1. Stay focused
Powerlifting includes three events: squat, bench, and deadlift. The goal is to lift a lot of weight, not to have variety. Unlike body builders, who have multiple forms of exercise for each muscle, powerlifters generally train these three exercises, using others as necessary but not at the expense of these. In this way, they work the entire body and show results without wasted effort.
As a writer, what are your goals? Write 1-3 of them. To be well-rounded, have one about progress on your current book, one about networking, and one about steps to publication or post-publication marketing. Focus on other areas as needed, but never at the expense of these goals.
But what about your daily flash fiction, your blog, revisions, and sending to agents; Facebook, Twitter, and Instamatic; surfing for answers online, reading similar books, and going to conferences? Each of these can be helpful, but only do them if they help with your three goals. Aim for variety in your writing, not your writing habits.
Stop reading — write those goals now.
2. Perspective matters
“Just remember, somewhere, a little Chinese girl is warming up with your max.” – JimConroy, Olympic Weightlifting Coach
“That’s a good weight…for a small woman” – Dorian Yates
Celebrate the little successes–completing your rough draft (which is better than most people do), receiving first rejection letter (you did, after all, finally send out a query), publishing (even a small publisher allows you to touch your book and to brag that you really are an author).
At the same time, keep it in perspective. Unless you achieved your actual goal, after your little celebration, continue for the real goal. Most people never finish a rough draft, but thousands (millions?) do finish. People with less ability, resources, and time have done what you have. Don’t stop at partial success.
3. Training must evolve
“I have often said that it’s as complicated as you want to make it. The mentality of ‘just pick up heavy stuff’ will only get you so far. As you improve, your training must evolve. And a lot of guys evolve by trial and error. But that’s extremely inefficient. If you understand the physiology of what you need and you also understand the training effects of different means and methods, you can then apply the right tool for the job. Less trial-and-error. More improvement. Of course, if you’re just interested in average results, there’s no need to put that much effort into it.” – Mike Tuchscherer
Measure your production. This can be words per day, hours writing (not just surfing), proposal letters sent, number of followers. Then improve on them.
Words per day. What time is best for you to write nonstop? What prep do you need so you can get yourself in the groove? How long should you go before a break?
Proposal letters. What information can you copy and paste to save time? How can you quickly find background on an agent or publisher in order to decide if it’s worth sending to that person? What strategy will help you get published or at least get you actual feedback instead of a default rejection letter?
Followers. What blog posts, tweets, giveaways increase your followers? What is your niche market–who else has it? What tools exist for efficiently increasing followers?
4. Go it alone
“I prefer to work out alone. It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. – Henry Rollins
Writing is a solitary activity.
Brainstorming, editing, marketing, and celebrating can and should involve friends and family. But to write well, you need time to record the words alone. With the exception of dictating to a typist, writing with others seems to decrease fluency by focusing on choosing the right words. The problem is that that is for editing (yes–“that that” is correct here). Writing necessitates making mistakes. You can make them better on your own while focusing on the story. If you write around others, your creative mind is overtaken by your critical one.
Alone doesn’t have to be a cabin in the woods, of course. Sometimes alone involves writing in the basement, on the bus, at a coffee shop. Sometimes there is another person you can ask a question to, but who won’t interrupt your writing. Most importantly, stay focused during the writing. Beware of the music you listen to, the sights around you before you begin. Use these to help your brainstorming, editing, and other parts. But for actual writing, go it alone.
5. Choose the right company
“If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.” – Unknown
Writing alone can be depressing. It’s a solitary activity.
Writing in groups can be discouraging, too. Sometimes it goes nowhere. Sometimes it turns to social times, which can be helpful if you need a friend more than a critique. Sometimes there is too much critique, leading to negative thoughts of self-worth.
Diane MacKinnon has advice on choosing a group: https://nhwn.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/finding-a-critique-group/
6. Mistakes (can) lead to greatness
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan
Alligator skin–if you don’t have it, buy it. Your masterpiece will get critiques that hurt your feelings. Some of your readers will not enjoy your book. You may notice that you have a fatal character flaw… hopefully just in your characters.
Rejoice and be glad. You noticed these already. Some people never do. Take a moment and cry. Journal about your feelings–you could even use this as an emotional scene. Then get up and start again, a more experienced writer.
This is why it’s vital to have caring, critiquing first readers. They can speak the truth in love. Think about their advice. Take it when it helps (especially if more than one person mentions it). Ignore other parts, but don’t tell them!
7. Focus long term
“One man has enthusiasm for 30 minutes, another for 30 days,but it is the man who has it for 30 years who makes a success of his life.” – Unknown
A typical powerlifting training season lasts about 12 weeks, during which the lifter progressives from several sets and reps of a medium weight to fewer sets of a heavy weight, the goal being to lift heaviest in each of the three lifts.
But a single season is not the end. Between seasons, lifters change their routine for a bit or even take a week or two off. The next session they lift heavier.
In writing, focus on longevity. Take care of your body–rest your eyes from your computer screen, stretch your back and massage your hands. Go for walks and eat vegetables.
Critically look over your writing style. How can you streamline your approach so the next book is easier to write, more enjoyable, faster, richer?
Write a series–it can end up selling itself, each book working “synergistically.” It is also easier, according to many authors, to keep writing in that view point and with that world than switching to a new story.
That said, you may need a break from your current story with one that will make you itch to write it.
8. Begin now
“When it comes to eating right and exercising, there is no ‘I’ll start tomorrow.’ Tomorrow is disease.” – V.L. Allinear
Powerlifting quotes from http://chrismccombs.net/80-quotes-about-training/
(For those in the know, the picture actually shows an Olympic lifter. Powerlifting is a different sport.)