Just Do It.
In my opinion, Nike coined one of the most brilliant marketing slogans of all time. Simple, poignant, and true.
I have run critique groups for a lot of years and known more than my fair share of aspiring writers. It is always such a joy to be a witness to success, to see books in print that I have been blessed enough to follow from the original idea to bookstore shelves. Strangely enough, even in critique groups the 5% rule holds fast. Though I haven’t taken a true statistical analysis, I would estimate that only about 5% of those who walk through the door wanting help with a novel actually succeed in becoming published authors.
Why is that?
Is it because the odds of becoming a best-selling author are only slightly better than being mauled by a polar bear and a grizzly bear in the same day? Possibly. Is it because Americans are reading less than ever, awaiting the day we can download directly to our brain? Maybe. Is it because the publishing industry would rather gamble on scratch-off tickets than new unpublished authors? Perhaps.
The funny thing is, I would say that the number one reason most of these aspiring novelists are not published is that they simply never finished the book. They are like all those eager souls who hit the gym January 2nd of every year, just to burn out and quit by March 3rd. They have 4 different novels going at any given time that never seem to get more than a quarter finished. These writers are waiting for the perfect story or the newest computer with a better operating system with the built-in voice-activated coffee machine or for their kids to get older or…
Yeah. You get the idea.
I will grant that sometimes there are good reasons for lack of follow through. The three biggest culprits?
- Flawed novel structure
- A good idea but the idea was not developed enough to make a good story.
- No basic conflict lock (refer to #1)
In fact, I started Warrior Writer Boot Camp (based off Bob Mayer’s teachings) in part, to remedy these novel killers. Writers who attend the Boot Camp are in for a rough ride. It is not for the faint of heart. Why? Our goal was to take what Bob teaches in his workshops and then create an environment where authors could develop his principles and then be held accountable to follow through. We took the normal critique group to the next level. Sort of like going from jogging on the treadmill to hiring a personal trainer whose sole mission is to kick your tush and push you beyond your limits. WWBC is the place where ideas, arcs, plot outlines and characters are run through the wringer before writers ever type a single word of the actual novel.
Like working with a personal trainer, in WWBC (or any good critique group) one has to expect a degree of discomfort and even pain. No one likes hearing that their original idea sucks or their characters are trite or their plot is annoying coincidence driven by author manipulation. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot. And a lot of times it hurts so much that it is easy to want to quit, which some people do.
…but for those who endure, victory awaits.
Just Do It.
Whether we choose to attend a critique group or even write solo, we still have to do the work. No matter how perfect the plot or how original the idea, we still have to write the book. And I know it is tough not to read this and groan. All of us know what we need to do. Yet, how is it then that we so easily can be our own worst enemies?
Since I try to blend practical tips into every blog, here are some ways to keep on keeping on.
1. Grant Permission to be Imperfect—Perfectionism is a noble trait taken to the extreme which can serve as an excuse for mediocrity and a mask for fear. Perfectionists tend to be self-saboteurs (I would know nothing about this). We nit-pick over every single detail, often at the expense of the big picture. Perfection is noble, so it makes a great shield. I mean, we just don’t believe in churning out shoddy half-ass work, right? Um…maybe. Or maybe we have a fear of failure, or even a fear of success. So long as nothing is ever complete, we never have to face our demons and can happily fritter away our days perfecting our scenes and dialogue.
Here’s the deal. No one ever published half of a perfect book.
2. Give Baby Steps a Chance—All or nothing thinking, a close relative of perfectionism, can tank the best projects. It is so easy to fall into this trap of, If we can’t do X, then we do nothing at all. Baby Steps are still steps. It’s like the question, “How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.” Small steps, over time, with consistency add up. It’s sort of like working out. We can choose to show up January 2nd at 5 a.m. and work out three hours, but that is a formula to end up sore, injured and burned out.
So often when I go to the gym I am so tired I want to die (for personal and professional reasons, I have to go to the gym at 4 a.m. if I want to work out at all). I used to be the person who went hell bent for leather, only to end up sick or injured. So a year and a half ago I made a key change in my attitude. Now when I go to the gym I tell myself, “All I have to do is ten minutes walking on the treadmill. Ten minutes. If I still feel tired, horrible, sick, fatigued, disenchanted, etc. I can stop, go home, and climb back into bed. In a year and a half I have only stopped twice. Usually all I need is to push past that initial wall and then I am off like a rocket.
Same with writing. Make small goals. “I will write 15 minutes.” “I will write 100 words.” Sometimes all we need is a little momentum. Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key.
3. Establish Accountability—Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, in part, on this accountability principle. So often in my critique group, I feel like I should stand up and say, “Hi, my name is Kristen, and I’m a writer. It has been 3 days since I last blew off my word goal for the day.” Maybe at WWBC we should give tokens to those of us who pull through day after day and week after week changing our habits and attitudes a little bit at a time. I am in no way making fun of what AA does. I think they have it right. Bad habits and addictions take small steps geared toward changing overall character. We are the sum of our collective habits. Having a system of accountability is key to lasting change and to establishing productive, healthy patterns.
At WWBC each member makes goals for the week in front of the group. It can be a word count goal, a research goal or even a craft goal. My advice? Join a good critique group. Find a writing partner. Or even join groups like #writegoal or #amwriting on Twitter. Take Bob Mayer’s on-line classes (www.bobmayer.org). It’s amazing how much harder we work when we know our peers are watching and holding us to task.
So this next week? Just Do It, and then do it again, and again, and again…and we’ll see you at the finish line.
Until next time…