The Common Traits of the Successful Writer #Nanowrimo

It’s not normal to sit alone and write 100,000 words.  So let’s get that out of the way.  You aren’t normal.  You aren’t in the bell curve and you aren’t necessarily on the good side of the curve.  You’re cursed.  You write because you have to.  You will have to go the therapy.  Sorry.  That’s the reality of being a writer. It’s that simple.

If you desire to write a novel because you want to have a bestseller and make a bundle of money, my advice for you is to play the lottery; it will take much less time and your odds will be about the same, if not better, and I can guarantee that the work involved will be much less.  The publishing business makes little sense and it’s changing faster than ever before.  However, I do believe that the more you know, the greater your chances of success.  The vast majority of writers are flailing away at the craft and the business blindly.  Armed with knowledge, you greatly increase your ability to rise above the rest.

You write for you.  You write because you have a story in you that has to come out.  This is the core of the art of writing.  Pearl Buck said:

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:  a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.  To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.  Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create– so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him.  He must create, must pour out his creation.  By some strange, unknown, inward urgency, he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

I believe that passion, which fuels long-term perseverance to be the single most important factor I also believe that too much discussion on the topic of creativity can actually stifle the drive in some people.  They start thinking that they have to do and think exactly like everyone else in order to succeed and that is not true.  That is why I say that there are no absolutes, no hard and fast rules in writing.  Follow your path.

I have listened to many writers speak, read many books on writing, and while much of what they say is the same, there is often something that is very different.  Usually that different thing is part of their creative expression, the way they approach their writing.  However, on a core level, I think most creative people operate in a similar manner.

I see people who do #nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where they try to write a certain number of words each day, every day and I have two views of that:  it’s good they are getting words down.  But are they the type of writer who works that way?  I know writers who don’t write every day, but work in creative bursts.  They might not write for a week, then knock out 20,000 words in three days.  #nanowrimo doesn’t work for them.  Stephen King says he write 10 pages a day.  That’s great for him.  Does it work for you?

Additionally, that is what he says Does he actually do it?  Probably, but maybe not.  He’s the only one who knows the truth.  Most writers feel a subliminal degree of guilt over getting paid to sit at home and create stories.  So sometimes we says things to make it more apparent that we ‘work’.  Because it’s hard to explain how hard it is to simply be sitting still, doing nothing, while we develop blinding headaches trying to work our way through our plot while remaining true to our characters.  So we use things like word count and page count instead, even if they aren’t true.

Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer

When I discuss how to write a novel in The Novel Writers Toolkit, I talk a lot about the craft of novel writing.  The art is woven into the craft with deeper insights and when you take craft and twist it by breaking rules.  But the first rule of rule breaking is to know the rule.  Thus we must learn craft before we look to art.

Craft is the intellectual aspect of writing.  The art is the emotional aspect.  A great writer engages both the reader’s thoughts and emotions, thus being both a good craftsmen and a good artist.

One of the paradoxes of writing, and something to keep in mind when listening to people talk about writing:  They present techniques, ideas and formats that are the “accepted” way of doing things; yet the “accepted” way makes you the same as everyone else who can read a writing book and follow instructions, and your work has to stand out from everyone else’s.  So how do you do that?  How do you do things the “right” way yet be different?

Everything is a template; do not allow anything to stifle your creativity.  Remember the paradox.  The best analogy I can come up with is that if you were a painter I am telling you about the paint and the canvas and lighting and perspective, but ultimately you are the one who has to decide what you are going to paint and how to paint it.

Another thing is to understand the techniques and methods, and then use your brilliance to figure out a way to change the technique or method to overcome problems and roadblocks.  To be original– an artist– with something that’s already been done.  Also to mix techniques and methods in innovative ways.

The Basics

  1. Write a lot.
  2. Before writing a lot, be a voracious reader.
  3. I also am a big fan of watching a lot of movies and TV specials and series.  There are writers who dismiss the television, but there are great writers putting out excellent product in that medium.  And we all can learn from any artistic medium.  Watching a different medium can also allow you to see new ways of looking at your writing.
  4. Learn the proper way to do business things in the world of publishing such as having a strategic plan for your career, which is covered under my Write It Forward program and book.

How do you approach writing?  Do you do a daily word count like Nanowrimo or do you write in bursts?  Do you think watching TV is good or bad for you as a writer?

Can you say what your book is about in 25 words or less? The Write It Forward Workshop: Conflict and Idea, we’ll discuss ways to find and state your original idea so that you can stay on course while writing and revising your book. Conflict drives your story and must escalate throughout your entire novel. One of the techniques we will use in this workshop is the Conflict Box. The Conflict Box is a way of diagraming conflict and allows you to focus on the protagonist, antagonist, their goals and finding out if you have the necessary conflict. The course will begin on 1 February and is done on-line in a Yahoo Loop email delivery system so you can read and work on lessons when its convenient for you. The course runs for one month and costs $50.00. For more details and to sign up go to the Cool Gus Website.

About Bob Mayer

West Point Graduate, former Green Beret and NY Times bestselling author Bob Mayer has had over 50 books published. He has sold over five million books, and is in demand as a team-building, life-changing, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins concept. He's been on bestseller lists in thriller, science fiction, suspense, action, war, historical fiction and is the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll. Born in the Bronx, Bob attended West Point and earned a BA in psychology with honors and then served as an Infantry platoon leader, a battalion scout platoon leader, and a brigade recon platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division. He joined Special Forces and commanded a Green Beret A Team. He served as the operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and with Special Operations Command (Special Projects) in Hawaii. Later he taught at the Special Forces Qualification Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, the course which trains new Green Berets. He lived in Korea where he earned a Black Belt in Martial Arts. He's earned a Masters Degree in Education.

