One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I don’t know how many times I’ve either said or thought, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.” I know every time I have, it was not a positive thing.

But yesterday that changed.

You see, I was having lunch with my friend, Leah Crichton and we were talking about various things. Leah said those very words and I had an epiphany. I realized right then that feeling that way was actually a very good thing.

I suppose it may have been the context of the conversation that did it. So here is my rationale.

When you take a step forward, you are making progress. Maybe you have been trying to find a publisher or agent or a new job. When you take that step you are feeling positive; the world is your oyster and the possibilities are limitless.

Except things don’t always work out exactly like you hoped. Maybe the results you were expecting were delayed or different than you imagined. The optimism you had been feeling comes crashing down around your ears.

That is the two steps back. You think you have lost ground.

The thing is, usually that step forward has meant your horizons have expanded. What is possible after the step forward is much more than before. When things don’t happen exactly as planned and you look toward the horizon it seems further off.

That’s only because there is more of it to explore.

And that was the epiphany for me.

Let me illustrate with this example:

  1. you want to become a published author so you write a book and begin to pitch it to various agents and publishers.
  2. You pitch the book and get a few nibbles of interest. None of the nibbles pan out. You get a comment or two (maybe). It knocks you down a peg but you keep trying.
  3. You eventually land a publisher. Once again, excitement reigns!
  4. You find out it will be 2+ years to see your book in print. You are knocked down a couple more pegs. Feels like you have lost ground when in reality you still have a book coming out in 2+ years. You are further ahead than ever before.
  5. Book (finally) comes out. You watch Amazon eagerly to see it skyrocket up the charts and…nothing. All your promotion and work to get people interested hasn’t paid off. You think you are a failure. How many pegs were you knocked down this time? Still, you are now a published author; something not many people can claim (at least as a percentage of the population). You really are further ahead because you have gone through the process and know how it works.
  6. and so on.

At each step your expectations grow because there is more potential. You only think you are taking two steps back when things don’t exactly work out.

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Know Thyself – Steps to Creating a Brand

I have been trying to create a “Michell Plested” brand for some time now. To date, that has included being active on social media, having a website and a podcast. It has also included the several books I now have available.

But yesterday when I asked the question on Twitter what else I should do, @KevinWohler asked me who I was.

He wasn’t asking the question as in, “Who are you? I have never met nor heard of you.” Instead, he was asking, “Who do you think you are and how do you want people to perceive you?”

This is when I admit that I am lousy at self-evaluation and even worse at seeing myself through any lens other than my own ocular units.

I had to admit I had no idea how I wanted to be seen.

Kind of impossible to create a cohesive brand when you don’t even know what it is you want to be when you grow up, isn’t it?

So, with some back and forth we established that I am a YA writer.

I like to write adventure stories with humour.

Does that make me a YA Adventure writer (with aspirations of being funny)? I guess it does. And for the moment, that is a good place to start.

I could have tried homing in further to say something like YA Science Fiction writer or YA Steampunk writer or YA Superhero writer. I could claim any and all of those things.

But that muddles the message because I am all of those things and more. For example, I have also written a zombie book (one day to be a trilogy). I think, since adventure is implicit in all of my writing, I will lay claim to being a YA Adventure writer. The kind of adventure simply depends on the story.

Of course, that is only the very first step. There are many more to go. Imagineering (to steal a term) may be the easiest one. Next, I have to start looking at what should be included in the brand and what should be taken out.

Trimming the extraneous is never fun.

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Writing in Multiple Universes

If you are like me, you have more stories floating around in your brain than you have time to actually write. Some of those stories involve one set of characters, others another. It can lead to all sorts of problems when it is time to actually sit down and do the writing.

That doesn’t even consider how complicated the story-telling can be in a single novel. For example, I wrote a novel once where I had some important but secondary characters show up from time-to-time. The initial writing of the novel went by very quickly but with revisions and follow-up edits, the names (and some of the description) of those characters changed somewhere between the beginning and the end.

Can you say continuity errors, boys and girls? I knew you could.

So, if I can have an issue within a single book, how can I possibly keep things straight when I have entirely different stories and universes to deal with?

It is actually easier than you might think and I started doing it when I realized how easy it can be to have those continuity errors. I keep character, place and plot lists. Since I use Scrivener as my primary writing tool, I have created a section within my documents that keeps track of those things. Whenever I introduce something new, I add it to that section.

When the time comes to start the next story in the universe, I usually just copy that information into a new document and away I go. That also ensures continuity between stories.

I will confess, I haven’t always been as diligent as I should be to do this (at least when I originally write the story/novel/whatever). Then, when the time comes to write the next piece, I’m forced to go back and pick out all that information. That can be a painful process and is usually enough to keep me focused on updating that section after the fact.

I also use Scrivener as a place to record all my story ideas. I have a single project that I put all those ideas into for future reference.

What do you do to keep everything straight?

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