Last time was all about releasing fear and dreaming on a grand scale. I’m giving us all permission to chase great big audacious goals, because why limit yourself? Dreams occupy the infinite space of imagination. There are quite enough people telling us we can’t do the thing. Don’t add your own internal voice to that dreary chorus.
So, you have a goal in mind. Our goals differ in the details, even if they seem superficially the same, and that is definitely okay. This works for any dream, not just writing. Let’s look at one dream; “I want to go to a bookstore and see my book for sale”.
The goal is physical book in major bookstore.
This is true North, where the compass points. You need to plot a route from your current position to that goal. You may be a long way away, you may even think you’re on the wrong path, but fear not. If you plant your flag, you can always make your way towards it by degrees. You might say the goal is write a book, but this is usually an intermediate goal. A big one, sure, and one to celebrate, but not the end of the journey.
The principles of mapping a route apply equally to any goal, whether intermediate or ultimate, smaller or bigger. The process differs only in the number of steps required.
So you’ve written a book, and that’s great. You plan to follow the traditional publishing route. Before you can pick it up in Waterstones or Barnes and Noble, some more things need to happen.
1. write book
2. find agent
3. land publishing deal
4. sell book in stores
That’s four steps. Each of those steps can be broken down further, but the first one is the biggest. It is also entirely under your control. It’s all down to you. Now, we’ll take the first step and look at it closely. How do you write a book, and can it be any book? Writing 80-120K words (typical, for novels) is no mean feat.
- you must decide what kind of book- what genre or subject
- you must find the motivation to finish
- you must write the best book you can
Three more steps. Let’s take the first, and break it down again.
What kind of book should you write?
For non-fiction you need authority; that is, the reason people should listen to you. That may be personal experience (I lived this), or it may be academic status (I studied and researched this), or it may be achievement (I succeeded at this). Typically, you will need to demonstrate that you have a platform from which to drive sales, in order to interest an agent. That is your potential audience, which may be smaller, particularly for technical works. For books with a smaller niche, perhaps self-publishing might be better. Another question to answer.
Building that platform and demonstrating your authority is outside my scope, but you can find information by Jane Friedman here .
For fiction, consider your interests. You could start with brainstorming or mindmapping.
- Favourite books, films, poetry, artistic pursuits
- core principles; love conquers all, the world is cruel, good always triumphs in the end
- genre; romance, mystery, science fiction, adventure, horror, fairy tale, literary, etc
- any characters or situations that pop up ( I have a space pirate in my head, waiting to be written)
From your list or map, start to pull out themes. For example, I love speculative fiction and adventure, good vs. bad but in all shades between black and white, I believe love comes in many forms, and that women and men have equal agency. Those ideas colour my fiction.
Where can I find inspiration?
Some people seem to brim and bubble with ideas. Others, not so much. I talked here about being one of those people who don’t have fifty ideas jostling for space in their head. My ideas come from pictures, song videos, snatches of conversation, or just out of thin air, when my unconscious mind throws something into the real world. (Sometimes they don’t come until after I start work, which is a good reason why you must keep writing. Don’t think about it. Just do it.)
The really useful question for fiction is, “what if?”. Keep asking that question, and stories will come. Somebody wants something, encounters obstacles, is forced to change, and in the process attains their goal. That’s story, in a nutshell.
Looking at finding the motivation to finish, let’s break that down. You could set a word count goal, find a writing buddy, join a writers group, find a mentor and so on. Writing the best book you can will involve editing, feedback, rewriting, working on your craft to name a few.
Each of these steps can be broken down further, in a process sometimes called ‘chunking down’. Eventually you’ll reach the smallest possible step, the first step on the journey. A big dream is built from a million tiny pieces, consistently and mindfully assembled. See how small a Lego brick is, yet you can build the whole world, if you have sufficient.
Big dream ahead, only 37465 miles to go
Your flag is planted so far away, you can hardly see it for all the obstacles and turns in the road. But it is there, and now and again you’ll check that you’re still headed towards it. You can ask yourself a simple question, when considering an activity; does this move me towards my goal? In life, saying yes to a thing means saying no to something else. Make sure you’re saying yes to what’s important for you.
So now, dreamer who wants to make their dream a reality, write down your specific goal. Break it into smaller goals, and break those into their smallest constituent parts. Write it all down in a form of your choosing. That could be a spreadsheet, bulleted list, mindmap, post it notes, or whatever.
Now, pick a tiny step, one that you’re certain to accomplish. For example, make a list of your favourite films. Or Google local writers’ groups. That’s pretty easy, right? Tick it off your list.
Congratulate yourself, and resolve to make another tiny step tomorrow. Celebrate reaching your intermediate goals, and enjoy the journey. You know where you’re going.