Tag: author (page 1 of 4)

True Grit. Writer Style.

true gritThere is a word that applies to successful writers: GRIT.  Science has too long focused on intelligence & talent as determiners of success.  And it’s not.

Tweet this! The key to success is to set a specific long-term goal and to do whatever it takes until the goal has been achieved.

That’s called GRIT (defined as courage and resolve; strength of character). Duckworth did a study in 2008 at West Point. GRIT was the determining factor of Beast Barracks success. My plebe squad, back in the old days when men were men and the sheep ran scared, had five members. Three of them didn’t make it to Christmas the first year. They weren’t bad people; they just didn’t really WANT it. It’s the same in Special Forces training. There are those who go into it because they want to wear a green beret (you know, like Girl Scouts do). They don’t make it. The ones who make it want to BE a green beret. There are those who want the lifestyle of ‘author’. They never get published. The ones who want to BE an author make it. Way back in 1869, Stephen Jay Galton wrote a book titled: Hereditary Genius. He found that ability combined with zeal & capacity for hard work trumps talent.

Successful people have a growth mindset. The problem with many talented people is that they know they are talented; they think that they already know everything they need to know. So they never adapt and change and grow. A growth mindset person believes they can always learn more.  Successful authors are always expanding their craft and their business savvy, especially in today’s rapidly changing publishing environment. If the key is to set a long term goal and doing whatever it takes, the first question is:  Do you have a long term goal as a writer?  I call it the Strategic Writing Goal and discuss it in more detail in Write It Forward.

The Hierarchy Of Goals

  • Overall Writing Goal. (Strategic)
  • Book goal. (Supporting)
  • Business goal (Supporting)
  • Shorter range/daily goals (Supporting)

Let’s talk about your strategic writing goal. It can be anything, but it’s important that you lock it down. Some broad examples: I will be a NY Times best-selling thriller author in five years.

  • I will write my memoir for my grandchildren in the next three months.
  • I write part-time simply because it is a hobby and spend an hour a day on it.
  • I want to be published within 2 years by a major, traditional press.
  • I will have my book in print within 2 months via self-publishing.
  • I will earn X amount of dollars per month indie publishing in six months.
  • I will write a book that will help people with —– and spend the next three years using it to bolster and complement my speaking career.

The Importance Of Your Strategic Goal

It starts your creative and practical process.  Everything you do is going to be slanted to support this goal.  Your strategic goal determines your supporting goals. Writing it down and posting it where you can see it every single day helps keep you focused.  It determines how you approach the publishing business.  It is also the core of your work regime.  It is the core of your marketing campaign. All supporting goals must align with it in the hierarchy.

One of the things I did this year was sit down and look at my supporting goals. The last several years I’d been all over the place with my focus. Writing stand alone books. Writing a short series because I loved the idea: Burners. Writing another Horace Chase book as part of the Green Beret series. I’m proud of all those books, but the reality is that this supporting goal wasn’t supporting my strategic goal. I re-evaluated, balanced what I was passionate about (emotion); interested in (intellect) and what made business sense (reality). I decided to focus on pushing the Time Patrol series forward. It combines everything I want to do as a writer. Writing about science fiction and history allows me to delve into those things I am most interested in and feel the most about. And realistically, putting books out in the same series made sense. I’m seeing that now as D-Day just came out and I’m seeing sales go up in the series overall.

Rooster Cogburn: I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned. Or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker’s convenience. Which’ll it be?

Ned Pepper: I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.

Rooster Cogburn: Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!

Conquer Your Greatest Fear as a Writer by Attacking the Ambush:

Ramp jumpThe best solution for conquering fear is to do the same thing a patrol must do if it is ambushed:  attack right into the fear.

Your patrol is suddenly fired upon from the right. Your fear wants you to jump in the convenient ditch to the left—to avoid the ambush.

However, if the ambush is set up correctly—that ditch is laced with mines and you’ll die if you do that. In life, avoiding problems by running from them doesn’t solve the problem.

Your next fear-driven instinct is to just hit the ground. Stay where you’re at and do nothing. Except you’re in the kill zone and if you stay there, well, you’ll get killed.  We all want to ignore problems.  Because that’s the inherent nature of a problem.  But ignoring your greatest problem will keep you in the kill zone and the result is inevitable.

The third thing you want to do is run forward or back on the trail to get out of the kill zone– escape without dealing with those who ambushed you. Except, if the ambush is done right, the heaviest weapons are firing on either end of the kill zone. And you’ll die.  We want to avoid problems by going back to the past or imaging it will get better in the future even if we don’t change anything.

The correct solution is the hardest choice because it requires courage: you must conquer your fear, turn right and assault into the ambushing force. It is the best way to not only survive, but win.  To tackle problems, you must face them.

You’ve heard write what you know? Maybe write what you are afraid to know. I see many writers who avoid writing what they should be writing because it would mean confronting their fears. Be curious about your fear—it’s a cave, but instead of a monster inside treasure could be inside.

Remember fear is an emotion. Action can occur even when your emotions are fighting it. Taking action is the key to conquering fear.

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How do you expand your comfort zone by venturing into your courage zone? Every day try to do something that you dislike doing, but need to do. If you’re introverted, talk to a stranger every day. If you’re a practical person, do something intuitive every day.

Do the opposite of your Myers-Briggs character.

Attack the ambush!  Write it Forward and Who Dares Wins!

 

The Kernel Idea (The Original Idea)– Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Toolkit_TNThe kernel idea is the Alpha and the Omega of your book. By that I mean it starts your creative process and it completes it. It’s what you begin with and at the end of the manuscript, everything in the book points toward it.

The kernel idea is the foundation of your novel. When I say idea, I don’t necessarily mean the theme, although it can be. Or the most important incident, although it can be. But it can also be a setting. It can be a scene. It can be a character.

It’s simply the first idea you had that was the seed of your novel. All else can change, but the idea can’t. It might be a place; a person; an event; a moral; whatever. But you did have it before you began writing and you must remember it as you write. If you don’t, your story and style will suffer terribly. You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence. And repeat it to yourself every morning when you wake up and prior to writing. Knowing it will keep you on track.

For every new book I begin, I write out this one sentence on a word document as the very first writing I do. I print it out and put it where I can constantly see it. The kernel idea is the moment of conception.

Can you clearly state what your book is about in 25 words or less? This is a key, essential ingredient of writing a good book. This idea keeps you focused and on track. It is important to:

Write The Kernel Idea down

Ask yourself: What emotional reaction does it evoke

Good writing and strong characters are the key to great writing and knowing what excited you to write the book in the first place will bleed onto the page. However, if you don’t write the idea down, you might forget and get lost along the way.

What Is Your Kernel Idea?

Good news is you had one

Bad news is you probably forgot it

It is usually the first thought you had (the spark of inspiration, the moment of conception)

It is the foundation of your book, the seed

KERNAL IDEA EXERCISE: Write down the idea behind your current project.

If you can’t do it, then you need to backtrack through your creative process to find it, because you had it at one point. Everything starts from something. While idea is not story (something I will talk about later) idea is the only thing in your manuscript that won’t change. Your story can, but your idea won’t.

In one of my early novels, the original idea was an action: What if Special Forces soldiers had to destroy an enemy pipeline? That’s it for Dragon Sim-13. Not very elaborate, you say. True. Not exactly a great moral theme. Right. But with that original idea there was a lot I could do and eventually had to do. I had to change the target country after the first draft. But that was all right because I still had the idea. I had to change characters, but that was fine too, because it didn’t change my idea. I had to change the reason why they were attacking a pipeline, but again, the original idea was the same.

You will have plenty of latitude for story after you come up with your kernel idea; in fact, I sometimes find the finished manuscript turns out to be different from what I had originally envisioned, but one thing is always true: that kernel idea is still there at the end as the Omega.

For my first kernel idea, I made it as simple as possible to enable me to focus on the writing because when I was in the Special Forces my A-Team had run a similar mission on a pipeline.   Since I had a good idea what would happen in the story, I could concentrate on the actual writing of the novel.

I’ve sat in graduate literature classes and heard students say, “the author had to have a moral point in mind when they wrote that book.” I agree, but sometimes it is not at the forefront of the story. Many authors write simply to tell a story started by that kernel idea, which indeed might be a moral point, but sometimes is a story that they wanted to tell and the theme developed subsequently.

A moral or theme (screenwriters call it intent) always does appear in a book by the time it’s done.   No matter what conscious expectations or thoughts an author has when they start writing, a lot more appears in the manuscript than they consciously anticipated.

After you have that kernel idea, you should spend a lot of time wrestling with it and consciously uncover your feelings and thoughts about it. I try to look at my main characters and determine what will happen to them emotionally, physically and spiritually as they go through the story. Who are they at the beginning of the story and who are they at the end?

This is an example of being aware of what you are doing. Not all authors have a conscious theme when they write a novel, but experience has taught me that it is better to have your theme in your conscious mind before you start writing. It might not be your kernel idea, but it will definitely affect your characters and story.

The reason it is important to have a theme in mind is because people want to care about what they read and the characters. If there is some moral or emotional relevance to the story they read, they will become more involved in the story and enjoy it more. Even if the reader doesn’t consciously see it either.

Some writers balk at the kernel or one-sentence idea. How can you be expected to write the entire essence of your epic novel in one sentence? You are told that every word, every sentence, every paragraph and every scene must have purpose, so how can any writer sum up their work in twenty-five words or less?

It’s simple. Your story started with an idea. If you write it down when you think of it, then summarizing your story in one-sentence is that much easier.

During the Write on the River workshop, the very first thing we do is write the idea on whiteboard.  It’s not as easy as you think!

One way to work on understanding the Kernel Idea is to take your favorite movie or book and try to figure out the Kernel Idea. This will help you narrow the focus and see how it is the foundation of everything in the story.

Do you know your kernel/original idea?

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