Seven Essential Tips Every Successful Writer Must Apply

Fresh StartsI think every published author wishes they could go back in time to whisper in their younger self’s ear. Doing so would certainly save volumes of time and energy. I’m sure five years from now, I’d wish for the opportunity to tell today’s me something I need to know right now.

These are the thoughts rolling through my mind this new year, clean with the possibility of fresh starts. I think it’s important to slow down sometimes.

We need to reflect on the past in order to improve on the future. So I’m reminding myself of the tips I’d give my younger self, knowing I’ve let some slack, and resolving to begin again. I believe the seven following tips are essential, things every writer must know.

  1. Ray BradburyRead as much as you can. Phrases such as, “Great writers are great readers,” hold a wealth of truth. The more we study, the more prepared we are to succeed. Reading teaches us the subliminal art of sentence flow, heart tugs, and scene staging. It also shows us what to avoid, as we learn from the mistakes of others. It’s the best motivator I know.
  2. Eavesdrop. Most of my best dialogue came from listening in on someone else’s conversation in restaurants, conferences, stores, airplanes, etc. I write non-fiction, and I tell true stories or compilations based on real people, but even if I wrote fiction, I would use this technique for writing believable and fascinating statements.
  3. Listen to outsiders. The more detached someone is from you, the more objective their writing feedback is going to be. Family and friends tend to fall into two camps: they either gush over everything you write, even your sloppy first drafts, or they nitpick, make digs, or outright blast anything you pen. Make it your mission to interact with people on social media, critique groups, or professional advance readers who are willing to respond honestly.
  4. Pull on your thick skin. You might want to consider whale shark skin for this one, (estimated at 6″ thick). Just like “there’s no crying in baseball,” professional writers soon learn, no one’s handing out Kleenex around here either. When rejection stings, stiffen your spine, and pitch again.
  5. Douse distractions. It’s going to happen. Ten people want five different things from you at once. You’re working on one project, when the siren call of another beckons. But professionals know the power of tenacity — grinding your behind into the seat, tuning out the voices trying to break your focus, and writing through to the finish line.
  6. motivational quotesSet time-stamped writing goals. I’ve really let this one slip lately, and my work is showing it. But my One Word is Reset, so I am resetting my goals. The difference between a dream and a goal is a measurement. So my refreshed writing goals include a minimum of 5,000 words per week. This reasonable number allows for flexibility, while pushing me beyond a normal comfort zone. It’s doable.
  7. Touch your own heart. If I’m not passionate about what I’m writing on, why would anyone else be interested? If I’m bored, my readers will feel boredom. If I’m thrilled, my readers will feel a flutter of excitement driving them to turn the page.

The more I write, the more I question myself at times, and yet, when I go back to the basics, I find the truth, the way, and a successful writer’s life. Which brings me to a bonus secret.

Pages in a Thousand BooksI can write until my fingers are numb. I can start writing at dawn’s break, pushing until the wee hours of the next morn, but if I am not inspired, it’s all for nothing. My personal inspiration come from prayer, provision, and praise for my Maker. He’s the one who gifted and called me. This is my most powerful secret.

What inspires you to write? Do you have any tips you would whisper to your younger self?

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Three Things I Wish I Would Have Known When I Started Writing

I still remember sitting in that very first session at my first writer’s conference. Nervous. Insecure. Excited. Then the instructor shared that dreaded statistic. It wasn’t good news.

“About one percent of writers succeed in getting published. Because most give up and drop out of the race.”

I felt liking running out of the room into the brisk autumn air. But instead of following my instincts, I stayed — and made a vow to become one of the one percent. I tell that story here.

Extra ExtraSeven years later, I can report good news. I have two published books, First Hired, Last Fired: How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market by Leafwood Publishing, and Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over by Barbour Publishing. A third, (one I was hired to write for someone else), will release in the spring of 2016, a new proposal is on the market, and I’ve contributed in two others. No one is more surprised than me.

Sometimes I still shake my head and give myself a pinch. Am I really a professional author and speaker now? Those dreams I journaled, those goals I put in black and white — are they truly my reality? Why, yes, they are.

It’s hard to believe only a few short years ago I seriously began to pursue my most secret desire. When I started this journey, I didn’t believe in my abilities. If I had, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get serious.

