Juggling a writing routine among your other life routines

 

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the second episode of the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

Routines in general are great. This is what I’ve been saying in this podcast since day one and I’m not going to disprove that in this episode. They’re still great and all that I suggested as information to help you build your ideal routine from before still applies. But today, I want to shift the focus a little bit, move it away from the macro picture that I painted before, emphasizing why building a writing routine is so great and instead now look at where the writing habit fits in a writer’s daily life – and why it’s not always easy to start and maintain a consistent writing routine.

Part I: From frame to cage

I wrote this episode while on my holiday. Only with the benefit of hindsight and actually getting away from my many daily routines, including my writing and author one, could I appreciate how they all fit together to create a perfect symphony of stress, unmet expectations and guilt.

I know this sounds a bit negative but hear me out – I’m the queen of routines. If there’s an activity I enjoy or think it will be beneficial, I will make a routine out of it. I will slot it in my life and start following whatever rules I set out for myself. Then rinse, repeat for any new interest I obtain. Some routines might disappear quietly into oblivion but more often than not I will do my best to follow them all, thus boarding the fast train straight to burnout.

Back in Season 1, I discussed that routines are linked to higher Meaning in Life. A study discovered that “life is not only made meaningful through extraordinary experiences but also in its daily living.” So routines can give us familiar, cozy comfort but what about when there’s not enough hours in the day to satisfy all the conditions of each routine? What to do when they clash?

I will give you an example with my March 2021 – for that month, I had a humble 9 daily routines. Briefly, there was daily author writing, daily planning, daily yoga, daily morning and evening routine, daily meal planning, daily walk, daily family time, daily self-care. There were also weekly routines like weekly goal planning, weekly social time, weekly cardio exercise.

All of these things by themselves are great but lumped together without a period to reflect how it will all work? Not as awesome as I thought. Routines give us a framework for the day but with so many, I found myself getting more and more framed by each and every one, until I was essentially in a cage, panicking and feeling trapped.

Part II: A holistic approach

If the situation I described sounds anything like yours you may be wondering, how do I stay productive, keeping up with all the routines and still maintain my sanity? Well, I’m still working it out myself but from research I see there are primarily two camps of productivity thought when it comes to sorting out your whole life and building sustainable routines – schedule builders and system makers.

The first practice, which some call ‘timeboxing’, includes working through your daily life by slotting your responsibilities in neat little boxes of time on your schedule. Nir Eyal, a writer and marketing expert, has a great guide on his blog about the benefits of using a schedule for all the aspects of your life. Briefly, he says: “If we don’t plan what we will give our attention to, we risk having our time stolen by distraction.

This method is not without its limitations of course and it’s not going to work well for people who require vast amounts of flexibility like maybe parents of small children or those who have really hectic stop-start day jobs. Stress can be reduced because you have your day planned out, leaving no chance for issues and deadlines to blindside you but on the flip side, if you fall behind, stress and feelings of failure can mount up really quickly.

Then maybe the second approach will be more suitable – creating a time-management system. The idea behind this is not to simply block out time in your calendar for everything but to take a look at the way you already spend your time and identify opportunities to streamline your processes and create a time-management strategy. Schedule building may be part of it but it’s not the only component. On the subject, one of my favorite productivity apps, Trello, has a whole article on debunking time management and suggesting ways to improve. Check it out.

Part III: Productivity through play

You may have already thought to yourself by this point, I can use elements of both schedule building and system creation. And that’s absolutely valid. Most writers will probably feel most comfortable in some split between the two, utilizing the benefits of stress relief and avoiding burnout.

I personally am more of a system builder but when the system is in place, I do build a schedule around my tasks and block out time, making sure things have a chance of actually being done in the day, minimizing procrastination. That worked for me for a very long time. With lockdown however and a myriad of other personal issues, including a significant worsening of mental health, my productivity took a hit and neither my system nor my schedule survived the change.

