Making Money From Writing Books

coins on handI’ve been writing steadily since 2011, and I’ve just done my accounts for 2018-19. I have published three full-length books (one in 2018) and one second edition (in 2017) for my main publisher. I’m now writing for two other publishers and have received several small advances for those books. When I say ‘small’, I mean between £125 and £500, so nice to have in the bank but not at all representative of the amount of time I spend writing the books.

Publishers can be a bit funny about authors telling people about royalty rates and amounts of advances, so I need to be a bit circumspect in this post. (Bit annoying really – this kind of secrecy benefits corporations not individuals, but still, that’s where we are right now.) My royalties took a dip this year which surprised me. In the previous year I’d made it into four figures; in 2018-19 I was back into three figures (though I’m happy to say I’m back in four figures again for 2019-20).

I have also self-published six solo-authored short books for doctoral students and one co-written book on self-publishing for academics. These would sell more if I did more to promote them; in 2018-19 global profits totalled £175.65.

I got money, too, from the Public Lending Right – every time one of my books is borrowed from a UK library, I am entitled to a payment of a few pence.  The payout is made once a year and this year was my biggest ever: £8.61.

Also the completely wonderful Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society pays out twice a year to UK authors whose work has been photocopied anywhere in the world. They also collect PLR payments from outside the UK. This year, that added up to £414.60 in total which was very nice to receive.

With all of this, my total gross income directly from writing in 2018-19 was £3,671.32. There were some outgoings too: mostly books, and my Society of Authors’ annual subscription, which brought it down to around £3,000 of net income.

While still not a life-changing amount, it is a game-changing sum of money. It means that, after eight years of steady writing, I can now spend several weeks of each year on writing alone, paid for by the income from my writing. This is a lovely position to be in. It’s better than spending several weeks of each year on writing mostly subsidised by my paid work, which is what I have been doing up to now. Also, I expect it to improve year on year: this time next year I should be receiving royalties from three publishers rather than one (assuming I can earn out my little advances quickly enough).

It has taken me the full eight years to get here. My total earnings from writing for the last eight years have been around £7,500. Most of those have been in the last three years: £1,500 in 2016-17 and £1,600 in 2017-18, plus the £3,000 this year. The first five years, 2011-2016, I earned around £1,400 in total. That was partly because I invested in my self-published books, paying an editor to work on the text and paying for cover design. Speaking purely financially, that was a bad move, but I’m not sorry because I know those books have helped people.

I love writing books; I don’t think I could write them otherwise. Also, my books make me money in other ways: I get asked to run workshops in universities, and to work on projects, solely on the strength of my writing. But I think it is worth reflecting on how poorly academic writing pays writers. We’re still dealing with a system which is based on the principle that anyone doing academic writing has a secure and sizeable salary. That is outdated but it’s taking a long time to change.

Since my very first book, I have negotiated as hard as I reasonably could for a good deal, with the support of the excellent contract advisers who help out members of the Society of Authors. If I hadn’t argued my case, my earnings from writing would have been even lower. I’m sure some people think being a published writer means I’m rich. They look at the kind of income achieved by writers like JK Rowling or Jodi Picoult and think the same applies across the board. I’m sure others think knocking out a book or two will make an appreciable difference to their income and/or pension. Not if it’s an academic book it won’t.

Based on my experience, I reckon you could make a decent living as an academic writer if you write lots of books of interest to people across a range of disciplines, and work with several publishers – for about 20 years. If you write single-discipline books your earnings are likely to be very small. I think it’s important to share what we can of this kind of information, depressing as it is, so that people go into the writing business with realistic expectations.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $45 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $45 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Juggling Multiple Writing Projects: Three Top Tips

jugglingThis is a crazy year of writing. A co-written book is about to be published and I’m working on three others (one solo, two co-written) and preparing a fifth, also co-written, for self-publication next spring. I have two co-written journal articles in production, one on submission, two more under construction (one co-written, one solo) and I’ve just agreed to collaborate on another next year. Then there are research reports and, for one client, a book chapter. Not to mention writing a post for this blog most weeks.

I didn’t plan it this way. Of the three books I’m working on, one came as a dream paid project that I couldn’t turn down, and another took two years to come to fruition which it did, from my point of view, at exactly the wrong time. But there are four of us working on it so at least I only have to write three chapters for that one.

