Going for the Great

Hello my ghoulies!  We interrupt your normal spookifying blog posts for another blog hop edition of the Life List Club!  Join in the camaraderie of new and old friends helping each other progress towards our goals.  Today I’m talking about zombies over at Sonia Medeiros’ blog and joining me today is the sassy and fashion savvy (she has leopard print pants!!), Jenny Hansen from More Cowbell.  Please welcome Jenny to the stage!

Going For The “Great”

NaNoWriMo is less than two weeks away and writers are flexing their fingers and cracking their knuckles in anticipation. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s when hundreds of thousands of writers around the world swarm to the website, chat rooms and local write-ins to try to bang out fifty thousand words in a month.

That’s 1,667 words per day, or just under seven pages, for all of those who haven’t done the math on this. That’s a big commitment, but it can be done. The goal – at least it’s my goal – is to do it smart.

Like most writers, I don’t just want to end up with words on a page. I want to end with a framework of good words that I can (hopefully) fashion into something great when the dust has settled in December.

I came across a quote at work that I used in a motivational seminar that applies to us crazy writer types:

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” ~ Kenny Rogers

Note: Those of you over here at Jess’ place might not have visited me at my blog (More Cowbell) yet, so you won’t know that I’m a software trainer (aka “Training Goddess”) by day for an accounting firm. It’s my job to get those accountants out of their comfort zone and enjoy the process while they’re at it.

There’s countless ways to motivate people, but a sure way to fire up my accountants is to appeal to their sense of competition. This can be competition with themselves or with someone they admire. Accountants, as a rule, are highly motivated to be the best – each of them strives to have the best research skills, deepest knowledge, etc. Sound familiar?

Here’s five points I presented this last week in a seminar called, “Are You A High-Value Employee?” Below, I’ve adapted these 5 key areas to writers since we are the boss and employee all rolled into one.

Key areas of high value to which all WRITERS should aspire:

1.  Relationships: The ability to connect and interact with co-workers fellow writers, clients publishing professionals, and the community readers.

You and I are building a relationship right now. I post thoughts, you read them, then we discuss (because hopefully y’all will cavort in the comments section). If we enjoy the process we do it again, either here at Jess’ blog or over at More Cowbell. Perhaps you’ll come find me on Twitter (@jhansenwrites). Maybe I’ll come find you.

Relationships will build naturally if you’re open to them. I’ve got writing friends who’ve been on Twitter since January (because I forced them to join a week after I did) and have yet to send a single tweet or monitor a single hashtag. They’re not involved in ROW80 or The Life List Club. They’re not doing what Jess did when she founded Life List Club with Marcia Richards to support other writers: they’re not forming relationships.

As much as we all love to play with words, writing can be a cold, hard endeavor when it’s not going well. Relationships with supportive friends can help brighten up the process and keep you from getting stalled. Building relationships is essential to a writer’s success.

2.  Analysis: The ability to extract the key critical factors of a specific situation.

While accountants get all zippy and hopped up on the word “analysis,” most writers experience an odd yearning to scratch out their eyes or iron their underwear each time they hear it bandied about. Analysis, to most creative people, means numbers and spreadsheets and pain.

Here’s what analysis really means:

a·nal·y·sis/əˈnaləsis/

Noun:    Detailed examination of the elements or structure of something, typically as a basis for discussion or interpretation.

The process of separating something into its constituent elements.

In writer-speak it means “good Craft” and deep edits. We spend a lot of time learning 3-Act structure or creative use of Setting in the hopes that it will seep inside and flow through our fingertips to the page. Those are good goals.

To be a “great” writer, we must be able to revise. If you’re like me, you might be thinking things like, “I don’t wanna!” or “I’ll just ‘know’ what belongs there when I see it.” That kind of whining will let you be a good writer, but probably not a great one.

We must know why we’re adding or taking away from a scene, which means we have to analyze our scenes for what they’re missing (and learn as much as you can about Craft).

3.  Innovation: The ability to design solutions to effectively solve problems.

Writers are incredible innovators. We build people and worlds and invent entire stories. Are we bringing our full innovative powers to bear when we do this? Spending the time and energy to move beyond the nice and easy, to the far-flung limits of our imaginations?