I wasn’t procrastinating anymore, I was slipping into a pocket dimension where nothing from the real world mattered. Everything felt detached and things that were strong motivators before, like looming deadlines, became more like suggestions. As I missed opportunities and lost momentum in my author journey, I became increasingly agitated at the fact that I knew I had to be more productive but I just couldn’t. I would start and fail. So I turned to the one thing which has always bailed me out since I was a child – I turned to play.

Part IV: Hat lotto, productivity bingo and gaming tokens

During my exploration period, where everything took way too long and was excruciatingly difficult to start, I discovered an online game which I enjoyed very much. It quickly took over my life, replacing my reality with its way more ordered, vibrant world. As I started to feel guilty about the amount of time I was putting into it and not into writing or my author business, I set out to examine which elements of it make me happy and I brainstormed ways to apply them to my writing process with the hope of boosting productivity.

I will share three of the play-productivity games I came up with. Feel free to try one or all of them, and if you want to improve them so they can serve you better, please do – and tell me about it. I’m excited to chat with fellow writers who enjoy the lighter side of productivity.

First, I tried a hat lotto. I picked up some pretty paper, wrote a number of small, broken-down tasks I had to get going with and chucked them in a hat. I started pulling out some and doing them. This helped with beginning anxiety. After every three tasks I got to play my online game for half an hour, then I would pull three more and do them. This worked well in the beginning, but its limitations started to show after a time – I realized I had many interconnected tasks to do so I couldn’t just have a random picking order.

Following that, I created another game which solved this issue. It utilizes a five-by-five grid – I called it productivity bingo. It existed on my whiteboard, where I filled every square with a task that needed doing. Then I could pick and choose what to do and prioritize either to get a ‘bingo’ line or to do what I felt like doing. For every ‘bingo’ win, I got to spend an hour in my online game. After crossing out a line, I would erase its contents and fill out the newly-opened spaces with other tasks. Again, this worked great for a time. Then, a new bout of mental health issues struck and I found that completing five tasks to get a reward was too much. If I had more stable productivity levels, I think the bingo game would have been sustainable for me.

Right now, I’m using a play system I called ‘Gaming tokens’. The gaming can be replaced by whatever activity or thing is your desired reward. I looked at my writing and author priorities, wrote them down in Trello and prepared my whiteboard. The crafty part of me was really hungry for a little side project, so I created cute cardboard tokens and was ready to use them. The rules are simple. For every hour of work, I get one gaming token which gives me 45 minutes of chill gaming time. I was surprised by how much I can get done if I have an uninterrupted hour of work. Here are some photos of my tokens and whiteboard on the blog post for this episode if you want a visual to aid the explanation.

Conclusion

To summarize, I rediscovered the simple effectiveness of the work-reward connection. It never quite worked for me before because I was following other people’s reward suggestions so the rewards never really felt rewarding. If you want to try any of the productivity games or even make your own, my one advice would be to start with picking your reward.

What are the things that bring you joy but may fall under ‘guilty pleasures’? Now is the time to harness the power of pleasure and put it towards your productivity. I’m still learning, trying things out and changing every day but that’s okay. After lots of thinking, I came to the conclusion that this is the only way to juggle many routines at the same time – by reflecting on your priorities and current practices and not being afraid to turn to something unorthodox if it means your work gets done and you’re your happiest self.

Next week on Tuesday, for the final episode of this season, I will discuss why we should return to comforting pieces of fiction when our writer journeys take unexpected turns that we’re struggling to process. One of my favorite books, and the one I re-read when I’m feeling stuck in life, is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I will talk a bit about how I interpret some of his ideas and how they have helped me with my mental health and my writer’s journey.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

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What beta readers want you to know before you send them your novel

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the bonus episode of the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode above and/or scan the transcript below.

The Pen Garden Podcast is usually about writing productivity and mental health. I say usually because today I will be sharing a discussion with my friend Flora Kittle, who is a fellow author and beta reader. The both of us together oversee the Pen Garden Beta Reading Program, a project which provides writers the opportunity to receive extensive feedback on their current book.

Briefly, a beta-read is a preliminary read of an edited manuscript with the purpose to provide feedback which will improve aspects of it. A beta reader will look at your story from the eyes of a critical reader and identify places that are confusing or inconsistent. Some beta readers might help you improve your writing style too but it depends on their own skills.

