In this episode we’re digging into the topic of Challenging Ourselves—what it means and how our experience can benefit you. We’ve each done some major experiments in this area and we’re going to try to distill down what worked, what didn’t – what we learned about ourselves in the process.

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Transcript for Strategic Authorpreneur Episode 065: Challenging Yourself

Crystal Hunt: Hey there, strategic authorpreneurs. Welcome to episode 65 of the Strategic Authorpreneur Podcast. I’m Crystal Hunt.

Michele Amitrani: And I’m Michele Amitrani and we are here to help you save time, money, and energy as you level up your writing career.

If you find this show helpful, you can help us keep the episodes coming by clicking to the buy us a coffee button on the website and the show notes.

Crystal Hunt: Today, we’re digging into the topic of challenging ourselves. We’ve each done some major experiments in this area, and we’re going to try and distill down what worked, what didn’t and what we learned about ourselves in the process. And also, we’re going to talk a little bit about what sort of pushing our limits and our boundaries did as far as revenue generation goes.

But first, we’re going to talk a little bit about what’s new in the life of us, Michele, what’s going on in your world?

What we’ve been up to

Michele Amitrani: I gave you, Crystal, a little anticipation of a discovery that I did in the last couple of weeks, which is an espresso machine, which makes coffees, chocolates and teaser. And I am really 100% into it.

Now that I discover it, I can just do without it. So I am an espresso powered person. I strongly suggest you, if you like coffee, any kind of coffee actually, teas but also chocolate to give it a try. That’s basically the biggest news for me. Then there are some other stuff that I’m going to talk about writing related, but on this side of the things I’m happy to say that we are still in NaNoWriMo by the time we’re recording this episode. So I am trying to give an average of a couple of hours per day to my science fiction series project. And I’m doing some pantsing, but mostly I’m using ideas that I’ve brainstormed in the two months when I basically sat down and decided what the story was going to be about, and it’s still underway.

And I just wrote something like six, seven chapters so far. But it’s still better than a couple of weeks ago. And I’m pretty sure then in a couple of weeks, it’s going to be better than it’s now. Hopefully I can really predict this kind of things too much. Second thing in the list is that I’ve put out my mythological fantasy novella the permafree one that I was telling you about and I have decided to do something that I don’t usually do, which is I’m not checking how many downloads I’m getting. And the reason why I’m doing it is because I discovered the first couple of days I’ve been doing that that I was taking screenshot after screenshot and I was losing time basically.

So what I’m going to do, or rather what I’m trying to do is to let the month pass. So all November. And then try and see how much free downloads I was able to generate the whole November. And it’s just because I found that really takes time out of my writing or translating or whatever, whatever I’m doing.

So I’m putting this thing on the side, but I’ll definitely let you know how that go. And finally, I’ve been digging into the 20 books to 50 K conference that is happening in the moment that I’m talking to you and it’s basically one of the most famous self-publishing conference I think in the world, is held in Las Vegas, and I think this is the fifth or the sixth edition. I’m not sure 100%, but the beautiful thing is, even though I’m not there, I’m still in Italy, the organizer made sure to upload the content, so all the panels or most of the panels and the teaching of the self publishing on YouTube as they’re happening.

So right now in the YouTube channel 20 books to 50 K there are something like 25, 30 different video, and this is just the four, I think, in the conference. I think there’s going to be another day or the couple of days. Anyways, long story short, I’m finding a lot of value out of the conference content.

I already watched something like 12 different one. I strongly, strongly recommended. I sent a message to a Crystal and I was like, you got to see this stuff is so, so good, so, so well done. And she was like kind of ‘shut up I’m writing’. So I was like, okay. Anyways, if you are into this kind of stuff, business of writing, self-publishing but also things like writing faster or be more productive there’s all of these things on YouTube for free on that YouTube channel that I was mentioning. And what about you Crystal? Other than answering to me with lovely messages about the writing that you’re doing, what have you been working on in the last couple of weeks? 

Crystal Hunt: Well, I decided to do NaNo this year since I am not at the 20 books to 50K conference, like I might be at other times, there was also the romance author mastermind going on, which I also opted out of all the things very hard to not do the things, but since this year is all focused on all writing all the time that is what I’ve been doing. So I have been kind of settling into a pretty steep NaNo pace, and I’ve been writing for at least four hours every morning which is not usually, I mean, I try to be consistent about it, but I’ve been, I’d say even more sort of strict about no distractions, no other things.

And I’ve been averaging about 4 to 5,000 words a day, which is high for current me, not as high as I may be used to do in the before times, but for whatever reason, the words don’t flow quite as easily and so that has been a pretty fun experiment. And for the first time ever, I am, I think, 6,000 words ahead of the target for today as, as the NaNo sort of pat pattern dictates you should be.

And so I’m feeling really good about that. By the time you hear this episode Elfed actually in the copy editing process, which is awesome. So that is checked off the list. And I am kind of in the zone of Christmas romance, one of the things that I found really hard this year was when I was working on Elfed and it was like Halloween, you know, I really was having trouble getting into the sort of holiday spirit.

