Play the Writer’s Long Game for Success

Me beside a giant tree on my trip to California.

Me beside a giant tree on my trip to California. No, I didn’t climb it but I did finish two novels, so far.

Writers have to be prepared to think in terms of the long game. First of all there’s the decision of actually becoming a writer and that’s often a hard one. Toughest for me was deciding long after I’d been writing my first novel for months that I really could be called a writer.  An author? That was still to come and I read many viewpoints on just what the difference between writer and author might be. Once I had my novel published what term I used to describe myself didn’t seem to matter anymore.

But that took almost six years.

Novels can be anywhere from about 250  to over 1000 pages. Mine range around the 300 page mark and with all the research for my historical fiction they take every bit of two years from spark to birth, a long gestation period. I’ve no idea how to find the stamina for something 1000 pages!

Even writing this weekly blog post takes a few hours usually divided up into draft, polishing, and final posting modules of time. Once in a while I’ve been tempted to hit Publish when I finish the first draft but when I look back the next day I’m glad I’ve waited. Funny how the brain works, isn’t it? You’d think when we’re up to our elbows in a topic that would be the optimum time for our brains to push out brilliance.

Hmmm. Not so much. Seems we need a fresh eye to see what we missed in the rough draft.

My novels are the same.

On the day I received my first printed copy of The Loyalist's Wife.

On the day I received my first printed copy of The Loyalist’s Wife.

I have my own writing formula which may not work for others but, if I’ve learned anything writing these many years, it’s that all our brains work differently. We have to heed that. So each day I reread at least the previous day’s 3 or 4 pages to get myself back in nineteenth century Canada and pick up my story from there. And I might change a word or two, correct the flow of a sentence, or notice a spelling mistake. My fingers go so fast on the keys that often they actually don’t hit the keys hard enough to make an imprint; hence, I make mistakes.

All of this rereading and editing is coupled with checking to make sure I’ve got the history details just right. I might just put questionable things in red ink until later, especially if I know where the story is going and I’m anxious to let it unfold. This method takes all kinds of time.

I contract with myself to write 5 days a week, usually about 4 pages each day, giving myself a break on the weekend. Of course, sometimes the research takes the whole two hours I’ve scheduled before the rest of my life knocks on my door. Then I don’t get any pages written. I hate that feeling. I tell myself it’s necessary and it is but my printed pile doesn’t grow when I’m researching so part of me is just sad. You see, I want to finish.

Even though I love putting words to page, especially when something really clever or exciting or emotionally moving comes out of my brain, I also thrive on completing things. I am a type A personality, so I learned somewhat to my chagrin years ago. Move on, get it done, achieve. Those little angels have worn my shoulders right down to the bone. Missing my four-pages-a-day target is painful.

The Loyalist's Luck Book Launch

The Loyalist’s Luck Book Launch

Eureka! Those very characteristics, with a little modification, have helped me finish two novels and almost finish the third. I’ve learned to temper them with patience. (My family are all laughing out loud at that!) But patience it is that makes the difference for a writer. In fact, I venture to suggest it makes all the difference.

We have to learn that Rome wasn’t built in a day (sorry for the trite metaphor), but it was built. So make small goals for yourself. Achieve them. But always keep in mind the long game. This works with marketing your books as well. And with finishing a trilogy.

Three years ago in June my first book, The Loyalist’s Wife, finally stepped out after six long years of my learning and writing and rewriting and learning and–you get the picture. A year and a half ago its sequel, The Loyalist’s Luck, clothed itself in a lovely cover and faced the world. Eight months from now, in November, 2016, The Loyalist Legacy is scheduled to debut. (More about that in posts to come.) All of these things happened because I played the long game. How about you?

Elaine Cougler’s website:

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3 thoughts on “Play the Writer’s Long Game for Success

  1. I am also playing the long game, Elaine! I pondered my first novel for almost ten years before I plucked up the courage to write it down and submit it to publishers. Now, 6 years later, I have four published novels, several short stories, and another half dozen novels in progress at various stages. It’s an exciting process! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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