Blogger: Mary Keeley
Produce marketable, well-crafted books that readers devour and remember long after they turn the last page. This is the goal of any committed writer. But the path to that goal is almost always bumpy and loaded with detours and potholes. You’ll need to replenish these five traits often in order to reach your goal, not only for your first publishing contract, but also throughout your career.
When you’re weary, overwhelmed, or discouraged, your best action could be to step away from your work for a short time. Do something to clear your head and recharge your resolve. Get outside and take in the big sky and creation. God is awesome. He surely can be trusted with regard to your career. Watch an inspiring movie or read a biography about a real person who didn’t let obstacles deter him or her from reaching a goal. The beauty of true stories is that a realistic goal is within any person’s grasp if they keep on doing the hard work and trust God’s timing.
“’Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don’t succeed,
try, try, try again.”
E. Hickson, a British educational writer, popularized this proverb originated by Thomas H. Palmer, another educator. Both of them wanted to instill persistence in students. No matter how many times you’ve heard this before, repeated rejections can bruise your determination if you let them. This is the time when you need to remind yourself that Jack London received hundreds of rejections before Call of the Wild was published. Davis Bunn wrote seven books in nine years before The Presence was published. For writers, every rejection is a learning opportunity for improvement. Each exercise of persistence equals a steppingstone toward future success. Respond to setbacks this way and you’ll find it easier to persist.
You need to have a passion for what you are writing if it’s going to be at its best. Readers will know if that ingredient is missing from your work. Are you passionate about your current WIP? Is your author brand a perfect fit for your passion, or has your passion for stories or topics evolved since you first started writing?
A career as a writer is a life-long learning process. Authors can never sit back and think they’ve learned all there is to know. Never think you’ve arrived. There is no such thing in this business. Whether learning is a natural pleasure or not, you’ll benefit by embracing the reality and win the love-hate relationship with Always-something-new-to-learn. Find ways to look forward to the process of improving your craft or doing tedious research or staying up to date on publishing trends. Give yourself little rewards along the way. Surround yourself with a comfortable environment when you read that craft book or do online research. Whatever contributes to increasing your enjoyment of learning.
Jim Thorpe was once viewed as the greatest athlete of the half-century for his achievements in the 1912 Olympics, followed by professional football and basketball careers. But he didn’t do so well in his personal life. The writing and business sides of your career can become consuming, partly because writers love to write and feel called to this career and partly because they possess the first three of these traits. If you are feeling internal pressure or the pressure to compete with other writers for the next contract, it’s time to do a check of your priorities. Our goals can become idols, and Scripture has a lot to say about that. Check yourself periodically to make sure your life is in balance.
Which of the 5 traits are you struggling with right now? What do you do to check and recharge your focus? Your comments may be the encouragement another writer needs today.
Successful writers possess these five traits. Click to Tweet.
What do writers need in order to reach their publishing goals? These 5 traits. Click to Tweet.
Great list, Mary. May I add one more trait?
* It’s PATIENCE. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing – “Just sit there, don’t do something!”
* “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”: is a good example (and Richard Bach documented its development quite well). He wrote two parts of the story…and then had no idea where to take it, so he just left it alone until he knew, until the ‘little voice’ that gave him the beginning deigned to supply him with the third bit. There was more he knew he needed to say, but it could stand alone as a triptych.
* This was in 1970, and the book became a roaring success. (Bach’s life was less so, giving truth to the old saw “Be careful of that for which you wish, that it may be granted you.”)
* Fast-forward to 2012, when the 76-year-old Bach is nearly killed in an aeroplane crash (he hit powerlines, something I once did!). His survival was an almost textbook example of EMS doing everything right. And his survival, with an attendant near-death experience, gave him the fourth and final part to “Jonathan”.
* “Jonathan” is a gem of a story, less than 10,000 words as originally released, but each word matters. It’s at the same time light and deep, funny and urgently vital. Had Bach chosen to force or contrive the ending, it would never have had that quality of being exactly that which needed to be said; no more, no less.
* As God has designed the speed at which a river reaches the sea, so has He set a pace for your story to be discovered in your soul, because there are things along the way He’d like to show you.
Love your last paragraph, Andrew! It’s a great reminder.
*Working on God’s timetable instead of my own can be a challenge for people like me who worked for years in a hard-charging, deadline-driven career. Action, not patience, was considered the virtue.
Point taken, Andrew. I’ve always viewed patience as an element of perseverance, but maybe it warrants separate billing.
Perseverance (mixed with some patience) is the struggle right now. Waiting to see if I hear back from the people I pitched to at a conference. Also ready to leave my book on a shelf and get some time and space away from it before querying agents. The book proposal took a lot of emotional energy and reflection, so I need to recharge before I have to finish writing the full manuscript!
