January 3, 2019
Now that 2019 has arrived, we want to get going on the best writing year ever. With many things outside our control (like publisher or agent reaction to our work), it's good to really dig in and get going on the things that we can control. With that in mind, there are three keys to getting a good start on a year that keeps moving forward to success.
#1 - Educate
Far too often our best writing efforts are hampered by things we simply don't know. Perhaps we don't know the markets as well as we should. Perhaps we still struggle with writing a good query or creating a compelling plot that grabs readers and keeps them engaged to the last word. Whatever lack we still have, there is no better time than now to get going on fixing the problems. And the educational options available to writers today is amazing. There are great writing books and great writing websites, but sometimes you need more. Sometimes you need human intervention to learn how best to improve your work.
Luckily, it's never been easier to connect with other writers than with the options available to everyone through the Internet. Many of us cannot make it to in-person writing groups, but online groups offer far more flexibility while still offering the same great input on your work. One of the best places to find good, reputable, trustworthy critique groups is through SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). They can help you connect with writers in-person or on-line, whichever works best for you. And critique groups are one of the best, no-cost ways to get feedback. Joining SCBWI is a financial investment, but it’s one that can return considerable benefits.
There is also IFW’s own Writers’ Block, which offers monthly online critique workshops as well as a slew of other benefits (and there is a free sneak peek offer here).
Sometimes though, we have areas that need more than critique groups can offer, especially if you've worked and worked and simply haven't been able to reach the level you're hoping for. This is where interaction with professionals might be an option. You can take classes, attend workshops, or hire one-on-one editing. The key is to get input that you can then apply to all your work. If you only fix your current work in progress, but don't understand the solution well enough to apply it to the next project you undertake, then your investment is less valuable. So whatever educational choice you make, be brave, ask questions, and keep asking them until you feel confident that you really understand.
And, if you're ready to further your writing education, consider taking an ICL course. You'll get one-on-one instruction and personalized feedback on your work, so you'll know exactly where to focus your efforts.
#2 - Exercise
Attending workshops, reading books, and interacting with writers online are all fantastic things to help you move ahead, but ultimately none of it has any value unless you put what you learn to work. That means, you need to write. Writing, like any other skill, is improved through practice. All the elements that go into writing: researching, organization, story-telling, and revision, are also improved through practice. So don't be hard on yourself when some element in your writing is less successful; instead, look for ways to practice that specific thing. And give yourself time and repetition to improve.
Think about athletes. The ones that are best at their chosen sport have put in countless hours on breaking down the elements of the game and drilling on those things they are less gifted in. That's uncomfortable. It's much more comfortable to simply stick with things we feel good about. That can be a trap. It can coax you into writing stories that only feature the things you know well. For example, I can always tell a writer who feels good about their dialogue skills but shaky about everything else. Those folks will produce stories that are almost all voices. In fact, some will even put the action in the dialogue, having the characters narrate what they are doing. This lets the writer avoid the mix of dialogue, sensory detail, and action that are parts of publishable stories. Unfortunately, it's rare for a publisher or agent to respond well to a story constructed to avoid your weak areas. Often, that kind of story actually draws attention to the weakness instead of diverting attention away from it.
So research and learn how other writers do the things you struggle with, and then practice, practice, practice. Keep at it and the work you create this year will rise above anything you've done before.
#3 - Expectations
This should be the year where we stop muddling around, hoping for the best. Instead, make it a year where you know where you're going, because you have a plan. Do you want to focus on picture books this year? Then create a road map for how to accomplish that and pull out the calendar to set deadlines to get the job done, and download our free Success Journal to keep track of all the great and small accomplishments you achieve.
Set yourself goals for the number of picture books you'll read each month and set a deadline for it. List the things that you know you need to learn to do better, and set monthly goals for how you'll improve in those areas. And set yourself goals for actually writing the books. A good picture book is rarely turned out in days, so create deadlines that give yourself time to do the job well.
A full calendar of tasks to accomplish and deadlines for reaching them will help you hold onto an expectation of success. And while you're at it, set up rewards as well. If you accomplish all the tasks in a given month, what will you give yourself? A quiet evening of reading for fun? A night at the movies? A new outfit? Whatever motivates you and is within reach in terms of time and money would be a good reward, and your work goals are far more likely to be reached if there's a reward awaiting when you reach the goal. (And our Success Journal even has reward tickets for you to fill out and drool over until you get to “cash” them in.)
So this year, harness the power of these three high-energy elements and you will be well on the way to the best year ever. Tally-ho!
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.