The Common Traits of the Successful Writer: Part II
If I wanted to be an architect I should not be satisfied that I only had grand visions of what the design for my buildings should be. Nor would anyone be impressed with my visions if I couldn’t put them into the proper format. Nor would anyone be interested if my design was so impractical that it couldn’t be built. I would have to learn the craft of design and also the business of building and then apply my vision to that. I would also need to understand how the people who actually construct the building operate, and interact with them in a professional and knowledgeable manner. And, perhaps most importantly and most often forgotten, I would not have any success if no one wanted to buy my designs.
Remember something about the art of writing: It is the only art form that is not sensual. You can see the colors and strokes that make a painting, feel a sculpture, and hear music. The manner in which each individual piece in those fields impacts on the senses is different. But every writer uses the same letters on a piece of paper. You have twenty-six letters that combine to form words, which are the building blocks of your sentences and paragraphs. Everyone has the same words, and when I write that word and you write it, that word goes into the senses of the reader in the same way. It’s how we weave them together that impact the conscious and subconscious mind of the reader that makes all the difference in the world.
A book comes alive in the reader’s mind. You use the sole medium of the printed word to get the story from your mind to the reader’s. It is the wonder of writing to create something out of nothing. Every book started with just an idea in someone’s head. Isn’t that a fantastic concept?
Writers learn by writing. And before that, by being voracious readers.
In essence, writing is no different from any other profession. It’s a simple rule, but one that every one wants to ignore: the more you write, the better you will become. Practically every author I’ve ever talked to, or listened to, or read about in an interview, says the same thing. I saw Stephen King on and he said the most important thing to do to become an author is to write a lot. One writing professor said you needed to write a million words before expecting to get published. I’m currently around word five million and still learning so much.
Let’s look at the positive side: The odds are strongly against getting published. But simply by taking the time and the effort to learn from these words, you are increasing your odds. By continuing to write beyond your first manuscript, you vastly increase your odds. Many writers gush over the amount of money John Grisham made for The Firm but they forget that A Time To Kill was published previously to lackluster sales and failed. What is important to note about that was that Grisham realized he hadn’t done something right and worked hard to change. Note that Grisham did not sit still and bemoan what his agent/editor/publisher etc. didn’t do to help the novel. He didn’t complain that the reading public didn’t understand his brilliance. He worked on the one person he knew he could change: himself (a tenet of Warrior Writer).
From talking with other published writers, I have found it is common that somewhere between manuscript numbers three and six, comes the breakthrough to publication. How many people are willing to do that much work? Not many, which is why not many succeed and how you can vastly increases your chances of beating the odds. Publishers do not want to make a one-time investment in a writer. When a publisher puts out a book, they are backing that writer’s name and normally want to have more than one book in the pipeline. Multiple book contracts are very common; with their inherent advantages and disadvantages. As soon as you type THE END on your first manuscript (and I mean THE END after numerous rewrites), the absolute first thing you must do is begin writing your second.
As someone who wants to be in the entertainment business, you have to study those who have succeeded and failed in that business. Read interviews with people in the arts and entertainment industries and you will find a common theme: a lot of years of sweat equity put in before the big “break” came. I’ve read of and heard actors and comedians talk about spending decades working in the trenches before they became famous. Musicians who sang back-up for years before becoming lead. Painters who toiled in squalor (and often died) before their work was recognized.
Study the lives of writers. Read interviews with authors and see what they say. Go to conferences and talk to them. Listen to them talk about several things: how they became authors, how they live, how they feel about writing, how they write. Many worked very strange jobs before getting published. Almost all struggled and spent many years of suffering before they succeeded. I say suffering in terms of financial or career terms, not in terms of the writing itself. Most writers enjoy writing.
People seem to think that writers are different and, while in some highly publicized cases they are, most published writers have spent many years slugging away before even their first novel was published.
Simple perseverance counts for a lot. I think many people with talent lack the drive and fall out of the picture and people with maybe not as much talent but more drive take their place. It’s the difference between having a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. People with talent often believe they know all they ever need to know, so therefore their mind is fixed. Those who believe there is always something more to learn, have a growth mindset.
Write It Forward
Posted on January 21, 2011, in Novel Writer's Toolkit, Write It forward and tagged A Time To Kill, Arts, Bob Mayer, Book Writing, business, Craft, Craft of Writing, fiction, Firm, John Grisham, Learning, Novel Writer's Toolkit, Stephen King, Warrior Writer, writer, Writer Resources, Writers Resources, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.