As much as I joke about not meeting publishers’ deadlines, in reality I’m quite an anal person and have never missed an important deadline. I’m a planner – loud and proud! It may not be the sexiest part of being a writer but it sure is one of the most important. Learning to plan your time can be the defining factor between your ‘yet to be written best seller’ and your finished manuscript ready to be rolled out to the word hungry public.
All my life I’ve worked with deadlines so have learnt a few tricks along the way that I’m going to pass on to you. As anyone who knows me can attest, I have no sense of direction so maps, plans and schedules are my personal saving graces – here’s how you can use them too…
Don’t worry its not some New Age hippy concept, they actually do help and can really focus you on your end goal. Draw a diagram with your goal at the top – getting your book published (or anything else) then write down all the small steps in-between that goal and your current situation. It might start as simply as buying a laptop that you can use to write frequently and with ease or coming up with a story line.
Now, one thing that I learnt the hard way, and that I’d like to pass on, would be to have a few steps in-between ‘Start writing’ and ‘Send your novel to publishers’. Most new writers are so hungry for that big score that they forget to learn the craft of creative writing– few writers achieve the published novel leap straight off the bat – learn your craft and gain publishing credits by exploring the massive short story market first. Anthologies are hugely popular right now and although don’t often pay well, give you experience with writing, working with editors and also exposure to potential fans. They show publishers and agents you are serious about what you do and that you have some tried and tested skills. Check out www.duotrope.com for a 4,000 + database of anthologies and magazines, in all genres, all over the world, looking for talented writers to submit short stories.
People always ask me how I managed to get so many publishing credits in such a short amount of time (currently 32 in under 2 years) and it was using this method. I identified a publisher with an anthology call out – I wrote the story they asked for – I adhered to their guidelines and next thing you know I’m published in 5 countries and have worked with over 17 publishers.
Short stories also help to focus you on your writing. It’s hard to keep the excitement alive when your novel (which took you 5 years to complete) is consistently rejected – short stories take anything from a week to a month (depending on your time) and give you such a buzz when they are accepted that they can really spur you on to write more. You organically learn how to write great stories, a skill which will help you write that bigger manuscript.
Write a plan, but know that you are not obligated to follow it – sounds crazy right? No, it means that you are free to adapt and evolve your plan when needed. How I work is: I write down all the publisher call outs (keeping an eye on what’s coming up) that I could write a story for – I then write the deadlines on my wall chart (usually shaving off a week for leeway) I then create draft emails, that contain links and formatting guidelines, and title them with the date and name of the anthology. That way, when you are looking in your emails, they’re there, in order – mocking you with their very presence – the only way you can get rid of them is to finish that story and email it out!
The plan itself will change when you are writing your bigger manuscript. If it’s all down to you then you’ll have no strict deadline unless you give yourself one – so do. Plot out the major scenes in your book and write them. You don’t need to write the linking scenes between them right away, write what excites you about your novel first – this will then keep your momentum.
Buy a diary that is just for your writing – make it small so you can carry it round with you and jot story notes in. Now of course the biggest step in becoming a published writer is…WRITE! Actually sit down and write something, and do it regularly. Obviously nowadays there are other things that authors need to do to promote themselves and their work, social media and blogs is a must – but don’t prioritise them over your actually writing. Make sure that you schedule in a bit of time everyday for you to write, once you’ve done that, then engage with your fellow bloggers, Twitter mob or Facebook friends.
So now that you have started planning your success (remember when you get there who gave you the directions!) in my next blog I’d like to take this further and talk about the mind set of a writer – how to overcome rejection and some advice that I wish someone had given me years ago!