How (and Why) I Will Finish Writing a Novel in 2019

finish writing a novel

 

 

Why make it a goal to finish writing a novel? The quote below explains why Wyl Menmuir and I are into the whole novel-finishing thing.

Q:What made you decide to start a novel?

Wyl: I read somewhere that action tends to happen when the fear of not doing something overtakes the fear of doing it. That was true for me – I’ve wanted to write a novel for as long as I can remember and I’d reached a point where I realised if I didn’t just sit down and do it, I’d end up as a frustrated would-be novelist rather than someone who had at least given it a good shot. The other side of it was about knowing I had the right story to tell.  

Yes! EXACTLY THAT.

Menmuir is an English writer whose debut novel The Many was longlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize. He achieved his goal, and he’s on the other side now.

I’m a professional writer (of nonfiction) with a Big Goal for 2019: I will craft a novel from some ideas that have been swirling around in my head for years and years and years.

By the way, I don’t know Menmuir. I just read his quote, and it was like a cartoon anvil swung into my head.

Strategies

I also liked reading his article How to Finish a Novel, where he talks about the tools he used to write, and finish, his novel. He was very strategic. He used software that blocked his social media access; a word tracking app; set daily goals, and more. It worked for him.

Ninja Writer Shaunta Grimes also recently wrote something interesting about why you should finish writing a novel, if that’s your thing. She wrote, “A finished manuscript, whether that’s a novel or a blog post or a social media post for a client, is pretty much the only hard MUST. We all know of writers who make boatloads of money off of poorly written crap—but all of those writers finished writing the thing.

Of course, she’s right. Whether it’s an, um, “valiant effort” or a brilliant masterpiece, you have to finish it or there’s zero chance of publication or boatloads of money.

I don’t know that I can write a novel that’s brilliant (or even valiant), but at the least, I will have succeeded in completing my “practice novel.”

An Eye-Opener

I also admit to being slightly fascinated with an idea I got from Gretchen Rubin, who does the podcast Happier. It made me realize why I have been finding it so difficult to finish a personal writing project.

Rubin says people fall into one of four personality types regarding how they respond to the idea of a rule, whether it’s internal or external. She calls these personality types the “four tendencies.”

  • Upholder
  • Questioner
  • Obliger
  • Rebel

Knowing which one you (or the people around you) are helps you answer the question, “How do I get people—including myself—to do what I want?” She wrote a whole book about this and it’s interesting.

I’m not one to follow every pop-psych trend, but what she was saying made sense to me, and so I took her online quiz. I learned I am an obliger.

Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.

Obligers meet outer expectations just fine (give me an assignment and a deadline, and I will meet it), but resist inner ones (even when I very much want to finish writing and revising a novel, I don’t).

The answer for us obligers, says Rubin, is to create systems of external accountability.

It makes so much sense. It was the cartoon anvil to the head again. It’s why, for instance, I take regular walks every week. Though I like walking by the ocean, I only go because my friend Angie is waiting for me.

To finish writing a novel, I need external accountability. That’s why I’m going to keep writing about my 2019 writing goals and how I’m doing with them. Because it makes me feel accountable.

I feel like I have people expecting me to achieve these goals now. And I meet external expectations.

Here we go!

Please note this post contains affiliate links.

 

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New Year’s Goal: Finish My Writing Projects in 2019

 New Year's Goal

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Do you have a New Year’s goal? I have big plans for 2019.

This is going to be the year I make it happen. I’m going to finish some personal writing projects I’ve been working on for way too long without completing, and take each to its next steps.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” – Neil Gaiman a.k.a. @neilhimself

I’m also going to do it “out loud.” I’m going to write here about the routines, processes, and other tricks that help me finally get these writing projects to the finish line.

What exactly does my New Year’s goal include?

  • I’m going to finish a novel I’ve been working on and take it to the next step.
  • I will finish a non-fiction book I’ve already started, self-publish it, and start on number two.
  • I will also finish at least two essays and submit them.

