Why is it so hard to maintain momentum?

Indie entrepreneur_001

I go on publicity binges – posting, tracking, tweeting, creating new content, then posting, tracking, tweeting all over again.  Then I see a jump in sales and I think “Great!  It’s working!” and I work like a woman possessed on my next release or short story in between posts, tweets, tracking, etc..  All of a sudden I hit a day when it just seems like so much self-aggrandizement and frantic activity that I can’t bear to do it for another minute.

It’s in these dark hours of (mental) exhaustion that I just want to crawl onto the couch and read someone else’s work.  The one thing being an indie has taught me is that those moments of blissful peace are necessary to fuel my creativity.  It’s stressful to live with the little voice in my head “Did my scheduled posts work?  Did I put the links on that post?” and all of the other random thoughts that pop in while I’m trying to live my life.

That’s the crux of the matter:  I have a life.  I have a full-time job.  I have a family.  I have a small dog.  I have friends.  I also have a part-time job (writing) that I’m building into a business and that business reqires me to be creative and consistent.

The last time I hit that wall – the one between “I love doing this so much” and “I’m closing my Twitter account” – I decided to approach things differently.  Instead of working like a woman possessed on my next release while promoting, I broke it down into two separate tasks.  Write.  Publicize.  When I’m not feeling particularly inspired, I build my tweets and posts and save them or schedule them to post at specific times.  When I can’t form a sentence, I work on my art for advertising sales & promos – then I save them or schedule them.  Trying to do it all at once just saps my energy and creativity.  If my posts are scheduled, I can focus on my next project.  This has made me more focused as a writer and it’s enabled me to keep my online presence consistent.

When I feel like I’m at the end of my rope, I curl onto the couch (with the small dog) and read someone else’s work.  Those breaks enable me to do recharge enough so I can build my business.  It’s time I carve out for me, without the pressure of constantly feeling like I must do more.  Maintaining momentum is important, but maintaining sanity is even more critical.

Researching Magic

Although I primarily write fantasy, there’s a great deal of research which goes into the creation of my stories.  I suppose I could simply make up the entire thing, but I love legends and mythology so I actually enjoy the research.  That research has given me new ideas and taken my characters to places I couldn’t have imagined!

Along with a pretty extensive collection of legends, I admit I’m addicted to Wikipedia.  While I do look up specific objects on that site, I also click on the sources below the articles.  It is through these external links that I have found on-line library collections of 16th century illuminated manuscripts and a little known compilation of Native American legends.  Being a writer when there’s such a vast wealth of knowledge available is exhilarating.

The creation of magical powers is another part of my stories, and I spent hours developing it for my first book and more time increasing my knowledge since then.  I have read books on magic and herbal healing, mostly those written by modern practitioners of the craft – and while I’m not a witch – as an author, I like to have some basis in reality for my stories.  Many cultures have a strong tradition of herbal and crystal healing and those areas find their way into my work as well.   I have expanded on those resources to develop my own brand of magic.  I like spending a few moments flipping through my dictionaries of healing herbs and crystals to get some inspirtaion for my stories.  Sometimes, I write my characters into impossible situations that I have no solution for – a few flips through one of my resources sometimes turns up the perfect answer or at least gives me a grain of knowledge that I can expand into a viable solution.

All of the research gets filed into my brain, or scribbled onto index cards, or typed into documents that lurk on my computer. That process makes writing as much about learning as about creating a story.  I think that’s the thing that keeps my reader interested – there’s really something to learn hidden in my stories.  I know the research and learning is what keeps me interested as a writer – there’s so much out there that I feel like I’ll never run out of fuel for my stories.

What’s so great about sad?

I just watched the last episode of a series I have loved for years – loved so much that I thought how sad it would be when it finally went off the air.  I’m not feeling that anymore.  In fact, I’m so disgusted that I won’t watch it again…even though it will be on next week.  One of the few characters I still cared about was killed in the episde I watched.  I won’t be back to see what happens next because the death of that character broke some thread of trust I had with the shows writers and producer.  Now, I just don’t care.

Life has enough strife, stress, and hardship without someone bringing more to me in my leisure time.

Once I figured out I now have one additional hour each week, I moved on to another thing which could have been equally traumatic – the end of the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Now, I’ve been putting off actually finishing the final book because I didn’t want to be sad.  Today, I figured I was already pissed off enough after my television viewing, so I might as well be completely miserable.

The entire time I was reading the final three books I kept wondering how Charlaine Harris would end it.  I had all sorts of evil twists and diabolical plots and traumatic events floating around my imagination.  I’d write them all here, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s still reading the book.  I’ll create a separate page so you can read them if you want.  I sat on my couch with my dog and a glass of water and decided to just rip the bandage off…

Much to my delight, the ending wrapped everything up quite nicely – with a healthy dose of justice and some pretty cool scenes that made me feel vindicated and really, really smart.  At no point did I feel betrayed or used.  I didn’t feel like I had been lead down the primrose path.  The author had a chance  break my heart and decided not to do it.  I suppose I’m a complete sap because I do love a neat little ending.  Notice, I didn’t qualify that as “a happy ending” because if nothing else, the end of a series I loved is hardly a happy thing.

It’s a mater of trust for me as a reader, viewer, and author.  I like to be brought home after a date safe and sound with no regrets that I just wasted a few hours of my life.  If I wanted to be sad, stressed, and shattered then I’ll wait around a bit because life tends to do that to all of us from time to time.  I don’t need a complete stranger to make me feel that way.

I guess my new book will be out sooner, now that I have an extra hour in my week.

If you need me, I’ll be at the bar…

My next book release is delayed because I’m spending too much time at the bar.

I admit it:  Instead of working diligently on my next book, I’m spending my evenings and weekends at the bar.  It’s a really cool place where something is always happening.  The waitress is always friendly and has a big smile on her face (even though she sometimes makes weird facial expressions).  She has a secret – and I happen to know what it is – and then there’s the owner of the bar…he’s interesting in a whole other way, kinda the strong, silent type but a real stand-up guy (even though he has lousy taste in women).  The bar is a place where I’m happy; a place I can go to forget the everyday worries and just lose myself in the atmosphere and drama.  I get so involved there that I spend the hours when I can’t be there thinking about how much I just want to go back to the bar and become oblivious to the annoying details of everyday life.

The bar I hang out at these days is Merlotte’s and my favorite waitress, Sookie, always helps me take my mind off my own troubles.  Sam (the owner) makes me feel like somehow, everything’s going to turn out okay – even though the road might be a little rocky.  Merlotte’s is home because I know everyone and even when I want to smack Sookie for putting up with Eric’s nonsense, I trust her judgment and keep my mouth closed (she knows I’m thinking it, anyway).

At least four years ago, I read the first eight or nine books in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series.  I read them all – one right after another – during the summer.  I clearly remember lying on my couch with the air-conditioning blasting and being totally engrossed in the stories.  I didn’t like Bill Compton, I really adored Gran, and I felt so bad for Jason that I ripped into the next book just to make sure he’d be okay.

Then I had to wait for the next book and…well, I kinda got distracted hanging out with my new friends, Rachel Morgan and her sidekick Jenks.  Then I lost touch with them when I met Jane Yellowrock because she was there for me when I beside myself with worry over someone I love very much.  Jane came to the hospital with me every day and she took my mind off of things I had no control over.  Jane told me about her whole life – one book after the other – while I waited for things to get better and she was my respite and escape when things were too scary in the real world.

Jane went on vacation for a while (the next book hadn’t been released yet) so Sookie and I renewed our friendship and I’ve been spending all my free time with her and ignoring my other friends – Arienne, Caly, and my new friend Hope.  As bad as I feel for ignoring them, Sook has things going on and I need to know how it will all turn out.

That’s the thing about books:  once you’re hooked, you’re in for the long haul.  I might put off reading the final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series just because I know I don’t want it to end (really, it ended a while ago, but I was busy with Arienne so I’m a bit behind the times).

My point is this:  my writing has grown out of my deep love for the escape books have always provided me.  Just like people, the characters sometimes disappoint me, but in the hands of a skilled author, that disappointment turns into something I can relate to.  For instance, I really want Sookie to tell Eric off – but she’s being a little passive-aggressive about the whole situation right now.  I want to smack her until I think about it and realize (with some shame) that I have approached similar situations in exactly the same fashion.

That’s the great thing about a good story.  The lines between reality and fiction blur.  I know Arienne and Hope miss me, but for now, I really need to get back to the bar.  Not only do I have friends there, but they’re people who can teach me something – and maybe Arienne and Hope can benefit from those lessons.

Marketing strategies should match your real goals as an indie author.

indie Scale & Balance_001

I feel guilty every time I log onto Facebook.  Another author I know is constantly posting to pages – all sorts of pages – and I get notified every time it happens.  It makes me feel inefficient.  I might post a couple times a week – to a select few sites – and 90% of the time, I’m just commenting on something instead of posting about my books.  It’s the same on Twitter.  My blog posts are generally related to being an indie author because posting about my books usually doesn’t occur to me.  Obviously, the other author and I have different goals.

As an indie, not only do I write books, I have to coordinate the cover design (or do it myself), editor, formatting, and promotion of my work.  If that isn’t enough of a to-do list, I have to maintain my online presence on my blog(s), Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon (including the international sites).  I’m pulled in ninety directions just to launch my book.   BOOK – as in singular product.

Yes, it would be great to launch one book and have it succeed beyond my wildest expectations – but how much better would it be to have three or four books which were earning money?   What about nine or ten?

That’s my real issue as an indie author.  Do I want to launch one book – investing all of my time and profits in that singular work (because I can advertise it all over the place for a fee), or do I keep my focus on writing my next book?  I choose option B – because my goal is to write many books.  I don’t even want to write just one series.  I want to write and market in the most efficient way possible for me.  It needs to be a way that meets my goals as an indie.

So what makes a marketing strategy effective for me?

It has to be quick.  I’m not interested in posting to fifteen sites every day because on a good day, I only have an hour or two of solid writing time.  If I’m marketing for five or ten hours a week, I have no time to write the next book.  If I had more time to market, I might…but it’s equally possible that I would just devote that time to writing more.

It has to be fun.  As an indie, I have a wonderful opportunity to create the career I want without having to conform to the conventions that make traditional work…well, work.  Feeling like I have to do something sucks all of the joy out of it and then I just avoid the task.

It has to be low-cost or even free.  At this point, I’m just not interested in spending all of my profit on marketing.   I’d much rather spend it on cover design (which might be marketing in some people’s eyes) or another service that frees me up so I can write more.  What brings in money is book sales – and I’ve noticed that the thing that boosts sales is running a promotion – free or 99 cents – and letting other people do the marketing for me.  I’m amazed every time I do a free or 99 cent promotion and find out I have more mentions on Twitter…it’s free marketing!

Indie authors need to decide what their goal is.  Mine is to spend as much time as possible writing books.  I love the process.  I love the quiet escape writing provides.  I love being able to do it around the rest of my life.  I also want to publish two books a year.  If I don’t keep that goal in mind, then I start to feel the pressure to market, market, market – and if I’m doing that, then I’m not going to meet my real goal.

As to the frequent posting of books some other authors do, I’m sure it’s fun for them and they have the time to devote to it.  The challenge for me has been to create what I want, in a way it works for me, and without comparing myself to other authors who have different objectives.  By keeping my goals in mind, I’m maintaining focus so I can achieve my aim without feeling that I should be doing something that takes me away from the thing I love doing.

Writing as therapy

Sometimes (like today), I get up at the crack of dawn because I’m simply too stressed out to sleep.  Life’s like that – long periods of status quo where it seems as if everything is flowing along like a peaceful river and then you’re suddenly going through the rapids in an innertube, clinging to irrational hope that the roaring you hear in the distance isn’t a giant waterfall.

Those moments of “Oh, crap – here we go!” are what fuel my writing.  For those of you who’ve read my books, you know that my characters find themselves charging forward despite those little voices in their heads that say “I’d rather be taking a nap on the couch” or even “this wasn’t such a good idea.”  That’s what life is all about.  There are days when you can nap, and days when you just need to deal with the insurmountable tasks you feel ill equiped to handle.  You can’t crumble and you can’t hide from those challenges – the only thing you can do is move through them, trying to trust the fact that your talents and skills will serve you well.

For me, my ability to make a mental escape into another place has been a skill which has kept me from twisting into a giant stress ball and rolling into a nice, dark closet to wait out the catastrophe.  Sure, I can’t sleep a lot of nights, but I can get up and lose myself in Arienne’s next adventure, or I can relish Cleo’s self-serving “me first” attitude, or I can help Caly figure out what the clues mean.  Those breaks from the reality give me time to decompress and solving a complicated plot twist is so satisfying that it gives me hope I can solve the gnarled tangled that my own life sometimes becomes.

Writing is my escape.  I can point to situations in my books and think “Oh, right – that’s when x happened” and I can remember the particular emotion or issue that was playing in the back of my mind when I first sat down to write a specific chapter.  Those exact situations aren’t in my book, but I can think of times when (like Arienne) I was facing a giant obstacle and felt too overwhelmed to work out the solution until that little voice in my head spoke up (like Gonishen did) and said “Just think.  You know the answer to this.”

That’s what a book should do.  Take you out of your current situation and bring you somewhere where you can solve messy problems and feel like no matter how bad things get, there’s a solution and everthing you’ve learned up until that point has been to prepare you to find that solution and keep moving forward.  I think of my readers when I write – I want to take you on a journey to an interesting place with people who feel just as overwhelmed and inadequate as the rest of the world does but after an adventure, I want to bring you safely home feeling like just maybe, a happy ending is always possible.