Saturday, January 09, 2010


If you ever need a topic to write about, just join up with a writer's group. The chatter alone provides an endless supply of worthy topics.

This week my new group, the Penwrights, broached the subject of failure. I can't recall what was involved in the original conversation starter, but it lead to a very important point. One which every writer--in fact, anyone striving for success--should come to.

When you set out on any journey, you're not presented with two options: success or failure. If life were only so simple. After all, if you succeed, great. If you fail, well, the pressure's off. You can go back to American Idol or planting crops on Farmville.

No. Failure is simply the point at which we give up. Success is still out there at the end of a very long road, but we've stopped along the way. Think of it as the early American settlers who "failed" to make it to California. Failure didn't happen to them, they simply chose to stop in Missouri.

I've watched a lot of writers come and go now. I've also watched a few who stuck around. Most of the stuck arounds are published or well on their way. Know the difference? Some stopped typing while others kept at it.

But that's not fair, you say. Some of the published writers got pubbed after only a few years of trying. I've been at it for ten years and still nada, zip, a big fat zero. Welcome to the dream. No one said the Oregon Trail would provide clear passage for every wagon that ventured upon it. Some of them got snow, arrows, drought, you name it. Never the same trail twice.

It will be the same for any venture we undertake. If you want to be a success, you identify the goal and start moving that way. Lord, I hated typing that. It's been said so many times it's cliche (you know what they say about cliches...avoid them like the plague). But some truths are so self evident that they need repeating.

One of my "mile markers" this year is to get my writerly website up and going. As soon as I'm done here I'll be on to that. Then I'll work on my article for Women 2 Women Michigan. It's not a big paying job, but it's writing. So is this by the way. Every stroke of the key is one step closer to a book on the shelf. Every "no" is one step closer to a "yes."

By the way, some of you may honestly decide you're not cut out for whatever it was you set out to do. That's fine. But I implore you, don't be like 99% of the people in the world who are happy to sit by and let life happen to them. Choose another course. Challenge yourself. If you fail 99 times out of a hundred, thank God for that 100th attempt.

Keep typing. See you at the end of the trail.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Inspiration: $30 per month

Passion is great as far as driving forces go, but let's get serious. It's like the boost that gets the space shuttle out of the Earth's atmosphere. Once in orbit, we need something to sustain us. This is true of marriage, Christianity, health & fitness, and especially writing. These are all long term commitments. Anyone who has ever relied on that initial red hot passion to keep them going has found out the hard way that it's a long, hard fall back to Earth.

Weight loss was always a big challenge for me. Like many, I'd lose it, gain it back, lose it again, and so on. Over the last year I've finally been successful at maintaining my healthy body weight. How? By shelling out a few bucks when inspiration was necessary. I've bought a Bowflex, a treadmill, exercise DVDs, even the P90x program. All these cost money, but you have to weigh the benefits. If I spend an average of $500 per year on exercise inspiration, it's a heck of a lot cheaper than my health care costs as I get older. Even a $40 per month gym membership is a good investment in your future (me, I have to have the Bowflex staring me in the face every day or I'd get lazy).

How does this apply to writing? Well, it's the same thing, isn't it? Today, on January 2nd, there are probably millions (yes, millions) of aspiring writers pounding on their keyboards, determined to conquer the publishing world. Discouraging, isn't it, to know that there are so many competing for the few open spots on a publishers booklist? Fear not. By February, over half will have dropped out. By June, you'll be hard pressed to find 10% of them still pounding out their word quotas.

I know. I've been there. When I've tried the "lone wolf" path of writing, things didn't go so well. It worked for Hemingway, but most of us need a kick in the pants on a daily basis.

You've had a long weekend and spent much of it surfing the net. You've probably come across a few writer's groups, books, forums, and organizations. Some are free, but the really good stuff costs money. But what's a little inspiration worth to you? Don't run yet, I'm not actually selling anything here (except for the Amazon books over yonder just to help pay for my book habit). I'll gladly make a few suggestions, though.

  • Buy a writing book. Right now I'm reading The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. It reads like a daily devotional and, in fact, that's how I'm using it. I read a very short chapter and write my thoughts in my journal, which leads to...
  • Buy a fresh journal. Not just a pad of paper, but a nice one. I bought two so I could leave the big one at home and carry the more compact one in my truck. Write in it every day. Describe the tree outside, anything. Just write in it.
  • Join a writer's organization. This is a bit more costly. I like the American Christian Fiction Writers. It's a great group with writers of every level and genre. I think the going rate is $80 for the first year. There's also Mystery Writer's of America, Romance Writer's of America, and a slew of others for your particular genre. All have local chapters, critique groups, and best of all...
  • Writer's conferences. This is a big expense, I won't lie. Expect to spend close to $500 by the time you're done with flights, lodging, and conference fees. They're worth every penny, though. Do yourself a favor and talk to the other writers in your organization about how to best prepare for a conference. Don't walk in blind. You'll be talking to agents, editors, publishers, and published authors. Don't wait for your big break, make it happen. A conference is an ideal setting for that. I'll be attending the ACFW conference in September. 
  • Subscribe to a writer's magazine like Writer's Digest. That way you're guaranteed a monthly boost.
Here's a challenge for my new (and old) friends out there: Pick up a copy of The Art of War for Writers. It's small, inexpensive, and a very quick read. Beginning in two weeks, say on Monday, January 18th, we'll have an online book discussion. As you'll see, he doesn't get deep into the mechanics of writing, so it should be a very light, fun discussion. I'll shoot for posting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Three chapters a week.

Fair enough? If nobody shows up for my little party, I'll do it anyway. This exercise is as much for my own inspiration as yours. By the way, add "Start a blog" to my list up there. Yes, there's a good chance no one will read it for a long time, but this is for you. A journal is your primary thought pad, but a blog gets you out of your comfort zone, writing for the world to see. It's also a lot of fun.