Overcoming Self-Doubt

Do you often find yourself writing page after page, and then going back and deleting all your work? Do you refuse to let anyone read your writing because you’re afraid of a negative reaction? Do you just think you’re a bad writer overall?

You’re not alone.

It’s perfectly normal to be critical of your own work. Almost everyone feels the same way. We constantly criticize ourselves, whether it’s about things we do, how we look, how we act, or just how we are in general. It’s a natural human trait to be critical of ourselves, but some of us have mastered the ability to suppress such doubts. When you’re able to do that, you won’t be afraid to show the world what you can do.

I’m critical of my own abilities. Every time I write, I think, “Wow, this is garbage.” I spend countless hours going back and rereading and editing my pieces to ensure they’re perfect. I keep thinking, “This could’ve been worded better,” or “This doesn’t make any sense.” I’m pretty sure I’ll be rereading this blog post a dozen times after I publish it, thinking that it’s pure crap. But despite all that, I am still able to say, “The world needs to read this.” My self-doubt might be strong, but my desire to create is much stronger.

Why is it that most of us are so insecure about our writing (or any type of creative expression)? There could be plenty of reasons. Maybe you’ve had experiences in the past where someone had a negative reaction to something you wrote. Maybe you’re just naturally inclined to view you and your abilities in a bad light. At the end of the day, you need to realize something: your self-judgment is most likely off.

When it comes to the arts, we can’t properly judge ourselves. That is because there is no right or wrong in the world of art. What some people consider bad, others consider a masterpiece.

Go to a local art museum and check out a painting of a blue square on a gray background. To you or me, it might look like a doodle that someone made in first grade art class. For art collectors and connoisseurs, it could be an excellent drawing worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Watch Transformers: Age of Extinction. For film buffs and even most average movie-goers, it’s a piece of trash and a disgrace to cinema. For others, it could be a fun, action-packed thrill ride worthy of countless viewings.

50 Shades of Grey. To me, it’s a heap of trash that promotes sexual violence and unhealthy relationship goals. To others, well, you can guess where I’m going with this.

The beauty of art is that it’s subjective. What one person hates, others may adore. As I mentioned before, there is no right or wrong in the world of art. So no matter what you create, you can relish in the fact that somebody, somewhere out there, may think you’ve created something spectacular.

So how exactly do you overcome self-doubt? I mean, it’d be awesome if you could just flick a switch and turn off that part of your brain that harbors negative feelings, but life doesn’t work that way (but it’d be awesome if it did; then I probably wouldn’t still be so sour about the last season of The Walking Dead.)

I can sit here and write “believe in yourself” in five or six different ways, but that’s not going to work unless you actually take action. The only way to beat the self-doubt is to take the leap of faith. Submit your writing to a contest, enter your painting into an art show, try auditioning for a play – do SOMETHING that will get your art seen by other people. At that point, one of two things will happen: you’ll find out if it’s good, or you’ll find out of it’s bad. If it’s good, then great! You had nothing to worry about! If it’s bad, it’s not the end of the world. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone being hurt for creating a bad piece of art (if that were the case, then a lot of Hollywood directors would be in trouble).

“But what if they don’t like it?”

News flash: you cannot please everybody. You’re most likely going to experience some negativity in your creative journey. That comes with the territory. I said it before: art is subjective. What one person loves, others may hate. The first few negative comments will sting, but you will develop a thick skin. Even I’ve managed to shrug off some horrible things people have said about my writing, and I’m an emotional dumpster fire.

Despite whatever negativity comes your way, you can still stand up and say, “I did it. I let the world see my art.” You deserve to give yourself credit. There are way too many people who are afraid of leaving their comfort zone, which prevents them from achieving their true potential. Don’t let that happen to you. It may be daunting, but once you take that leap of faith and start to share your work, you’ll find yourself much more comfortable with your abilities.

Your self-doubt is just a small roadblock on your path to greatness. And how do you get over a roadblock? By leaping over it.

