Examining your work and career in the light of a strategy can be a very rewarding experience.
Here's the strategy we've been looking at:
‘Servicing readers' existing need for thematic elements while building up a knowledge of the marketplace and opening up routes for your public to find your work.’
We've already briefly covered Strengths and Weaknesses in a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Potentially, that has shown us much about our own work that we never suspected. Now, let's look at Opportunities and Threats.
If you have done the earlier steps with any thoroughness, you should now have a better idea of what you are doing as a writer. Thematic elements of which you may have been unaware may have leapt out of the shadows; and you may have isolated what it is that your favourite authors do which you are trying to emulate.
Let's say that a favourite writer of yours is C. S. Lewis. What are some of Lewis's successful actions as an author, say, in the Narnia books?
The plots are simple: chase sequences, quests, coming of age stories.
The characters are modelled on archetypes: dark queens, shadowy servants, doubting companions, protagonists who have to make clear moral choices, emerging kings or queens, funny companions and wise old figures.
The settings are symbolic: woods with talking animals, haunted islands, frozen wastes, underground kingdoms.
You might be able to think of more. One connecting thread is that all of the above are held together by powerful and overriding themes.
Where is your opportunity here? You can take Lewis as a mentor or guide and hold your own work up to his light: Are your plots simple? Are your characters modelled on archetypes? Are your settings symbolic? And what about your guiding principle, your master theme?
Your motivation here is not plagiaristic or commercial: you want neither to be seen as a Lewis imitator, nor to simply try to make money from your efforts. 'Seizing an opportunity’ can have a totally foreign flavour — you probably don’t set out to write in order to grasp opportunities in a marketplace. But allowing the light of an admired and successful piece of fiction to shine through your own can reveal not only weaknesses but opportunities to flesh out and develop your own work in ways which you might never otherwise have dreamed of.
Try it: take a favourite author of yours and list what it is that they do which you would also like to be able to do.
It's a fascinating exercise.
'Threats' in this context are not the same as threats might be for a small business doing a SWOT analysis.
Consider a threat in this setting as being a weakness in your work or writing life which looks as though it has the potential to undermine everything.
Maybe you have never understood how to write appealing characters; or perhaps you manage everything else well but your plots tend to fall flat. Or perhaps your creative well simply dries up and you struggle to write against a tide of ennui and frustration.
Looking at Strengths, Weaknesses and Opportunities often has a revitalising effect on writers. They find depths and potential areas of development in their work which they never suspected before. Not only that, but in isolating successful actions in admired authors, they become encouraged to write more and, far from becoming copies of their heroes, quickly grow into their own styles and methods. Threats recede. In the worst scenario, a threat may not disappear, but can be seen with more clarity and a plan can be drawn up for dealing with it.
Please try doing this kind of SWOT analysis on your work and let me know what comes up.