Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: how to become a professional writer

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In my most recent branding and social media book, I talk about blogging and teach how to do it well. I’m a HUGE fan of the blog for a number of reasons. Blogging is fabulous for platform-building, cultivating a readership, and streamlining our writing. Blogging is the most stable form of social media.

Unless the Internet implodes? Blogs will remain. But blogging offers writers a significant edge beyond the platform.

Getting in THE ZONE

When we’re new, it’s tough to filter out the world and “get into the zone” where words begin to flow. We might futz with the coffee machine, check e-mail, tidy the kitchen and do everything but write. If one looks at a lot of the big name writers, many were originally doctors, lawyers and journalists.

Blogging is journalism of The Digital Age.

Many of the most effective, prolific and most highly awarded novelists began in journalism—Jack London, T. Jefferson Parker, Jonathan Maberry are the ones that quickly come to mind.

Journalists possess unique skills that can make us stronger and more successful writers. A journalist can’t wait for the muse to visit to write about that big chemical company fire. They write whether they feel like it or not. They aren’t playing for fun, they’re “playing” for keeps.

Image courtesy of Reuters.
Image courtesy of Reuters.

Many of us are working multiple jobs and serving in numerous roles—caretakers, employees, spouses, parents, grandparents, etc. The world’s job is to stop us from writing. Our ego is our enemy. Our insecurities would love to burn us and our dreams to the ground. Friends and family are often enemy agents. Not being a pessimist, just a pragmatist,

Steve Pressfield calls it The Resistance. Seth Godin calls it Retile Brain. When I started blogging, it took HOURS. I perfected every word, every line. I had the attention span of a gnat with a bad crack habit.

Now? I homeschool, have four cats and a dog and run two companies. When I’m writing, I’m present, vested and bulletproof. I’ve literally continued writing with a kitten scaling my back and Spawn whacking me with a NERF sword while Dora the Explorer blares in the background. It no longer matters.

Right now? I have Shingles. Does it hurt? Like hell…but not right now. I’ve blocked that. I’m writing.

Did this happen overnight? NO. It took practice, but this is why I’m fond of blogging. It can be a warmup. It’s running lines or spending time in the batting cage. It hones our focus and trains us to put on our game face instantly and remain fully in the zone until the play is complete.

Journalists get the story. They can think when bombs are going off and gunfire is all around. They can be pushed, shoved, beaten and only the story matters. When they’re on, they’re ON.

Tighten the Writing

Great journalists learn to hook early, get to the point ASAP, captivate attention completely and then end. We can take a lesson. If we can say it in one sentence, we don’t need five. One powerful word is better than three inferior ones. Journalists cut the fluff and go for the guts. So do superior writers.

The car hurtled west towing a swirl of black exhaust into the light of day. It was low and old, with Baja plates and a loose muffler that dangled and sparked on the dips. ~T. Jefferson Parker Iron River

Look at HOW MUCH information we glean in TWO sentences and how many questions are raised in the reader’s mind. Why are they speeding? The condition of the car. Location. Time of day. Something important is making the driver ignore a muffler that would make the rest of us stop and find a coat hangar or a mechanic. But not THIS driver.

Why?

We are ALL works in progress. I’m always hunting for ways to streamline and say more with less.

Journalists also see details others miss, meaningful details. Blogging will make you notice people and the world in a whole new way. While other writers offer the obvious—“He had dull brown hair, glasses and wore a polyester suit”—we’re offering the meaningful. “He had the kind of face you forgot even while you were still talking to him.” (Daniel Suarez, Daemon).

The Office
The Office

Immaculate Deception

Journalists make deadlines. They ship. Perfection is an illusion. We could all edit our WIPs forever and someone will not like our work. No work will be “immaculate.” That’s a lie. We cannot write books (or blogs) by committee. It’s a good way to go crazy. Just accept not everyone likes what we have to offer. Not everyone likes my blogs (GASP!). They’re too long, too short, too conversational, etc.

I got razed on a Huffington post because I used the word “awesome.” Really?

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Am I going to quit using the most awesome word in this awesome world because one person thinks the word awesome is “unprofessional”? Nope. I think that they should find another awesome blog and have an AWESOME time reading something that appeals more to their ridiculous and boring preferences.

Blogging builds rhino skin and fires out perfectionism. Writers that make a living write a lot. Let go, move on, write more. The great part about blog-training is you’ll write leaner and faster and only get better over time. The last book I wrote? The editors I hired were thrilled because they could edit the meat of my work because the draft (although imperfect) was already clean. 

Yes, there are other ways to train/hone the same skills, but I am all about doing MORE with LESS. Blogging builds the platform, reaches readers and cultivates new fans, all while helping us become better today than we were yesterday.

