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How To Write A Novel: You Need Lots Of Bad Ideas

How To Write A Novel: You Need Lots Of Bad Ideas

Recently an aspiring author in Team Up couldn’t settle on an idea for her mystery novel. “I can’t write a novel,” she told me. “I wish I could, but I can’t come up with any original ideas. Everything I want to write has been done before.”

I asked her to send me a couple of her “unoriginal” ideas. One of them was great. A reality TV show, with six everyday people, shut up in a mansion. The group would perform scenes from famous plays. Each week a performer would be voted out, and someone new would arrive. Then someone in the group is murdered.

“Sounds good to me,” I told my student. “You’ve got lots to work with. Develop your characters, and outline it.”

Here’s the thing. Every idea you think of has probably been done before. So what? You’ve never done it before, and if ten authors wrote the reality-TV idea, they’d come up with ten completely different novels.

Want to write a novel? Get lots of bad ideas

Ideas are everywhere, and of themselves, ideas aren’t worth much. It’s what you do with them that counts.

I love marketing guru Seth Godin’s advice:

“If you generate enough bad ideas a few good ones tend to show up… So the goal isn’t to get good ideas, the goal is to get bad ideas.”

What to do when you can’t get a “good” idea

As Seth suggested, get lots of bad ideas. Then start writing.

If you’re convinced that you can’t get good ideas, try some of these tricks.

1. Try keeping an idea bank

Many writers keep an idea bank. Chances are that you won’t use any of the ideas in your idea bank, but having a cache of ideas will give you confidence on bad days, when you’re convinced that you couldn’t come up with an idea with a gun to your head.

Years ago I formed a habit of carrying index cards with me everywhere. I have stacks of blank cards in my office, in my bedside drawer, in my car, and of course, in my bag. I buy them in bulk.

Every few weeks, I sort through the pile of cards I’ve tossed into a box on my desk. One or two cards get transcribed into Evernote.

2. Good ideas are the ideas which won’t leave you alone

Would I get good ideas if I didn’t have my index card habit?

Maybe, maybe not. Jotting down ideas keeps my mind working even when I’m not writing, so carrying index cards everywhere is useful. When I sit down at my computer to write a couple of thousand words of my novel, I’ve always got a card or two which kickstarts my writing for the day.

You’ll find that when you review an idea card a day or a month later, you’ll know if an idea is a good idea for you — you remember it. Your brain wants to play around with it.

3. “Bad” ideas can become good ideas

I’m always amazed (and so are my students who know this trick) of how ideas can collide and spark something new — something you know you need to write.

You can see this process at work in authors’ novels when you’re reading. For example, I’ve just read The Switch, by bestselling author Joseph Finder. The main character, Tanner, is at an airport when he picks up someone else’s MacBook Air by mistake. The laptop turns out to belong to a senator, who doesn’t want anyone to know that she has classified information on the computer.

I read the novel in a couple of sittings. The two ideas: picking up someone else’s computer by mistake, and the computer has deadly material on it, are simple ideas. You wouldn’t call either of the ideas brilliant. On the other hand, what Finder does with those pedestrian ideas is brilliant.

So, use Seth’s insight. Be happy when you get bad ideas. Before you know it, one or two will combine, and they’ll create a magical idea which inspires you so much that you know that you MUST write it.

Have fun. 🙂

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Nonfiction Ebooks Goldmine: Write and Sell Nonfiction Ebooks In 24 Hours Or Less

Nonfiction Ebooks Goldmine: Write and Sell Nonfiction Ebooks In 24 Hours Or Less

$5.99
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Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 5
Genre: Writing
You're a writer. You need to make money from your words. What if you could create AND sell a nonfiction book in just a day? More info →
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Writing Motivation: How To Manage Failure

Writing Motivation: How To Manage Failure

Want some writing motivation? If you do, consider this: you can’t fail. It’s true. It’s also true that your book may not sell, but that’s not something you can control. You definitely CAN control your motivation, provided that you build it into your writing process.

Let’s look at how to do that.

Writing motivation is a process — learn it, or rejection and failure may become permanent

Back in the day, before the self-publishing revolution, authors asked me how to “avoid rejection.” My favorite answer to that was: “never send your work anywhere.”

Rejection is a fact of life. You may fail. It happens.

Rejection looks different today if you’re a self-publisher. Instead of a literary agent or an editor telling you: “not for us at this time,” readers get to tell you that when they don’t buy your book. 🙂

Reality: you CANNOT control the marketplace. Any publishing career involves luck.

But you can control yourself, so that failures just become speed humps on your route to success.

I’ve seen many wonderful authors who allowed failure to crush them into depression; some never wrote another word, as far as I know.

Failure isn’t forever, unless you allow it to be. Failure can be like a punch in the face. You need to punch back.

Everyone fails: punch back

From Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

(You may say) “It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’

No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present not fearful of the future.’

Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it?”

