Using Word features to organize your thoughts

It’s sometimes difficult to keep track of what is happening when, especially if you write a longer book, or to remember if you’ve explained something already or if it’s just in your head.

When I write, I often let my mind wonder and let the fingers type away on my keyboard. I don’t worry too much about how it works in the overall story. I have the outline of the story in the back of my mind, but I don’t interfere or direct my thoughts in any one way or another.

In draft one, I have lots of scenes and patches written. Next step is about connecting and changing them so they make sense and fit together. I don’t write the whole story in the first draft.

Often I will have many open questions that remain unanswered for months on end, until I figure out what to do with them and how they fit in the story. It can range from a character I haven’t introduced or assigned a role yet, or a scene I don’t know where to place, but it can also be insiders that hint towards something, but I haven’t yet written the corresponding part to it. I need to remember to finish that thought somewhere. For this I use footnotes in Word a lot. I use them to remind myself of plot holes or things that don’t work at the moment. Often I will forget about them until I read the footnote (hence why I always write it down). And reading them repeatedly helps me remind myself of what I still need to figure out. These footnotes accumulate in the back of my mind so when I write new parts, or rewrite parts, I will remember them and incorporate them.

I also use colours when I want to highlight something that is currently written a certain way, but needs to be rewritten, but I can’t figure out how yet.

I also highlight important things that I know will be key moments in the story, so that when I look for them or want to double-check what I wrote previously, I can quickly find it. I use this for example when I introduce a character for the first time.

How do you organize your thoughts when you write?

How many people should read your book before publication?

*My dear readers, I’m very sorry I didn’t post last week. I was away and didn’t manage to write and schedule a post to publish automatically on Sunday beforehand. I’m very sorry about this!*

This is a question I’ve asked myself quite a bit before publishing. I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to send your book out to a group of “test readers” that represent your target audience and see what they think of your book. Ideally you should also be building an audience ahead of the launch and pick out your “test readers” from that audience.

When I first looked into publishing When Colour Became Grey I didn’t have a blog. I had written blogs before but they had nothing to do with writing. And because I had already started working with a professional editor, I didn’t really see how I could get a group of “test readers” to review my book on time before the editor finalized his review. And to be honest I was also very impatient and wanted to publish the book sooner rather than later.

In hindsight I think it could have been beneficial to have early feedback on the book, but I’m still unsure at what stage it would make most sense to gather reader feedback. It’s something I have in the back of my mind for the sequel, but I’m not yet sure how I want to incorporate that into the publishing process. And I have also a lot of questions still to figure out, for example how big the test group should be, which draft version the test readers should get to read, and how to pick the group of test readers.

I have an idea of my target audience, but those that have read When Colour Became Grey have identified a much wider target audience. And how to incorporate early reader feedback also touches on a more philosophical question on how you approach your work; are you writing something and then searching for the audience, or do you get an audience first and then deliver what the audience wants. There is no right or wrong answer, it’s a question of how you see your books.

Why I’m writing a series and not a stand-alone book

When Colour Became Grey is the first book in the series but in the beginning it was supposed to be a stand-alone book.

[To my lovely readers, I’m working on the sequel, but it will take me a little while still before I’m finished. I’m trying to write it ‘quickly’ but it’s still a longer process and takes time. I’ll update you when I approach the end.]

When I started, it was much more of a ‘simple’ romantic fantasy story. But as I started writing it out, I realized I didn’t want to write another book of a human falling in love with a vampire and then the vampire telling her what to do until she realizes her true power and she takes over as the leader. The story didn’t want to be that (because yes, you as an author are writing it, but the story also has a life of its own and sometimes it takes over and I have no choice but to cede control).

As the story advanced I realized there was too much material and the story was getting too big for a stand-alone book. So I planned two. And then even that became too restrictive. Currently I’m planning the series to be three, maybe four books. But this can change.

My goal is not to write a set amount of books in the When Colour Became Grey series. Otherwise I would either stretch the story or condense it to fit a certain number of books, and I need to have the freedom to let the overall story play out at its own pace and in its own volume. I have a broad idea of where the series will go, although the ultimate ending is not clear in my head, and a lot of the finer details are either not worked out yet, or I’ve left them purposefully open for me to figure out further down the line.

I’ve seen an author advising aspiring authors to write series to build a following and a fan base. While I can understand that if you write several books within a series it’s easier to engage with your readers and create a following, I’m against the idea of planning a series simply for that reason. Because if your goal is to write whatever readers want to read, then you should research what the most bought genre is and simply write in that genre, and publish books at quick intervals. And if you’re able to do this, hats off to you. But I can’t make my head think inside a given box and at the same time write something original. I think you should leave yourself the creative freedom to write a stand-alone, or a series. If you force yourself to do a series, you might end up with books that are just dragging out the ending and you could end up losing the trust of your readers. There are many examples of movie sequels that have done just that.

Why I wrote under my own name (and not a pen name)

First of all, I’m very sorry for this late post. I aim to post every week but I’ve been stuck on writer’s block for about a month (and I was distracted by other things so I couldn’t really focus on writing) and I managed to write again last week and I couldn’t tear myself away from writing the sequel of When Colour Became Grey.

So, why did I write under my real name and not a pen name?

I had initially intended to write under a pen name because I didn’t want to be famous in any way, or have people project their opinion of me onto my book. I wanted the book to stand on its own.

I couldn’t come up with a pen name that I liked and when I read other authors’ opinions as to why they chose to write under their real name or pen names, I realized I was mostly wanting to write under a pen name to “run away” from my childhood bullies. And that was a stupid reason in my mind [this is not to say it’s a stupid idea to escape your bullies]. I didn’t want them to decide how I lived my life so I published under my real name. As for the fame, think about how many authors you know by name. The majority of people know a handful. Chances are the public won’t know your name, much less your face. So I’m rolling the dice on this one.

However, I decided to follow other female authors and initial my first names so my book wouldn’t be disregarded based on bias around author gender. Some prefer to write under their real full name and are hugely successful. But I didn’t feel this was right for me.

And if you’re not sure about writing under your real name or a pen name, then I suggest you ask yourself why you are thinking about writing under a pen name (or your real name). Weigh the pros and cons of both and take the decision that makes you most comfortable. I think it’s a very personal decision and there is no one-model-fits-all. It doesn’t mean you need to publish all your work under that name, but it’s part of your author identity. If you are using a pen name, take the time to find a pen name you really like. I would argue this is more important than the title of your book. You can write many books under one author name, but I haven’t heard of many authors publishing under a new name every time they write a book (but maybe that’s actually very common and working, which is why I haven’t noticed this!)

Another thing to consider is marketing; if you build your network ahead of publishing you need to think about what name you’re using to build a following. It will be harder to use one name for marketing and promotion, and then switch to another name when you publish. This is also to consider if you decide to change your publishing name, or publish under a different name. You may have to recreate a following for that “new” author.

Why you’re never too young to start writing

You may be told you’re too young to write, the argument being you haven’t lived enough so how can you possibly capture the essence of life and pour it into a book that’s meaningful and engaging?

I started at a very young, and when I read what I’ve written back then, most of it is complete garbage. It’s infantile, naive, too quickly paced, too easy, too… too young! But I would never discourage anyone from starting at a young age, nor do I regret starting at a young age. While you may not find anything you’ve written in previous years useful (and conclude it was a waste of time), you still wrote. You thought about plot and characters. You took the time to think about why you want to write and what kind of story you want to write. You let your imagination run free. Maybe you even thought about your competition and read books in your genre to understand what makes a great novel. You’re never too young to start pursuing something you’re interested in, whether it’s writing, acting, directing film, sports or something else.

Even if what you’ve written in your early years turns out to be useless, it is still good practice and you force yourself to establish a routine. It takes a lot of dedication and time to pursue something, and there is no perfect age to start at.

Another important aspect that I realize now, is that when you’re young you have a lot more time available. Even with school, homework and extra-curricular activities, you have a lot of time to explore a creative path. Furthermore, the fact that you live with family means you don’t have expenses to pay for. You don’t have to get a job to pay your rent and food, so you’re freed from obligations you have as an adult.

Writing a book can teach you a lot of valuable skills. It requires not only creativity, but also focus, perseverance, establishing and adhering to a routine, excellent level of grammar & language skills, communication skills, thinking outside the box, research, attention to details, sense or commercialization and entrepreneurship, and many other skills… All qualities that can be useful in many aspects of life. So I would always encourage anyone to write, regardless of age.

How to find the motivation to write

If someone tells me they would love to write a book but they don’t have the time, then I know it’s a daydream and they don’t really want to write one. Because you can always find the time, it’s the motivation that is lacking.

I’m not saying that everyone can spare 10 hours a day writing, or that everyone has the capacity to spare the same amount of time. For a lot of people the idea of writing a book is like the dream to quit your job, buy a boat and then spend the rest of your days sailing the seas and oceans. It’s a fantasy, but nothing that will become reality.

There is no ‘snap your finger’ solution and your book is written for you. The motivation for writing a book comes from setting time aside, sitting down and writing. Even if you sit in front of your computer and you can’t find the words, at least you’re trying [I’ve written a post earlier on how to overcome writer’s block].

Maybe you don’t have a lot of time, but if you can dedicate half an hour over the course of your day to write, well that’s better than nothing! Writing a book takes a long time and many, many drafts. But nothing will happen if you always make excuses and put it off. I’m too tired, my head hurts, the kids are impossible… Some days you will lose the battle; sometimes something does come up and you can’t set the time aside to write. But it’s very easy to say you’ll take a short break, and then it’s summer, you’re going on holidays, then school starts again, it’s someone’s birthday, then Christmas, then New Year’s, then spring cleaning, you move or you start a new job… There is always an excuse and that is where your dedication to the craft will be tested.

