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!


  1. David Eddings is definitely on to something. I totally over-write everything. However, I don't toss away what I don't use. I never know where that material could be valuable, even simply to inspire new ideas for another project.

    PS: it's great to connect with you again. I've missed being here. Not sure what happened, but since GFC closed up shop I seem to miss some of my regular folks.

    Sheri at Writer's Alley
    Home of Rebel Writer CREED 2014
    Mighty Minion Bureau Team #atozchallenge

  2. I like this game aspect of looking at things. Also right on the slow-build! If you invest your time and effort you really can make some valuable friends through the online community. I know I have since I started blogging just last year.

  3. Sheri!! WOOT! Great to see you! Blogs have changed so much, that it is a different community now. More tweeting, less hanging at blogs!

    Hey, Leandra. I agree. Almost all of my closest writing partners, I met online during the golden age of blogging. LOL. Great to see you.

  4. What a great approach -- gaming. Completely agree that it's all about building the relationships, and that takes time.

  5. Marcia--thanks for stopping by and commenting. Building relationships takes time, but, I think it's definitely worth it! :)

  6. This is a great post. The million words was true for me (on second thought, it may have been 2 million!) What I am learning is that the first published book is just the beginning of another journey. But the good news is that all of the gamifying tips you suggested work at this stage too.

  7. Hi Heather, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris

  8. What a great idea to treat your writing career and ability to build a community like a game. The people I know who succeed most in life don't take it too seriously--they treat life with a sense of humor, that is, lightheartedly. The same is true of writing, I think, based on your insights, Heather. A game is intended to be fun. And while it may mask a lot of work, struggle and frustration sometimes, that sense of being in a "game" makes it easier to keep moving ahead...and to be happy doing so, from one challenge to the next until you reach your goal. Thanks for sharing. Joe