Becky, be heartened. Taking time away from a manuscript actually can be a productive step in persevering toward your publishing goal.
And I totally missed your question, Mary, about the trait with which I struggle.
* Perhaps it wasn’t missed but subconsciously set aside, because I have fared poorly with something that underlies these traits – motivation.
* Not that I don’t want to write, but it’s just so physically hard to do so now. Maintaining a blogging ‘correspondence’ is the only social contact I have (it is also my ministry), and it has to come first for reasons of mental health. But when that’s done (and it is diminished) there is simply nothing left to give to a story. Sometimes not even the energy to read.
* And so, “What’s the point?” Why try to maintain any progress on a WIP when the chances of finishing it, much less attracting an agent and going through the editing process if it’s picked up, are a hill I can no longer climb?
* The answer eluded me for a long time, but I think I have it now. God is the Author of my stories; I am merely the Scribe and First Reader. I will get as far as He equips me to get, and the meanings in the words I write are His lessons for me; and when I can’t write any more forever, school’s out.
What’s the point? Your WIP, whether you actually finish it or not, is a part of you that you will leave for those who love you. So not only are you ministering to your blog followers, but your work will be a gift to those closest to you. And yes, lessons God has for you throughout the writing of it. Thrice blessed.
Mary, I LOVE the way you put this!
Janet Ann Collins
I agree, Mary. Andrew’s messages here and on his blog are inspiring, so he’s touching lives right now.
Andrew, your words bring tears to my eyes… this comment and the one above, too. Two things:
“As God has designed the speed at which a river reaches the sea, so has He set a pace for your story to be discovered in your soul, because there are things along the way He’d like to show you.”
“God is the Author of my stories; I am merely the Scribe and First Reader. I will get as far as He equips me to get, and the meanings in the words I write are His lessons for me; and when I can’t write any more forever, school’s out.”
I’m going to copy both and keep them with me forever. I have no words to express my gratitude. I’ve been through a very rough three years in my personal life: nothing like what you go through, though. But this gives a whole new perspective on the story I’m trying to write these days–which, incidentally springs from the last three years of turbulence. If I hadn’t been through those, I might never have got to this point. So yes, God is definitely the Author of all our stories. And we only get as far as He equips us. You are such a wonderful writer, and a wonderful person.
Zehra, words fail me here, except to say that I am honoured beyond measure, that my words can help you. Thank you so much for this, and you are in my prayers.
I am on a short vacation with my husband. We were walking out the door and I reached for my laptop. And didn’t. So much for that to-do vacation writing list. Thanks for the affirmation, Mary. Balance!
Shirley, enjoy your time away with your husband, unplugged!
Balance, yes, I think I’ll always struggle here. My blog post this week was on “more.” Writing could easily consume my life, and maybe it has from time to time. 🙂 I’ve been walking each morning with one daughter. She brought her phone this morning, listening to music. “One step closer” spurted out of her phone. She laughed and said, “That’s what I keep thinking as we walk … one step closer to home.” I laughed because I’d been thinking about how I would respond to your post. One step closer. I won’t always have my daughters with me, so I need to specialize in balance. I needed to be in the moment with her instead of wondering what I’d write. Balance is frustrating. But another thing I’ve learned is to go easier on myself. We never know where we’ll be or when inspiration will hit us. It’ll probably never be timely. But just keep trying to do the right thing and trust God for the rest. I pray these days of learning are hopefully preparing me for when my girls do leave home and maybe I’ll have more time on my hands to write. I’m continually taking one step closer. There are many things I love to do, and I don’t want to have to feel guilty for any of it. There are things I don’t like to do, like the dishes, and I persist, so I don’t have to feel guilty for it and I don’t panic over a dirty house. Go easy on yourself, Shelli. You’ll do your best, there’ll be times when you don’t do your best … it’ll be okay. I’m learning more and more that God truly has me. Knowing that is one thing, and resting in it is another. 🙂 I want my heart to be in a place of rest while I do the work in all aspects of my life. And even if I’m never 100% accomplished in anything–mother, writer, homemaker, wife, friend–I pray God uses me along the way. And I’ve always said how I love writing for the Christian market because it’s a beautiful chance to walk with God and weave Him into everything, my stories, my heart. Writing is walking with God.
Writing is walking with God and a chance to take others on the stroll with you. YES! You nailed it, Shelli.
Good advice, Shelli. There are seasons for everything, and though this might not be a season for dedicated writing, you still can be reading books on craft, keeping up on the industry, and growing a following of readers who are interested in what you want to write. It’s all good.