I would reread a scene and realized there was nothing about Christmas and that is problematic because as a genre, it’s kind of like writing a hallmark Christmas movie to write a, you know, sweet, small town, Christmas romance. And so that just doesn’t fly. You can’t, you can’t have it with no holiday elements.

And oftentimes, you know, we write these in like July and then they come out at Christmas and you’ll often get readers who are like, ‘it’s not quite Christmasy enough’. And so I think in an attempt to not have that comment, be one that was placed on my book, I decided t go all in. So I actually, I’ve never had a Christmas tree, like a proper Christmas tree since I was a grownup, I never lived in places that were big enough to have room for an actual Christmas tree was the primary issue there, and so we now live in a place that’s big enough. And so I was determined, I was getting a real Christmas tree this year or a real fake tree because we’re not allowed to have real, real ones in our apartment building.

So I went and I bought a Christmas tree and I had to test it cause the lights were all built in and I put it up and I liked it so much, and I, I ended up just sitting there writing like all day when it was up. And then I was like, you know what, forget that I’m leaving it up. I was intending to take it down and then put it back up in December but in the end it actually really helped me get into the zone I needed for the writing. So I left the tree up, I bought some oat eggnog. It’s like, oh, milk eggnog, which turned out to be really, really good. So Michele is all excited about his new coffee machine, I’m all excited about my new, like non-dairy eggnog thing that’s going to make the holiday season because eggnog for me is kinda my catnip. That’s definitely a thing. So yeah, that has all been very exciting. And I’ve also been researching the actual, like hallmark Christmas movie manuscript guidelines and stuff, because a friend and I joked for years about writing one together, but we’re actually writing one together.

So that’s another fun kind of side project that’s collaborative. And that means all together that I’ve been like watching, reading, eating, sleeping, breathing Christmas romance for like a month already and fortunately my husband has his own space to hang out because that’s like his personal version of hell.

So yes, that has been very entertaining and yeah, I’m having fun with it. So that’s all good. We’ll see if I can squeeze in another novella or short story for the holidays before the end of the month, because I still have half of NaNo left and the, the thing about writing shorter stuff is that you, you know, you, you don’t actually write a whole novel during NaNo, you got to NaNo rebel it and cobble together a few different things to hit the word count. So I’m currently just deciding which project I will be embarking on next week with my wording time in the morning. And I’ve got until Monday to figure that out. So I’ll spend the weekend playing with things. And finally are not in our nonfiction world our Create with Co-author books is ready to launch. The last couple of weeks I spent finalizing the resources that go with the book and the last proofreading and polishes all done and all the files and everything are getting uploaded today and going out to ARC reader and December 1st goes live. So we’re, we’re ready.

We’re excited. And I’m looking forward to launching that and seeing that go off into the world. 

Now we are going to talk today about challenging ourselves. So NaNo is one of the things I think a lot of people decide to do to kind of see how much, you know, they can write and how much they can stretch themselves, or maybe you’ve never written a book before and you decide NaNo is a good way to jump into that. But NaNo is not the only game in town. And Michele, we’re going to talk a little bit first about your 12 by 20 Challenge. So talk to us about that. What, what was this and where did it come from and what was your plan there?

Explaining our challenge

Michele Amitrani: So Crystal the 12 by 20 Challenge was something that I started as of course a challenge by myself and for myself, and basically it is something on this line: I had to write something like a short story – or a micro fiction was my original objective – one of these things every single month for 2020, this was my basically baseline. So even if I wrote something like a 300 words story I was at with that.

As we will see it turned out to be a bit different because I was able to actually write something a bit more complex. I started with a short story of 3000 words, Glass into Steel and then the last story in December was at 12,000 thousand words novella, which actually I am now rewriting and I’m going to publish it in the beginning of 2022.

So basically this was my challenge, something very simple, but that I had never done at that time. I was… because it’s like one year ago where it’s talking the very, very past 2020. I was 33 years old when I started it and It was something that challenged me and I know that for many people in my sound like nothing to write a short story per month, but for me it was actually a real challenge and I had fun doing it, but it also presented a lot of difficulties that I will tell you about later on.

But definitely helped me be into a better writer. It convinced me more of something that I was doubting about. And it is definitely something that I suggest to people if they are interested in something that goes in a bit more of a challenging way than a simple NaNoWriMo. A yearly challenge it’s really a commitment, but I do think that it might help you craft in a bigger way, if you are committed to that really a lot. And I also know Crystal that you add your own version of a challenge. This one, correct me if I’m mistaken, I’ve heard about this challenge that you’re going to talk about the first time at the Creative Ink Festival, which is a festival that we have in B.C.

