7 Steps to Succeed as a Writer
Written by Julie Butcher-Fedynich
But what is success? I can hear some of you saying that making number one on the USA Today Bestseller list would define it. Well, DUH. Of course that would be wonderful—and even possible after years of work. But let’s get real people, and set goals that we have control over. We need steps that we can accomplish or we might as well go back to bed and wait for next year.
You can’t control lists, or sales, or how much people will like your book. You just can’t. So quit eating rainbows and expecting to poop sparkles. Take steps to further your career, steps that you can accomplish by being your stubborn, wonderful self.
Step One: You’ve heard it before but you need to write every day. Not only will you get better, and finish stuff, you’ll get into the habit. Your writing will come easier without all of those nasty blank-brain moments that make you throw up your hands and go play Xbox. You won’t be a professional writer if you don’t put in the work. Even if you delete it all the next day (because you made a plot hole big enough to swallow your minivan) you’ll know what not to write.
No one ever made a best seller list who didn’t finish a book. Seriously people, the story is inside you. Let your fingers put it on the paper. Set your timer to write for an hour. Don’t go on Twitter or Facebook or scrolling around agent blogs. Stare at the blank screen if you have to, but sit there for the entire hour. No snacks, no television, and no phone. The words will come if you give them a chance.
After a few days of this your brain will think of the story beforehand—in self-defense. Because our lovely, marvelous lumps of grey matter don’t like to be bored.
Step Two: Read every day. Read in the genre you write. I’ve heard tons of new writers say that they can’t read while they’re writing because they’re afraid that they’ll copy the story, or the voice, or whatever. BULL HOCKEY! I can guarantee you that you won’t sell someone else’s book. Publishers and agents are smart that way so it isn’t a problem. Also, if you write all copy-cat, you haven’t yet found your voice. When you do, it will be a conglomeration of books you’ve read and your life experiences. It will be uniquely you—not anyone else.
You can’t count reading for your critique partners in your required reading unless they’ve already hit the New York Times, okay? Read books by people who make a living from writing. They know stuff that you don’t. I know this because of how they are already on the NYT and USA Today lists. Logical, right?
Step Three: Edit your work. I don’t mean fix a few commas. Read your story out loud. You’re already nuts—because you’re a writer. Now, your family and neighbors will have positive proof you need rubber walls as you yell your action scenes and dialogue. (Dude, you’ll find all of the awkward bits this way.)
After you’ve torn your manuscript apart and put it back together, send it to a critique group. If you don’t have one, get up off of your butt and find one. There are online groups and writing meetings at your local library. Look until you find a group that will help you to be a better writer.
Quite honestly, I am sick to death of people throwing a first draft on the interwebs or whipping out a query letter in thirty seconds and then moaning when they get a rejection or bad reviews. Of course you’ll get slapped around. Quit with the shortcuts. There aren’t any. Some of those words are destined for the recycle bin. If it hurts too badly to cut scenes, then cut and paste them into another document. You won’t need them again but it might make you feel better.
If you absolutely cannot find a critique group, then you need to hire an editor. Everyone needs fresh eyes to tell them if what they had in their head ended up on the paper. If you have multiple personalities in your head that you can turn on and off like a tap, you’re good. Otherwise you need someone else to read your story. This isn’t something that is optional.
Step Four: If you’re jumping on the current trend or bandwagon, stop it. Write what you love with characters you adore. No writing is ever wasted. Quit listening to your friends. Stop following the market. The nature of publishing is long term. By the time you write and edit the trendy book, the next big thing is already there and you have a document full of has-been. Why on earth would you waste your time writing someone else’s story? You need to write what you love. Your passion will shine through in your writing. People like that. People buy that.
So if you really like to write erotica, do it. But, do it because you loved reading 50 Shades of Grey, not because she made money writing it. I know so many people who switched from science fiction or regency romance to erotica that it isn’t even funny. They don’t especially like reading erotica, and yet, there they are, jumping genre to genre because suddenly, this one thing is popular. Write what you know doesn’t mean to make your story about doing laundry.
Step Five: Learn to be patient. The only thing you can control in publishing are the words you put on the paper and who you send them to. That’s it. Period. So be patient with yourself first. After you finish a manuscript, put it away for a while. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by sending your work prematurely. Tuck that puppy under the bed for at least two months and start something else. Then pull it out and read it again. You’ll be shocked how many mistakes you’ll see that need fixing.
Then send it out to the agents and editors and go back to the other story. You’ll need to be working because even though your hopes are high that manuscript A is THE ONE, you still have to wait and wait and be patient. (This is the part where you have absolutely no control whatsoever.) The best thing you can do is to keep writing the next book.
Step Six: For the sake of all that is holy and good in this world, quit whining—especially online. Of course you’ll have days when you’re at the very bottom of the pit of despair. Everyone does. You do not, however, have the right to try and pull the rest of us down with you. We really, really, hate that crap. Really. Step away from the internet.
Step Seven: Don’t give up. Keep writing. The only one who can take your dream away is you.
Written by Julie Butcher-Fedynich