The fear of losing your imagination

Everyone has something they consider to be their special gift. Maybe it is something you acknowledge privately, or something that everyone knows. Perhaps you are a great communicator, a loving mother, possess green-fingers, or something else.

I consider my imagination to be my special gift. Not that I think I am an amazing writer, or in someway uniquely gifted in this respect. It is more that I cannot imagine what life would be like without my imagination.

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Our mind is a complex creation, filled with nuances and influences, hopes and aspirations. We feed it every second of our waking day, and give it freedom to flow unfretted every night.

But is this gift forever? Can we count on the way that it works now, to always be the same?

Sometimes I wonder if my imagination will abandon me. If I will sit down to write a chapter and get it a terrifying blank. I fear this; really fear this. What if I run out of ideas? What it my enthusiasm flat-lines?

So far this has never happened, and it is always waiting for me in whatever capacity I need.

I truly hope my imagination never leaves me, because it is something that I love, and I know that if it left me, I would miss it very much.

Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us

When we start out in life, we have amazing clarity on what we want to be. Perhaps we want to be a nurse, or a vet, or a firefighter. These simple needs or aspirations that we feel as a child can be forgotten as we grow up, and we loose sight of our deepest sense of purpose. Not everyone can, should, or will be as an adult, the thing we wanted to be as a child. But it is worth exploring this early career ideal though, because it is often surprisingly close to what we want and need as an adult.

This is an old video now, and I first watched it when it came out several years ago.

The concepts explained in this video remain true, and there is a surprising truth about what motivates us.

So, the surprising thing about motivation, is that it is only loosely related to money. We need ‘enough’ money, and once we have enough, our motivation shifts to a different level.

I spend anywhere from 10 hours upwards working on writing in my spare time, many weeks it can be as high as 20 hours. I am not alone in this, and my previous survey confirmed that many of my blog readers, just like me, can spend many hours a week working on their writing projects, with little or no monetary reward.

So why do we do this? Why use our precious time on something that pays so poorly, if it pays at all?

It all comes down to the three pillars of motivation.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.

These are the things we want and crave. These are the things that get us out of bed in the morning, and keep us tapping away at our keyboards late into the night.

Autonomy – This is about the freedom to choose within the bounds of interdependence. In other words, given a set goal or objective, having the freedom to decide for ourselves how best to achieve this can prove to be powerful both to our performance and our overall wellness.

Mastery – We want to improve. This really is the bottom line. Find me a writer who has just written a great book, who doesn’t want to write an even better one next time – enough said.

Purpose – This is our energy, and is derived by connecting our conquest to our higher purpose. I have blogged before about living your life purpose. It sounds like a cliche, but if we know what our life purpose is, and we can find a way to make it a part of our working or home life, then we are well on the way to living a happy, fulfilled life.

For more on the subject see The Three Pillars of Motivation

For more on finding your life purpose see How to find your life purpose

I will leave you with a thought and a question. What did you want to be when you were a child, and does it relate at all to what you are doing now? Can you see any connection between what you love doing now, and what your childhood aspirations were?

15 questions to reveal your ultimate purpose in life

How to achieve your dreams by setting realistic goals

Everyone has dreams and aspirations, places that we want to be physically, mentally, or spiritually that wrap themselves up into this thing called a goal. We all have different degrees of commitment to these goals, and different levels of likelihood in achieving them. For example a 90 year old man may have a dream of becoming a NASA pilot, but this is probably not going to happen in reality. However, a 5 year old kid who is passionate about planes and dreams of being an airline pilot, has every chance of achieving this with the right level of determination, and the mental/ physical capability to back it up. In other words, your goal has to be realistic.

I asked myself what my goals were professionally and personally, and whether I had clearly defined them.

Ok, yes I had.

Then I asked myself how determined I was to achieve this goal, and how likely attainment was to happen.

Ok, yes very determined, and yes, I do believe it is very likely to happen. It was inevitable even.

I found that the more that I thought about it, the more impossible failure seemed.

I have always thought of myself as a person who drifted through life, but I realised that in fact I did not, I simply moved slowly, and with a ‘practical’ and ‘realistic’ lens towards what I wanted to achieve. I was surprised to find that I felt full commitment and determination to achieving my dreams.

So why was I feeling so confident?

If you have never heard of the business motivation model, then it’s something worth looking up. This paper is on the ‘heavy side’ but I will show you some of the high-level principles here which are pretty quick and easy to apply.

There are 4 Major steps to set yourself up for success in achieving your dreams, and I promise these are super easy to do 🙂

  1. Set your Vision and Mission
  2. Establish your high-level strategies
  3. Set high-level goals
  4. Set low-level focus goals

STEP 1: So what is the business motivation model and how does it help us to achieve our dreams?

Well it all centres around what you want to be i.e. your vision or end goal.

Feeding into this is your mission. The mission is the means to your end.

In other words the mission is the shift that needs to happen to take you from where you are now to where you want to be.

So a vision or end state might be

<Be a top 100 author in my sub-genre>

<Be the best pizza company in town>

A mission or means to achieve this might be

<Sell>< my books>< on Amazon>

<Sell><Pizza><City-wide>

<Action> <Product or Service><Market or customer>

mision to vision

See, I told you it was easy 🙂

Now, you are probably thinking, OK that doesn’t help me very much, it’s pretty obvious I am not going to be a top 100 author unless a sell some books.

So this is where we further break the vision and mission down into high level strategies, and goals.

STEP 2: The strategies sit under your vision. They feed up into it. For example to be a top 100 author I will need:

  • a social media strategy
  • a writing skill strategy
  • a reading list strategy
  • a writing strategy
  • a publishing strategy
  • a marketing strategy

If I am going to be a successful writer, I am going to need all of these things for certain. Your strategies stay non specific, or non measurable i.e. they are just a theme we use to base our goals around.

STEP 3: Your goals, sit under you mission, they are measurable, and they are aligned to our strategic themes. This is where we start to see something tangible. The moment you put some numbers against it, you have something to aim at. Some example goals could be:

  • increase your blog following from x to y by z date (for social media strategy)
  • complete a literary writing course by a set date (for writing skills strategy)
  • complete a new book every year (for writing and publishing strategy)

These are all measurable things, tangible things, and clearly defined things.

STEP 4: If you want to, you can break these high level goals down into shorter term or focus goals.

For example if you have a goal to complete a writing course, then you may break this down into the following focus goals:

  • researching courses and finding suitable course
  • booking course
  • attending course
  • completing course modules
  • passing course

There is something quite magical about ticking these short-term goals off. Especially when you are aiming to do something as slow moving and long term as becoming a published author. But with any goal you have in life, it is really important to break-up the bigger task into manageable chunks, so you have the opportunity to stop and appreciate how far you have come at each step along the way.

People who set short term focus goals are much more likely to achieve their high-level goals. Ultimately, they achieve their vision. They stay motivated!

Now, we are getting somewhere! And by now you are probably thinking, why don’t I just get right into setting my goals and focus goals? Why do I need all this vision, mission and strategy stuff.

Well the reason is:

  • Unless we know where we want to be, how will we ever know when we get there?
  • If we don’t have a clear vision of what our success is, there is a real risk we can get sidetracked and end up in a different destination, or worse, simply not get anywhere at all.
  • Life is full of roadblocks that halt progress, and it will be much easier to adapt if you have a clear idea of where you want to be.

As we move through our journey towards achieving our dreams it is important that we make constant checks along the way to ensure we are still on track, and that we are still heading where we intend to. Adjusting the course is easy if you spot when you are drifting off it early on.

SMART Goals – setting up for success

Each goals (whether the high level or shorter term focus goal) should be SMART. Which stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/realistic and Time constrained.

By <DD/MM/YY> I will <do x>

My personal feeling is that if you know what you want to achieve, and you know how to break this down into steps along the way, and you are realistic, you will ALWAYS achieve you ultimate vision.

If you are not a great planner, then this is a really simple way to set yourself up for success.

You can take this further by looking at how you allocate time to each of the goals so you get the right mix of effort against them i.e. it is really easy to loose yourself in social media to the detriment of actual writing! I know busy authors who keep a tight schedule to make sure they give each of their strategies the right amount of time. I will look at this in the next post.

Why writing a book is like creating a parallel universe #amwriting #writerslife

Choose your own outcome…

When I was little there was a children’s book I read, and in the book you got to choose what happened next. Such books were not new then, and they are still around now. I saw an adult version of this not very long ago. You know the kind…

Lots of exciting stuff has happened…do you:

  • Open the door – go to page 64
  • Turn around and walk away – go to page 72

This got me thinking about the writing process, and how, when we write, we sit out of time, as if we are sitting on the edge of countless parallel universes.

Nobody knows the exact way the book will turn out when they start to write. Writers are always talking about the way characters can surprise them, or how the story can twist unexpectedly. Our imaginations, our life journeys, our jobs and the people we spend time with can all impact the words we write on the page.

In what other ways, do we the writer, impact the story?

What if we sit down to write a chapter today, would it be the same chapter if we wrote it tomorrow instead? Would it be close, slightly different, or very different? And if it was different, could it shape the entire rest of the book?

Hence my parallel universe reference.

It’s a little mind blowing to think that if you sit down at your keyboard you may write a scene in a completely different way just because you are feeling particularly happy or particularly sad. And what if the phone rings and interrupts you, and when you come back you have decided that a character needs to die, or fall in love, or something else that you had no inkling of before.

It’s in that moment when you decide to stop writing, when you move away from your keyboard for whatever reason, must a new parallel universe inevitably pop up? Like a deck of cards on endless shuffle, or a kaleidoscope shifting sand, you never know exactly how the dice are going to fall until they do fall, or in writing terms, you sit back down at your computer. And when you do everything has shifted and you sit down to a different place and a different head space.

Every time we write a story, we could have written a million more.

Would those other variations have been better or worse or just different?

Life too, is full of choices and the consequence of those choices impact everything that comes after, so it seems only fair that our fictitious worlds should be subject to the same whims.

We might think that there are a million stories or a million lives we could have lived, but ultimately there is only one story, just as there is only one passage through our life, and that is the one we choose to write.

Building conflict – the dastardly life of a writer #amwriting #writerslife

I’m with Bugs Bunny every time. Well, maybe not necessarily the swift part, I’m okay with revenge of all kinds in a book.

And so should every writer be

Building conflict is a natural part of writing. Take every opportunity to drive a little more drama for our heroes and heroines. Explore every option to pile on the pressure, take away safety nets, and keep your readers guessing at motives and intent.

It isn’t always easy to provide surprises, but that doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for the reader. As the saying goes the first draft is you telling yourself the book. Once you know the way the story will play out, walk through again and generously sprinkle red-herrings, weave subterfuge, and turn up the heat.

Yes, we need the balance of the good, the empathetic, and the kind, but they will shine so much brighter if you dump a little darkness on the other end of the scale.

Surprise yourself with just how dastardly you can be.

Cultivate a ‘What if’ mentality.

  • What if I pull this leaver?
  • What if I break that?
  • What if he is lying?
  • What if she is telling the truth?
  • What if I take away this?
  • What if this happens?
  • What if this doesn’t happen?

You’re a writer,  you need to give your inner bastard some air time.

Be mean. Be cruel. Be utterly wicked.

Think of the worst possible thing that could happen. The thing you would dread. The thing that would make you yell ‘NO’ if it happened to you.

And then do it.

And then do it again.

Happy writing conflict 😈

What it feels like to write a book #writing #writerslife #amwriting

How I feel when I start

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How I feel when I finish my first draft

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How I feel when I read my first draft

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How I feel when I start editing

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How I feel when I finish editing

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How I feel when I ask someone to read it

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How to turn ideas into a story #amwriting #writing

As the saying goes, stories don’t just write themselves, which means that you, the writer, need to put some effort into the process if you want those wonderful ideas to become a book.

How do you turn ideas into a story?

And where do you start?

Firstly, you need to start is by writing. Some people talk about world building, or scene setting. Some people talk about characters. Some people start with a plan.

I say, ditch all of the above and just jump straight into writing.

Why?

Because until you jump in you don’t really know where your idea is going to take you. Whether it is a single scene or an epic ending, it doesn’t matter just write it down.

Some people get very fixated on where to start, as if you cannot begin unless you have a firm container in which to place the story.

Writing doesn’t need a container. It just needs a writer and an idea.

When a writer begins writing, something magic happens. They start thinking about what happens before the seed idea, and what happens after…and what happens much later…and what happens much earlier. And before you know it, a rough timeline of events is established.

None of this happens until you begin to write so don’t feel you need a plan, or a character profile, or a fully fleshed out world before you can begin. You will need all of these things, but not right now. Now is for fun, and for playing and testing your idea.

Some of these new ideas will become backstory that may be discarded later on.

Some of the ideas may not fit in with the overall story as you fill in the gaps, and you may discard them too.

Once you have enough ideas, or scenes, you can plan, and flesh out character profiles, and worlds, or locations if need be…but not until you have enough ideas to at least hint at a story.

Ideas do not always become a full story, so don’t feel bad if you try and then find it goes nowhere.

Keep thinking, keep generating and testing ideas. The more you practice writing and using your ideas, the more ideas will come. Eventually one of them will become a story, a real story, a full story.

And that’s when the real writing begins 🙂

Binge writing, Fast drafting & NaNoWriMo #amwriting #NaNoWriMo #writer

So it’s that time of year again where writers all over the world enrol for the National Novel Writing Month.

If you haven’t given it a go, it’s simply a month were you challenge yourself to write 50K of words. Whether it is a 50K novel or 50k towards a novel, doesn’t really matter. You sign up, you commit, and all you need to do at the end of the month is paste your 50k into the site to receive your certificate.

If you’re interested in learning more you can check out their site here.

https://nanowrimo.org


If you are looking for a little help preparing, here is a great article I came across a few days ago. Some great tips on getting your draft out whether you are taking part in NaNoWriMo or not.

What I Learned From Binge-Writing Nine Bad Novels


And if you are looking for a few tips on fast drafting…

Six Secrets to Drafting a Novel – Fast!

If you want to get your novel DRAFT out FAST, here are my top six tips to help you on your way.

  1. Planning. I am the original anti-planner. I hate the constrictive, creativity stifling, and passion killing thought of planning…but…a little planning goes a long way. You don’t need to go crazy and have every single scene detailed before you start, but you do need a skeleton.

Deviating from said skeleton is all part of drafting; so don’t let yourself feel in anyway constrained just because you have a plan. There is no doubt about it though; planning works, and the upfront investment will make writers block and endless story syndrome a thing of the past.

2. Don’t Edit. And when I say don’t edit, I mean DON’T EDIT AT ALL. Sorry shouting and all that, and I am really shouting at myself because I am the world’s worst edit-as-I-go-er. It’s the perfectionist in me peeking out again, better get a whip and a chair to that little monster!

It’s soooo hard not to edit, because the moment you read it, it looks like crap, and you immediately think you are a terrible writer, and that chapter will never work. STOP. It will work just fine…when you edit, which is LATER. So, no peeking, not even a little peek, let it go and move on to the next chapter.

3. Don’t think just write. What? Ok, it’s maybe more…don’t think too much.

Even with a plan, and knowing what the chapter is going to be about, and having a house completely free of interruptions, and your favorite music on, and a coffee at your side…you sit there and your head is blank. The endless procrastination kicks in, you check Facebook, Twitter, you read the news, make a cup of coffee…again. You write a few words and then delete them, and then a few more…and delete them. Sound familiar?

That’s because you’re actually thinking too hard. Yep I know, that sounds like reverse logic because how can you think too hard. It’s not a myth; I do it all the time. It’s not writers block either; so don’t panic. It’s more like…temporary amnesia about what that keyboard thing is for. Either you can’t start writing at all or when you do write you have an overwhelming urge to hit delete.

This is where the stop-thinking bit is really important. Just start the scene, even if you know it’s crap, even if you know you are going to delete the whole first paragraph, because something amazing happens once you get past a few sentences without hitting delete…it all starts pouring out and you remember that there is a connection between the brain and the keyboard, its calling fingers, and wow, they work!

4. Killing the people who interrupt you. Yes, I know it’s not practical, and hiding a body is so hard, but hey sometimes it’s got to be done. Just kidding, you can’t really kill the people who interrupt you, but you can think about it in glorious detail!

Interruptions are a fact of life, and they only interrupt you because they love you so much…or they want to be fed, or they can’t find that . I find meditation, and practicing breathing techniques really works…yes I’m just kidding about that too…nothing works, either get a lock for your door and fit soundproofing so you can’t hear them screaming at you, or just build a bridge and move on.

