It's that time again, time to send our fears and insecurities out into the internet and hope they help someone else. If you've never seen one of these, I recommend heading on over to the Ninja Captain, Alex, and jumping on the Linky. Also be sure to check out this week's co-hosts Sheena-kay Graham, Suzanne Furness, and Laura Eno.
This month, I'm offering advice (or more specifically, advice I'm trying to give to myself).
Whenever someone asks me about writing, my answer is always “Just write.”
“But Rena, my novel about space pirates who steal ice to survive in a post apocalyptic Earth is crazy. How can I put all my time and effort into something so crazy?” My advice is always the same: Just write it (and for that specific example, also go watch the movie Ice Pirates, it’s a hoot to watch corny movies from the 80s!).
For most writers, it’s the fear of failure that quells their writing, keeps their words hidden in drawers and collecting electrons on hard drives. But over the last few weeks, I felt another fear: success (I didn’t actually gain success mind you, I just got some positive feedback). Success is a strange creature. I’ve spent most of my life practicing how to handle defeat gracefully. I never won the contest (second, I come in second and third all the time), and I was never part of the group to win sweepstakes, or take it all the way to the top. So I’ve practiced lots of defeat, but I’ve never really had the opportunity to practice success. It's like that quote "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." (you can go see a lot more detail about that quote and who said it here).
Realizing that success is just as paralyzing as failure has been really helpful to me (let’s just say I’ve had fewer chocolate attacks recently), but I decided that acknowledging an issue wasn’t good enough. I sat down and wrote a list of what real success meant to me. I outlined it—hey, I’m a scientist, I do nerdy things like make lists of my lists; I’m a lot more like Twilight Sparkle than Rainbow Dash, if you get my drift—I made sure that I included everything that would mean success to me. Some of it was crazy optimistic, like earn enough money from my writing to take my family to Disneyland (CRAZY TALK RENA!). Then I took that outline and I listed everything that I could do to make that success happen. I cut out everything that relied on someone else (like get an agent, and sell my book to a publisher), and focused only on the things I had real control over.
Do you know what that list boiled down to?
Write this book. Revise it. Rewrite it. Query it.
WRITE THE NEXT BOOK. Revise that book. Rewrite that book. Query it.
Write the book after that. Revise it. Rewrite it. Hopefully I won’t need to query it (but you always need a query letter).
That’s right, my 12 steps to ultimate success is the advice I send to my CPs, my friends, and my sweet but shy niece who wants to write:
Write everything that strikes your fancy. Write the dark places of your soul. Write your guilt at not writing. Everything isn’t going to be published, but every word committed to paper is one word closer to THE END.
I’ve heard successful authors quote numbers of words, and I’ve never seen someone quote a number lower than half a million words (and frequently, they quote a number greater than a million). Usually it’s something like “The first half million words were crap, but things got better after that.” (this isn't necessarily true, your early words could be great, but for most of us mere mortals, it's a big freaking number).
Be those writers. Don’t quit. Write. If it scares you, write that. If it makes you smile at inappropriate times, write that. It’s a simple plan to success (again, simple doesn’t mean easy). Write this book. Write the next book. Revise, rewrite, work on your grammar. Write a book. Write a poem. Write a blog post. Write another. Write. Write. Write.