Fear of Success and Writer’s Block

Fear of failure can cause writer’s block, but so can fear of success.

Why would a writer fear success? In my experience, there are at least three reasons:

(1)  Success means more people will notice you

(2)  Success causes change

(3)  Success might not change things enough

Success And Being Seen

To be able to write, most writers need to turn off the critical part of their brains.

The part that says you’re no good at this, or your main character doesn’t ring true, or that last line sounded really awkward.

If you become successful as writer, say by selling a million copies of your novel, you’ll draw all sorts of comments from other people, including critics and possibly Internet trolls. That can be really scary.

Also, some people grow up in a family, or run into other situations, where success draws anger, jealousy, or even abuse.

If that’s so for you, the idea of success may very well make you more anxious than excited.

Finally, because we’re human, we all make mistakes. I don’t know anyone, though, who likes making mistakes in public for all the world to see. Being successful can mean exactly that.

If any of the above resonates with you, you may fear being more visible and feel more comfortable when no one notices you.

Which means regardless how much you want to write or love to write, you may be undermining yourself.

Success Brings Change

If you plan to write a novel this year but you don’t finish it or publish it, it’s likely nothing else in your life will change. You may feel disappointed. But your family, job or career, friends, and hobbies will likely be the same as they were before.

In other words, not succeeding generally means your life will continue on as it is.

Success, on the other hand, changes your life in one way or another. If you sell a novel and get a large advance or earn a lot of royalties, you’ll have more money to deal with.

That sounds great, but it can also be overwhelming. If you’ve been in the same financial circumstances for a long time, changing them can bring a whole new set of problems.

Success also often means shifting priorities. It may shake up relationships or cause you to question other jobs or work that you do.

All that may be terrific in the long run. But if you feel nervous about those types of changes it may result in a fear of success. And that fear may mean you write less. Or not at all.

Sometimes Things Don’t Change Enough

The last fear of success is that it won’t change enough in your life.

If you’re like me, you may have worked for decades towards being able to sell your novels. Then let’s say you sell one or two or three and they meet with success beyond your wildest dreams.

That will feel great. But it won’t make everything else in your life perfect.

In fact, you might discover that your focus on your writing allowed you to ignore other problems that now come to the forefront.

Also, if you’ve been unhappy or anxious and believed it was because you weren’t able to finish or sell your novels, you might discover that’s not the issue at all. That you sold a lot of books and still wake up each morning feeling worried or sad.

If you think that might be the case for you, you may be undermining your writing so you never need to face that issue.

What To Do

So how do you deal with the fear of success?

In his article Fear of Success: How It Works and What to Do About It, clinical psychologist Nick Wignall suggests:

  1. journaling to understand the origins of your fear;
  2. paying attention to and tracking what you do to avoid success;
  3. facing your fears a little at a time; and
  4. getting help from a skilled therapist if fear of success causes you significant problems.

That’s all for this week. Until next time—

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If anxiety over writing or other parts of life is a challenge for you, you might also find Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity to Live a Calmer, Happier Life helpful.

Write Early and More Easily

Writing early in the day — first thing if possible — helps most people write more regularly and feel less blocked. That's especially true if you work another job, have another career, or are managing other significant responsibilities.

Why does writing early help? I cover a few reasons below.

If you're at a place in life, though, where you simply can't get up any earlier, or you don't have a regular schedule, there are still ways to find time to write.

Try the spare change method or the other ideas in Tips For Writing Novels While Working More Than Full Time.

Writing Requires Decisions

You're probably heard of decision fatigue. It's the idea that the more decisions you make in a day, the harder it is to decide what to do (or buy or eat).

Basically, you get worn out.

And, as Amanda Brown, the Homepreneur, pointed out recently in an interview on The Creative Penn, writing is all about deciding. What characters to write about. Who they are. What happens next.

All of us make decisions all day long. So if you wait until the end of the day to write, you probably won't feel much like making a lot more decisions about your fictional world.