Subscribe to these posts if you’d like to see how this all plays out in 2019 (I’m curious, too).

The difference between my day job and personal writing projects

I don’t have any trouble finishing things in my “day job.” I have a business writing and ghostwriting for brands, agencies, magazines, and publishers about technology (especially hospitality tech), travel, tourism, and Hawaii, where I live.

Those projects come with deadlines, and that makes it easy.

Writing projects I do for myself, on the other hand—ones that no one expects me to send them by a specific date—are harder, even though they are so satisfying when I do actually work on them. There are always so many other things that need to be done, and I get distracted.

That is why the New Year’s goal. Not only am I going to figure out the resources, processes, and other tips that help me keep going and finish my writing projects, I’m also announcing it and blogging about it, so I have some external accountability to help me along. Knowing people will be reading about what and how I do makes me sit up a little straighter.

Do you have a creative project you’re going to make happen in 2019? Comment about it here, if you like. Or just decide on a goal, and, you know, make it happen.

Perhaps some of my processes will work for you, too. Worst case scenario? Maybe I will prove to be a cautionary tale. (Although I really, really hope not.)

I’ll talk to you again soon, and Happy New Year!

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Thumbs Up to Podcast for Creative Entrepreneurs

I’ve discovered a fairly new podcast, 21st Century Creative, by the British “creative entrepreneur” Mark McGuinness. There are just 10 episodes online so far, and I am blazing through them.

Leslie Lang recommended podcast

Between breakfast and sitting down to my desk this morning, as I quickly scrubbed the walls behind the old refrigerator in preparation for the new one that arrives tomorrow, I listened to the episode Designing a Global Small Business with guest Laurie Millotte. She spoke about how she runs her successful design business while traveling the world, and the challenges and many rewards of such a life. So much more interesting than scrubbing a wall (although I’m sure she sometimes does the equivalent; successful creative people, like everybody else, do whatever needs to get done) and so inspiring.

On a round-the-world trip, Laurie spent time in Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Hawaii, Mexico and other countries. And not only did she manage to keep running her existing design business from her laptop, she designed and created an entirely new business – Outshinery.

Outshinery takes a new approach to product photography for the wine and beer industries, using 3D digital technology to create images without the hassle of shipping bottles of alcoholic liquid to photographers’ studios. It means they can deliver ‘bottle shots before the wine is bottled’.

The Outshinery team are spread across 3 continents and 4 office spaces, but use technology and teamwork to get things done together.

If you’re curious about the idea of combining exotic travel with your creative work, or if you’re a creative service provider who would like to have more income and impact without having to work longer and longer hours, you’ll find this an eye-opening and inspiring conversation.

Working While Traveling, or Being a Creative Entrepreneur

I’ve submitted freelance work from a friend’s family’s 16th-century villa in Florence, from New York City while attending the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference, from a trampoline park in Seattle, a row house in London and various airports and airplanes. But this woman definitely wins.

I am definitely one to combine travel with my creative work, though right now I’m hunkered down because of my child’s school schedule. But we go when we can.

One of the ways I make that happen is by taking advantage of credit card travel miles. How to do that is fully explained in this free travel rewards course (one email/ day for a week) at TravelMiles101.com. (I’m not affiliated; I just read the emails, learned a lot and have been traveling more, and cheaper, ever since!)

Season One of the 21st Century Creative

“In which we identify the big challenges and opportunities for 21st century creatives, discover that fiction is often truer than truth, explore the virtual worlds of the future, resist the seductions of email, and reconnect with our authentic voices.”

