Goal Setting: HOKBIC

For some writers, the hardest part of establishing productivity is making yourself sit down and actually write. You have chores to do, kids to play with, email to check, books to read. It feels like every time you have a great idea for a story or project, you never get around to actually putting it on paper — or entering into the word processor.

If you’re this kind of writer, you might get good mileage out of setting your goals according to HOKBIC time:

  • Hands
  • On
  • Keyboard
  • Butt
  • In
  • Chair
More than one successful author wrote a breakout novel by getting up one hour early or going to bed one hour late. They didn’t worry about how much they wrote or how much money they made — just on setting aside time to write, and writing during that time. If you write for one hour every day for a year, you will have produced a sizable book by the end of that time.
How much HOKBIC time you need depends on your situation as a writer. If you write as a hobby, you probably won’t need an aggressive goal. If you write part-time as an adjunct to a full-time job, you don’t need HOKBIC time…but you should give yourself several hours each week if you want to ever transition to writing as your full time living. Professional writers should set their HOKBIC goals based on how rapidly they work, and how much they need to get done to make their deadlines and financial goals.
You can also apply this kind of dedicated work time to the other tasks surrounding writing. For example, a 10-hour work day might consist of 4 hours of writing, 2 of promotion and marketing, 2 of rewriting, 1 of bookkeeping and 1 of “pencil tapping” to sketch new projects.
Like any other goal, it’s usually better to set your HOKBIC time goals by the week. “Five hours each week” is better than “One hour every work day.” Although it’s the same amount of time, the weekly goal is less likely to fail. Every week will have at least one day that conspires to keep you from meeting your goal…but if you phrase it weekly, you have a chance to catch up by week’s end.
Thanks for listening.
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Point of View

Under normal circumstances, I’m a highly energetic, ferociously physical guy. This affects my writing, both in terms of voice and in terms of what I choose to write about.

These past two days, I’ve been alternating between periods of aching recovery, frustration with how slowly I have to move, and hazy drifts through pain-medicated fog. Overall, this is not the most pleasant experience I’ve had this year.

But…

It helps with point of view. Joe R. Lansdale, a martial artist speaking of writing bad fight scenes, once said “You can tell when a virgin is writing a sex scene.” This feeling of helplessness, of low energy, of weakness, will help me write better characters in my fiction and write more effectively for some audiences of my nonfiction.

A lot of the best authors suffered throughout their lives, giving them the empathy to truly understand each and every one of the challenges and conflicts affecting their characters. I’m not comparing my routine hernia operation to the lives of those giants, but it’s a small piece of the same page.

As writers, we have the advantage that every hardship we suffer now is fuel for your creativity later. Even if it never makes it into a particular story, simply knowing this can help us better handle the situation as it happens.

Thanks for listening.

The Power of Templates

As a writer, I find templates to be one of my most powerful tools. When working with tools, a template is a metal or plastic form that lets you cut out the outline of an object. When working with words, it’s an organizational form that lets your rough out the outline of a work.

In the context of web content, I have about a dozen templates — rough structures for articles — that I apply detail and personality to when I receive an assignment. This saves me hours every week, since I’ve gotten pretty quick at matching the right template with the right subject.

Templates do not stifle creativity or voice any more than a standardized rhyme scheme stifles creativity in poetry. It actually encourages creativity and voice by allowing me to put all my focus on the unique part of the article. I no longer have to think about the frame of the house, meaning I can focus on what’s living there and how it’s decorated.

Some authors use a template for their novels, producing entire series in which each book follows basically the same outline. Done poorly, they can be disappointing and formulaic. The best take that same outline and make each one a unique story by changing the characters, the dialog, the details.

You can also make life easier by building “time templates” into your day. This is a way of organizing your time and your writing. I work best from about 6 to about 9. AM vs PM don’t matter, so I schedule the rest of my day around writing during that block. Weekly and monthly templates can help you arrange less frequent tasks — for example, committing to posting certain kinds of posts to your blog on certain days.

Think about the writing you’ve done. If it helps, you can pencil a rough outline for a few representative samples. Chances are you also use templates, but may not know it. Once you realize you have such a powerful tool, you’ll be better able to use it to your advantage.

Thanks for listening.

Friday Fun: She Don’t Like Firefly

I’ve mentioned Firefly in the past. With just 16 episodes and a movie, it deserved to live far longer than it did. Geek comic Mikey Mason has this to say about it:

The story of Firefly is a cautionary tale for writers. Despite its cult popularity, extreme quality and potential for crossover sales, it ended up cancelled in the middle of its first season. A lot of factors went into this, but a lot of it has to do with moving time slots, poor promotion and minimal support from its network.

If you have a brilliant project, it will not succeed without promotional support from the distributor. More than one author has been disappointed after signing a deal with starts in his eyes, only to watch the project “wither on the vine.”

It’s hard, but you can leave an offer on the table if a publisher isn’t willing to work to sell your book. You’ll have to do a lot of promotion on your own, but they must meet you halfway. This may mean waiting a year or more for another offer — but your writing deserves the best offer, not the first.

