Why Do You Write? (An Idea Revisited Two Years Later)

If you’re reading this, I assume you want to be or already are a writer. I also assume that there’s a decent chance you want to be a full-time author. So, if that’s you, let me ask you two difficult questions: Why do you write? And why do you want to be a full-time author, when there are hundreds of easier career options?

writing and coffeeNow, your gut instinct is probably something like, “Come on, Kate! Writing is my life. Those questions are so easy!”

But do me a favor and really think about it. I’ll give you a personal anecdote while you ponder your own situation …

After my recent move from New Haven to the Bay Area, I’ve had a difficult time getting back in my creative groove. I have a lot of perfectly valid excuses: organizing the new place, adjusting to a new work and household routine, exploring new shops and landmarks, to name a few. But, I think I finally understand the real issue.

Whenever I meet new people, I introduce myself as a writer. I include my novelist side, but I always admit, with a twinge of unnecessary shame, that my books don’t pay the bills. I’m “really” a copywriter for a wine marketing company (which has actually helped my fiction writing). It sounds super-sexy on paper, and while most of the time I just stare at a computer screen like every other office worker, it is a great job. Though I’m still the lowest rung on the company ladder, I could make copywriting/marketing a long-term career. And I think it would make me happy.

It would be SO. MUCH. EASIER. to just let go of my author ambitions and relax into the 9-to-5 life. I’m NOT saying every 9-to-5 job is easy, and I’m definitely challenged at my work, but giving up the author stuff would relieve me of several challenges. I could stop spending nights and weekends at the computer. I could stop heaping guilt on myself when I don’t meet my creative goals. I could stop spending hard-earned, harder-saved money on editing, cover designs, and marketing expenses. I could stop all the other nuisances of indie authorship and still call myself a professional writer.

Live your dreamBack to you: your situation is obviously much different from mine. Maybe you’re working a job you loathe. Maybe you have tons of extra money to shower on self-publishing. Maybe you view writing solely as a career and aren’t bothered by any of the emotional, passionate aspects.

Still, I ask again: Why do you write? And why do you want to be a full-time author?

(If you’re a fan of the Sterling & Stone trio, you can probably guess that I’m a big believer in Sean’s “Know Your Why” mantra, which this insightful article discusses more eloquently than I can.)

While contemplating this question, I remembered a blog post I wrote over two years ago. It lists the reasons why I write, along with some great additions from fellow writers in the comments. They all still hold true, but they don’t answer why I want to write fiction professionally and not just as a hobby.

After giving it some careful thought and seriously evaluating my larger personal/life goals, here are a few of my reasons:

Writing is my greatest passion.
Writing is my most employable skill.
Creative satisfaction means more to me than conventional success.
I want to be my own boss and set my own working hours.
I want the freedom to vacation when and how I choose.
I want to work be able to work from anywhere in the world.
I don’t want to regularly manage other people.
I don’t want to give up my dream to help someone else achieve theirs.
I love storytelling.
I want the opportunity to make my daily work meaningful and valuable.
I want to entertain, inform, and educate others.
I want to make a difference in the world and provide a source of escape for others.

Conclusion? Being a full-time writer both satisfies my creative passions and provides several practical benefits that “regular” jobs cannot.

If you’re in a similar situation to me (and I know at least one of my friends reading this is), do yourself a favor and ask these questions. You might realize that writing is just a hobby for you — and that is 100% awesome. Or (more likely, I bet), you’ll realize that full-time authorship is really the career you want. If that’s the case, you’ll be armed with a list of reasons to keep you motivated when the going gets tough. And trust me, it will get tough.

But, if you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s also wholly, completely, utterly worth it.


Leave your reasons in the comments and cheer on your fellow authors. If you’re already living the full-time dream, I’d love to hear whether your “why” remains true now that you’ve reached your goal. 

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Guest Post: Skill vs. Talent – Which Do You Have? by Ryan Lanz

Please welcome back author and blogger Ryan Lanz! This time, Ryan will be discussing the differences between talent and skill, and which you need to make it in the writing world. 

  • tal·ent [tal-uhnt] noun: a special natural ability or aptitude.
  • skill [skil] noun: the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.

What if you don’t have natural talent? Does that mean you may as well give up?

It’s not quite the chicken or the egg debate, but it’s up there. I’ve heard people go in circles about which comes first and which is necessary. At what combination of both does one continue the grind and attempt at success? I’d be surprised if you haven’t asked yourself that question. It’s a part of being human.