21st Century Creative logoEpisode 1: The Power of Community for Creative Professionals with Scott Belsky

Episode 2: Truth and Fiction with Steven Pressfield

Episode 3: How Virtual Reality Will Shape Our Future with Fabrice Bourrelly

Episode 4: Designing a Global Small Business with Laurie Millotte

Episode 5: The Successful Creative Mindset with Joanna Penn

Episode 6: Say Less, Ask More and Communicate Better with Michael Bungay Stanier

Episode 7: Kill Email Anxiety and Do More Meaningful Work with Jocelyn K. Glei

Episode 8: The Floatation Tank – a Short Cut to Your Superpower? with Nick Dunin

Episode 9: Freeing the Natural Voice with Kristin Linklater

Episode 10: Creating a Job that Doesn’t Exist with Aileen Bennett

McGuinness is now working on Season Two of his creativity podcast. He says he’s open to suggestions for topics, by the way. I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with.

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New Writing Goals: Set in Concrete

diablo lake cascade mountains

Two days after we returned from our last-minute, end-of-summer vacation, my daughter was back in school and I was back to work with some new writing goals. I settled back into my home office with the renewed vigor and enthusiasm that comes of going out into the world and experiencing different places, people and ways of life, and then returning home to appreciate your own familiar routines with a fresh eye.

And, it turns out, with a bit of a spring in my step. In addition to the freelance content marketing writing I do, I came home excited to revisit some of my creative roots, such as essay writing.

Long ago, I launched my freelance writing career by selling an essay about how many Hawaii graduates wear congratulatory flower leis stacked to their eyebrows. I sold it as a personal commentary to NPR’s All Things Considered and it was my first-ever freelance sale. I sold, and voiced, a couple more essays after that. Later I did several commentaries specifically for Hawaii Public Radio. I’ve published essays elsewhere, as well, but not for years. Life and work got busy and I got out of the habit.

Suddenly, surprisingly, ideas are again leaping out at me, so many that I am carrying around a yellow composition book to catch them.

I also want to get back to writing books. I’ve written a couple books that publishers approached me about, but now I’m ready to focus on my own books. One of the things I’m sure about in life is that if I don’t write the books I have inside me, I’ll regret it.

Fresh Start, New Goals

The start of a new school year feels like exactly the right time to add these writing goals to my plate. It’s astonishing to me that school here starts at the beginning of August, and that they call it “fall semester” with a straight face. Maybe that’s why this summer zipped by before I got around to planning our vacation.

I booked our quick, last-minute trip to Seattle, chosen partly because we get tired of being hot all the time and expected cooler weather there. It turned out to be unseasonably warm, but our five-day getaway was great nonetheless.

writing goals

We stayed with one of my favorite cousins, and kept stopping at fruit stands for delicious peaches, nectarines and Rainier cherries like we cannot get at home. I loved catching up with my cousin and his family, and stuffed myself with too much ripe sweet fruit, and then I ate more.

We drove over the bridge at the northernmost end of beautiful Whidbey Island and spent a whole day cruising down the long, narrow island. It was fun to poke around in the island’s galleries and bookstores and see its cute, wild bunnies. We ate a delicious lunch at the Noe José Cafe in Oak Harbor (where a waiter mentioned that the owners are Noe and José and the name is a play on words: The “No Way José” Café). Dinner was great barbecue from The Big W Food Truck in Langley, where we ordered alongside locals who all seemed to know each other or the truck owners. Some were picking up dinner while walking their dogs. At the end of that good day, we drove our rental car onto the ferry on the south end of the island to head back to the mainland.

We spent a different day driving through the Cascade Mountains, where we ate good food at 5b’s Bakery in Concrete, Washington. It was highly recommended on Yelp, and Yelp was right.

Some interesting facts about Concrete:

They made the concrete for Seattle’s Space Needle there. Author Tobias Wolff attended Concrete High School. And while 1938 Concrete residents listened to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio drama, there was a town-wide power failure that also took down telephone service. People fainted, others grabbed their families and headed into the mountains, and the town’s reaction made international news. Also, Concrete has ghosts.

In the North Cascades, we hiked through forests of pine and fir that smell like camping. We watched eagles soar quietly back and forth over the rushing Skagit River, and looked down at beautiful, huge, calm lakes of the deepest aquamarine.

