Do you ever feel that you spend too much time online? Are you getting as much writing done as you’d like? Do you feel your attention span is suffering? Are your writing sessions fragmented by constantly checking social media?
For that matter, do you ever feel like you could do with a break from both social media and writing?
I’ve been thinking recently about the concept of pressing a reset button. Before social media, there were activities I engaged in regularly that have since fallen by the wayside. And before I joined Twitter, I was getting on with learning new tunes on my wire harp.
Sadly, Twitter put the kibosh on that. In fact, it set me back years. If I’d never gone on Twitter, I would have achieved a lot more. Not just in playing a musical instrument, but in working on my writing, taking rest breaks, and so much more. I used to watch a lot of foreign language films. But after reading stuff online I found I didn’t feel as eager to read subtitles anymore.
When I look back to the 1990s, the distractions of the 21st century just weren’t there.
And it’s not that the internet is completely a bad thing. If you have a hobby you want to take up, there’s loads of useful information. The problem is there’s so much information and options that it can be paralysing.
Social media blockers are great for silencing distractions, but they can also be frustrating in the short term. This is because the pull of social media takes time to resist. I’ve used a three-week blocker in the past – I got a lot more done in that period. Likewise, when I temporarily deleted my Twitter account for nearly 30 days, after the first week it seemed more of a relief than anything.
One thing I decided to try was mentally listing the things I liked doing as a kid. Then I crossed out anything that was no longer feasible or of interest. This took me back to playing a musical instrument, for one thing. It’s not that I want to be a performer. But I do think it’s a great way of switching off the chattier side of the brain. Armed with a wire-strung lyre a relative bought me for Christmas, I’ve been working on the kind of tunes I hope to get back to playing on my harp. The advantage of the lyre is it’s smaller and I keep it beside me when I’m at my desk.
If I want a few minutes break from editing, I pick up the lyre and practise the current tune.
I’m also trying to do more reading for pleasure. Reading fiction is part of my job, which sometimes makes it harder to read books for relaxation.
I’ve returned to daily walks. Sometimes I go out twice a day. There’s nothing like fresh air and exercise. There are other old interests and hobbies I’d like to revisit. But there’s always the same danger of ending up scattered and overloaded.
So, for now, I will pluck the strings of my new lyre and learn some new tunes.
Need a developmental edit or critique?
Otherwise, I am currently coming to the end of two edits, so there’s room in my schedule for new clients. If you fancy an advanced beta read, an opening chapters developmental edit, a full developmental edit, or a manuscript critique, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also edit novel outlines for those who want to plan out their book chapter by chapter before they write out the story in detail.
I once knew a woman who couldn’t go into an LGBT bar on her own. She didn’t even like going in with someone else unless she’d had a drink first. Alcohol became her crutch because she never dealt with the original problem. Which was fear of walking into a social environment alone, and maybe feeling judged and self-conscious.
It was perfectly obvious what the solution should have been – go in alone anyway, without a drink. When you’re so used to doing something, it becomes second nature.
I admit I haven’t quite reached the level of second nature when it comes to marketing myself on social media. I still don’t like it much. There are a number of reasons. For one thing, a site like Twitter is enormously distracting, so it can become counter-productive to spend much time there. I end up forgetting what I was supposed to be doing.
Another thing about social media is that there’s already a lot of marketing there. And if you need to market yourself – a book or service – it can seem almost impossible to post anything that rises above the general noise.
Fear of marketing yourself on social media
There’s also the fear of being annoying – a lot of people don’t like marketing posts. They’re okay in moderation, but in the writing and book end of Twitter, marketing tweets are in abundance. (And this is one reason why if you’re marketing a book, you should have the best cover design, so it stands out from the rest.)
Authors and editors are often fairly introverted people. But if we want to find readers or clients we have to market ourselves on social media. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, or somewhere else, we need to make people aware that we and our work exist.
One of the downsides of being a writer and working with fiction is having an overactive imagination. This means you can dream up all kinds of nightmare social media scenarios that might result from posting. If we take Twitter, it can be a bit of a minefield. It can also be very difficult to get any engagement when you do post. And some of the engagement tactics are not to everyone’s taste.
Follow trains, which can run foul of Twitter’s Terms of Service, don’t appeal to everyone. They can also lead to a lot of notifications. #writerslift hashtags can end up with a long thread of self-promotion, which can be demoralising if you don’t feel your own posts can compete.
You struggle to be heard and you’re ready to throw in the towel. You know you could try other strategies but they don’t always appeal. Like sharing too much about your private life. Or giving too much away about your feelings. Or talking about your opinions or political views.
Posting personal content
It’s true that posting more personal content can allow potential readers or clients to get to know you. This is why a social media account that only posts marketing messages will be harder for others to connect with.
I recently heard about trauma marketing. This is where you use personal trauma to market yourself. This plays to the victim culture that thrives on social media, but it’s also manipulative and drowns out and cheapens serious trauma. Monetising trauma for financial gain and marketing does seem pretty icky – unless it relates to the topic of your book. In which case, it makes more sense.
Imposter syndrome, perfectionism, failure
If you’re struggling to post on social media, you might want to ask yourself why. Are you afraid people won’t notice? If that is your fear, then the worst thing you’d expect is not to get any engagement. Perhaps you suffer from imposter syndrome or perfectionism – you might be afraid to post links to your website because you’re not confident about either your site, your content, or both. This is likely to be even worse when you’re just starting out. But the more you put off posting, the worse your fear will get.
If you avoid posting, you never deal with the problem, and your voice and your work go unheard.
The fear is driven by avoidance of pain
Humans are primarily motivated by two things – pain and pleasure. Pain takes precedence since it’s connected to our survival. If we anticipate pain because a tiger is coming our way, we will work hard to get away. If we anticipate a flame will burn us, we’ll avoid it. If we think a social media post will bring a ton of trouble on our heads, we won’t post it.
Even if we want success, we also fear it. Because we anticipate, rightly, that not everything that comes with it is good. It brings negative attention, extra responsibilities, extra work. It pitches us into situations where we are constantly in danger of failure, complete with an audience to witness our falls.
There’s also the fear of the unknown and the new, the things we’re not yet accustomed to. When it comes to social media, it’s best to jump in and get in the habit of posting. If you write a blog, try doing it often enough and reposting links to older content so you develop a routine. The more you do it, the less painful it should become.
Mix personal and helpful posts between the marketing
It’s also worth mixing up non-marketing posts with personal posts and posts that are helpful and add value for readers. If your posts seem helpful or you show yourself to be helpful to others, they will remember you more and engage with you more often. You can also post fun stuff – if you’re selling a service, your clients need to feel you’re approachable and friendly.
And if you do attract controversy from a post, it’s not always a bad thing. There will always be people who agree with you or who just agree to disagree.
Which platform(s) would suit you best?
There are courses and mentorships you can do on social media marketing. Some are more helpful than others. But it’s worth deciding first what platforms you prefer to use. If you like visual marketing and social media sites, Instagram and Pinterest might be better. Pinterest is the biggest image search engine outside Google, with a higher income demographic.
Twitter is good for microblogging or threading tweets. But it’s also a 24-hour news site, and you will quickly find yourself sucked into staying on the platform for longer than you intended. This is particularly a problem if you struggle to find time for your writing. You don’t need added distractions. Yes, the site has a big writing community, but sometimes that too is a big distraction.
There are also plenty of writing groups on Facebook, plus writers on Instagram. I’m less familiar with these two.
One thing that’s really important to point out here is that spreading yourself too thinly over multiple platforms could be a real mistake. It partly depends on how efficient you are and how well you manage your time. You could use scheduling tools and have particular days you post on a platform. You could use one or two platforms more often and others only once or twice a week.
If you fear posting on social media, ask yourself why. If you’re worried your posts will look silly, there are plenty of silly posts on social media and people aren’t looking for perfection. If you’re worried your blog posts and website aren’t good enough for people to see yet, it’s still worth throwing yourself in there and posting anyway. You could just be suffering from imposter syndrome and some traffic to your site could build up your confidence.
Fear of marketing yourself on social media is no joke. Many business owners are held back by it, never reaching their full potential. The same is true of authors.
One of the most important things is to remember social media is designed to reward users and keep them on the site. It’s meant to be addictive. So, if you’re a writer or you have a small business, you need to be careful you don’t spend too much time there. Social media blockers like Cold Turkey can be very useful in terms of managing your time on these platforms.
Procrastination is a problem that besets most writers at some point. Why is it so hard to sit down and write? Why is it more tempting to rearrange your pencils, tidy your desk, check Twitter or another social media app? All of this has a massive impact on productivity. And since most writers don’t have the luxury of being full time, they have to fit their writing in around other activities, including nine-to-five jobs. This means they have to maximise their writing time. While there are numerous apps that can help with blocking social media distractions, in this post we will look at how you can boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique.
Why do people procrastinate?
But first things first – what is going on with procrastination? It’s a common problem that isn’t just confined to writers.
One sad truth is that while most people dream of success – including writers – they don’t necessarily dream of the hard work that’s involved. It doesn’t help that you hear overnight success stories that don’t always show the long hard slog to get there. Writers are already gifted with imaginations – they can picture the book deal, the reading events, the signings. What they can’t or won’t picture so well is the more monotonous task of writing, rewriting, and editing. It’s solitary work that requires time away from others. And this connects with one of the two main human drives – the desire to avoid pain.
Humans are primarily driven by two things – the desire for pleasure and the desire to avoid pain. Dreams of success relate to pleasure. The hard work and delays relate to pain. Because the work involves sacrifice – you have to give up watching TV and browsing social media. You have to say no to that night out at the pub. It’s not that you can’t have any fun, but writing a book takes a lot of hard work, and the book doesn’t write itself while you’re chatting to people on Twitter.
Success is scary
That brings us to another problem that also commonly hits business owners and freelancers when they’re trying to get off the ground. Success can be desired, but it can also be feared. This is why there can be a lot of self-sabotage going on. You sometimes see writers panicking when their books are about to be published. It’s not that they’ve changed their minds, but as well as the possible success they are facing potential pain in the form of poor sales or bad reviews. They are now committed and there’s no way to back out. If they’re a newer author, it will be all the more intimidating.
And part of this relates to perfectionism. Is the book good enough? Which in turn leads back to pain – will I get bad reviews? Perfectionism can really bog people down, leading to procrastination, never being quite ready, or finding ways to avoid the task. As a writer, you probably know that what you put on paper rarely lives up to what’s in your head. Certainly not in earlier drafts. The frustration of bridging that gap can lead to you putting off the work. You avoid the pain by looking for something more pleasurable instead – like dreaming about your story which is much easier than writing it.
All of this, along with the usual social media distractions, gets in the way of productivity. And if you’re failing to get the writing done, you feel a loss of confidence, and perhaps a sense of failure. This is also counter-productive.
It’s easy to get stuck in a negative loop of endless procrastination.
But there’s another issue too – writing a book can seem like a huge endeavour. Especially when you add in rewriting and editing. To deal with procrastination and the massive overwhelm you might be facing, it’s worthwhile looking at the Pomodoro technique of time management.
Pomodoro – what is it?
Actually, it’s a tomato. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. In the late 1980s, Italian student Francesco Cirillo developed a time-management technique involving a tomato-shaped timer. This technique breaks tasks down into 25 minute time intervals. Each interval is known as a pomodoro – after the timer Cirillo used. These intervals are broken by short breaks of three to five minutes. This makes work more manageable, less intimidating, and more achievable.
Boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique
Here’s an example for writing tasks:
Make sure you have a goal or set of goals you want to tackle in the work session
Decide on what you’re going to tackle – for example, a scene in your book or short story
Set the timer for 25 minutes – this can be any timer, or an Alexa app, or an online timer
Stop working when the timer goes off and if you’ve completed your task, tick it off
If you have fewer than four ticks, take a break of three to five minutes
This break is also timed with an alarm going off to mark the end of the break
Then you return to your task or the next one for another 25 minutes, before another break
You should aim for four 25 minute work periods with breaks in between
After that, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes before starting again
Beware of the social media rabbit hole during breaks
All of this depends on the overall writing time you have to play with. It might be tempting to go and check out Twitter during a break, but this can disrupt your concentration. Once you start checking emails and social media, even if you don’t check it for long, you might take a while to get your concentration back. A short break can lead to lost time that goes well beyond a few minutes. And then you’re staring at the word-processing screen again, frustrated that you can’t get back into your story. Beware of misusing your breaks, unless you are good at managing yourself.
If you finish a task before the end of the 25 minutes, you can use the extra time to review or edit your work.
Set goals, then rinse and repeat
If you’re really stuck for time, you could just do two hours and repeat again the next day. Be sure to set out your goals before you start and check off whether you accomplish them. A rough draft of a scene is a good goal. Reworking dialogue or filling in some location details in a rewrite session is also a perfectly good goal. By breaking writing into chunks of time, the task becomes more manageable. Yes, you should have the longer goal of writing an entire book. But you also have the shorter goal of dealing with it bit by bit.
Examples of a Pomodoro timer
pomodoro.io is a website that offers a Pomodoro timer with the ability to list the tasks you want to tackle.
You can also try out this YouTube Pomodoro timer – the channel has other timers you can check out.
So, you’ve been working on your novel or memoir and now you’re wondering when is the best time for a developmental edit. Maybe you’re even wondering if you need a developmental edit. In fact, that is the best starting point for this topic.
Let’s check your writing background and circumstances.
Let’s take a look at your background and current circumstances. Have a look at these questions:
Are you a beginner writer working on your first piece of writing?
Do you have any experience of writing groups, workshops, or courses?
Have you already had feedback on your writing from anyone likely to give you an honest assessment?
Are you in a hurry to boost your writing skills as opposed to taking your time to learn your craft?
Are you intending to publish your work yourself?
Do you hope to make a career or at least a side gig out of writing?
I could have listed other questions, but I think this is a good starting point.
Beginner writers don’t necessarily need to get a developmental edit on a rougher draft unless they are determined to shorten their learning time, they have the money, are aiming to publish themselves, and don’t have access to writing groups and other feedback.
However, I’m not someone who believes people should be wasting their money on unnecessary services or services they are not yet ready for. So, let’s dig deeper.
Let’s assume you are working on your first book – either a novel or memoir.
Perhaps you don’t have access to a local writing group and you’re not comfortable engaging with online writing communities.
Maybe you’ve tried to join some but you’ve just never found the right one.
Or maybe you’re just shy and hate participating and you prefer to share your work in a more controlled situation.
Developmental editing and manuscript critiques are still not your first option. There are times when they could be, but a beta read or working with a trustworthy critique partner might be a better cost-effective start.
However, if you’ve not had much luck with beta readers, you might be reluctant to go down that path again.
Nevertheless, it could still be worth your while looking for like-minded people online who are interested in your genre, are knowledgeable about it, and reliable enough to give you constructive feedback.
But, for whatever reason, maybe this has not worked out for you or you just don’t want to go down that route. I get it – writers can be introverts. And like creative people in general, they can be wary of sharing their work.
When you need feedback
However, sooner or later, you need feedback. For one thing, bad habits can become engrained and it can become difficult to shake them off. But you also want to know:
Is my work good enough?
Would anyone want to read it?
Might an agent be interested?
What can I do better? Where can I improve?
I have worked with quite a few beginner writers. In those instances, a developmental edit was useful for them because my prices at the time were lower. Some of them said I was cheaper than a writing course.
But I did look at it to some degree as coaching mixed with developmental editing. The aim was to boost their skillset (and their manuscripts) to a whole new level.
But you don’t have to go for a full developmental edit to do this. You don’t even need to opt for a manuscript critique, which is cheaper but usually deals with an entire book.
There are some editors, like myself, who offer opening chapters packages. I offer 15,000 words currently for £150. It’s a flat rate, so you always know what you’re paying.
There are no extra costs.
From a price perspective, it’s more affordable, but it also means a newer writer doesn’t feel as overwhelmed by information and track comments right through the entire manuscript. It allows you to learn with less material.
Some of the things an opening chapters edit will deal with
Your opening hook – do you grab the reader (and why it’s important to do so).
Do your writing style and tone fit the book’s genre (you’d be surprised what can impact this).
Your main character – are they well fleshed out and someone the reader will want to champion for an entire book?
What are your main character’s goals, aspirations at the beginning of the story? What do they want?
Narrative viewpoint(s) – does your point of view choice work in your narrative’s best interests?
Do you have an antagonist or antagonistic force? Who/what is blocking your main character’s goals?
If you have an antagonist, are they a fleshed-out credible character or a two-dimensional baddie with no redeeming features?
How soon does your plot begin? (Hint: it should start pretty soon.)
If you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, do you have a lot of worldbuilding at the outset? (Watch out – this is a pace killer and could leave your reader bailing out before the story is underway.)
Character hierarchy – how many characters do you have, and how many are main characters, secondary, minor, etc? (Remember, the more time you give to minor and secondary characters, the less time you have for the main characters.)
The emotional and psychological dominoes – if something good or bad happens to your character, they should not forget about it by the next chapter. This is a generalisation, but if someone has had a bad experience in real life, it reverberates for days, weeks, even years. (This will be the subject of another post.)
Location: does your novel have a strong sense of place? (Location is more important to some stories than others.)
Do you have either too much or too little dialogue? Do you use dialogue to tell the reader things in a way that’s maybe too obvious and clunky? Is your dialogue the right tone for the scenes?
Do all your characters sound alike? (Do any of them have their own particular speech patterns?)
Is your dialogue correctly formattted? (I’ve seen some odd stuff in my time!)
Pacing – how well does your story move? Too fast? Too slow? The same speed all the way through?
How does your paragraph formatting affect your pacing? (This is a topic I’ll address in a future blog post.)
Are you using unnecessary transition scenes when you could just opt for a jump cut instead?
Your plot structure – even though I only assess the first 15,000 words, I can also give you an idea of what you should be aiming for later on. Especially if you include a synopsis that helps outline the middle and end of your book.
Themes and subjects the opening chapters address – for example, it might be a coming of age story about a young LGBT teen and the challenges they face.
These are only a few of the things that might get looked at in an opening chapters edit. It partly depends on the individual manuscript and the author’s strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t worry, all writers have their weaknesses!
What you get with an opening chapters edit
So, how does all this look in terms of what you get for your £150?
An editorial letter that usually runs to at least a few thousand words.
Track comments in the margins of your manuscript.
A reading list that addresses editorial suggestions and helps you develop your skillset further.
Where relevant, I might include a book map or visual material but not all manuscripts need this.
Email support – I respond to your queries about the edit and will review a small number of short sample rewrites at no extra cost.
A discount on a later manuscript critique or full developmental edit.
The beauty of an opening chapters edit is that it’s not overwhelming, either from the point of view of time, amount of information to consume, or price.
This is also a fast service – you can get your feedback a few days after your booking time.
You also don’t pay the full amount upfront. If I’m booked up, you can pay in three installments, though the payment period is very short owing to the express delivery time. If I’m not booked up, you can pay half in advance and half on completion.
When is the best time for a developmental edit? Whenever you’re ready!
But don’t forget you have writing group and beta reader options first.
You can also try my FREE sample edit if you want to see what a developmental edit looks like.