What does each really mean?

This comes from the university of my opinion, but I would describe talent as the natural ability that needs little to no refinement, and skill is the unnatural ability that you have to develop. For those of us who’ve played sports (myself excluded), I’m sure you’ve all encountered someone who strides onto the field and makes it all look so darn effortless.

This person hardly shows up to practice, and you have a fairly good idea that it took hardly any effort to accomplish. Same with the person who aced every test in college with little preparation, leaving you in study hall time after time with a bucket of coffee. You must have missed at least three parties because you had to cram for the Calculus exam, right?

Which is better?

Good question. And one not so easily answered. Sure, we would all like natural talent that we don’t have to pour so much effort into, but sometimes that doesn’t quite pan out. Often, we are born with enough talent to have an affinity for a profession, but the rest has to be made up with skill. In writing, there are dozens of abilities that need to be present to make a good novel, such as foreshadowing, prose, description, natural dialogue, pacing, etc.

Let’s say that you have a knack for writing dialogue, but your setting description rambles on and on. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and you’ll have to practice at writing setting description over time to develop it into a skill, even if it’s not a natural talent. To be fair, natural talent does get you to the goal quicker.


Related: Finishing a Book is a Skill


The combination of the two

If Tiger Woods is not the best golf player of all time, then he comes very close. He started golfing on professional courses at the age of two years old and was featured in a golf magazine at the age of five. Tiger spent 545 weeks combined total as the world number one. In my opinion, that is some superb natural talent. Although Tiger has mounds of it, he still had a golfing coach (and probably still does) through most of his career. That’s combining the natural with the refined skill that creates that sweet spot. Think about how you can make a similar combination.

Is it so bad if you don’t have natural talent? Should you give up?

The one downside to having natural talent is that you don’t have as much appreciation for the effort. Let’s look at two writers: one who writes his/her first book and quickly becomes published, and the other is a writer who labors for ten years to even become noticed. Both eventually become published and successful, let’s say. I think it’s fair to say that the latter writer has more appreciation for the effort of the craft. There are small nuances of writing that I feel are best represented when someone has to massage and mold their skill over the long-term.

I believe that about anyone can accomplish about anything if they were to dedicate their entire life to it, even if that person doesn’t have a drop of natural talent. Ask yourself what craft you can accomplish if you were to invest 20 years to its perfection. So, no, don’t simply give up on it. You may have been born with talent in a profession you’re not interested in. That’s okay, just work to catch up in a profession that you are.

Conclusion

If you sharpen your skill enough, people will believe that you’ve had talent from the very beginning, regardless of how much you actually had to start with.

Original post here.


Guest post contributed by Ryan Lanz. Ryan is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr.

How to Overcome FOMO as an Independent Author

How to Overcome FOMOHow Indie Authors Get FOMO

If you choose the path of independent publishing, you’ll quickly learn that you have a lot of responsibilities. You’ll need to write your book, manage the editing, cover design, and formatting, and handle the publishing and marketing. While you can (and should!) hire professional help, in the end, you’re the one who makes the big decisions. This pressure alone can make you feel like you have to be a super human to make it as an author.

The good news? There are thousands of books, podcasts, blogs, and other resources ready to help you in your journey. The bad news? Each one exalts a different method of writing, publishing, and/or marketing – and new tactics emerge almost daily.

As this information flies at you from all sides and other authors skyrocket to success (seemingly overnight!), you’ll feel like you’re missing something, some crucial key to your success. So, you latch onto those new tactics. Yes! Signing up for a new social media site will boost my exposure. Yes! Paying for this new ad service will increase my sales. Yes! Selling my soul to a crossroads demon will make me a best-selling author for 50 years!

Okay, that last one might be an exaggeration (everyone knows crossroads demons only give you 10 years), but you get my point. All this chasing and hustling and worrying has a name: Fear of Missing Out (aka FOMO). And the best news? Once you know its name, you can define and defeat it.

What is FOMO?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, FOMO is “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”

Applied specifically to independent authors, it’s what I described above. Anxiety that you’re missing out on a new marketing tactic, writing technique, book convention, etc. that – if you did participate in it – would be the key to your success.

How Can I Overcome FOMO?

If you’re still with me, I assume you don’t want to live in constant fear of missing out. Or, you at least want to learn how to know when you’re really missing something and when you’re wasting your time. As I always say, you’re the only one who can answer that question for yourself … but I’ll do my best to help guide you.

