Monday, February 19, 2018

The Worst and Most Important Writing Checklist

Start something.
Finish something.
Edit something.
Like something.
Distribute something.
Submit something.
Publish something.
Promote something.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking, “If it were only so simple, jackass!”

My roommate in New York city chased me out after regaling me in all her opinions about how I should be a writer… and it was pretty much this. She told me I should try being a writer. I should starting small. I should try focusing. I should try blogging. I should try the newspaper. On and on about obvious stepping stones for an author’s career.

And every time I attempted to explain to her that I had done all that she suggested—with mixed results no less—she turned around and criticized me. It became quickly clear that she was just looking to find easy solutions to my problems, and I wasn’t helping by being active in my own life.

The problem with the above list is that very rarely can you jump from one to the next. You’re not going to finish everything you start, like everything you edit, publish everything you finish. You’re probably going to start sixteen-hundred novels in your lifetime and you’ll be lucky if you complete six.

But that’s exactly my point.

Of the above list, it took me years to move from one check to the next. I began seriously writing in 2003, but didn’t attempt to publish until 2008. I wasn’t published until 2012 with a short story in an e-zine. It wasn’t until 2017, fourteen years after I wrote my first book, that I have actively worked to try and get a novel into readers’ hands.

You know who tends to be successful? People who do all of the checklist.

It’s those who write. It’s those who don’t just keep starting over. It’s those who actually put their books out there for the public to see. It’s those who submit and submit and submit despite all of the rejections. It’s those who talk about themselves and their books that make sales. And, of course, the best writing is created by those who push it. Those who edit their work, get feedback, and just revise until they like it are the ones doing great things.

This checklist is a pain in the ass. It takes a long time to get one item done, and even when you do finally put the X through it, you might realize that the next step requires you to start from scratch—To like something, you might have to write something new.

But, it’s useful in that not splitting your time between these activities can create a blockage in your career. Criticizing yourself for not being successful when you haven’t even attempted half of the actions on the list is misappropriating the issue.

Checking off each item won’t necessarily put you where you want to be, but until you have at least actively and efficiently attempted to do each one of these, you can’t complain about how bad your writing is. You haven’t tried everything.

This might be the most autobiographical advice I give: You cannot be a writer if you do not start writing, if you do not finish a manuscript, if you refuse to edit, if you don’t trust your own tastes, if you try to do it all on your own, if you never audition yourself, put it out the public, or tell people what you’re doing.

I know that there’s something on this list you’re avoiding. Could it be the thing that’s holding you back?

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