I'm so far behind, I'll never catch up. I owe you a blog about dream capture and I'll get to it soon. Right now it's more imperative that I lecture myself on a topic that crops up for most writers: new and old. Thus I share my self-chastisement with you and maybe word it a little more gently. It may be a little long, but I've had too much time off.
Never be satisfied. No matter where you are in your writing career, there will always be something you can improve. When asked why he spent so many hours per day fiddling with his inventions, Thomas Edison said he did so because he was not satisfied with the way things are. Identify three things about your writing you are dissatisfied with. What are you going to do about it?
Identify your target. What is your main writing objective? What are you trying to accomplish with your writing? Can you state it in a single sentence or two? Can you develop a step-by-step plan of how you can accomplish your target objective? What planning do you need to do? Can you visualize yourself reaching your goal?
On a side note: I will be the first to admit that Strategic Planning or Goals and Objectives is a class in itself. I’ve taught it a number of times. While I’ll not address the entirety of the topic here, I do want to mention The Investment Theory of Work. In his 1980’s off-the-charts best-seller Working Smarter, Not Harder, Le Beouf introduced the aforementioned theory. It simply states we must be willing to sacrifice time now in planning for the benefits of time-saved later. Written goals and objective are not only maps for us to work by, they are great motivator. That major goal from which all others are derived should be passion-inspiring or you have the wrong primary target.
Just write it! You can’t hit a ball out of the park if you never pick up a bat. You can’t catch the biggest fish if you never drop you line into the water. You can’t get an agent if you never send out a query letter. Your writing dreams will never be a reality if you never put your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Most people who say they want to be writers are stranded in an ever-growing city called Someday-I-Will. Don’t sit on your laurels! Your dreams are dreams. If you want them to become reality, work at it. Don’t let your life slip by as a spectator. If you want to be a writer, write. Put your mind to work and plans in action. What are three things you can do right now, at this moment, to reach your goal of being a published author or remaining a published author?
Burn your boats! When Cortez landed in South America, the first thing he did was burn the ships. His men had a choice: fight or die. This removed the option of giving up and returning to Spain. We all have excuses we put in our paths. If we don’t get rid of them, they are more of a hamper to creativity than writer’s block. Identify three factors that stand in the way of your writing goals. How can you rid yourself of these excuses?
Have something at stake! As writers, we’re constantly defining GMC for our characters. We need to define them for ourselves as well. Without motivation, we have nothing at stake. With nothing at stake, why pursue a goal. Whether your goal is publication, financial security, self-esteem, or whatever, just make sure it’s strong enough to get you through the tough times. This is a dog-eat-dog business with thousands of people vying for very few agents and even fewer editors. You’ll need a backbone as well as a reason to accomplish your goals. Identify what you have at stake.
Get Support! It is much easier to be creative if your environment both supports and expects it. If you don’t already have membership in a writers’ organization, join one, or two, or however many it takes. Find and develop a relationship with another writer as a creative partner (or critique partner). You can help each other and support each other in your pursuit toward publication. How can you create a support system around you or improve the one you have? Are you taking advantage of all the benefits of the groups you belong to?
Sell, Sell, Sell! You can have the greatest manuscript in the world, but if you can’t sell it, you won’t achieve your publication dreams. If your query and synopsis skills suck, don’t worry. This is a weakness for many people who take 100,000 words to tell a story. Take a class on query letters, synopsis, or the power of the personal pitch. Then follow through on what you learn. Figure out what you’ve done wrong from a sales perspective to this point. Identify three reasons an editor or agent should pick your manuscript above the thousands of others that filter through their offices. What can you give them that no one else can? How can you make your manuscript attention-grabbing? Do you regularly publish on a blog, especially a high-volume blog? Do you talk to readers on Facebook. Do you have a website? What do you need to do to sell? Send out query letters. Attend a conference and pitch your manuscript. Put yourself out there.
Develop a lion’s heart! Be courageous. The cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz had more courage than he knew. He went on a dangerous journey with Dorothy, despite his fear, to acquire what he already possessed. Fighting when you’re not afraid is no big deal. Fighting when you are terrified is something. What gives you courage to act on your ideas? Having a well-thought out plan? Encouragement? Self-faith?
Give yourself deadlines! It can’t be said too often, goals without deadlines are fantasies. You have to have something realistic to shoot for to motivate you to work now. Deadlines are good stressors if we approach them correctly, step-by-step. What general and step-by-step deadlines can you give yourself?