Thanks for listening.

Notes From the Front: Proposals

I got a new gig recently — a one-off blog content deal. It was about average in terms of money, a bit light in terms of size. Interesting content, fun to research. It’s nice getting new clients from time to time, even for the short-term. What’s nicer is when the client in question tells you that you beat out 150 other applicants for the gig.

I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you this because I was able to ask my client what it was that floated me to the top of his particular heap. What he had to say wasn’t all that surprising, but what was surprising what how many people — he said 98 percent — don’t follow these basic rules of successful proposals.

1. Read the entire job description/submission guideline/call for work. Follow any specialized instructions. Many editors and clients will insert a small detail, such as a specific email title, to make sure you did this.

2. Do some basic research. If you’re trying to land a company, cruise their website. If you want to write for a magazine, read a few articles. Don’t ask somebody to spend money on you if you can’t take a few minutes to learn about them.

3. Indicate in your cover letter than you’ve done 1 and 2, preferably with an insightful or praising comment about the work your client does.

4. Submit quality and relevant work samples. If you don’t have any, take half an hour and make one. If you had to make one, say so — it demonstrates how dedicated you are.

5. Provide a direct link to your writing samples. Editors and other potential clients aren’t interested in downloading a file that could be a virus. This means maintaining an online portfolio (like this one) and using the link features in your email. Don’t expect the person on the other end to spend the time to Google you.

6. Put your best foot forward, always. Be professional with your communication and intelligent in your approach. Never make excuses, or express doubts in your proposal. Your proposal is your brochure for the client — and you don’t see professional brochures giving you the bad news.

That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, people. The words of a man frustrated by how much rough he has to dig through to find himself a diamond. Everybody’s far more capable of being a diamond than I am — the trick is making sure the clients can see it.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Six Ways to Generate Buzz

The truth is that print publishing has been taken a beating. In 2010, eBook sales at Barnes & Noble and Amazon exceeded sales of any other kind of book (though admittedly not sales of all other kinds put together). It may not be long before the model of being a published author promoted by your book company is a thing of the past.

In the mean while, the best way to attract the attention of a publisher or an agent — aside from excellent writing — is to come to the negotiation table with an aura of buzz already surrounding your book. Celebrities and the new wave of “ce-web-rities” can still ink good deals because they bring fans with them when they sign a contract.

The rest of us have to generate buzz the hard way. Fortunately, the same factors that are killing the traditional book deal also make it easy for us to generate that buzz with inexpensive and convenient tools.

1. Set up and maintain a social media account such as Facebook or Twitter. Post frequently with the juiciest morsels from your book. “&%$# My Dad Says” started as a Twitter game and now it’s a book with a TV show.

2. Blog about it. For fiction, trickle out a few early chapters or especially beautiful scenes. For nonfiction, write a set of actionable advice posts that establish you as an expert and keep people coming back. Track the statistics to use as evidence when you go to sell your book.

3. Start a Webcast. Video and audio podcasts are growing in popularity every day. If you make it interesting or funny, it may go viral at any moment. Although you can cast about anything you want, you should always end the show by telling your fans about the book that’s coming up.

4. Employ your loyal army of ninja warriors. Okay. Since I came to this from a career as a martial arts teacher, I may be the only one with a loyal army of actual  ninja warriors. But you have your own loyal army of friends, family and acquaintances. If half of them get three friends to check you out, and half of them get three more friends…well, you can see where that leads.

5. Publish excerpts. This is sort of like the blog idea, but with more generally respected sources. Maybe you can take a chapter of your novel and sell it to Escape Pod as a short story. Or you can write about essential aspects of your nonfiction book in an article for a trade magazine. Not only will this increase your audience, you might even get paid.

6. Self-publish an ebook or limited print run. Nothing succeeds like success. If you can sell 2,000 to 5,000 copies of a first printing of your book all by yourself, you will get the attention of publishers as you look for a second run. Even if you don’t want to print more of that particular book, having a successful personal run will give you more credibility with agents and publishers.

There are dozens, hundreds, an infinitude of other possibilities out there. The main point is to use your imagination and beat the “new media” at its own game.

Thanks for listening.

Accountability, Week Three

This was a rough week for accountability. I had a minor surgery that took me out of the action for three days. I made my goals with a combination of three actions:

  • I worked extra early in the week to get ahead.
  • I scheduled my weekend to include some blocks of family-free time so I could play catchup.
  • I held back a paycheck from some March work to apply to this week.
Planning is vital if you want to succeed as a freelancer, and especially vital when life conspires to make it difficult.
This week’s statistics:
  • Total Earnings Goal: $2250
  • Total Earnings This Week: $2,255
  • Earning Compared to Benchmark: 100%
  • Total Earnings So Far: $6,890
  • Progress Toward Long-Term Goal: 35%
Thank you all for providing some of the encouragement I need to stay on track. And, as always, thanks for listening.