You did it. You got the words down. What now?
Now you have to close the deal. The film clip in this blog is from Glengarry Glen Ross, featuring Alec Baldwin (in an academy-awarded nominated role) giving his infamous ‘Coffee is for Closers’ speech in a David Mamet movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s enlightening (be warned: plenty of profanity).
How did you react? Most people react negatively to Baldwin. But he makes quite a few good points:
If they don’t want to hear what he has to say to him, they shouldn’t be in that room.
If they want to make money, they have to close.
If you want to succeed, follow:
In Write It Forward I teach the three steps of change: Moment of Enlightenment (Attention and Interest), make a Decision, and then have Sustained Action.
What do you want to do with your book? If you’re happy you wrote 80,000 words or so and you’re done with it, then you’ve closed. Congratulations. Go get a cup of tea. But if you want to publish successfully, then put down that cup of coffee. Coffee is for Closers.
Most aspiring writers aren’t closers. And most lament it’s because getting an agent is so hard, the odds are terrible, publishing is contracting, no one really reads, etc. etc. etc. Except here’s the deal: Agents, publishers, readers, all exist to consume books. They’re the given. They’re the lead. YOU have to be the closer.
You have to be the Closer with great material. By constantly improving your craft of writing. You have to Close by studying and following the business, by being a professional who wants to be employed in the world of writing. By following up every possible opportunity you get with determination and professionalism. By shutting up about the unfairness of it all and doing everything in your power to Close the deal.
I was amazing, stunned, when I heard that less than 10% of writers who were told to follow up a one-on-one at a conference by an agent actually sent in the follow up material. Essentially, those writers called a client who had expressed interest, talked about the interest, then hung up without closing. They got the Attention, had the Interest, then made the Decision to quit. To not take Action.
If you’re going to self-publish, you’ve just become an entrepreneur. You’re running a business in a very competitive environment. Yes, we all talk sweet, but they’ll cut ya!
Publishing is a very hard business. It’s tough to get published in any mode. Then it’s tough to succeed once you’ve been published. But people do it. They’re called Closers.
Write It Forward!
Yeah, you do sort of need one to be a writer contrary to what many who know me think of me. I’d like to say a little bit more about the mind for two reasons: one is that it is the primary tool you use when writing. Second, to write good characters, you need to understand the mind because it is the driving force behind your characters’ actions.
As a “machine” the brain is very inefficient. Physiological psychologists estimate that we use less than ten percent of our brain’s capabilities. (Rent the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life and see how he uses this in his story.) In many ways, that is what makes writing fiction so hard and draining: you are trying to expand the portion of your mind that you normally use and tap into your subconscious. A little bit of understanding of that other 90 or so percent is useful. It is commonly called the subconscious or the unconscious and plays a very large role in determining our character (key buzz word). Whether you agree with people such as Freud and Jung, it is useful to know a little bit about their theories. A fully rounded character has a complete brain and while they may only consciously be using ten percent, that other ninety percent affects their actions.
As a writer you will start having dreams about your story and your characters. That is your mind working even when you consciously aren’t. You will also run into “writer’s block” which I believe, when real, is your subconscious telling you to hold until you realize in your conscious mind something important with regard to the story. This is where the “write what you feel” school of creative writing comes in. I believe what they are focusing on is this very thing: the power of the subconscious (90% vs. 10%). It is more than feeling though; it is a large part of your brain and the better you can get in touch with it and use it, the better your writing will be.
There are many experiences a writer should have in order to understand both their own mind and the minds of other people. You have to remember that you are not the template for the rest of humanity. Hard as it may be for some to believe, there are differences between people.
I’ve sometimes said the best thing about a writers’ group is not necessarily the critiquing or networking, but rather watching the different ‘characters’ in the group and trying to figure out what is motivating them to act the way they do.
If you don’t understand yourself both mentally and emotionally, you might have a hard time understanding others. Therapy can be a very useful tool for a writer to dig into their own mind to figure out where they are coming from. Yes, if you’re a writer, you need help as I recommend in Write It Forward.
After listening to many authors speak of their creative processes I realize they are talking on two levels. There’s what they are saying and there is what they are meaning. The saying part often varies, but they almost always mean the same thing. For example, there is the issue of outlining. I know writers who swear by outlining and others who say they don’t outline at all, they just write. However, I’ve also found those who don’t outline tend to do a lot of rewriting, thus the first draft of their manuscript might be considered a very detailed outline. Those writers who do a lot of outlining tend to not want to do much rewriting. But in the final analysis, although the two methods seem very different, they are actually the same in creative essence.
Also remember that there are two sides to the brain. The right side is your creative part while the left is more analytical and logical– this is where the editor part of you resides. Sometimes you have to silence that editor while creating or else nothing will get done.
Are you left brain dominant or right brain dominant, or just plain nuts?
I’m still continuing posts for Nanowrimo, focused on craft, since it’s not over yet, is it?
Remember something about the art of writing: It is the only art form that is not sensual. I’m not saying you can write sensual material, but rather the way the art impacts your senses. 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 C-Span and he said the most important thing to do to become an author is to write a lot. That is one of the reasons so many people are participating in this month’s Nanowrimo. 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 and participating in Nanowrimo, 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 Write It Forward).
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. With self-publishing, I recommend having at least three books before putting much time and effort into marketing.
Publishing has changed drastically and there are new opportunities for writers to get their novels into the hands of their readers. Traditional publishing isn’t the only viable option for the 21st century author. Self-publishing is quickly becoming the new medium for mid-list authors, and new authors. Amanda Hocking self-published her way into a two-million dollar contract with St. Martins Press. Myself, Connie Brockway, Barry Eisler, LJ Sellers and JA Konrath have all either written ourselves out of NY contracts or turned down a NY contract and ventured out on our own and have been successful.
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.
Let’s get back to where I talked about people in other professions doing a work practicum. Besides writing novels and reading, the other advice I would give would be to attend conferences and workshops. It is a worthwhile investment of your time and money to go to workshops and conferences. Not just to learn, but also to network. Because of that, the first Write It Forward ‘short’ my publishing company released is How To Get The Most Out Of Your Time And Money At A Writer’s Conference.
A college student once interviewed me and she asked me what she could do to become a better writer. I replied with my usual “Write a lot,” then thought for a second, looking at this nineteen year old woman. Then I said: “Live a lot. Experience life, because that is what you are eventually going to be writing about.”
What things do you suggest writers do in order to help themselves become better writers?
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. (Three books in one: The Nanowrimo Survival Kit)
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.
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.
- Write a lot.
- Before writing a lot, be a voracious reader.
- 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.
- 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?