We went indoor skydiving, which I didn’t know I would love so much, although not so much I would ever jump out of a plane.

At the crowded Pike Place Market, we touristed-out by taking photos in front of the first-ever Starbucks and its original logo in the window. We ate lunch there just off the beaten path and I ordered a BLT. It included “S,” the freshest, most perfectly prepared salmon I’ve ever eaten. (“Salmon and bacon in the same sandwich!” said the waitress in approval. “There’s nothing better.”)

Writing Goals: As Good as Salmon and Bacon

Turns out she was right. It’s another great memory to have back here at my desk where I am rejuvenated about doing satisfying work. I have plenty of good assignments, hospitality technology, and other content marketing writing work, for which I am grateful. Every day is different and interesting and I enjoy what I do.

But the change in scenery – and people, places, things, ideas – made me arrive back home feeling able to do anything. It’s exciting to add essays and books back into what I write. This is my public declaration so you will hold me to these goals, even if (when) the next new thing distracts me. Look, cute wild bunnies!

I’m interested to see where I’m at with these writing goals by the time this 2017-18 school year draws to a close. I scheduled a follow-up blog post on my calendar for next May. Watch for it here. I’ll blog about my creative progress along the way, too.

Is there something you aren’t making yourself get around to? Will you regret if you don’t even try? Feel free to make your own goals declaration here if you’d like, and we can encourage and remind each other to make these things happen.

And stay tuned.

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The Most Important Thing About Content Marketing

I spent last week at Content Marketing World in Cleveland and it was a great experience.

Content Marketing World

Content Marketing World has become a huge conference and it was very well done. More than 3,500 content marketing specialists attended from 60 countries, as did more than 550 companies, including 40 of the Fortune 100 companies. Two hundred and twenty five content marketing experts spoke.

On the first morning, as we streamed into a large exhibit hall for opening keynote speeches, there was a slight backdrop of drumming in the air which heightened anticipation. Fog rolled and Star Wars music played (the closing keynote speaker was Mark Hamill, a.k.a. Luke Skywalker). The stage was a space ship’s control panel with windows looking out onto the galaxy. Dramatic. I got the sense big things would happen.

Joe Pulizzi, the orange-clad founder of Content Marketing Institute, which puts on the annual conference, spoke first. (The conference color is orange and it’s everywhere.) He talked about a previous content marketing company he founded that failed, he ultimately realized, due to a lack of commitment. The problem: they were not dedicated to being leading experts in content marketing.

Out of that experience came Content Marketing Institute, he said, as well as a dedication to content marketing.

That led into what he thinks is most important to know about content marketing:

“I’ve learned it’s all about commitment. There’s no half way. The meaning of content marketing is that you’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as in between.”

He said that right now just two out of ten global marketers, only 20 percent!, say they are fully committed to their content marketing approach. The other 80 percent is creating a lot of marketing collateral, going through the motions, but not building a loyal audience and not telling a different story. “Meh,” he said.

He told us he was going to title his presentation, “Meh” and the crowd laughed. But he said that’s where so many people are right now.

“We’re doing what looks like content marketing, but are only somewhat committed. Can you be ‘somewhat’ committed to your relationship, to driving, to being a great father?” A slide of Darth Vadar popped up in his slideshow.

“Mediocre content will hurt your brand more than doing nothing at all,” he said.

He pointed to LEGO as a fully committed brand. He mentioned that he used to get the LEGO magazine Brick Kicks 30 years ago, and today his kids still sprawl across the floor with their LEGO blocks.

Content Marketing Rules

These are what many companies see as the current “content marketing rules,” he said:

  • You have to do content marketing
  • Create more content

But the most successful businesses, he said, are

  • Targeting just one audience with one message or mission
  • Telling a different story
  • Maintaining consistency over time
  • Building an asset by creating value outside the products and services they offer

As a content writer helping agencies and brands needing interesting, well-crafted and well-directed content for their clients, as well as developing content marketing for my own brand, these were great reminders.

