The Secret of my Success – Maybe

Hi, Gang. Craig with you again today. Honestly, there is a fudge in that title, because it depends upon what you call success. If you’re all about sales, volume, and bestseller lists I don’t have success.

I’m more motivated by delivering a good story that readers will enjoy. In that regard, I’ve been quite successful this year. As a small recap, I have a science fiction novel, a longer fantasy novel, and a noveloid length publication that is more designed for the short-read market. Oh, there is also one short story that was included in an anthology. This post isn’t about tooting my own horn, it’s to give you some leads on how I accomplished all that.

In the interest of full disclosure, most of the science fiction story was written in 2019, but I also published three books that year. I do all this and hold down a full-time job. You can, too.

The first trick is mindset. I enjoy writing like some folks enjoy other hobbies. It’s what I want to be doing in the first place, so I don’t look at it like work. We’re poor folks at the Boyack house, so long weekends at the trap range aren’t part of the mix. Writing is a relatively cheap hobby. A year long supply of clay pigeons and shotgun shells, not to mention the fees, will add up to more than my cover art and a jug of Help-Craig-Think.

Number two on the list is living documents. I’ve posted about these before, and my systems have evolved over time. They are less written texts today and more Pinterest or music playlists. More cutting edge stuff.

As an example, names are a source of struggle for most authors. I keep a list of interesting names I’ve discovered on my phone. I may never use one, or I may manipulate it into something else, but it’s a great way to avoid hours of hand wringing. Besides, it’s not that hard to change later, but I kind of get stymied when I reach a point like that. I’m not one of those who can write “placeholder” in my manuscript and move forward.

That’s one example. I have Pinterest boards for thugs, elderly characters, locations and settings, magical items, bladed weapons, guns, and much more. When I need something it’s easy to flip through and find what I need.

I’ve written about my storyboarding process here before. That’s the next tip on the list. I have seven boards ahead of me. Three of these are finished, and the others range from some I could start writing and fill in the gaps along the way to one with a pile of index cards that hasn’t developed a plot yet.

Don’t take any of this as the gospel according to Craig. You need a system that works for you. Maybe you have a stack of notebooks or something. I need peace and quiet to draft new material, and that’s hard to come by.

Filing away a Pinterest spaceship, or adding a creepy index card to a storyboard takes seconds. It’s the kind of thing I do while my wife is watching reality television. It doesn’t seem like much, but it grows over time. I even use the Notes app on my iPhone. In that case it’s mostly a word or random thought. I have single word notes for Garum, Theriac, and Orichalcum. I can’t seem to remember the words, but two years from now when I need them, I’ll know what they are and it’s a quick Google to flesh them out. (Knock yourselves out, Google them.)

These first tips all involve working ahead. Everyone has story ideas outside the project they’re working on. Why not make a few notes, or start a pin board for them. When you’re ready to tackle the story look how far ahead you’ll be.

My next trick is writing two stories at once. I never thought I could do it until I forced myself. We all hit that wall in our stories. I used to tap my head and fuss for weeks while I worked out the issues with my plot or character arc. What I found out was that nothing could speed up this process. Two weeks wasted with zero productivity. (And a dent in my head.)

Not today. Now I close one project and open the other one. It’s amazing how the original project seems to work itself out whether I dwell on it or not. What I have is two more weeks of productivity on the alternate story. There have been times when the alternate becomes a finished manuscript before the main one. Fine by me.

Finally, I have a great support group. My imagination and drive are pretty strong. Grammar and punctuation are works in progress. I have a group of people who give me feedback and help make my stories better than they ever could have been. The indie author community is full of great people. Find someone you can exchange chapters with. They might be great at your weak spots, while you might have some strengths they could benefit from. In the electronic age, we no longer have to be in the same room and could be on different continents.

I have at least two storyboards that need a romantic sub-plot. If any of you really know me, you might be snickering right now. My group is outstanding at these, and you can bet I’ll be paying attention to them.

