Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Surviving the Slow Build of a Writing Career

If there is one lesson I've learned about building community and building a writing career, it's that both can be painstaking--because it's all about the slow build.

Not that The Writers' Loft community has grown slowly--we've been open just shy of a year, and we have over 60 involved members. But the way we have grown has been by word of mouth and by paying particular attention to each person interested in joining. We hope to not lose anyone through the cracks. It's definitely a slow-build mentality.

And, I am sure that there are other ways to do it, but if you are looking to grow your own community, the slow build is a way to make it rock solid. If you are building a blog, for example, (and subsequent blogging community), visit other people, comment on their blogs, show them that you want a relationship with them, and most likely, they will join in the conversation you're having at your blog. Does it take time? Yes. Does it build a supportive community that you can rely on? Yes.

Building community is about building relationships, which, by its nature is a one-on-one activity. A slow build.

I argue that building a writing career is about the slow build as well, which is why it is such a difficult profession to survive.

The slow build: You have to write. A lot. David Edding says, it takes a million words before you are ready to begin:
“... A writer’s apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he’s almost ready to begin. That takes a while.” ~David Eddings
Then you revise, you get feedback, you crit someone else's work (I learn the most about my writing through critiquing other's). Then you query industry professionals, and then you most likely start the whole process over again. Bird by bird, my friend.

So, how do you survive this slow build? By treating it like a game.

I'm serious. Jane McGonigal, in this stupendous TED talk, nails the ways to keep sane and motivated. *Blogger is preferring NOT to embed this talk right now. Please follow the link. We'll wait.*

Now, I've talked about this TED talk before. Why do I think that treating your professional writing career build like a game is so important in keeping you sane and motivated?

Because if gamify your career, you will:

1. Create an awesome writer identity for yourself. This is akin to fake-it-'till-you-make-it, pretending to be more confident about your writing self than you might be, and will tell you, in a nutshell, what your author brand is. Who do you want to be as a writer? In you writing game, YOU ARE THAT PERSON.

2. Collect Allies for your writing career. These might be your favorite tweeters, your mentor who posts on their blog each day, your crit partners, or anyone who is supporting you as you write/revise/submit/lock the ms in the drawer. When you reach out to your people, you feel much less likely like banging your head against your desk.

3. Give yourself positive feedback and and level up for all your small wins and each defeat of the bad guys. Constant high fives (with myself) throughout the day keeps me going. I don't pretend my writing is better than it is, but I do give myself credit for the small wins--writing 1k, revising a chapter, learning a new revision technique. Otherwise, it is way too overwhelming to think of writing a 75k book. And, I identify what obstacles stand in the way of these small wins, and defeat them. Procrastination, loss of confidence, feeling overwhelmed. Battle them. Show them who's boss. Level up. You are a better writer today than you were a month ago!

4. Keep focused on attaining the EPIC WIN. In gaming, you are never given a task you can't accomplish. I believe that if you put your mind to it you can accomplish your Epic Win. There are set-backs for sure. There are things that are out of your control, for sure. But, create an identity, collect allies, level up, and keep your eye on the prize, and you will be happier while playing the slow build game of writing.

I am using Jane McGonigal's app game SuperBetter to treat writing like a game. It's a ton of fun. Join me? Be an ally in my game!