The next guest poster I’d like to welcome to the blog is poet and short story writer Lissa Clouser, whom I met through the 12 x 12 challenge. When I first read her post, I found it really struck a chord with me. She offers some great advice on striving for that writing dream.
Learning How to Plan for your Dreams
As writers we want to be trendsetters, not goal-setters. We want the right-now success while only doing maybe-later work. But there’s been a breakthrough! We have it all backwards.
The truth of it is that we’ve trained ourselves to spend all of our time dreaming. We dream up our characters, their stories, and the worlds in which they live them out. Chances are it’s the dream of the adventurous life of writing that’s led us to be more than journal keepers in the first place.
Somewhere in the middle of all that wistful dreaming however, most of us have forgotten to take the time and effort to make a plan. Plans don’t have to be complicated, but I’ve come to believe they are a necessary foundation for future success.
1) Start by taking just one step back. Not too far from the dream, but just enough to see the big picture. I did this with my own writing life about 8 months ago. Where am I going? What do I want to accomplish? Why do I want to accomplish it? If you don’t feel like answering all of these questions yet that’s okay. But now that you’ve stepped back, how far are you from your dream?
2) DON’T GET DISCOURAGED. I know you just stepped back and took a good long look at how far away your dream might be, but whatever you do, discouragement is not allowed! No matter how far away you think you are, it’s still accessible. Believe and plan.
3) We’ve dreamt. We’ve hyperventilated. Now what do we do? Evaluate. Where are you right now? Right this very minute? This is very important knowledge because if you don’t take the time to evaluate this, how do you know where to go? Don’t be ashamed if you’re just starting. We all start somewhere. Just know where to put the push pin on your mental map of the big-picture journey. You can look back and gawk at how far you’ve come later.
4) Plot your next step. Do you have a first draft of a novel you love completed? Excellent. Revise. Maybe you’ve polished a picture book manuscript 40 times and you’re confident it shines. Fantastic. Learn how to write a query letter. Learn how to research agents who might be interested in you. Are you at the very beginning, still just grasping at the fluffy clouds of what-if? That’s awesome! The whole world stretches before you. Don’t let a story overwhelm you. Start small with poetry, short stories, or even learning how to free write ideas. Practice will not only teach you what you love about writing, it will teach you what you need to work on, help you find and shape your voice, and lead you to your next step.
5) If you haven’t already, find your niche. This isn’t prison; you aren’t confined to it by any means, but like it or not we all have one or maybe a few areas in which we shine. I thought I wanted to be a novelist. (And deep down I still do.) But I’m finding that the more I write, the more I realize poetry is probably my strongest point. When I do write short stories I like dark themes. I love to use psychological twists and turns to mess with the reader. But what do you like? Answering this question will help to give you direction and a brand with which to market yourself. Me? I want to be a novelist, but for now I’m a poet.
6) DON’T GET DISCOURAGED. I feel like repeating this again. Writing is a hard road, filled with lots of rejection for most of us, rejection that comes from ourselves and the big bad world of publishing. Just remember, if you get rejected from an agent, publisher, or contest that means you tried in the first place. I’m already proud of you for that alone. So don’t get discouraged. Seriously.
7) Create a marketing plan, but don’t be shocked if it changes. It probably will. But having a marketing plan in the first place will steer you in a positive direction. Decide what it is you want to market. Decide where you want to market it. What are the steps to reach that market? Is it something you can already be researching in your down time from writing? My current project is a poetry anthology, and it’s still at least a year from being print-worthy. But when I’m not working on the poetry itself and I’m not blogging, I’m trying to learn my market. What small publishers fit my work? Do I want to try self-publishing? Where and how am I going to market my book? These are all questions going through my mind. As the time for publication gets closer, my marketing plan will get better, tighter. But just like your writing, having a rough draft for marketing can only improve the final concept.
8) Write! You have it in you. I believe in you. We’re on this journey together!
Your plan for this wild ride is not going to look like mine. It’s not going to look like anyone else’s. But hopefully I’ve given you the confidence to know that planning does not have to be the ball and chain holding down your dreams. Let your plans and your dreams work together and they can take you far.
Lissa Clouser is a poet and occasional short story writer. She is currently working on two poetry anthologies. You can learn more about her and join in on the writing conversation on her blog http://quidforquill.wordpress.com.