Friday, September 25, 2015

My Boss is Kind of Crazy but in a Good Way

We’ve all been there. We get to work and immediately encounter a boss who makes almost impossible seeming demands of our time, talent and resources. We come home at the end of the day exhausted, wondering if this is really what we should be doing with our life.

So what happens when you work for yourself? Do you tell your boss she’s crazy for the schedule she wants you to keep, or do you blindly follow everything she wants you to do in order to run a successful business?

As self-employed people we have a great responsibility resting on our shoulders. We’re everything in a company from intern to owner and sometimes it’s really tough to keep at it day in and day out.

And, if I’m being truly honest here, that dedication can be more intense for a writer running a self-publishing business. Why? I think this quote pretty well sums it up:

Because it can take years, decades even, to become a writer who starts making a steady income stream from their words.

If at all.


We can type, scrawl and scribble for years and never make any headway at being able to do it full-time. Hell, I wrote fiction since I was 14 but didn’t even publish my first blog until I was 34. The books came later and the income? Well, that’s an entirely different issue.


Disheartened yet? Thinking of quitting? Believe me, I’ve been there.

But bear with me and hopefully you’ll see why:

Quitting is the last thing you should do!

Last fall something amazing happened and not only did I blow my own mind but I completely changed the way I looked at my writing. It’s made all the difference in my dedication level to running this thing I call a business and I actually can see an income stream beginning to grow. Yes, as a fiction author!

Want to know what happened?

It was two-fold.

First, I fractured my wrist in early October last year. I’d love to tell you I was doing something super cool like playing hockey but not so much. Drunken patio yoga did me in for almost 2 full months. Sigh. What can I say, I’m human. AKA: sometimes a freaking idiot.

But, second, and this is actually where my mind-shift began, I had to do that to myself. Because, in the end, it led to my ah-ha moment. It was imperative I allowed myself to go through the physical and mental pain of that injury because it solidified my thoughts from the entire prior year.

So let me back up and give you a bit of that story.

Will write for pay

I was freelancing for a couple years ghost-writing/tweeting, blogging, writing web copy and other marketing pieces for clients. It was okay. I was pretty good at it. I made money. That’s where my love for it ended, however.

Because I didn’t want to do that shit for someone else. I wanted to do it for myself. I just struggled to see how all that blog, tweet, newsletter writing could lead into anything for my company.

My flailing, sinking, haven’t-released-a-book-in-3-years company.

If I could just figure out how to write blogs and tweets for my readers, I could probably re-launch Writesy Press, LLC.

Fucking lightbulb.

All the work I’d been producing for clients for two years was my training. I learned how to write to entice. To write marketing stuff and keep it going consistently by establishing a schedule.

And I had all of this old work (fiction and reference) just sitting around doing nothing. Like I had been doing for 8 weeks with a broken bone. We both needed to get back in the game.

I bought voice-to-text software immediately.

No way was my stupid identified drunken injury going to keep me from doing my job anymore!

And at that moment, my job was all about getting my real message weeded out, shared, and to start connecting with people. Helping other writers who might be struggling with writing their first book.

Because I was a fiction author at heart, not a freelancer. I’d already written 3 books, released 2, and it was the only job I ever did as a writer that brought me joy and income (regardless of how small that number was to start).

Once I started dropping freelance clients I simply replaced the hours I worked for them with doing the same thing for my company. Blog client gone? I write blogs for my readers. Web copy client gone? Time to start that newsletter I’d been mulling over. You get the point.

When the last client dropped off, I knew the time was there to get back to writing my books too. So I started and in the process lost sight of all the other stuff – blog, newsletter, twitter – making real connections.

Enter Oktoberfest and broken wrist

Isn’t it Murphy’s Law that as we get ahead we fall behind? Well, after a few weeks of introspection & lack of activity due to pain (Hallmark movies rule!), I turned it into a sign to get my shit together before trying to move forward.

During my downtime I handwrote a lot of the book Reckless Hearts (broke left wrist & I’m a righty) and started getting my marketing materials in check:

  • First and foremost, wrote a business plan.
  • Second, wrote and implemented a marketing plan.
  • Blogs that furthered my message were left alone.
  • Blogs that didn’t were deleted or moved.
  • Created shortened links to remaining posts.
  • Developing a spreadsheet to track/organize/manage tweets.
  • Researched hashtags for writers.
  • Started a tweet database with hashtags & links.
  • Opened a hootsuite account so I could schedule my tweets (AKA: free up time for fiction).
  • Created a newsletter template.
  • Established a monthly schedule for work days and days off (very important!)

