Are you wondering how to write consistently? Recently, I spoke with Karen Ferreira during her Children’s Book Mastery Summit. Writing consistently was one of the key topics in our discussion. Karen’s creative agency consists of a small team of illustrators for hire to provide beautiful, affordable illustrations for authors.
During the Children’s Book Mastery interview, Karen and I talked about how to write consistently and finally publish. Whether your goal is to build your blog, post more often on social media, write a book, or a children’s book, these tips and tricks are sure to be useful. Here are some of the highlights of our Children’s Book Mastery Summit Conversation.
- How to write consistently and not stop—and how to have fun with it!
- How to overcome self-doubt and inner resistance as a writer
- The difference between the creative zone and technical zone and how to use that to your advantage
- What writer’s block is and how to defeat it
- If you should share your book with others early on or not and why
Make sure you don’t miss the end, where you hear my #1 tip for helping authors succeed.
Q1: What key advice can you give, that could help writers set aside all doubts and just write?
Karen: So in your book, “Ten great ideas for authors“, you say “Write incessantly” and “Writers write”, which I think is so key. I’ve also seen the idea more than once that writing a book is this long, drawn-out, painful process that takes forever. This is not true, and I think a lot of it comes down to writing. So what key advice could you give that could help writers set aside all the reasons and doubts and just write?
Jed: I struggled with figuring out how to write consistently for years. I even put this first in my book for writers. For me, the two words “writers write,” changed my life. It almost sounds too good to be true, but for me, that was my “aha” moment. For years I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t know how. I knew I needed to write. So I opened my laptop and I got my ideas in place and I started to write. And this is key, because writers write!
How Not to Write
Jed: Then, probably about one or two chapters in, all of these negative thoughts started flooding my head. One thing I’m not good at is spelling and grammar. That’s never been a strength. So I think to myself “Okay wait. maybe I can’t do this.” So I stopped writing my book, jumped on Amazon, ordered a spelling and grammar book. I started to study spelling and grammar. After doing that for a while I decide, “Okay, wait, I’ve got to get this book out.”
Jed: So again, open my laptop, started to write… A couple of chapters in I realize, ‘Once I finish this book, I have no way of getting it out into the world’. Again, I stopped my book, and I kid you not, I ordered a book on how to find a publicist. For anyone who wants to know how to write consistently, it is first important to understand how not to write consistently–and that is to do what I did. This time, I stopped writing my book in order to find a publicist. Soon, this pattern of starting and stopping became a habit.
Jed: So that phrase, “writers write”, came from a podcast I heard, and for me, this was a powerful moment. I heard the podcast speaker say:
“If you want to publish a book, there are no gatekeepers, but you must write.”
How to Write Consistently
Jed: If you want to write, whether that means publishing a book, a blog post, or on social media, all you have to do is sit down and write. Today there are so many options available. Writers can traditionally publish, and they can also self-publish. If you want to write, the one thing you absolutely must do… is write. That was the moment I realized, The reason I don’t have my book finished is because I’ve been doing everything but the work that matters.
Jed: So the next morning I set my alarm for 5:30 AM. I woke up, brewed a pot of coffee, sat down at the kitchen table, opened my laptop and began to write. I did that the next day, the next day, the next.
Jed: And here we are almost six years later. I’ve just published my 20th book. They are short books. But I love this writing time. For me, writing is fun. And those two words, “writers write,” were the catalyst for this whole writing adventure.
Karen: Wow. Yeah, that’s impressive. I mean, I’ve read a few of your books, which I actually loved. And I think a lot of writers are trying to perfect their writing before writing. Or, as you said, their marketing or other steps. But you can’t possibly get better at writing with no writing. Even if you read 20 books on how to write well, you might improve a little bit by knowing what to do better before you start, but you’re not really going to improve your writing by not writing.
Q2: Which practical steps can you give our writers to write more?
Karen: Which practical steps can you give our writers to write more? What would you say to someone who asks about how to write consistently?