It's Easier To Write Early

Also, because you haven't been making decisions all day, you'll have more focus and energy to decide to write first thing in the morning.

In contrast, at the end of the day it'll be a lot harder to decide to sit at your keyboard rather than simply going with the flow of whatever's happening at the moment.

Early Helps You Stick To The Plan

We all know the old saying about the best laid plans of mice and men.

If you aim to write later in the day, there are so many more opportunities for other things to arise that seem — or truly are — more urgent and important.

For many of us, the only time we can be fairly certain we'll have 15 or 30 minutes free is if we get up earlier. That way we can write before anyone else is awake or anyone expects us to do anything.

That's also why so many people exercise first thing in the morning.

And, as with exercising, if you can write every morning before you do anything else, it'll become habit. Which means you won't need to decide at all. You'll just do it.

That's all for today.

L.M. Lilly


When To Seek A Critique Of Your Writing

Most writers at some point ask someone else to read and critique their writing.

A constructive critique can help you improve your story. But criticism at the wrong time in the process can keep you from writing, undermine your confidence, or prompt endless rewrites.

So when are the best and worst times to seek critiques?

Too Much Criticism Too Soon

One long-time writing friend told me she shared the first short story she ever wrote in a critique group.

Unfortunately, the group leader made a scathing comment about her story’s premise, completely dismissed the entire piece, and cut off anyone else’s feedback. She was devastated.

For decades since then she has struggled to finish anything. She rewrites constantly, always afraid of being criticized. The rare times she sends a story anywhere, she stops as soon as she gets one rejection.

She's a very talented writer. Sadly, almost no one gets to read her work.

Her experience demonstrates the dangers of criticism too early in your career. (And of uncaring and unhelpful group leaders.)

If you are just starting out, unless you are extremely thick-skinned, it's best to finish several stories before showing your first one to anyone for a critique. You’ll learn a lot by writing multiple pieces. You also won’t be as attached to your first one.

Or, rather than keep your stories to yourself, you can specifically ask only for encouragement.

Seek out a group that has a goal of pointing out what's working in early drafts rather than what's not working. Choose carefully with whom you share your writing. If your mom is your biggest cheerleader, by all means give her a story to read. If she tends to pick apart everything you do, cross her off the list.

But how about if you've written a number of pieces already and you really want feedback?

Too Soon In The Process

My first drafts are terrible.

I aim to write quickly, and worrying about what someone else might say about the writing keeps me from doing that. So I purposely write very rough drafts that no one but me ever sees. (For more on that process, see Writing the Zero Draft of Your Novel.)

Only my second or third drafts go to beta readers, writing instructors, or critique groups.

Even if you don't deliberately write something you know is bad, it’s worth setting aside your draft for at least a week or two. Read it after that with fresh eyes. You’ll see issues you can fix yourself.

Doing your own first critique will help you develop your writing skills and gain confidence because you're able to see what can be improved. It also makes it less likely the amount of feedback you get when you do seek an outside critique will overwhelm you.

Getting feedback too early isn't the only issue with the timing of critiques.

It's also possible to get criticism too late in the process.

Seeking Critiques Too Late

Two weeks before you plan to hit publish or send a final draft to an agent or editor you ask a friend to proofread. The friend asks if you would also like comments.

You shrug and say sure. Why not? You feel good about the novel and you're sure any feedback will be minor.

Instead, you get an extensive critique.

Whether or not you'd like to make the changes, sometimes delay isn't a good idea.

You may have set a preorder date with a publishing platform that will penalize you for not delivering on time. An agent you queried may be less interested a few months down the road.

Or you might have worked on your manuscript so much that you just can't face making more changes.

Unfortunately, now that you have the comments, even if you disagree with them, odds are ignoring them will undermine your confidence in your work. It also may irritate your friend who took the time to give the feedback.

For these reasons, it's better to be honest with yourself and with any last-minute proofreaders.

