How do you begin the impossible?
How do you begin? Getting from here to there? Do you read the success stories smattered across your social media pages and wonder how on earth you too get from here to there? Yes, I’m talking to you. You know what I mean. Those thoughts in the back of your head, your dream, that belongs only to you. How do you get from the you you are to the you you want to be?
What’s the push you need?
For me, it started with…not a kiss. It started with failure. The bleak realisation that I was failing. Failing at running my business to the level I expected of myself (I had two complaints in the same year), failure at being the perfect mother, failure at being the perfect partner, failure at the speed of my developing WIP, failure at ever being the writer I dreamed of being since I was, oh yeah, able to pick up a pen, failure at…you get the picture. It was a heavy slab of treacle weighing me down every morning when I opened my eyes. In this state I finished working fifteen-hour days, seven days a week, on the run up to Christmas, most of those hours at night after my daughter was in bed, my fingers bleeding and peeling from producing gorgeous bespoke curtains for high-paying women and their beautiful houses. I sleepwalked my way through another family Christmas, hating every minute of it, and somewhere in that bleak twilight realm between one year ending and another beginning I woke up in the depths of the night and thought; Enough Already. That was in 2016.
Fast forward, well, OK, maybe, crawl forward, and three and a half years later I have chosen what I don’t want to continue striving for and what I will willingly keep failing at until I succeed. And this is important. If you want to make progress in one area of your life you must first let go of the fullness that is everyone’s life and make space for the change.
I gave up my business; which meant letting go of the most amazing member of staff I have ever known and my wonderful valued customers. I stopped trying to be the perfect mother, my house is now messier than ever, and I am sooo not the perfect partner. But… I have a finished novel edited to within an inch of its grammatically correct version (by the way my blogs are not, so stop picking up my errors), going out on submission, a second completed, with three more projects in development and nine on the ‘future WIP’ list. I’ve performed my material at Hay Festival, developed a great support circle with members of a WIP group and become a committed member of a fantastic writing circle. This year I’m building my own author identity and platforms. So far, a total of three people have read my whole first book (and I paid one of them to do so), no-one knows my name (yet), and I’ve made a total £75 from my writing. I’ve still got a long way to go but I’m closer to the dream of the life I have always wanted to lead. I’m on the journey to being my truest self.
But, lets rewind. How did I make progress?
I knew there was a vast distance between where I was and where I wanted to be, and if I wanted to get there, I had to commit to making the leap. But I decided not to leap blindly. I sat down in the quiet hours of that awful night and wrote out a five-point strategy to get my writing dreams on track. There’s a billion books, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, and social media accounts dedicated to telling folk how to achieve their dreams. Trust me, I read the lot! And the chance is, if you’re reading this, so have you. All that advice will tell you how they achieved change, in the hope it will Help You (and make them some money), but the seeds for your change are already laid within you, you just need to activate them. You can work from what you already have. Whoever you are, whatever your life story, you are gaining skills from the moment you are born. Skills we all too often ignore in the daunting awareness of greater successes than our own. I’d run a business for over twenty years, I had a degree I’d gained whilst working full time, forty plus years of lessons to draw from and a host of life experiences to build upon.
When I sat down and thought about how I had succeeded in my business, I identified these five core skills:
Clarity. Experience. Process. Guidance. Publicity.
Clarity. Firstly, know what you are aiming for. Know the specific arena of the industry you want to work in. Be clear about what you are doing, how you are doing it and for whom you are doing it. This is your new identity. Know it. Be able to tell people who ask you what you are doing. And who you are doing it for. Practice this. Hone it. Write it down. Pin it up. It is your mantra. Your lucky charm. Your compass. Your horoscope.
I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t just want to be any type of writer. I didn’t want to write poetry, or magazine stories, or competition winners, or blogs (ah, yeah, moving on…later!) or copy for other people. I wanted to work in commercial fiction. Writing novels, not short stories or anthologies. For a fan base who loved big houses and even bigger stories of the people who live in them.
I nailed it down to where I wanted to sit on the bookcase in Waterstones. I went in, took down the great BTB, Fannie Flagg and John Irving and said, my work is going to sit with theirs. To this day those books face me where I work as inspiration for my own journey.
This is exactly what I did in business. When I was young, I took every job offered me, working across all arenas of the textile industry. As my business grew, I recognised where my passion was and honed that area and grew in that skill set. I had clarity, and that enabled me to become very good, not just at doing it, but at selling it.
Experience. Work from what you know now. Don’t think that is all you can do but start with what is known, and build a following based on expanding experience that has some genuine clout to it. Don’t say you make wedding wings for fairies when you don’t even know how to make wings. Or believe in fairies. Simply because you want to work in the wedding market. Find your foot already in the door and get grounded on that foot. Then, later, when you have cracked the door wider, spread out from what you know into what you want to know.
My first books are based in a privileged world of inherited wealth and beautiful houses. Not because I have that, but because I have experienced that through my business for over two decades. The characters I created lean towards my future ambitions. My other ideas in development shoot well away from that arena. But before I could develop them, I knew I needed to acquire the skills necessary to write: structure, character, plotting, narrative, grammar (the list goes on). I acquired those skills whilst working with base material I was deeply familiar with.
Process. Set the systems by which you work and build upon them. If you want to be successful at what you do you must know how long something will take you, what standard that will achieve and how much you can charge for it.
In the trades industry this is basic science. In the creative arts world this goes out the window. A writer’s average wage is below (like well below) a living wage. Financially we really are on the lowest rung of hell. On the flip side, you don’t have to embrace poverty in order to claim your writing prowess. You do need to accept the reality. How long will it take you to write your first work? How long will it take to polish it to a professional standard? How will you survive financially in the meanwhile?
These may seem mundane questions, but they are the bread and butter of your aspirations. No matter what your dream. Value the work you don’t want to do that gives you the space to do the work you love. Don’t get overwhelmed, get real.
My first book and the learning curve it included, took me three years to complete to a polished, fourth draft. Chances are it will never see publication. It’s a first novel. To achieve that novel, I gave up financial income and independence, my own car, put nothing in my savings or pension pot for three years, banned myself from buying any new books (the horror) and nearly drove my partner mad with my financial insecurity. I worked the minimum hours necessary in administration to focus on this goal. Going forward I know I can write a novel part-time in a year. I know how many hours it will take me, how I will find those hours, who I will have to piss off to find those hours, and what I still have to give up to hit that target. I know how to structure my work to maximise my output. I know my processes.
Guidance. Let go of the overwhelming belief that you must know all you need to know before you start. Let go of the fear of seeming stupid. Someone somewhere has done what you are attempting and succeeded. Find such people and learn from them.
If I became excellent at what I did in business, it was because I had a first-rate teacher who taught me the importance of professional standards and consistency. You never reach a point when you cannot gain from the experience or ideas of others.
I found guidance in my new endeavour in different ways. I subscribed to a writing magazine (as a birthday present, thanks Mum), I joined a writing club, I stalked all the writing memes on Instagram and the internet, I read every book on writing I could find, I put what tiny amount of money I earned into finding an editor, I narrowed down my library loans to those authors working in the field I wanted to be in and read to learn from them, I entered competitions for feedback, I shared my work and asked for critique, I was bolshy in asking for help and grateful for every drop of advice.
Keep reading advice columns and books, follow supportive posts on social media (if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by other people, unfollow them and follow folk who are closer in the journey to where you stand now), attend events, conferences, sales venues in the area you’re interested in, ask people questions. Seek guidance.
Publicity. At some point you are going to have to share your dream. This can seem the most overwhelming part. Fear of being judged, of failing, of changing. BUT. (BIG BLOODY BUT) You cannot make a living if you do not generate a market. Doesn’t matter what you want to do or how much you believe in it; you must face the reality of needing a public to consume it. Make yourself available to that public, in whatever form of advertising you are comfortable with, and allow them to be a solid part of the venture you are building.
Before I started writing I hated social media. Total middle-age technophobe. Every piece of writing advice told me to build a following on social media. I tried Facebook and hated it. Tried twitter (the go to port of social media for writers) and loathed it even more. Then I found Instagram (you can find me there @mim.rosen). I’ve spent twelve months following others and understanding the platform, building my own website, and now I feel able to take that step into the social media world. (I even went back to twitter recently, just watching and learning.)
I’ve attended writers launch events, marketing events and public performances, arming myself with the knowledge of what I would need to do. I’ve brought to that my own experience of creating public events and know how I want to run my own such events when I get to it. I even know how I will cope when only five people turn up to the first such event.
If the public domain is not for you, look online. Find the platforms where you can sell or market your work without having to go out into the world. As your confidence grows this may evolve. Start with what you know now, work outwards.
But is your dream strong enough?
You don’t need a road map, a set in stone destination, a 23-page marketing document. Yes, these things will help, and must come.
But at the start, your dream is all you need.
It all builds upon itself.
Acknowledge that, if you want to make progress in one area of your life you must first let go of the fullness that is everyone’s life and make space for the change.
Believe that you can work from what you already have. Start with what you know now.
For me, I used the concepts of Clarity, Experience, Process, Guidance and Publicity. Your tools will be different. Borrow from others as you need to.
You are all you need to take that first step, just as you are, right now. It will be faltering, it will go in the wrong direction, it will get knocked back. But it will also get steadier, clearer, sharper as you bring those dreams out of the back of your mind and into focus. The rest will come.
If you’ve started the journey towards the impossible, please email me your story [email protected]
I’d love to hear more about how you got where you wanted to go; what advice you found useful, what tools you put in your bag, how you visualised your goal. Especially, if you have any tips about the five guidelines I used, please let me know.
If you’re here trying to find out more about becoming a writer, these are my personal suggestions:
- Join a writers’ group (see my article about this huge step).
- Subscribe to Writing Magazine, The Bookseller, Mslexia or other trade journals.
- Read some of the great advice books, On Writing by Stephen King, The Artful Edit by Susan Bell, The Technique of the Novel by Thomas H. Uzzell, Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman…the list is endless.
- Make yourself enter a competition every month for twelve months. Try all sorts of genres, not just what you’re comfortable with. Count the entries, not the wins. Link here to Short Story Competitions 2019, List of Writing Competitions UK – Christopher Fielden or try Writing Magazine’s annual comp guide.
- Create yourself a private writing space. A Guardians of the Galaxy poster adorns the door of my tiny writing chamber, and woe betide anyone who disturbs the Guardians.
- Set yourself a monthly challenge in your achievements: word count, first draft, find an editor, read a small portion to someone else. Celebrate each in some small and deeply satisfying personal way to you. (Yes, OK, this is my excuse to buy a book.)
- Read the authors you hope to emulate (and me!), narrow your attention to the immediate target audience.
- Support the industry you want to work in, (you can subscribe to my newsletter here), buy a kindle book once a week instead of a coffee, pay competition entry fees, attend an author’s event, festival or workshop. Promote an author you’ve loved on your own social media platforms.
And if anyone has any other critical advice to offer, holler up friend! There’s always something we can learn from each other.