Saturday I’m giving a workshop titled, Storymapping Your Novel. As both the titles of the workshop and this post indicate, (as those of you who follow SJP know) I’m in many ways a plotter. I didn’t start out that way. When I began doing the Storyboarding… workshops, many, many years ago, it was Storyboarding Your Story. As time when by, I realized this fun exercise could be used to plan…mold…plot a writer’s career in the same way you would a novel.
You can do this at home. You’ll need a poster board (½ sheet), glue stick, scissors, lots and lots of assorted magazines, and a large frame to showcase your finished storyboard.
Find a comfortable place to spread out. Let your mind fly free. From the magazines cut out pictures, words and numbers that jump out, speak to you, feel like, or seem to have some significance for your career as a novelist (you might not know how or why). Once you have a large pile, sort through them, placing the most significant on the poster board. Make a collage. Don’t worry if some of the images overlay others. In the middle put the the one that feels most important, the image or words that scream the loudest what you’d like your writing career to look like. Build from there to the edges.
Some of the images may relate more to your non-writing life, but blend them with your career pictures. This is a hodgepodge merging of everything that is you succeeding as an author. That can’t be done without the ‘normal’ life that makes you who you are as a writer. When you’re satisfied with the overall effect, glue everything down. Use numbers to date your board. Then take a good look. What do you see?
You don’t have to be an artist or natural born plotter to do this storyboard.
(Insert: For those of you who are readers, you can do this exercise too, for your career, or everyday life, whichever you would like to spotlight, or need help deciding where you could go from here.)
In fact when I made my very first one, I fancied myself a pantser, someone who writes a story by the seat of her pants, with no guideposts except the end – a happy-ever-after. At the time I made the one hanging in my office, I’d grown into a hybrid between a pantser and plotter. Now, after a lot of back and forth, I like to think of myself as a planner, a close sister to a plotter, only without the specific attention to detail. But, it doesn’t really matter how you approach your writing (or life), only that you do approach it…and your career, with the firm intention of finishing your current novel…and the next one…and the next one.
The best thing about storyboarding your career is you’re going to see something unexpected in your finished board. It will speak to you, tell you something you didn’t know about yourself. And, it can be framed. Mine hangs in my office. When I look at it, the visual image of my writing career reminds me, I’m a work in progress, same as the story I’m currently writing.
As writers we are observers of the human experience. Last week I attended a conference where I heard one man’s experience.
The man telling the story was forty, a former athlete, nice looking, smart and funny. He’d been raised by a single mother. In his life he’d been successful in some careers and not in others, but finally had found true success in the past few years and was now making over one million dollars a year. The portion that fascinated me was how his life had changed.
He was proud of the fact he was able to send his nine-year-old son to some sports camp that cost $5000 a week. And the kid, who loved sports, was excited to go. Not terribly long ago, his son along with his best friend approached the father. It was the best friend who had a question. Both boys stood there, with the man’s son urging the other boy to speak. The father knew this was important so he waited patiently until the boy managed to get the words out.
The kids wanted to go to the sports camp together. The father hesitated unsure of his role and eventually said. “I’ll give the camp information to your parents.”
The boy shook his head. “I’ve already given it to them. They said they couldn’t afford it. I was hoping you would pay for me.”
The father was fond of his son’s friend, but even so, he said no. It wasn’t due to the amount of money. The money probably wouldn’t have meant anything to him. But later he told his own son that his friend had two parents who had to make their own decisions raising their child.
The ending of this story surprised me. As he began I thought this would be another “look how fabulous I am now that I have money” epistles. Believe me I’ve heard lots of these stories. Isn’t this the American dream?
Over the past week I’ve thought about this story a lot. How would I have handled it? The generous instinct would be to say sure, but actually I thought the man handled the situation with more grace and dignity than I would have managed. Plus he made the right decision. But it took me a long time to reach this conclusion.
We don’t know the other parent’s intention. What if it had been to teach their son the value of money? Furthermore, we don’t know if money was the actual problem. Charity, even needed, does not sit well with all.
I met for dinner with Authors Susan Lute and Kim Wollenburg, w/a Cassiel Knight a couple of nights ago and told them I planned to blog about this story. Kim asked, “how does it pertain to writing?”
As humans we have told stories, both written and oral for thousands of years. Behind every good story is a twist that makes the listener/reader pause. This story stayed with me because of the unexpected conclusion.
Reader’s inhale one story after another and toss each book aside. Nothing wrong with the writing, but the story lacked something. As evidenced by a week later when the reader can’t recall a single detail that made that story stand out – the twist that stays in the mind.
Uniqueness is what breaks us out of the mid-list and makes the author’s skill memorable. This is what we are all trying to achieve and why our education is never finished.
And this is why I write.
Did you do something about your strengths and challenges? Did you learn any revelations you’d like to share? Maybe a strength you didn’t realize you had or a challenge the surprised you?
Before we move on to talk about applying strengths and weaknesses, I want to share with you something I got out of this book I totally forgotten I’d gotten recently – Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author by Chuck Sambuchino (ISBN#978-1-59963-575-0). I haven’t finished it yet but I figure, these things are interesting and useful enough that I’m incorporating some thoughts into these sessions. It’s tailored, in large part, to non-fiction but that’s not problematic since the general concepts on platform remain the same.
For today, I’d like to start with:
Chuck says that “no matter what platform options you engage, the guiding principles of effective visibility remain the same.” He says if we apply these twelve fundamentals to everything we do, the specifics of what we do won’t matter – we’ll have a good chance of building our platforms faster.
It is in the giving that we receive – about getting people to like you – to engage with you BEFORE you start asking for them to buy
- You don’t have to go it alone – work with others and share the load.
- Platform is what you are able to do, not what you are willing to do – we might be willing to do a lot but aren’t able to. Focus on what you are able to do.
- You can only learn so much about writer platform by instruction, which is why you should study what others do well and learn by example.
- You must make yourself easy to contact – this means make sure your links work for people to find you. If you are published, are you website links from your publisher page good? Make sure you can be found and links are good. If readers click on a link and it doesn’t work, most times they won’t work to find you. Don’t make it hard to find and connect with you. An author with Champagne Book Group, gave this analogy: Links are like bridges and websurfers hate to use boats.
- The goal is to work incredibly hard at first, then let your platform run on autopilot – this is hard to encapsulate but basically, you have to do a lot of work to build your platform and make it run then at some point, you’ll do less but will still get maximum visibility from your platform.
- Start small, start early – and hope for tipping points – while it is easier to start a platform WITH a book, building a platform from scratch is possible, just difficult. Get on Twitter, build a simple website, begin now. This is something I wished I’d done. Now I have to work twice as hard playing catch-up.
- Have a plan, but feel free to make tweaks.
- The world is changing, and the goal of platform is to look forward, not back – it’s less important what you did in the past then what you do NOW.
- Try your best to be open, likeable, and relatable – all the things under platform will help build your platform but Chuck says that overall, it matters who you know. He’s a strong advocate for networking. So am I. It’s opened doors for me I never would have had otherwise.
- Be part of your community and understand the needs of its members – be involved. Don’t just post about your book or links. Be actively involved with your tweeps, friends, members, etc.
- Numbers matter – so quantify your platform – this matters more so in non-fiction but it is helpful to know how effective you are in genre fiction or if you self-publish and want to break into commercial publishing.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?