Yesterday I happened to meet a nice gentleman who wants to be a writer. Specifically, ten years ago he got an idea for a novel, and it has been eating at him ever since.
I meet a lot of people like that, people who have an idea for a novel or two. But here is something I’ve noticed: if I get twenty of these people in a class and ask them to imagine themselves being bestselling authors—John Grisham or Nora Roberts or Stephen King—nearly all of them will give me small cues that they aren’t ready to dream big. They may shake their head minutely, or their faces pale as they stiffen and back away an inch. They’re unable to embrace the idea of being a major writer.
Why? It might be because they’re focused completely on just getting out that one or two novels. Most of them don’t imagine that they have a lot of books in them. They’re writing an outline or trying to figure out how to publish. They haven’t had time to imagine what they would do once that first book is finished, and the next, and the next, and the next.
Mostly they hope to be what I call a “hobby writer,” the kind of author who produces a book or two as a hobby, not writing as a career. That shift in attitude has to come over time.
Wherever you have a role in life—whether you’re a doctor, a teacher, a full-time parent, or a mild-mannered reporter—your current role probably fills up your time. You’re more concerned with the tasks you have to worry about today than the ones you hope to worry about in the future. But as you begin publishing, you transition to a new life. You’re starting as Clark Kent, hoping to become Superman.
But what do you need in order to become Superman? There are probably a lot of new storytelling skills you’ll need to develop, personal study habits, and a knowledge base about the writing industry. Yet I see authors all the time who have all the skills to become a bestseller, but who still don’t seem to see themselves as bestselling authors.
Very often I find that they lack story ideas. They can’t imagine being a full-time writer because they’re really just trying to figure out one book at a time. They need to change that.
Right now, I have a bookstore in my mind. In that store are several historical novels that I want to write—at least six of them. I know who the characters in them are and what stories I want to tell, ranging from ancient Rome, to the Pacific Isles, and in the US and Africa.
Then I have five middle-grade animal fantasies that I’m aching to compose.
And I’ve got another ten adult heroic fantasies, a series of thrillers that deals with a young filmmaker who gets entangled with the Chinese mob, and some young adult fantasy thrillers in my Nightingale series. Let’s add in a couple of science fiction pieces.
I have about thirty novels blocked out—enough to keep me busy full time for a few years.
I trust my imagination enough to know that by the time I’m finished, I’ll have thirty more.
You see, I’ve learned something: if you’re a writer, each time you finish a novel, your subconscious mind begins supplying you with ideas for the next one. You learn that writing a book is easy, fun, and profitable, and you get excited at the prospect of doing it again.
When that happens, you don’t back away from the notion of becoming a bestseller, you embrace it with both arms. You begin dreaming of the next big project—maybe a massive epic novel or a huge series. You discover that there is an endless string of stories you want to tell.
So, I dare you to start a bookstore in your mind. When an idea for a novel seizes you, write up a little outline of the novel as a whole—just a single page that talks about the characters, world, and significant conflicts, and then next time you’re driving or daydreaming, start fleshing out those ideas. The novel might take years to grow and develop. You’ll come up with interesting plot twists, new characters, and deepening relationships for your cast. You’ll get excited about your upcoming books.
I recently talked to a couple of bestselling writers and asked, “How long does it normally take you to have a novel idea mature?” One of them said, “Three years.” The other said, “I can never do it in less than four.” Personally, for me it can take as little as three days or as long as a decade. The important thing is to begin building that library.
This way you can transition naturally from your current reality as a Clark Kent to your future role as a novelist Superman.
Dave will be teaching on “Clark Kent to Superman” in an online workshop to be taught July 18. Register here: https://www.fyrecon.com/
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Dave has two new Workshops “David Farland’s Ultimate writing workshop” and an “Epic Novel Writing Workshop”. Check them out here! ” http://mystorydoctor.com/