Monday, December 01, 2008


If you're a writer, there are many hurdles to overcome.

You have to commit to writing whenever you can, and then bludgeoning that prose into the best it can be.

Then you have to diligently search for an agent, and for a publisher (or several agents and publishers, as few writers stick with one.)

You must seek out new markets while maintaining relationships with old ones.

You have to keep in touch with the public through online social networks and face-to-face.

You must battle criticism, self-doubt, and apathy, and stay current with industry happenings.

And all the while, your only true boss is you.

So unless you have a great deal of self-control and determination, you will undoubtedly slack off once and a while.

A few weeks probably won't hurt. A few months won't help. A year or longer and you'll be rebuilding your career from the ground up.

Not an easy task for writers. There are so many failures for so few successes, and not many ways to truly measure the impact of your efforts. This means that success or failure is largely arbitrary, based on your personal goals, And those goals can change. This can result in lesser efforts, which almost always yield lesser results.

So how do you maintain the discipline required to succeed? Especially when success seems so elusive?

1. Set Goals. The only goals worth setting are those you have control over. Getting published or becoming a bestseller are not goals. Those are dreams. Goals are sending out ten queries in December and writing five pages a day. These are doable, and the first step to keeping on track.

2. Make Time. All the goals in the world won't mean anything unless your prioritize them. That will probably mean sacrificing other things to devote yourself to your goals.

3. Regiment. Any long-term goal requires determination, implementation, and repetition. We don't have to force ourselves to do things we love. And while we may love some aspects of writing, there are certainly things we don't enjoy. You are your own boss, and your boss has to be a hard-ass.

4. Reward. The more realistic goals you make and shoot for, the more productive you'll become. When you do reach a goal, celebrate by rewarding yourself. It might be with something simple, like a cup of coffee when you finish two pages, or something big, like a trip to Paris when you finish the book. But all work and no play is a sure way to burn out.

5. Heal. You'll have setbacks, guaranteed. And these setbacks may make you want to ditch your goals, your regimen, and the whole silly business. There are many ways to overcome adversity, such as ignoring it, working through it, commiserating with friends, mourning, reflecting, and reinventing yourself. But, ultimately, the only thing that heals wounds is time, so forgive yourself if it takes a while to get back on the horse. And if you never do get back on, this wasn't the career for you in the first place.

If you choose to write (or if writing chose you) then you have to be relentless in the pursuit of your goals. If you settle for less, your expectations will be met. Demand more from yourself.

The winners are the ones who never gave up. Be a winner.

Now get back to work.


Anonymous said...

I'll drink to that.

It's all of the lessons I learned from NaNoWriMo in a neat ordered list.

Bill Barnett said...

Thank you, Joe. This is exactly what I needed to hear today!

Jake Nantz said...

I still love, "the word for a writer who never gives up? Published."

Brian Crawford said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Joe. I recently dove into the second draft of my book and I'm quickly realizing that the fun part is over.

Anonymous said...

An absolutely correct list! Stuff I know but keep forgetting to do - so a very good reminder. Thank you!!

T. M. Hunter said...

Definitely good stuff...most of which I knew before. :-)

Unfortunately, my reward for hitting my November goal of 50K words and completion of my NaNo novel is trying to relax for a bit and let my shoulder heal...

Picks by Pat said...


Thank you for showing me the way.


Mary Duncan said...

Thanks, Joe. I've just finished the first draft of my third novel. My husband tells me I'm in a better mood now, and that my stress is self-induced.

Well, of course it is! I'm fairly confident that manuscripts don't write themselves, and completing my first trilogy was a big deal for me. I'm pleased with the results and now, after a bit of celebrating, letting some time elapse, then diving in for the rewrites, it'll be ready for the world to read.

For most, he discipline is to keep going. For me, it's learning when to stop.

Joan Reeves said...

Like I always tell people when I "speechify" - every no is a down payment on a yes.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Joe. Of course, I was reading it during my designated writing time. :) So, you caught me! Now I'm back to work.

Sara N said...

Hi Joe,

I'm sorry for leaving a comment on your blog, but I haven't been able to get through using the email address I have for you. Can you please contact me at snielsen at stchlibrary dot org to discuss the event in St. Charles, MO on January 16? We're really looking forward to it - I just have a couple of questions for you. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Yes, setting goals like you're saying is precisely what worked for me. Now when I hit a roadbump in my (still part-time) writing career, or get frustrated that I still have the day job, I remind myself that when I was getting started with it 8 or 9 years ago, I'd have killed to be where I am now: 4 books published by a major publisher in my field; contracts for two more already signed; publishers and editors approaching me to ask for work.

I'm not where I want to be yet -- but I know I won't get there by dreaming about it. I CAN get there, on the other hand, one deliberate step at a time.

Jean said...



Kim Smith said...

Thanks for the kick in the pants. I have gotten totally unruly in my organizational skills, and in my planning. Gonna plant this list in my memory.

Unknown said...

As rule!

Happy holidays, Joe.

Christina Katz

Unknown said...

Thank you for this.