In the last post we looked at how you can build a better attitude towards the substance and quality of your own work. Some of the approaches we looked at such as progress recording and taking a class were very practical. Others were more psychological and value driven such as honouring your background and identifying your personal reason for writing.
Today I want to look further at the area of values but once again link this to practical steps you can take to improve your chances of fulfilling your aims. In particular I’d like you to take out that personal notebook/phone notes/document again and ask yourself some further questions.
What is the range and scope of my artistic endeavour?
We’ve looked at ‘why I write’ (or why I make art). Now its time to ask yourself how far you’d ideally like to go.
What place does my writing have in my life? Is it the major or minor key? Hobby or vocation?
List all the things you love to do in life in order, where does writing come?
What do you want to come out of your writing? Money? Fame? Recognition? Camaraderie? Connection? (This question is closely aligned with last week’s Why I write?)
What is the range of your writing endeavour? Self-expression? Friends and family? A quiet following? Mass appeal?
If published do I want a small print run or to have a shot at a big publishing house?
What sacrifices am I willing or able to make?
What time am I willing or able to give to learning and producing?
Using your answers from above decide how far you want to take your writing and the range you would be happy with. You may ideally be a bestseller but be happy enough with ‘quietly published.’ You may choose self-publishing either as a small scale friends and family project or with a fully-fledged business plan in mind to promote and develop a full marketing and production strategy for your self-published trilogy.
(By the way by incorporating some of your value responses from last week with today’s task you’ll come up with an artistic statement that will be useful if you wish to apply for arts council or other funding. )
One mission statement might be: I want my writing to reach a discerning but reasonable-sized audience through publication with a reputable small press.
Another might be: I want to write in order to join a local writing group and make friends.
Look at what you’ve got
You might interrogate this area with the SWOT analysis businesses use. (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). In the writing context you will be looking the elements of your own craft/product but also looking at the condition of the publishing industry and your place in it. Here are some possible questions you can jot down answers to.
What are strengths /weaknesses
Eg: Research skills, language, character/world building, unique style, humourous outlook etc etc?
Publishing: Social media presence, friend already in writing group, great synopsis, referral from agented friend,
What are threats/opportunities
Global pandemic, recession, vampires are now out, book hard to pin down, too many writers!, publishing industry in uncertainty, ticket for publishing day, writing retreat, extra time due to retirement or less time due to illness/family commitments.
I’ve written before about aims (and what to do if you can’t achieve them). The advice is always to have realistic, measurable and specific goals that you can use to gauge how you are doing and mark off progress. About a year ago I did the couch to 5k challenge. The early aims were tiny – running for just two minutes – but I found it almost addictive being able to tick off each week’s accomplishments and it really contributing to a fantastic sense of pride. The bite-sized incremental goals worked brilliantly to make me feel happy with what I had also achieved and also – this is so important – they gave me the confidence that I could achieve the next goal. While this sort of aim works perfectly for wordcount or projects completed, longer term aims such as ‘get published by this time next year’ might not always have a definitive path or a certain outcome even if you complete a set of steps. It’s probably best to include the more quantitative goals alongside the less quantifiable ones.
Be realistically positive
While we’ve all heard of books like The Power of Positive Thinking purely positive thinking would be something close to delusional. No matter how positive you are “I can fly without wings from the top of this cliff” would not end well most circumstances! But there are several things we can do to that can help us achieve our goals or, at the very least, make it more pleasurable trying. This, in turn, will make it more likely we will have the energy to keep going. Some of these things are:
Think of what you can do in a particular moment rather than what you can’t
If I don’t have time to finish this chapter then aim to solve a knotty problem in paragraph two. In fact, it helps to list everything you can do right now, in your head or on paper. Earlier today I was despondent when I could not recall a great idea I had for my novel. For a while I focussed on how I could not remember and what a loss that was but then I began to focus on all the ideas I already had written down and the possibilities I could follow with those. Incidentally, this approach works so well for ordinary life. A feeling of helplessness can be so detrimental to our mental health, but feelings of agency and autonomy – even in small ways can be transformative.
Linked to the point above, if we think of different ways that we may succeed, if we try different alternatives, if we at least explore alternatives (eg. Self-publishing vs traditional), a class in poetry where we’d normally do novel writing, writing a story instead of something longer, trying flash fiction, entering a competition that we don’t normally enter, researching, reading or writing outside our own genre. Writing for half an hour and then stopping, writing at night, writing outside, writing with a prompt or using an object for inspiration, writing in a group setting. Every time we do things differently or come up with other ideas we are wiring the brain anew, we are becoming more creative and interesting people with a lot more going on, a lot more to say.
Relax and widen the odds
Who said ‘the only thing to fear is fear itself?’ I’ve become very interested in positive psychology recently. I’ve discovered the benefits of the ‘half-smile’. Even when a low mood begins to descend you can coax your body into thinking that you are happy and up for the challenge. At the library where I work, walking out onto the floor with an energetic gait and a smile makes me more approachable to my colleagues and library patrons. When pursuing your goals we don’t want arrogance but a quiet confidence and self-belief, an enthusiasm about your work, a submission cover letter that shows you care and believe – this pushes your work -and you- forward in the mind of the agent or publisher.
In terms of increasing the odds for publication if that’s your thing, do what every successful writer has done, submit widely, increase your odds by entering competitions, attend events and launches, post your work online or do readings if you are comfortable. Even if you don’t get a mention you will be learning and developing as you go.
Building creative resilience in writing is both about getting in touch with values & the range of your ambition and taking very practical steps to create opportunity and affirmation.
You have nothing to lose – as long as you balance your ambition with the values for the whole of your life. Become clear about the shape of your endeavour within the wider framework, be cognisant of the realities of your situation and the industry but look at ways to maximise your chances and solve problems rather than reside in a general fug that cannot be tackled. In the comments you can let us know what has worked for you in providing focus and energy in an endeavour full of uncertainty. Wishing you all well.