The Pen Garden Beta Reading Program provides feedback on four areas in the shape of a letter. There has been one round so far, and all the participants have been thankful. If you have a self-edited, complete manuscript you’re seeking feedback on, the Program Round 2 is a good opportunity for you.

Applications opened on Saturday 24 April and will close on Tuesday 4 May 2021.

Transcript

Lainey:

Hi, Flora, welcome to the podcast. Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Flora:

Hi, Lainey. Nice to see you. I’m Flora. I’m a technical writer by occupation. And I have yourself Lainey to thank for challenging me to turn my writing skills to creative writing. This past year, obviously, it’s been a bit of an odd one. But it’s given me time to, to challenge myself. And I’ve drafted a couple of novels. And I’m actually in the editing stage of the first one. I’m an avid reader, and I host a book group. And this last year, I’ve discovered the great joy in beta reading other people’s stories.

Lainey:

Great. Welcome. And as you can all hear, Flora is very well placed to give feedback on your books. So keep listening. Why do you think beta reading is so great, Flora?

Flora:

I think it’s a great thing to do, both for the author themselves, but also on a really personal level. For me, it’s been great to see examples of other people’s writing. And also to see the very, very common writing stumbling blocks that everyone makes in other people’s work so that I can appreciate them in my own, because I’ve definitely learned through beta reading other people’s, where I’ve made mistakes.

Lainey:

I agree. For me, as a writer, it’s that and also the fact that it’s receiving safe, nurturing feedback. It’s constructive. And it’s really different from say, receiving a scathing review, after the fact, when you can’t really change anything; it’s a chance to grow in many ways. And I’ve received lots of beta reader feedback. So for me, it’s a chance to pay it forward as a reader, and this is why we’re offering this program, it’s rewarding. But it’s not always easy, of course, and it’s really hard work sometimes. As readers and writers, we all have pet peeves, for example, mine is adverb overuse. If I see more than two or three on a single page, I can feel an itch to scratch them out. Sometimes there’s a few in a sentence, or even in the same line. And yeah, I guess that’s something as a beta reader that I wish I was spared from.

Flora:

Why do you hate adverbs so much?

Lainey:

It’s a technical issue. Really. They’re like shortcuts. And I believe writers can always find more imaginative ways to convey what they want, their story. For example, if you have someone saying something angrily, I would much rather read a line about how this anger is manifesting. Maybe they’re clenching their fists or gritting their teeth, whatever it is, it’s more food for my imagination as a reader. What about you? Any technical issues you wish writers considered before submitting their book for beta reading?

Flora:

This may sound a bit nitpicky, but a technical issue that I think would be worth considering as a writer when you submit your manuscript to a beta reader is the formatting. Now, I appreciate that you will all use different software to write your story. And there’ll be the old school Word, the convenient Google Docs, or the writer’s delight Scrivener. But when submitting your manuscript it’s worth assuming a standard Word document or PDF should be shared. But beyond that, make it easy for your beta reader. The average reader will not read a whole novel in one sitting. With a paperback you can use a bookmark on your page, or with a Kindle or equivalent, a digital bookmark is added. This won’t necessarily be an option for an early draft beta read, but you can use formatting to help your readers to navigate through your lengthy document, have a table of contents and easy links to chapters. Your reader will thank you.

Lainey:

That’s a very good point. But what about plot then? Any specific things you would advise writers to just focus on when doing self-edits?

Flora:

One thing that I’ve noticed in all of the stories that I’ve beta read, and let’s be honest, in some traditionally published novels as well, is that there are promises made early that are not necessarily fulfilled. This can be anything from an interesting character trait that is not explored, a quirky world dynamic or setting that is underutilized, or a plot thread that is not completed. On the plot thread, it’s not necessarily a plot hole, which is an event that is improbable or unbelievable, but just something that isn’t followed through. So in every piece of feedback I wrote for stories I beta read, I referenced Mary Robinette Kowal’s MICE Quotient. It was Lainey that shared the resource with me first and maybe because I am a scientist at heart I find the MICE Quotient a really good way of following through with all of the many elements needed to make a good novel. Mary Robinette Kowal uses the idea of nested promises, each concept that is opened should be closed by the end of the story, preferably in the order that they were introduced. Lainey will provide some resources in the show notes for a fuller explanation and all I will say here is that it is a powerful tool for plaiting in all the threads. From the manuscripts I read, you all had some really exciting promises and concepts, make sure you don’t throw them away!