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It’s Been Done Before: Being Original When Writing

First off: my apologies for taking so long to pen a new blog post. I’m pretty embarrassed about waiting almost four months to write again. To be honest, it’s been a hectic couple of months. I’ve been tied up with the new job, I’ve finally published the sequel to Dodger’s Doorway, Return to Storyworld, and I’m moving into a new apartment tomorrow. It’s a crazy time for me. But that’s not much of an excuse. I set up this blog to help out fellow writers who needed advice, and although only a small handful of people actually read these posts, I still think it’s my duty to maintain a steady stream of blog posts. Now that my life has somewhat calmed down, I’m ready to kick off the New Year with a fresh batch of advice!

This week, we’re discussing a heavy topic that hits close to home for me: originality in writing.

Story time!

When I first started writing Dodger’s Doorway, I was so proud of myself. I thought I had created an incredibly original story the likes of which have never been read before. Admittedly, I was borrowing some elements from books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the video game Kingdom Hearts. But other than that, I thought it was pretty original. Who’s ever read a book about a young man going into a fantasy world and interacting with fairy tale characters? My book would be a real game-changer.

Then I started to get worried.

In 2011, a few months before I published Dodger’s Doorway, I started seeing previews for an upcoming television show called Once Upon a Time. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a fantasy series revolving around various fairy tale/Disney characters who are plucked from their own world and thrown into ours. Snow White, Pinocchio, Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin – all of their stories are woven together into quite the epic modern fairy tale. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

In the beginning, I thought, “Well, so what if Once Upon a Time is similar to my book? Not a big deal.” Then a “friend” told me that my book was basically a rip-off of a comic series called Fables. I haven’t read it yet (though it is on my to-read list), but from what I gathered, it’s extremely similar to Once Upon a Time, in which fairy tale creatures co-exist in their own private community in our world. Okay, still no big deal. That’s just two other stories that are similar to my book.

Then, over the past few years, I started finding out about more book series with a similar premise. I was surprised at how ubiquitous this concept was in fantasy literature. It seems there’s a whole sub-genre featuring fairy tale and literary characters crossing over with one another. I was getting frustrated. And it didn’t help when I tried promoting my book on social media and someone basically deconstructed the premise and told me that it’s been done countless times before. At one point, I seriously considered just saying, “Screw it. I’m done with this series.”

I don’t think anyone can blame me for being mad. I wasn’t so much upset about people being jerks, but the fact that I had this story I had been working on for years and it turns out that it’s been done already. I was so proud of what I thought was an original concept, and then reality hits me with the cold, hard fact that it’s just another run-of-the-mill crossover story. It sucked at first, but it was one of those necessary reality checks that every writer should go through at some point in their life.

I’m going to be blunt: It’s extremely difficult to come up with a 100% original concept nowadays. You could think up the most outrageously unique idea ever for a story, and chances are, there might be something similar out there already.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for originality. I’m sure you could come up with a unique concept, given enough concentration and brainstorming. But the point I’m trying to make is, you shouldn’t forgo your passion out of fear of people saying it’s not original. Want to write about boy wizards? Go for it. Want to write about elves and dwarves fighting? Do it up. Want to write about vampires and werewolves? Write it! Who cares if the concept has been seen before? Put your own spin on it and make it your own.

Even though my book is similar to Once Upon a Time, I still managed to infuse my own ideas into it so that it distinguished itself. You should do the same with your own writing. If your story is good enough, people will look past the similarities and instead appreciate the originality. Don’t believe me? Consider this: have you ever realized how Harry Potter, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings are all essentially modernized versions of the legend of King Arthur? You think most people realize that off the bat? Nope. They’re too busy appreciating the epic tales that are told. Three of the most recognized and beloved series on the planet aren’t as original as you think – that should mean something.