To sum it all up, it takes a certain mindset. Be willing to work ahead. Sometimes those notes become a story. Start an outline or storyboard. Scoop up one of the names you have and charge forward. When you need a setting or special item, flip through your graphics. (You can look at mine, too, if you like.) When you hit that wall, take up an alternate project until the issue resolves itself. And find some like-minded friends.

I published just under a quarter-million words this year, and if I can do it, so can you. I haven’t worked on anything since early summer, either. I’ll probably start two new projects in November.

74 thoughts on “The Secret of my Success – Maybe

  1. This is a very practical and useful post for me, Craig. I have a Pinterest account but haven’t used it. I just now deleted all the images I accidentally saved but have no use of them, and created my first board. I uploaded my own photos for a project planned long ago. I’ve seen my daughter’s Pinterest board and thought it was a wonderful idea but didn’t think of using it for writing.

    I used the note pad on my phone to write down ideas or single words or phrases and color-coded them as writing project because I use the note pad for everything when I go on walks. I also have many folders and spreadsheets for writing projects, too many, hope to focus on two or three.

    My problem is I have too many hobbies plus started to travel to see my granddaughters. I need to spend more writing time, will see what happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of my favorite posts you’ve written. So helpful! I’ve started using Pinterest more…for me. Not sure it’s useful to anyone else. But it helps me “see” what I want for books I’m thinking about. And I like your definition of success. I have the Jazzi mysteries that come out from Lyrical Press, and I love them. But I love my Muddy River series and Lux mysteries just as much, that are self-published. And when anyone likes reading them, it makes me happy. I guess you have to write what calls to you and makes you happy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You are so right, attitude is everything, Craig. Writing is an enjoyable art, but it is not like making fritters, it takes time and effort. I do a lot of preparation before writing something, as you do. I have many folders with the titles of books I have in mind to write and in there I dump phrases, pictures, quotes, anything that I might use in the future, one by one I am getting it done.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you nailed it when you said one of your biggest ‘pros’ is that writing is a hobby you enjoy – it’s not like work to you. Writing, unfortunately, is like work to me. I have a serious love/hate relationship with it (more days hate than love), so most days I have to force myself to write, or just avoid it. I have no doubt, if I loved it more, I’d have better ‘success’ (such as it is). shrugs

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    It’s Craig’s turn on Story Empire today, and his post is fantastic. Trust me, you don’t want to miss his discussion on how he approaches producing multiple books and series. It’s fascinating stuff, too good not to take note of and then, to pass along to the Immediate World. Thanks, and thanks to Craig for sharing your methods and ideas! Great stuff! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Excellent post, Craig, and you have my utmost admiration. I don’t juggle multiple things well at all, I’m afraid. And knowing I might not have too many more books in me tends to push me toward finishing each one before even thinking of starting another. I’d love to be able to do what you do, but I don’t believe I’d be very successful. However, some of your other ideas are really helpful, even to a plodder like me.

    I’m definitely going to rethink Pinterest, as I truly love how you’ve made it work for you. And on the storyboards, while I’ve never used one–nor made an outline, nor done a thing but start typing at the beginning and keep going to The End–I do keep lots of folders on my desktop with pictures and character names, etc. Now that my series have expanded, I looked for a virtual way of doing something similar to your storyboards, and after much searching, came up with a “bulletin board” style computer app I love. It’s perfect for me, and I can create as many boards as I want. I’ve set up personal ones for ToDo Lists, Bill Paying records, and other household things. But I’ve also set up one for each series, with ideas for new books and characters. It’s called Scapple, and is extremely versatile. I hope to do a post on how I use it very soon. Best of all, unlike many apps of this type, it resides on MY computer and not online. I’m much happier with that.

    So, while I may approach things differently than many writers, I definitely like to learn new tricks that I think will fit with the way I want to work. Pinterest and my own style of Storyboards are two things I want to get better at, and I have you to thank for my branching out a wee bit with those. Thanks!! Sharing this! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

      • I agree, and am a firm believer in learning something new every day. I have definitely learned new tricks from you and even if I modify them to fit my work process, I wouldn’t have known about them at all without reading posts like this one. Thanks again!

