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The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week? 

I’m loaded up on jobs-that-take-up-writing-time, but-aren’t-writing this week, so I’m trying to keep my goals pretty minimal: another three scenes on Float, some revision and fleshing out on the smaller scenes that have already been written that don’t feel weighty enough to keep in the book in their current form.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Zootopia. I meant to see this when it first came out, but somehow never got around to it. I regret that, a bit. I’m really interested in the way they construct their world when they’re not engaging in the obvious cartoon conceits – I think it was Kathleen who first mentioned that it was a movie where people used cell phones like we use cell phones in real life, and…dear god, I hadn’t realised what a non-essential prop movie cell phones were until now.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I’ve not had much luck correcting the sleep patterns and getting back to a routine thus far, and I fell out of the habit of going to food courts to write while friends were visiting from Melbourne last weekend. Paying for all of that right now, but still not going back to the bits of my routine that I know, for sure, will work.

In Which My Brain Finally Accepts What Should Have Been Obvious

wet concrete

Eleven days ago I noticed something weird – I hit the end of the two hours I’d set aside for writing and I was a good 400 words short of the word-count I expected. Not a huge deal, all things considered, but I’d been writing at a pretty regular speed ever since I went back to typing manuscripts.

I shrugged. It was just a weird thing, and a little surprising after being so regular in my productivity, but I hadn’t been sleeping well and I was feeling a little uneven that week.

Ten days ago, I kicked off a mild depressive episode. My first since going on antidepressants back in August. First my sleep patterns went to shit, and then I found myself wanting to shout at strangers for the cardinal sin of sitting at the table next to mine at a cafe, and the next thing I knew I’d spent thirteen hours glued to the couch spamming my self-loathing’s greatest hits over and over and over.

The echoes of that are still bouncing around my skull. I could hum you a few bars of I’m worthless; I should not want; I should just lie here until I decay without missing a beat. I keep having days where the task of maintaining a reasonable facade to present to the world is moderately tiring, and it’s harder to hold my shit together and write, or go hang out with friends, or go to work and produce blog posts.

A few times over the last ten days, my life narrowed down to do I absolutely need to do this? No? Then fuck it, I’m staying right here.

And it occurs to me how familiar this is. For years, this was the pattern – establish good work habits, get shit done, then suddenly…self-implosion. A complete inability to concentrate, whole days or weeks lost to procrastination, not really sure why I was staying in bed, doing nothing, or disappearing into a computer game I actually hated playing.

Weeks of anger and confusion and fits of self-loathing, berating myself for the weakness of not maintaining a system that worked. How dare you want to write, I’d think, if this is the best you can do. 

And for the first time, I get it: depression fucks with you. It fucks with your ability to get shit done.

Which, you know, is a thing that I knew and told friends who had depression over and over in the past, but not a thing I’d ever had any luck applying to my own situation until now.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Moving forward on the second half of Float. I finished off six scenes worth of interrogation and escape yesterday, which means I’m kicking into the final sequence of the second act. It’s proving to be considerably slower than the last few weeks work, which is kinda frustrating, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’ll come together with a bit more planning.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I mainlined the first season of The Expanse on Netflix and it’s pretty damn incredible. It’s basically got all the things that I liked from Game of Thrones, transferred into space and without the obsession with rape as a plot device (so far). I kinda want to go and track down my copy of Leviathan Awakes now, so I can take a look at how they handle all the little bits of world-building in a written narrative.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

Sleep. I have written the words sleep is not negotiable so many times I should probably break down and tattoo them on the back of my eyelids, and my ability to make sensible life decision always gets wobbly the moment depression flares up. I’ve done a lot of stupid, not-great-for-my-mental-health decisions over the last few days, but dropping down to an average of four hours of sleep a night has probably been the dumbest of them.

So this week’s project goal is getting back into a sleep routine – set the electronic devices at nine o’clock and do an hour of reading before bed, and make sure that I’m following a sleep routine that actually keeps me functional.

The Sweet, Seductive Song of October Productivity

I have spent the last few weeks agreeing to do things, comfortable in the knowledge that time when I would actually have to do said things was comfortably distant in the future. Except now the future is almost here, and this will be my last week where all my writing time is actually devoted to writing-related tasks.

I tend to forget that October is a good writing month. The weather is pleasant and there is a kind of lull in the yearly commitments, a quietness between the festival chaos of September and the beginning of the end-of-year chaos that comes in November. Every year October comes around and I do a whole bunch of work and I think, well, this is nice, it would be great if this was all year round. And then I start making plans, because everything seems so achievable.

Then November reminds me that those plans are foolish, and December derails them entirely.

It doesn’t stop me from making plans.

Two years ago, around this time, I got it into my head to try and write 600,000 words in the space of the year. I largely did it to prove a point to a friend of mine, who believed it wasn’t a sustainable pace for a writer, and I failed rather spectacularly. I ended up falling short by a good 220,000 words, and after finally getting around to editing some of the short fiction drafts I wrote that year, the 380,000 words I did do weren’t terribly good.

Which…I’m okay with, mostly, given that I was either feeling asleep at the keyboard ’cause the sleep apnea hadn’t been diagnosed yet, or basically fighting my own brain twenty-four seven ’cause I hadn’t yet figured out that maybe I was a depressed.

Still, I don’t like leaving things unfinished, and I really don’t like leaving a point unproven. The massive burst of productivity that comes with October has started whispering its siren song to me, pointing out that November is coming…

 

Trust in the Process

I write rough drafts in my notebooks these days. It gets me away from my perfectionist impulses, lets me embrace the idea of scribbling out a crude and ugly scene that will get fixed up when I type it into the computer.

Except I don’t really look at the notebooks when it comes time to sit at the keyboard. I just sit and rewrite the entire story, based on the rough beats I remember from the notebook. Everything else is basically written anew, fleshing out as I go.

It feels inefficient. I keep sitting down and wondering if it’s time to go back to the computer for everything, or if its time to try doing rougher sketches in the notebook rather than trying to write full scenes.

It feels inefficient, but it’s not. Notebooks are the perfect place to write that messy, ugly zero draft. They’re the perfect place to dump this stuff out there, figure out what the story isn’t so I can start paying attention to the thing that it probably is.

And the best chance of figuring out if it really is inefficient isn’t halfway through the draft. It’s when I’m done, and I’m starting a brand new project, and I can set up new habits around it.

I’ve built my habits for a reason, turned them into a process that seems to be working. My brain doesn’t trust that, but then, my brain is full of bad wiring and treats writing like an antidepressant.

I have a bunch of rules to live by these days: sleep is non-negotiable; always order the pork belly.

Increasingly, I’m adding this one to the list: trust in the process; the brain doesn’t get a vote.

Working with Time I Actually Have, Not the Time I’d Like To Have

It’s seven fifteen in the morning and I’m in the Wintergarden food-court, writing. My phone is counting down the minutes, my pomodoro app ticking softly to mark each passing second. I’m seated amid the empty tables, notebooks splayed out in front of me. There is weirdness on the walls, interior design done with light and shadow instead of wallpaper or paint.

In an hour and a half, I head off to the day job. There are one hour and fifteen minutes of usable writing time between now and then, and I’ve got a list of things that need to get done today.

  1. A) This blog post.
  2. B) The next scene in my current work in progress.

In the five minutes between writing bursts, I get to tweet or check Facebook or contemplate this question: what is the best use of my writing time right now? What is the opportunity cost of focusing on A, instead of B?

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU REALLY HAVE FOR WRITING EACH WEEK?

There is a recurring obsession with time, when it comes to writing advice. You hear it over and over: set down an hour a day and write, guard it like a lioness protecting her cubs. Treat your writing time as sacred, and turn off the internet while you work.

