A Podcast That Could Help You Start Your Novel

When you start your novel, ideally your first chapter will do some or all of these things:

  • Open With Conflict
  • Signal The Genre
  • Introduce Compelling Characters
  • Raise Story Questions
  • Provide The Necessary Backstory/Exposition

You can read more about some techniques for doing so in Writing The First Lines Of Your Novel.

I also recently found a fun podcast that can help you figure out how to do this.

What The Audience Wants

I've always loved learning about story construction by taking apart films and novels that work or don't work for me. It's part of why I love seeing movies with other writers.

Finally A Podcast does something similar with TV series, but from an audience perspective.

So far as I know, the hosts aren't writers. To me, that makes their insight more valuable. They're responding as audience members, not story creators.

As a writer, my first goal is for my audience (readers) to be engaged enough with my novels to keep reading and to return to my work again and again.

The Beginning And The End

The two hosts are brothers. They start by watching the pilot of a TV show they've never seen and share their insights.

Their reactions include what they think the show is about, how they feel about the characters, whether they find the conflicts compelling, what they understand and don't about the story, and where they think the story will go.

On the story prediction side, they often guess at which characters will become romantically involved and which might die.

After doing that, they watch the finale of the show, skipping everything in between.

Along with a guest who knows the whole series, the hosts talk about what surprised them, whether their initial take was accurate, and whether they recommend the show.

Helping You Start Your Novel

I find this show so helpful for thinking about starting my stories. It's most useful to me when the hosts talk about a series I know and love. (I've listened to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mad Men episodes, for instance.)

Seeing what they don't get about the show from the pilot is particularly striking.

It brings home to me that what might be obvious to the writer or to someone already excited about the show (maybe because a friend recommended it) could be completely unclear to a brand new viewer.

Also, when predictions are accurate, it highlights examples of excellent foreshadowing and character development.

So far, I see only twenty episodes, the last one in late 2018. It's unclear whether Finally A Podcast will continue. But I strongly suggest checking out the existing episode list.

It's a wonderful, fun way to examine what works and doesn't at the beginning of a long-form story.

That's all for this week. Until next Friday, when The One-Year Novelist goes wide.

L.M. Lilly

Extreme Productivity (Part 4 – Less Stress)

Lowering stress is one reason I transitioned from practicing law full-time to writing full-time. But the path to a successful independent author business is less clearly defined than the one for building a law practice.

As a result of that lack of clarity, my list of things to do (or that I “should” be doing) sometimes seems endless.

Which is why I've been writing about a step I learned from Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. That step is to write down next to each task on your calendar what your purpose is in doing it.

This is my fourth and the last article on the topic.

But it might be the most important one because stress has so much to do with our happiness and health.

Not Knowing What Works

The more articles I read, podcasts I listen to, and authors I talk to the more possible paths to success (or lack thereof) I find.

Unfortunately, a strategy that works for one author might not work for me.

For example, if a romance author who publishes a book a month earns a lot of royalties by running Amazon ads, that doesn't mean my new mystery/suspense series will benefit from the same approach. Not only is it a different genre, I've only written 2 novels in the series so far. In addition, right now I'm still aspiring to publish a novel every six months, let alone one per month.

To add to the difficulty of deciding whether to adopt another author's strategy, it's not always easy to tell how well a particular book or set of books is selling.

A book that ranks in the Top 5,000 on Amazon regularly is probably selling well on that platform. A different book that rarely ranks above 40,000 on Amazon might, however, be earning its author more money.

How?

If the book is sold on multiple platforms in addition to Amazon (such as Kobo and Apple), and in multiple formats (paperback, hardback, e-book, audiobook), and the Top 5,000 book is sold only for Kindle, the lower-ranked booked may earn more money overall.

Because of these differences, comparing ourselves to another author won't always help us figure out which tasks will help us.

Comparison Shopping For Less Stress

As I wrote about last week, noting the purpose of each task when you add it to your calendar helps eliminate unnecessary tasks. Taking the unnecessary items off the To Do list helps with stress management right there.

But it also lowers stress in another way.

By adding a purpose, we are grouping the tasks in a logical way. Now instead of choosing 2 or 3 tasks to do in an afternoon out of a list of 50 that serve multiple purposes, we're choosing among the smaller number of tasks all intended to accomplish the same purpose.

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t add any cost to the buyer.) 

That makes it a lot easier to compare one task to another and decide which one is most worth doing.

