When it comes to passion in our writing, the same principles apply whether it’s achieving success on the creative side or the business side
I came out of my writing hole just 6 weeks ago. It was a dusty place, filled with a year and a half of writing two books. That’s 547.5 days of typing, flicking away stink bugs and peering through old farmhouse windows that stay up with a thick Robin Cook book placed under them (sometimes I alternated the titles). I had no writer pals. I belonged to no writer groups. I had no membership in any writer organizations. My characters had left me and I suddenly felt very alone. I despaired.
And so I joined the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and quickly began a whirlwind of social events that drove me into a vast and wonderful community of writers. I had no idea. Oh, what a camaraderie there is that exists between us. People like me! Out there. Writing. Editing. Agonizing. Learning. Wanting more! I had come home.
I soon realized how privileged I was to be sitting at my first writer’s conference attending the workshop “Writing the Breakout Novel” led by the author and literary agent, Donald Maass. Not one word did I want to miss. He fed us lobster and linguini as we furiously scribbled away his notes, chairs perched on tippy toes. He didn’t skimp on dessert either. His words dripped down to us in a rich cheesecake goo as A-HA! moments whizzed through our tired brains and we raced to get it all down. To build better stories. To move and inspire our readers to keep turning the pages. To just do it better.
A week later now (my brain deflated and running on regular), I realize how his words on the creative part of writing also apply to the business side of writing. Here are some major points I took away from Donald Maass and how we can apply them to both the Jeckyll and Hyde inside us – the hidden writer and the social writer.
ADD MORE STUFF:
IN WRITING: Focus on details. Find the details that bring the moment alive. Watch your scene in your mind as a movie and freeze frame it. See what is there that is not apparent in the action. See the small pieces your protagonist sees. In a recent workshop with Developmental Editor Kathryn Craft we looked at still photos of professional dancers and wrote a scene about it, using details pulled from that one still shot. We created a story from that one moment. Do the same in every scene for your reader.
IN BUSINESS: Freeze frame yourself in your writer life. Stop for a moment and see all the details of what you do. Your notes, your workspace, your numerous projects – blog, novel, short story, book review for an author friend. Appreciate it. See it. Pat yourself on the back. Then add more. Who else can you reach out to for support? Can you get up 30 minutes earlier each day to write? What is a challenge you face in your writing that you need some help on? See the joy in the details of your life as a writer. See the unique place you are at during this moment in time being a writer. Visualize where you want to go and add the “stuff” you need to get there.
CREATE RISING PERSONAL STAKES:
IN WRITING: Know WHAT your character wants to do and WHY they want to do it. Keep it true until their personal stakes change and their wants and needs change. Then the WANT and WHY change too. Then add more motivation and reasons for why they do something. It connects us to them through our humanity. We can relate. If we can’t relate, we won’t want to read on.
IN BUSINESS: Know what motivates you to write. Be confident you can become published and successful at it, even if you have to try and try again. What has been holding you back? Fear of never being published, fear of being a bad writer? In discovering WHAT you want to do (become published) and WHY you want to do it (personal satisfaction, money, fame, have a story to tell, etc) you set your personal stakes to succeed in the business of writing. Without personal stakes you can’t take your writing to the next level of selling you and your work.
MAKE MORE HAPPEN:
IN WRITING: Add sub plot players. Yes, you can have multiple plots going on at one time. Give your protagonist another challenge. And then another. More is better. Add stories to your secondary characters, don’t just make them two dimensional. Give them a quirk. It may reveal things about your protagonist too. If your protagonist has a problem – give them another problem and another. Rivet the reader. Make them want to turn those pages. It just makes it darn more interesting.
IN BUSINESS: Give yourself another challenge, and then another. Join a writing group, go to a writers conference, start a blog, sign up for a writing or social media class, join an online forum, reach out to other writers for advice. Give yourself one thing to do and you may find another, just like a subplot layer. I crawled out of my writing hole to connect with a writing group on a whim. Because I did I then attended my first writer conference, met fascinating people, joined a workshop series, sat in on Jonathan Maberry’s Writer’s Coffeehouse, pitched to agents for the first time and created a new network of writing peers. And it continues every day. In making one thing happen I made several sub plot layers spread out in far reaching tentacles taking me to new places. Just in the same way we take our readers to new places. What’s wonderful for us is that our story never ends. Our sub plot layers keep spreading to new and exciting shores where we can rivet ourselves every day.
I was paralyzed by fear of failing for 10 years to write the book inside me. In acknowledging your personal stakes you will find what motivates you each and every day. And then find more stakes to make it even more compelling to keep moving forward. Without personal stakes your writing career is as empty as the page you leave blank.
IN WRITING: Give us those high moments in your book. Make it so we want to follow your protagonist when their heart is broken, their loved one dies, their husband leaves them and their child is diagnosed with a fatal disease. Make us follow them because they are transformed or have done the opposite of their beliefs or have sacrificed the thing most precious to them. Is there an instance where their life changed in a moment where your reader says ‘Wow’?
IN BUSINESS: In putting ourselves ‘out there’ we can create those high moments in the business part of part writing. We validate ourselves and are validated by our peers. We are transformed. It can hurt at times but we can learn from that hurt and become better at what we do. If we don’t put ourselves out there our writing will stay just as words on that paper to us and no one else. In doing all the things I spoke here, we can improve our writing craft and start building our writer brand. As I’ve heard many times, we are selling US not just words on paper. Give yourself a ‘Wow’ moment.
And don’t forget to measure change…
Donald Maass told us to measure change in our characters. Flash forward one year to your Protagonist and have them return to the main setting. How do they feel now? Have their motivation and goals changed? How has their life changed since then? We can measure this change in ourselves too. How have we changed since writing our book? How have we changed since putting ourselves ‘out there’ in the social world of writing? Measure it. Acknowledge it. Reward yourself.
I also learned to take our characters to the point of failure and beyond. I think that’s good advice for us as authors to take in our hidden and social writing life. Whether it’s in the creative or business process of our writing, we can push through that failure to go beyond. And succeed.