It’s a useful starting point, but it has its limitations. For one thing, it’s focused on the act of writing, not the business of maintaining a writing career.

For another thing, if you’re the kind of person who wants to write for a living, that one hour a day probably isn’t going to build your career as fast as you’d like.

Because writing isn’t just writing, after a certain point – it’s redrafting and dealing with edits on your work; it’s running correspondence and dealing with the minutia of a small business; it’s tracking deadlines and writing blog posts and dealing with small projects that people ask you to get involved in. It’s teaching classes or doing talks, writing guest posts and doing promotion for your work. Networking and being a good part of your peer community.

And if you practice that one-hour-a-day-is-sacred by rote, you can lose track of the lesson it’s trying to teach you – your time is a resource. It needs to be deployed wisely.

I am not wise with my time. Not the way I should be.

I did some calculations, a few weeks back, which brought this realisation home. When I put my writing plans together, I look at time as an abundant resource. There is always time there, and I can always find more if I need it.

It’s not hard to see how this got started: I work part-time. I have two dedicated write clubs every week. I have weekends I can fill with words, if I’m so inclined. I have hours and hours and hours, if I need them.

Which means, of course, I don’t use much time at all, because everything can be deferred until later if it has to be. There is always time tomorrow. I can always do better, if I didn’t get enough done today.

I tend to think and plan my writing projects aspirationally, rather than realistically

I also have nine months of data about my writing habits. Weeks and weeks of information tracked through rescue time, plus a whole stack of handwritten notes recorded in my bullet journal. Those informed me that my writing time was no-where near as abundant as I thought, and identified the blind spots where I’m losing hours.

So I sat down and looked at the hours I spend working every week. Not just the total, but the quantity of time spent doing each individual thing.

Then I looked at my weekly schedule and asked the hard question: if I treated time as a finite resource, how much time could I realistically devote to my whole writing career week to week?

How much time did I really have for writing, in order to get things done?

The answer was 21 hours, assuming I paid attention and monitored my time.

And when I looked at my to-do list, I was trying to cram way more work than that into the week to come. I approached my schedule aspirationally. I planned for the time I thought I had, rather than the reality in front of me.

ASPIRATIONAL THINKING IS A PROBLEM

When thinking aspirationally about your time, there’s no concession to the realities of living your life.

In my aspirational schedule of what might happen in the coming week, there’s never a bad day or a knotty problem with a project that takes longer to sort out than I think; there’s never a night when I go hit the movies or catch up with friends; there’s no weekend where I flake out and watch wrestling, because my sleep is disrupted and wrestling is my escape. I am always writing, always moving forward, doing the next thing.

When you’re thinking aspirationally, like your time is abundant, It’s easy to give up time now, because I will be perfect tomorrow.

In my aspirational schedule I never really need to clean the house or do laundry or wash the dishes. I certainly never need to iron, which is a chore that catches me off-guard ever week now that I have do it again.

In my aspirational schedule, I can chase down every possible project and do everything I want. And I am perpetually feeling lie there’s something left undone, and everything I do is making me fall behind.

REAL HOURS

Here’s how I came up with the 21 hours for writing jobs.

In real terms, there are only 168 hours in a week. 56 of them are spent asleep, since sleep is no longer negotiable for me. If I miss a few hours, I pay for it, and I’ll lose more writing time than I gain by staying up late.

Bad things happen to my brain chemistry when I don’t sleep enough – both RescueTime and my Bullet Journal showed that – and nothing will cause aspirational time to become wasted time faster than depression. My ability to make smart choices is basically gone.

So, we’re down to 112 hours. Now 21.45 of those are spent at the day job. 14, more or less, are spent getting ready for the day or for bed, showering and shaving or getting where I need to go. 7 hours are spent reading every night, before I go to sleep, which could be qualified as a “writing” job, but has more to do with good sleep habits than anything else.

That’s over half my weekly allotment of hours gone before I pick up a pen, and none of it can be cannibalised to get some extra writing time.

Spending time with my family? 4 hours a week, on average. Catching up with friends? 6 hours or so, depending on how write club breaks down and whether I’m meeting to catch up. Watching movies or TV? Lets call it 3 hours, if I’m paying attention to the way I use time. A whole weekend, if I’m not and I just let Netflix autoplay.

Now I’m willing to give some of those things – I don’t need to jam two days of Netflix into my week all that often – but a lot of it isn’t something I want to give up. My parents are getting older and my dad isn’t well, so the time I spend with the family means a lot right now. Hanging out with friends is a necessary thing, right up there with getting enough sleep every night, if I want to remain on an even keel.

When I start with that 168 hours and start taking out all the stuff that needs to be done, that large expanse of aspirational time looks considerably smaller. And so, I end up with:

21 HOURS

That’s it. 21 hours for all the tasks associated with my writing career, while still having sufficient time to clean and bathe and work and see other people. 21 hours, and that largely means working seven days a week and aggressively searching out writing time.

Here’s the other problem with aspirational thinking: it doesn’t take into account everything that needs to happen within those 21 hours. In my head, if I don’t think about it, that’s twenty one hours of pure writing time. It doesn’t take into account the redrafting and dealing with edits; the correspondence and the minutia of running a small business; the tracking of deadlines and writing blog posts and dealing with small projects.

If someone asks, are you available to do this, my first response is to say yes and assume there is time to get things done.

When you approach your business like that, 21 hours disappears incredibly quickly.

Let’s be clear: that 21 hours is a privilege, and it add up to a hell of a lot over the course of a year. But getting those 21 hours means staying on top of things. Even with four days a week at home, it means aggressively clearing space in my schedule. It means getting up at 6 AM and jamming an hour of half of writing at the food court before I head to the day-job. It means hammering out some seven-hour writing days on Saturday, if I want a half-day off on Sunday to do lunch with friends.

You can’t do that if you’re not paying attention to the hours you’ve got, always thinking about what you might be able to do in a week if you really had too.

And this is where I’m now: 21 hours is the realistic hours I can devote to my writing career each week. Not just the writing – the whole damn career. It was a sobering thing to realise, because it meant figuring out the best ways to use it and giving up what might be possible and focusing on what usually is. When I look at a goal that I’ve blithely put down, say finish a novel by the end of the year or write five blog posts a week, there is context around how those things get done.

And there is context around the things that need to get cut.

When you focus on how much time you’ve got, you start paying more attention to how it gets filled. Drafting five scenes on my work in progress, moving the rough draft forward? That’s a good 10 hours of time every week, just for a crappy zero-draft.

Plotting out new scenes? Two hours a week to come up with a sequence of five or six scenes, then sketching it out well enough to write it when the time comes.

Redrafting and making scenes that don’t suck? Another seven hours or so, and that’ll move at a slower pace than the handwritten drafts. Email? An hour a week, just to stay on top of things. A relatively straightforward blog post like this? About two hours, all up, from draft to redraft to posting it online.

Spending a few hours setting this up and tracking it has proven to be a real useful thing for me. Nothing about time sits in the realm of abundance anymore. Anything I do gets balanced against the things that won’t get done as a result.

Is my desire to blog six times a week worth the nine hours of writing time? Do I want to devote more than one-third of my productive time to blogging, or would I be better served writing stories or working on the novel?

It isn’t always fun. Working with real hours makes it easy to see where the focus should go, but damn, it still hurts to do it. Because it means giving up things that feel a lot like work, simply because there’s not enough time to do those and get the things that need to happen done.

But what it gets me is well and truly worth it. Being honest about my time is incredibly hard, but I can prioritise the things that need to get done and distribute my hours accordingly. I can devote two thirds of my weekly hours to writing and rewriting, distribute the rest as necessary for the tasks that are more about maintaining the career rather than moving it forward.