To use a shopping analogy, I'm deciding which fruit to buy among a handful of oranges, apples, and pears rather than which food to buy from the whole grocery store.

What Works Best

Let's say my purpose in writing this article about stress management is to encourage readers to buy my most recent nonfiction release, Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. (While I'm happy if you check it out, that's not the purpose. My goal is to connect with other writers by providing useful content.) Once I define that purpose I can now compare to everything else on my task list that might increase sales of that book.

Based on how much time or money each task would cost, I can decide which is the most worth doing.

For instance, if it takes me three hours to write an article, it might make more sense to instead run a sale on the book and spend an extra $35 advertising it.

Which one I choose will depend in part on whether I have more time than money, what I enjoy doing, and whether the article (or the ad) might serve more than one purpose.

An added plus of comparing similar tasks is that it's easier to decide afterward which was more effective. In the beginning, I might try both of the above approaches on different weeks. I can then compare the sales of the book and decide which task resulted in more sales.

When I didn't group tasks by purpose, I was less likely to check my results–because often I didn't know what I'd been aiming for.

Knowing When To Stop Working

To bring this article back to feeling less stress, comparing similar tasks helps me choose which ones to do, but that's not the only benefit. It also helps me feel I have accomplished something when I complete each item on my list.

Before, no matter how much I did or how many items I crossed off, I always ended the day feeling uncertain whether I had moved toward my goals or not. That question often led me to do just one more thing.

Or, if I did stop working for the day, I kept thinking I should have done something more.

Now when I finish the items I've put into my calendar, I feel that my day is finished. I'm more able to relax and so have less stress.

That's because even if each task doesn't turn out to move me toward my goal, I know how to evaluate whether it was helpful or not. So at least in the future I'll be able to choose more valuable tasks.

Eventually, everything on my calendar will help me reach my goals.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about a podcast I recently discovered. It's not about writing, but it nonetheless could help you figure out by example what's working and not as you start your novel

L.M. Lilly

Extreme Productivity (Part 3 – Work Less, Achieve More)

Is it possible to work less and get more done?

Writing what I aim to accomplish next to each task in my calendar (learned from Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen) is helping me do just that.

Creating The To Do List

Most of us who create To Do lists or include tasks on a calendar every day do it because it helps us get things done. In addition to keeping me on track, crossing something off a list gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

But that feeling can fool us.

If the thing you crossed off doesn’t serve a purpose, you spent time working for nothing.

But wait, I can hear you say, at work you get paid to get things done. So we are not working for nothing.

It’s true. When you work for someone else, that person or company usually creates your To Do list. And rewards you for crossing things off.

When you work for yourself, though, or pursue a project like writing a novel because you've chosen to do it, no one is paying you based on finishing tasks.

A task only has value if it helps you reach a goal. If not, you're better off doing something else (or taking a break).

Getting To The Goal

As one example, if your goal is to write a novel, you might include on your calendar participating in a writers critique group (in person or online). Let’s say the group requires all five participants, including you, to circulate 10 pages of writing 2 days before your meeting.

Everyone reads and critiques one another’s work. You meet weekly to discuss the comments.

You're hoping the group will help you reach your goal of finishing your novel.

But will it? And are the tasks relating to it truly necessary?

Necessary Or Not?

There is no one answer to whether a critique group is necessary or not. So let’s look at how you figure that out by adding your purpose into your calendar.

First, think about your overall goal in attending the group. If the goal is to finish your novel, write that down.

Second, look at each separate task.

Writing your pages serves the purpose of getting you closer to finishing a novel. That one seems easy, and we'd probably keep it on our calendar regardless of the critique group.

The reason to read other people's writing seems obvious: fair is fair. If you want group members to critique your work, in turn you need to critique theirs.

That reason, however, doesn't tell us if staying in the group serves a purpose.

The question is whether the group causes you to write more pages than you would if you freed up the hours it takes to read other people's work and to attend meetings. If without a group you won’t write, or you'll write a whole lot less, then the group-related tasks serve their purpose. I’d keep them on my calendar.

But let's say that you generally write whether or not you attend a critique group.

If so, the group is not serving the purpose of helping you finish the novel. In fact, it might be getting in the way of it because the hours you spend critiquing other people's work and at meetings could be spent on your own book.

Before crossing all the critique group tasks off your calendar, though, it's worth looking at whether you have any other purpose in attending.