If you think you’ve struck gold with an original idea, go for it. Even if you find out that it shares some similarities to other stories, stick with it anyway. Complete originality isn’t crucial for a good story, but you must add some form of your own personal touch. That is what will distinguish your tale from the rest.

 

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Finding the Motivation to Write

Remember in high school when you found it so hard to start that long essay, so you kept on procrastinating? Then, once you actually started writing, it became much easier? Guess what? That feeling doesn’t end with high school.

Lack of motivation is the ugly cousin of writer’s block. With writer’s block, you feel like you could sit down and write for hours on end, but you’re stumped as to what to write about. On the other hand, lack of motivation is when you have a ton of ideas bouncing around in your mind, but you just can’t find yourself sitting down and putting them to paper. Like many other writers before me, I’ve suffered through both of these plagues, and if you’re serious about writing, you’re bound to face the same obstacles.

It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? If you’re a writer, you’re obviously very passionate about bringing your ideas to life. But if that’s the case, why is it often so hard to crack open the laptop and begin writing out of the blue? Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your passion. It’s still there. You’re just experiencing a terrible yet common illness: being human.

No matter how much you enjoy a hobby, there may come a time when you struggle to find motivation. It can happen for a variety of reasons: stress, boredom, lack of support, lack of ideas, etc. We’re not machines; we can’t work non-stop. We need motivation in our lives to keep us going. Eventually, you might start to lose that motivation, but if you’re lucky, it will only be temporary. You just need to know the right tricks to get you back on track.

This may seem like the most obvious solution, but one of the best ways to get motivated is to completely distance from all distractions. We live in an age of Netflix, smartphones, social media, and countless other forms of distraction, so it’s understandable that your mind wanders when you’re supposed to be writing. I remember once trying to write an article at my old job but I couldn’t get those first couple of words out because I had The Office playing on my TV, my iTunes playlist going at full volume, and my phone constantly buzzing with texts from friends trying to plan a bar trip for that night. My mind was in multiple places at once, but it wasn’t where it needed to be: on the writing itself.

If you’re like me and you have a compulsory need to keep the TV on at all times, then your best bet is to change your location. I found that I was able to focus on my writing when I distanced myself from all the tech in my room. Nowadays, I spend most of my time writing at the coffee shop, the library, or even outside on the porch. I also turn off my phone, plug my headphones into my laptop, throw on some soothing instrumental music, and begin typing away. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make for your motivation when you get up and move somewhere with less distractions.

Another distraction for me is the Internet itself. I don’t need to tell you how easy it is to get lost in the depths of the Web, especially when trying to finish an essay or article. The worst is when I have to look up information about something pertaining to my writing, and the next thing I know, I’m on the Wikipedia page for the second season of Lost or I’m watching a funny animal fail videos on YouTube. It’s even worse when I get sucked into the voids of social media and news stories. Why does it seem like all the interesting stuff happens when I’m busy?

Anyway, it’s easy to get distracted by the Internet, and what’s worse is that you can’t exactly get away from it because you might need it for writing research. That’s why I recommend a temporary site blocker, such as StayFocusd or SelfControl. With these apps, you can create and customize a special blacklist of sites, and then you can block those sites for a set length of time. My blacklist includes all the time-wasters like social media, gaming sites, and comic forums, and it’s done wonders for my productivity and motivation so far. It may take time getting used to the blocking, but once you condition yourself not to check these sites every five minutes, you should notice an increase in your focus.

So we’ve covered the obvious causes for lack of motivation. Let’s look at the deeper factors for this phenomenon. After all, it’s not just about distractions; it’s also about your attitude and your overall outlook.

When you’re passionate about your work, it’s easy to dive into a new project. You tell me to write a five-hundred-word essay on hedge funds, and I’ll be dragging my feet the entire time. If you tell me to write a thousand-word analysis of Fight Club, I’ll churn it out in a half-hour with double the word count.