The simple truth is you need to put in the hours, put in the effort, and write words on a blank page. And since you’re doing this without getting paid (at least in the beginning) and it takes a long time to see a finished product, it requires even more self-control and dedication to see it through. It can be very frustrating at times. I remember days where I sat for hours in front of my laptop, trying to focus and think of the next chapter, and after hours of pacing in front of the screen, re-reading the last sentences I wrote, reading my ideas and imagining the scene in front of me, I’ve written one single sentence. It’s easy to feel defeated and give up, but that one sentence is one more sentence than you had yesterday and one sentence closer to the end. So you keep going. One sentence at a time.

So what’s the magic formula to find the motivation to write? Sitting down and writing words on a blank page, and keep at it until the book is finished.

Why other authors are not your competition

From the outside it can look like you’re in competition with other authors, but I don’t feel that way. And I don’t think it’s useful to look at other authors as competition, even if they write within your genre.

You can argue that when someone decides to buy a book, they could buy someone else’s book instead of yours, and therefore you’re in direct competition with other writers. But that is just a temporary restriction; a reader may not buy your book that time, but they may buy it at another occasion. And the more people read and buy books, the better it is for all writers because the audience gets bigger.

Most people don’t read books

The number of readers is relatively low. I think a lot of people prefer to watch TV or movies instead of reading a book because it requires more mental engagement. So to me writing has always been about getting more people to read in general, not stealing away readers from other authors. If more people read, then more books will be read by more authors. If a new reader discovers a good book, they may be inclined to read more books by the same author, or read similar books in the same genre by other authors. So you can only win.

Those that do, read lots of books

Most of those that read regularly, read lots of books. Some genres are dominated by a handful of authors, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for you. On the contrary! Sure, most readers have their favorite authors. But that doesn’t mean they won’t ever read anything written by other authors, especially if their favorite author is still working on a sequel or taking some time off. It’s like having a favorite TV show; you will not watch that show exclusively and nothing else ever until you die. You will want to try out other things in the same genre or something completely different, either to wait until the next season comes out, or to mix it up. So once again, you can only win.

And there is also another huge upside; once a book series has ended, those readers will look for the next great series to read and that may be yours. Why then waste your time being bitchy at other authors?

Authors’ advantage

If authors help each other out, and promote newcomers and other authors (even established ones) they really like, it will benefit everyone. You interact with your audience, the readers get to know another author, the other author will be grateful (and may return the favor when he/she is the big shot!) and you create a positive atmosphere for everyone.

For me the author’s community is like a company; there is no point in fighting within our midst since we’re all selling the same product. It’s about working together and promoting the creative writing space as a whole in all its genres, from comic books to poems and everything in between. It doesn’t mean you have to be loyal and defend absolutely everyone. There are “authors” that I don’t think are worthy of that title, but ultimately the readers will decide who they support and buy books from, and as I said above there is no point in tearing each other down. Best case scenario you start a feud with a fellow author and you both lose respect from the audience (because newsflash, everyone can publish a book.). So don’t waste your time on being negative and judgmental, take that energy and do something positive.

Should I publish my book in ebook or paperback format?

While ebook sales are increasing, and there are interesting marketing strategies you can pursue with ebook, I would publish in both formats.

Some people will still prefer a paperback format to an ebook. However, if it’s a question of publishing one or the other, then stick to ebook. If you publish your ebook on Amazon for example you can enroll your ebook in Kindle Unlimited, which can be a marketing tool to get more readers. If you simply publish on paperback format, I found the marketing options more limited (I’m speaking as a self-publisher). The price of a paperback is also higher than an ebook so it’s generally easier to convert new buyers to a lower price than a higher one. You can run offers of free promotions for your ebook, but if you do that for a print book you will have to carry more costs (not only marketing costs, but also printing and shipping costs!).

However, there is something very satisfying about holding your printed book in your hands. And when launching your book, most of the people you know will want to buy a paperback version so you can sign it, at least that was my experience. It also gives potential readers the choice of format. They may buy the ebook first, but they may like it so much that they will buy a paperback version just to have at home and display.

It may cost you a bit more in upfront costs to get a paperback done (you may need higher resolution on your book cover and you need to have a back cover as well as an ISBN number), but it’s worth it in my opinion.

You could also split the launches and do an ebook only launch first, and then a paperback one, which can help you get a bit of momentum going.

When deciding all of this however, you need to think of your target audience. Who is the book directed to? Young Adult? 18+? What is your book about? Is it a horror story or a self-help book? Do some research on your target audience, and check out the competition. You don’t have to do like the competition, but I advise you to at least be aware of the market you’re entering and have a vague idea of what your competition is doing.