more ideas for making outlining easier and more effective, check out Megan’s latest book, Recipe for Outlining: A Fun & Flexible Guide for Planning Your Novel. You can follow Megan and get her weekly (live!) writing tips on Facebook: @MeganBarnhardWriting. She also blogs about the writing process for authors and bloggers at MeghanBarnhard.com/blog.

 

[Wall with colourful notes and images photo courtesy Jo Szczepanska and Unsplash. Arrow and feet photo courtesy Jon Tyson and Unsplash. Convertible photo courtesy Clem Onojeghuo and Unsplash. Mountain sunset photo courtesy Eberhard Grossgasteiger and Unsplash. Road line photo courtesy Gautier Salles and Unsplash.]

Writing Tips: Learn to Love Outlining by Finding Your Unique Planning Style

There is no ‘right' way to write. There is no ‘right' way to outline. You will find your own way to a process that works for you, but it's always good to know the options!

Outlining and planning styleIn today's article, writing coach Megan Barnhard explains the different types of outlining styles and gives tips for improving your process. 

Outlining is hands-down the best way to finish writing a better book, faster.

An outline ensures your book has all the right elements for its genre and keeps you motivated on those tough writing days.

Despite its benefits, outlining can feel restrictive and rigid. Maybe you’ve seen the way other authors outline and thought it’s just not for you.

That’s OK.

Outlining is a very personal process. That’s why it’s vital to find your own strategy for doing it.

Something that honors your creativity rather than squelching it. A process that helps you through writer’s block while also leaving you free to change your mind or give yourself over to the magic of your muse.

Whether you’re a die-hard pantser or a dedicated plotter, this post will help you embrace your
personal outlining style and write more effectively.

Outlining vs. Brainstorming

brainstorming wallFirst, let’s define our terms. Usually when authors talk about “outlining” they mean the whole planning process, minus any world-building or character development. That means not only putting events in order, but coming up with them in the first place.

I’m going to break things down into two distinct steps: brainstorming and outlining.

In this terminology, outlining refers to the process of putting your ideas in order and storing them in “writing recipes” so you know what to draft next.

Brainstorming, on the other hand, refers to the more free-form act of coming up with ideas.

Imagine taking a defibrillator to your brain and giving it a jolt of electricity to get your creativity
flowing.

Now, because you’re an author, you probably naturally think in story. You might plan emotional beats and escalating drama without even trying to. Woohoo! That’s fantastic.

But when you brainstorm, make sure to give yourself space to come up with ideas even if you’re not sure where they’ll go or how you’ll use them. The key to effective brainstorming is to scoop up all the ideas in your writer’s net, without throwing any back because they’re too small or too weird or have seven eyes and lots of tentacles.

Eventually, you’ll dump the ideas you don’t need. But don’t skip the step of brainstorming. Often it’s when your mind is free to come up with any crazy idea that you come up with your best idea. It’s just a productive mental space to be in.

Now, with our terms cleared up, let’s get into how to do these two activities.

6 Different Planning Styles

There are tons of different ways to brainstorm and outline. Some of us start with the details and move to the big ideas. Some of us need to go in order or we get lost. And some of us aren’t quite sure where we’re going until we start moving, but moving gives us lots of momentum.

feet arrowI’m going to walk you through the six planning styles that I’ve seen work the most consistently in my 12 years as a writing coach. I’ll share the tools I’ve used again and again to help writers beat procrastination, writer’s block, and overwhelm.

I’ll also share a few strategies that have been especially helpful for authors who thought they could never outline successfully.

Think of this list as a starting point on your journey to finding your own unique planning process.

The more you explore and refine your process, the faster you’ll write and the more you’ll enjoy it. Experiment with these methods and keep track of what inspires your best writing.

1. Bottom-up Thinkers

You collect interesting moments and then tie them together into scenes or stories. You can imagine exactly how your protagonist looks as he stares forlornly into his cup of Earl Grey at the funky-smelling café with the broken air conditioner and the surly barista. But you’re not sure why he’s there or where this scene is going.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Carry pen and paper with you at all times. Jot down ideas for scenes on notecards,
    sticky notes, or in a notebook whenever they come up.
  • Freewrite about your characters and get clear on who they are and what they want.
  • Make a mind-map of the scenes or events you already have in mind. See what thoughts
    arise. Can you connect these scenes? Do they give you ideas for more scenes?

Outline Strategies

  • Arrange your index cards or sticky notes in the order that you want the scenes to appear
    in the story.
  • Type up the scenes from your mind map as bullet points.

2. Top-down Thinkers

convertible car top downThe why is more important than the what for you. You know the purpose and the reason for your characters and your scenes. You might write with placeholders, knowing that in Chapter 5 Ted has to meet someone who will push him to take a risk, but you don’t know who that person is or what that risk will be. You’ll figure out the details when you get there.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Brainstorm what to put in a scene focusing on “behind-the-scenes” details, e.g., Jim has
    to wind up at the abandoned theme park to start the climactic scene.
  • Brainstorm what to put in a scene focusing on emotional beats and how your characters’
    motivations would lead them to act, e.g., Rhonda wants to prove herself, so she
    sabotages the big meeting in some way.
  • Make a mind-map of all your characters and the conflicts and allegiances that connect
    them. See what ideas for scenes arise from these relationships.

Outline Strategies

  • Create descriptive chapter titles in the style of an old-timey book, e.g., Chapter 4: In
    Which Percy Realizes He Is Not a Normal Kid. You don’t have to keep these chapter
    titles; they’re just placeholders for you as you write.
  • Paste your emotional beat brainstorms into a planning doc below their corresponding
    chapter headers or scene titles.
  • Paste your “behind-the-scenes” brainstorms into a planning doc below their
    corresponding chapter headers or scene titles.

3. Associative Thinkers

One idea leads you to the next. You love the feeling of “flow” when characters seem to act of their own accord and tell you what they should do next. You can get lost in writing for hours and completely surprise yourself with the ideas that arise.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Freewrite for at least 10 minutes whenever you sit down to write. See what ideas come up and where you might use them.
  • Talk your story through with your writing buddies or a writing coach and bounce ideas off them. (Try a Book Clarity Session)
  • Write out a summary of your story. Don’t plan ahead; just let it flow and see what happens.
  • Make a mind-map of scenes or events and see what related ideas come up.

Outline Strategies

  • Color-code or number your mind-map to put scenes in order.
  • Copy and paste key scenes from the summary of your story into a planning doc as chapter headings or bullet points.

4. Big Picture Thinkers

mountain sky sunsetYou need to be able to zoom out and see the big picture. Too many details slow you down and make you feel overwhelmed or impatient.

You like graphic organizers, and arranging ideas from top to bottom or left to right on the page helps you orient yourself. You love knowing where it’s all going. You can see the finish line even from the start.

You have a clear vision, but you can sometimes get bogged down in the details or run into writer’s block for individual chapters.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Write down key moments or anchor scenes (inciting incident, climax, final appearance of protagonist, etc.) on separate pieces of paper and brainstorm possible events for each
    one.
  • Create a mind-map with the central conflict in the middle and possible scenes clustered around it.

Outline Strategies

  • Create a circle outline with the central conflict in the center and each key scene as a “slice” of the circle going in order clockwise or numbered.
  • Color-code or number your mind-map to show the order of scenes.
  • Create any kind of one-page graphic organizer that lets you see the entire story at a glance. Think mini-storyboard that includes the major plot developments rather than every single scene, or even a flow-chart of events showing causes and effects.

5. Know-It-When-I-See-It Thinkers

You tend to feel limited by outlines. You don’t want to commit to a particular plan because you know some brilliant idea is just around the corner. You’re inspired by details, able to fill an entire page describing the look of an object or a character’s expression.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Freewrite about a character, setting, event, scene, or possible plot point, seeing where your writing takes you.
  • Interview yourself about your story and your characters. Just say whatever comes to mind without judgment. Record yourself.

Outline Strategies

  • Transcribe key points from the recording of your self-interview.
  • Highlight key ideas from your freewrites. Use these to create scene titles or chapter headings on a whiteboard or a piece of big poster paper. Jot down the various possibilities you’re considering for each section on the whiteboard, or on sticky notes.
  • Once you pick “winners” move the other ideas down to a storage area so that you can use them in other places if you like.

6. Linear Thinkers

road lineSkipping around drives you nuts. You like moving from Point A to Point B, and only then figuring out Point C. You are very logical, using what you see in your plan or your draft to help you move naturally to the next scene or chapter.

Brainstorm Strategies

  • Tell your story out loud off the top of your head while looking at a plot hill or a story
    template for your genre. Record it.
  • Write out a summary of your story. Don’t plan it first, just write.
  • Use stepping stones: Think through “which leads to…” and “which would have happened
    because…” to generate both causes and effects.

Outline Strategies

  • Turn your story summary into a list of bullet points and add those to a planning doc or white board with space to add more scenes as needed.
  • Create a storyboard.
  • Write all your scenes or chapter headings on index cards or sticky notes and put them in order up on a wall or in a box.

Take Action

It’s not necessary to pin yourself down in one of these categories. The point is to experiment and learn what works for you.

Here’s an easy way to get started: Determine whether you tend towards top-down or bottom-up planning.

If you’re more of a top-down thinker, start by determining which category you’re most drawn to.

Where do you see yourself most? (Hey, maybe in the top-down category!) Once you’ve decided on a category, pick one strategy to try.

If you’re more of a bottom-up thinker in general, it means you should start with details (different brainstorming and outlining techniques) and work your way up to categories (what kind of planner you are).

