Okay, maybe the title sounds a little ‘off’, considering the usual tone of this blog, but I spent the last week researching SEO (search engine optimization). Basically, it’s all about how you can make your website show up higher on the search pages. I may have slipped, fallen in, and drowned in the endless sea of articles about SEO. If that’s the case… well, I’m not sure who’s writing this article.
Anyway, I really did want to write about being an author and a successful one, at that. Of course, ‘successful’ is a relative term. If you’re thinking it’s synonymous with ‘multi-million dollar book contract’… you’re plumb out of luck. As far as this article (and you, I hope) are concerned, ‘successful’ means writing a book that people actually want to read. After all, if you’re in it for the money, novels are NOT the way to go. If you’re writing novels and you’re reading this blog looking for insights, you’re probably writing them because you love writing them.
Of course, you probably need a lot more than just eight things. These eight things, though, are the ones I think no writer can get along without. Regardless of what genre you’re writing or how you’re planning to publish, you’ll need them. They’re just not optional.
1. Pen. You gotta write with something! Sure, it doesn’t actually have to be a pen. It can be a computer, a typewriter, a pencil, or you can even dictate with a recorder and have someone else type it up. The point is, you need the tools of the trade. (And pens are the easiest to find in stores. Plus, if you lose things all the time, like some people I could mention, pens are cheap. Ever lost a typewriter?)
2. Imagination. This… ought to be obvious. For your sake, I really hope it is. All writers need imagination, not just novelists. Imagination is why people are still writing books, instead of having computers do it for them. Fortunately for all of us, this doesn’t mean you have to come up with 100% original content. It means than you have to tinge every story with your own special brand of creativity. As far as the bottom line of the plot goes, most books are follow a specific set of patterns. It’s the little differences that make it unique, the differences that the writer brings to the story. Everyone’s imagination is unique and no one else has one like it. (In the case of some of us, that’s probably a good thing.)
3. Books. Some people will disagree with me here, but books are one of the most important tools in a writer’s box of tricks. If you’re writing, you’d better have stacks of books. Piles of books falling over themselves, waiting to be read, having been read, probably needing to be reread. Writing is a product of the imagination; books are where the imagination goes to work out. As a writer, your imagination should be trim and fit and books are the best way to keep it in shape.
4. Determination. Here’s the tough part. Sticking with a book can be tough and every writer knows it. Even if you can get through the first draft with ease, the editing probably sticks you up something awful. A book is one of the most labor intensive projects I know of, mentally speaking. Going over the same sentences, time and again, to get them perfect, saying the same thing with different words… it can wear you out. Even writing it in the first place can be hard. Running up against a lack of inspiration, a scene where something is ‘just not right’, or even just getting bored (we professionals call it ‘disinterested’; it sounds better) can shoot your book down in flames. The key? Determination. Apply stubbornness and get that next word written down. Then the next one. And the next one. Then stubbornly edit. That book won’t beat you, because getting thrashed by a pile of paper would be pretty humiliating, wouldn’t it? There are few arenas where the value of mule-headed persistence is as obvious as in writing.
5. Readers. Yup, you’re going to need them, long before you finish that book, and there’s no two ways about it. Unless you’re a writer of unparallelled genius, you need at least one person to read your book between edits. Writing a book is a lot like driving an Indie 500; you go around and around and around and around and around and… you get the idea. By the time you hit the 50th lap, you know that story better than the back of your hand, which you’ve probably spent a massive amount of time staring at as you write. Unfortunately, knowing it that well doesn’t equate to knowing where its problems are. Knowing a story that well means you know what you were trying to say at any given point in the story. What the words are actually saying is blurred by what you know they should say. This is where your reader comes in. Beta readers usually read the book after the story’s finished, but before edits, etc. I prefer what I call ‘alpha readers’. These are people who read as you write, helping to keep the story on track. Regardless of when your helpful readers read your book, listen to their advice. They can see mistakes that you’re blind to.
6. Red Ink. I’m going to keep this one short, because it should already be drummed into you by every other ‘how to’ article and author interview out there. ‘Red ink’ means editing. And you’d better do it. There is no trap so dangerous as thinking that your book has reached ‘perfection’. The best authors always see their books as a work in progress, even if they’ve stopped working and published. There is ALWAYS room for improvement. If someone points out an error or a place that ‘could sound better’, thank them graciously and improve it.
7. Time. You’re going to need a lot of it. Even if you can write a thousand words an hour, twenty-four hours a day, it’s going to take you a week to write the first draft. And let’s face it, what writer can slam out 24,000 words a day? 500 to a 1,000 a day is a far more realistic goal. And that’s not counting editing. And researching. And waiting for feedback from your beta readers. And looking for an agent afterwards. Of course, the massive amounts of time needed shouldn’t discourage you. Carve out 30 minutes in your day, an hour, two hours. Putting together all the minutes makes the days spent working on your book. Just don’t go into it expecting you’ll be a published, famous author this time next year.
8. Wisdom. Hoo boy, that’s a good one, isn’t it? Wisdom. Hahahahahaha. Erm, scuse me. It takes a while to develop this one. As far as writers are concerned wisdom means knowing what’s important and what’s not. What needs writing and what doesn’t. What needs editing and what doesn’t. Which reviews should be taken seriously and which shouldn’t. For the most part, the wisdom to know all these things has to be gained through experience. It’s all about watching your writing and your books, listening to what people have to say about them. It’s about keeping track of what works for when you write, and even just knowing which words sound good and which ones sound pompous or forced. Eventually, you’ll be able to apply wisdom regularly, almost like you’ve been doing it your whole life. Until then? The best thing to do is to always assume you can improve your writing.