Passion would be the trait I struggle with the least and perseverance is next in line. The characters in my current WIP never get tiresome no matter how long I’ve plugged away at it.
*Balance is my biggest struggle. I feel a lot of internal pressure to finish my story and build a platform, yet I’ve often wondered if this goal has become my idol. I do suffer from guilt if I write too much. I have to keep reminding myself this story is not about me.
Yes, Lara, the internal pressure can battle against balance, especially when passion and perseverance are strong traits. Even more so for Type-A personalities. When I begin to feel guilty for working too many hours, I recognize that it’s the Holy Spirit nudging, helping, me to maintain balance. Could it be the same for you?
I believe so, Mary. God’s gentle reminders.?
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
For me, perseverance is waning, just a wee bit. Not like, “ohhh, that is IT, I am done”. I don’t speak “quit”. Yes, there are things I’ve walked away from for reasons of personal safety, but I haven’t dug in the plow only to walk away. I just need to let the wind clear the battlefield of all the smoke.
The fight is still on.
For fun, I started writing a novella. Which kind of kept growing. The thing is, I was out of town, with 5 days straight with 6 hours of free time each day. So, heck, why not? Besides, I could not concentrate on editing. Nope.
Was it fun?
Did it clear my head?
Did I ponder Hallmark buying the rights?
Does it save anyone?
Does it mend cultures?
Does it fit my mandate and my brand?
Was it basically a week off, with a few days of tidying up?
Am I itching to get back to 1894?
Also, it added a bit of balance. Because I cannot use most of what I wrote in the NOT-vella in a historical context, I had a tonne of fun being as out -there as possible.
But, I’m not aching to do it again.
I’m re-charged, fired up and I got something out of my system. So, it’s all good.
And now, I can focus on the field ahead of me.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
…two weeks off…but I always was bad at math.
What a fun exercise, Jennifer. I enjoyed following along. Your two weeks away were productive in several ways.
Wendy L Macdonald
“Get outside and take in the big sky and creation.” Mary, you’re speaking my life language–I love this advice. Going to a nature park recharges me. If I don’t get out once a week, I struggle with stale writing. Currently my biggest stumbling block is trying to balance everything. I cut back on my social media involvement to free-up more creative time, and it worked–but I’m falling behind with some of the sites I like to read and engage with. I think I may need to prayerfully write a schedule for myself and then rest in the fact I can only do so much. I’m not interested in a hurry and worry lifestyle–at all. 🙂
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
“…prayerfully write a schedule for myself and then rest in the fact I can only do so much.” Great advice for all of us, Wendy. And don’t forget to plug in your time at the nature park.
I’ve been falling behind, too … but only according to my standards. 🙂 I so understand that.
For me, right now, I suppose it’s balance. Of late I’ve let the pendulum swing far, far away from writing. The day job, household projects, helping in my wife’s home business, and providing care leave me with little brain power in the evenings to write. I have produced nothing meaningful since last October. I can find 15 minutes here and there to try to dash something off, but that seems like a waste of time right now. And available time and motivation/desire don’t seem to line up. Maybe that’s a lack of passion as well. So seven works-in-progress (from a single chapter to 50 or 60% of a book) lie abandoned for the present; marketing of current publications doesn’t happen; and ideas for future projects are quashed. That sounds so much better in passive voice than saying I did that.
David, maybe the most productive thing you can do during this season of other priorities (the balance trait) will be to read books on craft, watch an inspiring movie from time to time, and get out into God’s beautiful creation–things you can take in to restore you and your creativity rather than work at something you have no energy to do right now–to build up the resilience trait.I wish you well.
Thank you, Mary.
About a week ago, I would have answered: persistence. After having worked day and night for the past month, preparing for the ACFW Nashville, I was done. In. However, the release I felt when that manuscript was done. I could then go on to polishing the proposal. Thank you, Mary, for the dedicated reminder of those important things.
You’re very welcome, Tisha. I hope you have a splendid experience at ACFW.
“Our goals can become idols.” Those are wise words, and I’d like to thank you for them. Here from Jon Gibbs’s live journal.
You’re welcome, Mary. Finding balance can be a continual challenge.
Thank you for this blog post !
I have been doing all of the above, so I feel I am ( hopefully) on the track.
I had taken a few mons. away from my book and when I got back to it a few mons later, i realized I had a badly written chapter, that has since been resolved.
I know I will never lrean everything bout, the craft, but I am working on learning much.
Nancy Cadle Craddock
I totally agree with all 5 traits… especially “Always-something-new-to-learn”.