On my writing journey, I am constantly learning new things.
Like the proper use of lay and lie, or the fact that my bed is NOT adequate desk space. The unending schooling in the craft and creative process of writing excites and inspires me.
One way that I seek to continue honing my craft is by attending writing events and conferences. After attending the 2018 Storymakers Conference in Provo, Utah, I was introduced to author and writing expert Colleen M. Story. I eagerly gobbled up her book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, knowing that its premise — helping busy writers boost their productivity — was what I desperately needed in my barely-time-to-breathe lifestyle. And wow, was it a gamechanger. Not only was Colleen’s expertise completely relevant and valuable to my writing situation, but it also resonated deeply with me.
Similarly, with Colleen’s recent release, Writer Get Noticed!, I learned life-altering strategies for identifying and developing my individual strengths as a writer, and building a focused platforming for writing success — on my terms. Colleen’s work and insights have vastly improved and ignited my writing in a big way. I owe her a lot. And I have desperately wanted other writers to benefit from her wisdom. And guess what? Colleen is graciously sharing her knowledge with us today!
On today’s Talking Shop, Colleen shares experiences from her own writing journey, her insight on the ways writers can increase their productivity, and why writers need their own strengths-focused platform. Writers, you won’t want to miss this!
Everyone, meet Colleen!
Tell us about your journey to writing. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I didn’t think about being a writer until after I had graduated from college with a degree in education. I moved to a different state, which required more college before I could get my teaching certificate. I needed a break, so I took some time off and started writing. I’m not sure why I wanted to write at that point—I just felt compelled, so I followed that instinct. Three years later I got a job as a copywriter and I’ve been writing ever since.
What has the process of writing and publishing books been like for you?
While working first a corporate copywriter and later an independent freelance writer, I wrote novels on the side. My dream was to be traditionally published. That dream took years to come true, but it finally did—my first two novels were traditionally published. By then I had built up a platform that involved helping other writers, and I followed my novels up with two non-fiction books that I self-published. So I’ve experienced both types of publishing, and like most so-called “hybrid” authors, I see advantages with each.
In essence, having a contract with a traditional publisher gives you that validation that many writers crave—these guys believe in my story, so it must have some merit to it. Beyond that, whether you have a good experience with a publisher depends on that publisher and on what you expect from them. Writers do need to realize that no matter what sort of publishing they pursue, building a platform and marketing their work is paramount to building a satisfying writing career.
I have enjoyed the creative control that comes with self-publishing, as well as the control you have over your timeline. You choose when the book will come out, whereas, with a publisher, you have to wait for them to do things on their timeline, which is often slower.
How do you balance your writing responsibilities with other roles in your life?
Finding time to devote to your writing career is one of the biggest challenges writers face. It’s why I wrote Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, because after interviewing hundreds of writers, I kept hearing the same frustrations over and over again: I have too much to do; I can’t find time to write; how can I market my books and write them too and still stay sane; that sort of thing.
For me, it comes down to things that aren’t very exciting: scheduling and discipline. Whenever I have a new book I’m writing or a new project I need to complete, I return to my schedule. Where can I fit this in? What can I give up for a while to get this done? I find a place to fit it in my weekly schedule, then I summon the discipline to follow through and work on that project during the appointed time.
Of course, sometimes it’s not easy. In Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, I cover the saboteurs that can get in the way of our best intentions—writer’s guilt, self-doubt, perfectionism, destructive goal setting, distraction, and more. I give readers ways to get around their own demons so they can write.
How can writers find and embrace their own unique path?
Finding your path as a writer may be the one thing each writer must do in today’s market in order to succeed. I didn’t realize how important this was when I started writing, but now that writers are required to establish platforms and market their books, it’s become clear that we have to find a way to attract readers to our work, and that means standing out.
How is a writer to do that? This is a big topic, which is why I wrote a book on it—Writer Get Noticed!—but in essence, it involves discovering your strengths and using them to create a niche for yourself.