Lainey:

Yes, definitely a very good point and also a pet peeve of mine. On that I do want to add on that there is another similar thing that I’ve noticed in the books I’ve read, which I will come out and say I’m also guilty of as a writer. And that’s not having some vital scenes in because the writer may deem them boring to write, or think that they’re implied, because obviously, writers have their whole book in their heads. So they may think that some things are very obvious. But when the reader reads the story for the first time, they may never know certain things that are just left in your head as the writer. So the connections between all the actions and all the action moments are very important because they break the pace, and they give the reader a chance to rest and reflect on the story so far, to sort of check in with how they are feeling subconsciously. I would recommend writers study novel structure, and particularly rising and falling action and tension. I will drop a resource in the blog post about this, which explains things better than I do. So now you all know a few things that beta readers want you to consider. Obviously, not all of us are the same. But generally if you think about what you love and hate as a reader and try to implement that in your self-editing process, you’ll be well on your way to having a clean manuscript to give to your beta readers. As a reminder, the Pen Garden beta reading program is open now until 4 May. We accept romance, fantasy, women’s fiction, thriller, crime, and historical fiction, and all of their sub genres. If your completed novel fits any of those, and you’re looking for feedback, make sure you fill out the application form on www.thepengarden.com. Now to close off our discussion with a light topic. What’s one of your favorite tropes, Flora, and why?

Flora:

I’m not sure if it really counts as a trope. But I’m a sucker for interconnected stories that span timelines. I love a story that’s essentially a mystery through time, with old artifacts or spirits influencing a modern-day quest. I don’t know why I like it so much. But to me, it feels really clever, to be able to tie in those two different timelines. How about you?

Lainey:

Well, for me, one of my favorite tropes has to be genuinely good bosses and managers, it is so satisfying seeing a main character get into trouble of any kind, and then know that their boss has their back and supports them emotionally and professionally to get through their rough patch, that they’re not going to betray them. It’s really empowering to have an honest caring manager who sees employees as people. I watch a lot of Korean dramas, and there for some reason, often the people who have power are the baddies so I have this involuntary reaction every time I meet a new boss or manager character to just very vigorously hope that they’re a consistently good person in the story, or if not consistently good, at least, you know, reasonable, and that they’re not like a villain in disguise. Um, so yeah, thanks for doing this podcast episode with me Flora. Any closing thoughts before we wrap up?

 Flora:

I would just like to thank you all for listening. And I really look forward to reading some of your awesome stories in the coming months. So please apply.

Lainey:

Yes, we’re both really looking forward to all the applications for round two. Thanks again, Flora and speak to you soon!

Application link

To apply, you need to provide some information about your completed manuscript and a 500 word sample. Click THIS LINK to go to the application form. The deadline is Tuesday 4 May 2021.

Next Tuesday, I will talk about a favorite topic on this podcast – the writing routine. I will discuss how it fits with all the other routines you might be juggling on the daily. For me it wasn’t easy to slot it in, and I’m still struggling some days, so if you do too, you’re not alone.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources list to explore beta reading & writing advice:

 

 

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Reading as a writer and writing as a reader

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the second episode of the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

The topic last week – money and writing – was a bit heavy so I thought I would switch gears for this one and talk about something lighter – reading. This whole season is learning to love your journey and I can 100% say that the way I read changed dramatically since I became an author.

As most writers, I’m an avid reader and have been since I could read at the age of five. I still remember the first children’s book I could read aloud without stumbling, it was a cute story about a little horse chestnut who didn’t have any friends because of his spiky case. When he shed it though, and saw he was a gleaming conker all along, he learned to love what’s inside. As you can see the topic of self-love has been a thing in my life for many, many years and yet I still struggle.

Part I: Reading as a writer

One unexpected avenue to this writing journey and love struggle was how my relationship with reading changed. It was prompted by that Stephen King quote, you might have heard it: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write”. So naturally, I thought, that’s true. I should read and I should learn. Reading for pleasure gradually became reading to learn. When I had a riveting fiction book in my hands, I was looking at it no longer as entertainment and relaxation but as an opportunity to gleam insight into the success of others. So, to fortify the impression you have of me from the last episode, I wasn’t only trying to do all the marketing stuff other writers did, I was trying to read between the lines of their works, put myself in their shoes and then have that knowledge inform my own writing journey. In itself, this isn’t a bad thing, because I did learn a lot about the craft of writing from reading books analytically. But the main reason I held a book in my hands shifted from relaxation to learning.

Some of you will say that you find studying relaxing but for most people, those two things won’t be on the same level. That was the case for me too. Instead of getting sucked in a story, escaping the tough reality of lockdown, I was using active brainpower to keep track of how the author had approached their writing. Where there should have been adventure, intrigue and excitement, there was an active search of character arcs and novel structure used, an almost painful awareness of adverbs, repetitions and grammar mistakes and an always simmering need to know how this book was marketed and where it falls in our current publishing reality. Now, these things by themselves are really useful. There is a lot to be learned from this practice and I’m in no way suggesting it’s a thing you should avoid.

Observational learning, as defined, is people’s ability to learn behaviors from others by observing and reproducing the action. I think as I engaged with books from a certain point in my writing journey, I approached them as real-life case studies to be observed, dissected, and evaluated, eventually serving to better my own craft and knowledge. For me, this was invigorating in many ways but after time passed, I started missing the simple pleasure of reading a book with a cup of tea, tucked under a blanket, my mind wandering in amazing made-up worlds. So I really wanted to know, why wasn’t this accessible to my mind anymore? Why was I looking so deeply into the words, unable to truly enjoy the story? After a bit of research on observational learning, I found that it has 4 distinct steps: attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. I will drop an article which looks into what each of these steps entails in the blog post for this episode but I want to focus on the first and last steps of the process. For me, those two hold the secret as to why I wasn’t enjoying reading in the same way anymore.

Part II: Attention and motivation

According to psychology, observational learning begins with giving the object or model your attention. “For an observer to learn, they must be in the right mindset to do so. This means having the energy to learn, remaining focused on what the model is engaging in, and being able to observe the model for enough time to grasp what they are doing.” This is significant for me, because the way I focus when I learn is different from when I’m enjoying myself. The next few bits are my own thoughts and are not scientifically proven, but I split my focused time in two categories: analytical focus and flow focus. When one occurs for me, the other remains dormant unless something triggers it. Generally, I can’t be in both states at once. Analytical focus allows me to pick up small details, make logical connections, connect writing knowledge to its application and recognize flaws and strengths in a book. Flow focus is when I’m completely immersed, letting my imagination dictate how I perceive the words and characters instead of my logical author mind. In this state, I can often lose myself for hours in a book, ignoring any technical parts of the writing and simply riding the high of a story well-told. I did mention that something might trigger a switch in states for me, but that’s very rare. It has to be something like a very emotional scene that pulls me in or the opposite, a page full of repetitions that my writer brain can’t ignore.