You should never force yourself to write about something you don’t find interesting. Do you think all those successful authors out there are writing about things that aren’t appealing to them? No. They’re writing about what they find intriguing, and because of that, they’re motivated to create pieces that are insightful, entertaining, and successful with the public.

You don’t have to force yourself down a narrow route and write stories based solely on what’s popular or what will sell. If it’s not your taste, don’t write it. You’re tired of all these dystopian teen novels like Hunger Games and Divergent? Write a spy thriller action story. Hate A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings? Write a romantic comedy. Do what you want to do. Don’t try to force yourself to write something out of your zone. Not only will it be extremely difficult to stay motivated, but the lack of interest will also show in the writing itself.

There may come a time when you hit a slump in your writing and start to lose motivation. Don’t assume that this means you’ve lost your passion. Instead, take a break to clear your head. Go for a run. Watch a movie. Read a book. Hang out with friends. Do something to jumpstart your motivation. In due time, you’ll find yourself ready to write once again

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

Marketing & Selling Your Book 101

I’m going to be honest with you: no matter how great your book is, it won’t mean jack if you don’t know how to market it. You could literally write the next Great American Novel on par with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Catcher in the Rye, and it could end up gathering dust on the library shelves for years to come. In the world of authorship, writing is only half the battle. The real work is getting your book into the hands of readers. But how do you do that?

Marketing in this day and age is infinitely easier than it was even ten years ago thanks to the Internet. It’s 2016 – the age of information, where we’re able to share data across the planet in an instant. That means that there are numerous ways to market your book to a worldwide audience. However, that doesn’t mean that your book is going to be flying off the shelves right from the get-go. You need to know the what, where, when, and hows of marketing if you want to succeed.

First, we’ll go with the basics. You know the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? As great as it sounds, it’s not like everyone follows this message (at least, in a literal sense). While browsing through the bookstore shelves, it’s very unlikely that someone will  be interested in a book with a Plain Jane cover that simply states the book title and the author. You need a vibrant and entrancing cover that will catch people’s eyes and make them go, “Whoa, what’s this about?!” Choose a cover that really POPS from the bookshelves and that will make people do a double-take when they pass by. Your cover is the bait on the end of a long fishing line. But you won’t catch any fish if you don’t have a strong hook.

You have two ways to hook readers. First, you can include a brief blurb on the back cover or inside flap that briefly summarizes the synopsis. Don’t reveal too much of the story. Write a basic overview that will give people a good idea of what kind of book it is, and then leave them craving for more. For example:

John Smith enjoys the finer things in life. He likes to ride his bike, play catch with his friends, and watch TV. One day, a mysterious object falls from the sky and lands in his backyard. What he finds inside is going to change his life forever…

Granted, that’s a very hastily put-together statement that I just whipped up in five minutes, but you will notice how it has the elements of a proper book blurb. It draws you in and makes you wonder. What is the object? What did John find inside? How will it change his life? You want people to ask questions that can only be answered by reading the book.

The other way to truly hook a reader is to have a solid opening page. I remember my old creative writing teacher telling me how, when she goes book shopping, she’ll read the first page of a book to see if it piques her interest. No enticing first page, no sale. Onto the next book!

All these points I’ve stated so far are ways to market your book while you’re still writing and publishing it. What about after you’ve completed the publishing process? How do you market your book then? What’s the next step?

Two words: social media.

Social media has become one of the best marketing tools of the past couple of years. Virtually everyone is on some form of social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or more. These sites are all about being social (duh!). Instead of using your social media to post selfies from Bermuda or to share the latest article about Donald Trump, why not take advantage of it for promoting your writing?

Make a dedicated authorship page for Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, and even Pinterest and YouTube. There are countless ways to leverage each of these sites to promote your writing. Make sure you add a link to these pages in your email signature, and don’t forget to include the URLs on your business cards!

