There’s considerable pressure in writing a blog post that will land directly on a holiday. I have to confess I panicked momentarily when I realized I would be the Teatime blogger responsible for Christmas. I flirted with a take on the idea of the 12 Days of Christmas for a moment because the ideas amused me, but nothing really stuck. Eventually, I put everything on the back burner for a while and let my subconscious work on the idea until something popped to the forefront.
I wanted my Christmas post to be something special for everyone. A gift of writing if you will, suitable to the holiday season. It was actually during a martial arts class that I realized I had the perfect “gift” to give all our readers here at Teatime. During the question and answer session after a particularly difficult kung fu workout, I realized that the rules to become a great martial artist actually apply to being great at anything you do, including becoming a published novelist. Best of all, there are only 8 rules to remember. Just eight. That’s it. Sharing them is my holiday gift to you all. (I hope you approve, Sifu!)
~ Jennelle ~
Rule 1: Find good teachers and get a good education.
“Don’t waste time learning the tricks of the trade. Instead, learn the trade.” ~ James Charlton and H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
No one starts on their own and magically writes the next best seller without at least a little training. And there are no shortcuts either. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something. Seek out other writers. Seek out the people other writers have learned from. Speak to people and ask where they found their knowledge and inspiration. Seek out the books and articles these people have found useful. The writing community is one of the most giving and helpful of all career fields. People want to share what they’ve learned. They want to share the books and courses they found the most useful. They want to share the novels that they think are outstanding and worthy of emulation. No knowledge is wasted.
Rule 2: Be patient.
“Patience is a necessary ingredient of genius.” ~ Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield Disraeli
Despite what the marketers want you to believe, there’s no such thing as an overnight sensation. Becoming a great writer takes time and more time. Writing the novel, editing, beta reading, critiquing, querying, submitting…all these activities can’t happen overnight. They can’t happen in a week. I sincerely doubt they can even happen in a month (though I know people argue it’s possible). Even if you choose the route of self-publishing your novel and skip working with middlemen in the process, publishing a novel still takes time. You can’t rush things and do great work. Be patient with both yourself and the people you’re working with.
Rule 3: Be persistent. Persevere.
Writing isn’t easy. It’s harder than hell, actually. Getting published is even harder. Persistence means you keep trying, you keep going, you keep working, no matter what. Sure there will be bumps in the road. Those rejection letters won’t be the news you want, but you’ll get them. If you give up now, what will you have lost? Thomas Edison believed that life’s failures were “experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” How close are you to success?
Rule 4: Practice hard.
Don’t just dabble. Don’t just try it out a few times a month. Even if you can only write for fifteen minutes, as long as you write with purpose, you’re practicing hard. Write a scene. Write some dialogue. Write the back cover copy of your novel if it’s printed. Write your teaser copy for online retailers. Write. Write a lot. Write every day and don’t stop writing.
Rule 5: Practice exactly what you want to perform.
“Practice is the best of all instructors.” ~ Publius Syrus (42 B.C.)
It’s not enough to simply say “well I wrote something today so I did some practice.” The real key is always to practice exactly what you want to perform. In martial arts, when we practice, we don’t go leaping about doing flying front kicks or spinning back kicks or pretty much anything that looks fancy and could be easily found in a cheesy kung fu flick. We practice real techniques to help you survive on the street and to survive in every day life. The same should hold true of your writing practice.
Don’t think that you can count that letter to your mom as writing practice unless you’re writing a book about writing letters. And don’t think that tweeting, facebooking, or tumbling your moment-by-moment activities counts as writing unless that’s exactly what you’re planning to publish. Write your story. Write your dialogue. Write your front or back cover copy for your printed book. Write a query letter. But write something that you need to write. Exactly what you need to write so you gain that writing muscle memory. The more you practice exactly what you want to perform, the easier it becomes in the future.
Rule 6: Clear your mind of extraneous garbage (focus and meditate).
“No great work has ever been produced except after a long interval of still and musing meditation.” ~ Walter Bagehot
In sports, if all you ever do is punch, kick, and move, over and over, you’ll only ever be a fighter at best. When you have the ability to clear your mind of the incidental chaff of every day life and truly focus on what you need to learn, then you have the potential to become a martial artist. The same is true for writing.
Even with regular, daily practice, you’ll only ever be a technician without the ability to dig deeply into yourself and find the artistry in what you do. And you can’t do that without losing the general noise of day to day life. Focused “stillness” or meditation provides you with the ability to clear your mind and concentrate on the fine points of your craft. It’s those fine points that distinguish you from the ever-increasing crowd of people putting pen to the page.
Rule 7: Make it your passion.
“A man without passion is only a latent force, only a possibility, like a stone waiting for the blow from the iron to give forth sparks.” ~ Henri Frédéric Amiel (1821–1881)
If you don’t truly love the thing you do, people around you notice you merely going through the motions. Readers are a smart bunch. As a writer without passion, your work suffers and readers notice. You may be able to get published. In fact you may even be prolific, but if your writing has no passion, no piece of you in it, it becomes merely words on the page that are read and promptly forgotten. Writing with passion evokes emotion. Writing with passion gets people talking about you and that, my friends, gets you noticed. Don’t just write words. Write words that mean something.
Rule 8: Shout it from the rooftops.
Never, ever stop telling people about what you’re doing and why. Give back to the people who have helped you along the way by shouting your passion from the rooftops. By telling others of your successes AND your failures. Be sure no one ever on this journey you have started feels like they are alone in the world. Someone, somewhere along the way held your hand, even if only for a moment, and said “I believe in you.” Shout your passion from the rooftops and help others along the way know that you believe in them too.