There are no guarantees when it comes to writing—no formulas, no surefire step-by-step plans, no infallible paths to follow.
Okay, okay…I know; there are countless books and magazine articles giving just such plans and formulas, and they almost all appear to make some degree of sense. True. No argument. Read them myself. But there are two important points to consider: following them does not guarantee success, and ignoring them doesn’t guarantee failure.
The best we can do is think about the advice that makes sense to us and discard what doesn’t. I advise you to do the same with the “Rules for SUCCESS” that follow. They make sense to me and might just work for you.
S — Set goals…realistic, attainable, daily goals
Attempting to write, revise and polish a book in a week is (for most of us) unrealistic. Setting a daily writing goal of 10,000 words is (again, for most of us) unattainable. Only you can determine a personal goal that is realistic and attainable.
While perhaps not essential—and there are numerous successful writers who have not done so—I would strongly encourage aspiring authors to establish “daily” goals; whether “making pages,” doing background research, mentally creating character histories or whatever else needs to be done.
Doing so daily keeps the material percolating, bubbling and fermenting much more effectively than trying to carve out large, but infrequent, chunks of time to work. Putting even a minimal amount of time and effort into your writing daily keeps the material alive and growing and prevents the ideas and enthusiasm from napping (or going into a coma).
An aspiring musician, for example, with a daily one-hour practice schedule will 99.99% of the time grow in skill more quickly and evenly than one who practices seven hours every Sunday.
U — Understand what it means to be the writer you wish to be
If you want to write layered psychological thrillers, you need to understand the human mind and psyche.
If you want to write hard science fiction, you’d better have at least (at least!) a rudimentary understanding of the science portrayed in your book.
If you want to write historical fiction or a whitewater rafting adventure or a police procedural, you’d better research that historical period and learn the ins and outs of rafting and become an authority on how the police work.
And if your goal is to write greeting cards, haunt your local Hallmark store to develop an eye and ear for the craft.
And read voraciously in whatever field you choose to work; read what works and learn from it. Read what doesn’t work, as well; determine what doesn’t work about it and why.
C — Control your time
Waiting for inspiration, for just the right moment, for the “muse” to plop down on your shoulder and whisper sweet ideas in your ear is not a plan of action.
Reading about writing or thinking about writing or planning to think about perhaps reading a book about writing in order to be ready when the time is right is not a plan of action.
Planning to write when you get a chance or when the time is right or when the kids get back in school or when the holidays are over or when the spring cleaning is done or after vacation or when the kids are out of school…nope, not a plan of action.
If writing is a priority to you, treat it as such; if it’s not, that’s fine, too. Less competition for the rest of us.
C — Create an environment conducive to creativity
Take classes; read books about writing and writer biographies; attend workshops, seminars, writer/fan conventions, etc. Listen to whatever music sooths or stimulates or moves you. Find and use whatever nudges your neurons, sizzles your synapses or caresses your creativity. Do whatever it takes to keep your right brain self-engaged and questing and growing.
Do not, however, count this as actual “writing” time.
E — Enable enthusiasm by writing what excites you, what gets you going
Some aspiring writers (and some published authors, as well) try to determine “what sells” and set their sights on getting ahead of the curve, regardless of whether this is what they want to write. For most, this path leads to rejection and dissatisfaction and often sub-par work.
Writing well is hard work, even when you love the material. Writing something you don’t truly enjoy can be torturous and depressing.
S — See yourself as a writer
A number of years ago, a major NBA star was hired to work on an athletic show commercial. He was instructed to miss a free throw, but it couldn’t be an obvious miss. He had to look as though he was trying to sink the shot.
It took him thirteen tries.
His self-image as a basketball professional and his “body memory” of shooting free throws were so ingrained, so strong that he literally had trouble breaking out of that reality. His psychological makeup and sense of identity made missing nearly impossible.
If you see yourself as someone who will write “someday” or as someone who “wants” to be a writer or as someone who “hopes” to be a writer, this could very well slow, stall or perhaps even stop you before you get started. While positive think won’t guarantee success, negative thinking will almost certainly prevent it.
S — Send your work out
In my years as a freelance writer, writing instructor and literary agent, I’ve never had nor heard nor read of any other writer having editors pounding on your door demanding to see the contents of your file cabinet.
Write it, revise it, polish it and send it out. Immediately start something new. After all, you are a writer, aren’t you?
Jack Byrne contributed this article.
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