Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Failure is proof of effort.

December 6, 2018

 

As the end of the year creeps ever closer, it can be a good time to take stock of how your writing life is going, as long as you do that examination wisely.

Having a successful writing life can seem impossible sometimes, especially if we look predominantly at the times we've tried something without success. Virtually every writer has stories that didn't work, books that didn't sell, and efforts that didn't bear fruit.

Failure is simply proof of effort.

But it's also discouraging. When we feel as if we're piling failure on failure, it's easy to think writing simply isn't something we can do. This is especially true when we feel the pressures of our "instant" society. So many things can be done today with little to no effort, and it can seem as if creative pursuits should be that way also. Especially if we've been told we have "talent" or if we had some early success but now feel like we aren't moving ahead anymore. For these reasons it can be important to learn how to evaluate your writing life.

Look at Work

The number one way to look at how you've done this year is to consider how much work you've done. Have you written? Have you read books on writing, or taken classes on writing, or attended writing conferences or webinars? In other words, have you put forth effort to get better?

Nothing is a failure if you've improved and learned. This is especially true as we progress in our writing. As we shoot for higher and higher goals, we will need higher and higher skill levels to reach them. And that skill building takes time. It's easy to look at that working/learning time as being stagnant and unsuccessful. But instead this is time when we were preparing for success. Without preparation, success will not come, so if you're in the preparing stage (uncomfortable though it may be), it's important to recognize this period of working toward success is legitimate growth. It counts. And it's worth celebrating.

By looking at the work you've been doing, you can also look for ways to fine tune this step. You can look for the spots that need building and plan to focus on those areas in the new year.

List Your Strengths

Looking at the areas where you need to build skills is definitely worthwhile, especially if that step is followed by looking for specific actions you can do to improve, but there is also value in looking at the things you already do well.

•    Are you good at writing stories that make kids laugh?
•    Are you good at writing dialogue?
•    Are you good at writing action?
•    Are you good at very lyrical writing?
•    Are you an amazing researcher?

Whatever your strengths, make a list. And as you write down the things you're good at, think about the parts those things play in every story or article or book you write. This is a good time to think about whether your ultimate goal could use some fine-tuning based on the things you're good at.

For example, suppose you are very good at writing touching stories from your childhood, calling on the strong feelings you had at the time and conveying them in a way that moves the reader. With that kind of strength, there are a number of things you can do. Some may be outside of the writing goals you've considered in the past. For example, you might try writing a few pieces for the Chicken Soup anthologies. That would give you more publishing credits and an emotional boost as you work toward the kinds of publications that pull on skills you've not yet mastered. On the other hand, if your strength is funny dialogue, then maybe you might consider writing a short play script. There are markets for short skits and plays that can be performed in schools or churches. Again, this could let you build publishing credits and give you that boost that comes from being published. So as you list your strengths, brainstorm some possibilities that those strengths suggest. Don’t be afraid to make detours on the road in the year ahead.

Celebrate
Your year is nearly over and (if you're like most of us) you probably didn't quite accomplish everything you'd hoped for. Maybe life got in the way and you didn't accomplish most of what you'd hoped for. Instead of being discouraged, go easy on yourself. Celebrate what did happen instead of what didn't. Recognize that wanting to be a writer is wanting to be a difficult thing, so the forward progression that you've made, even in the tough times, is well worth celebrating. Give yourself a reward (maybe a reward that can be used as you press on). Rewards can be as small as new pen (what writer doesn’t love new writing tools?!) or a new writing book. Or it can be something big like a writing class or writing workshop or writing conference. There are so many amazing options available to writers today. Give yourself a gift that will help in your continued forward movement.

Visualize

The new year is full of potential, so look ahead with a plan:

  • Imagine what you would like this time next year to look like.
  • Consider where you want to go, and make a list of things you will do to help yourself get there.

Many times our ultimate goal involves people who are out of our control. If you promise yourself that you’ll get an agent or get your book traditionally published this year, you many end up breaking that promise. Why? Because you can’t control what someone else does. You can't make a publisher buy your book. You can't make an agent represent you.

But you can write the best book you can write.

You can make sure it's polished to the best you can make it before sending it out. And you can look for help to overcome any writing weaknesses that are standing in your way to success. You can do all that, and it'll help you have the success you're visualizing. Good luck with it. It'll be challenging work, but you can do it. I have faith in you.


Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.

Comments

Elizabeth
December 10, 2018

Thanks, Jan, I needed this. I've had a disappointing year of writing. I've written quite a bit, but nothing has caught any editor or agent's eye. You've given me hope that come January I have a fresh and new start. I was doing quite well writing for children's magazines and published many things, but then I thought I should be writing books to be a real writer. I tried my hand at middle grade, and my writing was good, but the long process of a book wasn't my thing. Then I tried PB writing, but found I had trouble getting my writing to that level after writing middle grade stuff. Now I'm wondering where I should go and what I should do next. Any suggestions?

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Great Read!

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"This is another great read from [ICL]... When I saw this particular one, I grabbed it immediately ... This book is a great addition to a writer's (whether published or not) shelf ... I highly recommend their writing courses. You receive feedback on your work from published authors. You will be encouraged but also pushed to make your story from good to great."