My Books

New Story!

Now that I’ve survived music and art camp, it’s back to my normal schedule, more or less. Today was a late start because I got up early and it was cool and rainy, and then the rain passed, so I decided to take a walk and take advantage of the cool. So, yeah, I managed to get a late start by getting up early.

If you’ve been missing the universe of the Enchanted, Inc. books, I’ve got a treat in store. There’s a new novelette (longer than a short story, shorter than a novella) set in that universe coming out tomorrow, “Criminal Enchantment.” This is another Sam the Gargoyle case, but the fun thing about this one is that it’s a prequel to Enchanted, Inc. It sets up the events at the opening of the first book, including showing how they happened to notice a certain person who seemed to be immune to magic.

Criminal Enchantment

“Criminal Enchantment” will be coming as an e-book tomorrow, for only 99 cents (in the US). At this time, there’s no print or audio, but what I’m planning to do is write a few more stories like this, and then when I have enough to put into a book, I’ll do a collection, and that will get put into print and possibly into audio and some foreign translations.

The page for this story has more info and the links to buy at various retailers.

Wrangling Kindergarteners

It’s been a busy week, since I had music and art camp in the mornings Monday through Thursday. I was in charge of kindergarten, and I had 16 kids, 10 of them boys. I did have helpers, which was nice, but I was the one ultimately responsible for making sure all the kids made it to each session and didn’t kill each other along the way. There were wild and crazy boys who interpreted every instruction as “run” and clingy girls who tried to demand special treatment for every little thing (I don’t like that snack, can I have something else? Not wanting to do anything but sit in the lap of the teen volunteer). I came home and pretty much collapsed every afternoon, and I got next to nothing done.

But I think my brain was plugging away in the background because I seem to have worked out the logistics for the new version of the next phase of the book.

I had a lightning bolt a week or so ago when I realized that the entire end of the book was based on a faulty premise. If I had the bad guys act logically, it changed everything, and that made things a lot more interesting. I had an initial idea of what might be happening, then that developed, and then I did some research, and now it’s coming together in a way that’s really clear. I just need to be able to find a way to put the imagery into words.

Then this morning I had a physical therapy appointment. I may be almost done. I see the doctor next week, then I have another appointment, and we’ll decide from there if I need to keep going or if I can just go to doing it all on my own. This has been a very expensive way to spend the summer (buy my books!) but I can tell a big difference, and I’m getting in better shape overall, not just my knee.

Now I need to try to get my brain in gear and get back to work.

writing

Action Openings

It’s time for another Writing Wednesday post, and I’m following up on my previous discussion of beginnings.

One good way to start a book off with a bang is with some kind of action. This sort of beginning is called “in media res,” which just means starting in the middle of action. You don’t really know what’s going on, just that something is happening, and the combination of action and curiosity about what the action is about serves to hook readers. But it doesn’t always work that way. I’ve heard agents complain about getting too many submissions that start with the protagonist running through the streets, being chased. The problem is that if you don’t know who this character is and have no reason to sympathize with him, why should you care if he gets caught? Reading about a random person running through the streets isn’t actually all that entertaining. We’re pretty certain that the main character in the story isn’t going to get caught and thrown in jail in the first scene, or there’s not going to be much of a story — unless the story is about him in prison or this is a prologue and the story is about what happens after he gets out of prison — so there isn’t a lot of suspense about whether or not he gets caught.

So, how do you make this kind of opening work? (And, really, these tricks apply to any opening, but if you can make them work with running through the streets, you can apply them anywhere.)

First, the character whose viewpoint we’re in needs a goal. It may not be the story goal at this point, but there needs to be something the character wants — other than not getting caught — and a reason for him to want it. Something needs to be at stake, and not just his freedom. Is he a thief escaping the police? What did he steal, why did he steal it, and what will happen if he gets caught? Will his daughter/mother/wife not be able to get medicine if he doesn’t get the money from this theft? Was he stealing a magical amulet from the evil wizard? Reclaiming his family’s heirloom that was stolen by a more powerful person? This goal gives us some suspense — we’re pretty sure the hero won’t get caught, but will he succeed in what he’s trying to do? Will he get into some other kind of trouble? It may not be the story goal and main plot at this point, but it should lead into the main plot in some way — say, the person who helps the hero evade the police then demands that the hero take on some other mission as paypack for the help, and he won’t be able to carry out his initial mission until that’s done.