Built-in writing motivation: develop your own process

In any writing venture, whether you’re writing books, or blogging, or copywriting, you’ll experience failure in one form or another. In your early years, you’ll experience more failure than successes. You need to learn how to manage both. Failure needn’t crush you, and success needn’t distract you, as long as you create a process which guarantees your writing motivation.

I first developed my “motivation” process some 30 years ago. In those days, there were few markets for writing, and even fewer paying markets. Once I discovered copywriting, I experienced much less failure, because I was choosing my own clients.

Little failures can crush you just as big failures can. When I was writing my first novel, I sent the manuscript winging to London via airmail. Then my editor’s response arrived. Some four pages of notes and editorial queries. In short order I was angry, then depressed. I didn’t write. From memory, I sulked for a couple of weeks.

That was a waste of time — and in response to something that wasn’t even “failure”. It took time to motivate myself again. All I had to do was spend a couple of days tinkering with the manuscript, so why the drama?

In a word: ego. I lost perspective.

Confidence builds over time. Sooner or later, you’ll become much more confident, and it will take much more to crush you.

A few years later, I realized that I didn’t have to worry about things I couldn’t control, as long as I had a process. I could control my process, and my process built my motivation.

Experience success, every day

My process was simple. Today, it’s pretty much what it was then: write a thousand salable words a day. Even on my worst day, when everything goes wrong, I can manage 1,000 words. In practice, I write more than that each day, but with my thousand words done, as early in the day as possible, my day is a success.

When something goes wrong: a client’s website goes down, or a book makes fewer sales than expected, or something else happens, my writing motivation is still strong. My 1,000 words give me a little reward each day, and put everything else into perspective.

Create your own process, and build your writing motivation each day.

Resources to build your writing career

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Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out our ebooks for writers.

Just Write It: Write More, Sell More, Starting Today

Just Write It: Write More, Sell More, Starting Today

$4.99
Do you dream of being a professional writer? This book will help. Perhaps you already have a writing career, but feel that you're not living up to your potential, this book will help you, too. More info →
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Self-Publishing Professional: How To Sell Your Services

Self-Publishing Professional: How To Sell Your Services

Learning self-publishing is a challenge, but once you’ve learned how to publish your own books, you have an excellent skill which can earn income for you. New self-publishers, and even experienced ones, welcome help in many different areas of the self-publishing process.

Self-publishing pro: how do you get started?

A year ago, one of my writing students quit her day job, and then promptly became blocked. She decided that she had to go back to work. While she was job hunting, I suggested that she post on a self-publishers’ forum that she was ready to help others to publish their books. She managed to get some editing work right away.

Within a month, she had so much editing work that she had to stop advertising. When I last heard from her, she was back to full-time self-publishing, and doing a little editing on the side.

You can try a similar strategy to get your first clients; no need for a website unless you already have one. Investigate the various Facebook forums for self-publishers, as well as other online forums. However — this is important — do make a few posts to establish who you are first, so that people get to know you. Then by all means ask whether anyone needs help with self-publishing.

Now let’s look at some publishing areas in which you might consider offering services.

Self-publishing areas in which you can offer help

  • Research services. Bestselling authors have always hired researchers, now self-publishing authors need help too.
  • Covers. Not necessarily designing covers (but if you have the skills, go for it), consider offering help sourcing images, buying premade images, and commissioning designers.
  • Editing: always a challenge for self-publishing authors. There are several different kinds of edits. Choose the one in which you feel most confident — whether that’s developmental editing or copyediting.
  • Proofreading: always necessary.
  • Formatting for print, and for ebooks. Many authors get hung up over this. They’ll love it if you can offer files which are ready to upload to Amazon KDP, Amazon Createspace, and elsewhere.
  • Marketing help. This is a challenge for authors, always. You can offer basic help, as well as more extensive help. Basic help would include things like setting up a Facebook page and mailing list. More extensive help could include setting up Amazon ads, Facebook ads, etc.

Getting paid for self-publishing help

All creatives (writers, designers, photographers) are paid up-front. Obviously, this makes a lot of sense. You have a micro business, so you can’t afford to chase people who owe you money.

When you’re starting out, you can generate PayPal invoices so that people who want your help can pay you.

As your business builds, ecommerce solutions like Shopify make it simple for you to get paid for your self-publishing services, as well as to keep records for tax. Selz is a another option — it’s also simple and easy to use.

Selling services is a little different from selling goods, and Selz advises you:

To build your service business on Selz, you must be able to prove you have provided the service. This can be very easy. You could collect an email receipt from each of your buyers as proof. If you are delivering the service in person, you could collect a physically signed receipt.

With hundreds of thousands of authors who self-publish, your self-publishing services will be welcomed by your clients.

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out our ebooks for writers.

Nonfiction Ebooks Goldmine: Write and Sell Nonfiction Ebooks In 24 Hours Or Less

Nonfiction Ebooks Goldmine: Write and Sell Nonfiction Ebooks In 24 Hours Or Less

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 5
Genre: Writing
You're a writer. You need to make money from your words. What if you could create AND sell a nonfiction book in just a day? More info →
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Inktera
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle