Prompted by a question in the TASM Slack group, J Thorn and Crys Cain discuss writing systems, analyzing your pain points, and how to tell when something is not working for you and how to address it.
- Dean Wesley Smith, Writing Into The Dark
Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost, J Thorn. How’s it going, J?
J: I’m doing great, Crys. How are you?
Crys: Good. Except for this little technical blip we just had where we recorded a whole intro, but my microphone was completely whack. The short of it is we had a lovely conversation about your BookBub, which hasn’t been stellar, but it’s earned back.
J: It’s earned back. Yeah, barely. And we’re trying to be patient. Zach has told me that his last BookBub on a complete series that he boxed up for 99 cents had a bit of a delay because it was in KU the way this box is, and that he assumed that the sales from the Bub kind of rose the book in the ranks and then people found it and started reading it in KU.
And so he had a delay and then had really good months several months after the BookBub. So that’s kind of where our heads are with it right now.
Crys: Yeah. Fingers crossed.
Outside of just trying to write regularly, I have been putting a lot of focus on growing my TikTok audience, because I’ve been doing it a few months and I’m finally figuring out what the rules are. Like what abilities you get at what follower levels.
Because TikTok’s interesting in that after a hundred followers, then you can get analytics on who your followers are and at a thousand followers, then you can actually have a website link to whatever it is where people can find out more information for you.
J: Oh, so these levels are like gamified.
Crys: A little bit. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s really frustrating for me because I have always gone for quality over quantity with social media, but to get to the point at which I can have just a link on my profile, where I can share more information with people than I can put in a 60 second video, I have to have a thousand followers.
And so I have been doing the “okay, numbers over quality,” still focusing on my core market right now, which is other authors, sharing podcast stuff and information. So I’m not just grabbing anybody who will possibly follow me.
J: Is this a different account that you were doing before, then? Didn’t you have a reader account?
Crys: Yeah. So I, yeah, I have two I did start a reader, one to kind of test it out on a “not me” account. And so I did one under my romance author name, and that was fine, but the energy it took to generate those ideas was a lot more than it took to generate the information that I’m already talking about consistently in TASM, on the Podcast.
I’m already thinking on those things. So I’m able to take them into smaller pieces and put them in tech talk quite easily. And so that’s what I’ve turned my focus to and also doing the whole follow back thing, all this stuff I don’t like about social media and just recognizing that it is a short term element of getting it up and going.
J: So you have to keep us posted on that. Are you far enough along yet where you’re developing some type of follower archetype, or a certain type of author that you notice is engaging with you?
Crys: Not quite yet. I have only just started in this last week to get authors who are commenting back on my posts.
Mostly it’s just been people liking the content, but not really engaging with it. And that’s fine. Especially when I’m going for the quantity over quality at the moment. But yeah, it’s that frustrating level of doing something and feeling like you’re shouting into the void, but knowing it’ll pay off at some point.
J: Kind of like doing podcasts episodes before you launched your podcast,
Crys: Indeed! I don’t think I’ve told you this, but one of the members from our group who’s been in the platinum before… is she in the platinum this year? Yeah, she’s in the platinum this round as well. She and I have been recording videos, I think July will be a year, for just a goofy YouTube that really will have nothing to do with anything. And we have not put a single video out.
We’ve got a lot recorded and we both acknowledged the other day that we both use it as an excuse to just sit down and talk for 30 minutes to an hour every week. But we do also want to put it out there at some point. It’s just one of those lower level priorities.
J: Yeah. Yeah. But it’s a weird though. It’s you’re doing that with no audience.
Crys: Yeah. And especially this many months in, where we’re just recording goofy stuff, and it’s just sitting there on my hard drive. We will do something with it, but it’s a very strange brain space.
J: I’m sure.
Crys: So our question does come from our community this week. The question that was asked is not actually the question that I think we ended up kind of pulling out of the conversation. So our friend Kim asked about streamlining her process with, having edits, having rewrites, but wanting to be spending time on her first drafting. And so her question was, how do I streamline the stuff I don’t like to do so that I can do the first drafting.
The real question it seemed that we pulled out of that was how do I figure out my process? How do I figure out my system? Everybody’s got to start somewhere.
You gave her some suggestions particular to her, but in general, how would you tell other people how to analyze their process?
