Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

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.

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Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

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 Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

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.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

What to Do When You Have Too Many Story Ideas

Are You Drowning in Story Ideas?

What’s the best problem a writer can have? Too Many Ideas Syndrome (TMIS).

TMIS is the opposite of writer’s block. It’s that sensation when you have so much inspiration, you feel overwhelmed. What story should I write next? Which would be the most fun? Which would my readers like?

I can’t answer those questions for you … but I can give you strategies to make your own decisions. Read on for methods to help you choose which idea to pursue and how to stay loyal to that idea when more inspiration comes calling.

5 Ways to Choose a Story Idea

First things first, start by writing all of your ideas down. You don’t have to use detail, just create a simple list so you can see exactly what you’re working with. You might have more (or fewer) separate ideas than you thought.

1. Go with your passion

When you look through your list, there will probably be an idea that calls out to you more strongly than the others. If you’re writing for a hobby or aren’t married to a particular genre or series, pursue this idea. (Let’s be honest: it’s what you want to do anyway.)

2. Go with your business

If you are writing for your career (and have an established series or genre), then the most logical decision is to write the project that fits with your other books. Your audience will be most comfortable reading a similar story, and you’ve already proven to yourself that you can write that style. Confidence and business win!

3. Combine ideas

More than likely, there will be two ideas or concepts on your list that could go together. Consider which ideas fit in similar genres or have connecting themes. How could you take the best elements from both and make them into one story?

4. Leave it to chance

Seriously, get out a coin or put all your ideas in a hat and see what happens. When the moment to reveal the winning idea comes, you might just realize which one you were actually hoping would win (hint: pick this idea!). If you are 100% indifferent or torn, then accept the verdict and get writing!

5. Talk through your ideas

Sometimes, explaining your ideas aloud can show you which ones are strong and which have less potential. You could do this with yourself, a friend, or (ideally) someone who represents your target audience. Word of warning: make sure you tell your listener whether you want feedback and/or what type of feedback to give. Too much criticism at this early stage can crush your enthusiasm for a great idea.

5 Strategies to Prevent Distraction From New Ideas

Once you have finally settled on an idea, you need to stick with it. Unless you have the time and creative energy to write multiple books at once (lucky duck!), you must avoid the siren call of tempting new projects. How do you do this?

1. Write down your idea

Again, record your shiny new idea wherever you gather inspiration. Sometimes, just acknowledging the idea and promising to return to it later is enough to quiet your mind.

2. Put it on the calendar

If you have a production schedule (even a tentative one) and you think your new idea has potential, give it a slot on your calendar. Knowing that you can explore it after you finish other projects will be great motivation to finish your current works-in-progress.

3. Start researching

While you might not want to write two stories at once, there’s no reason you can’t start researching or outlining your new idea. This allows you to play with the idea, without letting it distract from your creative work. Just don’t let this take away from your writing time!

4. Work on it in your “off” time

Whatever writing project is top of your list should say there. However, if you meet your word count goal for the day, there’s no harm in starting your new idea in your “free” time. Again, though, do not let this new story derail your current work-in-project.

5. Use it in a different form

If you make art in another media (painting, music, etc.), could you incorporate an aspect of your idea in that facet of your creative life? By doing this, you’ll explore the idea and give into your passion without taking away from your writing time.

Though these strategies can help you choose a story idea and prevent distraction from new ideas, ultimately, you have to trust your gut. You are the writer. You are the artist. And only you know what stories are best for your creative life and your audience. Trust yourself, work hard, and no matter which idea you choose, you’ll rock it!


How do you choose which writing projects to pursue? Have you ever felt torn between story ideas? Share your tips and experiences in the comments!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing and Publishing Resources for Independent Authors

writing-and-publishing-resources
While I share a lot of my own experience and advice in writing and publishing articles, I thought it was time to highlight some of the many writing and publishing resources that I turn to for information and inspiration. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will certainly get you started on your author journey!

on-writing-stephen-king
Source

Books

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – Hands down the best writing craft book I’ve ever read. The first part is King’s life in writing. The second is full of great tips.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler – My second favorite craft book. It breaks down Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey for fiction authors.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee – Top of my own craft TBR. I’ve heard this has great insights for fiction writers, too.

Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant – Covers writing craft, editing, and the basics of independent publishing all in one clear, actionable guide.

Business for Authors: How to Be an Author Entrepreneur by Joanna Penn – A comprehensive book for those who have writing craft down and are ready to focus on the business and marketing sides of being an author.


creative-penn
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Blogs

The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn shares great insights from her own author journey, as well as guest posts and podcast episodes that address all stages of writing and publishing. (Since I mention her podcast here, it’s not in my list below … but it’s definitely a must-listen for indie authors!)

Jane Friedman’s blog – A huge catalog of resources for both traditionally and independently published writers.

Dean Wesley Smith’s blog – Lots of practical, straight-forward advice, plus real experiences from an author whos written literally millions of words.

Goins Writer – More on the inspirational and craft side of the spectrum, Jeff Goins’ posts offer encouragement and beginner-/intermediate-level advice.

The Way Finder – Indie author legend Hugh Howey mixes writing tips with current events and personal musings. This one is my favorite writing post I’ve ever read.


smarter-artist-podcast
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Podcasts

The Smarter Artist – In (almost) daily, 10-minute-or-less episodes, the Sterling & Stone crew (aka Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, & David Wright) give fantastic craft tips.

Story Shop – Another Sterling & Stone great. This is a limited series where the guys share their writing process from brainstorming to drafting to editing.

The Petal to the Medal – My most recent podcast discovery. Veteran full-time author Rachael Herron and soon-to-be (as of July 2017) full-time author J. Thorn discuss quitting the day job, writing strategies, time management, inspiration and more.

Sell More Books Show – A weekly independent publishing news round-up and marketing tips, hosted by entrepreneurship guru Jim Kukral and author Bryan Cohen.

Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast – Simon Whistler’s weekly interview show introduced me to independent publishing and taught me the ropes.


What are your favorite writing/publishing books, blogs, and podcasts? Share your resources in the comments (with links, please!). And yes, feel free to promote your own work!