5 Changes to Succeed in Writing

When you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done.About 20-some-odd years ago, I decided I was going to be a published author. After many mistakes and missteps, this dream finally became a reality in 2012 with my first sale of a short story. (My story will be published as part of an anthology in August.)

Now, 20+ years is a long time for such a dream to come to fruition. Certainly. But to be clear, this was not some arbitrary self-imposed deadline. I never said 2012 was going to be “the year I get published.” (In truth, I’ve been saying that for several years.)

So, what made this year different?

Someone much more wise than I once said, “When you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” Last year, I realized I could not keep doing the same old routine and expect a different outcome. If I wanted to get published, I needed to pursue publication, not wait for it to find me.

So I changed my approach to writing. I treated it less like a hobby and more like a second job. I started writing more frequently, and in doing so I found more confidence.

Although I didn’t consciously change all my writing habits, I can — in retrospect — see the things I changed. Here are the five changes I recommend to anyone wanting to move forward as a writer and get published.

  1. Make Time to Write — Last year, I stopped spending my time outside of work doing free work for other people. This gave me the downtime I needed to write. Once I had free time, I had to learn to put it to use. One of my stories was written in a weekend while my wife and I rented a cabin in a state park. Another was written over the course of several weekends because a deadline was looming for an anthology. Lately, my wife has encouraged me to be more stingy with my time, and we’re taking an additional two nights a week to turn off the television and write.
  2. Know Your Business — This is really two ideas in one.
    1. Read everything you can within your genre. If you write young adult, read young adult. If you write science fiction, read science fiction. You can read other stuff too, but you need to know your competition.
    2. Learn everything about publishing. I don’t want to sound like an old curmudgeon, but it’s the Age of the Interwebz, people. You have no reason for not knowing everything you need to know about publishing. Learn the pitfalls and potentials. Arm yourself with knowledge. Use a market guide like Duotrope (now a subscription-based service) to find new magazines, anthologies, and publishers.
  3. Keep Inspired —  Let yourself be inspired by watching movies, attending concerts, going to the theatre — whatever inspires you.
  4. Surround Yourself With Writers You Respect — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the local Lawrence writers are a great bunch of people. The Confabulator Cafe has some long-distance contributors, too (former Lawrencians who are now in other parts of the country). These people push me to be a better writer. I’ve been a part of several writers groups in my time, but this is the first time I feel like I’m learning with the right people.
  5. Dream of Something More — You will never finish your novel or book of poetry or short story collection if you are satisfied with what you have. Though my life is quite happy, I yearn for the proverbial six-figure Hollywood deal that will allow me to quit working for someone else. I want to write full time. But that won’t happen unless I finish my novel. That’s my inspiration to get things done.

I’d be lying if I said that doing these things will guarantee you success. I believe things happen in their time, according to some cosmic clock that says when things should happen. Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane when they did because it was time for the airplane to be invented.

Likewise, my short story got published because it was finally time for my short story to be published. After 20-some-odd years, my writing had found its voice and reached a level of maturity that signaled it was ready to be read by others.

And thanks to the changes I made in my writing habits, I was ready to get published.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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