J: Yeah. There’s a lot of angles to this question and to this issue because, for me, people who know me know I’m a big systems guy. I’m not really goals. I’m more about systems and habits and following those. And hopefully they lead me to where I want to be. That’s the plan.
When you have that approach, you have to be very deliberate. You have to build a process or you have to find one and adapt it. But you have to identify a process.
At the same time… I feel like there’s certain things in life and in the life of an author that you can’t really build a system for it. You almost just have to experience it.
That’s not a very satisfying answer or explanation. And I’ll tell you what sort of, where it hit the ground with Kim is that I know there are books on revision. I know there are methods for revision. I know there are methods and systems for everything these days.
And I feel like that’s a kind of a cultural thing. Like we all feel like no matter what problem we’re having, there’s a system that will fix it. We just have to find it.
And I think part of my response to her was, sometimes things just take what they take.
And what I was trying to suss out, and I think we did that in the Slack conversation, what I was trying to suss out from Kim, well, where is the problem? Is the problem in your output? Is the problem in your expectation of your output?
Cause those are different problems. And it sounded as though she really likes to first draft instead of revise and it felt like she was putting a lot of pressure on herself to get through the revision so that then she could get into the drafting that she enjoyed. And so she felt as though her revisions were taking her too long. Subjectively, objectively, like in any measure, however she described that, she felt like it it was taking too long.
I think part of what I was trying to communicate was for something like revisions, if your butt’s in the chair and you’re focused on what you’re doing, it’s going to take what it takes.
There are things you can pick up and there are tactics that you can try and techniques that you can use, but it’s the same way if like you’re first drafting and you’re trying to get a certain number of words.
For some people, 10,000 words a day is a normal day. And for other people that’s a year’s worth of output. It’s for you. Sometimes it’s just going to take what it takes. And sometimes I think chasing the solution in a system is another way of avoiding the issue itself.
Crys: What comes to mind for me is the real problem that those of us from the US, and this is probably a problem for those outside, I just know that it’s a problem for us. And that’s the cult of productivity.
That there’s always a way to be better and faster. And sometimes faster is not better in that is what the cult of productivity does not acknowledge.
J: So true. That’s exactly– you said it better than I did. I was trying to think of what is the external pressure? And the external pressure is, “okay, you’re doing it, but you’re not really doing it fast enough or you’re not really doing it good enough. And therefore there must be another way out there that you haven’t found yet that other people are doing it way better.”
And that’s exactly what we’re talking. And I was like, no maybe your revision speed is your revision speed. And maybe that’s just something you kind of have to come to terms with.
Crys: Something I didn’t bring up, because it didn’t come to me at the point where she’d asked, was Becca Symes talks about pain points, and we talk about that in software development as well.
When you get to a point where something keeps you from moving forward, that becomes a pain point. Something I would ask Kim further in the conversation is, do your feelings about the revision keep you from moving forward?, If so that’s a pain point and you need to analyze it and see where it’s coming from.
It’s fine to prefer the first draft version, but if you are having really negative feelings about revision and you are having a lot of trouble approaching the page or anything, we’re just using Kim’s example. Why do you feel that way? First of all.
And it might simply be like the external expectations or beliefs of expectations are getting in your brain and making you think you ought to be doing something different than you are.
It could be, for me, one of my pain points is that I do write romance and that’s not something that I still enjoy 50 plus books in. And so when I examine that, I’m like, why is it that I don’t like this? Why is it that I have negative emotions about this? Unpleasant emotions about this? And it’s I’m bored most of the time, most of the time it’s because I’m bored.
And so knowing that’s the reason that I am not enjoying writing the romance, I then examine and say, “okay, what are ways I could change my boredom? How could I change my boredom? What could I input in here? So that it’s something that I do enjoy more.” And I’m not trying to make myself love what I’m doing, but I am trying to make myself content with the process.
J: So how do you know… how do you know when you have a pain point that’s outside your control versus one that you might be causing? I’m not saying this is it for Kim, but what’s the difference between feeling like you can’t, like, you’re not revising fast enough versus not being good at revision.
Crys: I think anytime that you say that you’re not good at something, that particular wording that’s just a judgment on yourself and it’s probably not true. And you might not be the best at something and that’s fine. But as far as an external… I would say more like… a lot of times things are really difficult for us because we haven’t yet learned how to do them.