If you really don't want a critique at this stage in the process, be clear about that. Ask your last readers to look for proofreading errors, and perhaps continuity or consistency errors, only.

You can pretty easily fix those issues, and doing so will improve the quality of your product without undermining your process.

So when is the right time to seek a critique?

Just Right

Figuring out when a critique will help involves a bit of trial and error. You'll need to see how you feel when you get a critique back at different stages of your process.

And, just as important, whether criticism at that time helps you improve your writing.

There are a few questions you can ask yourself, though, to try to figure out if this is a good time for a critique (or more than one):

  • Have you let the story sit for at least a week and come back to it, then addressed any issues?
  • Are you at a point where you can't move forward without outside feedback?
  • Do you genuinely want to know what's not working so you can improve your writing?
  • Is there time and space in your schedule to make revisions based on a critique you get back, assuming you agree with it?
  • Do you have another story or chapter you can work on while your work is being read (so that if the critique temporarily slows you down you can still move forward on another piece of writing)?

The more of the above questions elicit a Yes answer, the more likely it is a critique will be helpful.

That's all for today. Until next time —

L. M. Lilly



What Buffy Teaches About Story Structure

If you want to improve your writing craft, and you're a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or you're thinking of watching the series), check out my new podcast Buffy and the Art of Story.

Learning About Story Elements

Each week I talk about what we can learn about fiction writing from a Buffy episode.

The format follows the plot points in Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel. I'll also cover character development, exposition, foreshadowing, and other story elements.

Buffy and the Art of Story podcast cover

Buffy is a well-written, well-crafted show. Because of that, I expect to learn a lot about fiction writing in the process.

Transcripts will be included for each episode if you prefer to read. I also plan to write a book for each season based on the podcast.

Where To Find Buffy and the Art of Story

The first two episodes are on my author website now. More to come on Monday nights.

You can also find it on Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Android, and eventually iTunes (just approved, so you may not see it just yet).

I've set a goal of covering every episode in order. That goal means a lot of podcast episodes, as Buffy had 7 seasons.

Wish me luck!

That's all for now. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly




Dealing With Tech Glitches That Steal Your Time

As a writer, even if you're not yet publishing, you're certain to run into tech glitches. A task that you thought would be quick and easy (or at least one or the other) turns out to be complex and time-consuming.

If you're like me, when that happens you probably:

  1. feel frustrated and overwhelmed
  2. find yourself running late for your next appointment or task
  3. swear at your laptop
  4. do all of the above

But none of those things makes you feel better. Or helps you get anything done faster.

I know. I've run into this problem often the last few months while planning the launch of my first podcast.

So how do you keep tech glitches from hijacking your time and your mental well-being?

Predicting Tech Glitches

Tech problems are most likely to happen when:

  1. you're dealing with new (to you at least) technology
  2. you're starting a new project
  3. a program or app needs to be updated

Anytime you try something using technology you haven't used before, odds are you'll run into trouble.

That's because until we use a new app or program, we don't know its ins and outs. A feature that looks easy to use at first glance might require a few preliminary set up steps. Or you'll need to update other software to make it compatible with a new program. Maybe you'll have to hunt for data to input that you didn't expect.

Likewise, a new project often includes steps you didn't know enough to plan for. Or requires using technology you've never used before (see above).

And then there's updates.

A lot of programs update automatically or prompt you to update. Others don't.

If a program or app needs an update, it may not work properly or do what you need it to do. If you don't realize an update is needed until that last minute, that can add a lot of time and frustration to your task.

When It All Happens At Once

My most recent tech glitch incorporated all of the above.

I finally got my first ever podcast episode (for Buffy and the Art of Story) edited. But I exported it as a WAV file, and it took up too much space. I felt so pleased when I realized this morning the reason my file was too large. I thought it would take me about 3 minutes to reexport it as an MP3.

Buffy and the Art of Story podcast coverExcept the software I'm using, Audacity, wouldn't let me.

