In the above diagram, you can see outlined the seven functions that a writer must undertake if he or she is to successfully reach a reading public. If each of these functions is performed adequately and in tune with all the others, the writer should see an overall growth in terms of his or her own writing production, as well as a growing commercial return from his or her work.
Of course, the diagram makes it look easier than it often turns out to be.
I was once a Management Consultant. This was back in the days when commercial enterprises were seeking to take advantage of an intensified interest in the ‘market’ as the mechanism which drives society. In other words, there was a general social consensus back then — this was in the late 1980s and early 1990s — that there was nothing wrong in gaining a competitive edge and that a healthy, money-driven economy was the key to universal success. Such ideas have since fallen into disrepute with many, though, like all embracive concepts, it had workability. The point is that, back then, being a Management Consultant meant that people looked to you for answers. They wanted bigger, stronger businesses, and they wanted them without having to spend too much.
The world of consulting for business --at least, the ethical world -- is all about observing the obvious and finding effective ways of communicating to business owners that they are wrong — and it’s never easy telling anyone that they are wrong — while spotting exactly the right thing which will boom their enterprise at minimum cost. (It turns out to be much the same thing when consulting for writers, too, but we’ll get to that.)
One client came to me in serious trouble. She was a senior executive in a large organisation, charged with many tasks which included overseeing that organisation’s entire production line. The problem was that she was overwhelmed at work, and had lost control of her communications — she had emails and letters stacking up every day that she simply wasn’t getting to, immersed as she was in the day-to-day workings of the operation. Such was her backlog that she had been threatened with internal discipline and looked likely to lose her job.
In desperation, she sought me out. I listened carefully to her woes — it’s always wise to listen, even when you know that if someone had the faintest idea what their real problem actually was, they would have sorted it out for themselves before seeking external help. But then I drew her attention to a diagram similar to the one above.
Then I sent her away with a relatively simple task: divide all her communications traffic into the various functions in the above diagram — and a few more sub-functions within those seven key ones — and let me know which one or two had the biggest stack. That meant taking each piece of mail, electronic or otherwise, and placing it in a marked category as above.
‘Don’t start answering the mail,’ I advised her. ‘Just allocate it according to what it seems to be about.’ So anything to do with Planning went in the Planning box; anything to do with Marketing in the Marketing box and so on.
She came back to me within 24 hours with a beaming look of realisation on her face. One of her functions — a supervisory function over a training college — had a far bigger stack than any of the others.
‘OK good,’ I said. ‘Now take that pile of communications and spend the next couple of days working pretty much exclusively through it, taking the necessary action where you can or at least replying to those people who will have to wait a while before anything can be done.’
She did so eagerly. She came back later that week to report that her entire communications system had been cleaned up. I told her to take the next biggest stack of letters and/or emails and tackle that, and so on, until she was able to deal with the daily traffic as it arose.
Her job was saved. In fact, she went on to be promoted.
What had happened here?
The client had run into something that most people encounter when trying to do a job — any job, including that of a fiction writer. One or more of the functions above had been overlooked, and everything to do with that function was piling up, almost invisibly, ready to come tumbling down like an avalanche at any moment. Putting the client’s attention on that looming mountain of stuff had enabled disaster to be averted. Soon everything was back to running as it should.
If you’re trying to establish a successful career as a writer, it would probably be worth your while looking over the broad seven roles in the diagram and seeing which ones immediately stand out for you as troublesome. But please, don’t just go with 'gut instinct' — actually look at the tasks and traffic to do with each area and see which ones are really in trouble. In almost 10 out of 10 cases, the area causing the trouble will not be the one you immediately assume it is.
More on this soon.