DRIVE – you won’t get far without it
There are lots of essential ingredients to achieving success in a fiction writing career.
Talent (or skill) is certainly key – but a gift for writing, alone, will not get you there.
Some may say “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Sure, connections are important – and part of building your career involves doing the work to build those connections and personal networks. But again, knowing the right people is not enough.
Others say you just need to have luck. Leaving your career up to chance is not a plan for success. I know of one successful writer who has been known to say, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
In other words, you need to have determination. Persistence. Patience. Faith.
In a word – DRIVE.
That drive is what motivates you to write every day. To finish every short story or novel you start. To submit every work for sale to a publisher who can buy it. To keep it submitted until it sells. (If that list looks familiar, see my previous post on Heinlein’s Rules).
Or, you can opt for the non-traditional route, and take the leap to publishing it yourself using tools like Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. All of these things require drive. (More on becoming a publisher in a future post.)
Drive also pushes a writer to improve his craft through learning and practice, and through accepting valid constructive criticism from trusted sources (your First Readers, and mentors who are further along in their careers than you are).
That takes humility.
How is my DRIVE translated to the written page? By setting goals and meeting them.
For example, two years ago, my goals involved maintaining a writing “streak.” It consisted of the following:
1) Every day (except Sundays) from October 1st, 2009 until mid-July 2010, I wrote a minimum of 500 words a day. Without ever missing. Not once. Not on Thanksgiving, nor Christmas, nor when I had strep throat and could barely sit up. I simply made it happen, without fail. Every day.
2) I also held myself to a weekly minimum word count of 3,500 words. This made up for my work-free Sundays to create a daily average of 500 on a weekly basis. I did not miss hitting this goal throughout my writing streak commitment.
3) In addition, I submitted at least one short story per week, every week, during that streak – to a pro-paying market. Many times, I submitted far more than a story per week. I also made dozens of novel queries in that time period (though my goal was specific to the short story subs).
By writing this volume of words, consistently, I formed good work habits (essential for a freelancer who answers to no one but himself), steadily increased my inventory, and became a better writer all the time via the age-old method of “practice makes perfect.”
And if you do the math, it’s pretty cool.
500 words a day, 313 days a year (that’s six days a week) = 156,500 words/yr.
An average genre novel runs from 60-100k words (say 75k for simplicity’s sake).
So, by writing 500 words a day (about a half hour’s work) – you can produce TWO NOVELS a year. And all this while working a full time day job.
I chose to end that streak after nearly ten months. It resulted in two novels and several short stories. That’s a good deal of marketable inventory and lots of great practice. And not bad for only an hour a day of work.
This year, I’ve been working hard on being a publisher, in addition to being a writer. That’s taken away from time I should have been writing, but I had to commit the time to launching the publishing business and getting the first few products off the ground. In the next few weeks, I will be back to putting words on paper.
I look forward very much to the day when I can just be writing fiction as my only job. Working from home 4-6 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, making six figures – yeah, that will be the life.
And that vision is part of what fuels my drive.