I’m the first to admit I think playing games on my Kindle Fire is a BAD IDEA. I figured out pretty early on that I get “addicted” to an activity pretty quickly; there’s no such thing as “just five minutes” for me. Knowing this, I uninstall the games that come with my computer and avoid Facebook games like the plague. Since I know I can’t quit once I’ve started I just don’t start at all.
When I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tablet two weeks ago I knew I would need to avoid the game section of Google Play. After all, the tablet is a tool and I bought it for one purpose in my business. And then my honey showed me “Pop Star” on his iPad. I knew that I would love it. I tried for three days to avoid downloading it to the Galaxy but I finally have in and downloaded a similar game, “Crush Star”.
(Same game rules, different scoring.)
I’ll admit it, I lost a fair amount of my weekend to the game. I used every excuse under the sun to play including that I was “stuck” on a project and needed to clear my head. Yeah right! I’m just avoiding the project.
Then I realized something. First off, the game isn’t challenging anymore; I’ve found the pattern that lets me win more than I lose. But what I realized was that this pattern, this philosophy, a way of looking three steps ahead, is actually something that completely and totally translates to writing books.
I felt no small amount of vindication that my “lost” hours really weren’t lost!
So let me introduce you to “Crush Star”.
The goal is to get rid of all the colored squares. The more of one color you can put together, the more points you earn. You have to earn a certain number of points per level to move on. When you crush the blocks, any blocks ABOVE the ones you crush move down. If you clear a whole column, the remaining columns move to the right. And you can only “crush” the squares when two or more are touching. (Diagonals don’t count; they have to share a common edge.)
As you can see from this game board, there is a large block of blue squares. When I first started to play, I would happily crush the blue squares and then move on to hunting down and destroying groups or two to three. I liked the graphics, the music, and the sound the blocks made as they were eliminated.
But I was pretty much getting stuck at about level 5. I just couldn’t earn enough points to move on. So I started paying attention to how the points were awarded.
2 blocks – 20 points
3 blocks – 45 points
4 blocks – 80 points
5 blocks – 125 points
6 blocks – 18- points
7 blocks – 245 points
As you can see, the more blocks you crush at one time, the more points you earn.
And then I figured out the REAL key:
You have to think long-term about how the blocks will slide together was you crush certain blocks. Sometimes you have to crush a two- or three-block group to make the biggest grouping of same-colored blocks.
By looking ahead, and knowing the end goal (blue blocks together) in just seven moves, I was about to create a SIXTEEN block group. That group alone was worth 1,280 points.
So how does this relate to writing a book?
When I work with my clients, often times we work with the content THEY ALREADY HAVE to create their book. It’s a lot like the starting game board: a large chunk is already done. A few key (new) chapters later, the pieces of the whole book slide in to place.
Okay, that’s a pretty metaphor. But GETTING to the place where the book slides in to place… There are two ways:
Way One: When you have ENOUGH content already written for other things: blogs, newsletters, articles, white papers, etc., the book will become self-evident. Patterns, themes and similar topics will become noticeable and THAT will become your book. And depending on the volume of content you start out with, you may have enough for a few books.
This is like hunting down the groupings that the game board just GIVES you.
But eventually you run out of the “stuff” you’ve already created. Sooner or later, you’ll need to start from having SOME content but not a lot. Then, you’ll write strategic articles that will start to create the framework of your book and fill in the gaps. THIS is the top-level game play.
Way Two: You have the outline of the book. You start writing the articles that you have to write anyway but instead of random articles about your topic, you’re driving toward a goal. Every piece of writing becomes strategic; either THIS book or the NEXT book.
When I first started self-publishing my books I had a HUGE backlist of articles. I had six years of newsletters and blogging under my belt. When I did an inventory, I discovered I already had 20 campfire stories, 90 recipes, 12 articles about trout fishing, and 30 camping articles.
I took the content I already had written to create:
- 2 books of campfire stories, fifteen stories each (I wrote ten new stories)
- 3 cookbooks of 33 recipes each (I had to create about five recipes to fit into my categories)
- 1 book about trout fishing (about 30% new content to fill in the gaps)
- 1 book about beginning tent camping (about 40% new content to fill in the gaps)
I then created my blog’s calendar so that I was writing a new campfire story every month; I published my third book of campfire stories six months later. (Many of the stories can ONLY be found in the book.)
I’ve published an additional 20 new recipes; I’ll have a fourth cookbook late spring.
And then there’s this blog: I put the eventual book(s) plan into place before I posted a single article. I’m looking long-term and making sure all my “crushed blocks” are moving me closer toward my next book.
And now, I’m off to download Angry Birds!
Do you ever have one of those projects that you just struggle and struggle with? The type that no matter what you seem to do, it just keeps falling apart?
When I’m working on a writing project, 95% of the time, it just flows. Pretty much effortlessly. (It’s okay, you can hate me now!) But I’ve come to realize that when a writing project DOESN’T flow, it usually mean that something isn’t working in the pre-work of the project.
Here are my seven tips when a project isn’t working:
1. Do you have all your research compiled?
A lot of the time, when I’m fighting the words, it’s because I haven’t researched my material enough to know where I’m going. This research may be the typical type: Googling facts, reading articles, blogs, magazines, and books, interviewing experts. Or it may be the thought exercises of thinking, outlining, and planning.
2. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired?
Seriously, this matters! There is one chapter in “Pitch Your Tent: A Family’s Guide To Tent Camping” that I just struggled and struggled with. Then I realized I was trying to write this long, technical chapter late in the evening, night after night. I dedicated an afternoon to it and BOOM! Written. The same goes for when you’re brain isn’t functioning at peak because you’re hungry or thirsty. Brain snacks and plenty of water!
3. Take a break & walk away.
Sometimes we need to get away from the project to gain some perspective. This may be as simple as watching a couple funny online videos. Often times, I actually need to leave the computer and do something different for a while and let my brain re-charge. I always get great ideas around water so I’ll do the dishes, take a shower or chase my dog, Lily with the hose. (No, I’m serious, she LOVES it!)
4. Write it out long-hand.
Still stuck? Writing a portion of the project out long-hand with pen and paper can really get the brain juices flowing. There’s something about how the brain hemispheres connect to your hand to the act of moving it across the paper. Frankly, I don’t care about the science behind it. All I know is that it works.
I remember the anticipation the most; I had spent weeks working on the project and I was 99.9% sure that the fruit of my labors was waiting for me in my PO Box. I leaned down to open my box; it’s only three rows up from the bottom. I took a deep breath and turned the key.
It was waiting for me. A non-descript brown cardboard package, deceptively lightweight. My mom was waiting for me in the truck; we were just about to head to town for a grocery shopping trip.
Do I open it here, in the Post Office, alone, or wait until I was in the truck, with an audience? I was sure I was going to cry. That decided it for me; if I was going to cry I wanted it to be with only my mom watching and not the whole of a small town Post Office. I didn’t bother to pick up the mail in the four other PO boxes I checked daily but walked quickly out into the late summer sunshine and back to the truck.
My hands were trembling as I pulled back the cardboard zipper. That surprised me. It wasn’t the first time, exactly. I had been here before, almost.
The package opened in my lap. I was glad I was sitting down.
When I was in college, I decided that I should treat my writing like a business. I had a very small portfolio of work – mostly poems since my major was Creative Writing but my emphasis was poetry. Still, I knew that I had enough work to start sending out submissions and begin collecting rejection letters.
One of the first rules of submission is to carefully study the magazine or journal you’re submitting to. Then, you submit a piece (or write a piece) that meets the tone, style, and subject matter of where you want to be published. You could buy a copy of most literary journals for $20. And then submit three poems, no longer than a page, for another $20.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I had a three hour break between classes. I designated this time “Submission Time”. Tuesdays I found places to submit, Thursdays I stuffed envelopes with poems. And checks.
I realized quickly that it added up. Fast. So I skipped the step that said study the publication and just started submitting to every contest, call for submission, and open reading period I could find.
One afternoon I was in the hallway of the English building and I saw a flier for a literary journal that was specifically for undergrads. More specifically, you had to be 1. an honors student; 2. attending a college with an honors program; and 3. the college’s honors program had to be in a certain nation-wide network. Amazingly, I met all the qualifications. I’d never heard of the journal but decided I’d give it a go. I popped a poem in an envelope and sent it off.
Weeks later, I got an answer: my very first publication for a poem called “Ode to a Tuna Fish Sandwich.” My dad sent flowers; my whole family got copies of the journal for Christmas. I was a published author – one little poem among thirty other undergrads who had also been published in that year’s edition.
How could this moment in my truck be so different than back in college with my first ever publication? Why was I shaking? Wasn’t this old hat? After all, I’d been published in journals, anthologies, trade publications, and travel magazines.
But it was different. Very different.
In my hands I held my book. MY book. With my name on the cover in yellow print in my favorite font that I called the Butter-Bear font even though the real name is butterbrotpapier.
I handed it to my mom. She opened it and saw the simple, two word dedication: For mom. We both cried, sitting in the truck, flipping through the pages, admiring the word PROOF across the last page. I knew I still had work to do: the title on the cover wasn’t centered, there was a typo in the first sentence of chapter three. I needed to carefully go over every word and scan for typos, mistakes, bad grammar, and clunky sentences.
I was surprised to realize that my self-published book didn’t feel at all like a cop-out or like a lesser-quality book than any other book I’d been published in before. I was stunned to realize how REAL it felt. To be a published author with a solo book. To know I had done it, finally. There was the dream of being a published author that I never realized hadn’t been completely fulfilled as a one-among-many author.
And yes, I gave out copies of my book for Christmas to my parents and grandparents and aunts. But the real gift was the one I gave myself when I realized my dream in publishing the book in the first place. Every time I publish a new book and hold it in my hands for the first time I get the same feeling – the whoosh in my stomach, my hands tremble, and I cry to hold the book in my hands with my name on the cover.
If I could, I’d bottle this feeling and serve it in little glasses to anyone who has ever wanted to publish a book. Just a little taste, a sample in a tiny crystal sherry glass. Just enough to feel the magic of having the book published; the gift to yourself. Then I’d help you realize the publishing dream. And take a photo of your face when you pull back the cardboard zipper and see your book sitting there with your name on the cover.
It’s a great feeling.
First published in Happier Healthier Women magazine.