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Some Thoughts on Becoming a Successful Writer

Here are some quick thoughts, after observing hundreds of writers and studying dozens of master authors and their careers, as to how you might avoid some pitfalls if you want to make a success of being a writer.

1. Start slowly and with low expectations.

Don’t expect to immediately write a masterpiece novel and have it become an overnight bestseller. Many would-be authors have high expectations, partly unconsciously, about what awaits them. Plan out growth over a ten-year period, and put in place contingencies so that you can still pay the basic bills while things are growing.

2. Establish a relationship with yourself as a writer and your working environment.

You need to trust yourself, and you need to build around you an environment conducive to happiness and growth. Easier said than done, perhaps, but again, start with low expectations and work with what you’ve got. You might not be able to afford three years off work, a lakeside cabin and a super-computer — but create a situation for yourself that will work and will result in more and more writing getting done within your existing resources. That might be a laptop, the corner of a bedroom and some regular yoga to keep you focused — whatever works for you.

Importantly, learn what you want to say. I don't mean that story about the girl who meets the boy -- I mean what are your deepest themes? What is important to you? What impression, message, effect, image are you trying to communicate? Really work on that.

3. Study the craft.

Part of success is training yourself on already existing principles that others have discovered and applied long before you decided to take up writing. There is such a thing as craft — successful writing doesn’t just spring fully formed from your imagination. There are skills to be learned, just as there are in learning to play a musical instrument, only in your case your instrument is yourself. Don’t ignore this under the misapprehension that you are going to successfully rebel against ‘the rules’ — you’ll come across as ignorant and the huge gaps in your knowledge will be visible for miles. You can discover what works and what doesn’t work from all kinds of places, including my book. Spend the time doing so and you will open the door to lasting success and happiness.

4. Practise often but for short times.

Taking a week off and diving into writing the master novel will probably end in disillusionment and disappointment. Take a little time, but take it regularly. You’re building up mental and emotional ‘muscles’ and skills which take a while to become strong, just as when you learn an instrument. Short practice times — an hour here, half an hour there — keep your mind and heart awake and result in more getting done in the long run.

5. Read widely and be moved.

Read widely and outside your genre and comfort zone. Be open to being moved; be open to realising how little you know. That’s the beginning of wisdom and maturity, as well as the road to becoming a master author yourself.

Most of all, though, is sit down and write. Reading about how to do it is good; doing it is better.

Just some observations.


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