  1. What you have to contribute is just as valuable as what anyone else has to offer. Trust God’s call to write more than you trust your fears and comparisons. Dare to believe.
  2. Do something in regard to writing every day, (except your Sabbath). Research, blog, write articles, outline new proposals, brainstorm titles, interview someone, whatever it is, make sure that six days a week you are making forward motion in your writing career. But don’t discount any of it. Sometimes you will feel as if you didn’t accomplish anything because you didn’t type words into your computer, but if you conducted a new interview, or outlined a proposal, you were productive in your writing. So quit beating yourself up!
  3. Analyze all of the things you learned in past career fields, much of it will transfer to your writing career. I’m amazed at how my background in banking, accounting, marketing, and even manufacturing have given me insights and understanding about the business of professional writing. Nothing is wasted — including the time you spent doing those things. Don’t begrudge your past, express gratitude for its benefits.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverEach day that passes I become more comfortable in my own writing skin. I realize what I am compelled to put on a page can really help others. For instance, we’re now in the most depressing three months of the year, November through January. Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over will make an ideal gift for those who don’t know what to get someone suffering from anxiety, grief, PTSD, or depression. I can now make that statement with confidence, whereas three years ago, I wouldn’t have dared.

I guess what it all drills down to is something we hear many times as authors. It takes perseverance, tenacity, and determination to make it. If I could go back to the beginning of my career, I would encourage my newbie self to keep on keeping on every day. And there’s one particular thing I would add. I’d lean in close, cup my hand over her ear, and then I would whisper, “Never give up, buttercup. In the end, you’re going to make it. You become one of the one.”

Goals?!?

NewYearDayIt’s that time of year where we set goals to make up for the mistakes we made the previous year grow as people. Isn’t that really what New Year’s resolutions are all about? Giving up some of those vices (like eating too much chocolate) for better health or starting down a path toward a dream we’ve held maybe too privately close because speaking it out load would actually mean we would need to do something about it.

Hmm . . .

I have to confess . . . I do make New Year’s resolutions every year. I can’t say that I’m all that good working on them but I still try. Maybe less than doing a New Year’s resolution, I believe in goal setting. I think it keeps us active in this life to be shooting for something . . . whatever it might be in your world. But I’ve learned some things along the way about setting goals that might help you achieve your goal(s) this coming year.

1. Have an overall dream (I’m going to finish my novel!) but then set smaller goals along the path.

For YEARS, I said I was going to finish my book but until I sat down and divided up that elephant into smaller achievable steps, it didn’t happen. What would get you there? Sometimes it’s hard to know HOW to actually do the work of finishing a novel so here’s what I’ve found and I’m not a super-speedy novelist.

Writing 1,000 words a day (when I’m not doing a 12 hour nursing shift) is fairly easy. Writing 2,000 words a day is my general maximum before my brain starts to meltdown. This word count should happen in about three hours (if you stay off social media and generally know what you’re going to write about.) Aim to write 20,000 words/month. Really, that’s just 10 days staying completely on task and getting 2,000 words on the page. Four months of JUST doing 10 days of 2,000 word counts and you have a first draft! Don’t edit yourself. Just get the words on the page. You can’t edit an empty page. And now you have an 80,000 word NYT Bestseller document that will need a lot of work–but you DID IT!

2. Make the goal realistic for you and your life.

I’ve been working out with a personal trainer for a couple of years. I needed to lose some weight (a lot!) and knew I needed the accountability of another person to help me do it. I am almost to my goal and my trainer would like a much faster process than me. He set a CRAZY weight loss goal for December (hello, Christmas cookies) and in my mind I said, it’s not going to happen. And so, it didn’t happen. I did, though, achieve the smaller goal I set for myself. If what I outlined above makes your eyeballs glaze over, cut it in half or one quarter but just get started.

3. Have an accountability person.

It really does help. I’m not talking about a critique partner though those are good, too. What you need is just someone in your corner (thanks, Casey!) who will keep tabs on you and your goal. Send you an e-mail to ask if you’re making progress. Celebrate your victories by posting lots of these (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) on Facebook.

4. Don’t give up.

I was a person who used to give up easily. If I ate bad one day, the whole month could be shot. Everyone has bad days and doesn’t meet their goals. My trainer confessed to me just today about eating handfuls of chocolate covered raisins, pizza AND french fries which made me a little too joyful inside BUT he’s already back in the gym. When you fall off the path . . . the next day . . . sit back down and get back to it. Life happens but don’t let it run you over.

5. CELEBRATE!

As you’re traveling down whatever goal path you’ve set for 2013, celebrate the small achievements (making that monthly word count goal) and the big achievement (Yes, I DID finish that novel!) with lots of chocolate and responsible drinking exercise and then do it again.

Set another goal.

So, what about you? What’s one goal, writing or otherwise, that you have for 2013? How are you going to achieve it?