There also needs to be some kind of context that draws us into the story. A chase scene is a good way of showing what the world looks like — is it a futuristic world with robot cops on flying motorbikes, a fantasy world with guards armed with swords, a contemporary world? Is it an unjust world with the rich and powerful not answering to laws while poor people are oppressed? Is crime common or unheard of? Is it an oppressive regime, and the hero is being chased just for being a rebel?

Beyond these plot-related things, you need to create empathy for the hero so that we care what happens to him as a person. There are some tried-and-true tricks that can be used here.

  • Make him an underdog — an ordinary guy fighting against forces that are far bigger than he is
  • Show him being extremely competent — he knows his way around the city, is able to hide, climb walls, or disguise himself
  • Give him a sense of humor — he tosses quips at the people chasing him or has an entertaining internal monologue during the chase
  • Show what other people think about him — the people in the city step up to help hide him or send the pursuers in the wrong direction, which shows us that people like him and are willing to take risks for him, so he must be a good person
  • Have him “save the cat” — that’s a Hollywood term for doing something we associate with being good and kind. This kind of action makes people quickly like a character. If our hero in the chase scene stops to help someone else in spite of his own danger we’re more likely to warm to him.

If you think about popular books and movies, you can probably think of examples of these. The opening of almost every James Bond movie has Bond being extremely competent and tossing off quips during an action sequence. When we first meet Indiana Jones, he’s expertly navigating an obstacle course, and the sequence is capped by the revelation of his fear of snakes, which humanizes him. The opening of the animated Disney version of Aladdin manages to include just about all of these. He’s an orphaned street rat being pursued by the city guards, so he’s an underdog. He clearly knows his way around the city and is clever at evading capture, so he’s competent. He does it all with wit and flair. He hands over the food he stole to a starving child, for a “save the cat” moment.

The action beginning can work if there’s a reason for the action and if you can very quickly make readers care about the character.

More on Willpower

I had a realization yesterday during a particularly difficult writing sessions that the decision fatigue effect (making decisions is exhausting, which is why willpower can be difficult) may have something to do with why writing can be so tiring. It’s a constant string of decisions — what happens next, what should the characters do? When you have one of those “gift” books where there are no decisions to be made because it just seems to flow, writing is easier and less tiring. That’s when I can whip out thousands of words in a day. But when I’m constantly making decisions and figuring things out, it’s utterly exhausting. Plotting can help with that if you can separate the decision process from the writing process so the decisions are all made before you start to write, but there are some books that defy plotting. The one I’m working on now is like that. I have an entire spiral notebook filled with plot outlines, character arcs, etc., and none of it is doing me any good once I get to writing. At every turning point, I have to stop and think, and now I’m having to figure out if the choice I made five chapters ago is the right one. No wonder I’m exhausted. This also explains why writers need snacks and why my page count M&Ms or cherries work — making decisions depletes glucose in the brain. You need fuel to be able to keep making decisions.

Another thing that I found interesting in that book I was discussing yesterday (Willpower) is that deferral actually works the same way in the mind as indulging. Saying “not now, but later” provides a kind of satisfaction that means you may not even want it later. They tested this by having subjects watch a short film with a bowl of M&Ms nearby. Different groups of subjects were told either to imagine they’d decided to eat as much as they wanted, to imagine they’d decided not to eat them at all, or to imagine that they weren’t going to eat any now but would eat some later. Both the “no” and the “later” groups ate fewer M&Ms while watching the film. Then participants were given a survey to fill out that was supposedly about the laboratory they were in (it didn’t seem like part of the study — they’d already answered questions about the film. This was more of a “how did we do?” thing) and told that they were the last participant of the day, so here are the leftover M&Ms if you want them while you fill out the survey. The “later” people ate fewer than the “no” people or the “yes” people, and then in a follow-up survey, they reported that they were less interested in eating M&Ms. Saying “maybe later” provided the same sense of satisfaction as giving in, and the anticipation of the future pleasure counted as pleasure.

