Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Writer's Workout from Christina Katz

I heard about Christina Katz before I met her. The amazing and talented Jane Friedman, then acquisitions editor at Writers Digest Books, told me about this writer whom she'd just signed who was not only a terrific at her craft, she was even more brilliant at creating community, marketing, and promotion.

This was the wave of the future, Jane said. And she's proven absolutely right about that.

Christina (once known as Writer Mama; then Author Mama; and now The Writer's Workout Coach) is just out with her third book for writers. This one, "The Writer's Workout," sees a brave new world for writers.

It's subtitled "366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques" because it offers career advice for every day of the year. She talks in terms of "accru[ing[ creative power in [your] professional careers over time—very much the same way athletes accrue physical power by following rigorous workouts."

I love the idea of framing the daily job of being a writer -- from feeding the blog to feeding Facebook, to answering email and updating my Web site, and on to booking appearances, and oh yeah, researching and writing the books -- as a workout that builds a career.

Here are just three of the things she advocates, with snippets to give you a flavor of her inspirational advice.

Micro-invest in Learning

From Christina:
One of my former students once snuck the payment for a writing class onto a credit card without telling her husband. When she asked me to be complicit, I was uncomfortable. But when a writer understands the importance of micro-investing in her writing career, even when a spouse doesn’t, how can I argue?

A couple years later, this writer has an agent and a book deal on a topic she loves, so apparently the class she secretly took turned out to be a good investment in her writing future.

Christina says a key place to invest in yourself is by staying informed:
Your topic (whatever your specialty is)
• Your audience (what makes it tick)
• Your field (the latest news)
• Your industry (the trends)
• Business skills (self-publishing and entrepreneurship)
• Technology tools (the latest and most helpful)
• Publications (the top three)
• Associations (for your specialty and your field)
• Conferences/conventions/events (for your specialty and your field) • Blogs (for your specialty and your field)
• Online networks (for your specialty and your field)

Accrue Personal Power

From Christina:
Like the heroes and heroines in so many movies and myths, we need to recognize that we are on a personal power journey and we have our own potential. We can (and should) embrace the fact that we don’t get to fully access our personal power until we learn how to handle the power we’ve already got.

People who are on a personal power quest are patient. They don’t want what they can’t handle. They make the most of what they have right now and they feel satisfied.
Take the power you already have and wield it. Use it to volunteer, to teach, to speak, to start a project, to consult, to coach, to counsel, or to train (and, of course, to write).

This is how your personal power grows, and this is how you become a stronger container for the additional personal power that will come through you, hopefully, in the future.

Beyond The Book

From Christina:
Say what you like about the old ways of doing things in publishing, there was something reassuring about knowing that you could climb the ranks if you set your sights on it and proceeded wisely. Today there are still ranks, but there are other options, as well.
I think what we will see is that the future ends up being not about bending the rules or breaking the rules, but abandoning the concept of rules altogether. The tricky part in all of this will be figuring out in a world where there are no rules what to say yes to.

Coach Christina will be here today to chat about making a successful career.
I certainly have questions about how the heck do you get the book written while you're talking and teaching and learning and and and... I'm sure she'll have insights to share.

And Christina is giving away a book of "The Writer's Workout" to one lucky commenter, so pile on! (And I'll be Christina has plenty of ideas for "merit badges" for writers to earn.)


  1. I like the "whole person" approach Christina appears to take in her book and would love to win a copy. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I like it too, Kristi - I always talk to writers about thinking about managing their CAREER, rather than the book they're writing. Keep the long term goal in mind: what career do you want in 10 years?

    Christina, any thoughts on that? Short term versus long term??

  3. The tension between writing the book and promoting the book is the most stressful part of this whole thing. With a full time job to handle, when it comes to the book-job, am I better off using an evening speaking at a library? Or writing my words for the day?

    I think--it's situational. Depending on when in the process. But I'd love to hear more about that balance.

    You can't get power just sitting in your office. (Unless you're on line--and then, you're on line.)

  4. Oh yes, Hank ... full-time job, writing, promoting. The choices are often very tough.

    Here's my burning question, since Christina obviously addresses attitude and emotion as well as skill sets: how do you deal with all the stuff you just can't get done? The most difficult aspect of balancing things as I've promoted my book the last couple months, has been dealing with the emotional frustration over all the things I *could* have done but just can't manage to do.

    The book sounds great!

  5. Yes to all of it. I like Hallie's 10 year approach, because in 10 years I'll be able to ditch the day job - that'll solve my version of Hank's issue! That is, in 10 years I want to be writing and publishing (and promoting, obviously) full time.

  6. Good morning! I'm barely awake here on the West coast but mercifully everyone is out the door to school. Thanks so much for having me here and, wow, I'm fairly speechless by your intro, Hallie. Goodness. What's a girl to say to all of that except, thank you.

    The first question was asked by Hallie: How the heck do you get the book written while you're talking and teaching and learning and and and...

    I think it's important for writers to have and know their own writing rhythms. The book is actually written against the backdrop of the seasons of the year, which are one kind of rhythm that we are all familiar with. The creative cycle also has rhythms. Anyone who has ever been creatively tapped out knows what it's like to keep pushing yourself when you really ought to have chosen to take a break instead.

    For me, I divide the book-writing process into phases: there's the idea phase, the pitching phase, the deal-making phase, the writing phase, the editing phase, and the launch phase.

    Folks who have not written books may not realize when they read a book that it came from a fairly complex, time-consuming production process, but writers can take advantage of these phases to pace ourselves and spread out our efforts in the five key areas, which are: writing, selling, specializing, continuing ed, and self-promotion.

    While I was working on The Writer's Workout--a process that started almost two years ago--I was also teaching, but I cut back on speaking and article writing necessarily so I'd have that energy for the book.

    Writing careers are based on creative energy management. I'm sure every author here can also comment on this delicate, ongoing balance because it's so critical to keeping all of our professional balls in the air at once.

  7. i second Tammy's comment: I'm constantly feeling behind in promoting the book just out, because there's so much I could do and haven't. And yet, there's another one to write ... And while selling a book on a proposal is thrilling, it adds a lot more pressure to the writing process than writing without a contract and with only self-impsed deadlines.

  8. To comment on what Hank said...I think that acceptance of individual circumstances is key. For a person with a day job the Internet is huge, because look at what you can potentially accomplish virtually, rather than having to try and do everything in person.

    But acceptance comes in when you have to say to yourself: Okay, look. I have a day job, a family, a book deadline, and a life. So it's important when writing a book to accept that this is a HUGE undertaking on top of a job and/or family and just let some other things slide a bit.

    I think a maintenance program comes into play for most authors when they are deep into book writing, they have certain online muscles they already know how to flex like blogging, Facebook, tweeting...but then when it's time for The Launch, the author isn't writing the book any longer and can switch into launch mode. That's how I do it. And of course, it's easier because I write full time, but it's more challenging because I have a family.

  9. Hi Tammy,

    I think the acceptance factor has to carry over into every area. For example, I know a lot more on my third book about promotion than I did on my first, and that's a good thing.

    Also, technology keeps advancing to assist me, as time goes on. So, I have learned to accept, even though it was hard on the first book, that just as I'm going to learn more about writing over time, I'm also going to learn more about selling, specializing, learning, and promoting--specifically what works for me and my readers--over time.

    I think embracing time and the phase that you are currently in and knowing when to let go and move on is key.

    This is another reason why writing is so much like a daily workout. There's always more to do.

    (Just nod and say, "Amen," if you know what I'm talking about.)

  10. Edith and Hallie, I think a ten year plan is very wise. Especially since I meet far too many fiction and memoir writers who think they will be "set" if they can just land a book deal.

    Somebody needs to tell them that the book deal is just the beginning. There's a career-long journey after that. And we get to manage how that goes and how we feel about it.

  11. That's true, Leslie. Writing a book on a deadline can be heaven for one writer and hell for another.

    I would like to here what Hallie has to say about juggling nonfiction deadlines with fiction deadlines because I know that she has done that.

    In the meantime, I would just remind you, and every writer, that if we can just get grounded and centered for a little while, maybe do some journalling or list making or doodling, we usually KNOW what we need to do and when.

    As I describe in my book, we all have a "writing coach" inside. And we have to learn to tap into and trust those instincts, so we will know how to proceed in unique and complex situations.

    For example, I learned that writing two books in a row is not for me, even though I thought at the time that was in my best interest. I wouldn't undo it. But there was definitely some wear and tear.

    In fact, I turned down the offer to write a book after my second book, Get Known, because it did not feel like the right book for me to write. Many writers would not even consider doing that. But I knew I wanted to write a book more like The Writer's Workout and it took a little longer but now I have.

  12. These questions are great. I wish I'd known some of this information 15 years ago which is why I've switched to writing short stories rather than novels. But with the technology of today, things have changed so much maybe it wouldn't have made a difference.

    I can't wait to read your book.

  13. Pat, I applaud your decision to write short. As much as I appreciate NaNoWriMo, it's putting a huge leap in front of an awful lot of writers and demanding that they JUMP!

    Anyone who has written a novel or book that has been through the publishing process can attest to how much work and commitment it takes. But not enough writers are singing the praises of short!

    I love teaching short forms as a wa of helping writers build skills that can be translated into long forms. After all, long forms are often composed of many short forms strung together whether that was the way the book was written or not.

    Case in point, The Writer's Workout is 366 short pieces woven together to create a full movement.

    What's exciting about the fluidity in publishing these days, is that writers can start to listen to the writing and let it dictate what form it wants to become, instead of feeling so much pressure to write for any certain form.

  14. Christina,
    I love your approach! I want to know how your keep your attitude positive when sometimes all the promotional works feels useless, and I'm wondering if your book is sort of a one-day-at-time approach that might help overcome that?

  15. Thank you, Reds, for introducing me to Christina! I love the idea of a writing coach (be it an internal or external coach)!

    As a young writer (as in new - unfortunately, not in years!), this information is extremely helpful!

    Thank you, Christina! I look forward to reading your book!

  16. I was at a book signing recently and the author--someone I know--was trying way too hard. She's a warm, funny person one-on-one, but at these public events she tries too hard to be witty and engaging, I think, because she's naturally quiet. Any suggestions? I'm not good at promotion myself.

  17. Your post is extremely helpful, Christina. I enjoy your prescription for seeing the writing of a book (or short lit work) in phases. This makes total sense to me, as all creations evolve in phases.

    Now, "listen to the writing and let it dictate what form it wants to become"... Genius! You're speaking my language. I've got a project that morphed into another form, and you've given me confidence to listen to the work inform me. I let go of those energy-sapping doubts and just give it my all.

    I'm eager to see what other pearls you have for us in your book. Thanks so much for being here.

  18. Hi Jan,

    How do I keep my positive attitude and is my book a one-day at a time guide to how to have a positive attitude? Good question!

    I wrote a blog post about happiness on my birthday the other day b/c so many people were instructing me to be happy. But my birthdays are always happy because yes, indeed, I am a positive person by nature.

    So, yes, my book is not only an attitude adjustment for writers (we often need one, myself included), it's also happy-making because it takes the monumental amount of work that all writers face and breaks it down into a one-day-at-a-time format.

    People tell me that my books make good tools. They sit down with my books and a pad of paper or a fresh computer doc and finish them with to-do list for themselves.

    I think that's probably the nicest compliment a how-to writer can get. So I don't think of my books as "books" any longer; I think of them as tools.

  19. Thanks for commenting, Nancy.

    Darlene commented that a friend's book promotion efforts are not conveying the authentic person that she is. This is really common for writers who have not done a lot of public presentations. I had to basically make myself start speaking at writing conferences in 2006 in anticipation of my book coming out. And I'm sure I have gotten better with time and practice because that's what always works.

    I think first-time authors have to be willing to suck. You have to be willing to make mistakes. You have to be willing to just show up and do the best you can. You have to be willing to prepare and have it be the totally wrong direction for the crowd. You have to be willing to put yourself out there because when putting yourself out there becomes a habit...that's when you'll be a natural.

  20. Kristi,

    Going back to the first comment because I just had this thought -- TWW is for the whole person and also for the whole writing career. It acknowledges that the two are the same thing.

  21. Thanks, Avi.

    I am getting a lot of moon analogies from sharing with this group -- maybe because there is so much feminine energy in here. ;)

    I think you can easily swap the moon analogy for the seasonal analogy or the workout analogy. We are not stuck with one analogy just because the of book title. We can use whatever works.

    I just posted this on my Facebook page: A writing career is really so much like a fire. You start it up with little bits and pieces before you throw on the big logs. But then you have to keep it going. If you forget about it, it might go out.

