Featured

Welcome!

Which of these describes you?

  • You’ve fallen out of love with novel-writing.
  • You’re struggling with the storytelling craft and writing process.
  • You want to make a living from writing but can’t seem to make it happen.
  • Your books aren’t selling and you don’t know what to do.

If any or all apply, you’re not alone. Welcome. Have a seat.

I started this blog to share thoughts, experiences, and lessons about novel-writing as both a craft and a profession based on my book The Writer’s Habit. But I want to dig deeper. I want to address and help you solve the problems you and other writers face at one time or another.

Three components make up the writer’s habit: knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is about what to do. Skill is about how to do it. Desire is about wanting to do it.

With humor, kindness, stories, and a smile, I aim to motivate and inspire you to master your craft, market your books, and maximize your wellness. It’s not just about being a better writer. It’s about living a better life.

Every Wednesday I’ll present a subject in one of these areas:

  • First Wednesday of the month: Knowledge
  • Second Wednesday of the month: Skill
  • Third Wednesday of the month: Desire
  • Fourth Wednesday of the month: Marketing and Promotion

I look forward to interacting with you and engaging in an ongoing conversation.

 

the writers habit cover

Advertisements

Taking a Break

I’m making the difficult but necessary decision to temporarily step away from this blog. Because I’d rather not do it at all than do it poorly and inconsistently.

Dear Reader-

If you’re a writer with a full-time job and a family, then you know how hard it can be to make writing a priority. Add to that the pressures to publish, the state of the publishing industry itself right now (hint: it’s kinda bleak), and the ins and outs of everyday life, and you’re lucky to walk away with a thousand words by the end of the week or even the month.

Even I have struggled to practice what I preach these last few months. Between the stresses of orchestrating a cross-country move in the coming months, caring for an elderly parent, teaching a course at the local university, and working hard to re-establish a readership of my current catalogue, writing—which is supposed to be my full-time job—seems to have taken a backseat these days. And I don’t even have children.

I’d started this blog ambitiously. However, posting twice a week soon became posting once a week. Then posting once a week became targeting the subject each week. I thought about further reducing posts to once a month, until I confronted a hard truth: I’ve lost my direction and purpose.

Moreover, I’ve lost the joy.

And so, I’m making the difficult but necessary decision to temporarily step away from this blog. Because I’d rather not do it at all than do it poorly and inconsistently.

Thank you for the support you’ve given this blog. Thank you for taking the time to read each post, for sharing them on social media, and for offering feedback either privately or publicly. I hope to be back soon.

Best, Elisa

 

 

do small things

Why We Need Love Stories

These days, we need them more than ever. We need to tell our love stories, and we need to live our love stories. We cannot pass them off as “fluff,” as less than, as something not lofty because it’s not “literature.” We need love stories because we need love. Not just romance, but energy.

It’s the second Wednesday of the month, and I was all set to write a post centered around the skill or craft aspect of The Writer’s Habit. But it’s also Valentine’s Day, and it’s the launch day of my ninth novel and eleventh book.

So, I kind of wanted to write about love.

In particular, love stories.

Despite Romance being the most popular genre, outselling just about every other genre, love stories seem to get passed off as nothing more than feel-good fluff. It’s not literature, a reviewer writes, but I liked it.

Even the tagline I use, “beach books with a brain,” is clever and fun and makes for a clear visual description. And yet, I sometimes feel guilty using it because it implies that beach reading is brainless.

And maybe for some it is.

I will tell you that I never aspired to write “literature”—I wasn’t interested in validation from my peers (although it’s always nice to be liked), and I was OK with being excluded from college reading lists (although I am proud to say that my memoir Friends of Mine made the cut in a course about the 1980s).

But I always, always want to tell a good story.

And I love writing love stories. I enjoy exploring the relationship one has with the world around her, be it love of home, of music, of food, of family. Love of self, especially. It’s not solely about the happy ending and getting what you wanted. Sometimes it’s about getting what you didn’t know you wanted, or losing what you thought you wanted. Sometimes it’s about giving what you wanted.

My husband and I were on Yellowstone Public Radio the other night (you can listen to the interview here). We told our hosts stories—about how we met, how our books came to be, how we collaborate as authors and business partners, and more. At the end, they said to us, “May you never run out of stories.”