        Liked by 2 people

  7. This is such an awesome post, Craig. Showing the process, or behind the scenes, stuff is inspiring. I have recently started using an app called Trello to outline, leave notes, post character pictures, and anything else I think of for my stories. I suppose this is similar to your storyboard. I use Pinterest a lot, but mostly just to save things I want to be able to find later. I have visited your Pinterest boards and they are as eclectic and diverse as you and I love them! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I don’t use Pinterest to it’s fullest extent. I think you use it better than anyone I know. I keep a notebook with me always. When I find something interesting, I jot it down. I have created several files that I use for my WIPs and for future WIPs. I have one for name, things I think will be good to use, pictures, scenes, etc. I also text myself and use the notes on my phone. I also have more than one WIP at any given time. You give us great things to think about.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I do the same thing with my iPhone. A cool passage will come to me out of nowhere and I jot it down in Notes. I also keep a name file in Notes. It’s fun to scroll back a few years and read all the Notes that seemed SO important at the time. 🙂 I’ve always admired your living documents. It’s such a proficient thing to do.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. This post is getting more interesting with every comment, especially those that mention writing in two different genre.
    I’m writing my first crime thriller and all my previous novels are romance. From thinking I couldn’t work on two books at once, I’ve realised that the answer might well be doing both. I even have a beautiful cover for a romance I never expected to use, but what a marvellous way of avoiding boredom, which could happen as I intend to use the same detective chief inspector for crime. (I’m hoping if people like him, they’ll want to read more, and the order won’t matter because it isn’t a series.)

    Liked by 4 people

    • Sarah, I started by writing romance, too. Now I stick mostly to the mystery / suspense / thriller genre, but I also dabble with other genres.
      I like the idea of DCI who appears through several books in your series. Definitely a way to keep readers coming back!

      Liked by 2 people

    • We’re kindred spirits. I have a series like yours. Same main characters and themes, but each story stands alone. My thoughts are to try a romance and a thriller at the same time. If it doesn’t work, you can always park one. If it does, maybe you leveled up your process.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I know you do a lot with Pinterest and story boards and I’ve seen some of those images. I started with Pinterest a few years ago, but never got back to it. I’m a visual type and after a writing workshop last night, I’m going to give it another shot with saving images I come across. You’ve inspired me once again, Craig.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I’ve started making notes on story ideas as they spring up, much like your story boards. My system in the past was more scattershot, but I really like the idea that now I can flip to a notebook filed with ideas for my next project. Finishing the current one is the challenge right now, but I’m hoping using November for NaNo will help with that. I may even attempt writing two novels simultaneously in the coming year. (Ha! Big plans right now).

    I have folders on my computer where I store photos of things that grab my interest, but Pinterest makes far more sense. I need to make an effort and go with that.

    Loved all your ideas in this post, Craig. It has me wanting to dive in and start writing!

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Excellent advice – thanks!

    I’ve been using Trello for storyboards. I started using it when I was working (systems development/IT) and it was helpful to sketch out how a project should flow and be able to insert/delete/move elements as necessary.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I don’t think a word I’ve written has ever ended up on someone’s list before. That’s pretty cool!

    Everyone has a process, and I love that you’ve shared yours. Some of mine are similar. I think consistency is key. Once you find something that works, stick with it. And also, fluidity. If something isn’t working, be willing to “go with the flow” and try something new until you find what does. I’ve tried Pinterest for book stuff a million times and it’s great in theory for me, but I never stick with it. I think it’s fabulous that you do. I’m finding I dump stuff into Scrivener, which is fine, as that’s where I keep my story bible, anyway. I do use my Notes app, though. It’s convenient because my phone is always with me (stupid 21st century).

