Monday, September 14, 2009

Habits of Successful Professional Writers

On 1 August, 1:29 PM (1329 hours for you military readers), I faced a dilema: The Habits of Successful Professional Writers seminar was scheduled at the same time as The Nitty Gritty: Writing Sex and Romance for Fantasy and Science Fiction workshop. Both classes started at 1:30...


Sometimes when it comes to your writing career you have to make tough decisions.

Since I attended the Writing Sex Scenes workshop I felt I had enough sex (writing, that is) for one day and that the "Habits..." seminar would be more beneficial to me. Despite the less-than sultry subject, it turned out to be a good choice after all.

This was a panel discussion moderated by Robert Dugoni, author of Wrongful Death and other legal thrillers. Rob is heavily involved in PNWA and provides inspiration to aspiring writers with his "I-was-sitting-where-you're-at" perspective.

The panelists included the following folks:

Royce Buckingham, author of Demonkeeper and soon-to-be-released Goblins! was our first panelist. From what I remember in past PNWA workshops, Royce is a veteran of numerous writing contests and encouraged attendees to keep entering them in order to get the feedback necessary to hone your writing skills.

I've also attended workshops hosted by former railroad inspector and second panelist, Kevin O'Brien. Kevin always struck me as being a very nice and mild-mannered guy--who happens to write about depraved serial killers. He's working on his eleventh novel, appropriately titled--Vicious.

The third panelist was Mike Lawson, author of the Joe DeMarco political thrillers. Most of these stories are set in "the other Washington." That is, DC, which brings to mind different sorts of depravity...

But not every panelist was a spinner of tales involving courtroom and international intrigue, or paranormal and psychotic mayhem. Like an anchorage in such a tempest, Will North's heart-warming stories deal with love & loss (The Long Walk Home) and middle-age romance (Water, Stone, Heart).

Note: All photos were obtained from the authors' respective websites.
Despite their varied background, the panelists were united in stressing the following points:

-Love what you do and be happy doing it.

-Define your own success.

-Everything you do, should be done to move your writing career forward.

-Never quit your day job!

-Finish your book! That is, make sure your manuscript is complete before approaching an agent.
-Don't do anything that will stress you out, writing is suppose to be enjoyable.

-Maintain your sense of humor.

And when writing, make each scene move the story forward and avoid what Will called "Shoe Leather Descriptions." That is, extensive descriptions of characters moving from Point-A to Point-B.

Because publishing is a business, authors should view writing as a career. Like any other job, you should have career goals and a business plan in mind.
To help reinforce these ideas, Royce provided everyone with a copy of his "Successful Habits for Writers" Handout, which is reprinted below:

Year 1--Beginning Writer ("Gosh, this is fun.")

1. Start things...write regularly...finish things.

2. Share your things (family & friends).

Year 2--Intermediate Writer ("Wow, I can't stop writing.")

1.Start things...write regularly...finish things.

2. Share you things (friends, family, critique groups, contests).

3. Research the business etiquette (read books about writing, attend conferences).

4. Meet people in the business.

5. Collect rejections.

6. Use feedback to find your sweetspot (strongest genre, attend conferences).

Year 7-? Writer on the Brink ("Aha, writing is a business.")

1. Identify and outline good ideas BEFORE writing (via: friends, family and critique groups).

2. Start things...write things...finish things.

3. Share your things (friends, family, critique groups, contests, agents, publishers).

4. Research the business entirely (read books about writing, attend conferences, join organizations).

5. Collect more rejections.

6. Become an expert in your genre.

7. Approach people in the business you've met to read and recommend your work.

8. Be professional (Take writing seriously, and it will take you seriously).

Published Author (Writing is a job...and gosh, it's still fun.")

1. All of the above.

2. Start things...write regularly...finish things.

3.Share your things (with the world).

Remember: Always be moving your career forward.

Royce also provided a second handout called the "10 Qualities of Successful Hollywood Writers" by his manager Ken Atchity.

These qualities are:

1. Focused vision of their work and themselves.

2. Persistence, determination--pertinacity.

3. Unbelievable self-discipline when it comes to writing.

4. High concept.

5. Knowing the business of Hollywood inside/out.

6. Supreme confidence and being "no-proof."

7. Willingness to "go for broke." Investing self on every level.

8. Close relationship with the market they reflect or create.

9. Writing for the audience.

10. Finding a Hollywood gatekeeper and sticking with him/her.

While not every author plans to write a screenplay, these qualities still apply. For instance substitute "Hollywood gatekeeper" with "literary agent."

Various definitions of "habit" were listed listed at the bottom of this handout. These ranged from distinctive costume, to drug addiction to tasks done often and easily such as--writing!

By the end of this session, various panelists recommended the following books on writing:

-The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
-The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
-On Writing by Stephen King
-Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
-any book by Kenneth Atchity
-The Writer's Market

So where do I place on Royce's Successful Habits Timeline?
Let's see, I started writing gaming articles 5 years ago and began attending PNWA Conferences 3 or 4 years ago. I guess this makes me an Intermediate Writer. My two major weak areas here are: Item #2 in that I haven't joined a critique group and I haven't quite found my literary "sweetspot" yet (Item #6).

My wargaming interests range from the Bronze Age to the Hyperspace Age and every era in between. However, I consider my main focus is on military history and historical fiction prior to the Industrial Revolution. This narrows my sweetspot down to--what?--3,100 years of recorded history, give or take a hundred years.
Looks like I have my work cut out for me in determining my best genre. Then I can graduate to Writer on the Brink...

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