Monday, May 25, 2009

The Successful Writer

In the United States, today, the fourth Monday in May, is Memorial Day, a national holiday. Not withstanding the Indianapolis 500, the business sales, the picnics, packed movie theaters, and the traffic, this day was set aside as a day of remembrance and mourning for all the men and women who have died in the wars the U.S. has fought. If you are reading this now, no matter to which country you pledge your allegiance, please pause for a minute or two of silence to honor those who have gone before us and died in military service to our countries.

Military leaders know that the key to a successful campaign is a good strategy, trained troops, and a lot of luck. New writers often ask, "How can I be a successful writer?" And underneath I hear the unspoken question, "What's the secret? Do you have the magic key?" Actually, there is a secret that is no secret. There are keys, but I'm not sure they have supernatural properties. Here are the four keys that I've learned.

1. Writers write...with focus.
Sandra Brown clarified the first part of this key by saying, "Put your backside in the chair." To become a successful writer, you must write. Regularly. Every day. Put one word after the other. This is how you get your training, stack up the manuscript pages, finish a book. In addition, you must focus your writing. I write everyday. I write e-mails, letters, blogs, technical procedures for my consulting work. I'm a success at writing. I even make money at it. But this writing gets me nowhere nearer to finishing my novel. I have to make that novel my priority to become a success in the fiction world. And "success" means...?

2. Define "Success".
What do you want to accomplish with your writing? Because making that decision will line up a lot of other decisions and commitments in your life. Maybe success means writing as a hobby. Writing gives you a great deal of pleasure, but in priority it's pretty far down the list. Does success mean getting a novel published? Good goal. For this one, you'll need to set a time for meeting it. How about making the New York Times bestseller list? Success might mean making a living from your fiction writing, or enough money to set up your child's college fund. How about finishing a book a year? Each of these definitions of "success", if adopted, leads to different levels and different types of activity, writing, and effort. And with the effort comes...

3. What Are You Willing To Give Up?
There are 24 hours in the day. Every day. Not changing. Ever. And I'll bet, right now those hours are filled to the max. Family, job, sleep, recreation, reading, writing. I also have a feeling that however you've defined "success", you're going to need more time to reach that success. What are you willing to give up? Sleep? Your day job? Dinners out? Daily phone calls with your mother? Your child's soccer game? Reading? What gets sacrificed to reach "success"? Hard decisions, here. Ones only you can make. And ones that affect the people around you as well as yourself. And then there's...

4. Luck
My father-in-law often says that "Luck is preparation meeting opportunity", and I've seen enough of this to know it to be true. But in writing, as in life, there are innumerable things that you don't control. You don't control which editor will read your manuscript and if he or she will like it. You can't control the publishers' marketing department (especially if they "forget" to get your book listed in the booksellers' wholesale lists). You can't control the readers and buying public.

You can control the first three keys in this strategy of yours.

Put your backside in the chair, define success for yourself, decide what you're willing to give up for that success, and put the plan into action. Then no matter how the Luck falls or the obstacles line up, you'll be a Successful Writer.

Now, go write!


Sandy Cody said...

Excellent advice, Laverne. I love the way you've broken down the process. I truly believe that if a writer (any writer) follows the first 3 items, the 4th will fall into place. It may take a while, but it will happen if you add an important 5th element - persistence.

Carol Hutchens said...

Great advice! Very encouraging, LaVerne. Thank you.

Elisabeth Rose said...

There's no getting around it is there? If you want to succeed at anything you have to stick at it and work. So many wouldbe writers faff about going to writing group meetings and conferences and talk about their work and tell people they write, but don't seem to produce more than the odd chapter or two which has been rewritten to death.