I’m curious whether they did any comparison between the high self-control people and high impulse people in this. I know that I frequently enjoy anticipation more than the actual thing. That’s how I am with shopping. When I see some non-necessary thing that I like, I generally don’t buy it right away. I’ll say “maybe later.” Then I may find some enjoyment in thinking about the “later,” but usually even the interest in the thing passes. I’ve learned that it’s often more fun to think about the possibility of having the thing than to actually buy the thing. Generally, the thing itself isn’t as fun in reality as it was in thinking about it, then I don’t have the money I spent on the thing and I have a thing I have to deal with that I don’t have space for. I can see where this might be a point of clashing in relationships. I know people who get frustrated with me when I mention seeing something I want and I don’t buy it, and they don’t get that me not buying it isn’t actually something I experience as self-denial, while I would get frustrated with someone who bought everything on a whim rather than thinking about long-term goals. There’s room there for a lot of fighting.

Though it can be taken too far. I’ve planned a lot of vacations I’ve never taken. I do get a lot of pleasure out of the planning, but it doesn’t really substitute for actually going somewhere sometimes.

writing life

Willpower

I read a lot of books about things like productivity and time management, mostly because I have no adult supervision, so I need all the help I can get. I’m my own boss, so there’s no one monitoring when I go to work, what I do during the workday, when I stop work, or how productive I am. I have even less structure when I’m writing for independent publication and there’s no publisher deadline. That means I need to figure out ways to keep myself honest and make the most of my time. There’s also an element of fascination and curiosity. I love psychology and figuring myself (and other people) out. My life makes for a good experimental environment because I have total control over just about everything. I decide when to sleep and wake up, when and what to eat, when and how to work. That allows me to try the various advice I read about in a way that I couldn’t if I had to worry about a job, spouse, kids, or even pets.

My latest read was a book called Willpower, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. It’s all about how willpower works and how to use it. They cite the now-famous study in which preschoolers were given a marshmallow and told that if they didn’t eat it before the researcher returned to the room, they’d get another marshmallow. They were studying self-control in children, but then later followed up with the kids when the daughter of one of the researchers, who’d been part of the preschool class used as a study group, mentioned running into her former classmates in college. They were curious to see what became of the kids, and it turned out that the greatest predictor of future success wasn’t intelligence or even socioeconomic background. The kids who held out for the second marshmallow were overwhelmingly more successful — better grades, went further in school, got better jobs, were better liked — than the kids who ate the marshmallow. The kids who ate the marshmallow were more likely to have dropped out of school or gone to prison. This held true even when they adjusted for race and class. I guess I’m interested in this kind of thing because I was the sort of kid who not only would have held out for the second marshmallow, but I’d have then held onto both marshmallows, saving them for some future special occasion. I would say that I’m not particularly successful, but then again, I am making a living in a career where most people who try it don’t end up making a living, so maybe we’re grading on a curve.

Anyway, the book offered a few takeaways that I found interesting and potentially useful for people who are trying to manage their lives more effectively. One key thing about willpower/self-control is that it’s essentially a decision — you’re deciding to take one action (usually a less immediately pleasant one) over another action (usually one with short-term benefits). It functions in the brain like any other decision you make — what to wear, what to do, what to buy, etc. We only have a limited amount of stamina for decisions, and once it’s depleted, it’s difficult to make decisions at all. By the end of any decision-making process, we’re likely to just not care and go with whatever the default is, and there’s lower willpower after that. Because of this effect, if you’re trying to change something in your life that takes willpower to do, it’s more effective to focus on one thing. You don’t have the stamina to make that many decisions on an ongoing basis. That’s why New Year’s resolutions usually fail: that long list of things you’re going to improve requires more willpower than you’ve got. You’re better off picking one thing and focusing on that.