It was a terrific conference. I learned a lot, met interesting people and am totally re-energized about my work.

Doug Kessler wrote a terrific (and fun to read! he’s a great writer) write-up of the conference from midpoint, as he sat wide-awake with jetlag in the middle of the night.

I had a little experience with that, too.

Great conference.

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Photo of a Ghost (Writer)

In my freelance writing business I frequently work as a ghostwriter, and HawaiiBusiness magazine recently featured me in an article about ghostwriting. Megan Spelman, the photographer, told me she wanted to do something a little different with the photo.

She photographed me through a window, while I stood in front of a plumeria tree with hundreds of orchids growing from it.

Leslie Lang Ghostwriter

I think it’s fun how the picture turned out. A bit ghostly indeed!

Speaking of ghostwriting, Ilima Loomis recently interviewed me for a short article that appeared in the regular Hawaii Business magazine column called “My Job.” It was about being a ghostwriter. I love reading those columns, and it was fun to be featured in one of them.

Other recent “My Job” columns featured:

Fun to read.

About Being a Ghostwriter

There are different kinds of ghostwriting. Did you know that ghostwriters wrote many of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books?

A Guardian.com article about English ghostwriter Andrew Crofts, who has written 80 books that sold 10 million copies, talks about his own book on being a ghostwriter.

I’ve ghostwritten books in the past, but these days I mostly do content marketing ghostwriting. What this often means is writing content in collaboration with a business leader whose name will appear on the article, blog post, op-ed or other piece.

I love doing this kind of work. I really like helping someone corral his or her thoughts and present their message so it’s just right. Very satisfying!

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NYT on Content Marketing: ‘Single Fiberglass Pool Article Made Over $2.5 Million in Sales’

Did you see this recent and interesting New York Times article on content marketing? It talks about an appliance store in St. Louis, Goedeker’s, which wasn’t doing so well. So the owner had his son and daughter build a website during their summer vacation, and he started taking online courses and reading up on online marketing and search engine optimization.

And it worked. From 2009 to 2013 their sales grew from $6 to $48 million and they went from 18 to 90 employees. Most of their sales now are online.

And that was even before they discovered content marketing in 2013.

From the New York Times article Retailers Try Offering Expertise Online Along With Products by Ian Mount, December 24, 2014:

For its content marketing push, Goedeker’s hired two full-time writers and began publishing daily blog posts about home renovation and appliances, which were then shared on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Pinterest.

Today, the company spends $100,000 to $150,000 a year on its content marketing efforts, according to Mr. Goedeker. He says the goal is for the company to get 80 percent of its online traffic and half of its online sales with its content marketing efforts. So far, sales generated this way have risen from 8 percent to 14 percent of the online total.

“It’s been slow so far,” Mr. Goedeker said. “It takes some patience and persistence. With a paid ad, you get a return on investment immediately. With content marketing, it takes a while for the search engines to recognize your value.”

The number of links back to the company’s website increased from 3,000 in late 2013 to 40,000 today; one blog post, about painting walls with watercolors, got 30,000 visits.

Leslie Lang, Content Marketing WriterThe article also discusses a pool and spa company in Virginia that writes blog posts about questions they hear most from their customers.

In 2009, Mr. Sheridan, an owner of River Pools and Spas in Warsaw, Va., published a post about how much it cost to install a fiberglass pool, a useful piece of data but one most pool companies aren’t eager to publish. Using a web-tracking tool, Mr. Sheridan then followed how many customers came through that post.

“That one single article has made us over $2.5 million in sales,” he said. “For a $5 million-a-year company, that’s a ton of business.”

What an interesting article. It really shows the power of writing compelling narrative copy that resonates with your customers. Sales pitches aren’t what captures people’s attention. You have to engage them. Answer their questions. Make an emotional connection. Compel them to remember your brand and think of you as a resource.

Read the full New York Times article here.

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Thanks For All the Fish!