So I’m doing a lot of juggling. Part of the key to this is careful timetabling. Here’s my book writing timetable for the next few months:

Dec: work on book 2 manuscript (MS) and book 3 MS

Jan: work on book 2 MS and book 3 MS; book 2 MS to publishers by end Jan; reviews of book 1 MS back to me by end Jan

Feb: work on book 1 final draft (FD) and book 3 MS

Mar: work on book 1 FD and book 3 MS; book 1 FD to publishers by mid-March; book 3 MS to publishers by end March; reviews of book 2 MS back to me by end March

Apr: work on book 2 FD

May: work on book 2 FD; end May reviews of book 3 MS back to me

Jun: work on book 2 FD and book 3 FD; book 2 FD to publishers by end June

Jul: work on book 3 FD; book 3 FD to publishers by end July

Then there are the journal articles, other outputs for clients, teaching and speaking commitments, self-publishing, promotion for existing books and articles, research and evaluation project work for clients… oh and the holidays. I’ve set some time aside for breaks, and some time when I will be working from my home office and not travelling. Otherwise I end up travelling ALL the time – in the first three months of next year I’m already due to work in Brussels (twice), Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Glasgow, Southampton, Sheffield, Birmingham and Manchester.

Careful timetabling is only part of the key: the other part is meeting self-imposed deadlines. At the moment I need to write 1,000 words six days a week on book 3. Each 1,000 words takes 2-4 hours, and is often done in the evening and at weekends. If I don’t stick to that schedule I’ll fall behind – if not with book 3 then with one of the others.

On the plus side, there are advantages to working on several books at once. Recently I got some feedback on parts of book 2 from my co-author. Most of it was useful constructive criticism, with occasional suggested deletions where he really didn’t like something. On the whole I accept his amendments – he’s a good writer and I value his input – but there was one paragraph that he’d suggested deleting which I rather liked. I was considering whether to argue for keeping it in, when I realised it would work rather well in book 3. So, ta-da! Co-author happy, me pleased, all well.

I enjoy writing collaboratively. I always learn from co-authors, and the resulting work is usually better than anything I could produce alone. I’m not sure, though, that it takes less time than solo writing. Yes, I don’t have to create as much raw material, but there’s a lot more discussion and negotiation required.

What I do find galling is academics with permanent posts who complain that they don’t get enough sabbaticals or study leave, i.e. paid time off, to write. I don’t begrudge academics these opportunities, but I do think that some awareness of the conditions under which other people do scholarly work – including precariously employed academics as well as independent researchers and others – can go a long way.

I hope I can make it through the next few months unscathed. My aim from then on is to work on one book at a time. I wonder how that will pan out…!!

So my three top tips for juggling multiple writing projects are:

  1. Timetable carefully
  2. Meet your intended deadlines
  3. Practise self-care

If you have any others to suggest, please put them in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $44 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $44 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Mind The Gap In The Literature

cat in literatureIn the course of my work I read a lot of academic articles, chapters, and books. This means I sometimes make surprising discoveries. For example, last weekend I was reading an article by, I’ll call the author McGonagall, who, in the course of developing her argument, claimed that topic X had not been identified as relevant to the development of field Y. I had another article already open on screen by, let’s say Trelawney, published four years before McGonagall’s article, which explicitly identified topic X as relevant to the development of field Y.

McGonagall’s article was published in a top-ranked journal. This means that not only the author, but the editor and some expert reviewers, were unaware of Trelawney’s article. Trelawney’s article was in a less highly ranked journal, but one from a reputable academic publisher and which focuses entirely on field Y.

So McGonagall claimed to have found a gap in the literature, but in fact that gap had been filled four years previously. I wonder how often this happens?

Both Trelawney and McGonagall had written articles that, for me at least, were worth reading and helpful for my work. I ended up citing them both. If McGonagall had found, and cited, Trelawney’s article, that would not have invalidated her own contribution. This made me wonder whether it’s time to rethink the way we mark our territories in scholarly work. For a while now I have been quite careful with these kinds of claims about what exists in the literature. I explicitly take responsibility, and so use formulations such as ‘To the best of my knowledge there is no previous work on…’ or ‘I have been unable to find any discussion of…’ rather than asserting that such work or discussion doesn’t exist. After all, there is far too much literature out there these days for anyone to be confident about what has or hasn’t been covered. And saying something doesn’t exist – at least, saying it in English about literature in English (which is the only language I read) – has imperialist overtones in its refusal to acknowledge the possibility of scholarly work in other languages.