And actually when you talked about this it was a workshop that you were giving on, I believe writing productivity and that was the very first time that I seen you. And you were talking about this 40 by 40 project and you were describing it, of course, and I remember sitting there and I was thinking, that’s a very cool idea, but I want to leave you the opportunity to describe what this 40 by 40 project was.

Crystal Hunt: Well, this project was because I needed a bit of a kick in the pants to get myself going. I had been running a consulting company for a number of years and kind of got sucked back into the corporate world. And it was my own company and we were making creative projects. Some of the contracts we were hired to do we’re writing educational books about things and creating animated content and all kinds of stuff.

So it was, it was a pretty cool thing to do, but we… every three to four months we would do a team retreat with, I had a full kind of staff of people who worked with me. And so we would have a team retreat every few months and kind of look at our longer-term goals and our shorter term goals and think about where we were going.

It’s a bit like the 12 weeks year retreats that we do in the Creative Academy now. And I found myself writing in my notebook 40 by 40. I was like, Okay, I don’t even know what that means when we were talking about like, where do you want to be? You know, in a while. And at that point I was 39 and a bit. So this was, I didn’t have much time.

There was about nine months until my 40th birthday. And I decided in a moment of inspiration or lunacy, depending on your point of view, that what I really wanted was to have 40 books published by my 40th birthday. And I mean, I wasn’t starting from zero. I already had, I don’t know, 25 books or something at that point, but I really wanted to make those romance stories. And I really wanted to push myself to kind of test the waters in that area. I’d written a couple of romance stories to that point, but, you know, it’s what I always wanted to do as a career. And I was kind of dancing around it a little bit and I wasn’t sure financially if that was going to be viable and how things were going to go.

And I wasn’t sure how I would do honestly. If I fully focused on writing. I have a trouble kind of focusing on things. Sometimes I want to do all the things. And so, you know, if I try to only do one thing, sometimes I get bored and then I need to do something else. And so that is a concern that I had. So I thought, okay, well, this would be an interesting way to kind of test that out.

And so I decided to do what was effectively NaNo every month for the rest of that year. On top of my full-time job, which was maybe a questionable decision, but I wanted to see what I could do and we couldn’t give up the income. So that wasn’t an option to just take that time off. So my experiment was basically just writing every free minute that I had between the time I decided that and when my birthday was in January so I had yeah, about nine months to see what I could do.

It was very interesting in all kinds of ways, as I’m sure you found with your challenge Michele, I had planned to write like shorter stories, they didn’t even need to be novella length. My intention was just to write a series of short stories that were all kind of tied together in the world, I had created in river’s end as a way to develop my craft in a way to practice finishing a story that had a beginning, a middle and end, and then just putting it out there and learning from it.

And I had promised myself, I wasn’t going to do any marketing really at all. I was going to just publish the books and put them out and then move onto the next story and, and really stay focused on the writing side and developing that. And what happened was the stories kept creeping up and getting longer and longer.

I mean, we’re not talking epic tomes here. I think the longest one that I ended up writing was 35,000 words. So we’re still firmly in novella territory. But with each story that I completed, I got more comfortable with things. So one of the things I think that surprised me the most was actually how quickly momentum built when I started releasing the stories, it was September and I really only had I think two novellas maybe out at that point. And I didn’t have a mailing list. I was giving one of the two away for free. The other was just a short little story that I think I’ve thrown up for 99 cents.

I wasn’t really thinking of it from a building a business perspective. It was just something that I always wanted to do and write. And my nonfiction business and my children’s book stuff is what had traditionally always kind of paid the bills. So when I started from zero in September, I wasn’t expecting things to kind of grow so fast as they did.

So I did manage to release, I think it was seven novellas and stories between September and December. And that’s a lot. That’s like every couple of weeks, there’s a new one release. And it was fascinating to me how much that consistent releasing schedule built up my mailing list was I think almost 6,000 people by the end of that period.

And I was making four figures worth of money a month and that was enough to be really noticeable. I had made an actual distinct profit on each of the novellas that I released after paying for editing and, you know, licensing, cover images and all that kind of stuff. So it was kind of like a beta test for whether or not potentially a viable career option for me long-term and a beta test for did I like it enough to actually make that the focus and how did I feel about all of that?

So, yeah, it was, it was definitely a turning point for me. And I found as I was releasing things, other opportunities were kind of coming out of the woodwork because of that. So, you know, having enough distinct titles meant that things like to some audio books was, was on the table. And I said, sure, let’s give that a go.

And I ended up adding in a bunch of things I didn’t really intend to add in on the production side, which in hindsight, like that definitely slowed down the amount of books that I could write, but it also kind of upped the number of opportunities that came my way and also supplemented the income as well.

So all of that was just a fascinating kind of little adventure down a rabbit hole. And I’m curious for you because you’ve been… after spending your year of writing all these stories, you’ve now spent most of the year releasing all these stories. And so what has that publication process kind of taught you about things?

Or how are you feeling about the challenge now that you’re in that new phase of things? 