Skim back through the brainstorming techniques until you find one that sounds fun or interesting. Give it a go!

However you start, the key is to take action. Pay attention to your process. Keep what works in your Author Toolbox and leave behind what doesn’t.

Again, outlining is a personal process. It takes some trial and error to find your jam. But once you find it, you’ll be able to repeat the process.

You’ll write better stories faster and with less frustration. What’s not to love about that?

Do you outline your books? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Megan BarnhardMegan Barnhard is a writing coach for inspired entrepreneurs and conscious creatives who want to make an impact with their words. In her 12-year career as a coach, she’s helped hundreds of writers tame the writing process and share their stories in books, blogs, websites, and essays.

If you’re interested in more ideas for making outlining easier and more effective, check out Megan’s latest book, Recipe for Outlining: A Fun & Flexible Guide for Planning Your Novel. You can follow Megan and get her weekly (live!) writing tips on Facebook: @MeganBarnhardWriting. She also blogs about the writing process for authors and bloggers at MeghanBarnhard.com/blog.

 

[Wall with colourful notes and images photo courtesy Jo Szczepanska and Unsplash. Arrow and feet photo courtesy Jon Tyson and Unsplash. Convertible photo courtesy Clem Onojeghuo and Unsplash. Mountain sunset photo courtesy Eberhard Grossgasteiger and Unsplash. Road line photo courtesy Gautier Salles and Unsplash.]

How To Be A Prolific Writer With Bec Evans From Prolifiko

Why is being prolific so important for long-term success as a writer? And how can you develop your own creative process so you can be more prolific? I discuss these topics and more with Bec Evans from Prolifiko in today's interview.

prolific writer bec evansIn the intro, I talk about exciting news out of Frankfurt Book Fair as Apple tells publishers to “be ready” as it prepares to roll out its new audiobook platform [The Bookseller].

Frankfurt's first audiobook conference also included a discussion on smart speakers, streaming and subscription models [Publishing Perspectives]. Plus, Kobo has expanded audio support to CarPlay [Engadget].

Plus, having fun with creativity through flash fiction, my own audio coaching, and giggling about Banksy's shredded artwork. Let's not take ourselves so seriously!

Plus, two useful webinars:

draft2digital

Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn

Bec EvansBec Evans is a writer, a startup founder and an ex-bookseller with a career in publishing and running a writing retreat center. She co-founded Prolifiko, a digital coach for writing that helps people who want to write, start, and finish their projects.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or your favorite podcatcher, watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Seeing patterns of behaviour in writers
  • Why being prolific does not equal poor quality
  • How being a prolific writer serves improving your writing skill
  • The benefits of prolificacy for creating a large back list
  • Practical tips for being more prolific
  • The importance of systems, support and place when creating a writing habit
  • Mindset issues around being prolific
  • Why writing is like physical fitness
  • Finding what works for you to form a writing habit, rather than following others’ rules which might not fit

You can find Bec Evans at Prolifiko.com and on Twitter @beprolifiko

Transcript of Interview with Bec Evans

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I'm here with Bec Evans. Hi, Bec.

Bec: Hi, Joanna.

Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.

Bec is a writer, a startup founder and an ex-bookseller with a career in publishing and running a writing retreat center. She co-founded Prolifiko, a digital coach for writing that helps people who want to write, start, and finish their projects which we're talking about today.

Before we get into the details, tells us a bit more about how you got into writing and also working with writers.

Bec: You could say it's like a childhood ambition from the first time I held a book in my little jammy hands, and I think the whole of my adult career has been spent working with writers.

As you said, being a book seller, getting into publishing, and doing pretty much every job in publishing, the last was working in innovation, so on the technology side of things. But I also worked directly with writers.

When I used to run a writers' retreat center, people would come on courses and that's what I really enjoy and that's what I do now at Prolifiko is work directly with writers and at scale.

Joanna: And it's so interesting because when I think about those writers' retreats, I guess just a question, what did you notice about writers that made you want to kind of get into the sort of helping writers be more prolific?

Were you looking at them going, ‘Why do they have this problem?'

Bec: Yes. I was writing myself, and I have written for…again it feels like my whole life, but it was very much as a hobby. And what was fascinating is coming into contact with writers every single day, you start to see patterns of behavior.

Whether that's around procrastination or the way people really struggle to find time for writing and find a place for it in their life.

The retreat center is amazing. It's just heavenly and a beautiful place in the world, and it's a very, very inspiring place to be. And I found that some writers could literally only write when they came there.

So when you work there for a few years you'd find people would come back and go, ‘I haven't written a word since I was here last year.' And you kind of think, ‘Well, you'll never gonna finish your novel like that.'

But it was very much that I had the same problem finding time in my life to write that so many of them did. And I got to learn from the really successful ones, the guests who would come in and give talks and the tutors who would teach each week. You just picked up so much advice.

Joanna: Tell people which retreat center that was because there's so many.

Bec: There are. So it's for Arvon and it was the Lumb Bank one.

Arvon I think was the first retreat center. It's celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and they have three retreat centers around the country. And this one was Ted Hughes's old house, so it's up in West Yorkshire on a beautiful steep-sided valley.

Joanna: I've heard about Arvon. I think people are gonna have a look at that.

Let's talk about being prolific. I want you to first ask what is your definition of prolific, because I think people do have kind of different ideas?

And why is it important do you think for authors who particularly want to make a living?

Bec: Absolutely. So what I'll start with is, is the most literal definition of prolific which is just producing a lot.

I think that's an important definition because people make a judgment that being prolific is about being low quality, and I think research has absolutely turned that on the head. And there's two kinds of reasons for that.

The first is the sense of deliberate practice. If you want to get good at something, you have to practice, you have to work at it, and being prolific is a route to that means. So you carry on writing and producing a lot.

And the second reason is that you are also the worst judge of your own ideas. You don't know which ones are going to work. So you have to have several. There's no point in working on a single masterpiece throughout your life because it might not work out.

The more you produce, the more feedback you get whether that's from your audience, your readers. And then going back til you become better, so you get to understand what works. We need to stop being snobby about being prolific and help people find what that means for them in their own lives.

Joanna: I'm glad you said that. We're both British obviously, and I do find there's a little bit of snobbery in Britain whereas I think the Americans relax a bit more about being prolific.

I'm thinking about this in terms of someone like Enid Blyton would be someone who's incredibly prolific, Charles Dickens obviously hugely prolific.

And then I was thinking about Picasso who I always use as this example. Over 50,000 pieces of art Picasso created in his lifetime, some of which if you go to the museums are really pretty bad and then a few of them are just world-famous.

When he died he was worth $500 million, which when he died was obviously a lot more than it is now. Picasso created a lot, some of which was amazing artwork.

Is that the kind of thing you were talking about really?

Bec: Absolutely, and I think Picasso is a really good example of that because it was almost like he did so many sketches for each finished piece. It was like that got him to get to the final piece. So he was being prolific within one piece of artwork even.

But over his whole lifetime, I bet you he didn't know when he was making them what was necessarily the good stuff or the bad stuff. He had to get through all of that.

Joanna: And what annoys me I think about the writing world is that such a big deal is made out of the debut.

Picasso, if you look at what he did in his early years compared to what he did later on, I mean, obviously you get better.

You've been in publishing a long time and involved with books. What is that about?

Bec: I don't think I could give an answer to that.

Actually I bet you it's the equivalent of when we get a new idea. We fall in love with the new and it's very, particularly these writers, to suddenly forget about something we're working on and go for the easy new thing that's exciting.

I think it's just the saying with authors that they focus on the front list, the new, and put all the energy behind that.

But actually if you're talking about writers who are trying to make a living, who are trying to make a career, they need a back list. They need to have a body of work, and it's only through that body of work that they become the writer they're meant to be.

Joanna: And again, it's not all about money. It's also about craft. I think you get better as a craft person over time with practice. But also the authors we see in the richest author list, they generally are Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, all those who've written a lot of books.

Bec: Absolutely yes.

Joanna: Fantastic. Okay, so what if authors want to be more prolific?

What are some of the key practical things that they need to do to get into that place?

Bec: I think the first thing they mention, you asked me what my definition of prolific is and it's like an author needs to figure out what that means for them as well. So for some of them it will be about learning their craft and becoming better writers.

For others it will be about creating a body of work, and for others it will be about finding an audience and finding out what that audience likes, so they might like to experiment with different types of genres or styles. So I think that's the first place someone would need to start.

And then if they want to be prolific, if they have to prioritize it within their life, and it really goes back to those basics, that if you want to turn that dream into reality, it needs to take place in your life.

There are different ways of approaching this. There's a analogies around choosing not to do things. So stopping doing other things so you can find space for writing, and there's that classic the four burners. Which one are you going to turn off to becomes successful?

And the other approach is just around scheduling and fitting writing into your life. So if you know you want to create a body of work and it's important for you to work at it, you need to make time for it.

Joanna: And then what about place because I find when I'm creating first draft material, say that kind of real creative brain stuff, I can't be at this desk where I'm talking to you now. This is my email desk, my podcasting desk, my accounting desk, so I have to go somewhere else.

And you mentioned the retreat center, but I didn't think that's practical to be prolific because this costs money unless you get some kind of fellowship, right?

How can people do the place thing? Is that important?

Bec: I think it is. When I talk about writing productivity and all the writers I've worked with, it's not about necessarily finding a habit. It's about building a system. So having support structures around you is really, really important, and place is one of those.

It's often people find that they procrastinate when they're at their work desk. They get distracted if they're at home.