But a word of advice: don’t make these pages solely to promote your book. If all you’re doing on your author social media pages is telling people to buy your book, you’re not going to build a solid following. You should vary your posts. Talk about the writing process, discuss big topics in the writing world, share your thoughts about your favorite genres, post funny memes – have fun with it! Give people a reason to follow you, and make sure you’re not ONLY selling your book.

Let’s step away from the digital realm for now. How else can you get your book out there? Well, the good ol’ fashioned way is to get in touch with local small businesses and ask if they’d be willing to stock your title. Most big chains such as Barnes & Noble have strict guidelines with stocking self-published works, so it’s best to try the smaller, indie locations such as cafes and bookstores.

Recently, I started placing copies of my book in Little Free Library booths around the area. These tiny kiosks are all over my neighborhood, and if you check out their official site, you’re bound to find some in your own town. Drop off a copy every month or two. You’d be surprised at how quickly they’ll fly off the shelf. Don’t forget to add a business card along with the book so that people will know to follow you!

Also, ask your readers to leave a review online, whether it’s on your Facebook page, the book’s Amazon page, or Goodreads. Before buying a book, many readers will check out the online reviews to see if it’s up their alley. Therefore, the more reviews under your title, the better!

It takes about a minute to leave feedback on Amazon or Goodreads, and it can do wonders for increasing your book’s credibility. What’s there to lose? Just tell people, “Hey, once you’re done reading, do you mind leaving a little feedback on one of these sites?” The worst that can happen is if they say, “No”.

Finally, a great way to market and sell your book is to attend major events. Book-signings, conventions, book fairs, etc. – these are all fantastic ways to reach a wider audience. With a little bit of Googling, you’re bound to find several local events where you can pitch your book to new readers and interact with other indie authors. These events are fun ways to break into the world of authorship, and it’s always fun to meet people in a similar position as you. The last event I attended was a comic convention in Philadelphia, and although I didn’t make a huge amount of sales, I did get to talk to other amazing authors who shared their own insight on the writing and publishing process.

There is no golden ticket to selling your work. You can’t just write a book and expect it to start selling on its own. As with any business venture, it takes a little bit of luck, and A LOT of effort before you reach success.

Also, while none of these tips are guaranteed to instantly turn you into a best-selling author, they WILL show you how to network with people and build up a fan-base. If you find out that one idea doesn’t work, don’t get discouraged. No author ever became an overnight success. They all just kept pushing and pushing until they eventually struck the sweet spot.

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

The Importance of Editing

If there’s one piece of advice that I will always pass on to writers, it’s this:

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

Did you read that correctly? Here it is again…

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

That should get my point across, right? If not, I advise you to print those words out and keep them close to your writing station… just like I do. It may sound redundant that I’m hollering about editing your writing when it seems like common sense, but you don’t understand how many writers (including myself) tend to neglect this simple task. In my opinion, editing is almost as important as actually creating a story, and if you refuse to properly edit your manuscript, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

I’ve always been pretty shoddy when it comes to editing and proofreading my work. I remember one particular instance back in college where I wrote an entire 10-page paper about Edgar Allan Poe and didn’t even proofread it.

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I’ll never forget my professor’s response when I went to get my grade. His exact response, “Man, you need to proofread your work! Holy God!” Thankfully, I still got a B + on the paper, but that look of exasperation on my professor’s face will forever haunt me.

Later on in life, when I landed my first full-time writing job, I had a nasty tendency to hastily skim my work before submitting it. Needless to say, I had a few conversations with my managers and editors who told me that my writing was pretty sloppy. Afterwards, I made it a habit to at least double-check all of my articles before submitting them. Basically, my rule was that if I could read the article without having to make a correction, then I could submit it. If I saw even one misspelled word, I’d do a full edit of the entire article. It was tedious at times, but let me tell you, it was so worth it. It was the life lesson that I needed.

