We authors know we should take charge of our careers, but many of us aren’t sure what that means or how to do it.
In this episode, we will talk about how to take charge of your career in ways that will make it fly higher, faster, and longer. To help us learn how, James L. Rubart interviewed Megan Haskell and Greta Boris.
Megan and Greta are bestselling, award-winning authors who co-own Orange County Writers, a network of published and aspiring authors.
How can I take charge of my author career?
James L. Rubart (Jim): What does it look like to take charge of your career?
Megan Haskell: We wrote the book Publish: How to Take Charge of Your Author Career because so much information is available about publishing, and writers get paralyzed by it. They don’t know what to do, where to go, or how to move forward. Greta is traditionally published, and I am independently published. We wrote this book to help you overcome overwhelm, find publishing solutions that fit you and your personality, and help you move forward in your career as an author.
Greta Boris: Sometimes authors are so confused, they don’t even know what to ask. The book is an overview to help people know what they need to know and what questions they should ask.
Jim: In one sense, the internet has given us so much great access to newsletters, blog posts, and resources. On the other hand, it truly is like the firehose in a teacup cliché. In your book, you say that before authors start consuming all that information, they should take inventory.
How do I take inventory of my writing career?
Greta: Megan and I are around many people who want to publish but haven’t published yet. We get the same questions repeatedly. Many questions revolved around which path to publishing a writer should take and where an author should start.
To dive into all the information on the internet, you need to know which path you’re researching. Since I’m traditionally published, and Megan is independently published, we made a good duo for teaching people what they need to know for each path.
Megan: We put together a quiz about your skillset so you can take inventory of who you are as a person. The quiz will help you discern which of your skills is strongest, what your goals are, and what abilities you bring to the table. Those things will determine which path to publishing a new author should take.
A type-A, business-oriented, entrepreneurial spirit lends itself well to the independent publishing path. A writer focused on the art of writing and the prestige of publishing with a Big Five publisher will want to pursue traditional publishing.
We are trying to help people to determine which path suits them best. Some people have been surprised about which path they were better suited to take.
A very hands-on writer who wants to make decisions about their book cover really can’t go the traditional route and be happy. But a writer who is more indifferent about their cover and would actually prefer that someone else make that decision would do well with one of the Big Five traditional publishers.
We begin with the quiz then we walk through the pros and cons of each of the different paths to publication. We talk about how they are similar and different. We walk writers through the process of turning a hobby into a serious endeavor that will earn them money.
What questions do I need to answer before I publish?
Jim: What questions should a beginning writer who wants to be published ask themselves right away?
Greta: You need to assess yourself.
- Can you balance your checkbook?
- How willing are you to give up the reins?
- How much control do you need to have over your artistic project?
- How much are you willing to let go?
- How patient are you?
- How much time do you have?
If you want to see your finished book on the shelf available for purchase within a year, you won’t want to stop your life to find an agent who will have to find a publisher because that’s a very long process.
Jim: That makes a lot of sense to me. All my novels have been traditionally published, but I’m currently co-writing a series that we’re going to publish independently. I’ve read a lot about indie publishing, but now that I’m doing it, I realize it is a very different animal.
Authors who want to indie publish really need to have an entrepreneurial mindset. More than the traditional author, the indie author has to operate like a small business.
Megan: Absolutely true. Even traditional authors are starting to think like small businesses as more of them become hybrid authors, publishing traditionally and independently. When you’re thinking like a small business, you need to consider the pros and cons of each project, and we address that in the book.
Treating your art as a business is fundamental to indie publishing. Indie authors also need to be project managers. Writers need to consider whether they can manage the project themselves, set their own deadlines, and meet them. Indie authors have to be dedicated to the process in a different way than traditionally published authors are.
Greta: We heard many authors say, “I’m going to pitch my book, and if it doesn’t get picked up by an agent or a small press, I’ll just indie publish.” It was a little disturbing because they clearly didn’t know what they were saying. There is a huge learning curve with indie publishing.
Jim: It’s like saying, “I’m going to have someone build a house for me, or I’m going to build a house myself.” If you’re going to be a general contractor, you’re doing a lot more than building.
What if I can’t find the time to write?
Megan: I have two young kids, and I’m a stay-at-home parent. I have to be intentional about finding time to write. I always tell people they have to establish habits and goals.
Start with small steps. Maybe your goal is simply to open your word processor after your kids go to bed. That could be a goal. That one tiny thing starts a habit. Once you build a habit, your goals can increase, and you can make progress on your manuscript.
Set achievable, microscopic goals to establish a habit. As you get better, you’ll start to develop triggers to put you in the mindset for producing words or editing.
My triggers are opening my laptop, opening Scrivener, reading the last few paragraphs I wrote the night before, and listening to BrainFM in my headphones. Once I’m there, I can write in sprints.
Developing habits and triggers will allow you to write faster than you thought you could.
Jim: When I started writing, I told myself, “I can do anything for 20 minutes a day.” I wrote my first novel in 20 minutes per day. I’d sit down to do my 20 minutes, and often, that would turn into 30 and 40 minutes.
Greta: Years ago, I was a personal trainer and a health and wellness coach, and these habits dovetail. You’re asking someone to add something to their life. Even though it’s something they want to do, they still have to add it to their schedule.