I just do it as almost a thought experiment. What's the equivalent of finding your kind of writers' retreat center? So for some people it could be going to a cafe. I know myself I rent a sort of a desk…a hot-desking place, and it's just… It's got Wi-Fi, it's got other people around, but it's not got any of my stuff. And it means for the time I've blocked I can just concentrate on the task I need to do.

But I get people to quite literally brainstorm ideas about how they can remove distractions, how they can find that place and then commit to going to it.

Joanna: I even think with being in your house…and there's nothing wrong with it if people are choosing to do that, but I find when I'm here I'm like, ‘Oh, I've got to put the washing on, I need to unload the dishwasher.' And that forms into sort of that procrastination thing.

I know some people struggle with this, how do people justify it or explain to their family that they have to leave the house and maybe hire a co-working space like I do.

When I'm dictating, I will hire it and it costs me like $10 an hour, or when I go to the cafe every morning I'm buying at least a coffee an hour, so it does cost money.

How do people justify that to their family especially if they're not making money right now?

Bec: It goes back to that finding the priority within your life. If you make that intention and you set it as a priority, you do need to get buy-in from other people and actually it's going to be really hard to work on even one novel, let alone a series of novels, if you haven't got the support structures and the people around you.

So it is actually really hard to kind of tell people and almost negotiate it. I've had to do that myself. I run a business with my husband, so when I need to find time to write it's almost like you have to negotiate and build that in. And I think it's a barrier that stops people.

So they do have to prioritize it in their own life and then talk to people about it. And it's literally it's things like putting it in your calendar, seeing it, treating it like any other appointment gives it that credibility.

And I think when people pay for writing, it does help them commit. So whether it is a cup of coffee, which is not cheap, or if you are renting a room you're not gonna faff around in that time. You really get down to it. So actually I find paying small amounts is a really good way to hold people to accounts.

Joanna: Just on that co-working space, I haven't joined one because I only do that when I'm dictating a first draft, and then I will edit at the cafe and sometimes write at the cafe. So I just book ad hoc and that costs a bit more for ad hoc hours, but I know that I don't need it for more than a couple of hours every day.

So I think for people listening, I agree with you, when I pay for that time sometimes I'm like, ‘Oh, I really don't feel like writing. But I'm gonna go because I booked, and I paid for it.'

And when I get there I'll always end up writing a few thousand words.

Bec: You always do. It's like you don't wait for the muse, particularly if you're trying to fit it in, you show up each time. And it's not always gonna go to plan, but that showing up is part of that process.

Joanna: Are there some mindset issues that might also come into play around prolific?

Bec: Absolutely. I think of mindset in a couple of ways because it's about the understanding your own mind, really practically in terms of how your brain works and your psychology, and then mindset in the sense of almost having an intention.

You start with that intention to write, and then I would look very closely at setting sort of your ambitions, making quite concrete goals, and that gives you something to aim for.

And then understanding how your mind works. So if you just look at the newest sites of your brain and your brain energy, you need to be well-rested. You do need to be fed.

Creative thinking, writing, those higher-order functions are incredibly draining, so you need to figure out when is a good time for you to do it and be prepared to do it.

It's no good just saying, ‘I'm going to get up at 5:00 a.m.,' because actually might be at your tardiest. It might not be the best for you. So you need to figure out what your own psychology is, what your own strengths are and then really play to those.

Joanna: I like that you mentioned that stamina thing. I really think that's important especially when people are starting out, they can't do 2000 words in a session. And people are like, ‘Oh, I'm such a failure because you only got 300 words.'

But as you say, it's very taxing. And I think it's a bit like any kind of fitness. You have to work up to these bigger writing sessions if that's how you're going to do it.

The thought of going to a retreat for me is quite scary because with my writing when I'm doing first draft, I probably can only do two and half hours of that really intense work and then I go and do other things. So being forced into a place for a whole week will probably kill me.

But that stamina, is that something you've noticed as well?

Bec: Definitely. I think the analogy with exercise is really important because it's about building up that stamina.

As you become a more regular writer, it does get easy. I know when I started cycling to work in London, I had to go up this very steep hill. And I remember after a couple of months just thinking like why isn't this getting easier? But the whole point is it is meant to be hard. I was getting much, much fitter but I was always working at my limit, and I think that's what you do as writers.

When you first start it can just be a few words, but if you keep turning up increases each time, it doesn't make it easier to do because sometimes those words are always going to be hard. And the second book is going to be as hard as the first book but that's because you are getting better. It's about that deliberate practice, that training and working for it.

Joanna: I'm glad you said that because it does feel that I've just literally today sent off ‘Valley of Dry Bones' which is my 29th book or something to my formatter. And I was like, ‘How does it not get easier?' But you're right. And that's a really good point. I never thought about it that way.

It's because we're always pushing ourselves to the edge so that we can keep improving.

Bec: Yeah, because if it's not hard then you might not be working hard enough. There's always that little bit and I think that's really important around when you set goals. They have to be almost at the edge of what's possible, but then you have to kind of break stuff down to make it much, much smaller so you can achieve it.

So again, this is where psychology really comes in. Because a lot of people want to write, and then they set an ambition that this is the year I will write my novel and they start doing something and then within a week or two it's traditional new year's resolution territory. They give up. They get overwhelmed it's not working.

But what you need to do is have that goal but then approach it in very, very small, achievable steps. Reflect on how you're doing, reward yourself for what you're doing so you're able to keep going, keep that stamina.

Joanna: I think one of the pros and cons of the writing every day thing. First of all, I mean, when I'm doing my first draft binge writing. I'm kind of a binge writer. I do try and write every day because…or at least five days a week because I won't actually get that first draft done. And then the editing becomes easier once you have something to edit.

But we've had Michaelbrent Collings on the show talking about depression and then the healthy writer as well. Dan Holloway writes about how if you have certain mental health conditions, sometimes you can't write or some people have something happen in life, moving or death in the family, and then they feel guilty that they can't write every day.

I just hate this idea of guilt being associated with writing. So what are your tips I guess for getting rid of that guilt, but it's a really difficult balance.

You want to not let yourself off the hook too much but be gentle and then also get back on track.

What are your thoughts around those things?

Bec: I'm so glad you talked about daily writing because I'm going to tackle that first, because I think there's a real dogma around this and I think it leads to people making unhealthy comparisons. Whenever you go into Medium or blogs and people kind of talk about the best way to write to get up like 5:00 a.m. and do it like this.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing, so you need to stop comparing yourself. It's really, really important.

However, when we look at all the research around writing productivity, it shows that writing daily is the most productive. In almost, and it's quite frightening…So it was Doctor Robert Boise back in the 1990s where he compared binge writers with daily writers, and daily writers outperformed every level.

Joanna: Oh, no. I'm a binge writer.

Bec: No, I don't think you are. I think you're a different type of binge writer. I'll talk about his definition. So his binge writers are people who leave it to the last minute and it's done in a state of panic.

Joanna: Oh, right. No, that's not me.

Bec: That's not you at all. What's the word where you kinda just throw it all down, just kinda get it out?

Joanna: I think maybe I'm like a project-by-project writer.

Bec: Yes, but it's kind of like burst writing, isn't it? It's kind of like you've got to get it down and then you find the shape and then you've got something to work with.

He compared the scheduling side of binging, and binge writers were found to also suffer more from depression and anxiety and fear of judgement a huge amount more than the daily writers. But I feel that his research, while it's still valid in knowing that daily writing is very, very beneficial, it's almost impossible for many people, particularly those starting out.

So don't compare yourself around that.

What I have found is that the most important thing and the thing that keeps people feeling happy with their writing is figuring out their own system. And I think that looks different for everybody, that there's really good research out there on productivity and forming habits and accountability and keeping going and building the resilience, but it is different for everybody.

I would say taking time to reflect on what works for you is probably the best way to approach it. And for people who have lost their place in the novel, who are not on track at all and are feeling really bad about it, go back to simple psychology and neuroscience.

Set very small steps, tiny, tiny things, and then do it and then feel good and reward yourself, and then it's easier to turn up the next time. And what you do over time is you crank it up.

Some of the research coming out of Stanford, they would say something like sit down with your notebook for five minutes, don't even write anything, and it's like, ‘Oh, you've done it.' So the next time it would be, ‘Well, write something,' or, ‘What can you write?' And you just build it up over time.

Joanna: I like that. And this is such an important topic right now in the indie community particularly where the pressure on rapid release publishing has become a bit of a mantra, and yet at the same time we're seeing burnout amongst authors.

Everyone has to manage this themselves, because I do have friends who very happily can write for 8 to 10 hours a day, like actually write 10,000 words a day.

That's not me. I write a couple of books a year, and it's hilarious because I get emails from traditionally-published authors saying, ‘Oh, how do you manage to be so prolific?' The comparison I just think is inevitable, isn't it?

But it's such an individual thing but I guess you've also got to look at your goals. Because then you say if you take five years to write one book, you can't expect to make a living unless it really is something that publishers will pay a lot of money for.

Bec: Oh, definitely.

Joanna: It's very difficult.

I'm really interested because you've taken a lot of this research and you've created this Prolifiko tool.

Tell us a bit more about it. Why did you do that and what does it do?

Bec: It came directly from my experience working in the writers' center. I was spending all that time with writers and seeing what they struggled with. I was obsessively tracking things on my iPhone. When you get loads of apps and you do your exercise and your steps and it could be different health measures, and I just thought why isn't there a Fitbit for writing?

There is loads of technology that helps people improve their habits and their behavior. What would that look like for a creative practice? Is that even possible for a creative practice?

