The journey to becoming a successful author is a long one. It started with a desire to build a quality book, meandered through the plateau of platform-building, detoured briefly into the land of banking, and then began the arduous climb up the mountain of publication and marketing.
In order to maintain traction and scale new heights, there are three final tools required to keep growing as a writer and build a long-lasting career.
Tool #1: Keep reading. As Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.” Reading keeps the creative well filled with fresh ideas and virtual experiences, making it easier to draw out the truths you would like to share in your own writing. Reading also keeps you in touch with the current market and the types of stories that readers are clamoring for. You can investigate trends, develop your skill by seeing what methods worked or did not work within a story, and even study the new releases from a publishing house you would like to target.
If your budget is a limiting factor, consider the switch to ebooks or become a regular visitor at your local library. If you’re doing research on a publisher, consider downloading preview samples from Amazon in order to get a taste of the first few chapters of a book without investing your time or money in the remainder. Create a reading plan or list and then set aside time in your schedule for this important activity.
Tool #2: Keep learning. The most successful people in any arena are those who maintain an attitude of humility rooted in the habit of being a lifetime learner. Whether it’s through professional memberships, craft books, courses, webinars, or podcasts, identify the areas where you struggle and then seek out a path of discovery to transform that weakness into a place of strength. Of course, information alone is not enough, but must be put into practice through exercises and experimentation. Instruction and practice may take time away from your current writing project but will actually save time later when it comes to editing, publishing, or marketing.
Don’t shortchange your career by thinking you have mastered the art and craft of writing. Make a list of the top three things you would like to (or need to) learn this year and then seek out several teachers. Often a multitude of teachers on the same topic will help you separate the key truths from extra opinions while the repetition drills the information deeper into your memory banks.
Tool #3: Keep writing. Like most muscles, your writing gets stronger with use…but can atrophy with neglect. Like other areas of physical fitness and athletic activity, your writing can also benefit from periods of cross-training. Instead of only writing new books to feed the voracious demands of the market, perhaps you could briefly experiment with a new genre or write a current scene from a different point of view in order to stretch your creativity.
Journaling is also important because it provides an outlet to process and record your thoughts regarding current events or the aftermath of an emotional confrontation. Even if you cannot find time to add to or edit your work-in-progress daily because of the demands of family or a day job, find a minimum daily dose in the pages of a journal or email to a friend. Turning thoughts into written words is a skill that gets easier with time and use, so keep on writing something.