One reason so many writing books urge writers to write every day is that it's our habits–what we do over and over–that gets results, not what we do once in a while.
Or, as Napoleon Hill said, “…you are what your habits make you. And you can choose your habits.” (I was sure this quote was from Think And Grow Rich, but I finally found it in Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude, co-authored by W. Clement Stone.)
The habits below are ones that can help your writing career whether you write full time or not.
I found, though, that when I switched to full time writing, these habits became more important.
Plan Your Projects, Not Just Your Time
When I worked my first job as a cashier at a discount store, I got paid by the hour. Many years later when I became a lawyer, I billed clients for my time in six-minute increments.
That way of earning money gave me a great appreciation for the value of my time.
Because I had to track exactly what I did and what could be billed to clients, I also knew where my time went. (For example, I knew exactly how long I spent in the office on personal phone calls, getting a cup of tea, or chatting with the receptionist before lunch because I deducted that time out of whatever law project I worked on.)
The downside is that it's been hard to get out of the habit of believing that hours worked = money earned.
Also, because I'd always needed to justify to clients the costs of any task I billed them for, in my fiction I adopted a more relaxed mindset of “it'll take as long as it takes.” When I was writing on the side, that was all right. I didn't need to earn much at fiction writing, or anything, though it made me happy when I did.
But to build a readership and eventually earn enough to live on through fiction means focusing on projects completed rather than hours spent.
So the first habit is to take time every six months to list the projects you intend to complete during that time. Then break down each project into parts.
At the end of each week and each month, check where you are on your project and see what needs yet to be done.
At first you'll probably need to adjust some of your timelines. I've discovered I'm always too optimistic about how quickly I'll finish. But you'll get better at estimating over time.
Plan Your Writing And Business Time
Focusing on on projects doesn't mean ignoring a time schedule.
Sitting down on Friday and marking which times during the coming week I'll do what tasks to keep me moving toward completing my projects helps me balance the competing parts of being an author and self-publisher.
(Read more about this topic in Meeting With Yourself Can Help Your Writing.)
If you're not already in the habit of doing this, give it a try.
You might fear blocking out your time will make you feel more overwhelmed, but I've found it sets my mind at ease and cuts down on time spent figuring out what to do next.
Track Marketing And Advertising
When I worked full time at law, if I ran an occasional ad and it spiked book sales a bit, I felt great. Likewise, if I submitted a short story to a publication and it was accepted, I was thrilled. It didn't matter if it paid much or anything or had a huge readership or a small one.
Now that I'm writing full time, it's more vital to me that I use both my time and money well when it comes to selling my work. At the same time, I still don't want to spend endless hours tracking sales or submissions.
For ads for already-published books, I make a habit of recording the following in a spreadsheet:
- where I purchased the ad (such as Fussy Librarian)
- name and sale price of the book advertised
- cost of the ad
- category (such as suspense, crime fiction, self-help)
- sales on all books (not only the one advertised) on all platforms 1-2 days before the ad runs
- sales on all books on all platforms 2-3 days after the ad runs
When I decide to run an ad again, even if it's a year later, I can see short term how the ad affected sales. If I want to get a sense of longer-term results, I usually go the website where I sold the most and see how the sales arc looks.
For example, the graph of Kindle sales for The Worried Man, which I released in May, 2018, looks like this for May through August.
If you already do this, you may want to dig further into moving averages for sales and return on investment. If you're not tracking yet, though, this level of detail can be a good start and shouldn't take too long.
For submitting material to agents or publishers, I track the following for a new work:
- the name of the work
- at least 3 possible markets
- the date I send it to the first market
- the date I get a response
- what the response said
- if it sells, the amount of payment, expected publication date, and expected payment date
- (repeat for each submission, adding a new market so I always have three)
Using this chart, if I get a rejection, I already have another market to send to. Also, tracking the responses lets me see if there's a theme.
Finally, it keeps me from forgetting about a piece of writing or giving up on it due to long lag times in hearing back from one or more markets.
Read, Read, Read
For a lot of authors, including me, reading often goes by the wayside when trying to fit in writing while juggling other full-time paid or unpaid work.
It's easy to keep reading on the back burner when you start writing full time, too. After all, it doesn't immediately and directly help you grow your reader base or write more quickly.
But a reading habit is great for a writing career:
- It adds to our quality of life, especially because most of us became writers because we love to read
- It helps us stay aware of the current market for the type(s) of writing we do
- It gives us examples of writing we love (or don't)
- It exercises our imaginations
- It allows us to explore other genres
- It keeps us learning new things
Those are only a few of the pluses. You can probably write a dozen more of your own.
That's all for today.
Until next Friday–