I once attended a workshop where the presenter summarized many, many interviews she’d done with published authors. Every single person she’d interviewed had immediate, mid-term and long-term writing objectives; every interviewee wrote their goals down; every interviewee had a career plan of some sort—a step-by-step process for getting from point A to point B. They all had feedback mechanisms too—crit partners, beta readers, agents who made changes prior to submission, and so forth. I’m sure many people in the audience benefited from this guidance, and not a few will say it helped them move closer to publication.
The message was clear: If you want to write for publication, there are concrete, accessible steps you can take to make achieving that goal more probable.
Another message was equally clear, at least to me: I am not like all those people that woman interviewed, and yet I seem to be doing OK—I have eleven books under contract, I’ve gotten some good reviews, and I have some remuneration to show for my writing.
AND, I have no writing goals, no career plans, no business plans, no crit partners, and while my agent reads anything we’re going to submit, he has yet to provide substantive editorial feedback. I don’t have word or page quotas, I don’t use a crit partner, and I don’t write down any goals.
I get up in the morning and if I feel like writing, I write. Ninety-five percent of the time, I feel like writing; often on the days when I write, I get between 1500 and 2000 words—but by no means always.
There may well come a day, and soon, when my approach changes and becomes more structured. After all, if I can coast along freestyle and do well enough, maybe I’d do even better with a more traditional approach.
Except… I am on my third or fourth career here, and where other people might have outlines and quotas, I have some sense of how I work best. I work best with a minimum of structure and a maximum of self-determination. The instant I feel I have to write, or clean house, or show up at given time, a little of my passion dies. Often, that is just a cost of accomplishing what I want to do. Family law court does not start a case when I feel like presenting my side of it, my daughter had to show up at school every morning on time regardless of whether I felt like getting dressing and heading into our routine. I am an adult, I understand delayed gratification and self-discipline.
But if I had to offer advice for aspiring writers, it would be to listen to all the people who are trying earnestly to boost you along the road to publication. Consider what they have to say, try it on, see if it fits. Allow, though, for the possibility that you’re the person sitting in the back of the room, watching everybody else take notes, write down goals, and devise their career plans…
While you and I are instead writing down a lovely little 500-word scene that exquisitely captures the central turning point of our Work in Progress, and boosts the whole second half of our book into a bigger, more compelling story.
And maybe the next time you sit before your computer intending to list your goals, what you’ll get instead is the opening line for your next book, a line so sparkly with potential, you dare not take your eyes off it long enough to write down something as self-evident as the goal of turning it into your next WIP.
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