After Googling and reading help screens and threads I discovered there had been several new versions of Audacity in the last couple months. I needed to update first (not easy in itself), then I could export.

What I thought would take 3 minutes took slightly over an hour.

Planning For Tech Glitches

Happily, there are a few things that can help you deal with tech glitches.

  1. Build them into your project timeline
  2. Carefully choose when you'll undertake any task that involves new technology or that you haven't done before
  3. Make a plan for dealing with unexpected glitches

Your Timeline

A project manager and author I heard speak said the general rule for IT is that everything will take 2.7 times longer than you expect.

He wasn't talking about technology specifically. Just the human tendency to plan our time as if everything will go right when that just never happens.

I find the 2.7 times is a good rule for project I've done before, like writing another novel in the same series.

If I'm doing something brand-new, though (like creating a podcast for the first time) instead I multiply my timeline by 10.

I hope it will take me less time.

But I know there are lots of aspects of the project that I'm completely unaware of. All that extra time gives me time the room to figure all those new things out.

Choosing Your Time

The worst time to embark on a new project is when you're facing a hard deadline on existing work or you're otherwise in a hurry. That's so because while you're dealing with tech glitches , you'll also be panicking about not getting your other work done.

For that reason, it's key to schedule brand-new projects for times when your other responsibilities are lighter.

The alternative — and we need one because most of us have ongoing work with deadlines — is to set a very soft deadline on your new project.

As an example, I had hoped to launch my new Buffy and the Art of Story podcast by the end of September. But I was also working on the launch of my latest novel, which has a hard deadline of November 4, 2019. And I was teaching a new class starting in late August that I suspected might be very time-consuming. (Spoiler, I was right.)

So I didn't announce the new podcast to anyone outside my mailing list subscribers. And with them, I let them know the release date was uncertain.

Even now, I put the first episode up on my website, but still need to upload it to iTunes, Stitcher, and other podcast services. I hope to do that by Halloween.

But I'm not promising anyone that I will.

In a perfect world for the last month I would have been sharing a specific launch date and publicizing for months beforehand. But knowing about all my other work, it was better for me to leave the release open ended.

When A Glitch Happens

When technology problems do happen, here are some steps to take:

Step One:

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you expected glitches. It's normal. You can handle this.

Step Two:

If you're worried about other work, take a moment to figure out if you are better off (a) setting aside your current project and working on something else for the day; (b) setting aside your other work for a few hours and dealing only with the glitch; or (c) alternating between trying different things to address the glitch and doing other work.

Step Three:

When you do deal with the glitch, there's bound to be down time when the software updates, your laptop reboots, or you're waiting for an answer from someone you contacted for help.

Use the time well.

Rather than drumming your fingers on your desktop as you stare at the screen (and maybe curse), turn to some task you've been putting off.

Clean out that file drawer you haven't looked at in a decade. Proofread 10 pages of your latest novel. Fill out those reports you've been dragging your feet on for your other job.

When you're done, you'll feel you've accomplished something. And odds are your computer will be ready for you to take another step.

Technology can be wonderful and it can also be frustrating. I hope the above helps it feel wonderful more often, and saves you some time.

That's all for now. Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly


P.S. Struggling with stress or anxiety as you juggle writing and the rest of life? Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life might be able to help.

Saying No So You Can Write More

If you're writing novels and doing other work as well, paid or unpaid, Saying No to other things is key to carving out time to write and to feeling happy.

For most of us, though, it's hard to do.

So instead, if you're like me, you become more stressed and overwhelmed. You might feel angry — at yourself for saying yes, at the people who keep asking you to do things, at your entire life or schedule.

So how do you say No?

Understand Your No

There are different reasons for wanting or needing to say No to another task or project. Here are several:

  1. It's something we really want to do for ourselves but we feel overloaded already
  2. Someone we care about asked us to do it and we want to help that person but we feel we have no time
  3. It's something we don't want to do but we feel we should
  4. It's something we don't want to do for any reason

It matters which of the above is true because there's no rule requiring us to say Yes or No without any conditions.