The cool thing is that once you focus on that one thing, other things tend to fall into place without you really trying. They found in a study that when participants worked on one change in their lives from any category (physical fitness, financial planning, study habits), they also ended up eating better, smoking and drinking less, exercising more (even when physical fitness wasn’t the thing they were working on), and generally getting their lives in order without making any conscious effort to do those things. I’ve found that this summer. Because I’m rehabbing my bad knee and am in physical therapy, I have to exercise daily. I’m highly motivated to do this because I’ve been in pain and not able to do things, so I want to get better and know that doing my exercises will help. There’s also a financial motivation, as my medical bills will be lower the sooner I’m released from therapy, and doing the exercises daily will make me get well faster. And I’m getting monitored on my progress by the physical therapist, so I’m held accountable. That has made it relatively easy for me to make myself exercise every day. I’ve found that the rest of my life has fallen into place. I’m going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, feeling well-rested. I’m eating better. I’m doing a lot more writing. I’m making progress on organizing my house.

The other helpful thing is that after you do a behavior that requires willpower for a month or so, it becomes a habit, and doing it regularly no longer requires willpower. Then you can move on to some other thing you want to focus on. So, instead of making a list of resolutions, pick one thing to focus on. When that becomes a habit, move on to the next thing.

Accountability and monitoring really help in sticking to something. For writers, they suggest keeping track of the number of words written and amount of time spent writing (which I do). Planning also helps because it separates the decision from the action, which means it takes less willpower. I’ve found that to be very effective for me. I make a schedule for my day in the morning, and I find it’s a lot easier to say “it’s time to clean house” or “it’s time to write” because it’s in my schedule than it is to have a big open amount of time and then have to decide how to fill it when I’m in the moment, especially later in the day, when I’m tired. One fine tuning I’ve made to my schedule this week is to schedule my breaks. I used to just block off afternoons for writing, but I found that when I took a break during that time, it was sometimes hard to get back to work. So, instead of just blocking off the afternoon, I block off distinct writing sessions with distinct breaks, and I even plan what the main activity for each break will be. Then it’s a lot easier to get back to work. I’m not deciding it’s time to get back because the decision has already been made.

Anything you can do in advance to make the decision less taxing can help. If you’re dieting, don’t have tempting food in the house and you don’t have to decide not to eat it. Measure out portions ahead of time so you don’t have to decide how to eat or when to stop eating. Lay out your exercise clothes ahead of time so you don’t get sidetracked by deciding which t-shirt and shorts to wear. That’s something else I’ve been doing, scheduling time to set up my writing area. That way, all those little procrastination behaviors don’t happen during the designated writing time. The glass of water, computer, notebooks, etc., are all already there when it’s time to get to work. It used to be that the first half hour of my writing block was filled with the equivalent of the toddler demanding a story, a glass of water, and a closet monster inspection to delay bedtime. Now I have that block scheduled for preparation, and I find that I’m actually starting writing sooner.

It’s interesting reading if you want to work on managing your life, and might even be good character fodder.

writing

Beginnings

After focusing on writing life for the last few writing posts, I thought I’d get back to craft, and what better place to start than at the beginning?

Beginnings are tricky because this is where you hook readers. It’s where you sell the book, whether to a publisher or to the reader. If the first few pages don’t suck someone into the story, readers will never know that the middle is engrossing or the ending is terrific.

The beginning also seems to be the part of a novel that changes the most over time. The openings of books published just twenty years ago are different from what’s being published now. The change is even more drastic if you go back farther than that. I’ve tried re-reading some of my favorite fantasy novels from the 1970s and early 80s, and I have a hard time getting into them. I’m not sure that some of them would be published today. There’s not a lot of room for the opening chapter being about peaceful life on the farm before the mysterious wizard shows up and tells the entire history of that world and then asking the farmboy to join him on a quest. Our entertainment landscape has changed so much that attention spans are getting shorter and people expect to get right into the story. There’s also so much competition for eyeballs. If your opening doesn’t grab people right away, it’s too easy for them to instantly get another book on an e-reader, or find something to watch on Netflix, or surf the Internet.

One thing that seems to be going by the wayside is what you could call the “ordinary world” part of the story. That’s the first stage in the hero’s journey, and too many writers interpret that to mean showing what a regular day is like. I’ve heard agents and editors talk about reading sample chapters that show the character getting up in the morning, getting dressed, going to work, etc., before the story kicks in. You might be able to get away with that in the movie if that’s what’s playing out during the opening credits while a catchy pop song is playing and if the character on the screen is played by a known and loved actor. In a novel, it’s deadly.