So you might wonder at this point, if I’m so aware of this, why can’t I just choose the mindset I need for a particular book when I start it, instead of agonizing I now struggle to read for pleasure? This is where the last step of observational learning comes in – motivation. How do we decide if what we’ve gleamed from someone else’s work should be applied to our own writing? Psychology says that “in order for the observer to engage in this new behavior, they will need some sort of motivation. Even if the observer is able to imitate the model, if they lack the drive to do so, they will likely not follow through with this new learned behavior.” And this is where for me things started to go downhill with reading for pleasure. I estimated the benefits of simply enjoying a book in a flow state versus analytically approaching all elements used by the author and decided that in order for me to grow, I need to be constantly learning. If anything, I was too motivated to learn and adopt new practices in my journey. So reading stopped being a relaxation activity, instead each became a case study of what to do, what not to do or a bit of both. This, to many of you, might still sound reasonable. To me it did too. But the thing is, the mind needs rest. I didn’t have any downtime to actually reflect on what I’ve learned, if it’s applicable to what I write or to check in with my mental health. This led to me dreading turning on my Kindle or opening a book. It reminded me of my time in school when I would sit down to do my homework some days and release a massive sigh because I wanted to do something else. Play computer games, read some elaborate high fantasy novel, see friends. Back then however, I had an obligation to study the way I was told to. The beauty of being an adult is that you have more freedom with how you spend your time. When I realized the familiar feeling, I asked myself why I was essentially making myself hate something that used to give me so much joy. Unable to find an appropriate answer, I decided I had to reclaim reading for pleasure no matter what.

Part III: Reading for pleasure

Why do people read? If we take the learning element out of it, meaning we don’t look at textbooks and academic literature, manuals and various practical books, why do people read fiction and creative non-fiction? To put it simply, it’s an action you engage out of your own free will, knowing that the act of reading will bring you satisfaction. You choose when, where, how and what. It’s an activity that can help you escape reality for a bit, or assist you in partaking in play scenarios that may never happen in your real life by feeding your imagination. Seemingly, by these definitions, I was reading for pleasure, even when doing beta reading or highly analytical reading. It was my own choice how and when to read after all. Well, it’s not that simple. Knowing the extent of the pleasure I can derive from reading, when I  finished book after book and it was missing from my experience, this limited the benefits of this whole reading undertaking to just improving writing craft and knowledge. And I know what you might say. Just? Isn’t that a lot. Yes, it is, especially for a new author, but the benefits of reading for pleasure are far broader and dare I say, sometimes more important.

Evidence suggests that in adults, reading for pleasure can contribute to better self-esteem, improved ability to cope with difficult situations and to problem-solve, a higher life satisfaction and reduced risk of depression. If those aren’t enough, reading for enjoyment also impacts on our abilities to connect with others, helping us understand others’ feelings, giving us awareness of cultures and experiences that might be unfamiliar to us and aiding us in our social life overall by making it more pleasurable, accessible and easier to maintain. While the social benefits are a little bit difficult to gauge at the moment, I was also missing out on all the other benefits, particularly all the mental health improvements that I was so used to getting before I turned fiction books into writing school textbooks. So as with the budgeting in the previous episode, at some point the balance shifted. Educated and empowered by dreams of finding that amazing flow focus when reading, I set out to find a way to even out the scales.

Part IV: Two ways, one reader

When I finished the books I had committed to for The Pen Garden Beta reading program round 1, I knew I had to try reading something that I wasn’t obliged to do anything with. Not provide feedback and reviews, not even study for its popularity or because someone recommended it for a certain writing approach I should take notice of. It was just an interesting book picked out a haystack of other books. I can also call it trashy maybe because it’s nowhere close to a literary read and I picked it because I found a cluster of my favorite tropes in it. I’m not ashamed and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I read a chapter, then two, then three. I was immersed. From time to time, my logical brain would pick up a repetition or a pesky adverb that I hate but I would just let it go and turn the page. As the action progressed and I got to know the characters, the little typos and issues became easier to ignore. I knew the author didn’t want or need my input, no one did. My only purpose to read was chasing my enjoyment. Luckily for me, I found plenty. On a roll, I picked up the second book in the series and I’m still going strong on the pleasure front. As I started to relax around reading again and finding my flow state with it, it became clear to me that I need to establish a balance which protects my reading-for-pleasure time. The benefits are too good to pass up.

But analytical reading and learning from others’ writing is here to stay also. It has greatly improved my writing craft and helped me meet many new fellow authors. It’s been rewarding in another way. For myself, I will try to establish reading goals in the beginning of each book I pick up. Some might be easy – for example, if I’m beta reading, I will be engaging my beta reading brain. I tend to slide into that when I’m reading extremely popular books too, either traditionally published or self-published, because I want to understand the elements of their success. But beyond that, I will try to shed my author skin and embrace the reader me which has been around for much longer. It will be a real shame if I lose her so I will do my best to remind myself often of the mental health benefits of reading for pleasure.