And within three months not only was I following the schedule, I was crushing it! Why? Because I birthed a viable monthly schedule out of 2 of my darkest months ever.

What’s that quote about doors and windows opening and closing?

If I never got hurt I wonder if I even would have finished Reckless Hearts, not to mention seven months of consistent tweeting/connecting and a second title this year – Creative Writing Kickstart. That title is a culmination of six months of writing prompts, plus a lot of new ones, that I shared with my fiction writer following.

Holy shit!

Even writing it out I’m amazed I was able to pull it together to write a business plan but it was that very document, coupled with my marketing plan, that forced me to evaluate in total honesty where I came from, where I was and where I wanted my business to be.

From misery came determination and if I learned anything on that journey it was this:

When you want to give up is when you’re most honest, your emotions are raw and that truth is going to come through in every word you write.

Use it as fuel to stoke the fires of your business building and you’ll never look at your boss as the crazy person ever again. Instead, you’ll build a business you can be proud of, high-fiveing yourself for being the best boss you’ve ever had!

If you need a nudge at killing writers block and want some cool story starters check out my book Creative Writing Kickstart. With over 365 writing prompts you’re sure to find something that jumpstarts your fiction and career.

Because there’s no better way to shut up the boss than by doing your job, am I right?

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Why Spellcheck Sucks

I love writing in a program that indicates my spelling and grammar mistakes. It helps when I’m on my seventh read-through of my own book and have to get through it even though I’ve all but glazed over at the jumble of my own words.

Google Docs will give me spelling advice, and I love to use it when working on project pieces with Kate for Blogging Your Book. But my go-to program is MS Word.

In lieu of having an editor on staff (because, well, I’m an indie author so let’s get real about the level of income that’s happening in this office, huh?) I can rely on Word to give me similar suggestions as an editor when I’m doing my first read-through.

Or can I?

Take, for example, the following sentence that I wrote for a personal blog post about 3 years ago:

“Regardless that Stephanie Meyer is a Phoenix based Author.”

Notice the spelling mistake? Yeah, well neither did Word. Or my brain while I was typing it or when I did my read-through after pasting the text into my blog post.

Because that line should read:

“Regardless that Stephenie Meyer is a Phoenix based Author.”

If you aren’t familiar with her work you might have done something similar to what I did and just typed her first name the way that name is generally spelled. I wasn’t really thinking, I was lost in a Twilight haze and since it was spelled “correctly”, Word didn’t flag it.

People have spelled my name wrong too. The most common is Jen because that’s the usual way people spell it, not with 2 n’s. But I’ve also seen Jenn Flynn-Shonn – 2 n’s for everyone!

It wasn’t until the post came out that I noticed my error, then made the necessary edit. Luckily, my blog wasn’t super popular so I’m pretty sure nobody noticed except me. Still, I was partially mortified. I mean, I’m an author too and it makes me cringe when people spell my name wrong so how could I get the name of a famous local author wrong?!

But these things happen, right?

Sure, and it’s why, as fiction writers, we need an editor!

Editors and proofreaders will help you to ensure as few spelling and grammar mistakes as possible. But they leave your voice alone. They still let you tell your story in your way, just, better. More polished.

And proofreaders will help you reign in where you typed ‘an’ instead of ‘and’, where you missed the word ‘to’ in the narrative, or when your character is ‘charging if the front door’.

These pros are an invaluable asset, especially for an indie who has probably read their own book so many times the prose is blurring together in one big glob of letters.

However, I’m sure you’ve noticed the myriad of these pros scattered about the internet and social media sites. So how can you know if the pro really is a pro, not just a fly-by-nighter trying to make a quick buck with no real experience behind them?

Here’s my criteria when looking for someone to help polish my books:

  • They must be a reader (bonus if they read my specific genre).
  • They must have a website.
  • That website must look and feel professional, and be easy to navigate.
  • It also shouldn’t have any spelling mistakes (hello, red flag!).
  • They have to understand modern fiction (because sometimes we have to dangle participles or end a sentence with a preposition in order to stay true to a character’s voice, but we also shouldn’t make a habit of it.)
  • Their fees should be reasonable (we’re talking Goldilocks Zone here, people – one cent per 100 words isn’t realistic but neither is $50 per page, for a 500 page book, as a proofreader).
  • At least one book in their portfolio (I don’t care if it was written by their BFF, mom, brother, I want references and examples of the kind of work they can do before I fork over my “baby” and all that moolah!)
  • They get back to me in a reasonable amount of time (because I don’t expect a response in 10 minutes but it should be less than 72 hours or I’ll question how much attention they can give their clients – fostering a relationship is key to repeat business).