Jed: That’s a great question, and I want to dive into that. But first, you said something really good. You said the way to get better at writing is to write. I remember writing my very first book and pouring my heart and soul into it. Today, I still believe that that book is so packed with incredibly good information. However, I also try not to read it. Reading that book is a little painful. I always think, Oh, I could say that so much better now. There really has been writing growth over the years.
Karen: Yeah, I would think 20 books…you have to improve, right?
Jed: Absolutely! For anyone wanting to know how to write consistently and how to improve as a writer, the practical tool is building the writing habit. One thing I learned about habits is that new habits work best when you attach them to an old habits. The reason I was able to keep writing is that I took a routine I had in place–which was waking up early and brewing a pot coffee–and attached my writing to that! So my pattern became, wake up, brew the coffee and write. Coffee is now my trigger to write.
Jed: I think that’s the best way to establish this new writing routine. Find something that’s going to trigger your body to say, “Okay, now it’s writing time.” I’ve learned, with writing, consistency is key.
Jed: If you stop, it is hard to get started again. Once you have writing momentum going, you’re like a freight train–you’ll crash through anything. But if you stop–if you go a week or two weeks without writing–starting again is like slogging through a swimming pool full of jello. So build that writing habit. Stick with it. Get the momentum going and keep it going. That’s how to be unstoppable.
Karen: Okay. I think that’s really good advice and I haven’t really heard the concept of connecting it to another habit. I like that.
Q3: What do you do if you start to doubt your writing?
Karen: What would you say if someone starts writing, and they write write write… and then they say see, “my writing isn’t really that good.” I mean what do you do then?
Jed: I love that question. So, first: Congratulations. You’re absolutely normal. And then, two: It’s a mindset shift. Amazon lets you rate and review books. One mindset shift that I suggest authors get in, is to expect a one-star review. In fact, your first one-star review is a right of passage. Hopefully, it’s surrounded by 10, 15, or 20 five-star reviews. But here’s what I know—if you have no one-star reviews on your book, I can guarantee you it’s because nobody’s reading your book.
Jed: I look at my favorite movies, my favorite shows, my favorite books, and they all have one-star reviews. In fact, Ann Lamott, the well-known writer who wrote the writing book, Bird by Bird, calls the initial draft, ‘the crappy rough draft’.
Jed: It really is that mindset shift of learning to think, “My first rough draft is supposed to be messy, and I’m going to let it be messy.” Then, once my messy rough draft is complete, I’m going to rewrite it. After finishing the first draft is the right time to revise and wordsmith. By the time my 10th draft rolls around, I think to myself, Dude! I wrote that! It’s actually starting to sound good. I see this, time and time again, with other authors too.
Give yourself permission to let your messy rough draft be messy.
Karen: Wow, that’s really awesome! Obviously it will be much easier to just keep going if you don’t judge yourself every step of the way. I really love the way you say, if you get a one-star, you should expect it. And you can only get a one-star if you’ve actually published the book in the first place.
Q4: How do you overcome inner resistance to writing?
Karen: If someone starts writing and they’re going on their way, but then hits some kind of resistance… How do you overcome that?
Jed: Yeah, figuring out how to write consistently is a process. With, resistance, it’s deciding ahead of time that you’re not going to look to other people for validation. One of the biggest questions I get from writing students is, “When can I show this to somebody? When can I get a second opinion on if this is any good?” And my thought is you don’t need that second opinion, and you don’t want that second opinion.
Jed: For self-help books, there are two questions I ask myself. One: are the ideas in this book helpful for me. And two: have they been helpful for somebody else?
Jed: If either answer is yes, then I know my information is good. This means I’ve must push forward because the next question is how do I get this helpful message in front of the right audience?
Jed: One of my favorite stories is Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul story. I think it was 144 different publicists that he took his book to and said, “Hey, I want to publish this. Will you guys publish this for me?” And they all said, “No, absolutely not.” Now those books have gone on to sell millions and millions of copies. I keep thinking there must be 144 publicists out there just kicking themselves.
Jed: Karen, do you know how many rejections slips Harry Potter got?