Also, a gap in the literature is not the only thing scholars need to address. Perhaps you want to write on a topic where there is already a sizeable body of literature. If so, then make a rationale for writing from a particular time, or place, or standpoint, or theoretical perspective. And keep it simple. Probably nobody has written a Queer-Framed Bourdieusian Gaze On The Post-Feminist Praxis Of Shed Construction In Huddersfield Using An Extended Baking Metaphor and there’s a good reason for that. Several good reasons, in fact.

Rather than filling a gap, what can we add that has value? Figuring out the contribution your work makes is likely to help motivate you to get the words down. Also, it should help you to convince editors and reviewers that your work is worth publishing. People often don’t like to think of it this way, but it’s a sales pitch. Even when no money changes hands directly, publishing is a commercial exercise; publishers, even non-profit publishers, have to make a surplus to stay in business. And if you’re self-publishing, you want people to read your work, right? So you have to sell it – even if you’re giving it away. I suspect the old ‘gap in the literature’ claim is losing force in today’s market. It’s time to think up other claims, preferably ones we can legitimately make. Have you come up with any good ones? If so, please share them in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $44 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $44 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Publishing From Your Doctoral Research

PFYDR coverNew book klaxon! Publishing From Your Doctoral Research: Create And Use A Publication Strategy is now available for pre-order.

This book is exciting for a number of reasons. First, I wrote it with US colleague Janet Salmons which was a great collaboration. We based it on an online course we developed a few years ago. Janet and I did loads of market research before developing the course; established that there was definitely a demand; did loads of promo when we launched the course; and had hardly any take-up. The students who did work with us were very complimentary about the course and have gone on to publish successfully in a variety of formats. We were sad that the course didn’t really take off, then happy to find we could revise the material we’d prepared into a book for Routledge. It was fun to collaborate with Janet and we have worked hard to make the book accessible and practical.

Second, this is the first in the series Insider Guides to Success in Academia which I am co-editing with the incomparable Pat Thomson. They are short, pocket-sized books, about half the length of a standard book. And they cover topics which are not already covered in the literature; the kinds of things people seem required to learn by osmosis. Two more titles are almost ready to go into production: Making It As A Contract Researcher and Being Well In Academia. Other books following along are on topics such as collaboration, the viva around the world, bidding for grant funding, PhD by publication. This is the first time I’ve worked as a series editor and it’s really interesting to do, as well as highly enjoyable to collaborate with Pat.

Now, as always, it’s the anxious wait for reader feedback. Though I have been considerably more anxious about other books, because the material in this one has been thoroughly tested by our students. Still… we’ll see!

 

The Power Of A New Idea

new ideaI have written three full-length sole-authored books, each of which was my very own idea. I had the idea for the first book in 2011, for the second in 2013 and for the third in 2015. Two weeks ago I had an idea for a fourth full-length sole-authored book. I think it’s a good idea, as do some people I’ve tested it on, though whether it will get written or not remains to be seen. I won’t have time to do anything about it until the middle of 2020 because I’m much too busy.

Trouble is, the new idea won’t shut up. It keeps badgering my brain, resulting in an internal dialogue which goes something like this:

New Idea: I’m much more interesting than that client work you’re doing.

Sensible Me: Be quiet, I need to earn a living.

New Idea: I could make you megabucks.

Sensible Me: I’ve written enough books to know how incredibly unlikely that is.

New Idea: You really want to write me, though, don’t you?

Sensible Me: I do… but all in good time.

New Idea: You dooo, you real-lyyy doooo, trusssssst in meeeeee

Sensible Me: Stop trying to hypnotise me, it’s not going to work.

New Idea [singing]: I’m fun and I’m exciting, attractive and inviting…

Sensible Me: Seduction won’t work either, you need a body for that.

New Idea: Nonsense, most seduction happens in the brain.

Sensible Me: Will you please shut up so I can get some work done?

New Idea: You’ll be sorry if you forget me. Why not jot down a few thoughts at least?

Sensible Me: Maybe that’s not a completely stupid suggestion.

New Idea: Go on! Go on! You know you want to!

Sensible Me: But I haven’t got time right now, I’m chasing a deadline.

New Idea: [singing again] You’ll regret it, you’ll regre-et i-it –

Sensible Me: la la la la, I’m not listening.

And so on. It’s really annoying! Yes I’d love to drop everything and dive into a shiny new project. But I’m already working on three books (and yes, that is two too many) and two journal articles, and I need to get those done, or a lot closer to done, before I start on any new writing projects.

Some of my friends are novelists and I know they have a similar problem. I see their posts on Facebook: ‘I had a new idea for a story this morning, and it won’t leave me alone, but I’ve got another 50,000 words to write on the current book and my deadline is in three months.’ One of the things I’ve been writing about is how similar non-fiction and fiction writing can be. I’ve written a fair amount of fiction myself, even been paid for some of it, so I feel reasonably well qualified to make this argument, especially as there’s supporting literature. But none of the literature that I have read – and I’ve read a lot of it – points out this particular similarity. So there you are, an informative and amusing blog post which also, I believe, fills a gap in the literature.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $43 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $43 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

 

 

To Cite Or Not To Cite Your Friends

One of the things I love about my scholarly activity is reading the work of people I know and like. I tweeted about this a while ago:

And that was indeed how I felt. The people I tagged in that tweet are all people I have shared social as well as professional space with, and I would count them, more or less, as friends. But I’ve been thinking about this recently, and wondering… is it a good thing to cite your friends’ work? Or is it a form of cronyism?

Cronyism is a dirty word, hurled at politicians and others who are seen to be giving jobs to friends or relatives. Yet in the small businesses I see around me, it seems absolutely natural to give jobs to people you know and have faith in, and those are friends or family. Why would you trust a stranger with your livelihood? In normal human terms it doesn’t make sense.

Yet we’re supposed to treat people and their work equally and on merit. Even the law says so, here in the UK at least, and in many other countries too. But I’m sure plenty of my readers, like me, have tales from inside and outside academia of times when this hasn’t happened. For example, I know an IT expert, I’ll call her Jade, who was asked by a local charity to help them recruit an IT professional. The charity had about 60 staff and really needed in-house IT support. Jade worked with them to prepare a job description, person specification, and advertisement, then she helped with shortlisting and interviewing. I saw her soon after the interviews and she was fuming. ‘I don’t know why they even asked me,’ she said. ‘They took no notice of what I said, they just appointed the person they already knew. Who was not the best person for the job.’

In theory scholars should treat academic literature equally and on merit, though there are debates about what ‘equal’ means here. I regularly see – and support – calls for positive discrimination, to ensure that women, people of colour, and others who struggle to get their voices heard are cited by those with more privilege. And I try to do this. But when I am writing myself, I feel a real pull to cite work by my friends. I like spending time in their company, whether across a café table or as a reader of their work. I want to share their ideas which are often kin to my own. I feel encouraged by them; they inspire me to do my best, whether through their physical presence or their written words.

I know that I should find and read and cite writing which contradicts my own, which I disagree with. This is necessary intellectual work. I tell students how important it is, and when I do it myself I feel clever and a bit smug. But when I cite my friends I feel loving and loved, which are much nicer feelings. And I hate when I read something by a friend which I can’t cite, not because it’s poor quality (my friends don’t write bad stuff!) but because it doesn’t fit with the work I’m doing.

We can’t separate our emotion from our intellect, whether we’re interviewing people for a job, or reading scholarly writing with a view to citing it ourselves, or simply taking a walk. So maybe we should stop pretending we can make that separation, or even that it’s somehow desirable. Perhaps it’s time to give feelings and thoughts equal billing in our decision-making, and to acknowledge this in our writing and other work. Those who practise reflexivity advocate this, but I don’t remember anyone I’ve read writing about the ethical and emotional aspects of citing (or not citing) work by your friends. I had a look online and there’s very little written about this. I did find one interesting recent open access article from the field of economics, by fellow independent Steven Payson. He points out that if you cite your friends in academic journal articles, the editors are more likely to pick them as reviewers, which can work in your favour. His article also states that close friends may ‘cross an ethical line’ and game the metrics system by citing each other as much as possible for mutual gain.

These are interesting perspectives on academia, but as an independent researcher they’re not relevant for me. Also I’m working on a book, not a journal article. So I guess what I need to do is get my emotion and my intellect working in tandem. They already do, to some extent; however much I love a friend, if they write rubbish I’m not going to cite their work. Also it’s not as if I only cite my friends. But I do recognise that the pull to spend time with the written work of people I like is strong, as is the wish to cite their work. This may be skewing me away from other potentially useful sources. So I need to aim for a balance: cite my friends’ work where relevant, be sure to seek out opposing views, and cite the work of lots of people I don’t know. Especially women and people of colour. That’s what I think I’ll do. As always, though, alternative views and counter-arguments are welcome in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $23 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $23 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

The Ethics of Working with Literature

literatureAn earlier version of this article was originally published in ‘Research Matters’, the quarterly newsletter for members of the UK and Ireland Social Research Association (SRA). The SRA now has a blog with topical peer-reviewed articles by and for researchers. They are also interested in contributions from readers so, if you fancy writing a guest post, you could give them a try. They even have a ‘secret researcher’ option for posting anonymously if you have something really controversial to say.

Researchers often use existing literature to set their research in context. ‘Literature’ is the academic term, referring to peer-reviewed scholarly work such as journal articles. Practice-based researchers may also contextualise their research, though more often with policy and project documents, in part because they are openly available. However, these distinctions are not so hard-and-fast these days. Academics increasingly recognise the value of ‘grey literature’, as they call relevant information that has not been through the peer review process. Practice-based researchers can read more and more academic literature, with the growth of open access, and through schemes such as the SRA’s member benefit of access to around 6,000 social science journals through EBSCO. Also, the definition of ‘literature’ has grown to include written phenomena and artefacts such as ephemera (leaflets, zines, etc), creative writing (novels, poems, and so on), and online writings such as blog posts and tweets.

When I ask people about the ethical issues of working with literature, they tend to look blank. So here are some pointers. First, define what you are using as literature, or background documents, and explain why you have chosen those types of material. This is important now that there is such a range of available literature: as with all decisions about research, you should be making well-informed choices for good reasons. Then make sure you know how well you can search that body of literature. For example, if you are searching online – as many people do these days – you need to understand the scope and limitations of the electronic tools you use. Google Scholar is many people’s go-to website for academic literature, but it doesn’t index everything, and its search function is far from neutral. The Directory of Open Access Journals indexes work from developing countries that does not find its way into Google Scholar. Even more work from developing countries can be found through the Journals Online project run by international research development charity INASP, which currently covers work from Africa, Latin America, the Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Even if your work focuses on a single country or locality, you may find relevant literature from far afield. You are not obliged to search everything; you simply need a clear rationale for your search.

You should record your search strategy – where you searched, terms you used to search on, dates of searches – so your readers can assess the effectiveness of your approach. Sadly, these days you will also need to check whether material you plan to cite is bona fide, as directories and repositories may still index and hold literature that has been retracted, or is a spoof that may not be instantly recognisable as such. This means researchers need to be on their guard, and make use of services such as Retraction Watch where possible.

Many search strategies will yield far more literature than any researcher, or team, can read. There are ethical dimensions to choosing what to focus on. Bias can creep in here: it is important to read literature representing a good spread of views and opinions, not only those you agree with. Then, when you have chosen what to read, it is ethically necessary to read that work carefully. Take the time to understand the arguments being presented and what they are based on. If you skim-read or cherry-pick, you risk misunderstanding the author’s argument, because you won’t understand their reasoning. Also, superficial reading doesn’t enable you to assess the quality of someone else’s work, so you won’t know how much weight to give it within your own research.

Then of course you need to cite others’ work correctly and not plagiarise or self-plagiarise. Having said that, self-plagiarism isn’t so much of a problem if you plan to self-publish, whether as an online pdf, e-book, or zine. However, if you plan to publish formally, self-plagiarism is unethical as publishers expect to publish original material.