Not that we don’t need any “ordinary world” element. We do need to get a baseline so we can contrast it with how things change once the story kicks off. If it’s science fiction or fantasy, we need to see how that world works and how it’s different from ours. If the world is in danger, we need to see what’s at stake — what will be destroyed if the hero fails? We need to see what the hero is like in his initial surroundings to get a sense of how he’s changed by the events of the story.

The trick is to make this an exciting part of the story rather than just exposition. It helps if your hero has a life that’s already pretty exciting. The opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Indiana Jones gets past all the booby traps into a tomb, outruns a boulder, and then flees angry tribesmen, is actually his ordinary world. It shows his skill set, what kind of work he usually does, and establishes his rivalry with the villain. That way, when we get to the actual inciting incident of him being asked to go get the medallion that can lead them to the Ark, we understand that this guy is up for the job.

Before the kids go to Narnia, they’re already in a strange world when they have to leave home and stay in a mysterious manor because they’re escaping the bombing during the war. That allows us to spend some time exploring the house before stumbling upon the wardrobe — but there would probably be a lot less of that if the book were published today.

Or you can contrast the hero’s ordinary life with a threat he or she doesn’t yet know about, but this only works if you have multiple viewpoints to work with. The Terminator opens with time travelers arriving in the present and a killer cyborg hunting down women named Sarah Connor. Then we watch a woman named Sarah Connor go about her ordinary day. Her ordinary day of going to work as a diner waitress becomes tense and frightening because we know what’s going on elsewhere that might affect her. But we probably wouldn’t be too interested if we spent pages and pages of her ordinary day before she realizes that people with her name are being killed. If it’s all in her perspective, she’d need to learn that really quickly. I think if I were writing that story as a novel entirely from her point of view, my opening line would be a coworker quipping to her about being murdered, and her seeing the report on TV. Then I could go back and show her boring ordinary life, contrasted with that fear of what’s happening to other women with her name, and build a sense of dread.

You don’t necessarily have to open with the ordinary world. You can dive right in with the inciting incident or call to adventure, and then while the hero is balking at that (in hero’s journey terms, “Refusal of the Call”) you can show what the ordinary world is like and why the hero is reluctant to leave that world. Or you can weave in bits of what might happen with the story world into the ordinary world. That’s how I opened my Enchanted, Inc. — the heroine is going about her ordinary day, taking the subway to work, but she sees strange things on the subway that no one else reacts to. She gets to work to find a strange job offer in her e-mail, and then we get scenes of what her normal job is like. I tried to weave in hints of the fantastic while also showing an ordinary life she might want to change.

But none of this does any good if we don’t care about the character, so that’s what I’ll tackle next time.

My Books

Status Update

I’ve had some reader questions about when we’ll be getting new installments in various series and what I’m working on. So, here’s an update on what I know about now. Of course, it’s subject to change, based on inspiration and reality.

What I’m working on now:
I would like to find a publisher for my young adult books. Those don’t seem to sell as well as independently published books, and school visits and library visits are a little easier to get with books from traditional publishers. So, I’m working on a new concept for a potential YA series, and because I want it to be a book that has publishers getting excited enough to actually remember that they’re publishing it, I’m taking the time to make sure it’s just right. So that’s getting the bulk of my writing time right now.

I’m also working on a fun little treat for the holiday season. I love those made-for-TV Christmas movies, particularly the ones with little fantasy elements. A few years ago, I wrote a screenplay for one. I figured that romantic comedy with some magic in it was right up my alley. But selling a screenplay is kind of an ordeal, and I wasn’t even sure how to start. I did love this story, though, so I’m turning it into a holiday novella that should be coming out sometime in November. It’s not related to any of my other series, but maybe it’ll be just the thing if you want a light, shortish romantic comedy read with a touch of magic and some holiday spirit. Stay tuned for specific release date, title, etc.

Now, for the series status updates:

Enchanted, Inc.
I’ve got a new Enchanted Universe short piece coming out August 15. It’s another Sam story, but this one is a direct prequel to Enchanted, Inc., giving some insight into what was going on with the magical people before Katie became aware of the magical world.

