Playing a Big Game

January 1, 2011

This time last year I discussed successes & failures from 2009, and began to create goals for 2010. Met some of them, didn’t meet others. As I begin to create a strategic plan for 2011, it’s time to complete on my plan from 2010, to see what worked and what didn’t, to acknowledge what I’ve accomplished and create a new one for next year.

For 2010:

  • What I said I’d do: “I’d like to continue my existence/time management structures. The goal is to have my time measured every day, without gaps. Realistically, I will get upset with myself some day for not doing something I was supposed to do, will make myself wrong, and won’t do it. But I will be back on track within a week, because I have enough people holding me to account for doing it. If I can go the entire year having missed, 30 days, I get a bronze star, 20 days a silver star, and 10 days a gold star.”
    What I did: I actually went quite a bit further with this, and began to train myself in Mission Control, a well known time-management system. As soon as I implemented it I got super-productive, so then I took on more to do, and immediately got confronted again by how much I had to do. Ratfarts. Anyway, I am now pretty reliable for tracking billable hours and scheduling my time.
  • What I said I’d do: “Finish the novel I’m working on with my dad, a short story/novella I started right before my dad’s and my scheduled start date, and Charisma.”
    What I did: I did finish that short story, although we ended up quitting on the novel pretty quickly because it wasn’t very good. And I still haven’t finished Charisma – Barely worked on it last year. I have, however, been working on some other projects, and I just finished the bible and first three episodes for a Web series, which I’m going to begin shopping around.
  • What I said I’d do: “Exceed this year’s 64 blog posts and 407 4th-quarter visits, without being one of those annoying people who posts what color shoes they’re wearing every day.”
    What I did: 55 blog posts, which was a little bit less but still respectable. But my big win, I blasted through my 4th quarter visits goal with over 1,000 4th-quarter visits.
  • What I said I’d do: Attend, in some capacity, the 2010 Writer’s League of Texas Agent’s Conference, the Austin Film Festival, San Diego Comic-Con, two comic book conventions closer to home, and two more authors/publishers conferences/conventions.
    What I did: Attended WLT Agent’s Conference and AFF, but not the others. AFF in particular proved to be extremely valuable for me this year.
  • What I said I’d do: Continue reading every day and log every book I finish.
    What I did: Don’t think I read every day, but I did log the books I finished, ending the year at 21. Perhaps not a lot for a professional writer, but I’m continuing to develop the habit.
  • What I said I’d do: Come up with a marketing plan for Ups & Downs that gets the two stacks of books out of my office as a result of sales.
    What I did: Um. No.

Other accomplishments not reflected in the above:

  • Closed my first ghostwriting contract, developed my website in such a way that it’s proactively driving customers to me, started leading workshops on how to write a nonfiction book, and performed stand-up comedy–doing very well at it.

Goals for 2011

  • 55 blog posts and  average 500 visits a month for the 4th quarter.
  • Finish three screenplays, one in time to submit to AFF, Nicholl, and several other screenplay competitions.
  • Attend San Diego Comic-Con, Austin Film Festival, WLT Agents’ Conference, the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, and the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, as time allows (some of those my be on conflicting dates).
  • Start acting again. And get paid for it. God I miss acting. And getting paid for it.
  • Edit 12 books.
  • Close sales on two more ghost writing projects.
  • I want to produce $25,000 in revenue in the month of January. This will require, rather than just surviving at the game of being a professional writer, growing a pair of balls and creating something completely new. It’ll mean finding clients who  really recognize what good content is worth, and who recognize that I can provide it.

Here’s to 2011.

10.21 – A Texan in Hollywood

December 31, 2010

Several weeks ago I attended the Writers League of Texas Christmas Party. As part of the party, there was a grab bag – for $5, you could reach in and grab a present, which would be a book, or perhaps a signed book, or perhaps, if you were really lucky, a really awesome book with a $25 gift certificate to some local business.

I got just a book. And given the books that WLT has to give away (It’s not uncommon for them to get a box of books dumped in their office with a note saying “I’ve got 500 of these in my office, please, just take it!”), I was fully expecting it to be a pretty lame one.

But I was very pleasantly surprised.