Taking this kind of an ethical approach to working with literature shows respect to authors of the work on which our own work is based. Also, this approach helps to avoid the replication of errors, which in turn helps to raise standards in research.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $25 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $25 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

More Little Quick Fixes for Research

Little Quick Fix logoRegular readers may remember that I’ve been writing short research methods books for SAGE’s Little Quick Fix series. The first two, Write A Questionnaire and Do Your Interviews, came out in January. I’m delighted to announce that their sequels, Use Your Questionnaire Data and Use Your Interview Data, will be out any day now. Like their prequels they have gorgeous colourful covers – look!

UYQD coverUYID cover

You may be thinking, Helen, how can you write so many books? For a start, these ones are short –  only 7,000 words each, though that brings its own challenges. Also, I love writing, and am happy to do lots of it, as evidenced by this blog among other things.

The sad thing is that nobody much is likely to be interested at this time of year. It’s the summer holidays in the northern hemisphere and the winter holidays in the southern hemisphere. Talking of holidays, this blog is going to take a break until September. I’m not – I have more books to write!

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $34 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $34 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Knowing When To Stop

stopSometimes it’s hard to know when to stop. That could be when you’re still having fun and you don’t want to stop even though it’s after midnight and you’ve got to be in work at 9. In my early 20s I could get away with that. In my mid-50s? No chance. The dark sides of not knowing when to stop are dependency and addiction. Then there are the mental ‘ought’s and ‘should’s. I ought to finish reading this book, that I’m not enjoying at all, because the author took so much trouble in its writing. I should keep working on this collaborative piece even though my collaborator hasn’t answered my emails in months.

There’s an art to knowing when to stop. My mother, who is prone to outbreaks of wisdom, explained to me the point of stopping while you’re still having fun. Because what’s the alternative? Keep going till you’re not having fun any more? If you do that, you’re unlikely to want to do whatever-it-was again. Whereas if you stop while you’re still having fun, you keep the magic.

The ‘ought’s and ‘should’s can bog off. There are so many books (and journal articles, and – ahem – blog posts, and so on) that if you’re not enjoying one, why take the time to read it to the end? You won’t have time in your whole life to read all the books (journal articles, blog posts etc) that you do enjoy. So blow it out. Read the last page/paragraph if you need to satisfy your curiosity, then toss it and find something that suits you better.

And as for collaborations that have gone belly-up… that can be hard, when you’ve put in a lot of work and you’re not far from the finish line. But recognising when you need to quit is an important survival skill because it protects you from throwing good time after bad.

There’s another way this can work, too, which is not so much knowing when to stop as recognising that you have stopped. This has happened to me with my New Year’s resolution (I know! July! Not bad, eh?). My resolution was to review a book a week; i.e. an academic book, and to publicise this and encourage others to join in. I said from the start that it didn’t actually have to be a book a week, and I followed my own guidance; I reviewed 14 books between 1 January and 7 June, 12 on Wordery/Amazon and two for the LSE blogs. I haven’t reviewed an academic book in the last couple of months, though I’ve read quite a few. I will continue to review academic and other books but I’m not going to plug it as a ‘thing’ any more.

This is partly because hardly anyone joined in. A few people said it was a great idea, and one or two did write reviews, but it was evidently an idea whose time has not come, or has passed, or will never exist. Conversely, the monthly creative methods chat that I started in June has taken off rather well. And of course the point of all these things is not only to be the thing in itself, but also to raise my profile. Sounds cynical, in a way – yet I’m running a business and I have books and skills to sell. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to sell them to everyone all the time; that would clearly be unrealistic. I aim to create initiatives which will be of value to people in themselves, because I think that’s the best way to do marketing. Not to shout GIVE ME WORK AND BUY MY BOOKS AND BE MY PATRON but to generate resources and opportunities for people, which may lead to some of those people choosing to put some work or money my way. Or not – there’s no obligation and I like it that way. But the return on investment for these initiatives is low. For example, there have been over 5,000 downloads of Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know and around 25 reviews worldwide, or one review for every 200 downloads. So evidently it’s sensible to invest time in the initiatives that increase my visibility rather than those that don’t, no matter how close they may be to my heart.

So bye bye, review a book a week. It was nice knowing you. And hello, #CRMethodsChat. You’re ace, and you happen on the second Tuesday of every month. Long may that continue.

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $34 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $34 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

 

Ten Ways To Unstick Your Writing

stuckRegular readers know I have little time for the concept of writer’s block, where people allegedly find themselves unable to write for days, weeks, months, even years. However, I do understand that writers sometimes get stuck. This is a temporary affliction, but an annoying one, which can cost us valuable minutes or hours. So I thought it might be helpful to share ten strategies I have adopted and/or developed over the years to keep my writing flowing.

  1. Freewriting

This is a great technique that I always teach on doctoral writing courses. It has been around for a long time; for example, it was advocated by the American writer Dorothea Brande in the 1930s. There are several different approaches to freewriting. The method I find most useful is to formulate a prompt in the first person, e.g. ‘I want to say…’ Then set a timer for five minutes, begin with the prompt and write without stopping. Don’t edit or revise. If you falter in your writing, write the prompt again – several times, if necessary – till your flow returns. At the end of five minutes you will probably find that you can write whatever you were stuck on, and you may also find that there is a useful nugget or two within the words you produced while freewriting. Even if you only have half an hour to write, it can be helpful to spend the first five minutes freewriting.

  1. Think-walk

Go for a walk, for at least 20 minutes if you can – longer if you prefer. Don’t listen to a podcast on this walk, use the time to think about your writing and your work. This think-walk can help you problem-solve.

  1. Do something repetitive

If the weather isn’t conducive to walking, or you need to stay home for a delivery or in your office for some other reason, find something repetitive to do. This could be tidying or cleaning or filing. Again, use the time to think about your writing and your work, to help you problem-solve.

  1. Use placeholders

My early drafts are full of phrases like WRITE MORE HERE and EXPLAIN THIS, usually in capitals and highlighted so I can find them easily. These placeholders show where I’ve got stuck – and they help me get unstuck, because they mean I can move on, knowing I’ll come back later and fix whatever needs fixing. I don’t know how it happens but when I do come back, I can almost always write whatever I was stuck on before.

  1. Start somewhere else

Sometimes people think that because reading is often linear, writing must be the same. Far from it. You can start writing anywhere you like. In fact, the easiest way to write is to write the easy parts first, the parts you feel like writing. And again, I don’t know how this happens, but once you’ve written those parts, the harder parts become easier. Novice writers usually don’t know this and may not believe it but honestly, I promise, try it and you’ll see.

  1. Permission to write rubbish

Perfectionism is a major cause of writers getting stuck. The highly successful novelist Elmore Leonard said, ‘The first draft is always shit.’ (Don’t @ me, I’m quoting!) Nobody writes well when they start work on a piece, but you need the rubbish as raw material to craft into good writing as you edit and polish later on. So give yourself permission to write rubbish – and then get on with it!

  1. Read

Reading in and around your topic is a great way to get unstuck. Other people’s work will help you generate ideas of your own. You may only need to read for a short time, or you may find you want to switch back and forth between reading and writing for a while.

  1. Change your writing method

If you usually write longhand, try writing on screen, or vice versa. If you always write longhand, try using a different pen or a different type or colour of paper. If you always write on screen, change the font size or colour and/or the background colour.

  1. Change your location

Generally for writers it is helpful to have a ‘writing place’ – or perhaps two or three – a particular space at home, a favoured café, a library desk. Some people can write pretty much anywhere, but most people have a location they prefer. If you’re stuck, though, it can be helpful to go somewhere else. You may not have to go far. If you like to work at home, you may be able to try a different room or an outdoor space. If you prefer café writing, try a different café. Or you may want a bigger change, in which case find somewhere you’ve never been before: perhaps a pub, or a community centre, or a park bench.

  1. Get creative

Try writing what you want to say as a poem, or a short story, or a scene from a play or a film. You don’t have to spend hours on this – you could set a time limit if you like. And it doesn’t have to be ‘good’ (whatever that is!). Nobody else ever needs to see what you write creatively, so allow yourself to be playful and see what happens.

I hope that if you are – or become – stuck with your writing, one or more of these strategies will be helpful for you. If you have any other strategies to share, please put them in the comments.

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $34 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $34 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!