Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Writer's Discipline

One of the real advantages writers have today is the Internet. Doing research is so easy. You can find information about writing trends, publishers and the details you need to flesh out your novel without even moving from your chair.

In addition to speedy data access, the Internet provides a community. I belong to numerous online groups for different genres and purposes. The support and encouragement is hugely important in what is essentially a solitary profession.

The very strength of the Internet is also its chief weakness. If permitted, the Internet can become a tremendous distraction and drain on your resources. You can while away the hours chatting online, visiting interesting websites and playing games. When I am looking to procrastinate, I can find fifty ways to do it.

Therein is the dilemma of the writer. Without a boss or a job structure, we can shoot ourselves in the foot and no one is there to stop us (unless you have really good CPs who hold those feet to the fire--thank you, Jeanne and Linda).

When I finally decided to get serious about writing as a profession, I tried to recreate the structure of the workplace for myself. What does that mean? Essentially, responsibility and accountability, which are not the same thing. Responsibility is the job description. Accountability is the performance.

My last paying job had me responsible for one of two divisions of my company. I had nearly 30 departments and over 200 employees in my chain of command. My job description required that I submit a long-term plan (five years) in addition to a short-term plan (annual with quarterly goals). I had to meet with the CEO every quarter to justify my performance versus my goals (translation: I had to justify my existence every three months. When your job is on the line, it focuses your attention on the exercise, I guarantee).

I set up the same dynamic for my writing career. I have a long-term plan and a short-term plan that includes daily and quarterly goals. I DO NOT DEVIATE FROM MY PLAN. (Note: I can adust the plan as new information presents, but I write out the pros and cons to justify the decision before I make any change)

As my friends and partners began to sell, I've been tempted to go for short-term gratification, but my plan demands that I stay steadfast. What does this mean? I set up my world to avoid temptations. Think of it like a diet. In the same way that a dieter doesn't linger in the bakery aisle, I don't surround myself with distractions. I eat my Lean Cuisine (blog every day) and don't snack between meals (blog in a lot of other places). I don't weigh myself every morning nor do I check my Stat Counter every day. I weigh myself once a week and I check my Stat Counter once a week. Checking status over months instead of days, you can see the incremental progress. I disregard comments about, "I thought you were on a diet. Haven't you lost any weight yet?" as well as comments that ask, "Haven't you sold yet? What's wrong?"

This is my profession. I behave professionally in public. I save my games and my fun for private loops and personal emails. That way, I don't feel nervous when offering agents or publishers my website or blog address. This is my third, no, fourth blog address. I practiced blogging anonymously for quite some time before deciding where to draw the lines around personal disclosures.

The hardest thing for me has been to keep my focus and to stay motivated. More than in any profession (other than sales), I've found that writers must be self-nurturers and self-starters. Without the discipline that a boss or a structured environment can provide, writers need to find that within themselves.

Sure, I have my ups and downs. I have dark moments of doubt. I also have trusted CPs with whom I can vent. And I have my plan. There's room in that plan for vacations so that I can cut myself slack when needed (I've been on an extended vacation recently).

Don't know if this approach can work for others; it works for me. And, the nice thing about a new year is that you can always start over again.

Life is full of new opportunities and new starts. Begin this year the way you mean to continue. Develop a SPECIFIC plan; don't just decide to sell a manuscript. What do you want to sell, and where do you want to sell it? Once you have your plan, share it with people you trust. Then stick to it.

No comments: