5 Questions to Ask Successful Authors To Improve Your Craft

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What a difference a few hundred years makes. If you were a wannabe writer in the time of Jane Austin or Charles Dickens, your chances of meeting them and asking writing-related questions would be practically nonexistent. The advent of writers’ conventions has given aspiring authors the chance to connect with bestselling scribes from every genre.

In the last few years, the wall between full-time authors and authors-in-training has gotten even more transparent. Blog posts, podcasts, and social media give you the opportunity to chat with successful authors on a daily basis. Once you get an author’s attention, however, it’s very important that you use your time wisely.

If you’ve ever been to a conference or a live Google+ Hangout with a successful author, you’ve probably seen similar questions pop up in every session. How do I find an agent? Should I seek a publisher or self publish? Where do you come up with your ideas? While these kinds of questions present themselves in most open discussions, that doesn’t mean they’re a valuable use of your face time. If you’re serious about being a successful author yourself, then you need to ask questions that have actionable answers. It’s not worth asking a question if you’re unable to use the information that you’ll receive in return.

Here are five questions that will provide you with much more useful answers:

1. How Did You Develop Your Writing Habits?

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Many aspiring authors are under the impression that all books are a magical blend of inspiration and the perfect agent. In reality, the most successful authors are the ones who’ve developed the rights habits and mindset. Their daily ritual gives them the practice they need to keep writing, while their mindset compels them to continue without the visual or financial indications of success.

While bad habits die hard, good habits may seem impossible to apply. There are many books out there about writing every day and hitting a certain word count, but you may get some interesting tidbits of wisdom by hearing a successful author’s input on the subject. Take notes on his or her response, and see if there’s anything that you can try out yourself.

2. What Did You Do to Improve Your Writing?

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This question is worded very specifically. Plenty of aspiring writers will ask, “How can I get better at writing?” This question is often rewarded with a canned response. The author may say to go out there and read a bunch of books or that you should keep plugging away and you’ll eventually see improvement. By making the question personal, however, you may be able to glean some wisdom from their success stories.

Many bestselling authors have faced rejection, from Stephen King to J.K. Rowling. Following the notes in the margins of their returned manuscripts has been a common path to success. Other authors read a certain book or took a particular class that helped them go the extra mile. It’s rare that reading or writing alone got them to where they are today. Listen to the author’s individual path to improvement, and see if there are ways for you to apply those lessons to your own work.

3. How Should I Divide My Time Between Writing and Marketing?

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If you asked this question at a traditional publishing conference, then it’s likely that half of the room would stare at you in awe and the other half would decry you as an evil marketer. But most authors wouldn’t flinch. Even the biggest names out there know that marketing is simply part of the game, though you may get more of a straight answer from successful self-published authors.

It’s been proven again and again in this industry, but the authors who treat their writing like a business are the ones who find the most success. Authors who are in the know will tell it to you straight. You need to spend a lot more time on marketing your books than you might think. The most proficient authors may have some helpful advice for allocating your time effectively.

4. What Steps Should I Take to Build My Author Platform?

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The Dan Browns and James Pattersons of the world have massive author platforms that came as a result of their writing success. Other authors like John Green and Hugh Howey used platforms like Facebook and YouTube to build their fanbases as they became more popular. This is another question that may get you some funny stares from the traditional publishing lovers in the room. Don’t let their reaction stop you from trying to learn as much as you can about this important aspect of your writing career.

Push for specifics when it comes to how the author spends his time on email and social media. This isn’t the kind of question most aspiring authors ask, so you may find yourself getting some previously unreleased information. Take advantage of this opportunity and attempt to apply the advice on your own platform.

5. Why Do You Think Your Books Were Successful?

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This last question is another effort to get personal with the author. When you ask general questions, you get general answers, but when you push deeper, you may find out some advice you’ve never heard before.

An author posed with this question might give his publishing company all the credit or praise the fans for buying his book. Don’t let him get away with something that vague. Ask about the genre. Push further about what he personally did to promote the book. There are few authors who become a success by accident. The less magical an answer you can coax from the author, the more likely you’ll be able to get something out of it.