I also have a rough outline for a ninth Enchanted, Inc. novel that I hope to start writing when I finish that YA book. We’re looking at a tentative release date in March of next year, but I haven’t written a word of it, so this is all subject to change.

Rebels
There will be a fourth Rebels book. I have some general ideas for it, and I think that will be my fall writing project after I finish the Enchanted, Inc. book, which means a release maybe in late spring or early summer, depending on how long it takes me to write it.

Fairy Tale
I do want to write more books in this series, since I haven’t finished all the character stories I want to tell. But these don’t sell quite as well as my other books and are much more difficult to write. I’m thinking of trying a new approach with them, but at the moment I don’t have a firm plot in mind. I’m hoping something will come to me by the time I finish these next two books so I can do more. I really love this series, but the effort/reward equation is so out of whack that they tend to fall lower on the priority list. Since I do this for a living, I need to focus on work that will earn money. If you love this series, you can help change that by telling people about these books, reviewing them on the various retailer sites, etc.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of other ideas I want to play with but that I’m not ready to talk about. So I guess I’d better get to work so I can get all these ideas written before I get even more ideas.

Books

Recent Reading: Twists on Fairy Tales

It’s been a while since I discussed recent reading, mostly because I’ve been reading for awards consideration lately, which means not everything I read recently has really been according to my personal taste. But I have read a really lovely short story collection, The Starlit Wood, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. This is a book of retellings of fairy tales, putting the familiar tales in different settings, sometimes even in different genres, mixing them up, putting a new spin on them. Some of the retellings are science fiction, some are still fantasy, but a different kind of fantasy. Some put the tales into a different culture.

I haven’t always been a big fan of short stories. If I’m really into a story and its characters, I want more, so I don’t find the short story very satisfying. However, I’ve recently rediscovered the form, and I enjoy being able to read a whole story, start to finish, in one sitting. It’s nice to read and complete something in my bedtime reading. This book was great for airplane reading on my recent trip, and then I finished the last few stories last week. The nice thing about a collection like this is that if one thing isn’t entirely to my taste, the next one probably will be.

You’ve probably heard of most of the authors in this collection, and one of the stories won the Nebula Award. What I enjoyed was trying to figure out which story was being retold — and it wasn’t always obvious. The authors’ notes about inspirations were put at the end of each story, which I appreciated. That allowed me to face the story on my own terms and try to figure it out before I saw what the author wanted to say. Of course, that makes it a challenge to discuss any particular story and what I liked about it without giving away the source, so I won’t.

I’d recommend picking up this collection if you’re a fan of fairy tales.

I have to say that reading it and thinking about what I’d have written if I were the kind of author who ever got invited to participate in this wort of thing has given me an idea for a story that I now want to play with. If they ever do Back to the Starlit Wood and think about inviting me, I’ll be ready.

Life

The Summer of Therapy

I haven’t been posting much lately because I’ve been trying to stick to that “blog when I have something to say” rule and because I’ve been otherwise occupied.

This is definitely the Summer of Physical Therapy. That’s taking up a lot of my energy. There are the twice-weekly appointments where I go and have them put me through all kinds of torture. I start with ten minutes on the exercise bike to warm up, and then there are fun things like pulling against resistance bands, balancing on foam blocks, and playing catch while standing on one leg. I have very specific issues with this knee that mean there are some seemingly simple things I struggle with, even while I’m in very good shape otherwise. I can stand on one foot on foam and keep a Body Blade moving. I can play catch while standing on one foot. I can stand on one foot in an arabesque position and lower my body while holding a weight. But stand on a 2-inch platform and lower myself (like going down the stairs) on my bad leg? Very difficult. I graduated to four inches today, and that was a struggle. Oh, and getting in and out of a chair with my good leg on a square of foam (so it can’t really do the work). That’s incredibly hard.

Because they’re using weights to make balancing and moving more difficult, I’m also getting an upper-body workout. In fact, my shoulders are still sore from Wednesday’s session.

And then I have to do a lot of these exercises every day at home. You’d think I’d be losing weight from all this, but I’m not. I do seem to be trimming up a bit. My jeans are fitting better. I guess I’m putting on a lot of muscle.

