I’ve worked with a lot of writers over the past eight years and I can honestly say that there really is one thing that separates the writers who are going to make it from the writers who are not. I know, I know—there are many different variables at play. Believing in yourself, joining a supportive community, finding your audience. I’m not disputing that those factors influence a writer’s success. But the thing I’m talking about is way more basic than anything else.
Out of the three basic elements of a story—character, plot, and setting—setting often turns into the neglected stepchild sweeping up ashes in the corner. And for good reason. It can get tedious to describe an imaginary place that you can see clearly in your mind’s eye, but the reader can’t. On the other hand, it’s sometimes tempting to use too much detail, bogging the reader down with unnecessary words that only add confusion to the story.
Adam Scull of the Eat Sleep Write podcast interviewed me about writers facing fear and resistance, writing roadblocks, and more. It was the first podcast I’ve ever done and it was really fun! Big thanks to Adam for contacting me and making this happen!
You can listen to the full interview here.
And it takes so much energy, enthusiasm, and old-fashioned hard work, that most writers can think about nothing else but the finish line until they achieve that glorious goal.
But what happens after the euphoria has worn off? What happens when you’re finished editing and revising and now you want to do something with your book, like put it out there into the world for other people to actually read?
It’s time to take the next step.
The challenge is that, in this modern world, it seems like there are about a bazillion next steps a writer could choose to take.
To make the most effective Next Step, consider the following 3 areas:
Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to go the traditional route with a literary agent?
What social media platform(s) do you want to use and what kind of image do you want new readers to have of you?
What is the next book you’re going write? What’s your next creative project?
When you decide on anything in each of these three areas your choice is going to lead you to more questions, more decisions to be made, and more learning and research to do. But you have to start with the big choices first in order to start building the roadmap of where you want your career to take you.
If you make thoughtful choices in the realms of Publishing, Presence, and Creativity, the three areas will integrate into a dynamic, effective whole that serves you and gives you back tenfold of what you put into it.
Think of it this way: If your writing career is a highly successful human being, this is how it would break down:
Publishing – Body
This is the physical product of your labors. The paper manuscript, or digital Kindle edition, of your book.
And even if it is digital, it’s still a physical manifestation of you as a writer out there in writing space. While you’re writing your first novel, you might tell yourself no one will ever see it but there comes a time when offering it to readers (no matter what form you choose) is the healthiest thing you can do. Just like you wouldn’t keep your body locked up in the house your entire life, your book needs to get out there for a little fresh air and sunshine too.
Choose how you want to publish and then go after it full force. Google “how-to” guides and “how do I?” questions. Research how to write a query letter. Take notes. Then research some more options. Throw everything you have at it until you figure out what it is you need to do to get published.
Presence – Mind
Your presence is going to be the primary way you connect with new readers. People who have never heard of you before will see your Facebook fan page, or your blog, or reader reviews on Amazon, and based on those brief accounts they’ll decide if your writing is a match for their tastes. It’s very similar to when you meet someone new in real life and connect through conversation. If you hold similar views, or even just opinions the other person finds interesting, the likelihood of connection is much greater. If you make thoughtful choices about cultivating your Author Presence, those other great minds that think alike will be drawn to your flame.
You may end up doing a book tour or speaking engagements to build your Presence, but in the meantime, our world is an online world. Research social media for writers and then get out there and play! Choose one or two ways to connect online that you feel comfortable with and start building your Facebook fan page, blog, or whatever it is you want to use to connect with your readers.
Creativity – Soul
It is really awesome that you finished your book…but you can’t take a break from writing. Not for more than a week. The fountain of your creativity has to be exercised on a regular basis to keep up a good, strong flow. Your creativity really is the soul of you. That’s why you’re a writer, an artist. Yes, it’s important to tend to your career and get your ducks lined up in a row, but you must never sacrifice the actual writing. You’re not going to be able to do much of anything without your soul.
It’s okay if you don’t have an idea for your next book yet, write a short story in the meantime. Or some poems. Or try your hand at songwriting. ANYTHING. Just keep writing.
When you finish writing that first book, the next step can seem daunting. That’s because it is. Being a writer isn’t like showing up for a regular job every day. It requires extraordinary amounts of courage, patience, faith, and guts. But at the same time it’s like anything else in life, one step at a time. The key is to make the big decisions first—decide where you want to go and how you want to travel—and then take start taking your journey step by step.
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You are not lazy.
You are not useless.
And you are not doing anything wrong.
Lazy, useless people actually never worry about getting things done.
Lazy, useless people don’t have any projects, or even any ideas for projects, that they put off starting. You, on the other hand, have this intelligent, curious, creative brain that has many ideas and projects that you would love to follow through on and finish. But…procrastination tends to seep in.
So if you’re so intelligent, curious, and creative, then why do you have problems with procrastination at all?
Precisely because of those very same traits.
Intelligent, curious, creative people are also intense, driven, and struggle with perfectionism. Our brains work well with extremes, and that’s why we’re able to think not only outside the box, but we can also imagine what would happen if the box was invisible, had superpowers, or decided to impersonate a unicorn just for kicks.
This extreme mode of thinking sometimes gets us into trouble. When we think about starting the first chapter of our novel, we then leap ahead to the second and third chapters, then the ending, then how readers will react, then onto the book tour—and then we’re totally exhausted because all of these things have flitted through our mind in the space of one half second. And we haven’t even picked up the pen yet!
This is not a bad thing. Our brains are wild, dynamic creatures that must swim and fly and roam. Letting them do just that is totally okay. As long as there is one solid part of you that gets into the habit of hanging back and being the sensible parent. That part knows that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach and only lets you put one or two things on your plate instead the whole buffet.
The practice of writing down your goals can be extremely helpful when it comes to parenting yourself. You don’t have to go nuts with a crazy to-do list. In fact, it will be most helpful if you keep it simple. Most writers already know their big goal—write a book and get it published—so you don’t have to worry about that. What you want to do is write down your small goals, the things you can get done in one day.
So if you want to move forward with writing your novel, a daily goal list for you might look like this:
Write two pages
That’s it. The aim is to keep things simple, manageable and no-pressure. If two pages still seem overwhelming, then make your goal one page, or one paragraph. The amount of work does not matter. The forward motion is what matters. And beware of listening to the Beast of Self-Judgment who will try to tell you that you aren’t doing enough. The truth is that even one short paragraph gets you further than you were before.
Every time you think about starting or continuing a project you’re procrastinating on, pull out your post-it notes and write down one small goal connected to that project. Keep these notes somewhere all together and every day choose just one of them to complete. Some days you will feel like you breezed through that one job and you’re ready to tackle another. Go ahead. But be prepared for other days, when it will feel like a Herculean task to move through just that one little goal. No judging yourself when you’re in this space! Just move through the work and give yourself props for doing it.
Think of it this way—if you saw all the food you were going to eat in one year piled up in front of you, it would most likely make you feel physically ill. That’s how your path to success works. If you look at the whole thing together there is a 99% chance of you becoming overwhelmed. Truly successful people do a little bit each day and count on all those increments to add up.
Take the first step towards conquering procrastination—know that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach.
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