More importantly, when those 21 hours are done, I ca be confident that I’ve done enough. I can fuck off and enjoy wrestling or a movie or hanging out with my family, certain that I am there rather than feeling haunted by the things that probably aren’t getting done.

Tracking the 21 hours, making decisions about how they’re used, means being aware of the fundamental truth of writing in the age of the internet: things take the time they take. You have to pick the things that are most important and give them the lion’s share of your attention and your time.

Business Planning For Writers: The Five Word Benchmark

Hardworking. Prolific. Savvy. Surprising. Great.

I figure I can lay claim to maybe one of these words, if I’m on-point with my writing, on any given day. More often I aim simply aiming for one, and falling frustratingly short.

But as of today they’re taped to the wall, beside my projects list. A reminder of what I’m striving for with this whole writing thing. Not necessarily in the work, but in terms of what I’d like to think when I look back over my career.

They’re not set in stone yet. I’m going to live with them for a few days, stare at them the same way I stare at the active projects list. Ponder whether each word is right, and change it as needed. Savvy was originally smart, for instance, when I wrote the first draft of the list in my notebook. Smart didn’t cut it as a long-term ambition.

Savvy worked better, captured that feeling of knowledge put into practice rather than hoarded for its own sake. You can be savvy about your career. You can be savvy about the genre you’re writing in. You can be savvy about craft, in general.

I want that. Just like I want the other things.

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I backed away from talking about business models for writers last week, but then, I backed away from everything last week. My CPAP machine was broken and I was subsisting on very little sleep. Existing on very little sleep meant the depression meds weren’t working as well as they should, and so my ambition dropped down to sit on the couch, watch TV for sixteen hours, just so I could really get a good bout of self-loathing up-and-running.

At the same time, a whole bunch of people were basically hitting me up on social media and saying yo, more of this, please. And, occasionally, you’re over-simplifying this, yes? 

Yes. Because it’s enormously complex. And blogs don’t handle complexity well, in isolation.

But it did get me to sit down and start thinking through the problems of talking about business planning and business models. And, in particular, the problem of me talking about those things.

I dance along an interesting line, when it comes to blogging. I enjoy sitting down and writing about writing, for the same reason I enjoy teaching writing – it feeds into one of those five impulses that gets me to sit down and write. It lets me display savvy, or talk about process in a way that highlights being prolific and/or hardworking.

Usually, that works as part of my process, but when my sleep gets interrupted or I start heading into particularly negative ruminative thinking, blogging replaces my process. It’s work that feels like moving forward, without actually doing so. It becomes talking about what I want my career to be, rather than actually doing those things.

And this is actually a business planning problem, believe if it not, in addition to me dealing with my dodgy brain chemistry.

If you don’t define success, you can’t achieve it.

And while success seems easy to define – I get a book published, or I earn enough from writing to quit my dayjob – those are false benchmarks. Writing purely for the money isn’t going to make you happy, or even be sustainable

But when you put together half a definition of success – the kind where you’ve identified what you want, but not how you realistically expect to get there – it’s easy to get diverted. You scrambled down rabbit holes and follow false leads. You invest your energy in ways that aren’t the best use of your energy.

I’ve never had much illusion about what I want from writing. I got started as a writer because I was looking for a sense of connection, a way of finding people who liked what I liked and saw the world in the same way I did. I kept writing because I could start seeing career paths that seemed possible and pleasurable – not full-time fiction writing, but I’ve been in jobs that required writing skills and writing practice since I was twenty.

And, over time, I laid goals over the top of that. It wasn’t enough to be in writing-adjacent careers – I wanted to actually write fiction. It wasn’t enough to just write fiction – I wanted to be prolific and I wanted to be good.

People are complex. We rarely distil out motivations down to a singular thing.

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The problem with talking about writer business models is this: there’s a chicken and the egg kind of relationship going on. You can’t figure out what your business model is until you know the kind of writer you want to be. You can’t figure out what kind of writer you want to be, until you’ve looked at the business models and see what’s possible.