However, all this activity leaves me very tired. I’m getting my writing work done, but not much else.

I’m still battling the book I’ve been fighting for months. I think I finally found the right mix of concept, tone, and plot, but now I’m at the point where the plot is going to have to diverge from what I originally wrote, and that means I have thinking to do. I’m determined to finish this book this month. Then I already have my next project lined up and planned.

writing life, writing

Change vs. Persistence

In my last writing post, I talked about dealing with discouragement. One of the pieces of advice was to change what you’re doing. There’s the often quoted saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, it makes sense to change what you’re doing.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for persistence. What you’re doing may not be wrong. It may just be a case of sticking with it and building up momentum. In the business book Good to Great, Jim Collins brings up the concept of the “flywheel.” In a factory, this is a large, heavy wheel that takes a lot of effort to get moving, but once it’s moving, it can be kept moving with minimal effort. The idea behind the metaphor is that in your career, it may feel like you’re not getting results at first, but if you stick with something long enough, you’ll eventually reach the point where it keeps turning on its own. If you keep starting and stopping or changing to something else when what you’re doing seems to be difficult, you’ll never build any momentum.

Which advice is right? It all depends on the situation.

In some cases, the need for change is pretty obvious. If you’re not selling enough stories, then it makes sense to write more stories and/or work to improve your writing. Sending out the same story over and over again, even after everyone’s rejected it, isn’t necessarily the good kind of persistence. The persistence there is continuing to write and submit rather than giving up at the first setback.

Other situations are more difficult — is it better to stick with a publisher and hope that you’ll gradually move up in the ranks and eventually have a book chosen to be a lead title, or is it better to move on and hope that you can find a publisher who’ll give you more attention now? Is the agent who launched your career the best fit for you when you want to move to another level? Should you continue with your current marketing efforts and hope that you can build an audience if you just let it build momentum, or should you drop some things and try some new things?

One thing to consider is how much you’ve sunk into doing things the way you’ve been doing them. Sometimes, that investment means you should stick with it, but that can also hold you back in making needed changes because you don’t want to lose that investment. Would starting over do you any good? Are there any opportunities waiting for you if you stick with where you are? Is there a potentially better use for the resources you’re currently devoting to what you’re doing now?

Have you given it enough time and opportunity to take off? If you’ve given what you’re doing a reasonable amount of time and aren’t seeing results, change makes sense. Are you seeing a positive trend? Are things getting better over time, even if you’re not yet where you’d like to be? If things aren’t improving even after you’ve given it some time, then change makes sense.

Here’s an example from my own career: I’ve been hitting science fiction conventions as an author since soon after my first fantasy novel was published, more than ten years ago. Travel to conventions was the biggest part of my marketing budget. Last year, I started thinking about whether that marketing strategy made sense for me. I realized that even that far down the road, I was still relatively unknown at the bigger conventions. I don’t seem to be making a name on the convention circuit or among that particular crowd. I’ve had one invitation to be a guest of honor at a convention. I mostly see the same faces in the audience when I do readings. I got a big boost from conventions early in my career when I went from being unknown to being slightly known, but I don’t seem to be growing beyond that level. I’ve given it more than ten years, which is long enough that if I were building momentum, I’d have seen it by now. The results seem to be tapering off. There are more effective ways I could use that time and money, so I decided to back off from conventions unless I’m an invited featured guest. Instead, I’m attending professional development and networking-oriented events and library and school events. I’ve used the travel budget on getting a new logo and website developed, and I’m working on other activities that I hope will get my name out in different ways. I’m also using the time I would have spent traveling to and recovering from conventions to write. I wasn’t feeling the momentum, so maybe I can build momentum in a different way that might allow me to hop back into conventions at a level where I can see more results, or at least do it for a different purpose, meeting fans instead of building a name.

If the answer is to stick with it, you may still need to make changes, like improving your writing, increasing your output, or finding new ways to build word of mouth. You can seldom get over any kind of slump by just continuing to do exactly what you’ve been doing all along. At the very least, changing something makes you feel more empowered and may help change your frame of mind, which makes it easier to weather the discouraging moments.