Thursday, 30 November 2017

Ink Tip: Tortoise Victories: How to Win While Writing Slow

We've all heard the story about the fast, but lazy rabbit and the steadfast and trusty tortoise.  It's one of those great early childhood morality tales about finishing what you start and not being overconfident.  But in the publishing world, it seems that it's the hares who always win and tortoises are encouraged to invest in some jet-packs to keep up with the pace.

Ready for a word sprint?
Last month, Susanna Kearsley came to speak with ORWA about how to weave multiple-story lines into a single novel.  That was fascinating, but what really connected with me was when she talked about writing slow.

She shared that she is not a fast writer.  It usually takes two years for her to publish her next book and she usually only writes a page or two at a time.  But she is still a bestseller, proving that the publish, publish, publish strategy is not the only route to success.

There are so many messages and articles out there about how to write faster.  New authors are confronted with expectations of publishing three or more books each year, sometimes as many as one each month.  The message is: if you don't have something new out, you'll disappear into the void of constantly churning content and readers will forget about you in their search for something else.

But that's not necessarily true.

Yes, it may take longer.  After all, if an author is only putting out one book every year or two, then it takes much longer to set up a backlist that fans can discover.  No matter how brilliant a writer is, if there's only one or two books available, then that is all that fans can buy, even if they are super-enthusiastic.

And yes, it is important to stay visible.  Readers have their own lives and don't just sit breathlessly by the computer waiting for announcements that their favourite authors have released a new book.  It's important to try and keep yourself in their awareness, so that they remember that they loved your book and will be excited when the countdowns begin for the next one.  Regular social media and blog posts, attending events and sharing bits from your work in progress can all keep an author from disappearing.

There are ways to make that kind of online presence easier:

- Find something you're already excited about that can be tied into your book.  Are you great in the kitchen?  Maybe do a regular recipe connected with your stories.  Do you travel a lot?  Post photos and reviews of your adventures, emphasizing the parts that inspire you to keep writing.  We all have passions and those passions usually tie into our writing, so drawing in people who share those passions means a much larger crowd of potential readers who will learn about your next book.

- Get a posting routine.  I have two monthly blog features (Ink Tip and Heroine Fix) as well as my weekly writing update.  That leaves me two blog posts each month that can be spontaneous or reflective of what's going on in my life and the world, which I find is a good balance for me.  For social media, I participate in #1LineWednesday, sharing a quote card from my previous books and a line from my work in progress.  I also share a quote about either writing or reading each Monday, a romance-inspiring song lyric on Tuesdays, and a quote about characters, superheroes, or different genres each Friday.  There's also a floater post each week, where I post a picture of a hot hero in connection to various Internet holidays (like Tell A Fairy Tale Day, February 26).  I call that one my Hero Worship post.  I still tweet and facebook about my life and my thoughts on a spontaneous basis, but these regular postings cover me when I'm swamped or uninspired or otherwise not in a social media mood.

- Schedule your social media and blog posts in advance.  Its a lot of work coming up with posts, so blocking out some time on a weekly or monthly basis makes sense.  There are plenty of programs that let you schedule things in advance (I use Hootsuite) so I can take an hour or two once a month to schedule my Hero Worship and #1LineWednesday quotes, and about a half hour each week to schedule my quotes and lyrics.

- Pictures can be good branding tools.  Humans are visual and we're far more likely to take in a picture while scrolling (thus prompting us to stop) than we are to read text.  By finding an image which you can use to mark your different kinds of posts, you can create a visual shorthand, making it easier for readers to catch the posts they're interested in.  And if you can't create a shorthand, then a picture still makes it far more likely for your post to be noticed.

The real caveat behind all publishing advice is that readers don't like being disappointed.  So if you're a slow writer, then be honest about that.  Forcing the writing process into a breakneck pace can lead to trite and repetitive stories, which readers will quickly saturate on and move on from.  Be honest about your expected deadlines (whether self- or editor-imposed) and if there are life delays, be honest about those, too.

Some writers can produce a book that readers love in an incredibly short period of time.  Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were both written in what amounts to a weekend writing blitz, according to their respective author's memoirs.  I'm in awe of authors who can produce 70 000 to 100 000 words each month, allowing them to put out well-edited and exciting books every two to three months.

Until Ms. Kearsley's lecture, I was harbouring a growing doubt about whether or not I would ever truly be able to succeed.  I am a fast writer, but I have very limited time in my life for when I can write, which makes me a slow writer in reality.  She was a welcome reminder that there are all kinds of paths which lead to being able to call oneself a successful author.  It's a matter of stubbornly sticking to it, even in the times that we doubt ourselves and our talent.  The lesson of the tortoise and the hare isn't about their relative speeds, it's about who never gives up.

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