Conclusion – Writing as a reader:

Finally, knowing how I read, how I swing back and forth, I want to incorporate that in my writing too. I want to write books which are enjoyable and let readers get completely immersed in the story. That of course means looking out for what triggers me away from my flow state and avoiding that. It means keeping my mind open at all times. But an open mind is different from a constantly turned-on critical state. So as I navigate these subtle differences in my inner world, I hope that you too have found something useful to think about in this episode.

And thats all I wanted to say today. Do you read a lot? Are you using it to learn the writing craft or simply to enjoy a relaxing moment in time? Maybe both? Let me know. Let me know. I’m on Facebook and Twitter or simply send me an email at laineydelaroque@gmail.com.

A bonus episode is coming next Tuesday. I had a short chat with my friend and fellow author and beta reader Flora Kittle who some of you might know is a reader for The Pen Garden Beta Reading Program. Round 2 of the Program opens at the end of this week so we discussed what we wished writers considered before submitting their work to beta readers. Even if you’re not participating in the Program, I think it’s worth listening as what we discuss is broad advice that can help you with any beta reader you invite to give feedback on your books.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources

 

 

Listen and subscribe

 

Listen to The previous seasons

 

 

The emotional place of money in a writing journey

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

Today I will discuss the emotional place of money in a writing journey. I will touch on investing money in your writing, spending, profits and how they all affect writers’ mental health.

Part I: True value

I will come out in the beginning of this episode and admit that I don’t have the healthiest relationship with money. When growing up, I believed money should be saved and given away only after a long thorough thought process has occurred. Only after I had estimated the true value that something will bring to my life could I spend the money on it. That attitude led me to develop a chronic health condition. I was only buying the cheapest food ever in a supermarket. I couldn’t justify to myself to pay twice more for seemingly the same product. So my health failed and I took a long, hard look at my relationship with money. I decided I could spend more on more nutritious food. But beyond that, I didn’t really change. I was still weighing up every night out, every birthday present, every holiday. And I’m sure you won’t be surprised that this attitude transferred to the way I spend money on my writing journey.

Now, if you have been listening you would have heard me say I estimate the true value of an item or service. And this is where my thinking fails me. Establishing the true value of intangible things is nigh impossible. There are too many moving parts, too many variables. I read extensively before setting out to publish my first book and decided that three things had true value for the beginning of my writing journey – an editor, a proofreader and a hefty marketing budget. I knew I could do the cover myself as I have design knowledge and I was fairly confident in doing the formatting too. So in my brain, I was being prudent as I was only spending on the items that for me had ‘true value’.

Part II: The theory of ‘value for money’

But let me move away from my experience for a bit so I can talk about the theory behind estimating value for money. Yes, this is still a podcast about mental health, bear with me, it will all come together in the end. Researchers argued that the phrase ‘value for money’ or what I call ‘true value’ of buying something, “is a poorly understood concept in practice. There is a lack of clarity in its application, especially in the distinction between “value” and “money” when assessing VFM in investment evaluation and decision making.” So they set out to deconstruct value and came up with three components: “useful purpose, beneficial outcomes, and important features”. So something that brings value won’t necessarily also bring money.

When I was making the investment decisions around my first book, I did them with the wrong idea that value always equals profit. I won’t dive too deep into this, but the fact is, profitable enterprises don’t only have valuable contributions, they’re also good at picking the right time to put them forward, and the right way to market them to achieve results. So when I invested a lot of money into an editor and proofreader, I believed that a good book can’t go unnoticed. Well, let me tell you – it can and it did. I know my book is good because readers have told me so. But there aren’t very many of them. So while I honed my craft and made the story and writing great, I added value to my product but for now, I didn’t bring money with this value. On the marketing component, I tried to invest in whatever authors have said works for them, thus copying steps of their journey and not really embracing mine. Lots of money thrown at Facebook Ads, Newsletter promotions and Review sites later, I realize now I was throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something will stick. For now, they have all slid down to the floor, leaving a bright red line of shame on the wall. In a way, I’m back where I started all those years ago – with an unhealthy relationship with money, believing I made stupid investments that will somehow undoubtedly tank my whole dream of being an author.

