5 Ways To Relax And Write

As I write this, people all over the world are staying home to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, and writers all over the world are struggling to relax and write. For those of us who can’t do other work, it seems like we ought to write more.

Yet the news, our own fears, and the change in routine all can make it harder, not easier, to tap into our creativity.

Here are 5 ways, though, that you might be able to help yourself relax and get your stories written.

But first: I am not a doctor, therapist, or medical provider, and these suggestions aren’t meant to take the place of professional guidance. If you’re struggling with mental or emotional health issues, please reach out to a trained professional or talk with your doctor.

Not Sleeping – Creatively

The other night I joined a Zoom call with multiple people to celebrate a birthday. Almost everyone on it said they're having trouble sleeping.

It’s been a little more challenging for me too. I find it harder to fall asleep, and I’m more apt to awaken during the night.

While sleeping less isn’t ideal, it is a great time to consider your characters’ backstories. You can imagine their childhoods, key moments in their lives, and what they want most in the world.

Let go of the story you’re working on now – untwisting plot issues may keep you awake or raise anxiety about getting pages or words written.

Instead, let your mind wander and see what pops into it about your characters.

Put Your Plot – And Yourself – In Motion

When I’m feeling blue or tired, moving helps. Walking, dancing, aerobicizing.

The great thing is that repetitive, aerobic motion can also help your mind relax and roam freely. And once you relax, you tend to generate ideas. You might come up with a great non-fiction book topic, solve a thorny plot problem and get your novel unstuck, or discover the start to that short story you’ve been wanting to write.

Bonus: Not only are you more likely to relax and write, you’ll probably feel more energetic and upbeat too.

Expand Your World

When I’m feeling like I’ve spent too much time inside or alone, I use my imagination. I remember trips I’ve taken and places I went, drawing on all my senses.

All of these can be rich sources for adding depth to your stories. Towns, buildings, or countryside may become settings in your next novel. New people you met can be the basis for character traits or entire characters. The smells, tastes, and sounds you experienced and anything you saw and touched can add richness to the way you write describe scenes.

Binge Watch With A Purpose

If you have access to a streaming service (or DVD box sets), this is a great time to rewatch a series you loved. This time, in addition to enjoying it, think about why you love it so much.

Is it the characters? Now that you know where the series takes them, consider how the writers and actors built these characters for you step-by-step. Ask yourself what worked and what didn’t.

Do the same thing with the plot of each episode or the series as a whole.

Late last year I started doing this type of rewatch and analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for my podcast Buffy and the Art of Story. Now I’m examining other series I love as well.

Getting To Know You

Even if you can’t meet in person (and so many of us can’t these days), you can probably connect via online tools or by talking on the phone. When you do, it’s easy (and normal) to fall into talk about worries and fears about the virus, the economy, and other issues the world faces now.

But why not use the time in a different way, to really get to know one another?

Ask a parent or grandparent to tell you about their first job, or the person who most influenced them, or pretty much anything you’ve never talked to them about before. Ask a friend to tell you something they’ve never before shared that happened to them.

These types of topics can help you feel closer in these challenging times. And there’s a side benefit for your writing. The more you learn about and understand other people, the more nuanced and well-rounded characters you’ll be able to create.

So you can connect, relax, and write all at the same time.

I hope the above helps during this challenging time.

Until next time –

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Trying to get your novel started? Stuck in the middle? Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel might help.

Should You Enter A Book Award Contest?

Is it worth it to enter a book award contest? That's a question many authors ask themselves. Like so many aspects of publishing, there's no yes or no answer.

But here are some additional questions, the answers to which may help you decide:

  • Why do you want to win this award?
  • Do the benefits (including advertising and marketing) match your goals?
  • Will the entry fee strain your budget?
  • How much time will it take to prepare and enter the book award contest?

Why Enter A Book Award Contest?

If you want to win a book award contest, ask yourself why.

  • Prestige

Some writers long for prestige and validation. Winning a respected award can help you feel prouder of your writing career or your book.

  • Increased Sales

It also might increase sales. It puts a seal of approval (sometimes literally) on your book. This approval can help reassure a reader who doesn't know you already that it's worth investing money and time into reading your book.

  • Marketing

Winning or placing in a book award contest also may provide advertising and marketing opportunities. If you have an email list, you can tell them you're entering the award, email again if you are a finalist, and share your excitement when you win or even disappointment if you don't.

Why is that a plus? It's a reason to email that reminds them your book is out there but that doesn't just say, “Hey, buy my book.” It also helps people empathize with you and care about your career. People will be excited for you!

For the same reasons, you can share the stages of the contest on social media and with friends, family, and colleagues.