What we learn about ourselves as a consequence of our challenges

Michele Amitrani: I think as you were mentioning, part of us did this challenge to kind of understand if we could do it for the longer term you did yours by seeing if you could release a number of products and if you could package them and then ship them.

And I did something similar with the 12 by 20 challenge, meaning that I wrote 12 stories. Yes. But actually how many of those I’m using it’s just five or six of them, but at the same time it made me, it made me aware of something that many writers are doing nowadays, which is sitting on products.

So they just write things, might be like three or four books in a year, and they don’t publish them. And then afterwards in the next year they use that asset to build the new series for example, which is exactly basically what I did with now 7, now it’s 7 novellas. I basically built two different mythological fantasy series.

And they are re not serious that have the exact same characters, but they are linked the because of the location and the time period, which is mythological fantasy Greek mythology, of course. So to answer your question, I learned that I could sit on content, which never happened before. I always, always wrote something and immediately after released it, because I didn’t know how to wait.

I didn’t know that I could wait. And I didn’t know that I could actually create a system that allowed me to build a line of products that were more nice together. So before the 12 by 20 challenge, I would have never thought of linking together those novellas that I wrote into two series, because I didn’t know that it could have been done as I’m sure you probably didn’t know that you could market the books that were released after Silver Bells. And I think we learned a lot from that process. From your challenge, and then from my challenge, and at the end of the day, it also helped understanding something about myself which was I can write in English because, between parenthesis, I was writing in English, which is my second language, which I am still not sure I can write in.

So it gave me a boost of confidence because as I released those stories for free, of course, then the 12 by 20 challenge, all these stories where these for free to my new set subscribers, I probably should’ve mentioned that before, in exchange of feedback. This was the most important thing for me when I set up and I gave these crazy idea to Crustal and she asked me what do you want to do with these stories if you successfully write them? And my answer was very simple: I just want feedback, because I don’t know if my writing is good enough for people to dedicate some of their time. And from some feedback from people generous enough with their time to give me this feedback via social media and newsletter and emails, I was able to understand that, you know, my writing in English wasn’t that bad. I still think it sucks a bit, but it gave me the freedom, the permission to write that bad thing to go into head ed and just create the vomit draft, the first draft. And then, you know what I did, I just rewrote it, or I wrote to make it a bit better and bit more similar to what was my original vision of how that story was meant to be told. 

So these are the things that I learned from that phase. And I think went well because I was able to release those 12 products to my newsletter in that year. So I did complete that story. This is, these are some of the things that I learned from the process as a result of releasing content every single month.

And there was actually something that scared me about this challenge. And I would like to ask you if this very same thing scared you to Crystal, which is the reaction of the public. And let me elaborate on that. First I want to move if you make this challenge public. So other people, even two or three people, it doesn’t have to be everybody, but other people knew that you were undergoing this.

If you did make it public, what kind of reaction did you get from people? Was it the positive or people were like shaking their heads and saying: are you sure about this? And how did you react to these reactions?

What was the reaction of other people when we spoke about our project

Crystal Hunt: Um, Yeah, there were some mixed reactions. I did share it with some friends, some fellow writers. I was pretty public about it. I actually started Patreon Page in the beginning and anyone who subscribed for, you know, I think it was 5 or $10 a month would get all the stories that I put out for free.

And so that gave me enough backing to pay for the editing. That was how I paid for the editing on the first few stories that I was publishing. And that meant it. wasn’t kind of taking away from this. That I had, I had drastically reduced my amount of hours that I was working in the business in order to do this.

I cut down to almost half time for those nine months. And so of course my people that I worked with, my staff were aware of what I was doing because I was working a whole lot less and that had kind of ripple effects. So we, we all agreed that that was a good idea. And so I had lots of support there and it was really interesting to see a straight up dichotomy of responses.

Most of the people who know me really well were just like, oh, okay, that sounds like fun because they know me and I tend to tackle pretty big projects and often things that don’t seem reasonable or achievable. I just… I’m stubborn enough that I’m like, no, no, this is what’s happening. And then, you know, go and do it.

But there were definitely a handful of not so great responses. And I think a lot was not about me and more about the people responding to the idea of that, because, you know, I did have some fellow writers who were, let’s say didn’t want to take responsibility necessarily for their own choices. Like, it’s easy to feel like we don’t have the choice to prioritize our writing or that there’s not enough hours in the day or that it’s not really reasonable to kind of push yourself.

And so, you know, I do think there were a couple of folks who didn’t react all that well, because if I was willing to make that choice and then go after the thing, it somehow reflected badly on them or that they weren’t choosing those things. And so that made them feel not good. And so they just sort of disappeared from my world, which happens whenever you make a big change and you push things forward, there’s always a risk that not everyone is going to come along on that journey.

And so that was fine. I had to deal with that, but you know, the upside of challenge like that is that you’re pretty busy, so there’s plenty to keep you distracted. And it did kind of leave me only with the circle of people who were extremely supportive about the direction that I was headed and what I was trying to do, which meant, you know, in making it public, it kind of filtered out those people earlier in the process.