5. You are going to chop out some the work you write. Gasp! No! Yep, it’s going to happen. Remember in point 2 where I said don’t worry if it looks like crap it will all work out fine in the end? I lied. Some sentences, paragraphs, and yes, even whole scenes will meet a fate worse than death, discarded for ever to your clipping folder where you retain them in the misguided hope they will be reused or reinserted later. They won’t be, but it’s Okay to keep them, I do.

Now, you may be wondering how knowing that a scene may later be chopped is going to help you write quickly because now you are feeling pretty depressed and not at all motivated to write quickly, but here’s the catch, would you rather spend ages over-editing a scene, or procrastinating writing it, and then delete it? Nope, I certainly wouldn’t.

I have lost count of the number of beautifully written sentences or scenes that simply had to go. Sometimes you just need to get the whole story done before you can be truly objective enough to see what needs to stay and what needs to go, and the less time you spend getting to this stage, the better.

6. Use word count targets. Love ’em or loath ’em, word count targets work, especially when you are drafting. Goal setting is written about, talked about, and well established as the single most important part of achieving ‘stuff’. If your goal is to write a book, you need to give yourself targets on the way to keep motivated.

Didn’t hit your target today? So what, there are plenty of days where you don’t make as much progress as you wanted too, and some days you make no progress at all. Celebrate the good days, and move on past the bad days, and remember that any words written at all is a step closer to completion! (Unless you end up deleting it as I mentioned in point 4…but we are not going to think about that during the draft)

I have been writing long enough to know roughly what I can write in a day, or an evening if it’s a work day, so I build my daily count around that. I LOVE seeing how I am progressing. Scrivener has this little happy ‘bong’ and a popup telling you well done when you hit your daily target. I LOVE that. I also love hitting book milestones like the quarter point, the half way, the three quarter, the finish, the editing…I break absolutely everything up into little micro targets, and this provides an amazing sense of movement and progress.

Writing a book takes FOREVER, so keeping the motivation up and sense of achievement high will get that draft finished in super fast time.

7 Tips on writing your first book #amwriting #writing

Many people aspire to write a book, and most have no idea where to start. There are many ways to become a writer, but they all come down to one important activity…

Tip 1: Write stuff…

I am a great believer in not trying to eat the whole elephant. If you want to be a writer, and to write a book, you have to start by writing stuff. Unconstrained, nonsense, and whatever pops into your head. Try different genres and styles. Try for something short, and then try for something long.

After about 20 years of doing this…just kidding! After doing this for a while, which will be different for every writer, you start to get the hang of writing, and something interesting starts to unfold…which is usually a story idea.

Tip 2: When you get a story idea…

Create: Verb. The act of banging your head on the desk until something interesting pops out.

Maybe you have spent a bit of time at Tip 1, playing about with ideas before you find something that might work out into an actual story.

Or maybe you are the sort of person who wants to jump straight in at Tip 2 because you already know a story and you are chomping-at-the-bit to get it down. Let’s PAUSE. If this is your first ever story idea treat it as a bit of fun, and don’t be too disheartened if it becomes nothing more than ‘Tip 1 -stuff’ that ultimately you discard.

However you find yourself at Tip 2, there is no point in holding back. Write it, or plan it then write it, whatever works for you. One of two things will happen at this point:

  • You realise this is a GREAT story idea and that it will pan out into an awesome book
  • You get bored and realise it was FUN but it’s not worth pursuing, or not at this time, because you have just had another story idea that might be better still.

Tip 3: When you get an awesome story idea…

When you get an awesome story idea

Usually you know when an idea for a story is something worthy of pursuit. Now you have to decide whether you need to plan or not. Planning is a matter of personal taste, some people swear by planning, some people loath it with the enthusiasm of a dental appointment.

For planning: People who get the most out of planning are the people who suffer from writers block. If you are the kind of person who finds themselves hemmed in when writing, or not sure what should happen next, planning is GOOD for you. It lets you nut out all the problems upfront so you don’t waste time on something that will go nowhere. Better to tackle all the blocks now than write 30k of words and discover you just don’t have a solution to a key plot point.

Against planning: People who never run out of ideas, who are always chasing the next shiny notion…and could simply write forever! If this is you STOP, and go back to the planning. This may sound harsh, but people with too many ideas suffer from a completely different problem to those who suffer from writers block, and that is what I refer to as ‘Infinite Story Syndrome’ also known as the ’10 book saga’. There is nothing wrong with ten book sagas I love ’em myself. But each book needs a level of conclusion and a little bit of planning, even for the idea masters, goes a long way to getting a good first book.

PS. There is a happy medium..and yes planning will help them too.

Tip 4: Get feedback sooner rather than later…

Writers helping writers

A trusted friend or confidant is what every writer needs. Someone to sanity check your idea to make sure it’s not a complete dud. Once it is drafted look for beta readers. They will be delighted to pick holes in your plot and make it stronger in doing so.

Tip 5: There is nothing wrong with trying…

sleeping writer

I must have a couple of hundred story ideas floating about in bits, scribbled dialog, plot points, and random chapters. All of which were great for my ‘Tip 1-Write Stuff’. I only finished 3 books completely to the draft stage. It was the 3rd one I decided I liked enough to edit, and I am now about to publish. The first 2 drafts—I am going to abandon—and I feel no guilt in that.

I have subsequently finished writing the next 3 books in the series. I spent a lot of time ‘writing stuff’, playing about with ‘story ideas’ and I even drafted a couple of ‘awesome story ideas’ into a full novel, before I found a book I felt worthy of publishing, and I don’t regret any of this time. It helped me to find my writers voice. I had fun. It gave me confidence.

Tip 6: Quality is never a waste of time…

characters for your book

I learnt a massive amount about quality by having my book professionally edited…grammar is definitely not my strong point! A writing course if you can afford it is worth while, but otherwise there is a ton of fantastic free information on the internet, and plenty of great books you can buy to improve your skills that way. No time spent on improving your writing quality is ever wasted time.

Tip 7: Simply read…

The last tip goes without saying…but just in case…when you settle on a genre, read it—a lot.

More more posts on writing…

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 1

Six secrets to drafting a novel – fast!

How to generate new story ideas

Love Sci-fi and fantasy fiction?

Get Divided Serenity out now on all Amazon stores, and free with Kindle Unlimited.

What I learned by publishing a book. #writing #books #publishing #amwriting

Letting go is hard. No matter how much time you spend revising, or how many rounds of editing, your book will never be good enough for your satisfaction. When you do publish, you will almost certainly receive new feedback that you wish you had known before. You will need to accept that your book can always be better, but that ultimately there needs to be a point where you do let it go. The struggle for perfection is what writing is all about.

You will receive support from unexpected places. The people who take the time to read the whole book and give you their feedback are little gems. The ones who tell you if they liked it, and even if they don’t. Surprisingly, you will learn most from the less than perfect reviews, will see how you can improve, and what to look for next time around. And the people who tell their friends they loved it, there is a special place in bookish heaven for them.

That first review on Amazon or Goodreads will change your world. The idea that anyone at all could think your book is worthy of reviewing is a bit of a revelation. That this person is a complete stranger who has taken the time to read your whole book will fill you with such motivation that you cannot wait to get back to your keyboard and write some more.

It’s different on the other side. Once you publish a book, you never feel quite the same. If you love writing, then publishing is the ultimate achievement. You can’t wait to publish some more, to write better, and to move onward. Not everyone will love your work, or even like it, and it’s certainly not going to be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but those that do enjoy your story will make those thousands of hours you spent worthwhile.

Most people don’t get how much time you spend crafting your book. Many can guess that you spent a lot of time writing the book, but what they don’t realize is that writing a book is only the start. For every hour you spend writing, you spend ten more editing it through various iterations. And then you will edit it some more!

You’re never going to be rich. Your non-writer friends might have a strange notion that you will make some money when you publish a book. You won’t make any money, not even enough to cover your costs, not with the first one, or the second one, but you might start to turn the tide later down the track.

Beta readers make a book. Those amazing people who are prepared to tackle your novel in its less-than-perfect state will help you find that final 10%. They can spot plot holes, anomalies, and the little gremlins that sneak in. And they will also tell you if they enjoy parts, or even when something made them smile 🙂 There is no better motivation than a beta reader giving you the thumbs up!