What are your thoughts? Are you struggling with getting in and remaining in the zone? Find it difficult to filter out distractions? Are you seeing ways you can hook earlier, end stronger? Say less with more? Are you improving when it comes to procrastination or excuses? What other ways have you trained yourself to be a better writer?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Last post we talked about the first letter in our acrostic for VICTORY—voluntarily submit. I feel those of us in Western societies have a hard time with the word submit because we’ve redefined the word in a negative way. If we submit, we’re weak. Untrue! There is tremendous power in the act of submitting.

When we submit, we’re able to let go of what we can’t control. We’re more maneuverable when we encounter resistance, setbacks or criticism. Instead of breaking, we can bend and move and use negative energy in our favor.

Nature clearly demonstrates the strength and resilience submission offers. This is why palm trees thrive in coastal areas hit by hurricanes. They bend in high winds and submit. When the storm passes, they spring back.

Here in North Texas we have a lot of Live Oaks. Though oaks are tough trees, if one looks closer and studies the branches of Texas oaks, you’d see they aren’t straight. The branches curve and twist in a spiral. The bark itself has winding grooves ideal for diffusing the force of high winds from fierce storms.   

And this is why they can take the beating of Texas weather.

Running Toward the Fight

Today, I’d like to talk about I, which is for Identify Problem Areas. We can’t change what we don’t see or refuse to see. Now, most of us could all write a long list of where we fall short. This isn’t to make anyone feel badly. But, when we’re honest about areas we need to change, we can make a plan.

Camping on top of our problems isn’t the mark of a pro. It’s the self-indulgent Soma of the amateur.

Examine Our Motivations

Writing has been such a painful and personal journey for me that has gone far beyond craft of writing books. When I began writing, I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I was a people-pleaser. I was insecure and had something to prove. I was selfish, angry, jealous, unteachable, hyper-critical of myself and others and undisciplined. I blamed others instead of taking responsibility.

Oh, if my family would just be more supportive THEN…

That’s crap.

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As long as my locus of control was external, I could relinquish my responsibilities. So long as it was my family who interrupted my writing, others who didn’t take me seriously, that I didn’t have a new computer or a private office in a condo with a view of the ocean, I had excuses to remain stuck. Well, I’d have made word count had Such-and-Such not interrupted me.

Writing is a unique profession. We don’t clock in and clock out. No Author Straw Boss will punish us for not writing. We don’t get stars on the fridge for working. Our craft is subjective so we can dismiss even valid criticisms and remain self-deluded if we choose.

Who Will Remain?

Many writers won’t make it long-term, and, sadly, this has nothing to do with talent or lack thereof. An author friend of mine and I were recently talking about how many writers and bloggers held such promise yet have vanished.

Five years later, they’re gone and we’re still here.

When I go to a conference I know most won’t make it. It reminds me of a scene from the movie G.I. Jane. The troops are lined up and shown a bell. They can leave at any time, just ring the bell and a soft bed, warm meal and rest is at the other end.

Image via www.freerepublic.com
Image via Free Republic.

Who will ring the bell? Will it be you? Look to your left. Look to your right. Most of you won’t be here by the end. Who will ring out first?

My husband was in Special Operations. He can attest that often the strongest, boldest and loudest are the first to go. Training is far more mental than physical. It’s about strength of will, courage, and relentless pursuit that defies logic. Passion that defies reason.

The Crucible

Want to see who a person really is? Who you really are? Turn up the heat.

Writers who want to succeed welcome the fire. In the beginning, I didn’t welcome the fire. I avoided, defected, blamed and whined…and didn’t have anything but a pile of flimsy excuses and half-finished projects to show for all my exertions.

Making excuses can be exhausting.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

I knew I was a mess. I learned to appreciate that I couldn’t tackle all my defects at one time. My first step? Finish something. My first novel is a disaster…but for the first time in my life, I FINISHED.

Blogging was tremendously helpful for me. I learned to meet self-imposed deadlines even when no one other than Cheap Xanax dot com cared about my posts. I learned to ship. It trained the perfectionism and laziness out of me.

Then, instead of hiding in the comfort of my writing group where I was the strongest writer among a bunch of other unpublished authors, I sought out conferences and groups with pros. Boy, that humbled me up with a quickness. I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

I was hiding behind “Aspiring Author” waiting for the world to take me seriously when even I didn’t take myself seriously. I hid behind a cutesy moniker texaswriterchik. I wrote when I “felt inspired.” Every new idea that flitted across my gray matter was an excuse to drop my WIP and pursue a new shiny.