We began as Facebook friends. And we transitioned to friends when we started reading each other’s stories. We evolved to close friends when we started telling each other stories—the stories of our past, of growing up in suburbia, of teenage angst, of favorite bands and foods and firsts.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were writing our own love story. And that has become my favorite love story of all time. Not because there’s a happily ever after (cue the Zen Master: “We’ll see”), but because we get to keep writing it as we go along. We get to engage in the process day after day. Some days it’s messy, and other days it’s like great jazz. It consists of good characters (flawed, yet worth rooting for), intentions and obstacles, and dialogue—lots and lots of dialogue. And we practice. Every day.

We need love stories.

These days, we need them more than ever. We need to tell our love stories, and we need to live our love stories. We cannot pass them off as “fluff,” as less than, as something not lofty because it’s not “literature.” We need love stories because we need love. Not just romance, but energy. Music. Art. Dance. Mr. Rogers. Chocolate. A sunrise and a sunset. A cat that falls asleep curled up beside you. A dog that is ecstatic to see you when you walk through the door. A stranger for whom you held open the door.

Each of these things comes with a story.

What is yours?

 

cake photo
Our wedding cake courtesy of Audrey’s Bakery in Sayville, NY. It tasted even better!

Audience and Purpose: The Heart of Every Piece of Writing

Regardless of what you write, be it for business or pleasure, you need to write with audience and purpose in mind. The more clear you are about what you are writing while you are writing it, and who you are writing for, the more successful your finished product will be.

After a five-year hiatus from the college classroom, I’m teaching a business writing and communication class at the local university. I’m really enjoying it, and I’m learning just as much as I’m teaching. Or rather, re-learning.

Business writing consists of what is known in rhetorical terms as a reader-based text. Whatever you write, be it an email, memo, evaluation, proposal, ad, marketing plan, analysis, blog post, and so on, you need a clear idea of who your audience is, be it one reader or many. You also need a clear purpose of why you are writing this particular document, letter, etc., and how your writing strategy will achieve that purpose.

My job in the classroom is to get students thinking about their audience and purpose. It’s not easy for them, and believe me, I get it. Because sometimes it’s not easy for me. Sometimes, with this blog, I wonder who my reader is, and what I am trying to achieve not only with a particular blog post, but with the blog overall. I even sometimes struggle with my novel readers and genre, as well as my author website. After ten books, when someone asks me on the spot: “Who are your readers and what do you write?” I still stumble and stammer with my answer.

That’s not where I want to be, neither with this blog nor with my novel readers. But I’m getting better. Because as I teach this stuff, I practice it.

When it comes to a fiction writer’s audience and purpose, there’s a little wrinkle. The most common advice I give to writers is to write the book you want to read. In other words, you, the writer, are the most important reader, even the intended reader. Surely this is how I approach every book I write, especially when I am in the drafting stage. My thinking is this: If I saw this book on a table and opened it to the first page, what would keep me turning the pages? What would keep me drawn in, unable to put the book down?

It isn’t until I get to the revision stage that I think about readers other than me. What will keep them turning these pages? And who is/are my intended reader(s)? Sometimes the answer to that question depends on the book I’m writing. When I wrote my memoir, I thought about my fellow Duranies. Sometimes I even mentioned the actual members of Duran Duran reading it. When I wrote my novel Adulation, my intended readers were a group of friends I’d bonded with on Facebook, many of whom I had yet to meet in person. My husband was the intended reader for The Second First Time.

I wonder: When do we separate ourselves as the intended reader and someone else as the intended reader? Should we separate ourselves? Is that even possible?

In a Facebook group I belong to consisting mostly of bloggers, a woman shared that she made up a profile of her intended reader—she gave this imagined, fabricated reader (a female) a name, an age, a hometown and residence, a family, a profession, favorite foods and books and movies and TV shows and music, where she likes to shop, and even favorite clothes, I think. Hence, whenever this woman sits down to write a blog post, she writes for this reader as if she were a real person (in the woman’s mind, she is). And guess what? This writer has attracted a sizable audience to her blog, and they more or less match the profile of the imaginary reader.

I think that’s pretty cool. And I kind of want to try it myself.

