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Writing Twenty Novels (In Ten Easy Steps!)

By Steven Barnes

During a recent telephone conversation, I mentioned having sent off the last revisions for my twentieth novel, "Great Sky Woman." There was a silence on the other side of the phone, followed by the question "How in the world do you do that? Twenty novels!"

The truth is that I know many writers who have written far more than twenty novels. It is not that unusual. In fact, if you are a working writer, the "perfect output is very close to a book a year. Less often than this, and the readers stop anticipating your next book, and wander to another writer's literary pasture.

There is a commonality to the behavior patterns of successful writers, and a commonality to the behavior patterns of writers who just can't get started, can't get finished, or stall out at their first or third book.

Successful, prolific writers:

1) Write every day. That's EVERY day. They sit down, open their veins, and bleed into their computers. Yes, it can be painful, but if you don't maintain this kind of regularity, rust creeps in. The connection between heart, mind and fingers is broken. And we mistake the struggle for our natural state.

2) Read every day. Reading is priming the pump. It is modeling successful behavior. It is increasing vocabulary, studying plot and characterization, and entertaining the little subconscious demons and angels who actually do the deep work. Never neglect this.

3) Set deadlines and quotas. There is a certain amount of work to be done, on a daily basis. It need not be some huge amount"a page a day will create a book a year!

4) Create a writing space, a place that feels comfortable to them. This is both a physical space (a desk) and a psychological space (created with music, posters, familiar objects, etc.) It may also be a temporal space"a specific time of day or night that they write.

5) Have specific goals. They have committed to being professional writers. This is how they define themselves, and they never forget it. If you accept this definition, then you MUST behave as a professional writer, on a daily basis, or it causes emotional discomfort. They are willing to accept this friendly prod.

6) Don't listen to the negative voices in their heads. Everyone has them. The voices tell you you can't, you mustn't, it isn't good enough. You must find a way to tell the voices to shut up, to ignore them, or to quiet them. Any flow-based activity will help here: meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, running, Sufi breathing exercises, martial arts"the list is endless. Find one.

7) Are committed to the long-term. They know that if they spend an hour or three a day, every day, for a decade, they will build their career.

8) Expose themselves to criticism and rejection. In other words, they FINISH their projects, and then SUBMIT those finished projects to editors and agents.

9) Involve other people in their "master mind group. Successful writers know other writers. And readers. And editors. And agents. They befriend them, recruit them, get feedback from them, and listen to the feedback. This is their "brain trust." Unsuccessful writers hide in their offices, never finish their work, never send it out to risk rejection.

10) Have W.I.T.---they will do Whatever It Takes to ethically reach their dreams, to become the best they can be. They never quit. They know that success is based less on talent or "who you know than persistence, hard work, and honesty.

There are more distinctions, but I'm out of time"got to start working on book twenty-one!

About The Author
Steven Barnes

NY Times Bestselling writer Steven Barnes has lectured on storytelling and creativity at USC, UCLA, Seattle University, and the Smithsonian Institute. Creator of the first whole-mind high performance system for writers, he can be reached at: and

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