Good things come to those who persevere

Today I’ve got Justin Woolley here with some great advice on an essential skill every writer should develop. Justin puts much of his success in writing and finding a publisher for his debut novel down to that skill.

Over to you Justin…

Head and shoulders shot of Justin Woolley‘Good things come to those who wait’ might be the worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard.

But ok, while you’re waiting for good things to happen I’ll be over here mashing the keyboard like an infinite number of monkeys.

You see, there’s much advice out there on the craft of writing, some of it good, some of it not, but all of it designed to help you master the nuts and bolts of various aspects of process.

This might be novel structure or showing and not telling or developing characters or building rising conflict while cutting adverbs and killing darlings.

While all that is obviously important, I think the single most important skill a new writer can develop is not related to the craft of writing at all, at least not directly, and that skill is perseverance.

I say that because the craft of writing will come if you work at it.

Take the advice you think works for you. Chuck out what doesn’t.

You’ll hone your skills. You’ll find your voice.

But all that will only happen if you’ve got the drive to persevere.

Writing a novel is hard. Damn hard.

You’ve got to turn up, day after day, and you’ve got to get the words down.

Sometimes the cogs spin like a dream and just like all those infinite monkeys you write yourself some Hamlet.

Other days it’s like hitting your face up and down on the keyboard until your eyes are black and your nose is bloody.

That’s where perseverance comes in.

You need to persevere because you need to finish things.

So many people probably have three and a half chapters of a manuscript saved somewhere in the dingy back-waters of an old hard-drive living in a garbage can and barking indecipherable nonsense at passing files.

Unfortunately unfinished work can’t be edited (and writing is rewriting after all) and unfinished work can’t be published.

Finishing the first-draft of a novel is a significant achievement, it’s the first step toward a completed novel and ask anyone who’s done it, it took perseverance.

So, that’s all well and good you say, but how do I help myself persevere?

Well I’ve found one of the most beneficial things you can do is set yourself a daily word count goal.

Start with 500 or 1000 words, whatever you think you can accomplish in the time you have factoring in however much punishment your face can withstand.

Be realistic but don’t make it too easy either.

You want to ensure you can meet it every day but also setting a goal of six words is cheating.

Consider this little fact brought to you by the magic mathematics: if you write 500 words a day, in 180 days (six months) you will have written 90,000 words.You need to persevere because you need to finish things.

That dear friends, is a book.

Don’t underestimate the small chunks of time you can find during the day to write either.

Maybe it’s on the train to work or waiting for an appointment.

Perhaps you can only squeeze out 100 words, maybe 50, maybe only 20, but the fact that you spent that time on your writing and not staring at your phone matching coloured pieces of candy is exactly the discipline needed to persevere.

The other key reason you’re going to need perseverance is that once you’ve got that book written (and then rewritten and probably rewritten again a few times) and you finally get it out into the world you’re going to get hit with the sledgehammer of rejection, probably numerous times.

This is where you get to flex those perseverance muscles you’ve built up.

When the rejection hammer smashes your teeth in for the tenth time you head back to the dentist, get patched up and put that book out there again.

This sucks. I get that. I’ve been there.

When you’re hunting for your big break, when you’re desperate to catch that first novel sale, when you’re thinking about giving up or just slapping that sucker up on Amazon yourself, you’ve got to dig deep, take feedback on board and maybe rewrite again.

Ultimately you need to know that persevering here makes you a better writer.

This writing game is a marathon not a sprint.

For some of you my harping on about perseverance may sound a bit preachy, or you be thinking it’s not really a skill, but let me just say this, I had to learn to persevere with writing.

I really do consider it a learned skill and sure, while I obviously developed my craft, I think perseverance is what finally got me my first novel sale.

Perseverance will make your writing output higher, it will make your writing better; it will make your chances of success greater.

At the end of the day perseverance is the trait that turns aspiring authors into published authors.

Justin Woolley has been writing stories since he could first scrawl with a crayon. When he was six years old he wrote his first book, a 300-word pirate epic in unreadable handwriting called ‘The Ghost Ship’. He promptly declared that he was now an author and didn’t need to go to school. Despite being informed that this was, in fact, not the case, he continued to make things up and write them down. 

A Town Called Dust: Justin’s debut novel will be published November 13th, 2014 by Momentum Books.

In his other life Justin has been an engineer, a teacher and at one stage even a magician. His handwriting has not improved. 

You can find Justin’s website at or on Twitter: @Woollz.

A Town Called Dust

A Town Called DustStranded in the desert, the last of mankind is kept safe by a large border fence… Until the fence falls.

Squid is a young orphan living under the oppressive rule of his uncle in the outskirts of the Territory. Lynn is a headstrong girl with an influential father who has spent her entire life within the walled city of Alice.

When the border fence is breached, the Territory is invaded by the largest horde of undead ghouls seen in two hundred years. Squid is soon conscripted into the Diggers – the armed forces of the Territory. And after Lynn finds herself at odds with the Territory’s powerful church, she too escapes to join the Diggers.