Regardless of what you write, be it for business or pleasure, you need to write with audience and purpose in mind. The more clear you are about what you are writing while you are writing it, and who you are writing for, the more successful your finished product will be.

 

blog post audiecne and purpose 2

 

Here are three things you can do to practice mastering audience and purpose:

1. Make up a profile of your intended reader

Follow the blogger’s lead and imagine everything about your intended reader. This person could be real or imagined. S/he might even be a clone of yourself. The point is to play a little bit, but also to get as specific as possible. And restrict it to one reader. It has been said: “If you try to write for everyone, you will wind up writing for no one.”

2. Know your “why.”

This seems to be almost at buzzphrase lately, and it kind of annoys me. But I have to say, it really is important. Essentially, this is the purpose part of the rhetorical situation.

Why do you write the books you write? Why are you attracted to a particular genre or style? What kinds of characters do you like?

The answer to this question could be both extrinsic and intrinsic.

  • Extrinsic: I write romantic comedy because I like finding humor in the baggage we bring to our love relationships.
  • Intrinsic: I write romantic comedy because I want to bring a smile to someone’s face and give them something to escape to.

I’m currently reading a book on business writing for the purpose writing a review. In it the author asks: Who are you when you are writing this particular text or document? I don’t think that’s something I’ve considered in a long time, and I think knowing the answer is connected to knowing both your audience and your purpose.

3. Think in terms of problem-solving

Maybe the problem is that your intended reader is simply looking for a good book to read. Maybe they want to completely escape their world and move into one that is completely magical and different. Maybe they want to live vicariously through the protagonist. Maybe they want to solve mysteries, find buried treasure, travel the world, or live in their dream home. If you know your reader, you can make any or all of those things happen for her.

As I write this, I am imagining my reader as someone who writes novels but is having trouble identifying who their ideal reader for their stories is. Maybe she writes mysteries, but needs to be more specific. Maybe her ideal reader wants a hunky, Jim Rockford-type detective, and the books set in the 1970s. Maybe her ideal reader prefers mysteries that have nothing to do with murders or violence.

Thus, the problem I’m attempting to solve (and my purpose for writing this blog post) is how to get my intended reader to think about her intended reader and her purpose for writing what she writes.

If you write non-fiction, the problem-solving may be even more clear cut. Maybe your reader needs to lose weight. Quit smoking. Learn how to write in a business setting. Sell more books. Live in their dream home. When you know the problem and know the reader, you can more easily provide the solution.

 

Regardless of what you write, audience and purpose are at the heart of everything you write. Master them first, and the rest of your rhetorical situation (stance, style, genre) begins to fall into place.

And mastery takes practice. Fortunately, as writers, we get lots of practice. And we like to practice.

When It Comes to Selling Books, Be a Planner

The hard truth is that when it comes to selling your books, regardless of whether you are independently or traditionally published, your success or failure is in your hands. It’s totally on you.

When it comes to craft, the subject of “planner” vs. “pantser” comes up when discussing the best strategy for plotting or mapping your story. Planners tend to meticulously (or perhaps even loosely) outline or create a story arc before writing a single word. Pantsers, on the other hand, write as they go, trusting that the story will come to them along the way, perhaps having a general idea of its direction. There’s no right or wrong way, and one is not better than the other. I’m all pantser—I tend to at least know what the next scene will be. I feel more constrained if I try to plot or plan beforehand.

I like being a pantser.

However…

What I have learned this past month—and forgive me if this is a well, duh revelation—is that the pantser strategy doesn’t work when it comes to selling books.

In The Writer’s Habit book, I talked about the importance of knowing what you want and then making a plan to attain it. I used such examples as whether you wanted to independently publish as opposed to finding a literary agent and seeking a contract with one of the Big Five, or setting a goal to write a dystopian series that would be so popular they’d get movie and merchandising deals.

In some ways I think I missed the obvious. Because once the desire to “get there” is fulfilled, a new desire takes its place: stay there.

I think it’s long been understood that the work of an author doesn’t end when the book is written and published. In fact, the work has just begun, because now comes the marketing, promoting, and networking, and it never ends. I have known this. I have lived this.

What I have learned upon reflection, however, is that I haven’t done it very well.