There Is No Shortcut

The reason so many aspiring writers ask formula-type questions is because they want to take the shortest possible path to success. They believe this successful author before them has gone through all the hard work so that he can tell his followers how to do it cheaper, faster, and easier. That’s simply not how it works. There is no formula. Questions seeking a shortcut are completely worthless.

Seek puzzle pieces instead. Ask the authors about the parts of your process that aren’t working. Don’t try to solve everything in one fell swoop by getting an agent’s contact info. Learn how to get better and smarter. Ask questions that will allow you to work harder and make improvements as you go along. Now that there are more opportunities than ever to get in touch with a bestselling author, you should make sure that any question you get the chance to ask will yield something you can immediately take home, apply, and improve upon.

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Podcast: How To Make $10,000 A Month Writing Erotica Books

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We reached out to a self-published, self-made professional author who made a bold businesses decision that turned into a $10,000 windfall. And growing.

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Meet Marla. Marla is a horror writer who wanted to make more money writing books. So she decided to try and write 100 Erotica books in a year. And she did. The result? Almost $10,000 paycheck from her hard work.

Want to learn how to do it? In this exclusive podcast from us here at Author Marketing Club, we sit down with Marla and examine her success in detail.

August 2012
59 books sold
11 stories published in August
$80.30 in royalties earned

September 2012
150 books sold
9 stories published in September
$238.27 in royalties earned

October 2012

290 books sold
9 stories published in October
$535.72 in royalties earned

November 2012
2246 books sold
12 stories published in November
$3,346.18 in royalties earned

December 2012
3253 books sold
5 stories published in December
$5,060.30

January 2013
2503 books sold
5 stories published in January
$3,694.89

February 2013
2728 books sold
11 stories published in February
$5,227.37

March 2013

3533 books sold
0 stories published in March (was working on a novel)
$7,862.25

April 2013
3338 books sold
4 stories published in April
$5,536.23

May 2013
3517 books sold
7 stories published in May
$5,571.10

June 2013
2547 books sold
3 stories published in June
$4,410.97

July 2013
2707 books sold
7 stories published in July
$5,691.91

August 2013
2853 books sold
4 stories published in August
$9,651.42
(and in case you’re wondering how the income jumped in comparison to the volume of books sold, I have one book for sale for $37. That book is not published on Amazon or any of the other online retailers. So, technically, that brings my total up to 101 books.)

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5 Ways to Drastically Improve Your Writing Productivity

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Could you write 30 novels a year? According to author Dean Wesley Smith, this is the pace some writers kept to make a living in the early 20th Century. These pulp writers churned out a book every two weeks for a penny a word.

How was it humanly possible for these authors to keep up such a breakneck pace? It was simply what they had to do to earn a living. That’s something that pulp and indie writers have in common. If you continuously fail to meet your daily word count over and over again, then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make a living from your writing.

Authors of today have a few more distractions than their turn of the century counterparts, but many of them are the same: bills to pay, families to feed, health issues, etc. To write even a quarter of the output of these extreme pulp writers, you’ll need to streamline your system to give your productivity the boost it needs. Here are five ways to dramatically increase your writing productivity:

1. Get The Right Equipment

It can be tempting to run your laptop into the ground. When you have a machine that takes five minutes to start up, another five to load your word processor program, and an additional 10 when it crashes, you probably need to find something more effective. Get a computer with enough memory or RAM to handle the writing programs you typically use. If you can’t afford such a machine, think outside the box to get your writing down on the page.

Take a tour through eBay and look for old products developed by AlphaSmart or Renaissance Learning. The discontinued AlphaSmart 3000, Neo, and Neo2 devices are electronic keyboards that will allow you to write without distractions. The machines, which resemble a mix between a graphing calculator and a desktop keyboard, display a few lines of electronic text and have no ability to connect to the Internet. They’re also lightweight and you can use them during plane, train, and car trips. With a price tag of under $200, the 400-hour battery life may be just the cost-saving device you’re looking for.

If you need to keep your old clunker computer and pass up the electronic keyboard, then there’s nothing wrong with doing most of your work on pen and paper. Unlike an ancient laptop, your writing pad won’t crash. Collect enough pens, pencils, and paper to ensure you never run out of supplies. Type up your notes every day or several times a week to ensure you don’t lose much in case of an accident.

2. Spend Time Planning Your Project

Stephen King’s book On Writing may have launched hundreds of writing careers, but it also may have caused many others to go astray. King is a pantser, a type of writer who flies by the seat of his pants without the help of notes or an outline. As one of the most successful authors in the world, one might think his way of doing things is a replicable formula. Like most advice you’ll find that’s divvied out by the top writers, this method of creation should come stamped with a big “it depends.”

Beginning writers may find the pantsing style freeing, but many use that freedom to write themselves into a plot abyss from which they’ll never return. Others take the plotting approach, which involves creating an outline before they start on the first draft. One way isn’t better than the other, but plotting may allow you to becoming more organized, which is a helpful trait to have when you’re just starting out.

Create an outline of your work. Start with a broad one or two sentence description of what happens in each chapter. Once you’re finished that, make a deeper outline that gives you six to eight bullet points per chapter. Place the outline in a stand or on the wall in front of you when you begin writing the first draft.

Beyond planning the actual content of your book, it’s helpful to schedule every aspect of your project. Use a wall calendar to pencil in dates when you’d like to complete the outline, first draft, second draft, third draft, and final manuscript. Use the calendar to add in dates for promotional activities as well, such as sending out review copies, contacting blogs or podcasts, and connecting with other authors for group events. Keeping track of all those dates can feel overwhelming, but it’s better than trying to keep up with everything on the fly.

3. Make Your Writing Schedule Consistent

Image from http://www.wts.edu/resources/westminster_center_for_theolog/become_writerhtml/planning_your_project/creating_a_writing_schedule.html

Setting deadlines for your project is only the first step. It’s up to you to build up the habits you need to reach those goals. In most cases, this involves setting yourself a daily word count or chapter goal. When you divide the number of total words by the number of days you have available between now and your goal, you’ll come up with the number of words you need to average per day.

It’s good to set ambitious goals, but it’s also important to know yourself. If you’ve never written 2,000 words in a day, then you probably shouldn’t plan to write 5,000 words a day for 20 straight days. Figure out an average or slightly below average word count per session or hour. Block out that number of hours between now and your due date with a small amount of buffer room just in case.

Many authors find that they write more effectively when they write at the same time every single day. If your schedule allows, pick a block of hours in which you can always write. Whether it be early in the morning, late at night, or during your lunch break, make the time consistent from day to day. As you continue to work, you’ll get into the routine of putting words on the page until it gets a little bit easier. Not all days will be a cakewalk, but the more you practice your routine, the more effective it’ll become.

4. Find a Sacred Writing Space

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Setting aside the writing time is still only part of the battle. It’s equally important to choose a location in which you’ll do nothing but write. Some authors refer to this as their “sacred space.”

Picking a central location for your creative output will further help you get into the routine of consistent writing. The human brain likes to make associations. When one location is connected with constantly checking your phone or watching TV, it’s difficult to keep yourself from doing either in that particular place. When a certain space is connected with dedicated creative work, it may give you the added boost you need to do your work without delay.

There are dozens of locations that can serve as your sacred space. Public buildings like libraries and coffee shops can be a respite to a busy home life. Shared office and co-op writing spaces come with a fee, but they’re filled with hardworking people who are all dedicated toward the same purpose. If you have to stay at home, then it’s best to find a room with a door you can close that the members of your family will respectfully keep shut.

5. Set a Record and Break It

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If you’ve ever stared in awe at the speed and power of an Olympic athlete, then you’ve seen the success of progressive training in action. These fitness fiends didn’t come out of the womb that incredible. They had to train themselves to reach a certain goal. Once they hit that mark, they put in the hard work necessary to get better. Authors should apply the same methods to improving their own productivity.

Set a goal for yourself. It can be a daily word count or a number of consecutive writing days. You can test yourself for writing speed or the amount of times it takes you to turn a rough draft into a polished and publishable book. Either hold yourself accountable or find a partner or group that will push you to improve.

It’s OK if you fail. The only thing you can’t do is give up. Keep working hard to try to achieve your goals over several years or decades, and your writing will take a massive leap forward over time.

Don’t Beat Yourself to a Pulp

It’s easy to get discouraged when you have trouble in any of these areas. You see a Dean Wesley Smith or a Sean Platt putting out thousands of words of polished content per day, and you wonder why you haven’t been able to reach those heights. Perhaps you never will, but that’s all right. All you have to worry about is doing the best that you can do, and then progressively improving what your best can be.

