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Breaking Things Down Into Components

If you are aiming to make a living as a writer, your success depends on your ability to produce a piece of writing - and probably many pieces of writing - that others want to read. Readers pay you for this work so you can live. Let's call this work your product.

The more impactful, popular and well-known your product is, the more money you earn. Becoming ‘well-known’ has to be part of it: no point in writing a masterpiece if no one has heard of it. It’s mind-boggling to imagine how many works of fiction have been written but have never seen the light of day. Even the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, known the world over now, were for many years a private hobby until the children’s story The Hobbit provided the key to a wider public.

But what if you cannot produce a particular product? What if you are a romance writer who cannot sell a short story? A writer of family sagas who can never complete a manuscript? A children’s author who cannot find inspiration?

You should be able to produce anything at all, if you can break that product down into components. By putting together minor components, and then lining them up in the right sequence, you can overcome just about any obstacle.

For example, a fantasy author has decided his product is: ‘A set of completed novels of strength and beauty sold over three years at a fair price.’

What are the components he needs? He needs chapters, readers, an overall project design, an understanding of the marketplace, and so on. Let’s try to put together a fuller list:

1. The author finds a reader who wants a fantasy series of a particular kind and flavour. (And by the way, initially at least this reader can be himself…)

2. The author compiles a list of features, keeping the reader in mind. If he is the only reader he has, then this is the point to make a ‘shopping list’ of items that he wants to read about in a story.

3. The author works out the shape and design of the series. This doesn’t have to be in complete detail, but should give some kind of stability or direction.

4. The author presents the rough outline of this to the reader.

5. The reader (who may still be the author himself at this point) approves the design and agrees that he would be happy to pay the price for such a book.

6. The author gets together the tools he needs to write the book or the series.

7. The author writes the book within the desired time frame.

8. The reader approves of the finished work.

9. The author markets the book over several months and begins to get paid.

You may have thought of other components to add to the list. Some products may have less than this. Others have hundreds, if the story is especially complex or requires research or a great deal of proofreading or editing. But you get the idea.

Using This List

1. Using this approach, you can at least begin to address where your main difficulty lies. Simply check your list to see which step you are skipping. For example, if you not get a reader to approve the design, you may not get paid. This doesn’t mean that you have to write purely for commercial gain - it just means that, if you want commercial gain of some kind, you have to consider the reader. Again, the reader may be you! C. S. Lewis and his group of friends, who included among them J. R. R. Tolkien, openly stated that they wrote the books that they themselves wanted to read. And they number among the best-selling authors in the world.

2. If you do a bad job with any of these components, the final result will be poor. For example, if you do not calculate all the features you need properly, the final story may be lacking power.

3. You can use this list to establish a routine. Done in the correct order or sequence, you will waste less time and may find your productivity increasing.

4. If you have problems with your writing, you can review your list to see which steps are not being done properly. For example, you might see that you are constantly exceeding your required time frame because of the first enemy of a writer - interruptions! Deal with interruptions to the degree that you can write according to a workable schedule, and you will thrive.

An Exercise For You

1. What is your current project? What exact piece are you aiming to produce? What will readers pay you for? Write it down.

2. What are the components that lead to this product? Ensure the list is complete and in the correct order or sequence, as above.

3. Are you skipping any of these steps? Do any of them need improvement or review?

4. Produce your products in higher numbers and quality by getting each step done.

This may sound too simplistic. You may object and say ‘It’s all very well listing out things like “The author writes the book within the desired time frame” or “The reader approves of the finished work”, but what if you can’t meet that target and you don’t like what you’ve written at the end?

Here’s a tip: if you’re not happy with a particular step, the problem will lie with an earlier step. For example, if you or your reader isn’t happy with the finished work, the problem will be somewhere in the preceding steps 1 to 7. Perhaps you started out without finding a reader (even yourself) who wanted a book like yours; perhaps your list of features was incomplete. Alternatively, you or your reader may have not fully approved of the initial design, but you went ahead anyway. You get the idea.

Break the thing down into components and analyse each one. Strengthen each and you’ll get a stronger whole.

Let me know how it goes. I am here to help and support you.


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