Karen: No, I don’t actually know.
Jed: So, it looks like from the research I saw, it was rejected 10 times before it finally found that publicist.
Karen: That’s insane. I actually didn’t know that. And I mean, let’s be honest, how many people would persist after even two or three or four times? So I think that’s quite a valuable lesson to take on.
Q5: What does writer’s block really mean? How do you overcome it?
Karen: Okay. And then I wanted to ask you about writer’s block. “Writer’s block” is quite a common term, but I don’t know if everyone understands what writer’s block really means. Can you start by defining it for us?
Jed: Absolutely! For me, writer’s block is when I follow my morning routine. I wake up, brew the coffee… open up my laptop… then, I sit there. I stare at that white screen of death–that blinking cursor that keeps blinking on and off and on and off. After starting to write, I hit delete. And that blinking cursor is just mocking me. I know I’ve got something to write, but I just can’t tap into it.
Karen: Okay. I think that’s a pretty brilliant definition. It definitely describes what happens. What would be your tips on overcoming writer’s block?
Jed: Ooh, I love that question. I’ve got a ton of tips.
Jed: So let me break them down just into a few of my favorites. One of the easiest ways to beat writer’s block is to have a good plan in place. For me, that means starting with a mind map. Before I start writing I come down to my office, set a timer for 10-minutes, and get my thoughts together. I think, “All right, I’ve got 10 minutes. I’m going to keep my pen moving the whole time. Every idea, good, bad or ugly. It’s going down on this paper.”
Jed: I try to engage that creative side of my brain. Everything I can possibly think of gets down there.
Jed: Soon, I’m in the zone. The ideas flow, and it feels like I can’t move my pen fast enough. Then I hit the five-minutes point and I slow down. I’m still writing steadily. Usually, about the eight-minute mark, it is hard to keep that pen moving. I’m writing my ideas as slow as I can so that I can try to think of something new that I haven’t put on my paper yet.
Jed: At the end of 10-minutes, I’ve got my messy mind map. Some people call it a brain dump because you literally dumped every idea you can think of onto the page.
Jed: Step two is taking that messy mind map and turning it into a neat outline. This engages the critical thinking part of our brain. Typically what I’ll do is I’ll start with the beginning, move to the end, and finally fill in the middle. For anyone who wants to know how to write consistently having a good plan in place is key.
So next I ask myself, “Where are my readers?”
Jed: If it’s a parenting book, I ask, “Where are my readers in regards to their parenting right now?” For a children’s book, I ask: Where does the story start and where does the story end?
Jed: Then it’s going to my messy mind map and asking, “How do I fill in the blanks? How do I get my readers from where they are to where they want to go?” A great way to answer this question is to imagine I am sitting with my readers in a coffee shop. Then, I pick the first piece of advice I would share?
Jed: For a children’s story, it is, “All right, what do we need to know first to get readers from the start to the finish?” Then it’s, “What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing?” When I sit down to write, I’ve got a map.
To learn how to write consistently, turn that messy mindmap into a neat outline. Then write from one guidepost to the next to the next to the next.
Karen: Wow, I think that’s brilliant and it makes it so much more real to not try and do two or three steps in one go. That’s just not going to work out.
Q6: How can someone make writing more fun for themselves?
Karen: How can someone make writing more fun for themself, instead of a chore?
Jed: I’ve got a couple of strategies for this. I’ll tell you the one that helped me the most. It goes back to that brain science of half of our brain being very creative and then the other half being technical. Writing engages our creative brain. Editing, revising, and word-smithing engages the critical-thinking side of our brain. For years I did what probably most writers do. I wrote and revised my books at the same time.
Jed: One day I read this article that said, our brains don’t switch back and forth well. It said:
“If you’re going to write your book, stay in that creative zone. If you’re going to edit your book, stay in that critical thinking zone.”
Jed: This made writing so much easier and it made it more fun. I was frustrating myself by working harder, not smarter. Switching between creative and critical thinking is something our minds just aren’t designed to do.