  • Prizes

Some awards come with prize money, others with certificates or seals, others with award ceremonies.

Wishing Shelf Finalist Book Award Medal Red
The Wishing Shelf provides 3 different medals for finalists – this is red with red background. The silver is on my website.
  • Advertising

As the president of Readers' Favorite said in this article on book awards, “Entering a book contest is like paying to run an ad about your book.”

Your book might be listed on an award website if you are a finalist or a winner. Also, you can add a book award win to your book descriptions. Recently, I added my finalist designation in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards to my descriptions of the second book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series.

  • Critiques or Advice

Some book award contests offer advice, reviews, or critiques to all entrants, or to entrants who reach a certain level.

Do The Benefits Match Your Goals?

Whether a particular book award contest is worth entering depends on what you hope to achieve.

If you're looking for prestige, research the award's history. Ask people who love to read if they've heard of the award and what it means to them. Check reputable authors' associations to see what they think of the award. If it's well-respected and sought after and readers feel winning means a book is a great book, you may want to enter.

On the other hand, if no one's heard of the award or it's brand new, winning it may not give you the prestige you're hoping for.

Advertising, Marketing, and Sales

On the other hand, if advertising, marketing, or sales are your goal, a lesser-known award may provide that.

Research what happens to books that win or place.

If that research shows the award organization displays the books in an attractive way on an award website, publicizes them on social media, hosts award ceremonies with photo ops, or provides seals or medals that can benefit your marketing strategy, you may want to enter.

Also, any award helps signal people that your work has merit or that you've achieved success.

It's part of social proof. Strangers feel better checking out your work now that you've won an award. Friends are more apt to recommend your book now that you're an award-winning author, not “just” someone they know who also happens to write.

If you're looking for prize money, how does it compare to the entry fee (if there is one)? And how does it compare to other ways you could earn the same amount of money?

Finally, you may hope to learn or gain something even if you don't win or earn finalist or runner-up status.

Part of the draw when I entered The Wishing Shelf Book Awards was that I entered a recently-published book that hadn't yet gotten many editorial or other reviews. The contest promised each entrant feedback on the book, an honest Amazon or Goodreads review based on readers' comments, and a “catchy quote” for the book description (or back cover blurb on reprint).

If I didn't win or place, I figured I'd at least benefit from reader feedback and additional marketing copy.

The Costs of Entering A Contest

Some book award contests are free to enter. Those awards usually are funded by some type of grant or organization. Others charge a fee to cover the costs of running the contest. Still others seek to earn a profit from running the award.

Whether a fee is worth it depends both on the benefits above and your budget.

I'll consider a contest if the fee is below $100. But before entering, I look not only at whether the fee fits in my budget but what else I could buy with that money. As a result, I've only entered one contest in the last 3-4 years.

If, for example, I can buy advertising for the same price that I think will be more effective, I'll do that rather than enter a contest. Ditto for critiques and marketing copy.

And cost is about more than money. Your time is valuable.

So be sure to consider how involved the entry process is and how much time it will take you to complete it. Are there long forms to fill out? Do you need to put your book into a particular format you don't already have? Must you submit a hard copy and mail it?

As with money, consider whether there is a better use of your time.

If you decide to enter an award, good luck!

Until next time–

L.M. Lilly

Find Time To Write By Scheduling Realistically (not Aspirationally)

Okay, whether we’re talking about how to find time to write or anything else, I feel sure aspirationally is not a real word.

But I bet you get what I mean.

Most of us are overoptimistic, or aspirational, about how much we’ll get done in a set amount of time. Which often means that unexpected issues or events hijack the time we set aside to write.

So how do you ensure you find time to write?

Start by blocking your time for the year, but do it realistically.  Which means:

  • Expect the unexpected
  • Plan for things to go wrong
  • Schedule breaks

What Does It Mean To Block Your Time?

By blocking I mean scheduling your time in batches of tasks for a long period, such as six months or a year.

It’s not about putting To Do lists into your calendar, though. It’s about setting aside chunks of time for the things you want and need to do.

Some blocks will be the same every day or week. For example, every weekday I block 7-7:30 for yoga or other exercise. I block time to prepare for the podcast I host and record (Buffy and the Art of Story), time to record, and time to edit.

When I’m teaching for a semester, I block out the hours I’ll teach, my office hours, and three hours for grading assignments and preparing the week’s lecture.

I also block writing time. Right now it’s three afternoons a week.

Find Time To Write & For Fun

For some days or weeks, though, I override all the regularly scheduled programming to take time off.

How does that help me find time to write?