Be your own hero/heroine and fight! Roy Blitzer once said, “The only one who likes change is a wet baby.” When I do seminars, I spend a significant amount of time talking about change. There are two basic maxims when it comes to change: 1. It’s gonna happen; and 2. Nobody wants it. In one of the exercises I do with attendees, I pair them off and ask them to study each other. Then I have them face away from each other and ask them to change five things about themselves – without help from their partners. At that point, watches come off, clips are removed, sweaters are tossed aside, etc. I have them turn around and identify what’s different about their partners. That done, I have them turn around and change ten more things. Want a definition of the word groan? Very few people are able to make all the changes.
Now let’s look at what this exercise teaches. The first thing that happens when asked to do this exercise is “Why? gets yelled in chorus.” We’re curious creatures. We want explanations and good reasons for change, because most of us hate it. Remember I told you about things coming off? This is because most people view change in terms of loss. Few people view change in terms of the benefits it brings. There are several other points to this exercise, but the last I’ll mention here is that once in awhile, a few people will make all fifteen changes. These are the people that looked beyond the ambiguity of the rule: don’t work with your partner. They figure out that it’s all right to work with someone who isn’t their partner and trade off glass, ties, sweaters, etc. For them, change is not always a loss, but an exchange. They figured a way around one rule by creating another. They also figured out that what they couldn’t do alone, they could do with the help of a creative partner.
Don’t lock yourself into the proverbial box. Be a warrior or a virago and fight your way through change and pass obstacles. Remember Yoda: “Try? There is no try. There is only do or not do.” What resistance do you expect to encounter with your current work in progress or selling your manuscript? How can you overcome obstacles? What are you willing to do to put your goals into action?
Never give up! Never surrender! Never say die! Okay, so I’m a Galaxy Quest fan. Once upon a time, there was a bucket of cream. And plop! plop! In fell two frogs. With no way to gain footing, one gave up and drowned. The second frog was a fighter. He didn’t like the option chosen by the first frog and decided to choose his own destiny. He thrashed and thrashed to keep his nose above the cream. No matter what, he was determined to stay afloat. Soon, all his thrashing caused the cream to churn into butter. Lo and behold, he was able to hop his way out and lived happily ever after. How much do you want your dream? How persistent are you?
Slay a dragon! Someday I may have to rename this section. I happen to believe dragons once existed. There is too much supportive data in their favor, considering the last recorded slaying was in the enlightened 17th century by a noted physician who documented a detailed autopsy of a corpse.
Regardless, they say ancient mapmakers put dragons on maps to indicate an area is uncharted or unknown (not because dragons were known to reside in an area). Cautious people stuck to the charted courses, hampered by fear. The fearless struck out into the unknown and discovered new worlds and settled new nations.
We all have fears. In fact, fear of rejection is the number one reason manuscripts never get finished or sent out. If no one reads it, it can’t be rejected. If you want to be a writer, you need a backbone! You may even need to knock over a friend and steal his/her backbone too, so you’ll have a spare. Identify where fear holds you back. What dragons can you slay in your own world?
Use a shield! From family to friends, creative people are often confronted by people who do not understand their need to create. We see a rejection as an obstacle to overcome. They see a rejection as proof that our obsession to craft the perfect story is just plain dumb. No matter what we say, they will never truly understand our need to reach for the stars. Because to the truly creative person, creativity is often its own reward—whether it sells or not. All you can do with people who disrespect your talents like this is smile and go on your own way doing your own thing. Don’t let them hamper you or shoot down your dreams. Identify what negative reaction you can expect. Decide now what you are going to do to shield yourself so they don’t impede your creative flow.
Give yourself a creative license. The one I give to my workshop attendees says:
The bearer of this card is a creative person, who has self-faith. This person is entitled to take risks, occasionally break rules, look for more than one right answer, explore ideas in other areas, tolerate ambiguity, be foolish every now and then, play a little bit, ask “what if” questions, and is motivated to move beyond the status quo to reach for dreams.
Feel free to print this and paste it to your computer.
I will finish this blog with one of my favorite quotes:
I’d rather be a could-be if I cannot be an are;
Because a could-be is a maybe who is reaching for a star.
I’d rather be a has-been than a might-have-been by far;
For a might-have-been has never been, but a has was once an are.
Ø Milton Berle
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Happy writing!
Mary McCall, best-selling author of historical romantic fiction.