Know Your Why

This is my favorite lesson from the gang at Sterling & Stone (one of the top indie publishing outfits). Essentially, you need to know what your goal is for your author career. Is it to replace your full-time income? Is it to win a literary prize? Different goals require different paths.

Personally, I want to earn enough money from my book sales to become a full-time author. So, whenever I sense FOMO creeping in, I take a step back and evaluate the tactic from that goal. Will signing up for a Snapchat account help me gain readers and sell books? Maybe. But wouldn’t the time it takes to sign up, build a following, research how to effectively use the platform, and actually use it, be better spent writing more books, utilizing proven advertising methods, and connecting with readers via my email list and familiar platforms? Absolutely!

Think Like a Business

If you’re in independent publishing to make a career, then you’re an entrepreneur. Think like one!

Whenever you participate in a business activity, you’re investing resources: time, money, energy, etc. Before you jump onto the latest craze, ask yourself: what is my investment? And what is my logical return on investment?

For example, let’s say I find a book review service. I pay them to reach out to book reviewers on my behalf. How much does that cost? How many reviews can I expect in return? Who are these reviewers, will they like my book, and do they write quality reviews? How many reviews do I need to actually impact my book sales? What is the “cost per review” then?

It’s not a perfect science, and with the qualitative nature of our field, the answers might be unclear. But the more precise you can be, the more intelligently and effectively you’ll use your resources.

Take an Outside Perspective

When we see what other indie authors are doing, it’s easy to evaluate their decisions in a logical manner. We can look at someone else’s Twitter timeline and say, “They should spend less time tweeting about their book and more time editing it.” While I’m not advocating you scour your feeds looking for authors to criticize, I encourage you to take note when those thoughts strike you. When they do, you’re probably basing that person’s actions on your own goals.

Consider the last tactic you tried and imagine that this “misguided” author was the one doing it. Would you judge them? Would you list “more important” tasks they could complete? Or would you admire their hustle and business savvy? That should tell you everything you need to know.

Find a Mentor

My indie author mentor is Joanna Penn. No, I don’t know her personally. However, her career path aligns with my personal goals. Therefore, whenever I learn of a new tactic that worked for her, I know it’s worth considering for me.

Focusing on one author helps narrow your options, and if they meet your definition of success, it gives you one (of infinite) paths to take. Which author could you follow?

Do What’s Really Important

It all comes back to the first point: knowing your own writing and publishing goals. Define your goals, research the best way to achieve them, and then do it. Focus on the broader strategies (not the new tactics and get-rich-quick tricks that pop up) and you’ll get there.

You’ll feel better, too. Earlier this year, I spent a lot of time feeling overwhelmed. So many authors have been touting new services and courses and tactics, and it gave me a serious case of FOMO. This month, I’ve focused almost exclusively on writing my next book, which right now, should be my No. 1 priority. And you know what? I haven’t felt FOMO once, because I know that I’m actively doing the most important thing for my author business.

When is FOMO Justified?

Here’s the BIG secret: most of the time, you’re not missing out on anything. There will always be a new social media craze, snazzy marketing service, or revolutionary writing technique to adopt. If you spend your time, money, and energy chasing them all, you’ll never get anything productive done.

That being said, sometimes your FOMO will be justified. In those rare cases, the shiny new button will be something that aligns with your goals, makes good business sense, works for other authors with similar goals, and doesn’t leave you with the nagging sensation that you’ve wasted resources or the guilt that you’ve ignored what’s really important. If you stick to those tenants, you’ll know something valuable when you see it.

What Now?

Use your best judgment. Be honest about your goals and how your actions serve them. And, as the latest catchphrase insists: work smarter, not harder.

Do that, over and over, day-in and day-out, and you’ll make it. The only thing you’ll miss? All the time you wasted worrying about or chasing all the crap that never mattered in the first place.

Guest Post: Branding Basics for Authors by Dave Chesson

Today, I’m thrilled to host Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur.com. If you don’t know Dave and his website, you’re missing out on a wealth of self-publishing knowledge! In this article, he discusses the elements of an author brand and how to design a unique brand that fits you. This is an aspect of publishing I’m still working on, so I’m super excited to read his tips! Over to Dave …


What Is An Author Brand?