I’ll confess, some days I’m lazy and I just don’t feel like stretching my “what-if muscle.” On those days, my writing is usually OK at best. It’s definitely not within a mile of great. I kick myself later and wonder why I didn’t take a walk, or a run through Twitter or slug down some coffee. All those things give me a boost. Finding out what gives you a boost will help you bring your Innovator to the page.

4.  Knowledge: Depth and breadth of understanding and applying bodies of information.

This is where the ever-present research comes in. Some writers love it, and some don’t. All of us are going to be doing it sooner or later and it seems everyone’s got a different way to go about it.

For some, research is an in-depth journey; still others research by watching reality TV. You need to find out what works best for you, but your end-goal is to know your subject well enough that you can describe it in just a few words.

5.  Experience: The ability to function competently and confidently at appropriate level, having performed in numerous situations and demonstrated task or job fluency.

The same as in your day job, “writing experience” is directly related to writing practice. The more we write and the more books we complete, the greater our confidence and level of skill.

I’ll never figure out why it’s OK to learn job skills slowly, but the same speed for a writer is cause for angst. Perhaps it’s because the writing means more to us than our day jobs. Most writers will tell you they started to hit their stride about the time they finish their third manuscript.

I know some of you are shuddering right now, thinking of all that “wasted time.” I have a question for you perfectionists: Why is it acceptable for multiple attempts when learning to ride a bike, or dance the tango, or knit but it’s an “epic fail” to write a few books before you get good at it?

Lots of first novels remain unpublished for a reason. They were practice for the other books. It takes years to learn the piano, and hours of practice. Maybe you could cut yourself some slack the next time you sit down at the writing page. Enjoy the journey; have some fun. You’re gaining on-the-job experience.

The beauty of being a writer is that we don’t really have to get it right the first time. We just have to try our very best. Eventually, our best becomes GREAT.

What do you think makes for great writing? What online tool do you like best for networking and building relationships with others? Do you participate in goal-based groups like ROW80, The Life List Club or NaNoWriMo?

Thanks for visiting with us on this Life List Friday! Have a great weekend.

-Jenny

     Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after the newly walking Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing. When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at jhansenwrites and at her group blog, Writers In The Storm.

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14 responses

  1. What an awesome post Jenny! Often, we tend to take the obvious for granted and overlook its importance. This was certainly a reminder to me of some basic things that all professionals need to keep in mind, regardless of the line of work.

    1. Thanks, Gary! It’s nice when there’s “crossover” between the day job and writing. :-)

    2. I agree. The advice is useful in any line of work, but I’ll be using it to prep for NaNo for sure!

  2. That’s a great quote to live by! I love blogging and twitter, Nano isn’t really my scene because I know I couldn’t make that kind of commitment right now, but still social media is a great way to achieve goals!

    1. Yah, I need to do a better job of using it as a reward and not having it going while I’m working because I get so excited to read links and chat with others. That’s my goal this monday to catch up on work and outlining.

  3. I Like the quote too, Jennie! BTW, I’ve been staring at your picture all day on this blog hop and I LOVE your hair long like it is in this new picture you’ve got up. :-)

  4. I love this! Great post. I like the part about writers being great innovators. Didn’t think about it like that. :D

  5. Thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for joining the Life List Club Suma! Stop by again soon and let us know what goals you’re working towards.

  6. This is such wonderful advice! And it lifts my spirits to think about how all those things I think of as “yucky business skills for the day job” that I’ve developed over the years can and do translate into my writing life!

    1. Here, here!

    2. Of course they do, Pam! That’s the beauty of it all (in my opinion). :-)

  7. Great post, Jenny! We are innovators.
    There is not one NYTBS author out there who is any greater than we can be.
    If a person is new at writing, he/she should compare his/her beginning to someone else’s middle. Just like you said, it takes time and practice.

    1. You know what else I’ve learned on this journey, that just because someone has one book out it doesn’t mean it comes easier for them. Many bloggers I read have a harder time with their second book because they get overwhelmed by pressures of the first – what readers expect, having to stay in the same genre, confined by a time limit. It just proves that we must always work at our craft and not assume we know it all, EVEN when we get that first book out there.

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