Bottom line, don’t rely on spellcheck and grammar checks in programs to bring that finished quality to your fiction. Hire the right people and your investment will pay off in the professionalism of your work!

Do you have an editor or proofer you use on the regular? I’ll be looking for a new one for my next book and would love suggestions. Leave their twitter ID in the comments or come on over and connect with me on twitter

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Planning by the Seat of my Pants

If you’ve spent any time reading the inner musings of novelists then you know there are essentially two types of writers – pantsers and planners.

To define each, a pantser is someone that flies by the seat of their pants and writes whatever comes to them in the moment their fingers hit keys while a planner meticulously details a full outline of each book and sticks to it through the end.

Which is better? As far as I’m concerned either way is terrific if it works to produce a quality piece of fiction.


To the tune of the Osmonds: I’m a little bit pantser, a little bit plan it out. But to fully understand how that’s possible, let me share a bit of my writing process.

Outline pantser

When I sit down to start working on a new book I think about the characters, the basic plot and some of the scenes. I’ll start writing and maybe come up with one or two gems that stick around but at the beginning all I really try to do is figure out what the characters are trying to say and why they do what they do.

In other words, I am an outline pantser.

An outline can be a great tool while working on a book. Consider how many characters there might be in a piece of fiction. Then how many personality traits each of those characters have. How many places they go, things they do, moments they have that push the story forward.

Those little nuances are what give a book a feeling of completion, fullness.

But I couldn’t possibly plan for those moments, sometimes spontaneity is crucial to a story so it feels organically birthed and not contrived.

The first 25 or so pages I write will work toward developing a story. One that isn’t real yet but is on its way. Meaning that I haven’t spent enough time with the characters yet to understand their motivations or background.

Think of it like this: you get invited to a dinner party but know no one other than the host. Could you tell me what will happen at the end of the night before you even arrive? (If you can then you might be a planner!)

Likely, the answer is no.

What might happen at the end of the night only becomes apparent after a glass of wine, some food and dialogue among your peers. A book is the same thing with the only difference being it all comes out of your head.

Planning plot points

That’s the point where things get interesting for me as a writer. After meeting and getting to know all my characters in a pantsy way, I start to dwell on the good and evil sides of their personalities.

After all, I write mystery fiction. Which means every character in the book will have something to hide as well as the face they put on for the general public around them. Good guys aren’t always 100% good people, just like killers aren’t always 100% evil.

But once I have a general idea about who those characters are, because of the handful of pages I write to work it out, that’s when I can get down to the planning phase.

In the past I mentioned my novel journal where I make notes of the various aspects in my book. That journal is a direct result of caution-to-the-wind pantsing (and yes, I’m using this as a verb, sue me). The cast is established, motivations of the killer/victim/observers are clear and the setting established.

Then I can take that info and start building scenes because, like a game of chess, I can now see three moves into the future.

The moments that make a book special are the ones that seem to spontaneously appear on the page though, the unexpected things that turn a corner or change a reader’s perception of a character.

All that stuff comes with pantsing an outline.

They surprise me in a good way and then I work hard to fit those surprises into the greater structure of the story as a whole.

Some make it, some don’t, but all of that early work has merit because it gets you closer to your character’s inner motivations.

But I don’t get bogged down

To be a pantser means writing stream of consciousness and not caring much about how it will fit. Because, to be a pantser also means you understand how much editing you’ll be doing later, regardless if there’s a solid outline or not.

For me, to embrace being a pantser means to just keep writing. Even when I encounter things that trip me up.

For example, a new character can be confusing at times. I’m just getting to know them so sometimes I can’t name them until more of their “self” shines through.

In that instance I use brackets and come back to the issue later. Sometimes not until the end of editing the first draft! Here’s how that might read as I pants my outline:

I looked out the driver’s side window at this twenty year old kid in front of me. He was average height and build and his fancy nametag read [VALET NAME] but all I could think of was that episode of Friends where Ross bleached his teeth. The kid’s smile had to glow in the dark.

How I do it:
  • Use the bracketed label in the story as I write
  • Immediately note down the character and bracketed info in my journal (for reference)
  • Use the same label throughout the book
  • Take advantage of Word find/replace when the name comes to me
  • Note the name in the journal (for future reference)

So, as you can see, I feel there’s a lot of merit in both styles of writing and I use both in the crafting of my books.

Which do you use? Do you do a little of both, like me, or does your writing tend to lean one way or the other?

Due to a severe spike in spam, I no longer accept comments from Anonymous users. All comments made on posts 3 days or older will be moderated. Spam will be deleted (it is up to the blog administrator to determine if a comment is spam). A new window opens when you click to comment.