Step by Step

I was discussing my various goals as far as my writing goes with my husband the other day and he said I should lay it all out in a blog post. I’m not one for writing rules (guidelines perhaps but non-technical “rules” are stifling to my creativity) and I’m not even that fond of writing tips, so you can just consider this my observations and how they gave me direction – not that it would necessarily apply to you.

Step 1 – Write things: You can talk about writing until you are blue in the face, you can research the craft in infinite detail, you can scribble down character bios and plot ideas ad nauseum, but if you don’t actually start writing, you’ll have nothing to show for any of it. Pantsing or plotting, long-hand or typing, it doesn’t matter. Eventually, you need to stop talking and thinking about it, and just do it. You have to practice to actually get anywhere with your writing and that requires moving past the point of contemplation into realization.

Step 2 – Finish things: A million half-finished stories don’t add up to anything complete. Barb pushed this point for me. I had finished a few short stories and a novel when I introduced her to my writing but had otherwise left things languishing, in part due to lack of confidence and in part due perfectionist inclinations. She didn’t care if things were perfect, she just want to see them done and demanded exactly that from me. Without her push, this one’s more of a challenge for me, but I’m not about to forget that this is a necessary step. I’ve found other self-inflicted ways to enforce this.

Step 3 – Polish things: It’s important to learn the ins and outs of the craft so you can polish after you write. In order to achieve Step 2, you have to recognize that the first draft should not and will not be perfect. Editing incessantly while getting the story out is not an effective way of writing, either. Figure out what works for you stylistically, as well as where your weaknesses lie (too many “that”s is a big one for me) so you can watch for likely problems when you’re ready to edit (I put first drafts aside for three months or more before coming back to them with a fresh perspective.) All of this is useful – once that first draft is actually finished and you can work at making it go from a good story to a great story. Some people like to suggest their first draft is crap. I prefer not see it that way – that bothers me. It’s an ugly way of viewing your work and any story worth writing is not bad at any stage. When you seed a garden, your plot is not crap…your seedlings are not junk… but you still need to water and weed it before anything worthwhile will grow out of it. The same goes with your story.

Step 4 – Submit things: For real success as a writer, you need to be read. If you don’t want that limited to close friends and family, you need to get it out there. Submit to agents, small presses, bigger publishers or to self-publishing venues – whatever you feel will help get you read. Expect rejection and be prepared to let it roll off your back (or in the case of self-publishing, be ready for public critique that might be biased towards the negative because you haven’t been vetted by the gatekeepers. Those of us at the Guild are familiar with that one.) Then resubmit. Stay constant even when some of the feedback might be harsh enough to sting.

Step 5 – Build a fan base: This is where I’m at now, having submitted and been published. To be honest with you, because I’m pretty lousy at self-promotion (although not for lack of trying) I’ll probably be stuck at this step for a while (if not for good.) The challenge is to find new and innovative ways to engage readers and that’s just not my area of expertise. I also don’t have the money to invest in someone else’s expertise, but I plan on learning all I can and once the third book in my Snowy Barren Trilogy is out, I’m going to push hard for this step. If I can reach more readers I’ll have more reason for writing. That sounds like good cause for this objective to me.

Step 6: Achieve bestseller status: I pretty sure this is the ultimate goal for all writers. Not that the journey ends here, but this gives you the opportunity to have the greatest impact with your writing. It gives you name recognition, and this means you will be receiving requests from publishers to participate in anthologies (even with just a reprint,) invitations to guest at conventions, and even the chance to represent your favourite charities. It’s what ultimately brings more fame and fortune – and we don’t all get there. But it’s on my list of goals, and I’m working my way towards it.

So there you have it, my six steps to writer success, and I’m sure it may vary from person to person. Everyone hopes to fast track to Step 6 but few ever do. In fact, only so many make it there at all. In the meantime, I’ll just continue to work at the first five, hoping that someday my hard work will get me to where I want to be. After all, I’m a heck of a lot closer to it than I was a few years ago.

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6 comments on “Step by Step

  1. So many writers are stopped at Number 1: Talk but never write. In a way, its seems like the biggest hurdle, just as big as Number 2: Finishing something. I’ve been lucky. I’ve always wanted to write more than do anything else, that included reading. I have my share of stories that aren’t finished, but I’m getting very good at finishing everything even if it is not a great story.

    I agree: drafts are never crap. Well, maybe some are, but mine never are. I capture things in the first draft that can’t be caught in the any afterwards. It’s fresh, it’s alive, raw, organic…something. The tone is captured that can not be artificially created in anything but the first draft…for me. That’s where my greatest joy lives.

    Goals are great motivators. I have a rule to have five sticky notes (five is not too few, but not too many to intimated) in front of my desk that tells me what I need to accomplish next. It might be a note to finish a particular story, or to edit one or find a piece of information for a story…but those five things are on my mind every day and keeps me looking forward. When one is done, I take it down. Within 24 hours, I have to put another note to replace the task that was completed.

    Good luck. But don’t be too hard on yourself; it’s summer. And I’d rather be outside enjoying the weather before the snow flies.

  2. I love that five sticky note method – I think I’ll adopt it for myself. I know what needs to be done, but without something to remind me of my priorities, particularly in the summertime, I’m prone to procrastinating. And I am taking it easy, a lot of gardening and outings to the beach at the moment, but I know I should be getting on top of things when I have extra time. I’m working consistently on my current WIP, but I have some other things that need my attention I’,ve been neglecting.

  3. Neither seeds nor first drafts are crap, but nor are they of much use without receiving the proper nourishment and care. For a first draft, this means editing, and too many authors miss that. It leads to poor quality self-published books that give the entire indie world a continuing bad name, but many authors likely don’t realize it is the reason why they keep getting rejection letters.
    Great post, Chantal. Thanks!

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