Oh, well no I’m not working on THAT book. It wasn’t “right” for me.

Claiming the profession is inviting the heat. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to be a writer. Many of you know I prefer the term pre-published author. Why? We’re owning it. We are welcoming the crucible. Writers write. Those who want to do this for a career know there are a lot of un-fun activities that go with the job.

We work when others play. If we have a day job, we have to stay up later or get up earlier. We don’t find time, we make time.

When we are flailing and faltering, instead of whining, we must stop and ask the hard question.

What Am I Afraid Of?

Am I afraid of failure? I never finish anything because then I can’t truly fail. Am I afraid of success? If my book is a hit, can I write another one? A better one? Will I outshine Dad, Mom, Aunt Penelope?

Am I afraid I really don’t have any talent? I keep switching projects, genres, ideas because deep down I fear that I’m a hack?

I’d like to offer a quote from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death (page 39).

Keep Asking

Thing about life is it can be a game of Character Whack-A-Mole. Just about the time we get the self-discipline thing down, perfectionism pops up. Then we whack that sucker only to see we’re getting sucked into too much family drama and using that as an excuse. Whack! Then we pop that sucker on the snoot and something else pops up.

It’s life.

This is why we began this series with voluntarily submit. Writing and life is a process. It is never static. Our job is to maintain vigilance and be honest even when it hurts. The quicker we can come to that point of painful truth, the quicker we can shut down self-doubt, criticism, or fear. We can be proactive and root it out before it spreads.

I believe in you, so there is at least on person on your side. I don’t dish out anything I don’t eat first.

We’ve had a HELL of a year. Four deaths in ten months. Sickness, problems, family issues. I became deeply distraught and sidetracked until I realized I was allowing myself to become too caught up in things I COULD NOT control as an excuse for avoiding what I could.

So don’t feel badly. This is life. Focus on your love and passion, but also be fearless with yourself. We all procrastinate, make excuses, hide, or deflect. We are human. A pro takes problems seriously, the amateur takes them personally.

Dust off, wipe away the blood and get back to it. This is why we will remain when others fall away. Refuse to ring that bell and keep pressing!

What are your thoughts? Has writing helped you grow as a person? Do you run into problems and then realize it’s really something you FEAR? Do you face self-doubt? I do too if it makes you feel better :D.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

April’s WINNER is Patricia Woods. Please send your 20 pages (5000 word WORD document), query letter (250-300 word Word document) OR synopsis (Up to 1000 word WORD document) to kristen at wana intl.com. Congratulations!

If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons
Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

The world around us is always pushing this notion of “perfection” and, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder what “reality” looks like. All the models are tall and thin and young with poofy lips (and men have their own variety of the super model stereotype). They have fabulous clothes and new cars and go on expensive vacations.

Even our homes! When I look around my house that’s littered with toys, my sink full of dishes and two baskets full of laundry (even though I just DID laundry) I wonder what a real home is supposed to look like? Where do I fit? Sure NOT on Pinterest.

Granted, there are areas I KNOW I am slacking (*cough* Christmas tree is STILL standing) and let’s not talk about the state of my drawers and closets. But, I generally (when the washer ISN’T broken) wash the sheets 1-2 times a week. I make the beds. I clean the toilets all the time because Spawn is 4 and we are still working on AIM.

Pippa claims she is "helping" with laundry. Right.
Pippa claims she is “helping” with laundry. Right.

But I am nowhere near the homes in magazines or on TV, even though I live in an apron. I will never wear skinny jeans and I am unwilling to go into crushing debt to keep up with a world who portrays a “reality” that is geared to make me emotional, make me feel inferior and therefore buy stuff. Or work more, do more, more, more, more.

I live in my apron only usually no makeup and hair in a scrunch-ee
I live in my apron, but usually no makeup and hair in a scrunch-ee.

Why do I bring this up?

Because perfect is an illusion. There is no such thing. Our society has gotten into this GO BIG OR GO HOME attitude, and sure, that might be okay in one or two aspects of our lives…but ALL OF IT? I cannot look like a fitness model, write 4 novels a year, have perfect social media, make crafts with my kid, volunteer, drive a BMW and have a house that should be featured on HGTV.

Maybe you can. I can’t and won’t. Not worth it.

Thus, we need to list our priorities and it is okay to let the other stuff be less than perfect. But, in light of this argument, I also want to say this isn’t a pass to be lazy or mediocre. We should strive for that nice healthy balance. When we get out of balance, something or someone will suffer. I have to be careful I don’t get so focused on writing and business and cleaning that I forget to be a mom.

I have to take out time to run with Spawn through the house with NERF guns looking for zombies. The dishes will be there. I know. I’ve tested this hoping they’d disappear but they apparently mated and made more.