We made it to the end of the month, you and me! I blogged every day in June and successfully completed the Freelance Success 2014 30-Day Blogathon. Thank you for reading, or at least hanging in there. (I only got one “unsubscribe” during the month.)Leslie Lang, Writer, Memoir, Biography, Content Marketing, Hawaii

My goal was to take some of the things out of my head and get them onto my website. I wrote some articles about how much I love the genre of memoir and biography, and a little about some of my work in this area:

And about my other specialization, content marketing, including what that is and some examples of work I’ve done:

And I wrote about books and the power of words:

and a little about Hawai‘i, too:

I will now give you a bit of a break and will stop pelting daily emails at you — though this did get my blogging muscles back in order, I must say, and I will probably be blogging here more often than I had been.

Therefore: “So long!” but only for now, and Thanks for all the fish! (If you don’t know the reference, you should probably read the book.)

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Hitting ‘Send’ on Book Manuscript

Leslie Lang, Writer, Talk Story Press, Publishing, Memoir, Family History, BookTonight I am uploading a family history/memoir manuscript I just completed for a client. We’re publishing it at Amazon’s CreateSpace, which is such a wonderful option for a book like this. He and his wife wanted to put together his mother’s ancestors’ story, an interesting one of a young couple leaving their familiar Hiroshima, Japan to come and work on the former sugar plantations of Hawai‘i.

The back cover explains that this family’s journey “took them from harsh conditions on a small farm in 19th-century Hiroshima to what became a modest but comfortable long-time family home in Hawai‘i. In earlier years, it’s a story of hard work and sacrifice, and in more recent ones, of appreciation and family connection. Always, it’s a story of perseverance in order to build a better future for the ones to come.”

As always (it almost sounds trite, how often I say this, but it isn’t), I loved getting to know this family a bit and learning what makes them tick. This young couple who left Japan in their 20s came to Hawai‘i, worked very hard and sacrificed some more, and built a good foundation for a lot of descendants who are very nice people. The power of family is strong.

These descendants are now, more than 100 years later, about to have a huge family reunion, and will have this book for those who want to know more about how their family came to be. There’s information in this book that I’d wager most of them – or maybe even all of them – don’t know. We dug pretty deep to find some of it.

Family members who want one or more copies of the book will be able to order it directly from Amazon.com. And this means my clients won’t have to buy boxes of books, keep them in their garage and hope they sell. Instead the books will be printed on demand and distributed by Amazon.com, which doesn’t charge you upfront for the service but merely keeps a small portion of each purchase (and it’s very reasonable).

Such satisfying work!

 

 

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The Sound of Kids Chattering in Hawaiian

I had forgotten about writing this editorial about kids speaking Hawaiian, but stumbled upon it online today (while looking for something else!). It was a long time ago. In fact, I wrote this article during the first year I was freelancing as a writer. The newspaper I wrote it for, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, doesn’t even exist any more, for crying out loud.

But its archive does, and it was fun to read this again. I thought I’d share the article here:

View Point, Saturday, March 13, 1999

Keeping alive the language of Hawaii

By Leslie Lang

THE boy at the airport was about 5, and his chatter was loud and incessant. It could have been irritating, but it wasn’t. It was great because he spoke Hawaiian.

His father tried to quiet him, but I listened happily. The boy talked about na mokulele nui (the big airplanes), and everything else that caught his eye. I have studied Hawaiian for almost as long as he’s been alive, but I don’t know some of the words he knows.

It thrills me to run across Hawaiian parents speaking with their children in the language of their ancestors, communicating effortlessly in the language most of us have to learn in classrooms and from textbooks.

Hawaiian used to be the language of this land; it isn’t anymore. But it’s coming back.

My boyfriend and I are taking an adult school Hawaiian language class twice a week. The class meets in a Hawaiian language immersion classroom at Keaukaha Elementary School in Hilo, where we sit in tiny orange plastic chairs….

Read the rest here.

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