At first glance, the concept of an author brand may seem strange or out of place. After all, doesn’t an author’s work speak for itself? Shouldn’t an author be judged by that alone?

The first thing to realize about author branding is that every author has a brand, whether they choose to deliberately develop it or not. The brand an author has is simply the way they are perceived by those who encounter them.

It is natural that readers form an opinion and an impression about writers whose work they come across. The impression formed is influenced by the choice of words the writer uses to describe their life and their work, the type of images they use when promoting their books, and the design and feel of their website, blog or any other platform officially associated with the author.

When you think of author branding as inevitable, it makes sense that an author would wish to take control of their brand and how they are perceived by the public. If readers are going to hold a certain perception, it makes sense for authors to try and influence that perception in their favour.

Read on to discover the benefits that come with taking control of your author brand, the main ways in which authors are able to influence the ways they are perceived, and some easy steps for getting started with your branding efforts.

Why Author Brands Matter

The term ‘brand’ sounds somewhat sterile and corporate and this can be off-putting for creatively minded people, such as authors. It’s better to instead think of the ways in which authors form connections with their readers, as this is the ultimate effect of a brand.

By ensuring that their brand is a reflection of who they are, authors are able to allow their readers to connect with them on a human level. Think about how much nicer it is as a reader to know something about your favorite writer in terms of their life, personality and the things which influence their creative output.

In the world of self-published books, there is more choice than ever before. People are likely to have a range of books to choose from on any given topic. If you are able to present yourself in a way which increases your credibility with readers, your book stands a better chance of being chosen ahead of the competition.

Branding Through Bios And Language

One of the first things that  browser on a major bookstore will do when researching a purchase is to try and find out something about the writer whose book they are considering buying. This is especially true in the era of self-publishing and pen names.

An author bio is one of the best ways for an author to convey who they really are to readers. Amazon Author Central, for example, offers writers the chance to feature not only a bio, but also links to their website and blog posts.

So how exactly does a bio impact branding?

The choice of language an author uses when describing their life and work directly affects how they are perceived.

Consider someone who writes inspirational, motivational self-improvement books. Imagine that their bio contained dry, dense language. Wouldn’t this be off putting and incongruous to readers? A much better impression would be formed if the author bio contained the same type of uplifting and inspirational language as found in the books.

It’s important that the language used in an author bio matches the tone and style of an author’s work. It should feel like a natural extension of their books. Readers should feel at home and familiar when reading bios of their favourite writers.

Visual Branding

A writer’s image in the eyes of readers is more than the sum of their words. The photographs, videos and design choices made by authors also impact their brand.

Writers should approach their choice of photographs and other visual elements of their brand similarly to choosing language for their bio. The visual material used should be appropriate for the style and tone of the author’s work.

Visual branding is an art and science of its own. For many writers, it can be intimidating and hard to know exactly which images are best suited to their work and audience. Two simple solutions exist for this problem.

First, writers should take the time to get a feel for what other similar writers are doing visually. By spending time checking out similar authors, any trends in terms of the type of image or colors used will emerge. This allows authors to work within the visual conventions of their genre.

Second, it’s important to get objective, outside feedback on any images chosen. Ideally, this should be from a group of relevant readers without a personal connection to the writer. This allows for truly impartial feedback from people in a position to offer valuable insight.

Author Branding Final Thoughts

Some of the keys to making author branding work for you are —

  • Seeing it as a valuable opportunity rather than a sterile chore
  • Learning how to match reader expectations to your own ideas
  • Being willing to accept feedback and make changes accordingly

We are fortunate to have a wealth of author branding examples available to us as inspiration.

If you don’t know where to start, spend some time browsing the websites of authors you admire. You’ll soon get a feel for what appeals to you.

Get inspired, find a way to put your own unique twist on the ideas you come across, and start to experiment. Have fun and make something that truly shows the world who you are.


About Dave

In his own words: When I am not fighting dragons or chasing the bogey man out of my kids closet, I like using my previous Online Optimization skills to help other authors with the ‘technical’ stuff and get the right authors to the top of Amazon and any other eBook service out there.

Guest Post: The Dos and Don’ts of Dialogue Tags by Ryan Lanz

Today, I’m pleased to host author and blogger extraordinaire Ryan Lanz. His article is packed with tips on how to correctly use dialogue tags. As someone who struggled with this as a beginning writer, trust me when I say: this is great stuff, and I wish he had written this post years ago! Over to Ryan …


Writers use dialogue tags constantly. In fact, we use them so often that readers all but gloss over them. They should be invisible. However, there are ways to misuse them and make them stand out.