And that's when I just really started to dig into the psychology of behavior change and what habits and writing routines look like. And then over the last few years, it was just building up what Prolifiko looked like, and what it is simply is a digital coach for writing.

It helps people set goals, break that down into small steps and then track their progress against them. And it's very much about self-reflection.

No one can do the work for you, but you need to figure out for you what actually works and look at the times you are most productive, the times you feel happiest with your writing, and then try to build that more into your own writing system.

Joanna: I find on the one hand, I'm really fascinated by it. On the other hand, I feel the resistance and I feel people listening, feeling like resisting this because it's kind of big data and analysis and I just feel the two sides could be difficult for some people.

How can that kind of data about our behavior help us create for the long term?

Bec: I think you're absolutely right. It's not for everybody.

A lot of writers keep journals, and I think that's a really good self-reflective practice which also builds in a lot of that learning. And I think people doing morning pages also does that. So there are lots of different approaches.

But data is anything that's countable or measurable, so it could be as much as going to a writing group and seeing what your friends in the writing group like about your writing. That is data in the sense.

In the same way that having download figures on an e-book, having click-through rates on your blog, those are forms of data that help people figure out what's working and then they have to kind of figure out why it's working.

So if you apply that to a creative practice, people often start off setting too big a goals, being too ambitious, and then what they learn is to break it down to a level where they can start to achieve it. And then there is the good stuff around habits and reward kicks in and it keeps them going.

They could just literally look back. Some people like to track words. Some people like to track time spent. Others just like to track how they felt about it, how it went, was it good? And other people just like to look at, ‘Do I write better in the morning or the evening? Can I do more at a certain time of the day?'

There's lots of different processes involved in writing and not all of it is that very creative first draft. So some people figure out that they are too tired to write in the evening but it's really good for editing, it's really good for doing interviews, it's really good for doing their planning or their research.

They can do a few google searches. They can figure out stuff for their work, a time that's not necessarily their peak writing time. But it's up to the individual to use the data that's available to them.

Joanna: I think you're right, and you've seen lots of this data now and you've had articles about this.

What's one of the surprising things that has come out of this that maybe you didn't realize that would happen or some author who said, ‘Well, I used this thing and I discovered this.'

Bec: That's such a good question. I'm so geeky about data. I'm always really interested in how people do that. But the thing with Prolifiko is that the data is the users'.

We don't do a huge amount with it because it's their data. What we do is we run a lot of surveys, and we do surveys with people over longitudinal studies. It's about how levels of happiness and satisfaction change over the lifetime of an author.

We did one study looking at academics and when they start that's when they're under the most pressure, and they feel most stressed, and they have the least satisfaction, and they also have no systems in place to support them.

And the longer people write, the easier it gets and the more likely they are to find systems and have certainty about what works for them. So there is also something about that keeping going.

So anything you can do at the beginning or at the difficult times is what's going to keep you going in the long term. And literally the people who use Prolifiko who achieve their goals, who submit stuff, that's when they start…things start really happening for them.

I think every writer needs to figure out what's going to keep them on track and almost sort of…I was going to say ruthlessly exploited, but it's literally like that. If you know that you need to go to a place or treat yourself with cake or whatever it is, just use that.

Joanna: I agree with you. I recently did a video on kind of creative routine. And even though I do a lot of research all over the world, I need boredom and routine and normal habits and plain food in order to actually get my work done.

Then once I'm finished then I'll go away again and fill up the creative well. But I think you're really right.

Once you nail your process and your place and your habits, then it becomes much easier at least to feel like you have a way to do it. Even if the writing won't become easier.

Bec: It will always be hard, so find your enjoyment in it. Find the pleasure in it.

You don't need to be masochistic about it. Actually the one thing I have found with writers is they don't reward themselves enough, and when they finish, they don't celebrate. They already start worrying about the next thing.

I would say that would be my call to arms with writers. Figure out your system. Figure out what works for you but find some pleasure in that even if it is just the finishing.

Joanna: Today, as I've said, I've handed this final manuscript to my formatter for the print version, and yet I celebrated at the end of the first draft. But then there's a hell of a lot after the end of the end. The first draft to me feels like the biggest achievement.

And then at this point, I've just been divvying the tiny, tiny little additions of little changes from a proof reader, and that to me is really annoying work but it has to be done. So now I'm like, ‘Okay, as far as I'm concerned I'll just upload all my files and it's done.'

I know what you mean about not celebrating enough, but it feels like to me that there are so many different points in the writing and publishing process particularly that it's hard to know when to celebrate especially as indie. We don't really do book launches, you know what I mean?

The more prolific you become, the less getting the book into the world becomes exciting.

Bec: Yes. I would say so. If we go back a little bit to around goal setting. So achieving your goal to finish your book is a whole series of milestones. So from that kind of doing the research, having the idea, doing the first draft, editing the first draft, editing, editing, editing, editing, you know, submitting it.

As an indie author it would be getting a cover done, getting it type set, getting someone to proofread it for you. Every single one of those is a milestone and they're all a different activity so they require different energies and processes.

And I think they require different rewards, because actually you might feel happier when you press…I'm just trying to think. Is it when you send it off when it is type set? Is it when you make the cover?

Joanna: I like holding it in my hand. When the print book arrives I'll be like, ‘Okay, this is cool.' And actually I'm doing a hardback for the first time, so that's actually going to be quite a big deal, like getting my first hardback is quite cool.

I know what you mean, and I agree with you. People really need to sort that out. But just before we finish up, because we're almost out of time, you actually have a book coming out next year which I'm quite excited about.

“How to Have a Happy Hustle”, which is interesting because you've said there about celebration. You run a company with your husband which my ears picked up at, because I do too.

What's in that book and does it include some of your learnings about all this stuff?

Bec: Oh, absolutely. For one thing it's my first book. I've been writing forever but this is my first with a publisher. It's being published by Icon in the spring next year, and I too submitted it this morning. So I was up at 5:00 a.m. proofreading and doing that final spellcheck before I was nervously sending send on the email. I am going to celebrate this evening.

“How to Have a Happy Hustle” is all about how we can celebrate the small things in life to help us achieve the really big goals that we have. And it was very much about putting together a lot of the psychology of making ideas happen.

It was using my work and innovation about how people can work with other people to make ideas happen, how they can brainstorm, how they contest, and how they can enjoy that process and take it in really, really small steps, finding the time so they can get to the end rather than getting overwhelmed and thinking, ‘Well, I'm never going to launch a side hustle. I'm never gonna have a startup or a side business or write a book or do the things that people want to.'

Acknowledging all the time that it's a hustle. It's hard work. You gotta work at it. But I think you can find the happy in your hustle. I really do.

Joanna: I do too. And you're so right about these small goals because I think there still is this myth about…and of course you're writing your first book, but you've been in publishing long enough to know that that book won't come out and you won't suddenly be a multimillionaire overnight.

That seems to be still this myth, and then people feel so disappointed. I don't think I've ever met authors as disappointed as people whose first book has just kind of arrived when they still got this myth of overnight success.

Whereas actually what you're saying, I think, is that if you celebrate the small things along the way, then you're not hanging everything on this one big dream that may or may not happen. And of course it happens to some people. Don't get upset, listeners.

Celebrating along the way makes the process and the journey much better, right?

Bec: I think you're right. It's enjoying the process and finding the pleasure in that process because actually that's the only bit you could control.

You can't control what people think of your book at the end. You just can't. There's so many factors at play from the publisher, the platform, the cover, just everything. And there's nothing you can do or very little you can do.

So you have to focus on what you can control and that is the process of how you get there. And it goes a little bit back to the whole prolific thing. If you enjoy the process, you're more likely to do it again.

And then who knows, it might be the second one or the third one or actually when you've done three you've suddenly got, you know, spines out. You're on a book shelf. You've suddenly got a portfolio, you have a back list. That's when things start to take off.

Joanna: Or you have 29 and it's all just lots of little small streams of income that all add up. I think you're right.

So tell us where people can find you and Prolifiko online.

Bec: We are Prolifiko, so it's P-R-O-L-I-F-I-K-O, so it's with a K rather than a C. So prolifiko.com. We are on Facebook and Twitter. We have a blog and you can find us all over the place on the internet.

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Bec. That was great.

Bec: It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

How To Be A Prolific Writer With Bec Evans From Prolifiko

Why is being prolific so important for long-term success as a writer? And how can you develop your own creative process so you can be more prolific? I discuss these topics and more with Bec Evans from Prolifiko in today's interview.

prolific writer bec evansIn the intro, I talk about exciting news out of Frankfurt Book Fair as Apple tells publishers to “be ready” as it prepares to roll out its new audiobook platform [The Bookseller].

Frankfurt's first audiobook conference also included a discussion on smart speakers, streaming and subscription models [Publishing Perspectives]. Plus, Kobo has expanded audio support to CarPlay [Engadget].

Plus, having fun with creativity through flash fiction, my own audio coaching, and giggling about Banksy's shredded artwork. Let's not take ourselves so seriously!

Plus, two useful webinars:

draft2digital

Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn

Bec EvansBec Evans is a writer, a startup founder and an ex-bookseller with a career in publishing and running a writing retreat center. She co-founded Prolifiko, a digital coach for writing that helps people who want to write, start, and finish their projects.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or your favorite podcatcher, watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Seeing patterns of behaviour in writers
  • Why being prolific does not equal poor quality
  • How being a prolific writer serves improving your writing skill
  • The benefits of prolificacy for creating a large back list
  • Practical tips for being more prolific
  • The importance of systems, support and place when creating a writing habit
  • Mindset issues around being prolific
  • Why writing is like physical fitness
  • Finding what works for you to form a writing habit, rather than following others’ rules which might not fit

You can find Bec Evans at Prolifiko.com and on Twitter @beprolifiko

Transcript of Interview with Bec Evans

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I'm here with Bec Evans. Hi, Bec.

