A Guest Post by Cathy Yardley
If you’ve read Larry’s books on story (and if you’re here, I’m assuming you have) then you know he presents the six core competencies of successful writing, and the six essences, the “physics”, behind successful story telling.
Here’s a perspective that will serve you on a career level:
Be your own protagonist.
I’m a die-hard plotter. I’ve discovered that planning a writing career is very similar to creating a story. There are principles that need to be in play if you’re going to achieve any level of success.
In keeping with the theme, here are six components that lay the groundwork for a successful writing career.
What is your goal? Writers that succeed usually have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish. Many of the writers I work with try to downplay this, saying “oh, I just want to improve my writing” or “I’d just be happy to sell some books!”
While these may be true, a little digging often reveals their fundamental objectives. Some want to write full time. Others want to hit a list. Still others want to sign with a traditional publisher, happy to see their name on a paperback in a bookstore.
No objective is more valid than another: it’s your life. But if you aren’t clear about what you want, then you’re not going to get there. Waffling and pulling your punch isn’t going to get you where you need to go. Being concrete goes a long way towards success. “I want to improve” is too vague. And how many books, exactly, is “some”
The clearer you are, the more likely you are to get there.
It’s funny how so often we know more about why our protagonist does something in our stories than we do about why we make our own choices in real life.
This is the place to dig deep, and again, there’s no judgment. Motivation is the fuel in your engine. Ignoring what’s really motivating you might mean creating subconscious resistance down the line.
For example, if you really want to change the world with a radical theme, and you’re offered a publishing contract only on the stipulation that you remove that element to make it something less politically charged, you’ll know not to take the deal.
If you want to make gobs of money, but you continually write weird mash-up niche genre stories that are sterling in quality, but don’t have an audience, then you’re going to need to change tack (or recognize that money isn’t your true motivation).
Find the right fuel, and you’ll move forward more quickly.
This is more metaphorical than literal. Where are you right now in your writing career? Have you completed a novel? Have you submitted work to agents or editors? Have you self-published? Essentially, how far away is your goal?
Being honest with yourself here will help you determine what steps need to be taken in the next few components. For some, this may be painful. You wish you were further along on the path than you are, or maybe you start remembering missed opportunities, episodes of laziness, or personal disasters that impeded your progress.
This isn’t a time for guilt, blame, or resentment. Just assess and move on.
Velocity is more than speed. It’s also direction. Which way are you heading, and how much momentum do you have?
For example, if your goal is traditional publication, and you’re currently just pages away from a polished manuscript, you’d think you’re pretty close. But if you’ve been slowing down (going from revising ten pages a day to maybe two a week), accomplishing your goal is going to be harder. If you’re going in the wrong direction (you suddenly decide that you’re going to tear it apart and rewrite the second act from scratch because it doesn’t quite work) then you’re going away from your goal, especially if the culprit is more fear-based than functional.
This is where you look at what’s working – and what’s not.
In this case, “character” refers to your character.
In the Olympics, it takes more than skill – it takes the mental strength to stay committed and disciplined, to not get thrown by competition, obstacles or poor performance.
If you’re going to achieve your goal, it’s going to take writing skills and the right mental attitude to persevere. You’ll also need to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, doing what you can to showcase the former and support the latter.
Once you’ve taken stock of the previous components, you’re ready to put the final piece into place: creating a plan to get from where you are to where you want to go, based on what you have.
If you don’t have a strategy, you’re going to find yourself reacting to whatever shiny object crosses your path. You’ll join some new social media network because someone says it’s going to replace Facebook, or you’ll quickly throw together a proposal because a publisher just put out a sexy new call for submissions, or you’ll find yourself writing for an anthology that has a small audience and doesn’t ultimately get you closer to what you want… muttering that you “may find new readers” when asked why you’re doing so.
Strategy can and should be tracked and adjusted as needed, but without at least a base level plan, you’ll find yourself bouncing in too many directions, affecting your velocity, and making no headway towards your goals.
A devil’s advocate might point out that you can have all these components in place, and still fail. That said, without these components, you are almost guaranteed to do so.
Take stock. Chart your course. Then, armed with these foundational elements, you’ll see how much further in your writing career you can progress.
Cathy Yardley is the author of 18 traditionally published romance, women’s fiction, and urban fantasy novels. She’s also a developmental editor and writing coach at RockYourWriting.com. Sign up for her free e-course Jumpstart Your Writing Career, and receive helpful hints on pinpointing where you might be stuck – and how to get back on track for a successful fiction writing career.
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