And then I didn’t spend a lot of energy convince them or, you know, take things back together and those relationships, if it didn’t work for them, it didn’t work for them. And so off they went and that I think was the kind of the biggest, like emotional piece of it was just accepting that any time you go forward, things may not look the same on the other side, when you make a big shift.

And that is definitely when we change everything around us changes and that can be more or less comfortable for other people in our lives, depending on how comfortable they are with change and depending on, you know, what kind of relationship you have and how solid that was. But mostly people were super supportive, super excited and actually lots of people talked about like doing their own version of a challenge like that. And since then lots of people have come up to me later and said, oh, I just thought it was so fun and I, you know, I’d started my own challenge and I’m doing this and they would tell me whatever they had set up, whether it was, you know, 12 short stories in 12 weeks or whatever, and so it’s been really fun hearing how other people kind of took that away from things 

And Michele for you what did you find when you set up your challenge? Was there anybody or any like situations that you found particularly challenging or particularly supportive? How did people react when you told them what you were doing?

Michele Amitrani: So basically nobody said anything because nobody was following me. So I didn’t know anybody, basically. So I didn’t have enough of a feedback. Crystal already had her following writer’s friend. I came from a slightly different situation in that the very first time that I was exposed to a lot of writers was at the Creative Ink festival. Before I was completely out of the writers community. And the reason is because I was scared, of course. I had the many years to do that decision to connect with other writers. I didn’t and I was very happy that I did attend that the particular festival, which I always remember with they good, the positive emotions.

And again, that’s the reason why me and Crystal are talking basically, because I just remember I went to the stand and I bought her book, a very small, lovely book called Oona. And that’s the reason why all the podcast started and how I got involved into the Creative Academy. So again, to close this parentheses connection with other writers is really important for writers career.

So that changed my career for good. So to answer your question I didn’t have any person that were saying, “no, you can’t do that” because I didn’t know enough people. And in fact, I had even problems struggling a bit when I set myself to have a penalty each month, if I didn’t publish the story to my newsletter, I was asking to people what kind… because what I wanted to do was to pay 100 us dollars if I didn’t complete the challenge.

And that was just something to motivate me to publish the story. And I got just one or two people that were saying, okay, you could pay those $100 to this charity and that other charity. So I even had some problems in finding those kinds of feedback. But that’s a beautiful thing. You start from a place, which is from zero. And then at the end of those 12 months, I knew dozens more people because dozens more people, not thousands, but dozens… So a few people knew me, got to like my writing and I think this is an important thing that I would like to underline. When you start a challenge like this, and when you challenge yourself, you start from a point in which you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. So it’s really easy not to concentrate on the horizon and just concentrate on the next two or three steps and get scared. And definitely that’s what happened to me. But I had a little magic trick, up my sleeve.

When I started my 12 by 20 challenge, I already had a draft of a short story. So I knew that I could finish those 3000 words of the first short story because I kind of set myself up for success, at least for January. I knew that for January, I was kind of good. I knew that I could publish something because I already had the draft of that story.

So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that if you want to undergo a challenge like this, there are definitely some ways that you can do to set yourself up for success. So let’s say that you may be wanting to write three novels in a year. If you spend a year before and you’re an outliner outlining three, these three novels and doing all the researches, you are probably going to be better off on writing these three novelists that if you have to use that year to research and outline and to write these three projects. So that’s something that I also learned with this, kind of a trick of the first month that you can plan for what you want to do in that year ahead. Exactly as you are doing with NaNoWriMo, you can do all the research that you want to do.

And maybe you can outline that novel so that you use November just to pour the words, just to write them. That’s definitely something that I did on my January, and that helped me keep momentum because on January I was already writing the February story which was Not that Fairytale. And on February I was writing The Umbrella Paradox, which was the March story.

So I kind of set myself up for success. So when shit hit the fan, because it did and it came in the form of, I couldn’t finish a story because it was getting too long. But because I had those 15 days more, that worked as a buffer, I was able to publish that story too. So it might seem like not very significant, but when it comes to at least my 12 by 20 Challenge, I was helped by the fact that I was a bit more prepared of what was waiting for me ahead.

So this is something that also impacted my writing. And this is something that I am actually noticing this thing. Nowadays when I’m setting up for a project, there is the idea part and the brainstorming, and then there is the party which I’m writing and then there is the part in which I set a deadline.

