Please take a moment to look over the image above.
It summarises the various stages that a writer might need to go through to achieve the free time and attention needed to be successful in terms of not only being a writer, but actually doing writing at a viable level.
These levels can be traversed in a very short time, but most usually take years. Rearranging one’s life so that writing takes priority is not normally a simple operation. But it’s important to make the journey in one way or another, if a writer is to be true to his or her inner purposes and identity as a writer.
Surveys show, as we have seen, that a great many writers hover around what I have called ‘Level 2’, the zone where Lack of Time and Procrastination loom large as mighty enemies. That’s frighteningly close to the bottom, isn’t it? Lack of Time and Procrastination can so hound the writer that the spark to write dwindles and dies, and the writer goes off to do something else, burying their stories (and their innermost dreams) deep in the back of their imaginations.
Of course, climbing the ladder all the way to the top is an ideal picture. Many of the world’s great authors never managed to reach Level 7; getting to the top of the ladder is not a prerequisite to writing success, simply an outline of a perfect condition for writers. Some never made it much beyond Level 3, and their manuscripts were cobbled together in shelters for the homeless (think George Orwell) or cafés (think J. K. Rowling) or late at night after a job of work had been done (think Stephen King or J. R. R. Tolkien). They did not initially make the moves to make writing central in their lives, but still managed to finish things, get them published, and strike viable readerships.
This series merely gives you an outline of possibilities and potential. The ladder shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to find every moment that you can to write. Life has to be lived as it is; it’s not always going to be possible to make the grand changes required to crown writing as the king of everything in your life.
If you were able to do so, though - if you actually reached Level 7 - you can imagine what it would be like.
Money flowing in steadily from book sales; time to indulge in and develop the projects that you have always dreamed of; time to take breaks, to spend days with the family or friends, to do something else without panicking about deadlines or missed opportunities to write; plenty of pleasant, anxiety-free sleep.
Perhaps more importantly than all of the above, though, would be the knowledge that your writings were accepted by a reading public. In the end, most writers seek that, even above commercial viability - though of course the money is gratefully accepted and represents solid commitment and recognition from readers. Writers write in their own little worlds, hoping for acknowledgement and validation from readers, but spending most of their careers, usually, frantic that that acknowledgement and validation will never be theirs. It’s a strange pursuit: delving deeper and deeper into one’s psyche for something that will resonate with people further and further away. No wonder many writers are nervous types, liable to self-doubt and panic attacks.
Even when Level 7 is achieved, mental habits may incline the writer to doubt whether he or she can ‘do it again’. Perhaps the whole empire will crumble when the sequel being worked on fails to live up to the star quality of the first book? Perhaps the critics will jump all over the next few short stories and show that the writer has ‘lost it’?
Creating living, resonating worlds from airy thoughts was always going to be fraught with peril. Hoping to make a living from it was always going to be ambitious. But it can be done. There are thousands of authors out there, many of them mediocre but a sizeable proportion of them good and more than a few great - and even the mediocre ones are making it.
If you have the courage to climb the ladder, you can join them. As long as you remember to write along the way. Constant writing, constant honing of your craft, constant practice until your own voice emerges from the crowd, these must occur wherever you feel you may be on the ladder. Rearranging your life so that writing takes centre stage will be pointless if you don’t do any actual writing. Aim for quantity first - don’t let perfectionism hold you back - then constant practice and learning will bring quality, and as you climb the ladder and are able to produce more and more work of higher and higher quality, viability will follow.
This series of articles will soon be embellished with further notes, diagrams and checklists, and turned into a book in order to support you in your development.
The book, along with its accompanying charts and so forth, will be free.
I hope to meet you along the way.