For some tasks that fall into 1-3 we might want or be able to say Yes if the circumstances were right.

So how do we do that?

Saying Yes If…

If you're already stretched to your limit (or beyond) but want to take on something new, ask yourself these questions:

  • Could you fit in the task without too much stress a week or month from now?
  • Is there a way to narrow or limit the task so that it fits your schedule?
  • Can you think of an alternate way to achieve the same goal that will take less time or effort?

For example, I adjunct teach legal writing. My students sometimes ask me if I can help with advice on preparing for interviews or go over an article they've written. The demands of reviewing class work alone often make it hard to get my own writing and publishing done. But I really want to help.

So often I answer with a condition: Yes, I'd love to review your article if getting comments back to you in 3 weeks is soon enough.

Or: Yes, I'm happy to give you advice if you can stay after class one evening (rather than needing me to meet at a separate time).

If I truly can't make time to review an entire article, I might offer to do a narrower task such as meeting to discuss proposed topics or reviewing and marking a limited number of pages with suggested edits.

At times I've also offered instead to connect a student with another lawyer who is more familiar with a particular area of law. (After I've checked to be sure that lawyer is willing to help.)

Saying No Clearly

Sometimes you just need or want to say No. But it can be tricky, even if it's something you absolutely don't want to do. That's especially so if the person asking is someone you care about.

The key is to be clear so you don't get talked out of your No.

Being clear means saying the word No without conditions. Or explanations.

Why no conditions or explanations? As soon as you add either, you're inviting the person to come back with proposed ways you could instead say Yes. Or with arguments about why your explanation isn't valid.

Here's how that usually goes:

You: Sorry, I can't come to dinner Sunday afternoon. That's my only time to write.

Family Member: That's okay – it'll only take a couple hours. You can write after. Or in the morning.

You: No, I can't. I've got budgets to prepare for work in the morning and plans in the evening.

Family Member: Can't you change your plans? And why are you working on the weekend anyway? You work too much.

You get the idea.

Instead, try saying: No, it's not possible for me to be there Sunday. I hope to make it next time.

When your family member (or friend or whoever it is) pushes back and asks why or what you're doing, rather than get drawn in, simply rephrase your answer but say the same thing.

It's just not possible this weekend. I'm sorry to miss it and look forward to another time.

If the person keeps pressing, it's time to say that you need to go (hang up/leave/stop texting) but would love to talk again another time.

The Order Of No

The order in which you give your answer can help protect your relationship.

Notice above I suggested saying No (or it's not possible) first and then ending with a statement that lets the person know you care. That's because the word “but,” even when it's implied as it is in the above examples, is very powerful.

In fact, most of us only hear what comes after the “but.”

Think about the classic “You're a great person, but…” No one thinks there's anything good coming after that. So, likewise, if you start with “I'd love to be there, but…” the listener will walk away thinking about the No.

If you flip the order, you're reassuring the person. Your words make it clearer that saying No is about your schedule, and you value and care about helping that person or being there. (For tips on fitting writing into your schedule check out Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.)

That's all for now. Until next time —

L.M. Lilly

P.S. The above is based on one of the chapters in Write On: How To Overcome Writer's Block So You Can Write Your Novel. If you're struggling to get started or you keep rewriting early chapters without moving on, you might find it helpful.


3 Readers You Need Before You Publish Your Novel

Three types of readers are key to preparing your novel for publication. These readers become part of the process after you have made all your revisions.

Their purpose is to be sure your final product doesn't contain errors that will distract from the story.

Who are they?

  • Continuity readers
  • Subject matter experts
  • Proofreaders

Consistency Is Key

A continuity reader makes sure that your writing is consistent. You ask this person, ideally someone who has not read any previous drafts of your book, to read it solely for this reason.

