Note: This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of Opal: The Magazine for Canadian Authors and Writers. Pages 23-25
There’s enough information about motivation and success to fill every spare moment of your life with books, eBooks, audiobooks and videos. An endless stream of motivation gurus saturate the marketplace, some taking a more relaxed, reflective spiritual approach, others adopting a high energy, super-charged persona. Gleaned from that eclectic mix of wisdom and hype, here are a few practical concepts that writers can apply in their careers.
If you were guided into a room filled with of targets, handed a bow and arrow, and told you could win a thousand dollars if you hit “the target,” you’d need to ask two questions: Which target am I supposed to hit? How long do I have? This is the reason why its important to Write Down Your Goals.
The first step is to consider which goal, if you were to finish it, would have the greatest impact. As you write down your main goal consider what other skills would help your attain it, and write those down as well. If you goal is to write a novel, what other activities would you be involved in? Since being established in the literary community will help you promote your novel, you could write short stories and submit them to literary journals while you continue working on the novel. As a published writer, you’ll need to do public readings, so watch for open mic events, which are excellent opportunities to gain experience.
Note: Although a novel is used as an example, the goal you choose to focus on does not have to be a major project. If completing a short story, essay or poem will aid in building your self-confidence as a writer, then they may be the ideal goals to pursue.
Set a Deadline For Your Project. One of the problems faced by writers when they have no deadline for a project, is they can be constantly distracted and never finish it. When you write down your main goal, also record a deadline for when you intend to finish the fist major stage. “I will have a first draft of ‘Title of Project’ finished by November 14, 2018.” If you haven’t completed the first stage by the deadline, don’t be too hard on yourself, just set another deadline and keep writing. When you’ve finished the first stage of your goal, set a deadline for the next one: “By March 14, 2019 I will complete ‘Title of Project’ and Submit it to Publishers.” Once again, if you miss the deadline, create a new one and keep writing. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to discourage you, the purpose is to help you keep focused.
If you can’t imagine yourself standing on the top of a mountain, you’re unlikely to start climbing, which is why you should Visualize Your Success. Everyday, take a couple of minutes to close your eyes and imagine yourself receiving writing awards, addressing large crowds of fans and signing autographs. Does it sound silly? It’s one of the methods athletes use to prepare for major competitions. A downhill skier imagines flying down a mountainside at 100 km/hr to win a gold medal and a writer imagines walking up to a podium to receive an award, but they are both moving towards attainable goals.
As is experienced by many writers, there will be times you’re so discouraged by rejection or the slow pace of your progress, that you’ll be tempted to give up. When you start to hear yourself say things like “you’ll never be a successful writer,” or “you’re just a…..” it’s time to Counter Negative Self-Talk With Affirmations.
An affirmation is basically a positive statement to remind yourself of your potential and drown out devastating negative self-talk. Here’s an example:
I am a writer, an artist, an entrepreneur
I am talented, intelligent, resourceful
My creative potential is unlimited
Another threat to completing a writing project is perfectionism. If you believe your work has to be perfect before sending it to an editor, you could spend years endlessly rewriting the same manuscript over and over again. Keep in mind that Perfectionism is a Form of Procrastination, and it may be holding you back. Every writer at some point has to decide whether to show their work to the public and risk potential criticism, or give up the dream of being published. Your project will never be perfect, but it may be just what editors and readers are looking for.
Since writing is part of your life, and life is unpredictable, expect roadblocks and Don’t Limit Yourself to Just One Path. If you’re climbing through a mountain pass and it’s blocked by a fallen tree, you don’t just stand there and stare at the tree. You might try pushing it aside, climbing over it, walking around it, or going back a couple of kilometers to find another path.
If you’re a screenwriter, but you’ve been unsuccessful in selling your completed scripts, perhaps you should write a novel. It may be that the novel catches the attention of the producers you need to impress and open doors for you. If you’re a playwright and can’t get a play you’ve written performed, perhaps you can adapt it as a short story and have it published in a literary journal. Keep in mind that the story is essential, formats are just various ways of telling that story.
Although it’s true that sometimes you have sit at a keyboard with just you and your thoughts, You Don’t Have to Go It Alone. Joining a writer’s organization will give you the opportunity to meet others who are just as enthusiastic about the art of writing as you. It’s also a non-threatening environment where you can read your work and receive suggestions on how to improve it. Perhaps the most important reason to join a writer’s organization is you can benefit from the experience of other members. To use a Canadian analogy; when you’re guiding your canoe down a river, avoiding one rock hidden beneath the surface can make a huge difference.
The best advice, however, for anyone interested in a literary career is: Just Get Started, Write. You can read books about the writing process, watch interviews with successful writers, join writing associations, and attend writer’s conferences, and never make any substantial progress, if you aren’t actually writing. Although learning about the writing process is important and getting to know other writers is helpful, to become a proficient writer, you need to practice your craft, you need to sit down at the keyboard and work.
Why is it important that you write? If a literary agency sent agents across the entire planet, among the 7.6 billion inhabitants, meeting writers of every nationality, race, and religion, they would only find one you. You are unique and so is your voice and your passion. Share your opinion, give us stories to lose ourselves in, create characters to cheer for, tear at our hearts strings and tickles our funny bones… just write.