The book I unwrapped was Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood by Robert Hinkle, a West Texas cowboy who wound up as a stuntman, dialect coach, actor, writer, director, and producer. In 1955, when George Stevens asked him, “Do you think you could teach Rock Hudson to talk like you do?” he became the dialect coach for Hudson, Jimmy Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and a young Dennis Hopper for the movie Giant, and then did the same for Paul Newman and the cast of Hud as the Academy Award-winning film’s cultural consultant. He made friends with the likes of Elvis and LBJ, and helped with Evel Knievel’s rise to fame. He doubled for John Wayne, Charlton Heston, and Robert Mitchum.

Of course, an interesting life/career doesn’t necessarily mean that the book will be good. But this one was. You really hear the West Texan voice coming through in the writing. Each chapter was introduced with a quote that would show up sometime later: for example, at the top of Chapter One, “Mr. Stevens, to tell you the truth, I’ve been going to a speech coach to try to lose this damn accent.” Each chapter featuring its own main storyline, not worrying so much about a chronological telling as much as telling the interesting anecdotes in interesting ways.

As I’m ghostwriting someone else’s memoir right now, this helped me along some. It’s let me get away from the rigid way I’ve been thinking about structuring this book, and maybe taking a completely different tack–having the memoir be about the author’s journey in re-telling his life story, rather than just being about the story itself.

So four stars to Robert Hinkle and his ghostwriter/literary agent Mike Farris, who’ve produced a really solid specimen in the memoir genre. Well done.

How to Get Started Writing Your Book

August 3, 2010

Got this question recently:

I am a 24yr old single mother to two wonderful boys. For the past two years I have advocated, fund raised and raised awareness for prematurity. Both of my children were born very early and have had a long journey to having a stabilized life. I have a passion for getting the boys’ story out to the public, recently I have found myself really wanting to write a book more than usual. There are various books published about being a premature parent and the journeys the preemies go on. I thought my book would differentiate based on the fact that I was a single mother during both births, and I am not a medical professional, so unlike most of the books out there I was a regular girl in a very unknown world. Yet I have made it to a place where I know I am able to help others, and I feel as though my story will be able to relate to others.

My question to you is: I have no idea where to even begin to do this project. Do I write a book, do I sell my idea, do I take classes? I am lost. Please help!! I read you do ghostwriting. What are the costs for your services? If I need to save up I will do whatever it takes to accomplish this. I want this to be a life changing project not only for my family but most importantly for the future parents of preemies. Again please help!

I generally think that there’s a very specific situation that makes it a good idea to hire a ghost writer, and from the sounds of it, this person is not in that situation, so I most definitely would not recommend hiring a ghost writer. You’re talking about spending 5 figures, and unless you’ve set up a business talking to people about this subject for a couple thousand dollars a pop, there’s a 99% chance you won’t come even close to recouping your money.

If this person wants to get the story out, then there are a couple of things I recommend.

One, read a lot of books – not just on the subject of preemies, but things that are on different subjects but similar in tone/style/genre to what you want your book to be. Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother by Jana Wolff comes to mind. I’ve never read it, but from what this person described, it sounds like one she should check out.

Two, read some books on writing, take some classes, attend conferences (the Writers League of Texas Agents’ Conference, the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, the Texas Book Festival in the fall, and I’m sure there are plenty of others around the state). Personally, I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on classes that are only a couple of hours long. I think you get far more by, for example, spending $300 on the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, which gives you a whole weekend of classes and time to actually work on your book. Also, you will ALWAYS get more out of volunteering for a conference/festival than you will attending it. You get to sit in on the sessions for free and you get excuses to talk to important people about something other than your book, which sets you apart from the crowd of attendees.

Three, if finding the time to actually sit down and write the thing is a challenge, create structures for doing that. NaNoWriMo is a good one for some people, but far more people quit partway through than finish their book that way. Most people are better off putting something at stake, that they stand to lose if they don’t fulfill on it. In the past few months I’ve started promoting myself as a writing coach, with the idea being that the person pays me a set monthly fee, and I talk to them every day to make sure they’re writing and then I read and edit whatever they write, so they’re learning as they go along. So far I’ve had a couple of people say yes to this but none have started yet (they’ve all got stuff going on during the summer and are putting it off – which I’m starting to realize is something I need to push people out of).

I’m teaching classes on “Kick-Starting Your Nonfiction Book.” It does wonders to focus ideas and move you in the right direction, and if you sign up for my “every whenever-I-get-to-it newsletter“, you can find out when the next one is. Also, check out this article, which discusses what we cover in the workshop:

Thanks to Melissa Overy for the question, and if you’re interested in supporting her cause, please visit

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