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Useful advice and resources for writers.

The path of discipline

The other day I wrote about how creativity is not a well that can be emptied, or which diminishes over time. It’s more like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.

I was talking about writing. But sometimes coincidence packs a hell of a punch. I fired up my podcasts app yesterday and saw that Jocko Willink, decorated Navy Seal, was guest hosting The Tim Ferriss show.

The topic? Discipline.

He has a new book out called Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. One section talks about the “psychological win over the enemy” that a person gains from waking up early, which leads him to the topic of discipline.

This is what he says…

“Now, some scientists have claimed that discipline dissipates the more it is used—that willpower is a finite resource that is reduced every time it is used during the day.

This is wrong. That does not happen.

To the contrary, I believe, and studies have shown, that discipline and willpower do not go down as they are called into action—they actually get stronger.”

Could it be that discipline and creativity are the same that way? They get stronger, better, smarter, the more you use them? The more you work at it?

This makes sense to me. Creativity, especially regular writing output over a long period of time, certainly requires discipline. It can be hard. It calls up fear. It demands sacrifice. Creativity and discipline are the same that way.

Willink goes on for a while about this. Then he warns the reader away from the downside…

“Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Once you step off the path [of discipline], you tend to stray far. When you don’t prepare what you need to do the ne

xt day, when you sleep in and then skip your workout and you don’t start attacking the tasks you have—because you didn’t write them down the night before—that is when you make bad decisions. That is when your will and discipline fail. You figure you might as well have that donut for breakfast and once you have done that, might as well put down four or five pieces of pizza for lunch. It doesn’t matter anymore—you’re off the path and that is a disaster. Your will didn’t break—it never showed up in the first place.

So. Get on the path of discipline and stay on the path.

Discipline begets discipline.

Will propagates MORE WILL.

Hold the line across the line and victory will be yours.”

Willink’s words inspired me so much I actually got up early this morning and exercised. That’s why sleep is calling me at 9:21pm on a Saturday. So I’m going to head to sleep.If you’re still awake for a while longer, you can listen to the man read the words himself on Tim’s show. He is inspiring.

3 things I learned blogging for 30 days in a row

Today marks the 30th day in a row of blogging here on mgherron.com!

I’m celebrating this small victory with my favorite cider…

*KACHNK*

*HHSSSSSSSS*

*SLURP*

Ahhhh, yeahup. That hits the spot.

Blogging every day for a month was a good challenge. Here are a few things I already knew, but which the challenge brought to the forefront and clarified for me.

1. Streaks don’t tolerate excuses

Inevitably, if you try to do anything worth doing for 30 days in a row (writing, exercising, getting enough sleep) there will be days when you won’t feel like doing that thing.

Just the way it goes. The sun can’t shine forever. Clouds will roll in. Such is life.

Does that mean you get to take a break? No way, buddy. Don’t even think about it.

Having a 30 day blogging streak means that I posted when I didn’t want to. I even posted when…

  • I didn’t know what I was going to say
  • I didn’t feel like writing
  • I was tired
  • I was on vacation

There were even days where I nearly forgot, and didn’t post until close to midnight.

But I didn’t give in to the excuses.

It helps when you set the bar low, and can always reach for some low hanging fruit. With blogging this means being able to post a photo or a quote and call it a night. With fiction, try setting your goal so low that it’s laughable. How’s 50 words? Five minutes? Surely you can manage five minutes a day. And when you’ve got that down pat, make it fifteen.

Piece of cake. You’ve got this.

2. Daily words add up over time

Even better is to see how many words it all adds up to in the end.

I totaled the number of words in all 31 blogs.

Total (including this blog): 7,250 words

And this took about fifteen minutes of effort per day. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

7,250 words is the length of 1 – 3 short stories.

Or 2 – 3 epic blog posts.

Of course, in that time period I also wrote about 15,000 original words of fiction 😀 But that’s my life, not yours.

Set your own standards.

Stay calm, write every day, and it will eventually add up if you can learn to be patient. This works with any kind of writing, whether that’s fiction, nonfiction, blogging, or your memoirs.

It’s amazing what’s possible with consistent practice over time.

3. The more you give, the more you have

This concept is hard to put into words. It’s even harder to explain to beginning writers in a way that they are inclined to believe because it’s counter intuitive. But I’ll try.