Posted on November 19, 2012, in Write It forward and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I like to use Nano to shake myself up a little. I’m usually a writer who takes her time and writes in bursts and I’ve managed to be fairly productive that way, but Nano is a great chance to try something different and challenge myself to shake things up. So this November I’m 53,000 words into my goal of 100k. It’s a little scary to write without editing, but I think in the end I’ll have words that I’ll be able to mold into something good. We’ll find out!

    There is a lot of really good writing happening in TV these days. I pay a lot of attention when I’m watching shows like Leverage or How I Met Your Mother or Supernatural to see how they are structuring the story. The characters are very strong too and I try to figure out what makes me like a particular character.

  2. I generally write a little bit every day, getting up early to do it before other people start making noise and disrupting my ability to see the logic I’m trying to follow. My fastest story was 8K words in 3 days, a fanfic I wrote for a TV series I am particularly fond of, so that tells you how I feel about TV. If it’s well-written it’s definitely a good source of images and examples. I use my fanfics to spur on my novels, by not writing another chapter in one before I put down another 1K words in the other. I don’t do anything NaNo since I generally don’t write that fast, and little time to write on any given day.

  3. Thanks, Bob. As always your posts are very informative. I set daily goals and I tend to set them high. I come in close most days. I believe if I didn’t set my goals as high as I do I wouldn’t hit what I think is a reasonable number of words a day. My critique partners say I’m nuts. I say I’m driven. (Okay, I’m a little nuts, but that was established a long time ago!)

  4. This is my fifth time to write 100K in 30 days. Right now I’m at 70k on day 19, so I’m definitely going to make it again. The last few books were ok, but not good enough to actually sell. I can accept that because I’m sure that, this time, I’m be writing the next #1 bestseller. Positive. And about that therapy… I know that the definition is insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and keep expecting a different outcome. I know that but I’m sure that it doesn’t apply to me. Positive.

  5. I’d tried daily goals, after reading SK, rarely met them. Always felt crappy. Never inspired to do Nano. I don’t flow like that. Finally I got that at the age of 44 I don’t lack discipline, I needed to remove stressors.
    I now give myself 5 hours/5 days a week for drafting. Got a pt job I really like to take pressure off of publishing before I have enough books ready and most importantly gave myself permission to read and watch as much tv and movies as I’m inspired to.
    If I’m ‘stuck’ with writing I know I need more ‘input’ so I will increase me reading or viewing for a day or two. Always works.
    Gotta trust your own way of moving the creativity thru.
    As always, thanks for the advice. Susette

  6. Bob, I agree on shows/movies being resources as well in our writing to show us what works and what doesn’t in dialogue, action, plot. Author James Scott Bell emphasizes this as well. I don’t write every day either. When I don’t I do read though. Bottom line is that everyone is different and no one path is right or not – it’s whatever works for you to keep moving forward in your writing. And it’s not something set in stone. We may need to change up our writing habits to keep finding motivations and “the words.”

  7. I write in bursts and kind of felt guilty about it. But now I don’t. And yes, I watch some television. Big movie fan and find movies very inspiring. Once again a great post.

  8. When I’m writing rough draft, I make a time and place I have to sit and write every day, for ten minutes minimum. If there’s nothing happening, I usually fall asleep on my hand and leave it at that. But, more often than not, the pen races away from me and I end up writing for a couple of hours! :-)

  9. I’m one of those don’t write everyday folks, but it’s not unusual for me to write in 10K word spurts within a day or two or did before my stroke…now, it’s more like 4K words in a spurt but I’m doing it one handed. The main problem is my mind still my mind creates at 120 wpm and my hand types 20 wpm. My brain speed used to match almost perfectly with my typing skills.

    I have never participated in nanowrimo because I can usually knock out a 50K word novel in 3 weeks…it’s the editing and rewrites that take me three times as long. Once I do my character sketches, plotting, and detailed outline it’s pretty basic.

  10. Yes, do what works for YOU, period. Am so tired of all the “How-Tos” out there, in that they say you HAVE to do this and that. Great post, Bob!

  11. I’m using NaNoWriMo to teach me to lead a balanced writing life that includes my job my family and friends and the idea formulation. I want to consistently create not just pump out words. The word count is a training tool for me.

  12. Great post, thank you! I am not part of NaNoWriMo as I’m always late to the ball game. I’ve just launched a new blog The Write Travel Blog as a place to showcase my travel writing. I’ve just found your blog and am looking forward to learning, oh so, much more about this writing life! :)

  13. Thanks Bob!

    I can’t do the “words per day” thing. Words fall out of my head and onto the page in an outpour that is beyond my control. When a story is happening for me, I wake up, without the prompting of an alarm, at three in the morning, scurry to my computer and dump hundreds of words into a first draft before I go off to earn a paycheque.

    Once the first draft is finished, and has had a few weeks to settle, then comes the goal setting. I must force myself to do a set minimum number of pages to be reworked/edited/rewritten.

    As usual, your coaching is invaluable.

  14. Pretty solid stuff. I’d amend #3 and say “there’s a handful of writers creating good content in that medium

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