It won’t be easy. It’s doubtful it was easy for the amazing pulp writers of the early 1900s either. Don’t look at their numbers and beat yourself up. Marvel at what’s humanly possible, and remind yourself that with enough planning and hard work, you’ll be able to write the number of books you need to turn writing from a dream into a career.

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5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting an Author Podcast

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The toughest undertakings are often the most rewarding. When something is so easy that everybody can do it, it’ll take an extraordinary effort to do it successfully. Podcasting is an activity that still has a learning curve and an equipment barrier, which could allow you to stand out if you make sure your show is unique and fills a niche.

Podcasts are a great way to reach your readers. Thanks to major improvements in apps, hardware, and software, these audio programs are easier to listen to than ever before. Many of your potential fans spend all day listening to podcasts to pass the time as they work at the office or from home. Whether you choose to make your show informative or entertaining, you’ll have the opportunity to succeed if you answer the right questions before you begin.

Here are five questions you should consider before you invest the time, money, and energy into creating a podcast:

1. How Is This New?

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While there aren’t nearly as many podcasts as there are blogs, that doesn’t mean you’ll find an audience by copying your favorite shows. You need to take the time to determine what about your podcast will make it stand out from the crowd. This doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the format from scratch.

Listen to all of the podcasts you can find in your niche. Take notes related to the format of the show and the tone the hosts take. Check the reviews of these shows and determine what these shows are doing well and what they’re doing poorly.

From there, give yourself 30 minutes to an hour of freewriting time as you brainstorm how you can create your own unique show. It’s a good idea during sessions like this to write in a stream-of-consciousness style without interruption. Don’t censor yourself; just write whatever comes to mind. When you come up with an idea with promise, riff on the concept at length until you have a few different variations that could work.

Check in with your fans or friends to see what they think of the idea. Don’t simply assess if they believe it’s a good or a bad idea. Gauge the way in which they like or dislike the concept. If they suggest you dump an idea because it’s too ambitious or crazy, then you might have a concept that will really stand out in the podcast landscape.

2. Is This Show Relevant to Your Target Audience?

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As a writer, your first instinct when creating a podcast may be to do a show about writing. A non-fiction writer who writes about the craft of writing might do well with such a podcast. A sweet romance author on the other hand might do better with a show that’s aimed at his or her target reader audience.

Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Hold another brainstorming session in which you guess at what subjects your readers would enjoy. For example, a steampunk author might create a talk show in which he reviews the latest steampunk books, movies, and comics. Come up with a lot of different ideas. Brainstorming is like picking a sandlot baseball team. The more potential choices you have, the greater the strength of the final product.

Take your idea to the digital streets. Ask the readers on your mailing list or check around on social media for opinions on your concept. You’re looking for excited reactions of people who’d really be interested in tuning in every week. You don’t have to find your entire audience in the brainstorming stage, but starting with a few dozen excited fans who are ready to spread the word certainly wouldn’t hurt.

3. What’s the Purpose of Your Show?

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A podcast is a major time commitment. Most hosts create a show once a week to share with their listeners. Consider this time commitment when you ask yourself the point of creating this regular program.

One major point for most authors who start a podcast is to sell more books. It’s important to think beyond that as well, since many podcasts take months or even a year to really hit their stride. Ask yourself what you want to get from the show beyond potential new readers.

Perhaps you want to become a respected figure in your genre, giving you the ability to curate what content people consume. Maybe you want to show off your personality so that people will have a stronger reaction to your books. There could even be a subject you want to become an expert in, and doing this weekly podcast will give you in the incentive you need to become a guru. This secondary purpose to your show may give you the motivation you need during weeks where recording seems like a hassle.

4. Would You Listen to It?

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Podcast listeners are a passionate bunch. When they get invested in a show, they look forward to seeing that program appear in their feed or app every single week. Since they have a limited amount of time for listening, only the best and the brightest shows survive. Whether or not you’re one of these voracious podcast listeners, you need to consider whether or not your show concept would make the cut.

It’s not just enough to put in the time every week to put together a good show. It needs to be something that you’d want to hear if you were just coming upon it for the first time. That’s easier said than done, but it’s a necessity if your show is going to be at the top of your listeners’ to-do list.