That’s the most important part for me of the writing process, because it’s connected to my publishing. The moment in which I set the deadline. I basically can’t fuck around anymore because that day is the day when I published the story. And just to go back to 20 books to 50 K, I just listened to a workshop by a gentleman, I can’t remember the name for the life of me, so I’m so sorry, but it was about writing productivity and I’m writing craft. And there is one thing that this gentleman said, which was… I actually wrote it down. ‘The deadline doesn’t care’, any excuses you have if you set the deadline and the deadline is the moment you need to publish the book because you are a writer and you’re doing this, if you’re doing this for a living, if you don’t do that, you don’t get paid. The deadline doesn’t care. So you have to do everything you can to get the project going. And that’s exactly our worked my 12 by 20 Challenge. Again, at the end of the month either that I like it or not their last day of the month, I had to come up with something. If not, I needed to pay the banality and plus there was a, the additional psychological factor that I knew that I was kind of a failure, maybe failure it’s a strong word, but I knew that I would fail the 12 by 20 Challenge, which I didn’t want to do.

So the deadline doesn’t care. Once I have the deadline, I can’t do anything else, but publish something. So that helped me a lot. And actually on this regard, I wanted to ask you, Crystal we start we’re talking about planning ahead and I never asked you about your challenge, if you ever plan your road ahead, or if you kind of pantsed your way into this project, like any kind of, you know, writing project. If you knew what work you were doing, or you just went ahead and created stuff as you go.

How did we face the challenge and what we learned from it

Crystal Hunt: So, what I did was yeah, effectively, I was pantsing my way through all of it because I didn’t have a whole bunch of stories outlined at that point, I didn’t really know what I was doing in that world. I had, you know, this idea that I was gonna set all of the stories in the same location, partly for efficiency originally, because I had already created Rivers End for Silver Bells.

And I, you know, had noodled around with some other stories in there. And I kept trying to like reinvent the same small town. And I was like, this is just going to cost me a ton of time. If, if I’m writing a whole bunch of shorter stories, I want the world established and then each story I put out will enhance that, which was great, but they weren’t all connected linearly.

Like I sat down and wrote whatever stories kind of came to mind with which ever characters popped into my head in the moment. And I focused on sort of moving things forward by a certain amount of words every day. Jared had made me a tracking spreadsheet that if I figured… because originally, I thought, okay, well how many words can I write a day? And at the time it was about 2000 words was my target, I think, and as long as I did that, all the, like almost every day, I think I, I worked in like one day off a week between when I started the challenge and when my birthday was going to roll around, then that was enough to let me write enough stories, basically.

So I couldn’t spend a lot of time lingering around developing elaborate plans and plots. There was a great deal of kind of pantsing and I would often spend my day off in quotes from writing, figuring out what I was going to write next. That was a pretty common occurrence. And what happened was at the end, I had all these stories that were set in Rivers End, but they were almost all book one of another little mini series.

And so it was interesting from a storytelling perspective. I basically was creating the breadth or the width of my world through that exercise. And I was figuring out how all these characters I’d come up with for the different stories were going to connect to each other in the end. And I wrote in different timelines through the stories where, you know, a year before the other ones.

So I had created a bit of a timeline for the town, as well as fleshed out all these characters and really done a lot of world-building, but from like a business or a logical development perspective, readers were like, yeah, but what about the next one? Like, you know, I would write about the MacAllisters and that first one, and then people were like, well, we want to know what happens with Shannon. What about the sister? And so it was an interesting way to gauge interest of which characters people were interested in. I had no intention of writing about Jenna’s brother Eli. Who’s like the bad guy in the first book. He was just supposed to be this like, you know, mean kind of villainy character who showed up. And then people were like, oh, what about his story? And so I had to give him like a redemption ark. And that is where Reindeer Games came really was all kind of organically evolving and seeing what readers were responding to and what kind of comments were being left in the reviews. And I did read all of those, which is always challenging when you’re in writing mode and learning mode.

But I was just thinking of it as a, I need to learn everything I can about what’s working for people and what’s not. So it was a hugely educational adventure, and that’s really that was my goal with, it was to get better at the craft. And I think that helped a lot. Like one thing I remember when you told me about your 12 by 20 challenge was that you had this big sticky on the board behind you that said ‘no expectations’.

And that was really, I think the theme for both of us. So if we’re looking at okay, how do we do this successfully? One is: setting a goal that is specific, but also flexible. So like, I knew the stories that I wanted. You wanted one story per month, but neither of us said they have to be this long or exactly this kind of story or whatever.

We didn’t, we didn’t make a ton of like fail conditions that were built in to the challenge. The challenge was more open-ended in its interpretation in that way. And in the end I included audio books because the amount of hours that had to go into producing those things was intense. And so for my own count, I ended up counting those.

But keeping it flexible enough that you could take advantage of other opportunities that came up and shift gears where it was appropriate, like turning them into a series when you didn’t set out to do that, it was a smart business decision to do that. It was a smart, creative decision to do that. You know, making sure that you have that flexibility built in without feeling like you failed or cheated or whatever at this challenge that you set for yourself is really, really important.

The other thing I think that’s really important is that even though there was a specific deadline of releasing something by the end of that month it wasn’t a specific day that it had to be released on in that month. If you had a shorter story and you finish sooner, you could release it sooner and then check that off and move on to the next thing.

