How Are You Going To Succeed As a Writer?

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.

1. Objective.

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.

2. Motivation.

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.

3. Location.

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.

4. Velocity.

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.

5. Character.

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.

6. Strategy.

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.

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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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14 Comments

Filed under Guest Bloggers

14 Responses to How Are You Going To Succeed As a Writer?

  1. Victoria

    Thanks, Cathy. Very direct and inspiring.
    Victoria

  2. Helpful article, Cathy, and great timing. I see fuel for several New Year’s Resolutions here. Thank you!

  3. Ah, interesting process. As you say, Cathy, easy enough to see all this for the characters we create; less easy to see it in ourselves.

  4. Robert Jones

    As we think, so we are.

    Joel’s right, it’s never easy. We’re too close to our own circumstances to always view them objectively. But whether people can see it better as faith: a belief system, or through science: psychology, life is our creative space that unfolds each day as an outer reflection of what’s happening within ourselves.

    I guess you could say, we are what we eat. That applies to the mental as well as the physical–yet the two always walk hand in hand. Psychologically (possibly the easiest way for most to see it), suggests that what we think about constantly often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in our lives. It isn’t really a prophecy. It’s a response.

    Every action has a reaction, which then requires another action, perpetuating events within a chain of circumstances. Put simply: a very negative person, one who believes they are destined to fail, will often self-sabotage their own efforts. Most of us have seen this in someone we knew at some point in life. Psychologically, that person is often unaware of the things they are doing that lead up to that point of failure. Even if it’s a pattern they’ve repeated many times. Their responses are almost involuntary. But it begins in the mind, like a programmed recording played over and over again until it is then carried out through physical steps.

    Likewise, success also begins in the mind. And if the person thinks about it long and hard enough, plays that particular recording over and over again, the desire leads to the physical steps in that direction. Granted, both models require strong motivation. How badly do you want your heart’s desire? How fearful are you of failure? Dominant thoughts lay a path in either direction and steps are taken like stepping stones placed before us. The mind finds a way to make it eventually happen, like plants pushing through tiny cracks in the pavement. And the more clearly you see yourself marching toward happiness–or despair–the more quickly those stones are placed.

    Think about that when getting into your character’s head to see what motivates them. Do they constantly think about meeting their goals at any cost? Do they have a secret fear that no one else knows about, but dominates their thoughts constantly? Guilt is also a great stumbling block to success. Does your character believe they might be unworthy because of something they once did? Or was done to them?

    Life and fiction are both based on belief systems, mental programming that was placed in the mind by a dominant, or authoritative person, or circumstance. A response, often defensively, to that programming. Understanding how such things play out for people in both life and in fiction, are the keys to the kingdom. Both represent crafts that take time and deliberation to master. They are also mirrors we can hold up to one another and one can often gain understanding from the other.

  5. Pluviophile

    Cathy,

    What is your take on the schism between Blue SF/F and Pink SF/F?

    For those unfamiliar with the rift here’s the definition of Pink SF/F as defined by Hugo Nominated Vox Day:

    1. It is written in conscious reaction to, and rejection of, the classic genre canon.
    2.It is politically correct.
    3.It consciously elevates current progressive ideology above story, plot, and characterization. The personal is the political and the propaganda is the plot.
    4.It rejects Christianity and traditional Western morality.
    5.It subscribes to the anti-scientific myth of human equality.
    6.It exhibits a superficial multiculturalism.
    7.It utilizes racial and sexual checkboxes.
    8.It inclines heavily to the political Left.
    9.It celebrates and normalizes sexual deviancy.
    10.It is structured in the conventional form of a romance novel rather than a science fiction or fantasy novel.

  6. Robert Jones

    Cathy,

    My writing goal this year is to get back on track and finish what I started last year. I’m also a meticulous planner. My story, aside from perhaps some fine tuning, has been planned, a draft begun that came just short of the halfway point. Then my marriage went into serious upheaval. Not that this was a real surprise, it had been heading in that direction for years. But once it went critical, it really has been crazy. That which is disowned reeks havoc–and well, in my wife’s case, that may be putting it mildly…LOL!

    Also very recently started a new job, having to make ends meet all on my own. Life hasn’t quite settled down enough for me to adjust to so many changes. So the last time I hit my writing was several months ago and sporadically at best. Mentally, stepping back from it has helped me put a few pieces together that I was too close to previously. I’ve just begun to go through my apartment and reorganize everything as a symbolic way of bringing about order. This has been very hard to do emotionally. Writing is to follow. Not sure if diving in where I left off is the best way to approach it at this point after several months away, or review my plot from a fresh perspective and restructure/regain my story more fully in my head. Then just begin my my current draft from the beginning, readjust, and move forward anew.

    I’m totally open to suggestions here. Maybe the recent angst and upheaval will actually help once I get back into my character’s messy life. I can certainly understand him better now. Talk about life and art reflecting.

    • Robert, sounds like you’ve been going through some major changes, with the marriage issues and new job. That’s never easy (you’re hitting two of the major milestones on the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory!) and writing, in my experience, requires energy reserves you might not have to draw on.

      Personally, I’d say start small. I’m a meticulous planner, myself, but you need to warm up your writing muscles, as well. You might consider short essays or “flash fiction” to limber up. Too much planning will put you “in your head” a bit too much. I’m a hard core plotter, but the temptation to simply live in that potential realm, and avoid actually writing draft, is a strong one.

      The last thing I’d say: my writing has always been my subconscious’s way of telling me what I need to know, before I’m consciously aware of it. The theme I go into draft with is rarely the theme that truly emerges. If writing can help you weather the stresses, you may be surprised at what you find. 🙂 Good luck, and hang in there!

  7. Robert Jones

    @ Pluviophile–In other words, what that definition says is that it would basically be a story that flies in the face of cultural, sexual, and scientific laws that lay down rules/laws as a way of life in most of western culture. Then come at the story through a romance format which attempts to structure what we traditionally think of as love and turn it on its head as well.

    Since most of the rules/laws handed to the masses are not put in place soley for our benefit, and most people feel repressed–possibly from understanding there is some fundamental wrongness in the way we live our lives–that if you get the formula right for such a story, it could potentially generate a keen emotional response in readers.

    However, since this is what most fiction is really attempting to do, the breakdown you’ve given for ths type of story should be adapted and considered for most fiction. It’s simply a way of breaking down, simplifying, and utalizing one person’s method for getting at these facts in a very interesting way within a specific mold, or genre (anti-genre?).

  8. Robert Jones

    Cathy,

    Thank you. The energy reserves–though normally pretty vast on writing and craft–have been pretty well used in sorting through lots of other details. Starting out small sounds like they way to go. Writing does help in working through problems and learning about life in general. Part of working in that subconscious zone is you always find unexpected treasures.

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