One continues to refine the other, and vice versa.

I’ve been particularly confused about all of this recently, thanks to a few years of health and mental health issues. So, over the weekend, I went back to first principles. What kind of writer do I want to be? What kind of words do I want associated with my career, when I look back over what I’ve done.

Hardworking. Prolific. Savvy. Surprising. Great.

Hitting two or more of those benchmarks is the point where I stop feeling like I’m flailing against the darkness and start feeling like I’m progressing towards the kind of writer I want to be.

It might not seem like a list that has a big impact on the kinds of career choices I make, but it affects everything. Those five words are the beginning of the research phase, the high-level strategy that guide everything else.

They don’t tell me what success is, but they tell me how to recognise it.

And I figure that’s a decent starting point, if you’re trying to figure this out. Take the week, figure out the five words that you’re chasing as a long-term description of your writing career. Put them down somewhere, all concrete and solid, where you have to see them often.

They don’t have to be set in stone – shouldn’t be, in fact – but they aren’t a bad foundation to have as you start contemplating everything else.

five-word-foundation

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I seriously just spent about a half-hour staring at this question, because I am very fragmented after a week of bad sleep and my attention splintered a whole bunch over the last few days. Gathering the threads together and performing a little triage, I’m throwing the bulk of my attention behind getting the Crocodile rewrite ready to submit by next Sunday. My new writing time will be spent working on the opening chapter of Float, but I’m largely consigning that to the short bursts of writing I do before work and on lunch breaks.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I went to see St Mary’s in Exile last night and it is one of the strongest pieces of theatre that I’ve seen in year. Incredibly strong cast, incredibly strong staging, and a script that only hits one hollow note in nearly two hours of performance. My mother initially pitched it to me as its a play about an excommunicated priest, but that’s underselling it a whole lot. It’s basically about the intersection of social justice and the traditions of the catholic church, and what happens when they come into conflict, and it’s perfectly willing to embrace all the complexities of the real-life situation it’s based upon.

The play’s in its final week this week, but i’d encourage anyone who is in Brisbane and a fan of theatre to get along and see it.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

Focus. I did a bunch of work last week, but none of it had the kind of focused drive towards a goal that had characterised the month before that and I’m feeling kinda frustrated with my output right now. Need to sit down and put together a cohesive plan now that I’ve ticked off the PhD application and give myself some goals for the rest of the year.

Reporting In

I’ve grown complacent about travelling in recent years. I went from doing very little of it, to doing a whole lot, and somewhere along the line I stopped fretting about the logistics of getting places and packing things.

I paid for that, over the weekend. Three nights in Melbourne with antidepressants and a power chord for the CPAP machine meant I was feeling particularly blunted by the end of the trip. I yawned a lot. I got light-headed in the afternoons, just like I did before the apnea was treated. I had headaches and wasn’t quite so in-charge of my emotional state as I’ve grown used to in recent weeks.

Now I am home and medicated and catching up on sleep. Still blunt, but getting sharper, and vowing not to leave things behind again.

I went to see Nerve last night, and it was terrible, but exactly the right kind of terrible for my mood and mental state. If you’re okay with cheese, teen melodrama, and a plot that takes common sense out back and shoots it, Nerve is not a bad C-grade movie to pass an idle hour or so. The script is bad, the depiction of the internet makes 1995’s Hackers look state of the art, and the leads are charismatic enough that you almost don’t mind too much.

A photo posted by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

Some More Thoughts on Writer and Business Models: No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy or Reality

Last Monday, I talked about the need for writers to develop a business model. It’s not the first time I’ve said this and I doubt it will be the last, but it was the first time I’ve said this here on the blog and in such am easily sharable form. That meant people started giving me feedback, which largely came in two camps:

  • How, exactly, do I do this business model thing? GIVE US DETAILS; or
  • Dude, I’ve got a business model, but it’s not working the way I want.

