I met John Robin a few years ago on a discussion board on LinkedIn. He has been a fantastic pen pal (perhaps keyboard pal in today's age of emails instead of snail mail?), a sounding board for many of my ideas, and a mentor on topics of both craft and publishing. He has agreed to write a series of guest posts on my blog about what it takes to be successful as a writer.
John Robin is an epic fantasy writer and freelance editor. He has been writing stories for more than 20 years, and has written three novels and one novella, though he likes to think of those as the bad pancakes. His fourth novel, Blood Dawn, has been in progress since September and he is presently part of a cool traditional-Indie opportunity through Inkshares to raise funds to publish it by the time he anticipates it will be complete. To find out more about John and his writing, or to connect with him, visit his website at: http://www.epicfantasywriter.com
This is the first in a series of posts about discipline in the life of a writer—how to cultivate it, how to use it to your advantage, how to overcome the barriers that otherwise lead to failure. Today I am going to start by talking about where discipline comes from and how to create lasting drive that will see you through to success.
If I fail, what will I do next?
This should be the first question you ask yourself. Perhaps you’ve mulled it over in one form or another. Have you dreamed of being a full-time author and always come back to the slate time and time again despite it never quite working? Maybe you’ve never asked what you’re trying to accomplish, you just feel like you’re on autopilot, driven to write that great book that people will rave about.
But stop for a minute. Really ask yourself: if you fail, what will you do next? This question is very important, because the path to success is all about failure. Are you willing to write a book ten times? Are you ready to have seven unpublished novels and a pile of rejection letters as high as one of your manuscripts? Will you keep writing something else each time your attempt doesn’t quite measure up, using what you learned from your previous attempts?
If the answer is “I will keep writing”, then you have the drive to build a true discipline, because this drive is what keeps you coming back again and again, no matter what.
You must fail if you want to learn. - Tweet It!
No one gets through life without making mistakes, and likewise no writer—no matter how prolific—masters his or her craft with effortless perfection. That’s right. Rid yourself of any nonsensical ideas of William Shakespeare composing his plays off the cuff. It’s easy to attach to ideas of the great writing masters doing what they do effortlessly, only to forget that before they were able to do so, they had to become good at what they did.
Great writers have great skill because they have come back time and time and time again with the determination to improve. No one picks up a pen and writes a book in one step. But they pick up a pen and try to write a book, and eventually a great book is written. Eventually can mean a lot, and it will mean different things for different people, but usually, in that “eventually” there will be a lot of failure and with these failures, lessons which will make you improve.
Embrace this. It’s a good thing. Think about marathon runners or Olympic athletes who train hard, who go through great pain, knowing it’s the only way to the elite level of fitness they aspire toward. Likewise, mastering the craft of storytelling requires lots of frustration, confusion, mistakes, hours of trying and missing the point, the gut-wrenching anxiety of hearing from a critique partner that the scene you thought you got perfect is way off track; the realization that the story you spent two years on should go in the drawer while you turn to something else.
Many times the only way to learn how to do something right is to learn how to do it wrong, and for this reason, if you’re failing when you sit down to write, then that means you’re right on track. Instead of looking forward to the end results, look down at the work in front of you and the opportunities to grow.
Manage your energy, then manage your time.
So you have drive and a willingness to learn through failure. But drive is not enough, and there are many lessons of failure waiting. If you have a sincere drive to master the craft of storytelling, then it’s going to take time and energy.
Your day job, your family time, your hobbies, and all other parts of your day create a balance within you, and out of that balance your well of creativity springs. Get in touch with your energy, ask how you spend your time, because how you spend your time will determine how your thoughts and emotions order themselves. Making small changes in your life can create big changes in how you function as a person, and these big changes can create the necessary inner space you need to build your discipline.
This is a little truth to success: it is not about the time you spend on your craft, but the energy you reserve for it. If your inner world is a mess because of all the stresses and incongruent aspects of your life that steal your creativity, then the time you spend with your craft will be time wasted. So your task is to put in not just time, but energy, and that requires taking a look at your life and making changes that let your creativity spring free.
Success comes to you, not you to it.
When you work hard for something you love, your focus becomes the work and not the result of the work. Success comes not to those who work for success alone, but for those who have looked beyond success to what lies deep in their heart and drives them toward it. Connect to that, and success will come to you. It might not come right away, there might be many failures ahead, but ultimately, if you are driven, willing to learn through failure, and committed in energy and time to what you are truly passionate about, then each time you sit with your work you will begin to unearth something wonderful.
This is fulfillment, and fulfillment, when it is discovered, is a greater reward than success. - Tweet It!
You can do anything if you are passionate about it. - Tweet It!
Passion underlies the greatest of commitments. It’s what brings you, as a writer, to sit with your story when you could instead be watching TV or spending time with friends. It’s what drives you to make sacrifices and changes. It’s what tells you something you are doing is important.
If you are truly passionate about achieving your dream of becoming a writer, then you will achieve it. Why? Because if you are passionate, then you will put in the time, make the necessary changes in your life, you will learn from failures, you will go deeper than success and discover the fulfillment of the work you do. Instead of having to force yourself to work, you will work because you love it, and the strength of this work will expand tenfold.
Discipline creates itself.
If you are driven and passionate, if you invest enough time to discover the joy of fulfillment in your work, then you will discover that discipline is self-generating. Discipline becomes a habit. Discipline becomes a focus. Slowly, like a star system, the elements of your life will revolve around your discipline and your discipline will create even more changes in your life.
This is the beautiful thing about working hard about what you are truly passionate about: you discover not only how to succeed at it, but you discover also who you truly are and lead the life you truly want to lead. All the other aspects of how you live your life that clutter your mind and your emotions starts to spin in another direction, because discovering the spirit of discipline for your true passion forces all these aspects to change slowly, inevitable, until eventually they align.
Bit by bit, as you progress deeper into your discipline, you become your discipline, and in turn, you become your true self.
So you might be writing part time now. You might be busy in your career. But if in your heart you are a writer and you’re willing to make those small changes in your life to let your discipline grow, then you’ll find that a beautiful metamorphosis awaits.
A reminder to epic fantasy fans that John’s debut novel, Blood Dawn, is now part of an exciting crowd-funding publishing model through Inkshares. Think of it as Kickstarter, but for books, where successful projects are published with traditional editorial and design services. Authors include Gary Whitta, writer of the screenplay for the new Star Wars movie.
John is trying hard between now and April 11, 2016, to raise the funds to publish his book through pre-sales. He also has an awesome opportunity to get his book published, regardless of whether or not he reaching his funding goal, as part of the Sword and Laser Collection Competition with Inkshares.
If you like epic fantasy with magic and strong female characters, find out more about how you can support John in his endeavor at https://www.inkshares.com/projects/blood-dawn. There’s a summary, sample of the first chapter, and some information on the project itself.