So you weren’t for moving forward and same thing for me, I just, the book was done. I would hand it to the editor and then I’d work on something else and when the edits came back, I’d finished them and we would just push the book out and, you know, everything got polished and, and it did get worked on and, you know, all the hoops were jumped through in the boxes were checked, but it wasn’t like I pre-set out a publication schedule and said, well, this week is going to be edits and this week is going to be whatever it was just, what is the thing? And then focus on that. And, you know, using my daily word count chart, I could see the number would go up or down.

If I got ahead of the schedule, it bought me a little bit of a buffer. And if I didn’t, then I had to hustle because as you said, the ‘deadline doesn’t care’ and I’m curious. So we know we have carrot or stick. The stick is like, what is your punishment? And Michele was like I’m going to have to pay a hundred dollars if he didn’t get his deadline each month.

Did you, did you also have a reward in mind or was it stick only? What was your, what was your end goal or the thing that was pulling you forward through all of that? 

What price did we ended up giving ourselves

Michele Amitrani: So until the last moment, I didn’t know what I was going to get for myself as a price if I successfully finished the challenge. And that’s just because I didn’t know if I finished this challenge successfully.

So what I did was at the end, I decided that I was going to spend around 200 Canadian dollars on osa food and Bosa the food is basically a supermarket in BC. I don’t know if it’s Canada-wise, but in Vancouver we have a couple of those and they sell Italian stuff. So Italian brands biscuits, marmalade. At that time I was able to find some panettone, which is like a kind of dry cake, Italian, dry cake, Pandoro, chocolate, that kind of stuff. So I spent 200 bucks on that because that’s food, so it’s useful, but at the same time it’s rewarding. I also got some bacon,  Italian bacon. Very good, very expensive stuff in Vancouver. Not as nearly expensive here in Italy, but in there, there was a huge price for me. And it also made me feel better. And actually I have a picture of this and I posted it on Facebook. That was my reward for the 12 by 20 challenge. And one thing that I wanted to mention about that was that this challenge did not help me only creating a more accountable Michele Amitrani, but also, I think, a better storyteller and I’m going to be very, very faster exploring this point, but I just I think it’s important to the listeners that if you start a challenge like this, and you are setting yourself up to write a number of words can be anything talking about micro fiction, can be a short story, a novella, an epic fantasy, anything. If you are challenging yourself with the challenge at the end of the year, at the end of the decade, how long is going to be this challenge? I don’t know, at the end of the semester. Whatever it is, the length of the challenge, you, if you finish it and you complete it, and it’s a significant challenge, I mean, you have to push yourself.

I never, before wrote a short story every month. Never. So for me at that time in my writing, that was difficult. If you successfully do this at the end of that period, you are going to be a better writer, a better craftman, better storyteller because of the simple fact that you know, a bit more how storytelling works in those 12 months I learned so many things on the art of storytelling, even simply because I wanted to please my readers, more than please, I wanted them to have a better experience. So what did I do? I studied more about craft of writing in 2020. That’s the year I read the most about the craft of writing and the business of publishing Why is that? It’s because I had that objective and it’s because I never did something that big so I knew that I needed to level up as an author in order to achieve those objectives. And I’m sure that Crystal experienced something like that when you’re writing and publishing seven novellas in like two or three months, that’s something that changes you for good, because you know you can do that. Potentially in the future, you did it already. You can do it again. Probably you can do it better because of all of the mistakes that you made. You know, how to fix them. And so now I know how to fix a short story or a novel. Faster. If I don’t get stuck in the pantsing process, sometimes still happens.

But because I already wrote 12 of them now, 13, because I also published that permafree mythological fantasy. So I know and understand a bit better the story structured that goes behind it. And I got the readers that tells me that they are satisfied when they read those stories. So that’s telling me that the challenge, accomplished something important.

It boost up my confidence in being able to telling a story that resonates with the readers. And at the same time, it makes me feel like if I can do that, I can probably build on those foundation and I can probably write a better story from all the things that I’ve learned. So that’s the only thing that I wanted to really add to the discussion that we’re having on the challenge, because I really do believe, Crystal, that it’s important. And I think that can be, it’s something that can be replicated. You write more, the quality of your writing increases and you can level up in time as a writer. And it’s something that I actually wanted to ask you because we are talking about challenges and we need to get motivated.

I got motivated in the way that I told you with food, Italian food, and I know that you have a very particular way of motivating yourself when you finish a project and I really would like to share with listeners, but in general, generally speaking, I wanted to know when you hit an obstacle in your challenge, what did you do to overcome it?

Did you had some system in place? Did you have a person you go talk to? And I’m just asking you this, because I do believe that if listeners set up a challenge, they will face these problems. So I want to know how Crystal Hunt behaved when that happened.

Crystal Hunt: I’m blessed in my friends, so I have lots of friends who are writers and I definitely was able to kind of reach out if I was feeling a lack of motivation or like I’d run up against a wall that I couldn’t really solve. And there were definitely things that happened along the way that threw a wrench in things, you know, family member and some other stuff going on in life that just kind of shuts down the creative drive and energy.