I used to think it wouldn’t. So I never included time off in my calendar, figuring I'd relax when I got everything else done. (Which never happened.)

In other words, when I didn’t plan breaks or fun, I put both off. And ended feeling so burnt out that I'm sure I got less done in the time I set aside to write.

That happened because we all need downtime, and writers and others pursuing creative endeavors especially need it. Because that’s when our unconscious minds relax and come up with new ideas. It’s when creativity occurs.

So include time in your calendar to do things you enjoy simply because you enjoy them.

Plan to spend time with the people you love. To do nothing. Or see a movie. Read a book.

Whatever is fun for you, make at least a little time for it, even if it means you write a little less.

Expect The Unexpected

Most things that throw off our schedules aren’t really unexpected.

Maybe the particular problem is. You don’t know the car will break down this week, or your son will need to stay home from school ill, or your in-laws will visit, or just as you finish that report your boss wanted the entire computer network will go down and wipe it out.

But you do know that life almost never runs exactly as expected or planned.

Instead of being surprised each time and having to steal time from your writing schedule or your free time, block out an hour each week to finish things you didn’t get to because the unexpected happened.

Are you saying you don’t have an extra hour each week? If so, I believe you. I’ve been there.

But the reality is that over time you’ll use that hour per week whether you block it or not. The only difference is by not planning for it, you’ll feel even more stressed because you’ll think about everything else you meant to get done during it.

In my view, better to take that hour away from something else when you’re planning. Then when things go wrong, you can say, “Oh, right, good thing I planned some extra time.”

Recognize Overoptimism

The other reason it’s so hard to plan an hour a week for overflow is that most of us plan to do too much.

On the one hand, it’s great to set high goals and expectations. If I aim to finish my novel in six months and instead I finish in nine, perhaps I've still written the book a lot faster than if I had aimed for a year.

But it you get a lot done yet also always feel you’re racing the clock or falling behind, you’re probably being unrealistic and overoptimistic. And likely all that’s doing is stressing you more rather than helping you find time to write.

Instead, consider blocking 1.5 to 2 times as long as you think something will take into your schedule. So if you think you can finish a novel in a year, block out a schedule that lets you finish in eighteen months.

If you get done faster – wonderful. Next time you can shave off some time.

And if you get done as planned – also wonderful. You were realistic! And less stressed.

That’s all for today. Until next time—

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on how to find time to write when life events interfere, check out Writing When Life Throws You A Curve.

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

 

 

Your Author Photos

When marketing a book, most authors include an author photo. If you have a website, you've probably got an author photo there, and one on the back of your book.

But other less formal photos of you also should be part of your marketing.

The Back Of The Book Photo

If you're like me, your official author photo is a head shot. Below is the one I use on my author website. (I use a different one on the About page of this site, but it's also from a professional studio.)

Lisa M. Lilly Author

Your photo might be retouched a bit if you went to a professional studio or, these days, if you've figured out how to do that on your phone.

Odds are, it's also one of your favorite photos of yourself.

All of that is great.

In fact, I feel like it's key to use an author photo that conveys that you're someone with a writing career, who takes care with your appearance.

That suggests you also take care with your writing and makes strangers feel more comfortable buying your work.

What's Stopping You?

Many writers, though, hesitate to post other photos of themselves with their books on social media or on their sites.

It can feel a lot like bragging. And, if you were raised like I was, that's something you might feel strange about.

Or you might be self-conscious about not looking your best in a candid shot or one that you take yourself. It's not as easy to get the best angle.

Getting an ideal background can also be tricky.

Other Author Photos

But your photos don't need to be perfect. The photo below is not.

The background strikes me as kind of blah. You can't see my whole book cover. The light catches flyaway hair near my part.

Lisa Holding The Fractured Man

And yet when I posted this photo with a note about “Look what came in the mail!” I sold a dozen paperback copies of The Fractured Man that same afternoon.

That may not seem like a lot, but most of my sales are ebook or audiobook editions. Typically I release the paperback for price comparison purposes and so I have something to sell at live events.

Otherwise, I sell one or two every month or so. I've never had a dozen ordered at once.

In fact, when I specifically created a post with the professional 3-D book cover for the second book in the same series and a note about the paperback being available, I sold just one paperback that day compared to dozens of ebook editions.

The Charmng Man 3D cover

What this shows is (1) people respond not just to your book but to you and (2) a more candid shot is a lot more fun and engaging.

It shows who you are.

So use your professional author photo and professional book covers on your sales pages.

But on social media, let go of your concerns about the perfect shot and post as you would about anything else in your life that excites you.

That's all for now. Until next Friday–

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.

That's all for now. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on fitting writing into your schedule check out Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.