The Successful Writer's Head Space
Most writing courses, online writing sites, and books on writing focus on teaching aspiring writers how to write. From the basics of correct punctuation to more complex concepts such as narrative structure, they cover all aspects of writing craft. These are, of course, important tools of the trade, but in the years since I started writing I've learned that there are other things that are just as important for aspiring writers to learn.
The business end of writing is too often neglected, possibly because many writing teachers either believe that aspiring writers aren't yet ready for that next phase of their writing career, or because the teachers themselves don't view their writing as a business.
Personally, I believe that if you are serious about writing, and that you want your writing to be more than just a hobby (much like knitting, or playing squash, or doing jigsaw puzzles) then you need to pay as much attention to the business end of publishing as you do to the words on the page.
If you planned to sell your knitting for profit, or take up competitive squash, wouldn't you research how and where to sell your products, or educate yourself on the competition rules and requirements? Writing is no different.
If you are writing with the view to eventually sell your writing, you need to get into the right head space.
Writing is a lot like competitive sport - you need the right psychological edge to succeed. You can train endlessly, but if your head isn't in the right place, you're not going to win.
When you are writing your first novel, it may be premature to research the best agents for your work, or marketing strategies, or how to deal with taxation on your sparkly new writing income, but here are a few things you should be doing.
Treat your writing like a profession. One day, nearly a decade ago now, I made a conscious decision that writing stories was no longer just a hobby I did for my own amusement in my spare time. I decided to taker my writing seriously. In my head, I made the switch from being an amateur to being a professional. It didn't matter that I hadn't yet sold a manuscript, I saw myself as a professonal writer.
It worked. Within a year of making that decision I signed my first contract with a publisher, and a decade later I have eleven published works on sale. I am not only published by one of the Big Four publishers, but I have also ventured into self-publishing and teaching. That only came about because I stopped being a hobbyist.
Respect your writing. Call yourself a writer. Just because you aren't published does not mean you aren't already a writer. You're writing, aren't you?! Would you say that someone who cooks in a restaurant kitchen is not a chef because his or her name isn't on the book reviews? No - you are the writing equivalent of a sous chef, so own it!
Demand that others respect your writing. Others will only show respect for your writing if you do the same. If you allow your family to disturb you during your allocated writing time for anything less than blood, or the house burning down, you are telling them your writing is not important. If you blushingly refer to your writing as 'that little thing I do', you can hardly expect your partner to walk around saying "This is my partner, the writer" with pride. If you want the world to take your writing seriously, first you must take your writing seriously.
Believe in yourself. Even the most successful multi-published authors will tell you that they suffer from crippling self-doubt. But what separates the successful writers from those who never finish a book is that the successful writers don't let the doubts defeat them. Give yourself a pat on the back every now and then. You wrote a whole page, a whole chapter, a whole book ... celebrate your achievements. With each baby step your belief in yourself will grow. Only if you have faith in yourself, will you conquer those doubts.
On the flip side, don't believe in yourself too much! There are, sadly, a lot of beginner writers who cannot take any form of criticism, believe they know everything, and will not listen to advice. If you become a published author, you will need to be able to take feedback that isn't always glowing, whether from editors or reviewers. Editors will not work with authors who cannot take criticism, writers who reject advice from more experienced authors risk losing support that might one day be invaluable, and readers very quickly ditch authors who earn the Authors Behaving Badly badge. Don't let that be you! In the words of country singer Tim McGraw, "stay humble and kind".
Discipline. Writing novels isn't a sporadic thing you can do for an hour a week, or one week on and two weeks off. You can't wait for the muse to strike. You need to work at it every day and get into a writing routine.
During NaNoWriMo, I often start the month averaging about 800-900 words an hour. By the end of the month I usually average about 1,200 words an hour. How? Because I have trained my muse to show up when I need her. However, if I let life intervene and break my routine, I find myself struggling to write 400 words an hour!
Pay enough attention to your muse, and she will continue to show up to do her job. Sitting down to write, regularly, even when you're not in the mood, even when you are doubting yourself, is the best way to conquer the fear and achieve success.
Don't let failures get you down. As with running any business, or competing in any sport, you will suffer reverses. You will receive rejections, or bad reviews, or suffer doubts. Those are all just part of writing. But don't let them stop you from writing. Learn from the setbacks and move forward.
Finally, don't ever give up. The successful authors are the ones who finished that first novel, submitted it, got it out there for the world to see. Many of those author will admit they're not the best writers. They're just the ones who kept going and didn't give up. They're the ones who finished. Be a finisher.
After all, you have to be in it to win it.
For a way more amusing (and expletive-filled) article on this subject, check out Chuck Wendig's blog post Six signs you're not ready to be a professional writer.