Bec: Hi, Joanna.

Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.

Bec is a writer, a startup founder and an ex-bookseller with a career in publishing and running a writing retreat center. She co-founded Prolifiko, a digital coach for writing that helps people who want to write, start, and finish their projects which we're talking about today.

Before we get into the details, tells us a bit more about how you got into writing and also working with writers.

Bec: You could say it's like a childhood ambition from the first time I held a book in my little jammy hands, and I think the whole of my adult career has been spent working with writers.

As you said, being a book seller, getting into publishing, and doing pretty much every job in publishing, the last was working in innovation, so on the technology side of things. But I also worked directly with writers.

When I used to run a writers' retreat center, people would come on courses and that's what I really enjoy and that's what I do now at Prolifiko is work directly with writers and at scale.

Joanna: And it's so interesting because when I think about those writers' retreats, I guess just a question, what did you notice about writers that made you want to kind of get into the sort of helping writers be more prolific?

Were you looking at them going, ‘Why do they have this problem?'

Bec: Yes. I was writing myself, and I have written for…again it feels like my whole life, but it was very much as a hobby. And what was fascinating is coming into contact with writers every single day, you start to see patterns of behavior.

Whether that's around procrastination or the way people really struggle to find time for writing and find a place for it in their life.

The retreat center is amazing. It's just heavenly and a beautiful place in the world, and it's a very, very inspiring place to be. And I found that some writers could literally only write when they came there.

So when you work there for a few years you'd find people would come back and go, ‘I haven't written a word since I was here last year.' And you kind of think, ‘Well, you'll never gonna finish your novel like that.'

But it was very much that I had the same problem finding time in my life to write that so many of them did. And I got to learn from the really successful ones, the guests who would come in and give talks and the tutors who would teach each week. You just picked up so much advice.

Joanna: Tell people which retreat center that was because there's so many.

Bec: There are. So it's for Arvon and it was the Lumb Bank one.

Arvon I think was the first retreat center. It's celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and they have three retreat centers around the country. And this one was Ted Hughes's old house, so it's up in West Yorkshire on a beautiful steep-sided valley.

Joanna: I've heard about Arvon. I think people are gonna have a look at that.

Let's talk about being prolific. I want you to first ask what is your definition of prolific, because I think people do have kind of different ideas?

And why is it important do you think for authors who particularly want to make a living?

Bec: Absolutely. So what I'll start with is, is the most literal definition of prolific which is just producing a lot.

I think that's an important definition because people make a judgment that being prolific is about being low quality, and I think research has absolutely turned that on the head. And there's two kinds of reasons for that.

The first is the sense of deliberate practice. If you want to get good at something, you have to practice, you have to work at it, and being prolific is a route to that means. So you carry on writing and producing a lot.

And the second reason is that you are also the worst judge of your own ideas. You don't know which ones are going to work. So you have to have several. There's no point in working on a single masterpiece throughout your life because it might not work out.

The more you produce, the more feedback you get whether that's from your audience, your readers. And then going back til you become better, so you get to understand what works. We need to stop being snobby about being prolific and help people find what that means for them in their own lives.

Joanna: I'm glad you said that. We're both British obviously, and I do find there's a little bit of snobbery in Britain whereas I think the Americans relax a bit more about being prolific.

I'm thinking about this in terms of someone like Enid Blyton would be someone who's incredibly prolific, Charles Dickens obviously hugely prolific.

And then I was thinking about Picasso who I always use as this example. Over 50,000 pieces of art Picasso created in his lifetime, some of which if you go to the museums are really pretty bad and then a few of them are just world-famous.

When he died he was worth $500 million, which when he died was obviously a lot more than it is now. Picasso created a lot, some of which was amazing artwork.

Is that the kind of thing you were talking about really?

Bec: Absolutely, and I think Picasso is a really good example of that because it was almost like he did so many sketches for each finished piece. It was like that got him to get to the final piece. So he was being prolific within one piece of artwork even.

But over his whole lifetime, I bet you he didn't know when he was making them what was necessarily the good stuff or the bad stuff. He had to get through all of that.

Joanna: And what annoys me I think about the writing world is that such a big deal is made out of the debut.

Picasso, if you look at what he did in his early years compared to what he did later on, I mean, obviously you get better.

You've been in publishing a long time and involved with books. What is that about?

Bec: I don't think I could give an answer to that.

Actually I bet you it's the equivalent of when we get a new idea. We fall in love with the new and it's very, particularly these writers, to suddenly forget about something we're working on and go for the easy new thing that's exciting.

I think it's just the saying with authors that they focus on the front list, the new, and put all the energy behind that.

But actually if you're talking about writers who are trying to make a living, who are trying to make a career, they need a back list. They need to have a body of work, and it's only through that body of work that they become the writer they're meant to be.

Joanna: And again, it's not all about money. It's also about craft. I think you get better as a craft person over time with practice. But also the authors we see in the richest author list, they generally are Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, all those who've written a lot of books.

Bec: Absolutely yes.

Joanna: Fantastic. Okay, so what if authors want to be more prolific?

What are some of the key practical things that they need to do to get into that place?

Bec: I think the first thing they mention, you asked me what my definition of prolific is and it's like an author needs to figure out what that means for them as well. So for some of them it will be about learning their craft and becoming better writers.

For others it will be about creating a body of work, and for others it will be about finding an audience and finding out what that audience likes, so they might like to experiment with different types of genres or styles. So I think that's the first place someone would need to start.

And then if they want to be prolific, if they have to prioritize it within their life, and it really goes back to those basics, that if you want to turn that dream into reality, it needs to take place in your life.

There are different ways of approaching this. There's a analogies around choosing not to do things. So stopping doing other things so you can find space for writing, and there's that classic the four burners. Which one are you going to turn off to becomes successful?

And the other approach is just around scheduling and fitting writing into your life. So if you know you want to create a body of work and it's important for you to work at it, you need to make time for it.

Joanna: And then what about place because I find when I'm creating first draft material, say that kind of real creative brain stuff, I can't be at this desk where I'm talking to you now. This is my email desk, my podcasting desk, my accounting desk, so I have to go somewhere else.

And you mentioned the retreat center, but I didn't think that's practical to be prolific because this costs money unless you get some kind of fellowship, right?

How can people do the place thing? Is that important?

Bec: I think it is. When I talk about writing productivity and all the writers I've worked with, it's not about necessarily finding a habit. It's about building a system. So having support structures around you is really, really important, and place is one of those.

It's often people find that they procrastinate when they're at their work desk. They get distracted if they're at home.

I just do it as almost a thought experiment. What's the equivalent of finding your kind of writers' retreat center? So for some people it could be going to a cafe. I know myself I rent a sort of a desk…a hot-desking place, and it's just… It's got Wi-Fi, it's got other people around, but it's not got any of my stuff. And it means for the time I've blocked I can just concentrate on the task I need to do.

But I get people to quite literally brainstorm ideas about how they can remove distractions, how they can find that place and then commit to going to it.

Joanna: I even think with being in your house…and there's nothing wrong with it if people are choosing to do that, but I find when I'm here I'm like, ‘Oh, I've got to put the washing on, I need to unload the dishwasher.' And that forms into sort of that procrastination thing.

I know some people struggle with this, how do people justify it or explain to their family that they have to leave the house and maybe hire a co-working space like I do.

When I'm dictating, I will hire it and it costs me like $10 an hour, or when I go to the cafe every morning I'm buying at least a coffee an hour, so it does cost money.

How do people justify that to their family especially if they're not making money right now?

Bec: It goes back to that finding the priority within your life. If you make that intention and you set it as a priority, you do need to get buy-in from other people and actually it's going to be really hard to work on even one novel, let alone a series of novels, if you haven't got the support structures and the people around you.

So it is actually really hard to kind of tell people and almost negotiate it. I've had to do that myself. I run a business with my husband, so when I need to find time to write it's almost like you have to negotiate and build that in. And I think it's a barrier that stops people.

So they do have to prioritize it in their own life and then talk to people about it. And it's literally it's things like putting it in your calendar, seeing it, treating it like any other appointment gives it that credibility.

And I think when people pay for writing, it does help them commit. So whether it is a cup of coffee, which is not cheap, or if you are renting a room you're not gonna faff around in that time. You really get down to it. So actually I find paying small amounts is a really good way to hold people to accounts.

Joanna: Just on that co-working space, I haven't joined one because I only do that when I'm dictating a first draft, and then I will edit at the cafe and sometimes write at the cafe. So I just book ad hoc and that costs a bit more for ad hoc hours, but I know that I don't need it for more than a couple of hours every day.

So I think for people listening, I agree with you, when I pay for that time sometimes I'm like, ‘Oh, I really don't feel like writing. But I'm gonna go because I booked, and I paid for it.'

And when I get there I'll always end up writing a few thousand words.

Bec: You always do. It's like you don't wait for the muse, particularly if you're trying to fit it in, you show up each time. And it's not always gonna go to plan, but that showing up is part of that process.

Joanna: Are there some mindset issues that might also come into play around prolific?

Bec: Absolutely. I think of mindset in a couple of ways because it's about the understanding your own mind, really practically in terms of how your brain works and your psychology, and then mindset in the sense of almost having an intention.

You start with that intention to write, and then I would look very closely at setting sort of your ambitions, making quite concrete goals, and that gives you something to aim for.

And then understanding how your mind works. So if you just look at the newest sites of your brain and your brain energy, you need to be well-rested. You do need to be fed.

Creative thinking, writing, those higher-order functions are incredibly draining, so you need to figure out when is a good time for you to do it and be prepared to do it.

It's no good just saying, ‘I'm going to get up at 5:00 a.m.,' because actually might be at your tardiest. It might not be the best for you. So you need to figure out what your own psychology is, what your own strengths are and then really play to those.

Joanna: I like that you mentioned that stamina thing. I really think that's important especially when people are starting out, they can't do 2000 words in a session. And people are like, ‘Oh, I'm such a failure because you only got 300 words.'

But as you say, it's very taxing. And I think it's a bit like any kind of fitness. You have to work up to these bigger writing sessions if that's how you're going to do it.

The thought of going to a retreat for me is quite scary because with my writing when I'm doing first draft, I probably can only do two and half hours of that really intense work and then I go and do other things. So being forced into a place for a whole week will probably kill me.

But that stamina, is that something you've noticed as well?

Bec: Definitely. I think the analogy with exercise is really important because it's about building up that stamina.

As you become a more regular writer, it does get easy. I know when I started cycling to work in London, I had to go up this very steep hill. And I remember after a couple of months just thinking like why isn't this getting easier? But the whole point is it is meant to be hard. I was getting much, much fitter but I was always working at my limit, and I think that's what you do as writers.

When you first start it can just be a few words, but if you keep turning up increases each time, it doesn't make it easier to do because sometimes those words are always going to be hard. And the second book is going to be as hard as the first book but that's because you are getting better. It's about that deliberate practice, that training and working for it.

Joanna: I'm glad you said that because it does feel that I've just literally today sent off ‘Valley of Dry Bones' which is my 29th book or something to my formatter. And I was like, ‘How does it not get easier?' But you're right. And that's a really good point. I never thought about it that way.

It's because we're always pushing ourselves to the edge so that we can keep improving.

Bec: Yeah, because if it's not hard then you might not be working hard enough. There's always that little bit and I think that's really important around when you set goals. They have to be almost at the edge of what's possible, but then you have to kind of break stuff down to make it much, much smaller so you can achieve it.

So again, this is where psychology really comes in. Because a lot of people want to write, and then they set an ambition that this is the year I will write my novel and they start doing something and then within a week or two it's traditional new year's resolution territory. They give up. They get overwhelmed it's not working.

But what you need to do is have that goal but then approach it in very, very small, achievable steps. Reflect on how you're doing, reward yourself for what you're doing so you're able to keep going, keep that stamina.

Joanna: I think one of the pros and cons of the writing every day thing. First of all, I mean, when I'm doing my first draft binge writing. I'm kind of a binge writer. I do try and write every day because…or at least five days a week because I won't actually get that first draft done. And then the editing becomes easier once you have something to edit.

But we've had Michaelbrent Collings on the show talking about depression and then the healthy writer as well. Dan Holloway writes about how if you have certain mental health conditions, sometimes you can't write or some people have something happen in life, moving or death in the family, and then they feel guilty that they can't write every day.

I just hate this idea of guilt being associated with writing. So what are your tips I guess for getting rid of that guilt, but it's a really difficult balance.

You want to not let yourself off the hook too much but be gentle and then also get back on track.

What are your thoughts around those things?

Bec: I'm so glad you talked about daily writing because I'm going to tackle that first, because I think there's a real dogma around this and I think it leads to people making unhealthy comparisons. Whenever you go into Medium or blogs and people kind of talk about the best way to write to get up like 5:00 a.m. and do it like this.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing, so you need to stop comparing yourself. It's really, really important.

However, when we look at all the research around writing productivity, it shows that writing daily is the most productive. In almost, and it's quite frightening…So it was Doctor Robert Boise back in the 1990s where he compared binge writers with daily writers, and daily writers outperformed every level.

Joanna: Oh, no. I'm a binge writer.

Bec: No, I don't think you are. I think you're a different type of binge writer. I'll talk about his definition. So his binge writers are people who leave it to the last minute and it's done in a state of panic.

Joanna: Oh, right. No, that's not me.

Bec: That's not you at all. What's the word where you kinda just throw it all down, just kinda get it out?

Joanna: I think maybe I'm like a project-by-project writer.

Bec: Yes, but it's kind of like burst writing, isn't it? It's kind of like you've got to get it down and then you find the shape and then you've got something to work with.

He compared the scheduling side of binging, and binge writers were found to also suffer more from depression and anxiety and fear of judgement a huge amount more than the daily writers. But I feel that his research, while it's still valid in knowing that daily writing is very, very beneficial, it's almost impossible for many people, particularly those starting out.

So don't compare yourself around that.

What I have found is that the most important thing and the thing that keeps people feeling happy with their writing is figuring out their own system. And I think that looks different for everybody, that there's really good research out there on productivity and forming habits and accountability and keeping going and building the resilience, but it is different for everybody.

I would say taking time to reflect on what works for you is probably the best way to approach it. And for people who have lost their place in the novel, who are not on track at all and are feeling really bad about it, go back to simple psychology and neuroscience.

Set very small steps, tiny, tiny things, and then do it and then feel good and reward yourself, and then it's easier to turn up the next time. And what you do over time is you crank it up.

Some of the research coming out of Stanford, they would say something like sit down with your notebook for five minutes, don't even write anything, and it's like, ‘Oh, you've done it.' So the next time it would be, ‘Well, write something,' or, ‘What can you write?' And you just build it up over time.

Joanna: I like that. And this is such an important topic right now in the indie community particularly where the pressure on rapid release publishing has become a bit of a mantra, and yet at the same time we're seeing burnout amongst authors.

Everyone has to manage this themselves, because I do have friends who very happily can write for 8 to 10 hours a day, like actually write 10,000 words a day.

That's not me. I write a couple of books a year, and it's hilarious because I get emails from traditionally-published authors saying, ‘Oh, how do you manage to be so prolific?' The comparison I just think is inevitable, isn't it?

But it's such an individual thing but I guess you've also got to look at your goals. Because then you say if you take five years to write one book, you can't expect to make a living unless it really is something that publishers will pay a lot of money for.

Bec: Oh, definitely.

Joanna: It's very difficult.

I'm really interested because you've taken a lot of this research and you've created this Prolifiko tool.

Tell us a bit more about it. Why did you do that and what does it do?

Bec: It came directly from my experience working in the writers' center. I was spending all that time with writers and seeing what they struggled with. I was obsessively tracking things on my iPhone. When you get loads of apps and you do your exercise and your steps and it could be different health measures, and I just thought why isn't there a Fitbit for writing?

There is loads of technology that helps people improve their habits and their behavior. What would that look like for a creative practice? Is that even possible for a creative practice?

And that's when I just really started to dig into the psychology of behavior change and what habits and writing routines look like. And then over the last few years, it was just building up what Prolifiko looked like, and what it is simply is a digital coach for writing.

It helps people set goals, break that down into small steps and then track their progress against them. And it's very much about self-reflection.

No one can do the work for you, but you need to figure out for you what actually works and look at the times you are most productive, the times you feel happiest with your writing, and then try to build that more into your own writing system.

Joanna: I find on the one hand, I'm really fascinated by it. On the other hand, I feel the resistance and I feel people listening, feeling like resisting this because it's kind of big data and analysis and I just feel the two sides could be difficult for some people.

How can that kind of data about our behavior help us create for the long term?

Bec: I think you're absolutely right. It's not for everybody.

A lot of writers keep journals, and I think that's a really good self-reflective practice which also builds in a lot of that learning. And I think people doing morning pages also does that. So there are lots of different approaches.

But data is anything that's countable or measurable, so it could be as much as going to a writing group and seeing what your friends in the writing group like about your writing. That is data in the sense.

In the same way that having download figures on an e-book, having click-through rates on your blog, those are forms of data that help people figure out what's working and then they have to kind of figure out why it's working.

So if you apply that to a creative practice, people often start off setting too big a goals, being too ambitious, and then what they learn is to break it down to a level where they can start to achieve it. And then there is the good stuff around habits and reward kicks in and it keeps them going.

They could just literally look back. Some people like to track words. Some people like to track time spent. Others just like to track how they felt about it, how it went, was it good? And other people just like to look at, ‘Do I write better in the morning or the evening? Can I do more at a certain time of the day?'

There's lots of different processes involved in writing and not all of it is that very creative first draft. So some people figure out that they are too tired to write in the evening but it's really good for editing, it's really good for doing interviews, it's really good for doing their planning or their research.

They can do a few google searches. They can figure out stuff for their work, a time that's not necessarily their peak writing time. But it's up to the individual to use the data that's available to them.

Joanna: I think you're right, and you've seen lots of this data now and you've had articles about this.

What's one of the surprising things that has come out of this that maybe you didn't realize that would happen or some author who said, ‘Well, I used this thing and I discovered this.'

Bec: That's such a good question. I'm so geeky about data. I'm always really interested in how people do that. But the thing with Prolifiko is that the data is the users'.

We don't do a huge amount with it because it's their data. What we do is we run a lot of surveys, and we do surveys with people over longitudinal studies. It's about how levels of happiness and satisfaction change over the lifetime of an author.

We did one study looking at academics and when they start that's when they're under the most pressure, and they feel most stressed, and they have the least satisfaction, and they also have no systems in place to support them.

And the longer people write, the easier it gets and the more likely they are to find systems and have certainty about what works for them. So there is also something about that keeping going.