Take this example:

The more ideas you brainstorm, the more ideas you will have.

Don’t believe me? Try to brainstorming 10 new ideas a day. If you do that for a week, I’ll bet that you’re bursting with ideas at the end of the week. At the beginning of the week you won’t be able to imagine what those seventy ideas would even be. By the end you’ll be writing in the margins of the page because you’re running out of room. Ten won’t be nearly enough!

That’s because your creative brain gets used to the idea, gets better, and comes up with more ideas. How? By teaching it to come up with ideas in the first place.

Same with writing. The more words you write, the more you will be able to write. You build your muscle by using it. At first, fifteen minutes of writing will exhaust you. You’ll be able to increase the amount of time you spend writing given practice.

A lot of people (myself included) started out by thinking that creative energy is some kind of finite well. That you can use it up, or run it dry.

But that’s not true. Writing isn’t a well. It’s a muscle.

And how do you make muscles stronger? By using them.

I’ve overcome this hurdle so many times that I thought I was past it entirely. And yet when I undertook this challenge, one of my first thoughts was, “I’m going to need more ideas. I don’t have enough blog ideas for 30 days. What am I going to write about?”

That’s the well trap. When you see yourself speaking negatively like that, saying “I can’t” or “I don’t” or “I never,” cut it off at the root. Creativity is not a well. It doesn’t dry up…unless you don’t use it.

I don’t always know what I’m going to write in the day’s blog post. Most of the time I have no idea.

But the more I did it, the easier it became.

Having a daily practice even took the anxiety out of it. If I don’t post for a long time, I feel a huge pressure to make the next post great, perfect, wonderful. If I post every day, there’s another chance tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

If I’m in the mood, I can write long posts like this one. If I’m not, there are other options. Half the fun is coming up with creative ways to maintain the streak with the minimum amount of effort.

I guess you could call me lazy. I call it smart.

I’ll try to keep up the daily blog, at least for now. It’s a good challenge, and fun. Hope you stick around.

***

Special thanks to Jason H. Abbott, BookDragonGirl, jenniereads, todaysechoes, Christy Esmahan, and Jason Knight for reading and liking and sharing. I see you, and I thank you.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written here in the past 30 days, would you chime in with a quick comment to let me know what you’d like to see more of?

Writing has nothing to do with how you feel about it

I’m gonna have to go look up the writing book where I first encountered this advice, because it’s escaping me right now, but the wisdom went something like this:

The quality of your writing has no correlation to how you feel about it while you’re writing.

That’s right, no matter whether you’re happy or sad, angry or depressed, jubilant or hungover, your emotional state does not correlate to the quality of the words you’re writing.

I’ve had days when I’m a miserable grump, and write a great scene in spite of myself. I’ve had days where I’m depressed and write crap.

I’ve deleted scenes that I thought were brilliant and which I wrote in a burst of inspiration. Oops.

I’ve had good days and bad days and everything in between. The quality of my work stays consistent—and (I hope) actually improves with time.

Will it be easier to sit down and work when you’re in a good mood? Of course.

That’s why taking care of your health is so important.

But you don’t have to be in a good mood to work.

As a professional, you go to work no matter how you feel. Do you want to be a pro? Then get to work.

This fetish with the flash of inspiration is damaging to the working writer. It gives the wrong expectation. How can a writer not be disappointed with a bland day when they expect genius at every turn?

In the end writing is a craft. And like the woodworker goes to the shop every day no matter how he feels about his work at the moment, so must the writer.

Otherwise how are you going to get enough practice to be any good at this thing?

Are you going to wait until inspiration strikes?

Are you going to wait until you’re “in the mood”?

Nope. The time is now. Get to work.

Thinking in scenes

An important moment in my development as a writer was learning to think in scenes.

This is a good life skill too, being able to break things down into their constituent parts.

You’re not writing a book, you’re writing a chapter.

You’re not building a wall, you’re layering wet cement and placing one brick at a time.

For stories, the basic building blocks are the scenes. Just focus on one at a time.

This works because a scene has the same basic structure as a story, but on a smaller scale. Each scene has a beginning, middle and end. Further, each scene is somewhere along that the beginning-middle-end spectrum in the greater story.

