DECIDE. COMMIT. SUCCEED.
Two weeks ago, we talked about how the first word of the Beachbody motto 'DECIDE' applies to writers. This week we move onto word number 2.
There are several levels of commitment you will need on your way to publication and a career as a writer.
One level of commitment is to the lifestyle. This doesn't have to be the first thing you commit to. But if you want to be a career writer, then it will be the thing you need to commit to the longest.
When I say lifestyle, I'm not talking about the romaticised notion of the beret-wearing, chain-smoking, alcohol-imbibing, free-loving, narcotic-using writer. I'm talking about the changes and sacrifices that you'll need in your life to ensure that the books keep coming.
In this day and age, one of the first things you need to commit is a computer with a word processor. In the developed world, most of us have access to this. But unless you're going to do the majority of your first-drafting and editing long-hand, you'll probably want your own dedicated machine. You wouldn't want to suddenly realise that the reason John hates Greg is because he found out that he slept with Nancy only to not be able to write because your Dad is on his 57th consecutive round of Solitaire and trying to set a Guinness World Record.
You'll also want a writing space. Ideally, this would be a dedicated writing space where you never do anything other than writing. And according to Stephen King, it will ideally have a door. If you're working and have the disposable income, you can buy yourself a desk, and decorate the area so it inspires you. But even if you're not working or don't have that sort of money, you need a place that you can be comfortable to work. It may be sitting on the floor with your back against the bed and the laptop on a tiny folding breakfast-in-bed tray. It may be in the corner booth at Starbucks. And if your dayjob/other life makes you move around a lot, you'll just have to make that effort to secure a writing space every time you arrive in a new locale.
The writing life will also change your social life. First you need to accept that your friends are just not going to get it sometimes. What do you mean you're going to stay home and right instead of the weekend beach trip? Explain to your close friends that it's important to you, and that it's nothing personal. They'll get that and support you. As for Facebook friends/acquaintances just stop worrying about them judging you for not 'being at every catfight'. (Bajan saying to mean that you're always in everything.) If you've already declared your intentions to the world, just tell them you're writing. If you haven't, make up some excuse.
You also need to invest in the long-term. Some of that will be financial, some of that won't. You may want to go to conferences. Be sure to go to one that's appropriate for you. If you're just starting out maybe you want one with a lot of feedback opps. If you've got a polished manuscript, maybe you want one where you can pitch agents/editors. Look out for writing groups in your area. If there aren't any, you can find lots of groups online. Buy craft books. I think every writer should read a few of these. At a bare minimum, you should read a general one, and one for your genre. You can also try ones on specific elements like Plot, Setting, Characters, Dialogue, etc.
The current book
The first thing I committed to, even before I made the decision to go for publication, was the book I was writing at the time, MS 1. I guesstimate that it takes me between 50 and 100 hours to write a book, and I'm considered fast. So let's say it takes everybody 100 hours. At an hour a day, that's 100 days or a little over 3 months. At 8 hours a day with weekends off, that's almost 3 weeks. To find and use that amount of time is definitely a commitment.
The second thing is that there is a point at which it all goes to mush. Maybe nothing actually changed, but the rose-coloured glasses come off, and suddenly the manuscript looks like crap. Plotters may get frustrated with characters or plots not going where they're supposed to. Pantsers may have difficulty figuring out where to go next. You question the worth of the story idea, the strength of the voice, the uniqueness of the plot, the likeability of the character... Maybe there's also a Shiny New Idea in your mind that you'd kind of like to get written as well.
No book is as good as it could be in it's first draft. As you go on, the frist drafts get better, to be sure. But they get better on the backs of all the ones that were worse. On top of which, you really can't be trusted to be objective mid-book. So you may actually be writing the best thing since the Odyssey and still be tempted to choke yourself to death on the horrible manuscript. It doesn't have to be all bad or all good either. If you commit to finishing it and then take a couple of weeks or months away from it, and then read it with fresh eyes, you'll be sure to see the merits you originally saw in the story. And you'll see what doesn't work so you can change it.
That brings us to editing. Someone once said, 'Writing is rewriting.' If you think the first draft process is long, that's just the tip of the iceberg. After that's finished, you still have to re-read. Then you'll want to polish up the plot. Then maybe make the emotional bits more emotional. Or make your characters stand out. Take the setting up to the right level of vivid. Nail the voice. Edit for grammar. Line edits for the perfect words and phrasing. And so on. And that's before you find an agent and go through another round(s) of edits, and then do the same all over with an editor.
If you do sell this book, you'll be working on it for the next 2 years, editing, copyediting, looking at titles, looking at cover art, marketing. And it doesn't really ever stop. You will be committed to that book for as long as you live, and maybe even after you die.
THE NEXT BOOK
If you have more than one book you want to turn out, or you're aiming for a career as a writer, then you also need to commit to the next book. But Claire, shouldn't you be concentrating on this book? Of course, but that doesn't let you off the hook for the next one.
Keep your eyes open. I don't believe that ideas come out of a vacuum. I think that they come from a writer's interaction with the world. So when you see a person dressed as a zombie while standing in the cheesecake line and think, 'Aha! What if cheesecake turned people into zombies?!?!' don't dismiss it because you're working on something right now. File it away in your brain or a notebook or a computer file. It might just be perfect for your next book.
Your commitment to the next book also requires professional behaviour. The publishing industry is small to the point of being incestuous. You've got 6 (or so) major publishers in America. Editor 1 is now at Company B, but she started at Company A. She's friends with Editor 2 who worked with her at Company A, but went on to Company C, and is now at Company D. Editor 3 used to work at Company B, but is now at Company E. And Editor 4 is now at Company F, but has worked everywhere but Company A. (How is that not exactly like 16th century European Royal families?)
So just because Company B didn't sign your 2nd book, and your contract for the first has been fulfilled, don't think that gives you the right to act like a shark with a toothache. Remember that everybody knows everybody, and Hollywood-style, you may never work in this town again.
Are there any other writing commitments you think you should make?
Come back next week to read about the final word of the motto: SUCCESS.
(PS. You guys are so awesome! Thank you for all the support on Monday's Depression post. It was kind of hilarious to see apologies for not entering the Kindle contest. Next time around, I'll give lots of notice. Also welcome aboard Matthew, and thanks to Marsha for recommending me. I'm feeling a little better today as well- fighting my way up. :) )