So anything you can do at the beginning or at the difficult times is what's going to keep you going in the long term. And literally the people who use Prolifiko who achieve their goals, who submit stuff, that's when they start…things start really happening for them.

I think every writer needs to figure out what's going to keep them on track and almost sort of…I was going to say ruthlessly exploited, but it's literally like that. If you know that you need to go to a place or treat yourself with cake or whatever it is, just use that.

Joanna: I agree with you. I recently did a video on kind of creative routine. And even though I do a lot of research all over the world, I need boredom and routine and normal habits and plain food in order to actually get my work done.

Then once I'm finished then I'll go away again and fill up the creative well. But I think you're really right.

Once you nail your process and your place and your habits, then it becomes much easier at least to feel like you have a way to do it. Even if the writing won't become easier.

Bec: It will always be hard, so find your enjoyment in it. Find the pleasure in it.

You don't need to be masochistic about it. Actually the one thing I have found with writers is they don't reward themselves enough, and when they finish, they don't celebrate. They already start worrying about the next thing.

I would say that would be my call to arms with writers. Figure out your system. Figure out what works for you but find some pleasure in that even if it is just the finishing.

Joanna: Today, as I've said, I've handed this final manuscript to my formatter for the print version, and yet I celebrated at the end of the first draft. But then there's a hell of a lot after the end of the end. The first draft to me feels like the biggest achievement.

And then at this point, I've just been divvying the tiny, tiny little additions of little changes from a proof reader, and that to me is really annoying work but it has to be done. So now I'm like, ‘Okay, as far as I'm concerned I'll just upload all my files and it's done.'

I know what you mean about not celebrating enough, but it feels like to me that there are so many different points in the writing and publishing process particularly that it's hard to know when to celebrate especially as indie. We don't really do book launches, you know what I mean?

The more prolific you become, the less getting the book into the world becomes exciting.

Bec: Yes. I would say so. If we go back a little bit to around goal setting. So achieving your goal to finish your book is a whole series of milestones. So from that kind of doing the research, having the idea, doing the first draft, editing the first draft, editing, editing, editing, editing, you know, submitting it.

As an indie author it would be getting a cover done, getting it type set, getting someone to proofread it for you. Every single one of those is a milestone and they're all a different activity so they require different energies and processes.

And I think they require different rewards, because actually you might feel happier when you press…I'm just trying to think. Is it when you send it off when it is type set? Is it when you make the cover?

Joanna: I like holding it in my hand. When the print book arrives I'll be like, ‘Okay, this is cool.' And actually I'm doing a hardback for the first time, so that's actually going to be quite a big deal, like getting my first hardback is quite cool.

I know what you mean, and I agree with you. People really need to sort that out. But just before we finish up, because we're almost out of time, you actually have a book coming out next year which I'm quite excited about.

“How to Have a Happy Hustle”, which is interesting because you've said there about celebration. You run a company with your husband which my ears picked up at, because I do too.

What's in that book and does it include some of your learnings about all this stuff?

Bec: Oh, absolutely. For one thing it's my first book. I've been writing forever but this is my first with a publisher. It's being published by Icon in the spring next year, and I too submitted it this morning. So I was up at 5:00 a.m. proofreading and doing that final spellcheck before I was nervously sending send on the email. I am going to celebrate this evening.

“How to Have a Happy Hustle” is all about how we can celebrate the small things in life to help us achieve the really big goals that we have. And it was very much about putting together a lot of the psychology of making ideas happen.

It was using my work and innovation about how people can work with other people to make ideas happen, how they can brainstorm, how they contest, and how they can enjoy that process and take it in really, really small steps, finding the time so they can get to the end rather than getting overwhelmed and thinking, ‘Well, I'm never going to launch a side hustle. I'm never gonna have a startup or a side business or write a book or do the things that people want to.'

Acknowledging all the time that it's a hustle. It's hard work. You gotta work at it. But I think you can find the happy in your hustle. I really do.

Joanna: I do too. And you're so right about these small goals because I think there still is this myth about…and of course you're writing your first book, but you've been in publishing long enough to know that that book won't come out and you won't suddenly be a multimillionaire overnight.

That seems to be still this myth, and then people feel so disappointed. I don't think I've ever met authors as disappointed as people whose first book has just kind of arrived when they still got this myth of overnight success.

Whereas actually what you're saying, I think, is that if you celebrate the small things along the way, then you're not hanging everything on this one big dream that may or may not happen. And of course it happens to some people. Don't get upset, listeners.

Celebrating along the way makes the process and the journey much better, right?

Bec: I think you're right. It's enjoying the process and finding the pleasure in that process because actually that's the only bit you could control.

You can't control what people think of your book at the end. You just can't. There's so many factors at play from the publisher, the platform, the cover, just everything. And there's nothing you can do or very little you can do.

So you have to focus on what you can control and that is the process of how you get there. And it goes a little bit back to the whole prolific thing. If you enjoy the process, you're more likely to do it again.

And then who knows, it might be the second one or the third one or actually when you've done three you've suddenly got, you know, spines out. You're on a book shelf. You've suddenly got a portfolio, you have a back list. That's when things start to take off.

Joanna: Or you have 29 and it's all just lots of little small streams of income that all add up. I think you're right.

So tell us where people can find you and Prolifiko online.

Bec: We are Prolifiko, so it's P-R-O-L-I-F-I-K-O, so it's with a K rather than a C. So prolifiko.com. We are on Facebook and Twitter. We have a blog and you can find us all over the place on the internet.

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Bec. That was great.

Bec: It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

“What Sells More, Fiction Or Non-Fiction? What Should I Write When Starting Out?”

Should you write the book of your heart, or should you write a book for money?

In this video, I give my answer to this much-debated question of the author community. Watch the video below, or here on YouTube. You can also read the transcript below the video.

Hello, Creatives. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I'm talking about a question that's come in from a viewer which is, “What sells more, fiction or non-fiction, and what should I write?”

So the basic question, which I find a difficult one, is what should I write? This is a really deep question and I wanted to tackle it because it's something that comes from two angles. There are always going to be two competing sides of the equation.

The artist writes what they want to write. The artist is inspired by what they love.

The business person is inspired by writing something that is going to earn money.

businessaudibleNow, there is nothing right or wrong about either of these sides. Plenty of people write for money, but, I guess when I became a writer, I had spent 13 years implementing Accounts Payable into large corporates. I had spent 13 years doing a job for the money and when I decided to write I couldn't bear the thought of writing things for money.

Of course, some of my non-fiction is about helping authors, and non-fiction in itself can make money because you can do courses, you can do speaking, you can do multiple streams of income from higher priced products with non-fiction.

But fiction, you can actually make more money in other ways. For a start, if you get into a series which I've talked about before why you make more money writing a series in fiction, if you write fiction you know a reader will find you. And just get so excited and be like, “I love this author.” And they will read through your entire backlist.

So over time, the fiction side can make more money because those books don't age.

valley of dry bonesThe more novels you have, the more stories, a world that readers want to jump into.

For example, my ARKANE series book 10, Valley of Dry Bones, is about to come out, and if people find it at book 10, they may go back and read all the other books, and some people love that series.

So this is the thing, non-fiction readers might not necessarily care about you as an author. They just want an answer to their problem.

With fiction, the reader wants to escape their life and you're offering them a way into this other world. Those readers often become loyal to your brand over time.

So when this question comes up for you, it is usually at one of two different points in your life.

If you haven't written anything yet, seriously, go with your heart.

You need to write the book of your heart. You have to. Why would you do this otherwise?

Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. You write because you can't not write. You love it. You love reading. You love words. You just want to do this, and even if it never makes any money, you're going to do it anyway.

That's where I think we all start, where I certainly started. I wrote the book of my heart, which became Career Change, a non-fiction book about finding work that you love which really reflected my journey at the time. So that was the book of my heart.

Stone of Fire 3DMy first novel, Pentecost, that became Stone of Fire, was a book of my heart and I never really expected much to happen. I certainly never expected to be making considerable income from fiction years later. But this is the point – it's years later.

So the question of, what should I write? What sells more, fiction or non-fiction?

There is no correct answer. The only answer is about you.

What do you love reading? What do you love to write? What do you want to create in the world that is from your heart?

Now, that doesn't mean that later on in your life you might not write things because they will make more money. For example, if you get a publishing deal and the publisher says, “Oh, well. You know, this book didn't sell so well. Maybe you should write this genre,” which I know happens to a lot of authors. Then you make a decision.

How to Make a Living from your Writing 3DOr, for example, I wrote How to Make a Living with Your Writing to share how to make a living with your writing. But it's also a title that means people are interested in buying the book.

So it was partly to help and partly to make some money, and it does both. And so you can definitely do both as you progress as an author, but what I would say is when you're just starting out, please, please write what you love.

For more videos, check out my YouTube channel – The Creative Penn, and please do leave any questions, thoughts or comments below.

“What Sells More, Fiction Or Non-Fiction? What Should I Write When Starting Out?”

Should you write the book of your heart, or should you write a book for money?

In this video, I give my answer to this much-debated question of the author community. Watch the video below, or here on YouTube. You can also read the transcript below the video.

Hello, Creatives. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I'm talking about a question that's come in from a viewer which is, “What sells more, fiction or non-fiction, and what should I write?”

So the basic question, which I find a difficult one, is what should I write? This is a really deep question and I wanted to tackle it because it's something that comes from two angles. There are always going to be two competing sides of the equation.

The artist writes what they want to write. The artist is inspired by what they love.