What are you good at? What are your skills and talents? Most writers are taught to focus too much on their weaknesses. They try to find out what’s wrong with their work and then try to fix it. This can be helpful in learning the craft of writing, but meanwhile, it leaves writers in the dark as to what their strengths are.
Considering the amazing competition on the market today, it’s not good enough to try to improve on your weaknesses, as in the end, the best you can hope for is mediocrity. You must identify your strengths and then capitalize on those, as that’s where your highest potential lies.
Bringing your absolute best to your author platform increases your chances of connecting with other people who will appreciate your work. I help writers figure out how to do that with specific exercises in the book, and I’m always thrilled when writers let me know what they came up with.
What is your best tip for helping writers increase their productivity?
I cover productivity pretty extensively in Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, as there are many different ways you can become more productive in your life. If I were to share one tip, though, it would probably be one of my favorites: the 5-minute trick.
Everyone has an extra five minutes in their daily schedule. The next time you have five minutes, pull up your file and write.
Now, most people will balk at that. It’s not enough time to get into that “creative” zone, they’ll say. But if you want to write, you must write, and often the biggest difficulty is simply getting started. We feel that resistance when we are faced with the blank page because all of our doubts come to the fore.
It’s those doubts—not your lack of time—that’s messing you up. So set a timer, sit down, and write for five minutes. Push yourself. Let the writing be bad. It’s okay. No one’s going to see it. Just write.
This tactic often helps writers break through their doubts and fears and get into the writing mode, after which they usually find themselves writing for longer than 5 minutes.
In your experience, what are the biggest mental blocks facing writers and creatives?
Self-doubt is by far the biggest mental block for writers and all creatives. I talk about this in Overwhelmed Writer Rescue and I also regularly teach classes on this at writer’s conferences.
I have specific tips for getting around this difficult block in the book, but basically, it comes down to writing regardless of these feelings. Talk to any experienced writer and you’ll discover that most still struggle with self-doubt. It’s just something we have to deal with, so our best approach is not to let it stop us. Keep writing, keep submitting, and keep trying. Focus on the work instead of your feelings about the work, and you’ll break through.
What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout your writing career?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far is that at the end of the day, you must enjoy what you’re doing to make it worthwhile. For writers, that means enjoying the actual process of writing. We all would love to win multiple awards and make oodles of money and have zillions of readers, but the market is tough and if you’re too focused on all these things, you’re likely to end up disappointed.
The writing itself, however, if you enjoy it, is never disappointing. On the contrary—it’s endlessly rewarding in so many ways. Writers who stick with it understand this and keep coming back to the page for that reason.
What motivates you to write every day?
I make my money as a freelance writer, so I’m motivated to write each day to keep the lights on! But as for my other projects, which include my novels, courses, speaking engagements, etc., I’m motivated by my love of creativity and my passion for helping other writers and creatives to trust themselves and the creative spirit within them. When a writer tells me that something I’ve created, written, or said has impacted her and helped her to continue on her journey, that makes it all worthwhile for me.
What advice would you give to writers who are just starting their journey?
For writers who are just starting out, I would have two pieces of advice:
- First, practice—a lot. Write story after story or book after book. The more you write, the more likely you are to find your voice, to discover your strengths, and to gain knowledge about where you want to go as a creative.
- Second, start building your platform…now. My mistake was waiting until I had a book published to focus on platform. That’s too late. If you want to have readers interested in your book when it does come out, you need to start building that interest immediately. That means finding your niche, creating a website, and starting to make memorable contacts with readers. (Find more info on all this in Writer Get Noticed!)
The Fun Qs:
What is your favorite out-of-office activity?
I have several favorite out-of-office activities, so it’s hard to choose just one. They include horseback riding, playing my French horn in the symphony and other groups, riding my bike, walking and hiking, and going to movies.
What is the best book you’ve read lately?
The best book I’ve read lately is Debra Dean’s The Madonnas of Leningrad. This was her first book and it blew me away!
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