Jed: The second piece is finding a way to get in the zone. I’m naturally an introvert, and I love that quiet alone time. Writing is a time to process and organize my thoughts. I find topics that I love to write about, which is the cool thing about being a self-published author–nobody says, “Jed, you have to write about this.”
Jed: This may not be the most strategic way to write. If you look at my books, I’ve got children’s books, I’ve got books on parenting, books on relationships and books for writers. On the other hand, the advantages is writing in this way allows me to pour my heart and soul into each book.
Jed: I’m also sharing ideas I use myself. So usually at the end of a writing session, I’m pumped!
Karen: That’s so cool. I love that idea. And I think the two parts you gave work so well together. If you’re just writing and letting it flow, without revising every little step as you go, then you can solidify it for yourself as well. So just get it out. Then it doesn’t become this big chore. I think that is a brilliant answer.
Q7: Is it a good or bad idea to tell others you’re writing a book? Why?
Karen: Would you say it’s a good or a bad idea to tell someone else that you’re writing a book?
Jed: My answer to that is “Yes.” And I’m going to dive into both. So why should you tell people you’re writing a book, and why is telling people you’re writing a book a bad idea? If you need accountability, my suggestion is, tell everybody. Post it on social media, because now you’ll think, “Oh, I’ve got to keep writing. All of my friends are expecting me to finish this book, and I can’t let them down”.
Jed: But here’s the other side. I’ll tell everybody, but I won’t show anybody what I write. Even my wife. Any feedback I get, especially in that rough draft writing stage, is not beneficial. So if somebody were to read my book and offer constructive criticism, my crazy brain would say, “Oh, my writing is horrible. Who’s gonna read this? Look, I’m just getting started and I’m already getting critical feedback.”
Jed: Now, let’s say the opposite happens. Let’s say my wife, who is absolutely amazing, says, “Jed, I love this. This is your best work”. Well, the next morning I’m going to sit down at my laptop and my crazy brain is going to tell me, “Jed, everything you’ve written up to this point. It’s awesome. You’ve got to make this chapter incredible. You’ve got to blow it out of the water!” And all of a sudden I’m going to sink under the weight of that pressure. Anything I write isn’t going to feel good enough.
Jed: In that rough draft writing phase, feedback is rarely helpful. I want to follow my guideposts, I want to share my message. I want to go back and do my second draft. After the word-smithing, the editing, the revising, and the cleaning up it’s time to show off my writing. For those who want to know how to write consistently, I suggest getting that rough draft done before showing anyone.
Jed: After doing some extra fine-tuning, then I can take feedback. When it comes to writing, I would say tell everybody, but show nobody. At least until you’re through that second-draft stage.
Q8: What is your top tip for helping children’s book authors succeed?
Karen: Awesome. I love that. I think that’s very sound advice. Finally, what would be your top tip for helping children’s book authors succeed?
Jed: You know, children’s writing is different from regular writing. And in some ways, I think it’s more complex because you’ve got two audiences. You’ve got your kids who you’ve got to engage with your stories. But kids are not the ones buying the books. So you’ve got to engage the parents as well. Parens all have children’s books that are near and dear to their hearts. We have the ones that we’re just going to buy for our kids because we loved them. Children’s authors will need to work extra hard to win over the parents.
Jed: But I think very few children’s book authors publish one children’s book and have that big breakthrough. That is tough to do. So I would say:
“Go in with that mindset of, ‘This is going to be a process, a journey, and adventure.’ Then, keep writing no matter what!”
Think to yourself, “I’m going to write and publish a children’s book. Then I’ll, market it the best I can. After that, I’m going to do write the next children’s book and my next one and my next one, building up that readership over time.” This is better than thinking, yeah, I’ve just got to do this one book.
Karen: I think that’s really good advice because otherwise, you’re going to get derailed before you ever really get anywhere.
I hope you enjoyed my interview with Karen on How to Write Consistently. Be sure to check out my interview as well as interviews from a host of other amazing authors in The Children’s Book Mastery Summit!