In an effort to avoid that, let’s take a closer look at dialogue tags. Toward the end of “Tag travesties” is something I sorely wish someone had told me before I started writing.

Why do we use dialogue tags?

The simple answer is that we use them to indicate who’s speaking. In visual media, such as movies or television, the viewer can easily tell who’s talking by lip movement and camera angles. When reading a book, obviously that’s not an option.

Tag travesties

There are certainly ways to misuse dialogue tags. When I was a new writer, I felt compelled to overwrite. I’m sure every new writer goes through a version of this. I observed how successful writers used simple tags like “said/asked” and thought to myself, that’s boring. I’m going to be an awesome writer by making them more interesting. You don’t have to admit it aloud, writers, but we all know that most of us have. Let’s look at an example of this:

  • “We can’t cross this river,” Alanna exclaimed repugnantly.
  • John crossed the room and shouted disgustedly, “I’ll never take you with me.”
  • “This has been the worst day ever,” Susie cried angrily.

For those of you who still aren’t convinced, let’s up the dosage with a paragraph:

Hank crossed the room and sat down. “We should have never waited this long for a table,” he seethed, leaning over to glare at her. 

“If you wanted a better spot, you should have called ahead for a reservation,” Trudy returned pointedly.

“Well, perhaps if you didn’t take so long to get ready, I could have,” he countered dryly.

Can you imagine reading an entire book like that? *shiver*

So why do new writers feel the urge to be that . . . creative with their dialogue tags? Back in the beginning, I thought the typical tags of “said/asked” were too boring and dull. It didn’t take me long to realize that dull (in this context) is the point.

Image your words as a window pane of glass, and the story is behind it. Your words are merely the lens that your story is seen through. The thicker the words, the cloudier the glass gets. If you use huge words, purple prose, or crazy dialogue tags, then all you’re doing is fogging up the glass through which your reader is trying to view your story. The goal is to draw as little attention to your actual words as possible; therefore, you keep the glass as clear as possible, so that the reader focuses on the story. Using tags like “said/asked” are so clear, they’re virtually invisible.

Now, does that mean that you can’t use anything else? Of course not. Let’s look further.

Alternate dialogue tags

Some authors say to never use anything other than “said/asked,” while others say to heck with the rules and use whatever you want. Some genres (such as romance) are more forgiving about using alternate dialogue tags. I take a more pragmatic approach to it. I sometimes use lines like:

“I’m glad we got out of there,” she breathed.

The very important question is how often. I compare adverbs and alternate dialogue tags to a strong spice. Some is nice, but too much will spoil the batch. Imagine a cake mix with a liter of vanilla flavoring, rather than the normal tablespoon. The more often you use anything other than “said/asked,” the stronger the flavor. If it’s too powerful, it’ll tug the reader away from the story and spotlights those words. In a full length book of around 85,000 words, I personally use alternate dialogue tags only around a few dozen times total.

By saving them, the pleasant side effect is that when I do use them, they pack more of an emotional punch.


Related: How to Write Natural Dialogue


Action beats

I have a love affair with action beats. Used effectively, they can be another great way to announce who’s talking, yet at the same time add some movement or blocking to a scene. For example:

Looking down, Katie ran a finger around the edge of the mug. “We need to talk.”

That added some nice flavor to the scene, and you know who spoke. The only caveat is to be careful of not using too many action beats, as it does slow down the pacing a tiny bit. If you’re writing a bantering sequence, for example, you wouldn’t want to use a lot of action beats so as to keep the pacing quick.

Dos and don’ts

Sometimes, action beats and dialogue tags have misused punctuation. I’ll give some examples.

  • “Please don’t touch that.” She said, blocking the display. (Incorrect)
  • “Let’s head to the beach,” he said as he grabbed a towel. (Correct)
  • Sam motioned for everyone to come closer, “Take a look at this.” (Incorrect)
  • Debbie handed over the magnifying glass. “Do you see the mossy film on the top?” (Correct)

Conclusion

Like many things in a story/novel, it’s all about balance. Try alternating actions beats, dialogue tags, and even no tags at all when it’s clear who’s speaking. By changing it up, it’ll make it so that no one method is obvious.


About Ryan

Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr.

Image courtesy of Onnola via Flickr, Creative Commons.