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Your Biggest Challenge as a Writer -and What To Do About It - Part 14

Our quest to become a writer has been achieved.

We’ve realised that we are writers, and that the feeling of discomfort associated with Lack of Time, and the constant nagging presence of Procrastination, were early signs that something was wrong, and that we weren’t being true to ourselves.

We progressed, using some simple remedies, into using blocks of time to get some writing done.

But then we confronted our lives, made major changes to the way we operated, and rose into a whole new scenario, one in which we had time to write and the compulsions associated with procrastination eased off or even disappeared.

We were even very brave at that point, and challenged the last remaining vestiges of self-sabotage that were still capable of tripping us up.

So here we are.

Our time is plentiful; our attention is freed up from the constant pressures of Life; we can create.

What should we concentrate on?

These are some suggested steps to make the most of the rare circumstances described above in which we find yourselves at this point. If we have in fact made it this far, we won’t want to waste it. So the following advice is designed to secure our position and to help make our dreams come true.

1. Focus on completing projects.

This is going to vary wildly from case to case, but usually a writer has several projects ‘on the boil’ including, probably, some long-term things which have never had the time to mature. The simplicity now is to get them finished.

We don’t have to chew over stories for months or years at a time, struggling to get an hour or two to work on them: we have the time now to finish them.

We might notice something interesting at this point: we might experience a reluctance to complete things and let them go. We’ve had them churning around in our minds for so long that they have almost become ‘companions of the imagination’, or invented pets. Now we have time to wrap them up, there may be a little emotional reticence involved in finishing them.

Here’s what will happen, though, if we push through that and get things completed: we will experience a resurgence of creative power, a rise in morale as writers, and gain improved competence in the craft.

It’s a good idea to write short stories for a number of reasons, and this is one of them: we can complete story after story in a relatively short time.

Then get them submitted. Find publications; check submission guidelines, tweak stories to fit them if needed; and send them off.

Basically, we now have the chance to become a writing machine, turning out work after work after work with few or no distractions. Sound like heaven? It is, especially when compared with earlier stages of the ladder up which we have climbed.

There are other things we can do too.

2. Make further economies.

We might think that, because we’ve now reached this plateau, we can ease off a little on our austerity regime. If so, we need to think again.

This is the time to tighten up further, reducing expenditure, eking out another hour or two of time, cancelling even further wasteful activities. Time to think of ourselves as Olympic athletes in training and training hard, not wasting a moment or a penny.

3. Invest in things which teach the craft of writing effectively.

If we have any ‘spare time’, or reach a point where we feel that we are pushing at the limits of what we can do as writers, we should take a few courses. But we need to make sure that they are proper and proven courses, courses which teach us more about how to write effectively and which aren’t loaded with false, time-wasting or misleading information.

How will we know the difference?

This is where our contacts with other writers in the various writing communities we joined earlier will be useful. Seek recommendations; ask for pointers; survey the area.

The more craft we can learn, the more effective our time will be spent producing stories that actually work to attract, entertain and even enlighten readers. We’ll create an ‘upward spiral’ in which we are not only writing more than we ever have before, but better and better quality too.

Of course my book, How Stories Really Work, gives you the basic methodology behind all successful stories and that would be an excellent investment at this point, if not before.

An important word of caution, however: we need to concentrate on quantity first. Only by writing story after story will we practise the craft enough to grow as writers; if we pause to ‘learn before we write’, we will waste too much time and lose confidence. Those of us who are perfectionists when it comes to writing will already know that perfectionism slows a writer down enormously. It’s better to get something out there and work on making the next something better rather than locking oneself away until one produces a ‘masterpiece’.

4. Think in terms of a long-term schedule.

Plan out roughly what you are going to produce in one year.

Then plan out five years.

Then work like blazes to stick to your plan and make the targets you have set for yourself.

One of the most important lessons that there is to learn in this game is that it is a long-term one. Very few writers appear on the scene and instantly produce a best-seller which generates enough funds for them to retire to a life of placid writing forever. Unfortunately, the fact that a small handful do exactly that creates a false impression in the imagination of many writers, who hold that picture in their minds even when their rationality tells them that it is so rare that they should not compute with it.

The truth is more mundane, more prosaic, but also more authentic: success as a writer takes place on a scale of decades rather than weeks, months or even years.

Your long-term plan needs to include the production of several books. I usually tell people to think in terms of ten volumes - these can be novels or collections of short stories, or some other kind of book, but ten books on the market creates a ‘marketing engine’ which can begin to generate self-perpetuating sales: readers find one book in the set of ten, like it and hunt for others; liking those, they seek more, and so forth.

Authors like Rowling or Pratchett had the right idea: write a winning book or two, but follow these with more and more for those readers whose hungry becomes insatiable.

You’re now in the upper levels of the writing ladder. Writing becomes your life; the rest of the world recedes.

We have only just touched on the commercial side this, though. You might have written several books and drawn together a fanbase of readers, but you might still be making next to no money. It’s a game in which the exchange of cash is still an embarrassing inconvenience - readers just want to read your stuff, and the fact that they have to pay for a book, which sits on their shelf after one reading but can be read and read again - during which they don’t have to buy another thing from you - is a hard commercial reality.

It’s a long-term game.

You’ll probably laugh, but I’m on a 40 Year Plan. I’m in Year 6, heading into Year 7. It took me three years before I saw any money at all; it will probably take me another two years before I get to the point where the whole thing is self-supporting.

Think in decades.

What happens when you do?

Stay tuned.


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