From Simon: There are a few people who I go back on forth with via email regularly. John and I have been chatting on several topics for a few months, and when I announced I was opening up RSP to guest posts he jumped on board. As well as being a talented writer, he has a fantastic sense of humor, which shines through in this post about getting through blocks. Over to John…
You can listen to an audio reading of this podcast if you like! Just click play in the player below.
It was July 4th, 2013, Independence Day, when I published my first novel, Kick. While most Americans were shaking their fists in the direction of Buckingham Palace shouting, “Damn you tyrants, we shall fight you in the streets,” I was logged into KDP, struggling with how to unleash my typing practice on the unsuspecting masses. A heady experience, and deeply intoxicating. I knew when the money started rolling in I’d be able to quit my job and worry about the important things, like which color Lamborghini best matched my rakish personality, or how many crusts of bread to toss to the peasants from my palatial estate.
Time passed, and four months later I was still working my day job. I still drove a Toyota, and I didn’t have any peasants to throw crusts of bread at. I was not an overnight success. The book got some nice reviews after I did my KDP Select free days, and that was cool. Very cool. But when the free days were over, you couldn’t find Kick on Amazon unless you ran a search for: “crap nobody cares about.”
I later learned I had to keep writing if I want to make it, and that the breakthrough novel was little more than a legend whispered among grizzled veterans in backwater critique circles.
One thing about the reviewers: many of them wanted a sequel. I didn’t have a sequel. The way I saw it, hadn’t I done enough already?
So there I was four months later, trying to write the Great American Sequel…and the words wouldn’t come. Where before I could write so fast my hands hurt at the end of a session, now I was lucky to get a hundred words out in a day. I tried all the various tricks to get the words flowing again, but none of them worked. So what, exactly, was wrong with me?
In no particular order, I’ll tell you:
- Laziness – in all honesty I did not try the various tricks to get the words flowing again, not very hard at least.
- Laziness – fear of failure after book one got so many great reviews, three of them Vine Voice. Now I had to live up to that by publishing an equally enjoyable book two.
- Laziness – why waste my time writing book two when book one still hadn’t caught fire?
- Laziness – I’d expected it to be easier this time, and when it wasn’t, I gave up and played video games, scrolled Facebook, and came up with new ideas for other books rather than deliver what I needed: a sequel.
- Laziness – worrying I was a one trick pony, that I only had one story in me, and that I’d somehow gotten lucky in stringing 87,000 words together those many months ago, but that it would never happen again.
The truth is, I’d worked very hard for those 87,000 words, and I’d forgotten what it took to do a good job and complete a project: hard work, struggle, and nigh self-destructive tenacity. The kind of tenacity my ancestors showed when they threw off the yoke of British oppression more than two hundred years ago…
And yet despite all this negative stuff—this paralyzing stuff—I sit here at 5:56 a.m. sipping my coffee and writing this essay on writer’s block and how I’d overcome it.
So how did I get serious? How did I fix this horrible problem of laziness?
This was the biggest hurdle for me to cross, because I’d never even suspected I had a laziness problem. In truth, I probably would have gone on blissfully unaware—playing video games and checking Facebook and telling people I was a writer—but then a wonderful, magical, marvelous thing happened: my work gave me an iPhone.
I’d never listened to podcasts before and thought it might be fun to play one during my long commutes to and from work. Then I figured, “Hey, I’m a self-publisher, why not find some cool self-publishing podcasts?” I found them—RSP was the first one I tore through, listening to every one. Then came Johnny, Sean and Dave’s podcast, Joanna Penn’s podcast, and more recently a cool podcast by Armand Rosamilia. A few weeks ago, I added another one called the “Sell More Books Show.” I plan to add more.
These shows featured all kinds of people doing what I wanted to do: be a successful self-published author. And though the interviewees were all unique, writing different things, they had one thing in common: they worked their asses off. They were serious, dedicated, and many of them seized with nigh self-destructive tenacity. They wrote thousands of words a day, tens of thousand a month. They were constantly moving, trying, learning, evolving. They didn’t moan about Amazon’s evil algorithms in public forums. They didn’t wake up every night screaming “Sparkly vampires! Sparkly vampires!” These folks were way too busy making money and having fun.
By about the third RSP episode I listened to, I was stunned. I was on fire. The change in me was absolutely electric. All I wanted to do was write—to join these men and women at the front of the line trailblazing a new era in publishing.
The self-publishing podcasts were but the beginning. The other thing I did was go back and actually read Russell Blake’s blog series, Author Myths 1-3, and his various articles on what he did to, in his words, “Sell loads of books.” But I didn’t stop there. I became inspired by some other, less well-known, authors who publicly expressed their writing goals and then said whether they’d been successful or not. P.T Hylton’s short, weekly videos, showed an audacious young writer who matter-of-factly stated his goals for the year and then backed them up with verifiable word counts. Kristine McKinley, a self-styled “Newbie Writer,” posted her monthly word counts with an additional line titled, “Days I didn’t write but should have.”
Buoyed by all this audacity and hard work going on everywhere but my own house, I did a number of things to rectify the situation:
- I told my wife, “I’m going for a walk.” Then I walked around my neighborhood about five times, brainstorming a basic plot I could get behind.
- While writing book two, I began posting my weekly word counts on my blog, with a goal of hitting a thousand words a day. If I met or exceeded my goals, I posted a picture of Ralphie from The Christmas Story. I also told my readers that if I failed I’d post one of Scut Farcus (he has yellow eyes, so help me God!).
- I listened to the entire backlog of Rocking Self-Publishing podcasts on my daily commute, then added those other podcasts, too.
So here are the results:
- The walk around the neighborhood did wonders: I came home with a frail, fragile, plot. But it was enough to get me started, and I desperately needed to get started. That original plot, incidentally, looks very different from the work I finally produced.
- I met or exceeded my weekly word count goals every week. I was actually disappointed that I never got to post a picture of Scut Farcus. He’s so evil…
- After listening to winners and hard workers on the drive home every day, I arrived from my long day of work for a long evening of work, often typing away until after midnight.
- I finished the first draft of Fool’s Ride, my second self-published novel, in about two-and-a-half months of very, very hard work.
For me, these were all great results. But am I happy? Sort of. The work isn’t done—I have to write book three. I have to sell books one and two.
After another month-and-a-half of editing and working with beta readers, book two is finally out. But as of October 21st, it isn’t selling zillions of copies. The old me would have been paralyzed with sadness and negativity. Instead of that, the new me went out and landed a Bookbub promotion in November.
Other changes were also necessary: the new me listened to my angry wife, who’d gotten tired of seeing me sitting in my chair every night writing past midnight instead of being there for her. Now I do my writing in the early morning so I can have a more balanced home life.
I look forward to the day when the new me simply becomes the “me me.” Despite the lessons learned, I’m still afraid of falling back into the trap of negativity and laziness. I love writing, I love having written, and I love being part of this great movement in publishing history. And Honey, if you’re reading this, I love you too.
I want it all.
John L. Monk lives in Virginia, USA, with his wife, Dorothy. A writer with a degree in cultural anthropology, he moonlights as a systems administrator by day and Honey-do consultant on the weekends. You can check out his excellent blog, with lots of good reads for writers, here.