Two Secrets to Writing Success in 2016 By Patricia Skalka

Writer, know thyself. With apologies to Socrates, I would say that sounds like good advice with which to start the New Year. So, as the world turns to the opening weeks of 2016 and I finish up the third book in my Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series, may I humbly offer two suggestions for success in the coming months.
            The first is very much in line with knowing thyself as a writer. I interpret this adage as knowing what works for you. Many successful writers start with an idea and little else. They jump in with both feet, work hard and months later have the first draft of a book-length manuscript to show for their efforts. That’s a fantastic approach but one that doesn’t work for me. Every time I’ve tried being a “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of her pants), I’ve ended up stuck in dead ends or getting lost in a knotted maze of plot lines that refuse to come untangled.. And I use up precious writing time fussing over that pesky now whatquestion.
Through trial and error, I’ve learned that I am a “plotter.” I need to know the story before I begin writing. I need a step-by-step road map that carries the action through from the beginning to the end. Doesn’t that dilute the thrill of writing? I was once asked. No, not at all.
I view writing as a two-step process: first I develop the story line, a laborious process that can take three to four weeks to complete. Then I sit down to write and when I do, I don’t have to spend time or effort worrying about what comes next because I already know. This knowledge frees me to focus on the writing or the telling.
Perhaps one of these techniques works for you or you use a method that falls somewhere in the middle or outside the bounds of either. If you follow a technique that works for you then you’ve completed the first crucial part of knowing yourself as a writer. If not, then perhaps this is the year to experiment.
My second nugget of advice: write at your own pace. Some authors routinely produce three, five or even occasionally seven thousand words a day.  Not me. Just thinking of writing at that kind of pace induces brain freeze. 
On a very good day, I can write one thousand words. Last spring, I met the goal consistently for weeks on end and felt fantastic. Then summer came and my work discipline evaporated. Suddenly, I had other demands on my time. Friends to meet for coffee, walks to take, lake-front bike rides that beckoned.  Aiming for the one-thousand word mark, I’d write six or seven hundred and walk away from my desk feeling disappointed and frustrated. This continued until I decided to try a more realistic “summer” goal and lowered the bar to five hundred words a day. The transformation was amazing. Every day I easily met and surpassed the goal. Suddenly, the seven hundred words that meant failure translated into elation and made me feel empowered about my work.  Same quantity, different expectations.
The ultimate goal of any novelist is to write a good book.  Shooting for, say, a seventy-five thousand word manuscript, how long will it take? At one thousand words a day, working six days a week, you’ll be finished in twelve and a half weeks. That sounds both remarkable and exhausting. Scaling back to five hundred words a day, while working six days a week, you will produce a completed manuscript in twenty five weeks, or roughly six months.  Think of it: six months to write a complete novel. Still remarkable, and not exhausting at all.
Late winter or early spring, I will start the fourth book of my mystery series. I’ll spend approximately four weeks developing the plot and creating the detailed story road map that will guide me through the process. When I start to write, I’ll aim for five hundred words a day, working five days a week to allow time for readings and other events to which I’ve already committed.  Even with a modest yield of twenty-five hundred words a week, I’ll have ten thousand per month. And that will add up to a finished draft in seven and a half months. Add in the month of planning, allow a couple of weeks for vacation or life’s inevitable interruptions and I will still have the new book written in approximately nine months.  That’s a goal I can readily embrace and one that perhaps will work for you as well.
Please, join me, as we raise a toast to the New Year -- and write on.


Patricia Skalka's Bio:

A lifelong Chicagoan, Patricia Skalka is a former Reader’s Digest Staff Writer and award-winning freelancer, as well as one-time magazine editor, ghost writer and writing instructor. Her nonfiction book credits include Nurses On Our Own, the true-story of two pioneering, local nurse practitioners.

Twitter: @PatriciaSkalka


John M. Wills said…
I like her idea of writing at your pace. Don't be influenced or intimidated by another writer's habits.
Patricia Skalka said…
A lesson I learned the hard way!
GBPool said…
Good advice. We have to listen to our own drummer or else we will all sound alike. Happy New Year to you, too.
Patricia Skalka said…
Thank you. The writer's life is full of lessons to be learned -- that's how we keep improving.

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