Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wrriting Novels: Talent, Luck, and Discipline

I was leafing through my 2003 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market (which I'll be updating soon) and came across this quote from Michael Chabon:

"I like to say there are three things that are required for success as a writer: talent, luck, discipline. It can be in any combination, but there's nothing you can do to influence the first two. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling. You just have to hope and trust in the other two."

This is so true and it gives those of us who may worry about our talent (am I good enough?) or question our luck (why is everyone against me!) Discipline also applies to many other areas. The discipline to write every day, to market your work, to remain focused on one task at a time. I wrestle with these on most days. It’s so easy while writing a novel to jump back and forth to other projects. For one, the novel takes so long and when you’re in the thick of it, you don’t see much progress, let alone an end in sight. Whereas an essay or a short story or even a blog post such as this, can be written fairly quickly. Finally, I finished something!

Many writers equate writing the novel to marriage, and short stories to the occasional fling or a one night stand. The temptation is always there (the grass is always greener on the other side…). But if you ever hope to succeed in completing, let alone selling your novel, it’s important to get back to the novel, if that is where your true heart lies, and not be tempted by all the other sideshows, too, whether it’s Facebook, twitter, blogs or email. All of these chew up your novel writing time.

Now and then, after you’ve locked in a couple of hours, you can reward yourself with a writing timeout to check all of the above. You’ve earned it. But keep it brief and then get back to your novel. If you don’t, you can kiss that sweet novel goodbye. Whatever urgency or excitement or enthusiasm you first had to get it going, will soon be gone. Out of sight, out of mind. Without that day in and day out discipline, your novel will never get written (and rewritten), let alone published and in the bookstores.

It also takes discipline to find that perfect balance for writing, for family and friends, and for living. Don’t play the martyr. Get your novel written but get a life, too!

*Update: I managed to turn that discipline into some luck, too. The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just.  advanced to the Quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012!  It was all those rewrites in 2010, 2011, and 2012 that got me there.

**Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

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