D is for Determination

This post is part of an ongoing series, the Author’s Alphabet. Click on the tag below to read more in the series!

D is for Determination.

At first glance, it seems that anyone can write. We all wrote book reports in elementary school. We wrote five-paragraph essays after that. We wrote papers in college, and some of us wrote theses for our undergraduate or graduate degrees. The vast majority of us complete some form of writing every single day in our jobs.

Everybody writes. So who needs determination?

D Block

The rational writer does.

It takes determination to carve out the time to write anything that isn’t required. We all have dozens of demands on every second of our time. Family, friends, work, health, personal goals—they all take time to maintain. When you decide to add writing into the mix, you must steal time from some other aspect of your life. When that aspect begins to push back (fun invitations, boring obligations, whatever), only the determined writer will persevere.

Of course, determination in carving out writing time isn’t the only challenge for the aspiring author. Once you share your work with critics, you’ll be faced with praise. But you’ll also be presented with a list of your work’s shortcomings. Many writers decide they’re through with the game at that point; they don’t have the determination to evaluate criticism, to accept the good points, and to discard the bad.

Addressing criticism requires revising one’s work. Yep, that requires determination as well. Revisions force a writer to rework (and re-rework and re-re-rework) text multiple times. Many authors get to the point that they literally can’t see the words on the page (or screen) any longer; their brains fill in the existing text with past versions, due to the overbearing familiarity of the words. Getting past that overload, that boredom, requires determination.

Once an author has created a definitive final draft of a book, the fun is only beginning. If he’s pursuing traditional publication, he needs to find an agent—a process that requires sending out multiple query letters. Most authors send queries in batches—half a dozen to first-tier agents, then half a dozen to the next-preferred group, etc. Agents have always been selective about taking on new clients, but in the publishing world’s current economic downturn, representation by a qualified agent is nearly impossible for new writers. Nearly impossible, but not completely impossible—that’s where determination kicks in, as writers query and query and query some more.

Even if an author hoping for traditional publication succeeds in landing representation, she still must find an editor willing to buy her book. That search can last for months or even years, as editor after editor reads, evaluates, and criticizes an author’s work. The process is grueling, with raised hopes dashed, especially in this era when an acquiring editor still needs to convince marketing and financial departments to take on a book. Once again, authors must remain determined to succeed. (Age-old advice is still the best advice: authors should work on writing a new book while they wait to sell an existing manuscript.)

Self-publishing does not allow a weak-willed author to skip the determination requirement. Self-published authors must educate themselves on every aspect of the publishing process. They must hire and manage professionals, master a complicated web of distribution, and remain committed when the details of running a publishing business change overnight at the whim of a vendor. (Amazon, anyone?) Skills mastered today may be useless tomorrow. Constant re-tooling requires fierce determination.

Once a book is available to readers, the promotional bandwagon begins (or, more accurately, continues—the rational writer has promoted his book before it hits the stands.) Structuring and executing a promotional plan requires endless determination. Some activities will work, but many will fail completely. Sales, for the vast majority of books, will be lower than the author hoped. Even in the face of less-than-ideal performance, though, the author must seek out the next promotional opportunity.

The ultimate promotion requires the most determination of all: starting a new book.

Every single stage of writing requires determination. The only way to maintain determination in so many ways for so long a time is to provide rewards for accomplished tasks. Some authors treat themselves to chocolate, some to wine. Others buy books to read for enjoyment. Some plan vacations—from walks around the block to field trips at museums to luxurious travel to foreign cities. The goal, of course, is to figure out rewards that don’t wipe out the benefits of determination. (Much like the dieter who rewards the loss of a pound with a candy bar, an author who rewards completion of a word goal with a week off from writing ultimately defeats himself.)

What challenges require the most determination to conquer in your writing career? What rewards do you give yourself for staying the course and achieving your goals?



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