I could chalk it up to my pantser nature. I could also chalk it up to underestimating the scope of what’s truly involved in staying on the mountain after you’ve gotten there. One thing I had taken for granted is that indie authors are ferocious when it comes to this work. And I bow down to them for that. I think I had been once. And I think complacency set in after I had a run of good fortune, first as an indie, and then as a contracted author. It’s not that I thought the work was done; it’s that I thought more of it would be on autopilot.

Man, was I wrong.

The hard truth is that when it comes to selling your books, regardless of whether you are independently or traditionally published, your success or failure is in your hands. It’s totally on you. And if you want success (in this case, I mean if you want your books to sell, and sell well), then you’ve got to make a plan. Plot it out. Outline. Use your calendar. Set goals.

I feel foolish for having realized this so late, but the good news is that it’s never too late to start.

Everyone’s plan is different of course because everyone’s goals and desires differ. But here are three areas in which you can begin to assess what you want or need and plan from there:

 

Your mailing list

I’m going to be writing about this more extensively in the near future, but your mailing list is like a valuable piece of real estate that needs to be used properly. Think if you owned a corner lot and built a store on it but then didn’t stock it, or stocked it with the wrong kind of product, used the wrong signage… you get the idea. It took me way too long to realize how much of an asset a mailing list is, and it’s only these past few weeks that I’m learning how to make it work for me. It’s not enough to have a list and send out messages here and there with no consistency or purpose or strategy. As I start to apply the tools I’m learning and am able to measure results, I’ll share them with you.

 

Your launches

In my early years as an author, I had thought a bunch of social media blasts and bookstore readings/signings were enough to drive a successful launch. When my novel The Second First Time launched, I had completely dropped the ball and focused solely on setting up and promoting in-store appearances. Part of my thinking was that, as a new Montana resident, I wanted to cultivate relationships with the local independent bookstores and community. On that level, my strategy was successful. However, I ignored the ebook side of things, which is where 98% of my readership and sales are. There were also personal factors involved in my failure to properly plan, which I mention not as justification, but explanation. I take responsibility for the consequences of that launch’s many shortcomings and disappointments.

 

Your maintenance

We put so much time and effort into launches that we sometimes forget about our back catalogue day in and day out, mentioning them only if there’s a price break. A successful marriage is all about the maintenance. The same can be said for a successful author career. It’s important to plan strategies for maintaining a healthy sales quota of your catalogue that don’t involve pushy selling (a goal to aspire to no matter where your book is in its life cycle). I hope to be sharing some ideas in the near future.

 

Discussion: What has worked for you in any/all of these areas? What do you struggle with? I would love to hear from you.

 

what's the plan graphic copy
Please click here to see the original image source and link.

 

Same Habit, New Focus

I’m a writer. I’m also a teacher.

So far 2018 has been a series of challenges. Some have been invigorating, such as getting back into the university classroom and teaching a course in business writing. Others have been butt-kicking, such as moving three rooms of furniture into one while we get new carpets installed throughout the house.

Throughout it all, I’m doing my best to maintain a sense of humor, revel in the discomfort of it (it’s a learning experience, dammit!), and keep writing.

I’ve been reflecting on what I want The Writer’s Habit blog to be moving forward, and seeking feedback from others. One of the things I keep coming back to is playing to my strengths.

I’m a writer. I’m also a teacher.

Even when I’m not in a classroom with whiteboards and overhead projectors, I share what I know with others. I learn, and then I teach. I make mistakes, and then I teach. I finally get it right, and then I teach. In fact, I wrote The Writer’s Habit book for those readers who wrote to me and said they wished they could take a class with me.

I wanted this blog to be the same. Still do.

So I’m going to try to be more focused in achieving that goal.

For starters, I wrote a new Welcome post.

Second, beginning in February I aim to schedule specific subjects/topics in conjunction with the “Habit” components:

  • First Wednesday of the month: Knowledge
  • Second Wednesday of the month: Skill
  • Third Wednesday of the month: Desire
  • Fourth Wednesday of the month: Marketing and Promotion

I’ll do my best to remain consistent.

Is there a specific subject or topic you’d like me to address?

Please let me know in the comments, or contact me.

I hope you’ll like the new focus.

