Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tenacity Pie: A Guest Post by Danika Dinsmore

I'm  pleased to share a guest post from author Danika Dinsmore, author of the Faerie Tales from the White Forest series. The fourth book Narine of Noe was published in December, 2015. Danika talks about the importance of tenacity in an author's life. I agree with her. I would say tenacity is almost as important as writing books that people want to read. ;)

Take it away Danika...

on becoming a more successful (and happier) writer

I used to teach at Vancouver Film School, and I always opened the first day of my class with a talk about the writing life. Learning to write is one thing. Learning to exist and make a living in the world of writing (or filmmaking) is another. I'd show my students the following pie chart on the board, and only partially tongue-in-cheek:

Have you ever wondered why certain books, movies, plays, songs, etc are so successful? First off, unless you are the writer of the next Game of Thrones book or have a great established fan base, there really is no predicting the outcome of any artistic project. But secondly, as John Gardner tells us in his book The Art of Fiction, most of what we do anyway is generally mediocre.

Most grown-up behavior, when you come right down to it, is decidedly second-class. People don’t drive their cars as well, or wash their ears as well, or eat as well, or even play the harmonica as well as they would if they had sense. This is not to say people are terrible and should be replaced by machines; people are excellent and admirable creatures; efficiency isn’t everything. But for the serious young writer who wants to get published, it is encouraging that most of the professional writers out there are pushovers.
            ~John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

I've seen extremely brilliant and talented people never realize their dreams. At the same time, I've seen decidedly mediocre writers find fame and fortune, or at least a decent publishing contract. So, what gives? Determination, that’s what.

I love the word tenacity (the quality of being very determined) and I love tenacious people. Tenacity goes a very long way. To put it another way: If you have not gotten the thing you want most in life, then you haven’t done what it takes to get the thing you want most in life. If what you want it to make a living as a writer (or actor, filmmaker, etc, etc, etc), and you are not, then you haven’t done what it takes to make a living as a writer.

If this statement sounds harsh to you, just think about it. Yes, I absolutely guarantee there will be major challenges, setbacks, disappointments, unsupportive people, rejections, time management issues, and self-doubt. But there’s always one more thing you can do to move forward.

I once met a man at a conference who said he really wanted an agent, but after fourteen rejections, he decided agents just “didn’t get him” so he gave up.  I was shocked. Gave up? Did he really want an agent? What if it would take 20 queries? 30 queries? 60 queries?

What if after 60 queries there were still no bites from agents? Maybe you need someone to edit your query letter? Maybe it will take 160 queries. Maybe the book actually needs another rewrite? Maybe you need to take a writing class before you attempt a rewrite? Maybe that book needs to be set aside and a new one needs to be written? Who knows?

I have no idea what path you will need to take, but I do know if you do anything long enough, if you are tenacious, things happen. So, if nothing else, think this: if I continue to write, I'm going to become a better writer. If I stay open and pay attention to feedback, I will learn and become a better writer. If I read, critique, review, workshop, write, write, and write, I will become a better writer.
If I go to places where writers gather, I will learn from them. If I acquire a few new marketing skills, I will be able to promote myself more effectively. If I become part of a community and give back to that community, I will have a support system.  If I join Toastmasters or take a speaking workshop, I will become a better public speaker.

But wait, you don’t want to promote yourself? Don’t want to speak at conferences? Don’t want to deal with social media? This is absolutely your choice. But if you truly want to make a living as a writer, you’ll probably need to try (and fail) at any number of things. That’s called doing what it takes. That’s tenacity.

(If you don’t really care about making a living as a writer – you just want to be able to write, then that’s terrific. Go for it! Feed your soul! And if you want to be an indie author, go for it! That takes a ton of determination to get it right.)

And as you’re working that day job, working your way toward the thing you want most in life in your spare time, I believe the key is to do a little bit every day. Small steps are still steps. And tenacious people never stop taking those steps.

Tenacity Tools:
1) Make time and commit to it (20 mins per day of writing is 20 more mins than none)*
2) Challenge yourself to keep putting yourself out there (if you are shy, when you go to a conference, give yourself a goal to meet X number of new people each day; sign up to be on a panel; send in a proposal to teach what you know)
3) Dare to be bad (no write = no book; no feedback = nothing learned)
4) Listen, learn, and apply what you learn (i.e. entertain the possibility that other books, authors, editors, agents can teach you something)
5) Once you have a saleable piece, start something new (writers who make a living writing have one thing in common: they write)
6) Focus and finish what you start (even when it gets sloggy and difficult, there is no way but through – see #3)
7) ENJOY the journey. All of it. Celebrate every small success. (i.e. have a good time)
And as Christine Comaford-Lynch, the “renegade entrepreneur” once said about rejections: Some will, some won’t, so what, someone’s waiting.

*While working another job, I once got up at 5:30 AM every morning in order to finish a book.

Danika Dinsmore is an award-winning author, performance artist, and educator. Over the past 25 years she has developed content for the page, stage, screen, and web. Danika currently works and plays in speculative fiction with an emphasis on juvenile & young adult literature. Author of children’s fantasy adventure series Faerie Tales from the White Forest, she often takes her interactive Imaginary Worlds Tour on the road, performing and teaching world-building & creative writing at schools, conferences, and festivals across North America.

She writes about the creative life and posts exercises on her blog: danikadinsmore.com and hangs around Twitter @danika_dinsmore

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