Writing a story can be overwhelming. Writing a single scene is eminently manageable.

Break it down. Focus on one thing at a time. You’ll get there.

Mailing list CRASH COURSE for authors (with video)

Here’s the full-length video of the talk I gave on mailing lists yesterday! You can watch it free on the YouTubes.

This video, a description of the event, and the 2 basics videos I posted ahead of time now have their own page at IndieAuthorSociety.com.

If you’re up for learning more about self-publishing and the business of being an author, this talk is the most recent in a series of 17 totally free keynotes on the subject.

It’s been a heck of a Monday getting back into the groove of things, especially after such a busy weekend. I have thoughts to share, but they’ll have to wait for another night.

Mailing list CRASH COURSE for authors

I’ll be at Half Price Books in Austin at 4pm tomorrow to give a talk on mailing lists and newsletters for authors for the Indie Author Society. If you’re in town and you’re an author you might find this useful. It’s free to attend. RSVP on Meetup here.

If not, that’s cool too — hopefully I’ll get a video out of it, if all goes smooth.

Mailing lists 101

Ahead of the event, I wanted to make sure everyone who attends has their basics down. This means you at least have a free Mailchimp account, and know where to send people who want to sign up so you can start building your list. I made these two videos to walk you through that part, in case you’re new to this. That way we have more time tomorrow to talk about the FUN stuff!

Basics 1 (your first mailchimp account)

Basics 2 (signup forms)

The crash course

With the basics established, my talk tomorrow will be focused on how to use your mailing list to your advantage. Here’s an incomplete list of topics we’ll cover, depending how things go…

  • The 3 main uses for author newsletters
    1. Engagement (Old-school newsletter)
    2. Direct sales
    3. Development (ARC readers/beta readers)
  • Reader magnets
  • Automations
  • Segmentation
  • Calls-to-action
  • Grow your list
  • Make fans
  • Mailing list software options
  • ???????? (questions from the audience)

That’s about it. If there’s any questions you have about mailing lists for authors, leave it in the comments and I’ll respond there as well.

Giving up on perfect

At some point in every draft of every novel I’ve ever written, I’ve had to give up on the idea of perfect and get out of my own way.

Like many artists who want their work to be considered good, the words that end up on the page often fail to match—sometimes barely even resemble—the shape of the story that exists in my head.

Such is the nature of the beast.

No reason to fight it. Just the way it is. People aren’t perfect, and neither are the things they create. I’m certainly no exception. I just do the best I can with what I’ve got.

Still, perfect is one of those things that I struggle with. It stops me up from time to time.

Today, as I sat down to write, I finally identified the problem. Not being sick (though I was) or busy (that too) or distracted (guilty), but just being a damned perfectionist and stubborn to boot.

So I kicked perfectionism to the curb. Once I did, the words began to flow faster.

I got out of my own way by giving up on perfect.

Don’t know why this happens, but it’s one of those things that always seems to come at me again from a different angle. As soon as I recognize it, I remember how to get past it. It takes a mindset shift more than anything else. Just being able to accept that rough drafts are rough, and keep typing.

I got 1000 words before lunch, a good pace for me. They might need some polishing, but that’s the best part of writing—you get lots of second chances.

Good music for writing

An impromptu collection of some of my favorite albums to write to.

I’m never at a coffee shop without headphones. Music helps me focus. It’s a reliable way to block out distractions when needed, which is most of the time.

My choices of tracks for writing are instrumental or electronic. Almost none of the songs on these albums have lyrics.

The moods range from rhythmic rock jams to brooding melodic vocals with crooning guitars. Lots of Jazz thrown in and scrambled up the way it should be.

I’ve been listening to these albums for years—they don’t go stale for me.

In no particular order…

Ratatat – Magnifique

Absolutely anything from Ratatat’s playlist makes for good writing music.

Mogwai – Atomic

Mogwai is hit or miss on writing music but I like this one

Chequerboard – The Unfolding

I listened to this album for a month straight.

Jazztronic Playlist on Spotify

This playlist helped me find a bunch of new stuff.

Amon Tobin – Bricolage

Stoney Street. Easy Muffin. Chomp samba! Even the names sound like jazz. Love the names, love Amon Tobin.