Some examples of consistency errors:

  • a character walking into a hospital and out of a train station
  • the same house having a ground level front door in one scene and a steep flight of steps to the front door in another
  • the same character being called by completely different names (this error happens to me because I sometimes use placeholder names during early drafts, change them later, and slip back into using an original name now and again during a rewrite)
  • changes in weather or time of day without explanation

You don't need someone with specialized expertise or editing experience to be a continuity reader. Just someone who will keep an eye out for anything that doesn't make sense.

Subject Matter Expert

As you planned and drafted your novel you should have been researching any areas that required understanding certain subjects.

For instance, the second book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series included a missing college student who may have let her student visa lapse.

I checked various online sources to make sure I understood enough about immigration requirements to be accurate.

Before you hit publish, though, you should have someone who knows key areas check to be sure that while rewriting you didn't make changes that mistakenly introduced errors.

Not all subject matter experts need to be professionals in the field. One of my friends is a golfer who tracks sunrises, sunsets, and weather to ensure that he can golf as often as possible around his work schedule.

He checked the dates and times I listed above each scene in my latest mystery novel to be sure that I didn't refer to twilight an hour later or earlier than it should be or set a scene after dark at a time when the sun would barely have begun setting.

Final Proofreads

Novels are long. It's hard to catch every error in 60,000-100,000 words.

So whether or not you've had your novel copy edited or proofread by a professional, it's worth asking a friend or fan with a good eye for detail to proofread once more.

I find the best people for this task are people who simply enjoy reading novels and catching mistakes rather than English majors or people who do nonfiction writing or editing.

That's because novels generally are written in a more conversational fashion. (That's particularly so for my current series because it's in first person.)

Someone who wants every sentence to be complete or grammatically correct will likely give you back a lot of changes you'll need to spend time reviewing but that you won't ultimately use.

It may seem like it would be difficult to find people to do this. But if you ask around among friends and fans you will likely find readers who love getting an advance look at new work and who really enjoy proofreading.

You should also ask the other two types of readers above to let you know if they happen to spot a typo, though you're not asking them to read for that purpose.

That's all for this Friday. Until next week —

L.M. Lilly



Save Time And Let Your Novel Ideas Simmer

We've all stared at a blank screen or page unsure what to write next. For me, it's hardest if I'm starting a new novel and I'm out of ideas. Or I'm having trouble choosing which of my novel ideas to write about.

The concept of setting your ideas on the back burner to let them simmer can help.

Doing so does 3 things:

  1. Frees your creative mind by lowering stress
  2. Keeps you from getting stuck
  3. Uses your time well (especially if you're also working at another job or career)

Less Stressed And More Creative

The concept of putting ideas on the metaphorical back burner isn't original to me.

I got it from Don't Sweat The Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff: Simple Ways To Keep The Little Things From Taking Over Your Life. In that book, the author suggests that rather than racking your brain about a problem that makes you feel anxious, you should imagine setting it on the back burner of your mind to simmer.

That's because often the more you struggle for a solution, the more you reinforce anxiety rather than shifting your mindset to making things better.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t change the purchase price to you as the buyer.

If you relax and let go of the problem, though, your unconscious mind is free to come up with creative answers.

In the same way, allowing ourselves to set aside concerns about finding the right idea frees our unconscious minds to sort through possibilities, make connections, and come up with entirely new thoughts.

Ones we never would have imagined if we sat staring at the blank screen.

On Time, On Schedule, And Unstuck

I'm a great believer in sticking to a writing schedule. That means if I carved out time to write, I do it whether I feel inspired or not.

If I'm not sure where to go next with my novel, though, or how to get it started, wracking my brain at the scheduled time doesn't usually help. So instead I imagine putting whatever part of my novel I'm struggling with on the back burner and turn to something else.

The something else could be a different writing project.

Maybe a short story a poem, or a chapter in nonfiction book. Ideally it's something I can easily pick up and put down.

If I really need to make progress on the novel to meet a deadline, though, I focus on a different part of it.

For example, let's say I'm stuck on the big picture idea for the next novel in my Q.C. Davis series. (The first one involved whether Quille's boyfriend committed suicide or was murdered. The second featured neighbors stuck in an apartment complex during a blizzard with a killer. The third relates to a self-help organization that has cult-like aspects.)

Right now I'm uncertain of the basic premise of the fourth book, but I can still make progress.

I might write about a new character I want to bring into the series. Or think about aspects of Chicago to highlight that haven't been in previous books. (One that will likely appear in Book 4 is the number of buildings that have multiple entrances and exits, allowing someone who knows them well to evade a pursuer.)

Writing about any of those points keeps me moving forward while leaving my unconscious mind to figure out who will be murdered and what the backdrop for story will be.

In this way, I'm more apt to stick to my writing schedule, reinforce my writing habit, and avoid getting stuck.

Using Your “Other” Work Time

The back burner concept also ensures that when you are working at another job or profession (or handling some other responsibility) you're still writing.

That's because even if your mind is completely absorbed in a non-writing task, your unconscious mind can imagine scenes, sort through plots, or generate completely new novel ideas.

You can help this process along by taking as little as five minutes before you start your day to choose a part of your novel to let simmer. Within a few days or a week new ideas or decisions will almost certainly pop into your mind.

When that happens it not only helps you make progress, it gets you more excited about your novel.

That's all for today. Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. For more on lowering stress and improving creativity, you may want to check out my book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. Available in workbook and ebook editions.

Using Your Phone To Focus On Writing

Your phone can help you focus on writing or it can distract you.

The best way I've found to use it to focus is to consciously choose these 3 things:

  1. Where the phone will live while I write
  2. Who can reach me while I write
  3. How long I will write in one stretch

Where To Put Your Phone When You Write

Because you'll be using the phone's timer (more on that below), you'll need it to be somewhere close enough to hear. But don't keep the phone in the same room.

That's for two reasons.

First, studies show that having a phone within reach, even if it's turned off, lowers our mental capacity for other things. Some part of our brain is always listening for the phone.

This article about the McCombs School of Business study at the University of Texas at Austin puts it well:

The researchers found that participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag.

My own experience bears this out.

When I leave the phone on the bookcase in the hallway outside my home office I feel much more focused and often forget about time passing. If the phone is within arm's length, though, my mind wanders often.

Second (you forgot there was a second didn't you?), putting the phone far enough away that I must get out of my chair to reach it ensures that I will move and stretch enough during my day.

Write Undisturbed

Most phones have a setting called Do Not Disturb (or sometimes No Interruptions).

This setting suppresses all alerts, including social media, and any notifications of texts, emails, and phone calls. When this setting is activated your phone will not ring, make any other noise, or vibrate.

You can customize the setting to allow calls from certain numbers or repeat calls from the same number to come through.

That way if, for instance, you're the person your aging grandmother depends on for a ride to the doctor, you won't miss her call.

Time To Focus On Writing

Now that you found a home for your phone and put it on Do Not Disturb, set its timer.

Choose a length of time to write that's short enough that you won't worry you're missing out or falling behind by not checking messages or social media or doing other tasks. But the block of time should be long enough that you can get something significant done on your current writing project.

For me, 30 minutes is ideal.

After 30 minutes, I walk over to the phone to shut it off. I then reset the timer for 3 to 5 minutes and stretch during that time. Doing so helps me alleviate aches and pains from sitting too long in one position. I also look at messages to be sure none require an immediate response.

If I still have time in my day to write, I reset the timer for 30 minutes.

You can repeat this process as many times as you want to. But even if you only write for one 15-30 minute block you will make progress.

That's all for today. Until next Friday —

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Not sure what to write during that 30 minutes? If you're having trouble getting your novel started or you're stuck in the middle, Super Simple Story Structure: a Quick Guide to Plotting and Writing Your Novel might be able to help. It's available for multiple e-book platforms, as an audiobook, and in a workbook edition.