For instance, you might attend because you want to improve your writing skills. If that's so, likewise you need to look at each task related to the group and ask yourself if it accomplishes that purpose.

Writing Your Purpose Every Week

Once you decide a critique group (or anything else) is worth your time, you might be tempted to block it into your calendar for the entire year.

Including the purpose each week, though, is key to spotting tasks that no longer serve a purpose.

Going back to the critique group example, I typically write whether or not I attend a group. But for a long time I attended a writers group for a different purpose. Reading and critiquing the pages of other people helped me become a better novelist.

That was so because I could often see things in their writing that I didn't recognize in my own, which helped me improve my novels.

As I wrote more and more, though, critiquing group members' pages helped less. I often gave comments on basic grammar or sentence structure. While I'm not a perfect writer, I felt pretty confident about those skills. And what I needed to work on most–overall plot and character development–wasn't covered because we read only small sections, not entire novels.

Nonetheless I kept attending for years because I thought going to writers groups was a good thing.

Had I started writing down the purpose for each task earlier, I would have realized much sooner that I was spending time on things that weren’t helping me reach my goals.

Now I am focusing particularly on things I do for marketing and promotion. I’m continuing with many of them, but already dropped three or four that didn't truly serve a purpose. Which means I'm working less.

If you'd like to work less, too, try looking at the tasks on your own calendar.

Write your purpose next to each one. I’m betting you'll discover a number that you can drop. Let me know!

That’s all for today. Until next Friday when we’ll talk about accomplishing more with less stress

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Writing down a purpose for each task also helped me stop putting things off, as I wrote about last week, and increase my energy and motivation.

Extreme Productivity (Part 2 – Motivation)

Today's post is about motivation. Last week I wrote about a simple step I learned from Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen that made my life as an author so much easier. That step is to write in your calendar next to each task what you aim to accomplish by doing it.

Not only can doing so help you stop putting things off, as I wrote about last week, it can increase your energy and motivation.

When Short Stories Are Like Vegetables

Knowing exactly what I want to accomplish with each task gets me a lot more excited about it.

For example, while I love to write novels, I tend to put off short story writing. I just don’t enjoy it the way I do writing novels, and I don’t read as many short stories as I do books.

For me, writing a short story has always been like eating vegetables. I do it because I know it's good for me, not because I like it. (Sorry to all who love veggies, I am just not a fan.)

Reasons Are Not The Same As Purpose

Following Pozen's approach of figuring out and listing my purpose for a goal or task, I thought about why I want to write short stories.

One reason is that I know from experience that writing short stories helps hone my craft. It's easier to see what's working and isn't with the plot. I'm also more apt to focus on one character and make sure that person's motivations and growth are clear.

As important, because I don't release multiple novels a year (I'm still aiming to get to two per year), short stories can be a way to bridge the gap in between.

In that sense, short stories are a form of marketing.

Readers are reminded that the characters they remember and love from a series are out there.

Writing Short Stories
When writing feels like eating your vegetables

Also relating to readers, it's a chance to explore side stories that don't quite fit into the novels but that add depth to the characters. Because I release the stories initially exclusively to my email subscribers, it's a sort of inside scoop that they get about the world of my Q.C. Davis mystery/suspense series and the people who live there.

With all those reasons, you'd think I'd be diving into getting those stories written. And yet, until recently, I didn't.

Because reasons are not the same as purpose.

Purpose = Energy And Motivation

Because I had all those reasons to write short stories, I dutifully reserved time in my calendar this year to write the second short story, the one I wanted to release after Book 2 (The Charming Man), which came out in December, 2018. (I wrote the first short story last year after pushing myself to do it for about 6 months.)

That task appeared on my calendar at least 2 or 3 times a month this entire year.

Yet, almost every time it was the thing that got pushed to the end of the day, then the week, then the month.

As I read Extreme Productivity, I set aside all the reasons writing short stories was a good idea and asked myself what I truly wanted to accomplish by doing it.

I realized I wanted to do something nice for my subscribers. In other words, to improve my relationship with them.

When I thought of it that way instead of feeling I was working to check off a box, I felt excited about sending my readers a gift they’d enjoy. Not only did I finish a draft in a week, I added layers and further developed the characters in ways I hadn’t thought of before.

And it was fun.

Next week I'll be sending No New Beginnings to my subscribers.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when we’ll talk about eliminating unnecessary tasks (that you previously felt sure you needed to do)–

L.M. Lilly