Thursday, June 23, 2011

6 Habits of Successful Writers

Although I'm sure these aren't the only six things that make a writers successful -- they will definitely push you toward your goal of getting published.

1. Brainstorm without limits. I recommend that your take time every day to write (I prefer by hand) three pages of random notes about whatever you're thinking about at the time. Some people call these morning pages. Write anything that comes to your mind. Don't limit yourself. No one will ever read what you've written (I tear my notes up and throw them away) so don't limit yourself. During these brainstorming sessions, I guarantee that you will produce ideas that will be useful to your life, your work, and your relationships. If you can't think of anything to write, write gibberish, write your name, write your dog's name -- anything. It clears your mind and opens you up to thinking more creatively than you can imagine. Try it for a month -- then continue it forever.

2. Decide what you want to accomplish, and move toward it every day. Alice asked the Cheshire cat for directions and he asked her where she wanted to go. When she said she didn't know, then he rightfully answered that it didn't matter which way she went. You have to have an idea what you want to accomplish before you can get there. Set a goal -- to finish your novel, to get a magazine article published in a paying magazine, to get a contract for a novel, to get on the NYT bestsellers list. Whatever your goal, be as specific as possible. Once you've set your goal, be obsessive about reaching for it. Do something EVERY DAY that moves you closer to your goal. Take a class, make a friend, learn a technique, read a book -- whatever moves you closer to your goal. I like the picture in Isaiah 50:7 that says "For the Lord GOD will help me . . . I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed." It illustrates how you must be to accomplish a goal -- set your face like flint -- in other words -- like a hard stone that will not be moved -- until you accomplish your objective. Also, make your goal something that is possible, but is not easy -- a goal should be used to accomplish something beyond your normal capabilities. DECIDE, then DO.

3. Visit bookstores -- know your market. Most writers do not pay enough attention to the market. You must know not only what is selling, but who is publishing. Go to a large bookstore once a month (at least) and browse around the area that contains books or publications similar to what you write. You MUST know where your book would be placed in the bookstore. Once you know that, you can see who is publishing similar books (look for recent copyrights). You might also be able to determine what editor or agent worked on a particular book. All of this information is VALUABLE to you to get your book into the hands of the publisher that is most likely to want your work. If you are writing for the web -- visit websites that use the type of material you want to write.

4. Desire. Without desire you will rarely accomplish greatness. Suppose you have a goal, but do little to make it happen. Then it is unlikely that you'll find success. You must DESIRE with a STRONG DESIRE to accomplish your goal. You must sacrifice other things. Your writing goal must take priority over other less important goals. Observe how someone diagnosed with a cruel disease does everything in their power to find a cure. Observe how a person who falls in love does everything in their power to woo their lover. Observe how a person facing a calamity (such as a flood) will cast aside all other worries and do what it takes to save their life, their family, and prized possessions. These people have DESIRE. Do you have that level of desire to accomplish your goal?

5. Write. Write. Write. A writer must write. A writer must write often. You hone your craft by writing (and rewriting.) Like a person learning to play a musical instrument, you must study and practice. Don't write in a vacuum. Join a critique group. Study good books about writing. Study excellent books in your genre. Pick them apart. Understand them. And write like that, adding your own flair. Everyone writes crap initially -- but if you keep learning and practicing, you will be able to construct a manuscript that sings your story.

6. Finish your work. There are many, many writers who write, and write well, and never get published. You must finish your work and submit it before you will get published. Learn about the submission process for your genre (books, website guidelines, etc) and SUBMIT. Set aside one day a week or at least one day a month (say Friday or first Friday) as submit day. Submit something. If you aspire to be a novelist, perhaps you can submit a short story. If you want to write a non-fiction book, how about a magazine article on the same subject. Get out there -- learn the ropes -- finish projects -- submit. The other part of the process is to learn from rejection. See them as stepping stones to acceptance. Don't let them discourage you, keep submitting (and improving your submissions) until you make progress toward your goal. If you never plant a dream seed, your dream tree will never grow.