The first element of publishing success falls in line with what might be the most common advice that successful authors from both traditional publishing and self-publishing share when asked by beginning writers.
“First, write a good book.”
It’s a simple thing to say, a basic principle to understand, but it is often overlooked.
The more you write, the better you become at writing.
Therefore, writing a good book means practicing and working at becoming better at your craft by actually planting your butt in a chair and getting those fingers to dance across your keyboard.
Malcolm Gladwell brought the concept of 10,000 Hours to popular culture several years ago. He argued that studies revealed how it would take approximately ten thousand hours of actually performing or practicing a skill in order to become a master of it. There are all kinds of counter arguments to Gladwell’s assumptions, including the task itself, the basic, initial skill, and whether or not a person is willing to learn, or re-learn something they thought that they knew. I address that a bit further in the element of Progression but for now, let’s go back to the simple premise.
The more you write, the better you become at it.
As you continue to write, as you continue to read, all of those efforts and moments and time spent working at both consuming and creating narratives are cumulative. Today when you sit down to write, you are that much more experienced than you were when you sat down to do it yesterday. The difference, of course, from day to day, is virtually imperceptible. But the difference, over months and years, might be a bit easier to see. Because, if you have practiced, and continued to exercise those writing muscles, you are a better writer today than you were when you first started.
If, like me, you still have early writing efforts kicking around in a drawer or file folders, go and take a look at them and compare them with the things you are writing today. Perhaps these are your very first attempts at writing a story, or maybe they are the essays or stories you wrote as part of elementary school assignments. Look at how your writing has grown, changed and developed as you have matured as a writer; as you have practiced and gotten better as a writer.
The more you write, the more you exercise those writing muscles, or, in other words, the more you practice applying all of those elements of grammar and style, character and setting, descriptions, dialogue, and plot that you uniquely combine to create your distinct writer voice. And the more you tone those muscles, the more natural all of those elements of writing are employed each time that you sit down to write.
The key is to make it a habit.
You need to write every day. I was going to end that last sentence with “if possible” merely to acknowledge that there will be some days where you get no writing done. But I didn’t add “if possible” to it because that leaves an easy “out” that I don’t want to just leave sitting there that I know a writer will cling to as part of the “resistance” to getting the writing done that can be so common. Writing needs to be a regular habit for you. It needs to be something that you do regularly, like brushing your teeth or showering (and, oh yes, these are part of another element of writing success that I’ll get to in the next chapter). It is an essential part of you and who you are. Writing needs to be something that you can’t not do. It needs to be harder for you not to write than it is to write.
One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from Hugh Prather and I have had it posted near my writing space for almost thirty years.
“If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write.”
Write. Write some more. And after that, write even more.
One of the other things that you will find if you make a habit of writing every day, is that you’ll have more work, more completed projects, and more publishable material.
Because that’s the secondary and positive side-effect of so much writing; of so much practice.
More stories. More books.
Based on my decades long bookselling and writing career, I have witnessed that the most successful writers not only promote their current published books, but they also know that the best way to sell their existing books is to write and release new books.
But you can’t write and release those new books if you don’t write every day and make it a consistent habit, a common practice.
This is a slightly modified version of the chapter “Practice” from the book The 7 P’s of Publishing Success.