If you don’t have a system, so using the revision example, if you don’t have a system and you’re really not enjoying the process, it may either be because you feel lost when you’re coming to the, to this process because you don’t have a way that you do it.
It’s going to be a judgment call on whether pursuing a process is resistance and keeping you from actually just doing the thing or if it is helpful.
And I think it’s always helpful to look up how other people try it, see if it works. Give yourself a timeframe that you’re comfortable with to give it a try. And if it doesn’t work in that timeframe, then move on. Don’t let that keep you from moving forward.
But also I am not against one pass writing or cyclical writing, ala Dean Wesley Smith. Some people do really well with that style, and Kim’s been writing long enough, I think that she would know if that wasn’t her style, but for anyone with her particular frustration with revision, I would challenge them to try something that would limit them from having a full revision pass with more cycles.
Every thousand words go back, review, keep a reverse outline as you’re writing if you’re a pantser so that you can see your structure from the start, you can see where your holes are as you’re moving forward. There’s a lot of tools and tricks.
I’d probably reach out to another writer friend who happens to be very process-oriented or in the Clifton Strengths Learner types, because we pick up a bazillion different tactics because we want to know all of them. And we probably use five because those are the ones that were first, but we want to know all of them because we want to know if they work for us.
Find a person like that who knows a bazillion different ways to do something and have them throw ideas at you, just like she did in TASM. Exactly like she did.
I think talking about it is one of the best ways that you can figure out, is it me? Am I just being stubborn or is there a blocker?
J: Yeah, I think I went through something like that a few years ago when I think it might’ve been Chris Fox who really kind of reignited the whole dictation, getting 70,000 words an hour down with dictation or whatever the ridiculous number was.
And I remember thinking like, yeah, I should do that. And you start doing the math and you’re like, oh my god, I could write a book a week and then I’d have 52 books a year.
I backed off of it because, I was, I think at the time I was capable of maybe 3 to 5,000 words a day at a maximum, and then I was toast.
And then the shiny object comes along and says, but what if you could get double that? What if you could get 10,000 words in a day, like… imagine. And I start thinking about that and I started trying it and after trial and error.
I came to the realization that, yeah, my method is slower, but I don’t want to write 10,000 words a day.
I’m not the type of writer who would look forward to that. That would burn me out really fast. And therefore my inefficient drafting method of only getting 3 to 5,000 words a day was totally fine. And I had to let myself off the hook and not worry about comparing my self to what my projected expectations could be if I took this new approach.
So it’s not exactly the same, but I think we all go through those situations where you’re doing it one way and you look to your left and you see someone else who’s doing it a different way and they’re like 50% ahead of you. And you’re like, Oh, I’m going to do it that way now. But that doesn’t always work.
Crys: Yeah. And figuring out what your system is, makes you more efficient. Even for you, not compared to anyone else. We talked about this in a previous episode, but your comparison should only be against your output, your level, your happiness. Not others.
J: Yeah. Yeah. And I think and Kim was pretty self-reflective on that in her question and said, “no, I’m not necessarily comparing myself to others.” But she did have sort of an internal expectation about how long she thought it should take her.
And I wonder if that’s still tied, because if you say why do you think you believe that? My guess is, and I’m speaking for Cain, but my guess is maybe subconsciously it’s becauseKimshe’s comparing it to somebody else’s output and thinks if they can do that, I should be able to do that.
On the surface, it seems like an internal expectation, but maybe if you dig a level below that you do find some type of external comparison.
Crys: And I’ll throw this challenge out, because this is something I’ve dealt with a lot in the last couple of years is, sometimes comparing yourself now in hard times or simply with greater knowledge therefore more awareness of the gap between where you want to be and where you are, and comparing yourself to before, when you didn’t have those challenges or you didn’t have that knowledge… before seems a lot easier. I got things done faster.
And you have to remember you now and you then are actually not the same person.
Crys: The system will probably different. The system grows.
I complained this morning, I will complain constantly that I am not a robot and I can not have 100% consistency. It drives me up the wall every day. And that’s just the human existence. I have to accept that. I don’t know if I ever will fully, but that’s fine.
Especially, this is something that people who are constantly learning sometimes forget and get really discouraged by, is when you learn new skills, when you level up in your writing, when you level up in your knowledge of structure, of technique: writing gets really hard because you see the changes you want to make in ways that you were blind to before.
