In his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents what he sees as the key principles to achieving success in the workplace. I’m more of a Bridget Jones than a Stephen Covey when it comes to self-help manuals but I thought it might be fun to share the seven things I’ve learned along my writing journey and see if they resonate with anyone else.
1. Write Even When You Don’t Want To
There are days when the muse just doesn't sing- when she won’t even mutter under her breath. But you can’t give in to her silence. You still have to sit at your desk and fill the page. It isn't only about ‘being professional’ and meeting deadlines. It’s also about pushing through the mental block and making something happen. It’s about telling yourself you can do it and not giving up.
2. Make Friends with Other Writers
Writing is a lonely business and there are some things only other writers can understand. Your writer friends keep you afloat when the seas are rocky and chill on the deck with you when they are smooth.
3. Look at Your Work with Fresh Eyes
When you’re too close to something it can be difficult to see what’s in front of you- glaring plot gaps, character inconsistencies…One of the most useful things I ever did was to get feedback from a literary consultancy. It set me up with a fantastic editor who propelled my manuscript in a new direction by showing me what I was doing right and (more importantly) what I was doing wrong.
4. Realise Everyone is Different
Some people plot to the nth degree before opening a new document and typing Chapter One. Others are what the NaNoWriMo organisers would call ‘pantsers.' They fly (or rather write) by the seat of their pants without knowing where their story is going to end up. Neither method is better than the other. It’s just a matter of working out which one does it for you.
5. Don’t Stop
I think this is my most important lesson so far. No matter what stage you’re at (querying/on submission/waiting for edits) channel your energies into the next project. The excitement that comes from writing something new will stop you checking your inbox every two minutes and the passion will keep you going- especially when rejections start to come in.
6. Rejection is Part of the Process
Everyone says you have to have a thick skin to be a writer. When I started out I thought they were talking about the pre-published stage. But it turns out they weren't. It turns out the rejection never ends and even the most celebrated authors get bad reviews. The trick is not to get bogged down by it (easier said than done). The truth is sitting on the sofa in our pyjamas watching Netflix with a tub of Ben and Jerrys isn't going to get any of us on the bestseller lists. But telling ourselves rejection happens to everyone and getting off the sofa just might.
7. Celebrate Your Successes
Given the amount of rejection we all face in this game, I think it’s crucial to celebrate our successes whenever they come along. No matter how big or how small the achievements we must relish them!
Victoria Slotover has written for The Daily Express and Ham & High newspapers and her short fiction has been published in lit mags and anthologies both here and in the States. She recently won the Full Stop Short Story Competition and has just completed her first novel, a crime thriller about a man who in battling his demons and ends up becoming one himself.