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The Frame of Mind of a Successful Writer

I might be wrong, but I think it’s probably impossible to live from writing fiction alone, unless you are one of a select few highly popular authors or adopt certain practices. By ‘certain practices’, I don’t mean anything sinister - I think that one thing you would have to do, unless you were one of those popular authors, is to write a heck of a lot of material and get it out there fast. Not just any material, though - if you want a lot of readers, you have to write stuff which follows certain patterns.

Unfortunately, we live in a world driven by need. That means economics. We have to create something that fills someone else’s need and for which they are willing to pay us, or we are left in need ourselves. If we create nothing or very little that fits that description, then we suffer financially and are usually under tremendous duress each day.

There are levels to this, as there are to most things.

At the beginning of being a writer, we usually have to be in orbit around something or someone else in order to continue to function: we either have a patron or partner who pays most of the bills for us, or are working in another, usually non-writing job to make enough money to get by while we try and establish our writing careers. This is often a hard level from which to escape. ‘Escape velocity’, in fact, is only usually reached if we can somehow generate enough of the right kind of material to accelerate us out of the gravitational pull of our circumstances into a new trajectory entirely.

That normally doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes there is a period where we feel hopeless and trapped in the situation we’re in; sometimes we get a glimpse of hope, usually when one of our books sells or someone likes what we’ve written. But it’s a hard truth that for beginning writers Life is tough. Catastrophes lurk around every corner; we can be thrown off course by the slightest disruption.

If we persist, however, the weather improves. We can reach a point from which we can look back and see just how far we have travelled. Provided that we take the right steps in the right way, we can slowly emerge from our old state and enter into a new stability. But this isn’t done by accident: there are known routes and specific crafts that we must learn if we are to proceed. It’s not just a case of ‘blind persistence’ as some guide books will tell you. If you were lost in the forest, not every way will lead you to freedom - some paths lead you deeper in. Continuing the forest analogy, the correct advice in such a circumstance would probably be to find a river and then follow that well-worn course downstream until it brought you to the sea, as it eventually must.

For writers, there are the equivalent of well-worn courses to bring you out of wild forests.

Which brings us to a strange and possibly enlightening fact: ways to freedom, paths which lead one to success, directions will actually get us somewhere, usually arise as a result of following wise advice, not by accident. Sure, we can try and try and try again until, by sheer force of numbers, we stumble upon something workable. Or we can seek out what has been workable in the past and emulate that until we find our own way.

It’s all about the frame of mind.

For more about those well-worn courses to bring you out of wild forests as a writer, see my book How Stories Really Work.

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