Take Heed!

This month marks the eighth anniversary of my writer’s blog: A Writer’s Way of Seeing. At this time last year, I offered writers advice for the coming year. I was going to offer a new list for 2016, but in reading what I wrote last year, I really think the same advice applies. Also, now that I’m an agent with WordServe Literary, I’ve picked up numerous new readers. So for new readers, and as a refresher for my regular readers, here’s a slightly edited version of last year’s blog called “Take Charge!” Maybe for this year the title should be “Take Heed!” because we’re all a year closer to our real deadline when we no longer will be writing.

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As we’re in the opening weeks of 2016 I want to offer my yearly exhortation for the new year. We’re all getting older and time’s a’ wasting, folks. If we want to succeed as writers, we need to take charge of our writing career. In fact, that will be my rally cry for you in 2016: “Take charge of your writing career!”

Here are seven suggestions on how to do that.

  1. Stay prayed up. Presumably by now you’ve confirmed in your own mind that God has called you to be a writer. Part of that calling is, of course, to write. But for a Christian, that’s only half the calling. The other half is knowing what to write. Mostly we find that out through prayer and discerning the needs of readers and our ability to write to those needs. As you pray, ask God to guide you in your writing pursuits. Make that a year-long (life-long, actually) commitment to yourself. If you stay prayed up about your writing, you’ll stay pumped up too.
  2. Improve your craft. Each year I urge all of us who write to find a way to keep improving our craft. Take classes, read magazines such as The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and The Christian Communicator.  Join a critique group. Read the blogs of other successful writers, agents, and editors. Write, write, write. Commit to writing at least three (and probably more) drafts of each project, with each draft an improvement from the preceding draft.  Always have a good writing book on hand. I recommend any of James Scott Bell’s books on the writing craft, particularly How to Make a Living As a Writer.
  3. writerWrite out specific goals for each month. Make each goal realistic, but then stick to them. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals are good, but also write out in some detail what you hope to have accomplished by December 31. To stay on track, consider finding a writing accountability partner. Share your writing goals with each other and meet in person or by internet every week or two to encourage one another.
  4. If possible, have two or three projects/proposals/manuscripts in some stage of progress. Perhaps you’re working on just a one-sheet for Project A, while on Project B, you’re at the full proposal stage. Project C might be your work-in-progress—the actual manuscript you’re working on. For a successful writing career, you must always be thinking ahead.
  5. Pick one or two writer’s conferences and plan to attend. If money is a problem start saving now. Come up with creative fund-raising ideas. Perhaps ask your church to chip in with the fees. Most conferences have some scholarship money. See if you qualify or if you can do some conference work in exchange for part of your tuition.
  6. Stay up to date with the publishing world—including self-publishing. Know what the bestsellers are. Know which authors are writing successfully in the same genre in which you write. Read Publisher’s Weekly or Publisher’s Marketplace online. More and more writers are finding their entry into publishing through self-publishing. Sadly, many are making very serious mistakes. Although I encourage self-publishing as an option, I do not recommend it if you’re going to do a poor job of it. Last year at one writer’s conference I picked up a self-published book and found three major errors on the first page, including the misspelling of the name of a famous world leader. Who would buy such a book? Not me.
  7. Work on your platform. I know very few authors who like platform-building. I don’t like it either. I’d much rather just write. But a platform is important. Starting small is fine. Just do what small thing you can do now and build from there. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

The crucial thing in all this is to keep your commitment red-hot. Rest assured, there will be discouragements, distractions, and even rejections in 2016. That’s life. It’s also another reason to plan ahead and to indeed “take charge of your writing career” in 2016. Start planning now!

What Does Your Hero Yearn For?

I’m not talking about story goals here. This is something deeper, more at the core of his being. James Scott Bell writes about this in his book Conflict & Suspense.

The hero may not even realize it’s present. It’s something he doesn’t have but yearns for. Businessman Running with UmbrellaBell defines yearning as a desire for something without which the person feels incomplete. And he may not even be aware the yearning is there until a story event triggers a response based more on the yearning than on the event itself. This could lead to behavior, an overreaction or under reaction, that makes little sense to the other characters and to the hero himself.

This yearning is in your hero’s history, perhaps something from his childhood. Whatever it is, it predates the story. When he comes into the story, he’s already carrying trouble in the form of this unfulfilled yearning. This gives you all kinds of possibilities for unpredictable actions by the hero as the unspoken yearning influences his behavior and relationships with others.

man prayingFor example, say your hero yearns for a strong father figure because his father left the family when the hero was a boy. In your novel, he might have a hard time seeing the antagonist as the villain because he develops a strong emotional attachment to the man early on. As the villain is slowly revealed, the hero rebels against what he sees and may even attempt to shield the bad guy, defend him, rationalize his behavior. Or he may feel betrayed which can send him down another path in the story

Next time you feel stuck with your hero, dig deeper into his history. See what unexpressed yearning he’s hiding from himself—and from you.Now the tension and potential for a tragic outcome is heightened as the hero’s yearning, and resulting idolization, of the villain conflicts with the reality of who and what the villain really is.