Focus, focus, focus
Focus. Focus. Focus. What does that really mean in the writing biz?
I was talking with a friend recently, and I told her that I think I finally know what it means in all its permutations. So I started to list them for her because she's been struggling with what kind of book to write next. Struggling because she's extremely talented and committed, but can't seem to hand New York a manuscript that is totally and completely loved. She gets rave reviews in letters that tell how wonderful her writing is and how much the reader liked it, but there's inevitably a BUT in there that describes why her manuscript is being returned.
So, like many who keep getting rejected, she's decided to give them what they want - a story like all the others on the shelves or in the pipeline due to hit the shelves within the next 12-24 months.
I don't think this is the answer because usually by the time a writer gets that kind of manuscript finished, the trend has died. I mean how many vampire and werewolf stories, comic or serious, can the market sustain? Look what happened to chick lit.
So we talked about focus. Here are some of the things I came up with.
Know what kind of story YOU like and write the kind of story you want to read. It's hard as heck to write something you don't like.
Know what your strengths are and work to exploit them.
Know your weaknesses and work to improve them.
Submit your manuscript when it is ready, and aim for a good agent so you can be published well rather than just be published. (Read M. J. Rose's blog Buzz, Balls, and Hype if you don't understand what I mean.)
Start another manuscript immediately.
Write everyday even if it's only a paragraph or notes about the story.
Keep submitting until you find someone who likes your writing.
Target that person with as much tenacity as a pit bull hangs on to a meaty bone.
Create an ongoing dialogue with that person.
Keep writing, editing, improving, and submitting until you are accepted.
Ignore trends. By the time you hear the music, the parade will have passed you by.
Ignore what others are doing, the stories they are selling, the multiple book contracts and big bucks they are receiving. They worked hard to get what they're getting so applaud them, stamp out the envy, and get back to work.
Ignore advice that your gut tells you is wrong. But make sure you are open to new information because sometimes your intuition is fueled by fear.
Don't listen to what other people say you should be doing. Design your own plan and follow it. Where do you want to be one year from now? Five years? How do you plan to get there a year from now?
Believe in yourself. Develop your own mantra that addresses your insecurities and read it, better yet, write it, every day. To thine ownself be true, but somehow figure out how to be honest with yourself and what you want to write yet still produce a product someone wants to buy.
Know what you want to write. It's like declaring a major in college. How can you achieve something if you don't know what you want. Declare or put in writing: I want to be published in __________. Fill in that blank with whatever genre appeals most.
Focus on that genre. Don't write a romance this time and a mystery the next then a science fiction unless you are inordinately talented, already multi-published, and have a reading audience that would follow you from romance to literary fiction without hesitation.
Acquire tunnel vision with your goal at the end of that tunnel. Keep your eyes on the goal and don't look at the distractions on the side. When you do this, you don't give a lot of attention to the obstacles so they lose their power over you.
Focus. Simple. But not easy.