Writing

You want to be a writer? Great. Here’s the good news. If you’re writing, you’re already a writer so stop the angst. Just do it. This is one of the reasons I am such a huge fan of blogging. Writers write.

My mom can post on Facebook and The Spawn has been known to tweet, but neither of them blog….because they aren’t writers. Blogging is training for the professional pace.

Blogging is THE most stable form of social media and it trains us to be better writers. We can write leaner, meaner, faster and commit. No Writer Warden is going to show up and take us to jail if we don’t blog/write. To be professional, we have to be good at keeping and meeting self-imposed deadlines. Not only does blogging make us better writers and create a stable platform, it also trains those self-discipline muscles.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Even if you don’t blog, commit to writing something daily. Write a 100 words, then work up to 200 then 500. When I started, 1000 words was SO HARD, so I started with 100, but it was a beginning and we all start somewhere. The trick is to START.

Give Grace

I’ve read writing books and inspirational/leadership books that I wanted to punch. The last leadership book I read, the author talked about the importance of taking time to think, how he goes to his office and just sits in the quiet and thinks for an hour by himself in his special thinking chair. How cute.

I can’t even go PEE alone. 99% of the time, I have two cats and a dog fighting for attention while The Spawn hits me with a sword or begs me to help him level up on Angry Birds.

Can I JUST go to the BATHROOM….ALONE?

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Whenever I hear of an author who recommends traveling to a location for a book and staying there a month or two to absorb the experience? I think, “Sure. Uh huh.” And this isn’t to be negative, because I do have that as a goal. But, for most of us, that won’t be reality for a long time, if ever. But we still have to get the words on the page. We might have to use Google Earth, Google Images, or tweet a friend in the UK to help be our eyes and help us with setting and dialogue.

And the point of all of this is the best time to do anything is NOW. Just something. Don’t wait to be perfect. Just start. Baby steps are steps and one of the reasons I feel so many of us fail is because we buy into the lie that those tiny steps don’t count. That if we can’t GO BIG, we aren’t trying hard enough. That’s ridiculous and wrong.

Learn to SHIP

Blogging trains perfection out of us. Ship. Too many blogs falter and countless books are never finished because we’re too focused on perfection. There’s no perfect book. I could win a Pulitzer and still have people who hate my book.

Finished books are far more valuable than perfect ones.

The house? Hey, if I can keep from making an episode of Hoarders? Score! Sure, my goal is to organize a drawer a day, weekok month. But I can make my bed. My finances? My goal is to be completely debt free. I can start by not making more debt. For instance, I’m going to the Laundromat until I can save for a new washer.

My body?

I already eat clean, because I have a zillion food allergies. But, I haven’t been working out like I used to. Why? Because I was an IDIOT. I was caught up in the GO BIG OR GO HOME and gave myself such bad tendonitis that I had to lay off all exercise, other than maybe walking or yoga, for over a YEAR to fully heal.

I decided this weekend to revisit the p90X workout. I’ve done it before but I pushed too hard and injured myself. This morning, even though The Spawn was up all night and I had no sleep, I got up to my alarm and started. Did I do the whole thing perfectly? Nope. Was kind of a flabby train wreck, but I did it.

The trick to all of this is to:

  • Contemplate what is TRULY important. Might have to sacrifice the immaculate house for a finished novel.
  • Make a plan and one that is BALANCED. Somewhere between mediocrity and insanity is a nice happy place.
  • Give permission for failure. Failure teaches far more than success ever has.
  • Learn to ship.
  • Be a finisher. My mantra is “The world rewards finishers not perfection.”
  • Finish small and eventually we’ll finish big.
  • Just start. If we have a hiccup? Life blows up? Just start again. Simple.

I want all of you to reach your dreams and still have sanity, friends and a happy relationship/marriage/family. No perfectly clean house, no amount of money, no number of best-selling books can take the place of what’s really important. But, beyond that? REACH.

Ignore a world that’s out to tell you you aren’t trying hard enough and you aren’t good enough. YOU ARE. One foot in front of the other and celebrate the little things, because all the universe is constructed of tiny things ;).

The largest, brightest star is still made up of tiny atoms of Hydrogen and Helium. Every book is made up of a combination of 26 letters. Every healthy body is the cumulation of small, sound choices. Baby steps. Relish them and celebrate them.

Anyway, what are your thoughts? Where do you struggle? Are you bad about All-or-Nothing Thinking, too? Do you tend to go to extremes, either overdoing or being a tool slacker (raises hand)? What ways do you keep yourself pushing on? How do you handle setbacks?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

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