How much time as a writer should you spend sorting out all this back material concerning your role, purpose and organisation?
It boils down to how happy you are currently.
If you are writing away contentedly and not expecting to make much money, if any, from your writing, then you needn’t spend much time at all on any of this. Not everyone wants to turn writing into a viable career — many are quite happy to simply write for the pleasure of it.
It’s really only when the question of viability comes up that any of this matters at all. Viability, as we have seen, is composed of quantity and quality. To achieve it, you need to be able to ‘turn on the tap’ of your imagination at will, get organised enough to produce volumes of work, and be educated enough in the craft of writing and in the knowledge of audiences to be able to achieve the right level of quality with every piece you produce.
Some writers, though, find it difficult to step back from actually writing to contemplate what seem to be abstracts like purpose and theme and types of audience. They are frantic to simply write, and any attempt to get them to consider these weighty matters ‘behind the scenes’ usually falters because all of their attention is on the act of creating itself.
It all depends what you want.
Like a lighthouse beam shining out into the night, desire casts shadows as it reveals things. You want success? Shine that light strongly enough and it will highlight all those things that stand between you and your goals. Focus it even more strongly and those obstacles will become more sharply defined and act as vacuums, pulling you towards the object of your desire.
Desire creates emptiness; emptiness moves us.
If you are content, the light isn’t that focused and the shadows aren’t so sharp.
It might help to imagine that you are mentoring a junior writer. Pretend you have a person sitting in front of you who wants to succeed as a writer. Your first action would be to cover the basics of what he or she wanted to write about and for whom they wanted to write it. Then get a schedule worked out and get some writing occurring.
As the person becomes more active and starts producing work, though, you’ll find that he or she isn’t getting stuff accepted and is getting into all kinds of organisational jams and confusions, as described earlier. Use this prospectus to ‘unstick’ him or her — get a story followed through from initial idea or image all the way to submission and acceptance. While doing this you will find bugs along the way, which is what this prospectus is designed to deal with. Smooth them out. Drill the person further until they are producing quantity and quality and approaching viability.
The big, broad reason why a writer who wants to achieve viability isn’t doing so is that he or she isn’t confronting some aspects of the steps outlined in this series. They are simply blind to what needs to be done. They are not wrong, or doing anything malicious. They just don't see what needs to occur. Coming up the line to seeing and doing requires that they progressively take responsibility and confront aspects of their work and their lives.
Writers don’t need to be made wrong — they just need to be shown the way. Guided gently but firmly, they will see what needs to be done. Until then, their responses are largely affected by the often misleading data and habits that float around out there in the wide world of social media and society at large.
Following this series and doing each step properly brings a writer up to a point where he or she is at cause over a writing career, not just ‘hoping for a break’.
Until all of this is handled, ‘going on hoping’ is all the writer has.
This is how you get a writer functioning.