“You wanna dance with me?” (Getting Past the Fear of Starting)

There’s something about starting something new—be it a novel, a job, living in a new city and state—that can be terrifying. We have high hopes (goals and resolutions) but we also have doubts (how long will it take to achieve it? Will I succeed? Is it any good? Am I any good?) because we don’t have the crystal ball telling us whether we’re going to be OK.

Tell me if this is familiar:

“I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white, and it says, ‘You may have fooled some of the people some of the time, but those days are over, giftless. I’m not your agent, and I’m not your mommy; I’m a white piece of paper. You wanna dance with me?’ and I really, really don’t. I’ll go peaceable-like.”

Aaron Sorkin, Oscar and Emmy-winning screenwriter

The longer I’m in this writing thing, the more I’m agreeing with Mr. Sorkin.

Since New Year’s Day, I’ve written start novel in my super-cool new planner as one of the “top three” tasks of the day as well as the week. Took seven days before I actually did it, and even then I barely got about 800 words done. And that includes the cover page.

I didn’t write again until five days later. Completed another thousand.

In my defense, I have been pretty busy. I’m teaching a course at the university this semester (classes began today)—my first in five years—so I’ve had a lot of prep work to do. This on top of preparing to launch a new novel, taking two online courses to help boost my business, and helping my husband get our house ready to sell.

It wasn’t hard to keep deferring it to the next day, however. And that’s what bugged me. Because two voices in my head competed for my attention: the first gung-ho to write, and the second hell-bent on dissuading me. Voice 2 is particularly loud and obnoxious.

There’s something about starting something new—be it a novel, a job, living in a new city and state—that can be terrifying. We have high hopes (goals and resolutions) but we also have doubts (how long will it take to achieve it? Will I succeed? Is it any good? Am I any good?) because we don’t have the crystal ball telling us whether we’re going to be OK. We’re about to take the leap, but we’re wondering if the chute is going to open. And sometimes, because we can’t see what’s at the bottom, we just stand there.

I talked about making my number one goal for 2018 to be all about leaving my comfort zone. Or, if you want to stick with the metaphor, taking the leap. The fear of doing so paralyzed me in many ways last year, even despite my successes. Seventeen days into the new year, and I’m swimming in discomfort. Some days I feel as if I can barely keep afloat. But there’s also something exhilarating about it. Because although every day is composed of baby steps, you start to realize all those baby steps are actually taking you somewhere. You’re moving forward, which is way more progress than staying where you are, frozen in fear.

Writing a novel—starting, in particular—is very much about leaving your comfort zone. Even if you’re writing what you know. In fact, starting a novel has always about adventure. It’s fun. Promising. Exciting. Full of potential and possibility. And all you need to do is get past that initial fear.

In addition to leaving my comfort zone, I’ve made a point to look at my goals on a regular basis. Complete new novel is on that list, and as long as I keep looking at that goal, I’ll make myself accountable. I’ll get it done. Hard part is over, after all. I started it.

 

Discussion/Reflection: How do you feel about starting a new writing (or other) project? Is it frightening? Exciting? A little of both, perhaps? How do you get past that fear of starting?

 

snoopy copy
I have a copy of this comic in my possession. I don’t like to use photos from online without permission, but I couldn’t find my copy, and I wanted to share it.

It’s 2018: Time to Take Stock

I have ideas about what I want this blog and site to be moving forward. But first, I want to hear from you.

My last blog post was about setting writing goals that you could actually keep. In the same way you take stock of your life at the end of one year and the beginning of another, I have been taking stock of The Writer’s Habit blog and site, and intend to set some goals accordingly.

In a broad sense, the concept and practice of The Writer’s Habit has always been the culmination of knowledge plus skill plus desire. I wanted this blog to highlight those aspects in the form of topics ranging from the craft of revision or storytelling to audience or purpose to dealing with writer’s block or rejection. As my tagline states: It’s not just about being a better writer. It’s about living a better life.

I’m not sure I’m achieving that, however. So I have ideas about what I want this blog and site to be moving forward.

But first, I want to hear from you.

After all, this site is meant to serve you, not me. Please leave a comment—here, on Facebook or Twitter, or even contact me, and share your answers and/or ideas to any/all of these questions:

What are you struggling with most as a writer and/or author?

What are you most interested in?

What, specifically, do you want from this blog and site?

What would keep you engaged?

I look forward to your responses. Thank you for being here.

Elisa

 

design 2