All your brain sees is this is really hard and it used to be easy. And it forgets that. Yeah, you have a bunch more processes that you want to go through to get to where you want to be, and you haven’t internalized them into the back of your mind, into your full system yet. They’re in the front of your brain. So it’s taking more energy.
J: That is such an insightful observation. I was just thinking about that same thing this week, because I’ve been working on this manuscript that I’m going to give to JD for a year now. And I haven’t spent a year on a book since 2009.
When I first started, I didn’t know what I was doing. So it just took me however long it took me. And then as I learned more, I got more efficient and I got better. And now I think I’m coming on the other side of that curve in that, now I’ve passed the Dunning Kruger effect. I know now what I don’t know, and I’m not as confident as I was five years ago when I was writing a whole lot faster.
I feel like because now I know so much more and I realized there’s so much more, I don’t know. It’s taking me longer after publishing 2 million words of fiction. It’s taking me longer to write a book now than it did when I started 11 years ago.
Crys: That’s wild. Our brains are weird.
J: It is. I hope that’s not discouraging. People who are at the beginning of their journey might not like to hear that, but like that’s the truth. Like it, it takes me– now I will put an asterisk onto it. If I was writing in like a rapid release model in a specific genre, then yeah. I could crank out a book in six to eight weeks and I wouldn’t spend a year on it because it’s more formulaic.
I’m talking more about, and this is probably not for you in romance. It’s probably true for you in scifi or other genre. It’s those types of stories that you want to tell, it’s taking me a whole lot longer now. When I step outside of that known framework. Yeah it’s a whole new game.
Crys: There’s another, just on this whole speed element. There’s another really interesting thing that I think I have seen as a pattern and I actually haven’t talked to a lot of people about this, but your first few books–
Like after you get past, like the first one or two or three, and you’re like, Oh, I know how to write a book now. Then you have a few books that are really easy to write. And then you get all the easy ideas out of your head and you have to dig deep. And so it gets harder that way.
J: Yep. The first couple series that Zach and I planned were really easy. And the last one we planned, we didn’t even write because we’re like, Oh, we can’t do this. This is so hard.
Crys: Yeah. And There’s absolutely no moral judgment on folks who reach a level of competency and say, you know what? This is as far as I want to go. This is the level that I need to tell the stories I want to write. And I’m just going to stick here because it works for me. It’s comfortable for me and I like that. That’s fine.
I’m like that with most skills in my life, I love picking up new things, getting to journeymen level competency and saying, I’m fine here. Writing just happens to be that one where I’m like, I’m going to learn all the things forever.
J: Same. I feel like every book I’m going to struggle for different reason in the exact same way.
You know what’s weird though is I love music, but I settled for a lower proficiency as a musician than I do as a writer. And that’s really baffling to me because there’s so many parallels between the two, but I got to a point when I was playing in my band on a regular basis, I was playing rhythm guitar. I wasn’t soloing. And I was like, I’m okay with that.
I learned the chords and I could change the chords when I had to. And they were good enough, and I didn’t think it at the time, but I look back now and I go, yeah, I just stopped my learning at that point. I was like, yeah, this is good enough. But for me, for writing, it’s not, I’m not that way. I know no I’m going to continually learn. I’m going to continually push myself. And I don’t know why I have the difference between those two artistic things.
Crys: And yet we’re happy with that struggle in writing, where if we’d had to struggle like that in our other creative endeavors, our other hobbies we would have given up, probably. That’s fine. Everybody has their thing.
J: Yeah. There are a number of things that I did well and then just stop doing them. But writing is, writing’s not that one. That’s… yeah, I would admit maybe the flip side to that is we can consider ourselves fortunate that we have that one thing that drives us that way, because I think a lot of people don’t have that.
Crys: I don’t understand those people.
J: They’re not our listeners. Because like people who are listening to this podcast have that. Or they wouldn’t be listening. And we’re talking about like the general population. Like, I don’t… people that don’t have that one thing that like drive them insane. I don’t understand that.
Crys: Yep. No. I do not at all. And yeah.
I have a question for our listeners and that is, what is a realization you’ve had about your system and how you work that really helped you move to the next level or really solidify your system. I’m just really curious on people’s individual stories and realizations as this is a universal struggle.
J: Yeah, that’s great. I’m curious to see those responses.
Crys: Thanks for joining us this week. Comment below! If you would like to be part of the conversations in real time, you can join us at The Author Success Mastermind.