Together Squid and Lynn form an unlikely friendship as they march to battle against the ghouls. Their journey will take them further than they ever imagined, leading them closer to discovering secrets about themselves, their world, and a conspiracy that may spell the end of the Territory as they know it.

Things I wish I knew about writing when I started out

Things I wish I knew about writing when I started outI wish I’d known a few more things about writing when I started out, so I’ve compiled a list of useful tips and advice from other writers that might help both seasoned pros and newbies alike.

If you like any of the advice, please visit the writers profile/website and check them out.

“Make sure you have fun foremost.” Glendon Perkins

“Don’t worry about if it’s any good or not, just write.” Kyra Halland

“Wish I’d known that not everyone who critiques your writing knows what they’re talking about, including me.” Roland Boykin

“Start building a platform or following when you start writing.” Rebecca P. McCray

“I wrote a whole long novel before I learned I needed to learn things.” Louis Doggett

“Don’t write what you know, write what you love. And don’t force yourself to focus on one writing task if the words aren’t coming. A blog post, a time line, notes, even ideas for a new project. Sometimes the mind needs a rest, and new inspiration.” Penny Ruggaber

“Write the scenes and chapters in order and summarise them as you go.” Mark Mercieca

“Don’t let fear of rejection stop you.  Look how many times you’ve been rejected just to get where you are in life.  Smack downs happen, write anyway.” Mary Martin

“You’ll have days where the last you want to do is write. Write anyway. You will thank yourself later.” Tim McEnroe

“Do not compare yourself to other writers. What works for them may not work for you.” AND… “In the beginning, don’t stress over building a platform/being on social media. Focus on writing. Writing must always come first.” Alice Janell

“The only true failure is giving up.” Angeline Trevena

“Before you become a writer, you must become a reader. Read as many different books as possible. Not just the genre you plan to write, but others outside your comfort zone to see the various styles of writing.” Chris Mentzer

Write what hurts; hide it in your writing and your story will ring with sincerity.” L.K. Evans

You might also like the tongue-in-cheek The Cretin’s Top Ten Tips to Being the Greatest Writer Ever.

If you liked this post, check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author PromotionPoint Of View, Critiquing, Dealing With Rejection, Editing Your Own Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story DevelopmentFirst Drafts, and Worldbuilding.

Alexa Shaw – On Getting and Giving Good Crit

Photo of Alexa ShawQ. What did you hope to get out of your critique session?

As this is my first novel, I guess my initial reaction is to be reaffirmed in my own belief that I can write a half decent story.

Once that bit of self aggrandizement was past, what I wanted most was for people to be honest about how my story made them feel, where it should have made them feel, and where it could be improved.

Suggestions on how to improve it were also warmly welcomed.

Q: What were your plans prior to the critique – jump straight into the editing, or write something new and come back to the first book when you’ve allowed the feedback to distill?

I guess like all other aspiring professional writers I’d like my first novel to be picked up by a publisher or agent.

However, I’ve started an urban fantasy and want to keep running with that until I finish the first draft.

I guess that means I’ll let the feedback percolate a bit before jumping back into the tween novel.

Q. Asking for criticism can be tough, inspiring, soul-crushing and insightful, all at the same time. What did you take away from this experience that will be the most valuable to your novel?

Receiving the comments from the group really emphasised to me that the reading experience is a personal journey that is different for everyone – as evidenced by the wide range of, often opposing, comments.

But perhaps the most important insight I received from the experience was that characters are everything.

This is something I was already aware that I needed to work on, but its importance was made more evident by the feedback.

Q. When you begin working on the story again, how do you plan to tackle it and what changes would you make, if any?

While I was writing the story, I was aware, but not willing to acknowledge I guess, that the character I’d set up as the protagonist was somewhat  lacking. And that a secondary character was doing the doing of things. This was confirmed by the feedback.

The major change I will make will be to bring the secondary character in a lot earlier into the story and build her relationship with the current protagonist, then rearrange/rewrite the plot points to fit the new dynamics. (I also liked the ‘magic scabbard’ idea.)

Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer who was thinking of putting their own novel through a critique group?

Writing is an intensely personal activity.

Everything that ends up on the page (focussing on speculative fiction here) is a distillation of the ID of the writer – which in itself is a scary thing to contemplate.

It can be tough when people don’t automatically love what you write.

However, don’t take it personally. If the person or group critiquing your work is even semi-professional, any comments will be made with a view to helping the writer, not attacking them.

Growing up, Alexa Shaw cut her speculative fiction teeth on the likes of Asimov, Simak and Niven. She then discovered David Eddings and a new love affair was in the making – fantasy stories. More recent influences on her writing include fabulous authors such as Sherri Tepper, CJ Cherryh and Marion Zimmer Bradley, to name a few. An abiding love of science led her to undertake a PhD in that field, and she looks forwards to continuing to blend science and fantasy in her writing. Alexa lives with her family in Canberra, ACT.

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