The business person is inspired by writing something that is going to earn money.

businessaudibleNow, there is nothing right or wrong about either of these sides. Plenty of people write for money, but, I guess when I became a writer, I had spent 13 years implementing Accounts Payable into large corporates. I had spent 13 years doing a job for the money and when I decided to write I couldn't bear the thought of writing things for money.

Of course, some of my non-fiction is about helping authors, and non-fiction in itself can make money because you can do courses, you can do speaking, you can do multiple streams of income from higher priced products with non-fiction.

But fiction, you can actually make more money in other ways. For a start, if you get into a series which I've talked about before why you make more money writing a series in fiction, if you write fiction you know a reader will find you. And just get so excited and be like, “I love this author.” And they will read through your entire backlist.

So over time, the fiction side can make more money because those books don't age.

valley of dry bonesThe more novels you have, the more stories, a world that readers want to jump into.

For example, my ARKANE series book 10, Valley of Dry Bones, is about to come out, and if people find it at book 10, they may go back and read all the other books, and some people love that series.

So this is the thing, non-fiction readers might not necessarily care about you as an author. They just want an answer to their problem.

With fiction, the reader wants to escape their life and you're offering them a way into this other world. Those readers often become loyal to your brand over time.

So when this question comes up for you, it is usually at one of two different points in your life.

If you haven't written anything yet, seriously, go with your heart.

You need to write the book of your heart. You have to. Why would you do this otherwise?

Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. You write because you can't not write. You love it. You love reading. You love words. You just want to do this, and even if it never makes any money, you're going to do it anyway.

That's where I think we all start, where I certainly started. I wrote the book of my heart, which became Career Change, a non-fiction book about finding work that you love which really reflected my journey at the time. So that was the book of my heart.

Stone of Fire 3DMy first novel, Pentecost, that became Stone of Fire, was a book of my heart and I never really expected much to happen. I certainly never expected to be making considerable income from fiction years later. But this is the point – it's years later.

So the question of, what should I write? What sells more, fiction or non-fiction?

There is no correct answer. The only answer is about you.

What do you love reading? What do you love to write? What do you want to create in the world that is from your heart?

Now, that doesn't mean that later on in your life you might not write things because they will make more money. For example, if you get a publishing deal and the publisher says, “Oh, well. You know, this book didn't sell so well. Maybe you should write this genre,” which I know happens to a lot of authors. Then you make a decision.

How to Make a Living from your Writing 3DOr, for example, I wrote How to Make a Living with Your Writing to share how to make a living with your writing. But it's also a title that means people are interested in buying the book.

So it was partly to help and partly to make some money, and it does both. And so you can definitely do both as you progress as an author, but what I would say is when you're just starting out, please, please write what you love.

For more videos, check out my YouTube channel – The Creative Penn, and please do leave any questions, thoughts or comments below.

“What Sells More, Fiction Or Non-Fiction? What Should I Write When Starting Out?”

Should you write the book of your heart, or should you write a book for money?

In this video, I give my answer to this much-debated question of the author community. Watch the video below, or here on YouTube. You can also read the transcript below the video.

Hello, Creatives. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I'm talking about a question that's come in from a viewer which is, “What sells more, fiction or non-fiction, and what should I write?”

So the basic question, which I find a difficult one, is what should I write? This is a really deep question and I wanted to tackle it because it's something that comes from two angles. There are always going to be two competing sides of the equation.

The artist writes what they want to write. The artist is inspired by what they love.

The business person is inspired by writing something that is going to earn money.

businessaudibleNow, there is nothing right or wrong about either of these sides. Plenty of people write for money, but, I guess when I became a writer, I had spent 13 years implementing Accounts Payable into large corporates. I had spent 13 years doing a job for the money and when I decided to write I couldn't bear the thought of writing things for money.

Of course, some of my non-fiction is about helping authors, and non-fiction in itself can make money because you can do courses, you can do speaking, you can do multiple streams of income from higher priced products with non-fiction.

But fiction, you can actually make more money in other ways. For a start, if you get into a series which I've talked about before why you make more money writing a series in fiction, if you write fiction you know a reader will find you. And just get so excited and be like, “I love this author.” And they will read through your entire backlist.

So over time, the fiction side can make more money because those books don't age.

valley of dry bonesThe more novels you have, the more stories, a world that readers want to jump into.

For example, my ARKANE series book 10, Valley of Dry Bones, is about to come out, and if people find it at book 10, they may go back and read all the other books, and some people love that series.

So this is the thing, non-fiction readers might not necessarily care about you as an author. They just want an answer to their problem.

With fiction, the reader wants to escape their life and you're offering them a way into this other world. Those readers often become loyal to your brand over time.

So when this question comes up for you, it is usually at one of two different points in your life.

If you haven't written anything yet, seriously, go with your heart.

You need to write the book of your heart. You have to. Why would you do this otherwise?

Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. You write because you can't not write. You love it. You love reading. You love words. You just want to do this, and even if it never makes any money, you're going to do it anyway.

That's where I think we all start, where I certainly started. I wrote the book of my heart, which became Career Change, a non-fiction book about finding work that you love which really reflected my journey at the time. So that was the book of my heart.

Stone of Fire 3DMy first novel, Pentecost, that became Stone of Fire, was a book of my heart and I never really expected much to happen. I certainly never expected to be making considerable income from fiction years later. But this is the point – it's years later.

So the question of, what should I write? What sells more, fiction or non-fiction?

There is no correct answer. The only answer is about you.

What do you love reading? What do you love to write? What do you want to create in the world that is from your heart?

Now, that doesn't mean that later on in your life you might not write things because they will make more money. For example, if you get a publishing deal and the publisher says, “Oh, well. You know, this book didn't sell so well. Maybe you should write this genre,” which I know happens to a lot of authors. Then you make a decision.

How to Make a Living from your Writing 3DOr, for example, I wrote How to Make a Living with Your Writing to share how to make a living with your writing. But it's also a title that means people are interested in buying the book.

So it was partly to help and partly to make some money, and it does both. And so you can definitely do both as you progress as an author, but what I would say is when you're just starting out, please, please write what you love.

For more videos, check out my YouTube channel – The Creative Penn, and please do leave any questions, thoughts or comments below.

“What Sells More, Fiction Or Non-Fiction? What Should I Write When Starting Out?”

Should you write the book of your heart, or should you write a book for money?

In this video, I give my answer to this much-debated question of the author community. Watch the video below, or here on YouTube. You can also read the transcript below the video.

Hello, Creatives. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I'm talking about a question that's come in from a viewer which is, “What sells more, fiction or non-fiction, and what should I write?”

So the basic question, which I find a difficult one, is what should I write? This is a really deep question and I wanted to tackle it because it's something that comes from two angles. There are always going to be two competing sides of the equation.

The artist writes what they want to write. The artist is inspired by what they love.

The business person is inspired by writing something that is going to earn money.

businessaudibleNow, there is nothing right or wrong about either of these sides. Plenty of people write for money, but, I guess when I became a writer, I had spent 13 years implementing Accounts Payable into large corporates. I had spent 13 years doing a job for the money and when I decided to write I couldn't bear the thought of writing things for money.

Of course, some of my non-fiction is about helping authors, and non-fiction in itself can make money because you can do courses, you can do speaking, you can do multiple streams of income from higher priced products with non-fiction.

But fiction, you can actually make more money in other ways. For a start, if you get into a series which I've talked about before why you make more money writing a series in fiction, if you write fiction you know a reader will find you. And just get so excited and be like, “I love this author.” And they will read through your entire backlist.

So over time, the fiction side can make more money because those books don't age.

valley of dry bonesThe more novels you have, the more stories, a world that readers want to jump into.

For example, my ARKANE series book 10, Valley of Dry Bones, is about to come out, and if people find it at book 10, they may go back and read all the other books, and some people love that series.

So this is the thing, non-fiction readers might not necessarily care about you as an author. They just want an answer to their problem.

With fiction, the reader wants to escape their life and you're offering them a way into this other world. Those readers often become loyal to your brand over time.

So when this question comes up for you, it is usually at one of two different points in your life.

If you haven't written anything yet, seriously, go with your heart.

You need to write the book of your heart. You have to. Why would you do this otherwise?

Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. You write because you can't not write. You love it. You love reading. You love words. You just want to do this, and even if it never makes any money, you're going to do it anyway.

That's where I think we all start, where I certainly started. I wrote the book of my heart, which became Career Change, a non-fiction book about finding work that you love which really reflected my journey at the time. So that was the book of my heart.

Stone of Fire 3DMy first novel, Pentecost, that became Stone of Fire, was a book of my heart and I never really expected much to happen. I certainly never expected to be making considerable income from fiction years later. But this is the point – it's years later.

So the question of, what should I write? What sells more, fiction or non-fiction?

There is no correct answer. The only answer is about you.

What do you love reading? What do you love to write? What do you want to create in the world that is from your heart?

Now, that doesn't mean that later on in your life you might not write things because they will make more money. For example, if you get a publishing deal and the publisher says, “Oh, well. You know, this book didn't sell so well. Maybe you should write this genre,” which I know happens to a lot of authors. Then you make a decision.

How to Make a Living from your Writing 3DOr, for example, I wrote How to Make a Living with Your Writing to share how to make a living with your writing. But it's also a title that means people are interested in buying the book.

So it was partly to help and partly to make some money, and it does both. And so you can definitely do both as you progress as an author, but what I would say is when you're just starting out, please, please write what you love.

For more videos, check out my YouTube channel – The Creative Penn, and please do leave any questions, thoughts or comments below.

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