Part III: Investment vs. Emotional spending

Here you can already tell the emotions are creeping up. It’s not about the value anymore, it’s about me and my worth. I came across an article about emotional spending and something clicked. At some point, I had stopped investing and had started buying things to make myself feel better. To believe I’m a true writer, I made it, because I’m buying the same things other authors are buying. Successful authors. Somehow my unhealthy relationship with money changed from me needing to evaluate everything to make sure I was financially stable, to me putting my writing business in a separate brain box and thinking that it’s all justifiable spending, an upfront investment into my future. A business expense, not an impulse buy.

But looking at it from where I stand now, I see those were just labels. The purchases I was making weren’t passing my usual rigorous vetting process. In fact, they were bypassing it altogether. My logical brain was off and my emotions were running the show. Soon I had spent more on marketing than I had ever set out in my bare-bones marketing plan. And yet, book sales were few and far in between. The latter thing in itself is not an issue. Debut authors are unknown and need to work hard until they start having consistent sales. The issue for me is that the more I spend, the more the gap between my expenses and profits will grow. And it’s pretty big now. So when I look at other debut authors who opted to spend nothing on their first book and are now happily taking every sale as a win, I’m a little envious. Not of their sales but of their insight.

Part IV: Curbing those spending impulses

Envy will get me nowhere however, so I set out to try and fix my emotional connection to money and maybe somehow get to a better place. As any proud millennial would do, I went online and found out that it wasn’t just me having trouble curbing my impulses when it comes to buying stuff online. For me, it was book marketing courses and services, for others it was whatever their passion was. Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and certified financial planner, was interviewed on money.com on the subject of impulse buying and he was clear that nowadays, marketing is expertly done to trigger buyers emotionally. So whether it’s boredom, insecurity, or chasing that nice feeling one gets when they get a present, the current online commerce reality is waiting to catch us out. For me, I now know it was the unreasonable desire to be like the big authors instead of embracing my writer’s journey and realizing I can only be me. Now, and in the future. I can’t be anyone else so there is no use buying tons of stuff to try and fake it. The ‘true value’ simply isn’t there.

So what does money.com recommend? They have three ideas: “Be conscious of your decision-making process”; “Train your brain to prioritize long-term gains” and “earn your present-day rewards”. Briefly, it’s all about analyzing why you’re turning to impulse buying and trying to work on the root cause, taking more time to make spending decisions, thus neutralizing a bit of that emotional marketing magic, and meeting your saving goals no matter what, then spending the rest as you see fit by connecting purchases to goals in your life. If you want to read the article for yourself, I highly recommend it, it was really eye opening for me.

Conclusion

Managing money is hard. It’s especially hard if you’re trying to break out in a new field. To start from zero while you’re surrounded by success stories and so much marketing. While writing this episode, I was returning time and time again to the quote ‘Cream rises to the top’. This was my mantra when I invested in making my book better. In many ways, I do believe thanks to that editor feedback I do have a cream of a book. What I realized just now is that quote is missing a time component. It doesn’t say how long it will take for said cream to rise.

So when it comes to money, I will return to doing my best to rationally examine each potential spend, thinking about the value it can bring to my journey and not just think of the monetary return of investment or if someone else has vouched for it. It sounds basic but it’s a actually a very difficult mind state to maintain. I’m sure I will get swayed along the way, but when I do, I will return to this episode and listen to my own advice.

And thats all I wanted to say today. What is your relationship with money? Does it affect your writing life? Let me know. I’m on Facebook and Twitter or simply send me an email at laineydelaroque@gmail.com. Next Tuesday, I will talk about how reading, an activity I remember loving since being a tiny bean, has changed since I became an author and all the benefits and pitfalls that came from that.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

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