    Great post, Craig.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Glad you liked the post. I made my pin boards public, so if you ever need a gun, a knife, a setting, you can always surf them. I have elderly characters, kid characters, and all kinds of things. I like the term fluid consistency. I try to stick with what works, but will adjust when necessary.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. I think it boils down to this. We make time for the things we love. I don’t think I would attempt to write two novels at once, but I’ve often written both a novel and short story at the same time. It does help when I get stuck on a plot. All my novels are series, so it’s not like I can write the second one before the first is completed and so forth. And yes, I remember someone challenged me to write a stand-alone novel. 🙂

    I create private boards in Pinterest for things pertaining to my WIP – pictures of towns, characters, even (don’t laugh) house plans. And for my current series, I bought a notebook. Spent my lunch hour yesterday brainstorming a scene that I needed to fix. Worked wonders!

    Liked by 3 people

    • All good things to do. Keeping a “live” short story works great. At one point last year I was working on two series at once. They’re still just individual books in those series. I find it helps if the stories are different. They aren’t two mysteries, for example. Grinders and Lanternfish worked really well at the same time.

      Liked by 4 people

    • I, too, find energy to be my roadblock. Mental energy, that is. Lol! I did produce a short story this year and am working on editing an old WIP. My current WIP is begging me to give it more attention, but after working (teaching) all day, I’m spent. Still, Craig is right. It IS possible. I’ve just got to give it more attention.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Work will pull the energy out of anyone. Evenings are for mindlessly browsing Pinterest, or looking up old songs on YouTube for a specific series I write. Nothing that requires deep thought. Occasionally, I find a gem and stash it away.

        Liked by 3 people

    • We all run down at times. I haven’t written a fresh new word since about June. I’m ready to start up, but my drag my feet a bit longer. I’d like to catch up on some reading. As long as I wrap up Lanternfish in 2021, I don’t have any pressing needs.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Fantastic post, Craig. “I enjoy writing like some folks enjoy other hobbies. It’s what I want to be doing in the first place, so I don’t look at it like work.” This is exactly how I feel about writing. I appreciate your thoughts about working on two projects. As someone who also works a full-time day job, I don’t have the time to waste working out those issues when I hit a wall. You’ve inspired me to give it a try. I’ll just have to get my brain to go along with it. I’m not sure if I’m wired that way or not.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I didn’t think I could do it either. I had a story screaming at me, and decided to jot down a test chapter to get it out of my head. It works for me, but might not for everyone. I find it easier if the stories are different from each other. My science fiction piece and my pirate fantasy were written at the same time. When the SF story was finished the pirates overlapped my vampire hunters.

      Liked by 4 people

  17. I was going to try and write two stories at once this year. Thought the lockdown would allow for it. The plan didn’t make it out of the gate because life got involved. Maybe one day when my existence is a lot less cluttered. Though, I think my brain works better on one track than jumping between two.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. I read this post with total admiration. Craig. I have the same priorities – basically, I enjoy writing, I love to know my work is being read, but money, best-seller status, and awards, are way down the line. That said, we couldn’t have a more different approach, but I have a very strong feeling that you’re on the right track and I’m not. I know other authors who put one book aside when they reach “stuck” and work on another. My best efforts to date are write a blog or read and review. Must do better, Sarah!
    I do exchange chapters with a friend, and the one time we didn’t – we’d agreed a whole book beta read – we both struggled.

    Liked by 5 people

    • There is no right way. Sometimes we discover something new and adjust our process. Sharing here is how I might help someone look at things a bit differently. Glad you enjoyed the post. Take what works and leave the rest. That’s some of the best advice I’ve got.

      Liked by 2 people

  19. This is a great post, Craig. I really like the Pinterest idea and have started some boards for my story ideas too. I have also changed my work hours so I don’t work on a Friday. That has helped me hugely, it has taken away a lot of my anxiety and I get so much more done.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Work has been so crazy lately that I’ve gone back to five days per week. This is the last week of that. Once I get my flex day back, I’ll probably take up the keyboard again. Glad Pinterest is working for you. I find it quite helpful for my tales.

      Liked by 2 people

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