5 Signs You’re Writing Hard, But Not Smart (as an Indie author)

The secrets to writing hard and smart aren’t that mysterious, but the Indie life asks a lot of any writer, and it’s easy to fall into patterns of behaviour and familiarity that are not smart in the long run.

fruitfulKristen Lamb wrote a post on this subject, from an overall perspective – Are You Being Busy or Fruitful? Anne R. Allen recently published another on the subject – 7 Ways Authors Waste Time “Building Platform” on Social Media. In that post Anne mentions her belief in a Slow Blogging manifesto she links to. Anne also links to Nathan Bransford’s post – When it Feels Like You’re Never Doing Enough.  Even Neil Gaiman, in a recent decision, is taking a Twitter sabatical after admitting that he can get his writing done a lot quicker without social media.

I have to admit, I’m not a slow blogger. I’m also not a scheduled must-post on Tuesdays, Thursdays and have a series of linked posts once a month type of blogger. I post when I feel like it. Sometimes that means there’s a whole rash of posts, sometimes a few weeks can go by when I don’t have that much to add of value. My posts aren’t quick normally, either.

But am I being fruitful, or wasting my time? Good question, Kristen, Anne and Nathan.

Here are five signs that can make us look really hardworking and busy, but not be particularly fruitful for our career.

Can you guess how many of these signs I fit? *Hangs shameful head*.

5 Signs You’re Working Hard, Not Smart

1. You spend a whole day on writing a blog post for your website aka author platform.

writing blogWriting blog posts is good hard work. It’s also something that aspiring authors are told to do – to build platform, and an audience. But spending a full day on this kind of writing work is valueless if at the end of building that audience, there is no actual book written for them to read. If you’re going to spend a full day writing, do it on your book project.

2. You sat down and wrote for your dedicated allotment of writing time – 2 hours (1/2 hour, 1 hour, whatever) and only managed half a page.

wastingtimeWise advice to writers is to have a daily writing routine, and sit down during it to write. Bums on seat. In fact, interviews with renowned and successful authors produce similar evidence – they all sat down to write as a routine, whether it was for a dedicated time or for a certain word-count. The problem with this advice is that if you go with the time allocation to writing, there is a second component that can go missing – actually producing a creditable amount of work within that time.

Even that half page of writing can feel the hardest of work sometimes.

To  make the most of your routine time for writing, you must have some form of game plan – what you are going to write, to what point of completion, and a Plan B or C for times when you hit bumps in the writing (not blocks, just bumps). Have some kind of scene or chapter outline, plan of revision, notes, and ideas for re-motivating or refreshing yourself, using word sprints, time sprints, or other techniques to ensure you progress forward during that writing session.

3. You have a drawer or trunk full of incomplete novels, maybe even a few complete ones, but none are published.

trunkThe advice for new writers now is to write, publish, write another. Someone in one of the posts listed above, even suggested that the Word on the Street is that we should produce 12 novels a year for any kind of success. Strewth!

The best and most successful method for building an author platform is nothing to do with social media, or having a website – it’s about having product, and lots of it. Yes, agreed.

Corresponding advice is that once you have completed one book (product), write the second before publishing the first. Okay, yeah.

The smart writer will take a look at all those incomplete projects, or full “practice” novels they may have tucked away, and consider how to re-assemble some of that content for publishing and building their writing resume. Perhaps then, we don’t need to produce a book a month.

4. You’ve gone to your latest writer’s group meeting with your fifth revision of your manuscript, hoping it will finally pass muster, only to find that you have ten other manuscripts to read and feedback on for your group.

Critique group
From Picture Book Den

Wow, really? How much time are you spending on going through all that feedback and rewriting to please a small group of writers, several of whom don’t understand your genre, or are still aspiring towards publication themselves?

At some point you will need, as the writer,  to make some decisions on your manuscript –

  • When does critique lose value?
  • When does the reciprocal agreements operating in your writing groups impact your ability to progress on your own career?
  • When should you seek different advice on your manuscript?
  • What professional editing services are you going to use, and when?
  • Whether this manuscript is actually worthy of being published at all?
  • When will you draw a line in the sand, and get over your fear?

5. You’ve been really productive and have 50 comments on your blog post, another 50 retweets, and ten new likes on your Facebook page. On a Face[book]-Off with a writing friend, you beat them for likes and content, hands-down. And you know what a unique visitor is compared with page views.

social media queenOh, and there’s that new writing website with a community that all your writing friends are telling you to join, because they offer courses, lots of great advice, and you’ll meet some great writers who will understand you completely.

There are a lot of writers out there who really get a lot out of social networking, and have many similar writing friends who frequent their blog posts, twitter streams and Facebook posts of some really great image shares. They also have a lot of presence in writing online groups, and attend lots of real-life conferences, and their blog posts are well worth reading often, for the news and views.

The only problem is that on those same websites there is constant news of their progress on their latest writing project, their second novel in a series of three, and their sidebar shows just the one book cover with a link to buy the book on Amazon and Kobo. For Yearrrrsssss.

Do you wonder why?

Last note – Facebook, Twitter, and even, damnit, our blogs, don’t pay us money. The market – our readers – expect social stuff like that for free. Work on the stuff that pays your mortgage as a priority.

Anne R Allen’s post (linked to above) mentions Porter Anderson’s response to another. She quotes Porter with –

“Remember the early XM Radio slogan? ‘Everything. All The Time.’ Are we really going to be able to sustain this?”

Anne was busy saying: No. We aren’t.

you can have it all. just not all at once -  oprah winfrey quotesI was too busy thinking – ‘gee, that sounds familiar’, to notice. You see, I was born between generations, at the tiny pinnacle where Baby Boomers and the X-Generation meet. There’s a suggestion that was hinted at in my own 6 Steps to Write. Life. Blend

Baby Boomers believed they could all work hard and be successful in a career (and therefore life), and consequently invented the term: Latch Key Kid.

Generation X – their kids, rebelled against their remote parental upbringing, inventing the term: Work. Life. Balance. I was also born within that generation, and brought up to believe that I could have it all. Television advertisements of the late 70’s instilled in me the faith that “Girls Can Do Anything”. I could be a working woman, successful in her career, with kids, and a happy balanced life. I could have it all.

Many of my generation rebelled against their latch-key upbringing and consequently helicopter-parented their own children, the Gen Y’s. Look, they said to their kids, we can do it all, and parent you too – um, with cotton wool. Because we’ve found it’s dangerous out there.

Generation Y don’t believe in Work. Life. Balance. They prefer, through technology, to seek Work. Life. Blend. They’ve seen how unsuccessful most of the older generations have been at “balancing” all those things that have to be done. Like any younger generation before them, they have a big share of detractors pointing out their bad points, but perhaps they will have more success in obtaining a more blended life than the generations before them.

Because, so far, most successful working parents have worked out that “you can have it all, just not all at once”as famously quoted by Oprah Winfrey.

I have no idea about the Radio XM slogan, but like any career woman brought up in post-feminist days, I know now, after many trials and tribulations that working hard is not necessarily a route to success, but working smart – with the time and resources you have, and accepting that flexibility and “give” is needed, is a sustainable approach to having it all. But not all at once.


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