So there was some of that for sure. And at one point I seriously considered just scrapping it and not finishing because you know, it just wasn’t, ut was creating more complications in my life then I felt like it was rewarding. And so I had to really think about what I wanted and how that was going to work.

But ultimately, you know, Jared was always been very encouraging, but also not pressury and he just said, well, anything you do is going to get you further than you were before. So even if you don’t think you’ll hit the number that you said, just try to put the number up by one, you know just write one story, just find the fun again and write whatever you think you can, you know, if you need to do a shorter or just make some adjustments. And I actually, at one point, I, cause I had my tracking spreadsheet and it was showing me like how I was doing in terms of staying on track and how many days I’d written, not written and at one point I just felt like it was shouting accusatory remarks at me, every time I opened it and I just stopped using it because I was like, Nope, I’m too far behind. It’s every time I opened it, it stressed me out. And so I actually just did a reset on my sheet. At one point I sat down September 1st actually, I sat down and was like, Nope, this isn’t working and I reset all the numbers and I reset my goal just for the period of that day to my birthday. And I was like, I can get through four months of tracking like this.

But we need a clean slate. So sometimes that big old reset button, and it’s not like you actually change anything. I was still the same me. I was still doing all the same things, but just changing your word count, or you know, consciously acknowledging that you were just going to do a restart was enough to really unlock things and completely shifted the way that those last few months went.

And I did have two different kinds of rewards in my process. I mean, of course there was the intrinsic satisfaction of having done the writing that I told myself I was going to do. So yes, that does bear mentioning because it is really important. Those contracts we set and whether or not we keep them does have a very intense and ongoing kind of impact with how we proceed with our writing, but I did have two external motivations as well. One is that each time I started a new story, I would label a little mini bottle of champagne and put it in the fridge with the name of the story on it. And when I… because for me, the first draft is the hardest part.

I have no problem editing. I actually enjoy it, I know there are people who will throw rocks at me for saying that, but I actually liked that part for me getting the new words though out on the paper is by far the most difficult part. And so I, when I got to the end of my first draft for each of the stories, then I got to crack one of those little mini bottles of champagne.

So, and I put those in the fridge so that I could see them. And that way, even if I started a story and I got stuck, it was, it was okay to start another one. As long as I wasn’t leaving like 10 things unfinished, but sometimes you just need a little more time to work through something in your head. And by having the freedom to choose multiple stories and to be working on multiple things at one time, it did let me kind of move several things forward and always be working on something with the time that I did have available.

And so that, that did make for a rather not consistent release schedule. Sometimes I’d have nothing for a month and then I’d have like three in a month, but it kept me from getting stressed out and it was really fun to have that sort of reward of cracking, open that little bottle and then it was just enough in those little bottles for two glasses, really.

So I could share it with, you know, either a friend who had been super supportive or my husband could have some too. And that was a nice little ritual to celebrate the finishing of each project. And then the other thing that I had promised myself that for my birthday party, when I turned 40 any money I made that month off my royalties was going to pay for the party.

So it was either going to be like some pizza, local pizza place or whatever we could do with the money that came in that month. And because things actually escalated really well. I was able to pay for like a, a retreat center on the sunshine coast for kind of my sort of close friends and people who’ve been super supportive of my adventure to come and spend the weekend.

And we had just a wonderful time and it was really fun to be able to do that and to see such like a visible reminder of what we could do with some focus and that that stretching and all the discomfort, all of the like frustrating moments. Actually go somewhere. It was worth it. And in both the financial sense, as well as a sort of personal development sense.

So I highly recommend that if you’re feeling like you, you’re not quite getting where you want to be, and you need a little bit of a push or a pole setting, some kind of challenge for yourself, even if it’s a short-term one is extremely valuable, but with the amount of time that most things take to complete in writing consider a bunch of time. It is like it is, it is like Michele and I both did roughly a year and you can change a lot about your writing career and your writing life over the course of a year, and you can cement it into place so that it stays with you, which is the biggest difference. I think those small short sprints are great, but it doesn’t change your way of life. And if you look at the cumulative impact, those longer term changes will have over the course of your career it is substantial.

All right friends. Well, we’re very curious to hear if any of you are challenging yourselves and we’re gonna ask about that in our next newsletter. So remember to hit the subscribe button, wherever you’re listening to the podcast and visit us at strategicauthorpreneur.com for show notes and links to the books, resources, and tools that we’ve talked about in today’s show, we will definitely include a link to the YouTube channel with all the 20 books to 50 K resources on them.

And please also feel free to hit that bus us a coffee button. If you find the show helpful, every contribution helps us keep the shows coming and keep our productions ads free. And you never know, maybe we’ll repurpose a little bit of that cash for our next mini bottle of champagne until next time, happy writing everybody 

Michele Amitrani: Happy writing.