52. Listener Q&A #1

A few weeks ago I put a call out for some listener Q&A questions and in this blog (and podcast) I am going to answer them.


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This gives you a little preview of the type of coaching you might get in Advancing Authors. Where you get individual access to me and Tiana and get all your questions answered, and get to learn from other writers through their questions.


Question #1: The Distracted Writer


Hi, thank you for your podcasts, I am a new listener and have been burning through them. Every time I sit down to write I get distracted. I always go in with the best intentions, but after a few minutes, I suddenly find myself on social media or on random websites and not writing. I don’t want to be doing this but can’t seem to change. Any advice?

Great question. I think this is something that happens to a lot of us. We plan to do something and then find ourselves doing something else and wondering what the heck happened.


But humans don’t just do actions at random. The way this question is phrased, it’s almost presented like a reflex test at the doctors, where they hit your knee and your leg kicks out. Like, "this is just what happens when I sit down to write and I don’t have control over it." But this is not like a physiological reflex, there is a thought that’s causing you to take the action of going on social media, you’re just not aware of it.


The coaching model that I teach in Blockbuster YA, and have talked about here, shows us that our thoughts cause our feelings which cause our actions. This happens even when we don’t know that it’s happening.


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I’m guessing you have thoughts when you write that produce negative feelings. The thought might be something like, “I don’t know what to write,” “This is hard,” “I’m bored,” “I don’t want to do this.” Any of those thoughts would make you feel uncomfortable or bad, and when you feel that way, you want to get away from it, you want to feel better.


You’re right that you are distracting yourself by going on social media, but it’s not distracting yourself from writing, it’s distracting yourself from a negative feeling and a negative thought that you’re having.


What you want to do when you sit down to write, is become aware of the thoughts and feelings that you’re having. It will probably be a slow process, where you won’t be able to stop yourself right away, but you’ll be able to notice when you’re on Facebook.


When you notice that you’re there, pause for a minute, take a sheet of paper and write down all your current thoughts about writing. We need to access them and become aware of them before we change them. If you find it hard to access the thought that led you to Facebook, see if you can notice the feeling that you currently have. Is your chest a bit tight? Do you feel heavy? Anxious? Confused? And you can ask yourself, what was I thinking that made me feel this way. Eventually, you’ll be able to notice the thought or the feeling before you log on to Facebook. Or the time that you spend on Facebook will get shorter and shorter.


Remember this is not happening at random. It’s not a reflex that you don’t have control over – it’s being caused by a thought that you are having. Once you become aware of it, you're going to have so much more authority over your actions, even without changing the thoughts.


Question #2: Middle Grade vs. YA


Hi! I came across your podcast and website just yesterday and I’m all ears! I have a story idea but I’m not sure what age group I should target (young readers versus young adults). Do you have any hints on how to decide? Thanks so much and greetings from Vienna!

I love that we have listeners from all over the world and thank you for submitting this excellent question. I think many YA writers have wondered the same thing because there are so many sub-genres of YA, and then there is Middle Grade.


There are some key differences between Middle Grade and YA but the short answer is that it comes down to the age of your protagonist. If your protagonist is a teenager, 13 and above, it’s going to be YA. Generally, the target age for YA is 13-18, with around 16 years old being the average. If your protagonist is between 8 and 12 that’s targeted to Middle Grade, the average protagonist age for that is typically around 11 years old.


Some of the other key differences between those two genres is the content. If you’re trying to decide what is going to be best for your story, think about what type of content you want your book to have.


Middle Grade is not going to have profanity, sexuality is going to be limited to crushes, basically nothing too graphic across the board, even in terms of violence. That being said, it can still have frightening kinds of images.


Where YA can be more graphic but still not going to be explicitly sexual or have an abundance of graphic content.


Remember these books are going to be accessed, especially for Middle Grade, through libraries and parents, so the content has to follow kind of the “guardian guidelines.”


Industry trends are currently that YA tends to be told in the first person as it offers a lot more introspection and opportunities to explore the meaning behind the events that happen, where Middle Grade tends to be told in the third person so that the protagonist can react and experience the world around them.


Of course, these rules do get broken and you’ve probably read some books that have left you confused on the genre. But if you're an unknown author and you want to give your book the best chance at getting picked up, you're going to want to consider these rules and yourself how your story would be better served by them.


Question #3: Fear of Failure


Hello! I have two questions regarding writing. I deeply want/need to write a novel but can’t seem to get over my fear of failure if I don’t finish, or if I do and what others will think about it. When I think I’m going to start writing in spite of being afraid, I get stuck in this loop of not being able to decide exactly what story I should write. What can I do to get out of this loop? Thank you.

I love how you phrased this with, “my fear of failure if I don’t finish,” because it’s so clear that this is the thought that’s holding you back from even starting.


You’ve trapped yourself with two outcomes here. Either you never finish your novel and feel terrible or you do finish it and feel terrible because of what other people might say about it. It's no mystery that you’re having a hard time starting with those thoughts.


That other thought about not knowing what to write I think is just a way for you to avoid having to face those other thoughts that make you feel terrible. It’s like you’re choosing to feel confused over being afraid.


Once you clean up your thoughts around failure and other people's approval you're probably going to find that you do know what you want to write.


My advice would be to take some of the weight off of this. Even the way you phrased it, “I deeply want/need to write” it’s all just very heavy. The "need" part of this, specifically, is what I think is creating this loop of confusion.


If you have a goal to write a book and you think the thought, "I need to write a book," it sounds like that thought makes you feel stuck or maybe anxious.


When you feel stuck or anxious, you fail ahead of time, worry about other people’s opinions and spend time in indecision wondering what to write.


You create the result of “I don’t write a novel.”


Be careful with that thought of, "I need to write a novel," because it sounds motivational, but if you look at what it’s causing it’s not actually helping you write a novel.


Ask yourself:

  • What would it be like if you didn’t have any pressure on yourself to pick the right story idea?

  • What would it be like if you didn’t have to write a book that everybody loved?

  • What story idea sounds like it sounds the most fun to write?

  • What story idea would you want to try out first?

  • What would you need to think about writing a novel to create an emotion that is fun or experimental?

And notice how much you are creating the result for yourself of being confused and not writing a novel.


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