Everybody needs a toolbox, and while the sort of writer you are will determine exactly what you need in yours this list can hopefully give you some ideas that can help you be a successful author.
(Warning: Presented in no particular order)
1) Paper: Feel free to say “duh”, but in this digital age of cloud drives, data discs, word processors, tablets capable of opening your garage door from orbit and Google Glass, it’s easy for writers to sometimes forget the lure and power of a good old fashioned pad of paper. Whether it’s for jotting down notes, drawing out covers or character concepts (even if you do it poorly, like I do) or actually writing out pages of prose, every writer can benefit from having some white stuff and one of those pointy ink thingies.
2) Discipline: I know I blog and harp on this one a lot, but it’s true: without the discipline (which may or may not involve a strict routine) to write and do writing-related work, nothing else really matters. This includes the discipline to edit, to commit to a task, and to fight your way through a story even when you may not be “feeling it”.
3) Music: Some may choose to categorize this under “inspiration”, and that’s fine, but for me music provides two other important things that help me pound out the words: a shield against the world (it’s hard to get distracted if you can’t hear the distractions) and, if you use writing playlists like I do, a convenient timer for you to work by. I know I can write roughly 2000 words in a 45-50 minutes period, so I set up the playlist, plug in the headphones, find a place to hide, and voila!
4) Thick Skin: Once you publish your work, the harsh reality is you’re going to get bad reviews. You may not deserve them, you may not agree with them, but it’s going to happen. You’re also going to meet people who think it’s “cute” that you write, you’ll get feedback from your peers that isn’t always as flattering as you’d like, and you’ll probably sell fewer books than you’d expect to. I’m not always an advocate of the “suck it up” approach to dealing with adversity, but the fact of the matter is sometimes that’s what you have to do. Take what you can from the criticism, learn what you will from periods of slumming sales, do what you need to so you can improve your work based on whatever constructive comments you get, and move on.
5) Books: I’m not talking about books for inspiration (that’s next). I’m talking about the need to read because you’re a frickin’ writer. Reading teaches you about the craft, how to develop stories, how to foreshadow, how to construct characters and build tension and how to develop plot. Books show you how authors you respect do it, how authors you hate do it, and sometimes how not to do it. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and neither should your writing – know thy craft.
6) Inspiration: Anything that fires those creative juice. Often for me this includes Music and Books, but inspiration can come from anywhere, depending on how your mind works, what sort of books you write and what drives you: TV, movies, being outdoors, listening to the news, painting, running, cooking, working out, sitting and staring at the wall, doing yoga, categorizing your underwear…whatever stokes the fires of your creativity, DO MORE OF THAT!
7) Fuel: It’s hard to write if you don’t have the energy to do it. Find your fuel – coffee, power bars, Gatorade, vodka, Cheerios, applesauce, prune cakes, whatever – and keep that brain going, especially right before you sit down for a writing session. If you’re like me you need different fuel for writing than you do for editing. “Write drunk, edit sober” isn’t just a quote by Earnest Hemingway – it’s a way of life. =D
8) Support: Writers are basically insane. We get trapped inside of our own little worlds for hours at a time, mumble to ourselves, get depressed over our work, freak out over trying to sell books, have an incessant need to bounce ideas off of other people and hope they understand what we’re talking about, etc. We also need cover art, proofreading buddies, and emotional support when we start to flip our lids. Whether your support comes from a super-capable and awesome spouse or a great online community, take whatever help you can, offer your own help in kind, and do your part to battle the dark side of being a writer.
9) A Life: We all need to unplug. I get on writing crusades where I feel like I can’t stop, or at the very least fear that if I do I won’t be able to find my rhythm again. That being said, we all need to step away, even from the things we love, and having a life outside of your passions is actually good for your passions. Get outdoors, hang out with your friends, do something with your kids. That “experience” is actually good for your writing. (Or so I’ve been told… ;D)
10) Patience: Writers can be a demanding lot. We want the book to work. We want it to sell. We want it to look perfect. But none of that comes quick. I know my books have a life cycle of about 6-8 months (over half of which is editing and proofreading). I can also tell you that, from a monetary standpoint, I’m only about halfway to where I want to be with monthly sales before I’d even consider the notion of going the route of the full-time writer (and even then I’d be hesitant), and I’ve been doing this for over 2 ½ years. I’m a horribly impatient person…and yet I’ve learned to moderate that. I’ve come to understand that things take time, art takes time, writing takes time, and this is a time to be enjoyed.
Now go fill up your toolbox, and get writing.
Steven Montano writes dark fantasy and military sci-fi. He’s also completely lost his mind. If you find it, please drop it off at his website. Thanks.