Create A Fiction Mission Statement

Lately I've been thinking about creating a fiction mission statement for my most recent series.

A mission statement can help you figure out how to brand and market your writing. It can also motivate you to start or finish a novel. And help you generate or refine ideas.

But first, what is a mission statement?

And why should you create one for your fiction?

Fiction Mission Statement Defined

A mission statement is a summary, or sometimes a tag line, about the purpose and values of an organization or person. Corporations and non-profits often use mission statements to guide their growth or focus the people who work for them.

The idea of creating one for fiction isn't original to me.

I began thinking about it while reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog posts and her book Creating Your Author Brand. Rusch talks about her overall author mission statement: All genres all the time. It makes clear that she likes to write in multiple genres.

But she also has one for each of her pen names.

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For Kristine Grayson, the statement is It’s Not Easy To Have A Fairy Tale Ending. In Rusch's words, that tells readers that “Grayson will always be goofy paranormal with a touch of romance, usually focusing on myths or fairy tales or both.”

Marketing And Mission

As the above examples show, once you know your mission statement, it's a lot easier to describe your work to potential readers.

That's something many novelists, including me, struggle with.

I like to write long. My emails are long. My first drafts of blog posts are long. Most of my short story attempts turn into novels.

So whether I'm at a party or creating an ad, telling someone in a few seconds what my books are about poses a real challenge.

Once I create a fiction mission statement, though, I know how to convey both what I'm writing and why.

Motivation, Ideas, And Mission

The why helps me sit down to write (or stand and dictate) whether I feel like it or not at any particular moment. Because now writing is about more than simply my personal love of writing and desire to publish books.

It's about making a difference to readers.

For example, I'm writing a suspense/mystery series now because that's what I've most enjoyed reading over the last 5-10 years.

But I chose the specific main character, setting, and types of crimes for a few reasons:

  • I wanted to write about amazing and wonderful places in Chicago.

So many people hear only about the bad aspects of Chicago, and some of those appear in my books. But readers also get to visit great restaurants, outdoor paintings and sculptures, the expanding river walk, Lake Michigan, and all sorts of other beautiful places.

  • I'm tired of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels that show women being tortured or victimized. 

In real life, the biggest dangers to women are the people (usually the men) they know. Fiction is not real life, and I haven't stopped reading books where women are victims. Also, there are sometimes women victims in my books.

But I write about crimes that are committed by someone who knows the victim, and victim more often is male.

Also, the Q.C. Davis books are first person, and the protagonist is a smart, creative female lawyer.

The reader sees the story through her eyes as she tries to unravel the mystery. Not through the eyes of a victim or a perpetrator. So the emphasis is on solving the crime and seeking justice, not on committing crime.

  • Showing many sides to issues and people matters to me.

While in a murder mystery the villain generally is, well, a villain, I mostly try to avoid black-and-white answers and characters who are all good or all bad.

The same goes for the issues that form the backdrop for the crimes.

Book 2 in the Q.C. Davis series touches on immigration because a missing college girl may have let her student visa lapse, which makes her sister afraid to contact the police. That sets up a reason to come to my protagonist for help.

The few characters who talk about immigration (where the plot requires it) hold different views from one another.

My main goal is to entertain.

But after that I hope that readers on any side of the issue will gain a little better understanding of a perspective unlike their own.

Writing out the above aims gave me a way to sort through potential plots for Book 4 (Book 3 comes out November 4). It's also giving me ideas for publicity and marketing, which I'm focusing on more now that the series is well underway.

For instance, I'm kicking around a theme about how the protagonist is a sort of ambassador for Chicago. And thinking about putting together “Quille C. Davis' Guide to Chicago” as a giveaway for mailing list sign ups.

An event or book bundle with other mystery authors who address social issues in their books also might work.

What's Your Mission?

What matters most to you when you write a novel? Do you see themes that appear again and again in your fiction?

If so, try using them to formulate your mission statement.

Good luck! Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly