In an effort to make my writing as successful as possible, I’ve been spending a lot of my time doing research (can anyone say nerd alert?). I asked for books on writing for Christmas, pinned dozens of posts, followed new blogs, and even signed up for a few writing courses. All of these have given me thousands of ideas and pointers, but I really haven’t produced anything tangible. Yes, I was increasing my foundation to build an awesome writing platform, but I was also increasing my frustration in not feeling accomplished. To try and get back on a more positive track, I’ve listed out some of my hang-ups and brainstormed some ways to try and deal with them. And, in the spirit of always improving by practicing, I thought I would share them here.
1 – A desire to keep my different “writings” separate from each other.
I tend to go overboard on my organization sometimes, and this was one of them. When I started to get back into writing, I thought that it would be simpler for me to keep all my writing in their own respective places – one notebook for blog posts, one for poetry, another for journaling, novel, etc. I truly felt this would help me produce faster, getting post to blog as quickly as possible, as well as submissions to magazines, editors, and agents on a more regular timeframe. Instead I found myself bogged down by stacks of notebooks, and debating where I should write when inspiration struck – sure, it was a personal, free-flow bit of inspiration, but it could potentially be used for the blog. Do I write in my journal, or in the blog notebook? Of course, this bit of hesitation was usually enough for inspiration to fly away, waving cheerily as it left, and all I was left with was frustration and empty pages.
The solution came while organizing my office back into a usable area. Moving things out of storage, I came across one of my notebooks from high school. Remembering how easily I could find my flow back then, I flipped through it before putting it back into a drawer. The answer to my frustration literally flashed before my eyes. In high school, writing was writing. There was no blog, no magazine submission; it was purely writing for the experience. I didn’t need ten different notebooks. I only needed one. Everything got dumped into one notebook; rants, poems, short stories, prayers. The smack slapped me upside the head. Writing comes first, organization later.
After condensing and re-vamping, I now have just two notebooks: one for my novel, and one for everything else. For my novel notebook, I’m going to worry about organizing after I get the story down and start re-working it as I type it all up. For the everything else notebook, I don’t even want think about organizing until it pulls me enough to type it up. When that happens, I’ll hop into OneNote, where I’ve created tabs for everything (poetry, blog posts, essays, even agent/editor information and magazine submission requirements). The best thing about OneNote is it makes everything searchable, so I can find whatever I need relatively quickly. I can also keep track of submissions and responses on the same page, making it easier to see what I’ve sent where or to whom. While it is still a bit early to know if this is going to improve my productivity, I will say that I feel less encumbered when it comes time to jot things down. That’s enough for me to put a check in the Win column.
2 – Building an easy to use blog.
One of the biggest things that you read or hear from other bloggers is how critical blog appearance and ease of use is. Not only for your readers, but also for agents, editors, and fellow bloggers looking to hire a writer, or to offer the ever-elusive deal. While I’ve already taken the leap by purchasing a domain name, and have fiddled around with pages and menus, I haven’t explored much beyond that. I don’t feel my blog is particularly messy, but I certainly don’t feel that it truly reflects the brand that I would like to build. And if I’m not excited about it, how can I expect anyone else to get excited?
My plan to deal with this is to dedicate my time during the coming weeks into learning all I can about WordPress and everything that it is capable of. I have found a few (what I hope to be) helpful blogs via Pinterest, and am trying to read through WordPress’ Help section to come up with something more unique and still user friendly. While this isn’t the quickest solution, I think it will be the best solution for the long-term. And, true to my engineering side, I love digging into how things work and adding my own spin onto them.
3 – Distractions on the home front.
I think this one is true for any parent trying to pursue a passion or make a living while being at home. The endless list of stuff that needs to get done. Dishes in the sink, laundry piles in the corner, clutter everywhere. Not to mention the two small humans, one large human, and one fur baby that I need to help out and take care of.
Of course, these things existed when I worked in an office. The difference is these things weren’t staring me in the face, annoying me and taunting me while I was sitting at a desk 50 miles away. They blasted my eyeballs with guilt as soon as I walked in the door every day, but while I was at work, I could focus on other things (out of sight, out of mind, ya know?).
This one I’m tackling in two ways. First, I created a space that was inspiration inducing, and most importantly, has a door. Thankfully, my oldest begged for my husband and I to move her back into the nursery with her sister, and as said sister has been sleeping through the night like a champ for a while now, I took full advantage of this request. We moved everyones things around, and boom! I get an office. Now, I can be at home but can still step away from the disaster that is the rest of the house. It also lets me create a more physical boundary with my family. When the door is closed, I don’t want to be bothered unless there is a fire. Or nap time is over.
Secondly, I decided I need to commit to seeing this writing effort as a business. I thought I’d already done this – I even bought a business workbook and written down goals and projections for the year. But when it boils down to the bottom line, I haven’t been acting like it was anything more than a hobby. I was using every excuse in the book, from “I’m waiting for inspiration to strike” to “Once the house is clean, my mind will be more clear and I’ll be off and writing in no time.” Sound familiar?
I feel this was partly due to a fear of losing my passion of writing for enjoyment and part self-doubt that turning writing into a profession was something that I could actually pull off. By committing one hundred percent to making this run like a business, it is much easier for me to turn up the dedication and turn down the guilt and self-doubt.
4 – Here a niche, there a niche, everywhere a niche, niche.
This is by far my biggest hang up. You read again and again that the best way to build up a solid, profitable career is to find a niche and focus, focus, focus. Don’t know which niche to go with? Recommendations are plentiful, but the two most common that I found were 1) follow your passion, and 2) follow something that you have experience in/are great at. Both very sound, but for me, not overly helpful. Let me just break down my thought process a bit for you.
Follow your passion. Well, I’m passionate about writing, but I’m just starting out at making it a long term effort. I think I could share my experiences about writing and my learning process as I work my way into the field, but I don’t feel like I have enough experience to offer advice to anyone. I’m also passionate about gaining knowledge and sharing knowledge. Learning odd bits of information about things and sharing it with others is something that I get a lot of joy from. I love seeing the light turn on in someone’s eyes as the topic clicks, or their imagination gets sparked. I would love to write essays and informative papers, but feel it is still on the broad side of a niche. As well as the idea of writing a thoroughly researched paper each week being a daunting thought.
As for something that I have experience in and/or am great at doing, this is where it gets obvious but also complicated. You see, I have experience in quite a few things: engineering, being a working mom (or just motherhood in general), and rural living are what pop into my head. And yes, I could absolutely turn one of these into a niche. But, do I know that much about them? Do I know enough to be considered an expert (this is where that stupid self-doubt comes into play)? And could I write enough about them to even garner any interest?
I also am good at a few things, but I am not great at any ONE thing. To me it is the consequence of having a curious mind, always hopping from one topic to the next, never focusing on anything long enough to get beyond “Hey, that was pretty good!”. I’m good at (or have a decent interest in) cooking, painting, reading, cars, history, all music, the list goes on. I am the definition of eclectic, with a fear of limitation.
One of the books that I have found immensely helpful during all of this is Stephen King’s On Writing, his half memoir, half writing manual that he wrote (at least part of it) during one of the most difficult times of his life. In it, King says “If you want to be a writer, you MUST do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” It is this quote that popped into my head while I was brainstorming ideas to navigate these hurdles. Why do I need to pick a niche right now? I don’t. What is more important is that I am writing (are you noticing a trend here?). Why limit myself while I am still figuring out how I want to turn my writing into a business? Why, indeed. Another smack hit me in the head, and then another, because I remembered that I named my blog B’s Thought Pad because I wanted it to be a place for me to dump thoughts and ideas so that I could practice the craft. In the words of Napoleon Dynamite, “Idiot!”.
So, to stay true to my original intent of this blog, and to follow a piece of sage advice, I will write and I will post without being in any niche. I will be niche-less, for now anyway. I am going to use this blog as a tool to grow as a writer, to practice the craft, building a stronger foundation, and to gather feedback so that I may begin to hone and shape my skills as I continue to build.
I hope that by addressing all my hurdles as individual issues, it will be a less daunting task, and in turn I will be more successful. Have you encountered any hurdles in reaching your goals? How are you, or how do you, plan on overcoming them? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Curious about Stephen Kings On Writing?
Check it out here: On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft