50 Shades of Green: Fifty Proactive Alternatives to Being Sidetracked by Another Writer’s Success

Success makes so many people hate you. I wish it wasn’t that way. It would be wonderful to enjoy success without seeing envy in the eyes of those around you.
― Marilyn Monroe

We’ve all seen it. We’ve all participated. A literary work is anointed mega-bestseller by the public or an award-winner by the literati, and the writing community becomes obsessed. Does the author deserve their financial boon? Have they lost touch with the common people or promote unsavory values?

And what about those gender politics?

Here’s a hard truth I recently faced: Time spent questioning or defending another author’s success does nothing to further my own. So this list emerged from a self-challenge. 

Could I name 50 proactive alternatives?   

1. If you’re going to mock, do so creatively and in a way that advances your career. E.g.  Andrew Shaffer’s 50 Shames of Earl Grey

2. Educate yourself. Drop your biases and deconstruct the novel to see what readers are enjoying. Are there elements or lessons to apply to your own work? (For advice on story analysis, I appreciate Alexandra Sokoloff’s blog or her book derived from her posts, Screenwriting Tricks for Writers.

3. Need to interview an expert to create a realistic fictional world? Create a list of potential candidates and send out a first inquiry.

4. Tackle 100 words of a scary scene.

5. Go over your own story’s outline using your choice of craft book to tweak plot elements, characterization, tension, etc.

6. Visit Writer Unboxed and enter this summer’s weekly flash fiction contest. (WU is routinely read by agents and editors, so get your fiction under their eyeballs.)

7. Plan a solitary day or weekend to dig in for writing work that needs a contiguous stretch. Leave your home. Leave your family. Leave the Internet behind.

8. Construct loglines for future projects or your work in progress.

9. Ask a friend to help you brainstorm solutions to troublesome plot points or character motivation.

10. Need to write snappy dialogue? Put on an up-tempo song and dance. Use exaggerated and silly movements, then promptly sit to write.

11. Establish goals with rewards for meeting them. E.g. Finish the Chapter from Hell? Purchase a song from iTunes. Finish a manuscript? Buy yourself an Oberon ereader cover, like my friend Suzanne Stengl.

12. Write a scene by recording dialogue only.

13. Write on the treadmill by dictating into your iPhone.

14. Get clarity on the makeup of your ideal reader: sex, age, hobbies, etc. Find an avatar and keep it nearby for the days you’re feeling disconnected from your story or your audience.

Promote Other Authors You Do Admire

15. Write a thoughtful, honest review on Goodreads, your website, an online store.

16. Write the author a personal thank-you note.

17. Subscribe to the author’s blog / newsletter  / Twitter feed / Facebook profile. By doing so, you’re contributing to their social proof, which can have a bearing on the size of future advances, or whether they’re even signed.

18. See if your local library will accept one or more paper copy of their book.

19. If appropriate, see if your local hospital would like one or more paper copies.

20. Interview the author and host a giveaway on your blog.

21. Add their site to your blogroll.

Fitness-related, because a healthy body makes a healthy, creative brain more likely, especially in the long-term.

22. Purchase a step counter like this Omron model. Begin tracking your daily steps, aiming for 10,000 steps each day.

23. Because you’ll forget otherwise, program in a daily reminder to record yesterday’s step count in a spreadsheet.

24. Are you consuming a lot of caffeine while working? Plan an alternate low-to-no calorie beverage for all your typical working locations.

25. Are you eating while you write and is your waistline suffering? Calorie consumption will creep up with automatic eating, so can you substitute sugar-free gum? If impractical, plan the healthiest alternative available at all your working locations, or pack it in.

26. Once a week, keep a food journal and track every bite.

27. When working, use a timer. Challenge yourself to 20-50 minutes of concentrated progress, then spend the next 10 minutes in some sort of physical fitness.

  • Cardiovascular: treadmill, elliptical, jump rope.
  • Run through 1 set of bicycles, squats, pushups. Repeat twice.

28. Map out safe routes of various lengths to different writing locations. Walk or bike to them.

29. Devise your ideal writing schedule – and weekly schedule – as per this Michael Hyatt post.

Find and participate in a hopeful writing community, even if it consists of one friend. It will improve your productivity and grit.

30. Research local writing communities. If you find one that has potential, attend a meeting.

31. Are you already a member of an in-person group? Find a way to add value. E.g. Volunteer, conduct a workshop, or contribute to its newsletter.

32. Thinking about joining a critique group? Here’s a post I wrote for Writer Unboxed with a list of online resources and the CORBS model to help set your boundaries.

33. Are you aware of a personal writing vulnerability? Is there a class or mentor that could address it? Enrol or ask for help.

34. Begin a document to record your favorite writing quotes.

35. Do you have a Hope File? A place you keep encouraging words from friends, teachers, mentors, readers? Update or create.


36. Update your website’s links to reflect your current interests. Refresh broken links.

37. Write a blog post designed to change someone’s life for the better.

38. Create a “best of” post so new readers can locate your quality content.

39. Locate 5 new and interesting people to follow on Twitter

40. Introduce two compatible writing friends.

Home Office

41. Wipe your monitor and keyboard. Put away all dirty dishes. Dust your desk.

42. Have a pile which contains random ideas, snippets of dialogue, titles? (You know, the stuff that wakes you up in the middle of the night, or that arrives in the shower?) Spend 15 minutes transcribing them or devise a filing system to handle them.

43. Back up all your documents to both onsite and offsite locations. Automate or program reminders to do on a regular basis.

44. Spend 15 minutes updating your financial records.

45. Restock your office with sugar-free chewing gum and water.

46. See which Internet blocker is likely to be right for you: Freedom (Mac and PC); Cold Turkey (PC) ; Rescue Time. Purchase or download it.

47. Create a playlist to match the mood and tone of your present manuscript. Alternatively, if you can’t write with music, purchase a white-noise app or noise-cancelling earphones.

48. Need inspiration? Reread a few pages of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Alternatively, read this blog he composed, How We Get Better,  which speaks to the value of giving up.

Last Alternatives

49. Start a 50-alternatives list of your own.

50. Turn off the Internet. Stop listening to experts and critics–amateur and otherwise. Reconnect with your own story. Write. Rinse. Repeat.

What about you? What would you add to these choices? I challenge you to come up with another fifty.

Note: the former Flickr photo I used was sought under Creative Commons license. I misunderstood terms of use since it included a share button. To view it, please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/48590810@N04/4711834321

26 thoughts on “50 Shades of Green: Fifty Proactive Alternatives to Being Sidetracked by Another Writer’s Success

  1. All good ideas here. The “clean your desk” one is something I have been chiding myself about lo these past three months. Maybe this weekend…

    On Wednesday, just told myself – after yoga & breakfast, NOTHING ELSE till you get a chapter written. No e-mail, no FaceBook, no NOTHIN else.

    Got it done. Plan to do it again, on/by Sunday.

    The only caveat is that we don’t have to do ALL of this at one time, in one day/weekend/month. As long as we’re moving forward and getting done the things we have on our author wish list, we can be proud.

    1. No way can one do this all! Some of these projects could take hours, if not days.

      I’m with you on the need to get in the words before going to social media. The Cold Turkey blocker above? You can set the free version to block particular sites for up to a week. I plan to start setting it the night before, so those first precious hours aren’t consumed by tasks that can wait.

  2. Love this!! Great job. I need that internet blocker…badly. Every time I have trouble with a paragraph or my mind wanders a little, bing…I’m back on Twitter. For ADHD peeps like me, shiny objects are all over the web. LOL.

    1. I don’t think I have ADHD, but I sure suffer, Sharla! Try Cold Turkey. It’s free and easy to install. Whenever I set it to work, I feel this wave of relaxation wash over me. I feel like I’m breathing deeper.