In my last blog post, I talked about releasing a second edition of my book. The main reason for the re-release was because I was fairly careless with editing the first edition. I was so excited to get my book out there that I didn’t give it the proper attention it deserved before officially releasing it. I probably skimmed it once or twice before officially putting it on the market. To this day, I still regret jumping the gun and shoving out “Dodger’s Doorway” when it clearly wasn’t ready. At least the second edition rectified most of the mistakes.

The point I’m trying to make is, even if you find editing to be the most boring, tedious task on the planet, you still have to do it. For a lot of people, it’s a chore – an important but annoying task that you wish could just be done at the flick of the wand. Trust me – you’re not alone in this sense. I’d rather scrub down my entire bathroom than have to re-read “Dodger’s Doorway” for the 1000th time in an attempt to find any spelling or grammar errors. Unfortunately, it HAS to be done. You can’t skimp on the editing, especially if you ever hope to become a successful writer one day. Not editing your book can cost you in several ways.

First, your readers won’t be happy. I personally get frustrated if I come across a sentence or paragraph that doesn’t make sense because of the way it’s written. I think to myself, “Wow, this could’ve been easily avoided if someone edited it!” Now imagine encountering this situation page after page. It looks sloppy, careless, and unprofessional, and readers will start to think, “Does this writer even care?” If the writer doesn’t seem to care about their work, why should the readers? If they’re willing to support you, the least you can do is edit your work so it’s not riddled with errors.

You might start to think, “Well, who cares what readers think?!” Uh, you should. Granted, you can’t make everyone happy, but that doesn’t mean you should make everyone UNHAPPY. It’s disrespectful to the people who bought your book and expected a coherent, well-written story, and instead received a hastily-written, poorly formatted story that looked like it was written by a first-grader.

In addition to this, those readers can have major control of your writing reputation. Do you think a poorly written/edited book will get stellar reviews on Amazon or Goodreads? Highly doubtful. Negative reviews are a nuisance, but they can have a huge impact on your reputation as an author. A lot of people look past the negative feedback because they understand that everyone has different tastes. What one person calls terrible, another will find stellar, and vice versa. But if there is a negative review because of all the misspelled words and poorly structured sentences, then you have a problem. That’s not a matter of opinion at that point; it’s a fact. It’s not like you’ll have someone say, “Oh, I actually prefer my books to be badly written and edited.” If you know anyone like that, please give them my information. I’m sure they’d love a first edition of “Dodger’s Doorway”.

One more thing: don’t just edit your manuscript by yourself. Ask a close friend to look it over. Also, don’t be afraid to dish out a little extra money for a professional editor (professional editors can be costly, but in my opinion, they’re totally worth it).

Before I submitted the second edition of my book, I sent the manuscript to an editor to review it from cover to cover. Then, I had my friend look over it. Sometimes, another pair of eyes can pick up things that you’ve missed. It happens all the time. You’d be surprised at how the most glaring mistakes can slip past you, only to be picked up by another editor.

The professional editor caught stuff I never even thought about, such as my tendency to over-explain certain scenes or actions, or an instance where I essentially repeated the same character action twice. My friend caught a pretty glaring plot hole where a character was supposedly in two different places at once. This is the kind of stuff that can sneak past you, and you’ll be thankful for hiring an editor!

I want to clarify something: it’s very difficult to edit something to perfection. You can re-read your manuscript over and over and over until your eyes bleed, and when you finally publish it, you still may find an error here or there. The truth of the matter is that we are not perfect. Small mistakes slip through the cracks. I’ve found errors in prominent series like “A Song of Ice and Fire”, “The Lord of the Rings”, and “Harry Potter”. These are all from major authors who actually worked with professional editors to perfect their manuscripts, but there were still minor issues that snuck past them. Some mistakes are unavoidable. If you manage to create a perfect story with literally no errors or mistakes at all, congratulations. If not, don’t beat yourself up too much. I highly doubt misspelling “going” as “gonig” is going to ruin the overall quality of your work.

With all that being said, I’ll leave you with these wise words:

EDIT THE &*%$ OUT OF YOUR WORK!

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!