In the book, we talk about planning and preparing for the habit you want to add.
- When are you going to write?
- What are you going to write when you sit down?
Planning is sometimes difficult for pantsers, but we need to plan our scenes before we start to write them. Otherwise, you’ll stare at your computer screen during those 20 minutes, but you won’t get anything done.
Jim: In my own writing, it’s easy for me to procrastinate if I don’t know what I’m going to write. Whereas if I know what I’m going to accomplish during my writing session, it seems so much more accessible.
Greta: I’m currently writing the first draft of a new book. When I don’t know what to write, I wander around the house, have a second cup of coffee, and scratch the dog. When I’m excited about the story and have a clear plan, I can’t wait to get to the computer.
Megan: We also recommend spending a few minutes at the end of your writing session preparing for your next writing session.
I’m actually a pantser when I write my novels, so I spend the first few minutes of my writing session doing a brain dump right in my document. It gives me a vision of the next paragraph or scene I’m working on.
What’s a brain dump?
Jim: What does a brain dump look like?
Megan: I dump ideas from my brain about the scene. I don’t use sentence structure or punctuation. I close my eyes and type for two minutes.
Greta: It’s amazing how quickly it will change your writing speed. I write using the Pomodoro method. I write for 25 minutes without editing at all, and then I take a break. But to do that, I need to have a vision for the scene, so I do a brain dump.
A brain dump uses the part of your brain that’s more visual. You see snapshots of your characters and events. You can get into a creative flow more easily.
Once you start writing, you have to make decisions about word choice, punctuation, metaphors, and literary stuff. In a brain dump, you can jot down the movie in your head and eliminate a lot of decisions you’d otherwise have to make about what will happen in your scene. When you get to the writing, you’ve already made some decisions in your brain dump.
Megan: Part of the brain dump involves including sensory detail. For my last book, I was writing winter scenes, so in my brain dump, I’d write phrases:
- The snow was falling on her face
- She could feel flakes on her eyelashes
- She bent out against the wind and was struggling through the snowdrifts
The brain dump isn’t literature. It’s not meant to be seen by anyone other than you, and you only do it for two minutes or so. It’s just a way to put yourself in the scene.
Jim: Knowing you’re not going to include the brain dump in the book really frees you up. You may not even use those phrases or images in your scene, but later, you may find a place for a certain phrase.
Greta: I write suspense and mystery. When I’m brain dumping, I can untangle some of the tricky twists and turns. I use the brain dump to record the clues I need to plant in the scene and all the little details, like where the character will place the gun on the mantle. Then, when I sit down to write, I remember where the character put that gun. Those details are easy to forget when I’m writing. When I’m done, I can go back to my brain dump and make sure I included everything in my scene.
What are some productivity hacks for authors?
Jim: What are some productivity hacks authors should start doing now?
Megan: Writing in sprints and the Pomodoro method are techniques that I use.
I’d also recommend being as mobile as possible. I have Scrivener synced across all my devices—my computer, iPhone, and iPad. Whenever I have ten minutes waiting for my daughter at swimming lessons, I can write 100 words of an idea at the moment it comes to me.
Try not to waste time on social media and decide to use that time for better purposes.
Greta: We’ve been using the enneagram personality types to help us figure out who our main characters are before we write. It’s been a huge help because if you have a good grasp of your character before you start writing, you won’t have to make so many decisions.
If you know how your character will react when he encounters a situation, you don’t have to stop and think about it. It doesn’t interrupt the flow of your writing. That’s a productivity hack because it saves me from having to figure out who my character is while I’m in the scene.
Megan: The fewer decisions you have to make while you’re writing, the better. Plan while you’re walking the dog or doing laundry so that you can write faster when you sit down to type.
Jim: Some writers feel like they need two hours to write, but being mobile means you can squeeze 25 words into three minutes. Those 25 words can spur an idea later on. It’s still constructive because you’re still thinking of the story.
Megan: It’s surprising how much you can get done in small time chunks. Those words add up. You may not use those fifty words in your story, but if it’s right there in your Scrivener document when you open it at night, you’ll be reminded about where you wanted to go with it. Then you’re on your way to a productive writing sprint.
Greta: There’s a woman in our Orange County writer’s group who works full-time and struggles to find time to write. She just could not write in small, ten-minute chunks. Her brain just did not work that way.
Instead of using those small chunks of time to write, all week long, she would do her household errands and chores in those small chunks so that on Saturday, she would have a big chunk of time. For example, she planned for her writing retreat on Saturday by preparing meals during the week so she could just grab something on Saturday.
Everyone has to find their own way, but if writing is something you want to do, plan for it.
What’s the number one tip you have for writers?
Jim: What’s the number one tip you have for writers?
Megan: Schedule your writing time, make it a habit, and stick to it.
Greta: Do a brain dump and turn off your inner editor so that when you sit to write, you’re actually writing and not wasting time.
Jim: I was in a writing critique group early in my career, and we would hold each other accountable to hit our word counts. I knew if I didn’t hit my word count, I’d have to send each of my group members $50, which was a total of $200 I didn’t want to spend.
Where can people find out more about you?
Orange County Writers: Learn about our community, workshops, and book.
Carrie Daws and her story, The Embers Series
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