  3. Well, I’m not going to drink less coffee… but some of these are definitely for me. I’ve felt those pangs of envy at another friend’s success. Being honest about those feelings helps a lot. Then I support her all the way. And now I’m going to have my first novel published in December. No reason to think my novel will be a huge success or anything, but I’ve felt that awkward moment of being excited about getting a publisher in front of people still struggling to get noticed. It’s complicated.

    1. I think sometimes we displace those feelings onto authors we don’t know simply because it’s easier to own the hard feelings.

      Congrats on the upcoming book, Marta! That’s fantastic.

  4. Jan, this list was AWESOME. I have been one of those who get envious of other writers’ success and I just hate feeling that way. I know jealousy is a human emotion, but still! It makes me feel all icky. Thank you for this list – I especially like the “hope file.” What a great idea!

  5. Funny, like Beverly, I cringed on “clean your desk.” In my defense, the road-dust has been awful this hot dry summer.

    Promoting others has always made me feel better. I really thrive on good writerly karma. If I’m procrastinating about writing, I try to at least be doing something for someone else–you know, like commenting on their blog post at 1:30pm on a work day. 😉

    I also like the one about enumerating the demographics and qualities of your Ideal Reader. I’ve discovered over the past year that she’s female, and a bit younger than I initially thought. And she’s well educated. I’m starting to think she’s pretty hot! Makes me think that avatar is a pretty good idea, too.

    This is wonderful, Jan! Very inspiring!

    1. Well of course she’s hot!

      I hear you on the procrastination-via-good-karma stuff. Go ahead and ask me how I know. 😉

      Glad if this helped at all, Vaughn, and thanks so much for sharing it.

  6. Great post, Jan!! I’m off to tackle a few of these myself. Love the blocker idea. I bought myself a laptop intending on using it for writing only, but that didn’t last long. I’m horrible with distractions!

  7. Wonderful post, Jan, and welcome to your new site! While I haven’t been turning off my Internet, I’ve been ignoring it more and I’m amazed at how much work I’m getting done. Of course, there is that withdrawal period ….

  8. What a thoughtful list, Jan! I’m internet-free for part of the summer, and it’s amazing how much more work I seem to get done. (But I do miss checking in on my favorite blogs, like this one!)

  9. Jan, love your list, love the picture of the tie-dressed guy up there, and so appreciate the call to get over ourselves when it comes to comparisons. That’s a hard place, isn’t it? (Vaugh, you’re an inspiration to us all.)

    I’m afraid that I probably won’t get to cleaning my desk until I finish my next long-term task, but as it sits behind me, I find I can ignore it until I get up off my duff to move around. I work from one of those hospital tray tables leftover from my auntie’s years, and it’s not big enough to hold clutter. (Now, the floor around it…)

    As for the Internet and its lure? I try to clean out my inbox and take a peek at others’ blogs first thing before I tackle my day’s assignment. But after that? Yeah. A lock would be a good idea so that I don’t feel tempted to peek.

    1. Isn’t that an adorable picture? You’ll notice the credit at the bottom of the post.

      A hospital tray sounds like a dandy idea, Normandie. The ToolMaster made me something similar for the days I write in a wing-back chair. It’s a piece of plywood that fits over both armrests. As you say, there’s not much room for the space to be overrun.

  10. Jan, there are some great ideas in here that will be a help for getting out of any kind of rut!

    I find that your #7 frequently works for me – go work someplace else in isolation. My no/low cost variation is to go work at a Starbucks or Barnes & Noble for half a day – but in a different town so there are no friends stopping by to chat!

    And if it’s true confession time on the state of the desk: I have to hold on to the stack of paper so that my feline blog writing companion (who sleeps on the desk while I work) won’t topple the whole thing to the ground when she rolls over. Sigh.


    1. Carol, what a brilliant idea. I usually go whole-hog and do an overnight trip away, or stay modest and write within my local watering holes or libraries. I’m going to try an out-of-town coffee shop this week.

      As for the cat-versus-paper conflict, I hear you. That’s partly why I try to schedule a weekly filing session. (The operative word being “try.”)

      Thanks for stopping by.

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