I’ll address both of those eventually, but given that I’m Melbourne today (and I’ve gone three days without medication and CPAP, thanks to poor packing on my part) I’m going to hold off on answering the first. Mostly because I started and it got very, very long.

As for the second: well, I’ve worked for a bunch of small businesses where exactly this has happened. This is the nature of running a small business, particularly one where you’re dealing primarily with other businesses who act as middle men, as most traditionally published authors do.

Many of those small businesses I worked for had plans, but their plans were…flawed. Based on wild guesses and the way they expected (or wished) their customers behaved. Everyone does this. Think about all those small stores and restaurants that crop up, chug along for a few months, then fold.  These are business driven by hope and high expectations, then let down by the realities of their situation.

People put together flawed business plans all the time. Their business models are based on expectations that don’t quite match reality, and they’re either unwilling to change their plan based on the new information or they’re just unable to switch to a new direction in time.

Point is: business plans change. A well-constructed business plan is a living document, periodically reviewed and evaluated to ensure that it’s working the way it should and changed when situations demand it.

For writers, this can be a harsh piece of advice, but the truth is that shit is going to change when it comes to publishing. The genre that you love writing in may suddenly cool, meaning you’re no longer able to sell the work you’ve written; the books you were pinning your hopes on didn’t sell as well as expected, which means your publisher is less enthusiastic about buying more; some guy invents a device that reads ebooks and sells it cheaply, and suddenly the whole business model of publishing is massive disrupted and indie publishing is everywhere.

You adapt, or you die.

This isn’t always an easy thing to do. I’m very much in an adapt-or-die space at the moment. The last few years of sleep apnea and depression were a double-whammy that utterly messed with my writing, and I’ve been adapting my business model on the fly for most of that time. It allowed me to keep from admitting that the apnea and the depression were problems, but it didn’t allow me to make smart business decisions. It’s easy to just lower your head and keep charging, when your business model falls apart, instead of admitting that things are wrong and you need to change.

The one saving grace is this: I was willing to adapt my business model and I was consciously making a choice every time I shifted. It may have been frustrating, and occasionally heartbreaking, but it meant I wasn’t as frustrated as it could have been if I’d just kept plugging away using the same plan I’d set back in 2010.

THE  BIG PROBLEM WITH FIGURING OUT YOUR BUSINESS MODEL

Here’s the bad news: I can’t tell you what your business model should be. There are plenty of ways people become professional writers and the playing field doesn’t exactly start out even. And a lot of the decisions will have a lot to do with the kind of writer you want to be, where you’re willing to compromise, and what other skills you have. I’ve taught workshops on this, and in six hours I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface.

Take writing out of the equation for the moment and think of it like this: you want to start a business serving food to people. That’s your starting point.

But your business model can’t rest on that alone, because…dear god, the myriad ways you can implement that are staggering. Do you want to run a food franchise like McDonalds? Do you want to be a small local take-away, or a café, or a restaurant? Are you willing to ride around in a food truck, trying somewhere new every day? Do you want to be a catering company?

All of these involve serving people food, but the business models are different. Even if you pick one – say, starting a restaurant – you have to start making decisions about how high-end you want to be and who your clientele are going to be and what you’re going to build your menu around. And, let’s be honest here, a lot of what you can achieve is going to depend on your reputation as a restaurateur/chef, and your ability to generate start-up capital.

Writing is no less complex as an industry, but the lack of information around the business side of things frequently means that people assume that it’s a one-size-fits-all industry.

It takes a lot to start breaking down every single possible business model, even in an industry where the different models are a little more visible. That’s why there is a process to putting together a business plan that looks a little like this:

Step One: put together a rough outline of your plan

Step Two: RESEARCH THE HELL OUT OF YOUR INDUSTRY AND SEE IF YOUR PLAN IS VIABLE

Step Three: Adapt your plan as required.