    These are all ways of saying: how are you going to get this writing career going and keep it going?

    And once you get it going, how are you going to kick it up a notch?

    Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

  22. One other thing I wanted to say in response to Avi's comment is that it's the place we are at in publishing right now that allows for more creative choices in publishing both on the part of writers and authors and on the part of publishers.

    We should all be trying to think outside the box with whatever work we have rights to, in order to make the most of what we have already written.

    This is possible in ways right now that have never been so manageable as they are right now. So, game on, authors. Publishing is not just about traditional publishing any longer. There is a whole spectrum of publishing opportunities, and seasoned writers with followings need to take advantage of this.

  23. Christina, I'm looking forward to buying,reading and using, The Writer's Workout. 366 daily tips and techniques means I'll get a daily dose of advice, insight and direction in easily digestible form from an experienced literary athlete and coach. I have always subscribed to the saying- When the Student is ready, the teacher will appear.-And just as I am completing my book, here you are... I am woefully under educated about the self promotion and marketing that I'll need to do if I am lucky enough to get published. Your 366-one day at a time approach feels like just the right format to help me acquire those skills . Thanks for taking the time to share all your hard won knowledge with us. Pinny

  24. Darlene, I witnessed one writer's solution to the problem you described at the Flathead River Writers Conference. Kathi Appelt, a children's writer who is a delightful woman, started by saying she wasn't able to speak without notes or off the cuff like some of the other presenters, so she was going to read her presentation. And she did, with a few slide illustrations, and lots of stories and jokes and eye contact and her soft Texas accent. She was very inspiring and encouraging, and her approach seemed to fit her perfectly. No one minded one bit that she stood behind the podium with her speech all written out in advance. I think sometimes we make things more difficult for ourselves b/c we expect to be judged for our limitations; she acknowledged what she saw as her limitation -- and it really wasn't -- right up front, and then ignored it, and so did we.

  25. Thanks, Pinny! I hope the book is helpful.

    I agree with Leslie, Darlene, except that some opportunities will specifically disallow presenters from using notes and/or reading. So be prepared for that to happen some day. In the meantime, I agree with Leslie: do whatever works!

    One thing that has been helpful to me over the years is hosting a regional author series in my hometown. The series is not in its fifth year, and I have definitely gotten more comfortable in front of an audience as a result of hosting other authors eight times during the school year. And occasionally, I get to be the speaker, too, which is always a lot of fun.

    Don't be afraid to dip into my second book, Get Known Before the Book Deal, for more ideas like this. There are plenty of ideas that help before, during, and after the book deal in both books.

  26. Great post and I'm looking forward to reading your book, Christina! I'm a big fan of coaching!

    I have one surefire tip for writers like Darlene's friend who aren't good in front of groups. That's not my problem now after years of leading seminars and giving speeches, but when I started out, it sure was. I arranged for a friend to accompany me, and after every event, we'd sit down and I'd have her tell me what I'd done right and what I'd done wrong. Then next time I'd make changes based on that.

    Anyone can do this for you--it doesn't take an expert. So start doing some public events locally w/ a friend on hand, and learn how to do it before you have to go elsewhere.

  27. Good tip, Linda.

    Also always a good idea to ask the hosts to have/send you a copy of their audience feedback form.

    Most orgs use them and collect contact info and they are usually happy to share them.

    It's a good way to start developing that all-important thick skin (which you may or may not ever develop).

    Remember this: it's all constructive, even when it isn't. ;)

  28. I would love to win a copy! Christina has been significant in my writing career. Can't wait to read it!

  29. I love the idea of taking a writing career one day at a time. Personally, I'll be on a "writing kick" for awhile, but then if I miss one day, it turns to two and then snowballs into two weeks and I'm suddenly faced with a feeling of starting over. Thanks for writing, promoting and teaching. (Someday I'll be that lady sneaking your writing class into our single-income budget!) I'm looking forward to investing in your latest approach.

  30. Good luck, Jan.

    And Kara, I'm offering a scholarship for two lucky applicants for each of my beginner-level classes. The deadline is Monday. Apply if you get a chance! Info on my blog. :)

  31. Wow! The comments are as insightful as the post itself! Enjoyed reading adn can't wait to get my hands on TWW, Christina!
    ~Mary Jo