After you’ve come up with your concept, determine what you can do to make it a “must-listen” for your followers. If you have an interview-based show, then determine who would absolutely knock your listeners’ socks off. Entertainment shows should seek to create comedic content that’s epic and viral. Informative shows can look for ways to improve their format from week to week. Most shows don’t start off at their best, so keep working on improving as you go.

5. Can You Keep It Up?

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Before you start a podcast, it’s important to keep the stakes in mind. Creating a show and running it for 10 or 15 episodes before quitting will not only nullify your hard work, but it’ll also frustrate listeners who became fans of your show. To establish a long-term relationship with your listeners, you need to be committed to putting in the necessary work for the long haul.

Practice commitment to weekly goals before you start on your podcast. If you’ve had a hard time keeping up with your writing goals or your other meetings or appointments, then you’ll likely struggle with podcast regularity as well. This is why having a co-host is helpful. When you have the potential to let both listeners and your partner down, you’ll be less likely to skip out on your next episode.

Keep Asking Questions

It’ll take a while before you know whether or not your show is a success. While many of the above questions apply to a brand new show, it’s important to keep asking yourself probing questions as you go on. Don’t just settle on a workable format and let it stagnate. You need to keep innovating and trying to improve over time. Your occasional changes may not always work, but when you keep asking yourself questions you’ll be able to adapt and grow along with your listeners. With enough introspection, you’re bound to find a format that makes you proud and brings you the readers you deserve.

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The Ultimate Guide to Writing When You Don’t Want To

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The habit of writing 5,000 words a day will likely make you a successful author. Doesn’t that make you a little bit mad? There are writers out there who not only accomplish this feat every day, but they’re also blogging about it. Heck, some of them even write books about how they’re able to accomplish this seemingly impossible feat day in and day out, 52 weeks a year.

There’s no way to guarantee that you’ll be able to increase your writing output to this high number. Something you can do, however, is make sure that you spend your writing time doing one thing and one thing only: putting words on the page.

It takes a lot of training to get yourself to want to write for a certain number of hours per day. At first, you’ll seek out any possible excuse, such as cleaning the kitchen, playing with your cat, or anything else that’ll take you away from your laptop. Don’t cheat yourself. Even when you don’t feel like writing, you need to get your butt in the chair to unpack those sentences from your brain.

Here are seven ways to force yourself to write when you feel like you have nothing left for the day:

1. Set a Timer

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There’s nothing like a deadline to get your pen moving. Think back to high school and college. Miraculous 10-page research papers seemed to materialize out of thin air when they were due the next day. A deadline for your fiction or non-fiction writing can have the same effect.

Even the simple matter of setting a short window of time for yourself (i.e. 10 minutes) can force you to avoid wasting time. For instance, say you’ve been staring at your screen or surfing the web for the last half hour of your writing time. Once you’ve caught yourself in the act of procrastination, set a timer for 15 minutes. During that time, you must write in a steam-of-consciousness style until the timer goes off.

Sometimes, you need to simplify things for your brain. You’ve given it one task to do for a specific length of time. That can be the difference between an unproductive two-hour time frame and the most productive quarter hour of your week.

Use an online tool like E.ggTimer to set up your countdown clock. Train yourself up from five minutes until you have a timer going for your entire writing session.

2. Disconnect The Internet

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Distractions are not your friend when you don’t want to write. The Internet is like the flashing red button that gives you a boost of endorphins every time you push it. There’s so much to learn out there and so many terrible celebrity articles that you could easily spend every writing moment engrossed by these tempting words and pictures.

Famous writers, from standup comedian Louis C.K. to fantasy author George R.R. Martin, have discussed their Internet-free writing time. Whether you buy an ancient computer, test out an electronic keyboard like the Hemingwrite, or you have the willpower to shut off your connection manually, your productivity will skyrocket without the Internet to consult.

While there are many programs out there like Freedom and Leechblock that will limit your Internet usage to certain times of the day, it’s best to go with the nuclear option. Find a way to use a device without Internet entirely. If you can also turn off your cellphone or put it on airplane mode, then so much the better.

3. Play Instrumental Music

Creative writing is all about getting into your flow state. This is the rhythm your mind takes on when you naturally move from word to word and sentence to sentence. Writers who consistently churn out 1,000 or more words per hour have figured out how to get into their flow state over and over again.

One method for finding that sweet creative spot in your mind is to play instrumental music while you write. Piping in this wordless melody during your writing sessions can serve as just enough distraction from the outside world to keep you focused on the task at hand. Classical music, movie soundtracks, and meditation tracks drown out the self-doubt and over-thinking that plagues most prematurely-ended sessions. Subscribing to Pandora One or Spotify may provide you with the music you need to keep your flow going.

Another solution is to use a white noise app like WhiteNoise or Lightning Bug to keep you from getting distracted while you churn out the words.

4. Escape To Another Location

It’s easy to get used to your routine; good or bad. If your typical writing location is plagued by stops and starts or interrupting conversations with friends, then even applying the above three tips may not penetrate the way you’re used to writing. When you stumble over the same problem in the same location multiple times, it’s time to plot your escape.

There are many different locations you can run off to when your go-to spot seems to be sapped of creativity. Start within your house by looking for nooks and crannies where there are few distractions. Temporarily set up shop in an attic, basement, or laundry room. The ideal location is a place where you can close the door to block out noise or people breaking your creative flow.

If the house is out as an option, and you’ve gotten permission to flee the premises, scout out locations in your town. The coffee shop is a standby for many writers, and the white noise of customers and espresso machines may help you kill two birds with one stone. Libraries will give you quiet or the ability to listen to your own collection of music through your headphones. One location that isn’t often considered is the car. Simply inch up the front passenger seat and type or write on your lap to take advantage of the quiet and distraction-free vehicle.

To ensure that you always have a third writing location beyond home and work, you may consider renting out office space in your area. Some cities have co-op spaces for working and in rare cases you’ll even have a devoted space for writers nearby. Search online or call around to local writers’ groups to see if there’s any such location in your neck of the woods.

5. Get Your Juices Flowing

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Writing is often a sedentary sport. The warriors of the word may find themselves sitting for hours at a time. While some are masters at maneuvering prose without moving, others need to get the blood flowing every so often.

Walk, jog, run, bike, swim, dance, stretch, or do anything else that’s active and tends to get the oxygen flowing to your brain. In addition to being good for your body, exercise can provide your mind with the building blocks it needs to form new ideas.

Some authors, like bestseller Russell Blake, have used the power of the treadmill desk to simultaneously keep their words and legs moving. You don’t have to walk and write eight hours a day to take advantage of creative exercise. Try using a treadmill, standing, or stationary bike desk for half an hour or an hour at a time to get your creative juices flowing.

6. Discard Technology

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When all else fails, spend your creative time like the 16th century poets did: writing by hand. While you may find it incredibly inconvenient and slow to take out the old pen and paper for your writing session, creativity isn’t always about speed. It’s about figuring out what works for you in the given moment. Technology doesn’t always mix with inspiration.

One of the best parts of being technology-free is that you can take your pen and paper anywhere you choose. As long as the weather holds up, you can move your writing session anywhere from a park bench to a backyard blanket. Feel free to combine the longhand method with any of the above tips for an added productivity boost.

7. Give Your Eyes A Rest

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There’s only so much the human body can do. Pushing yourself to the limit every waking moment can be harmful to your health. Staring at a screen for several hours straight is no favor to your eyes or your creativity.

Every so often, it’s a good idea to give your peepers the rest they need. Close your eyes for 60 seconds or look away from the screen to hit the refresh button. Roll out the yoga mat and meditate with your eyes shut for 10 to 15 minutes. Take a good old-fashioned catnap for a few minutes with your trusty timer at hand. Sit back and relax in the other room without your phone or computer and let the ideas come to you.

Even the great Leonardo Da Vinci advocated for napping and daydreaming. If one of the most creative minds of all time spent valuable hours resting his eyes, then you can certainly consider it for your self-published work.

Listen To Your Brain

These seven tips will help you blast out more words during your writing sessions, but it’s important to listen to your brain. There are simply times when you need a day off to recharge. In situations like this, it’s best to not worry about emulating the 5,000 word per day crew. Know yourself and learn from your mistakes to expand your creative limits happily and healthily.

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