5 Ways to Shape Your Success as a Writer

Success as a WriterWhile reading an article by Kathleen McCleary titled “5 Ways To Get Luckier,” it hit me that the very same strategies she listed for shaping the good fortune in your life could also be used to shape your success as a writer.

Take, for instance, McCleary’s first way to open yourself to good luck and serendipity.

Pay Attention

Bet you’ve heard that one before. Writers need to take in life’s details as though peering through the lens of an optical microscope at ten times magnification. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but observe we must. And one way to do so is to turn off that smart phone, step away from the computer, and look around. Who knows what opportunities might arise—yes, from out of nowhere, when we least expect them—while we’re paying attention.

I’ve finally reached the point where I understand the value of descriptive details in making my writing come alive. And in order to add descriptive detail to my writing, I’ve learned to focus on everyday objects and occurrences, zero in on the seemingly unimportant details, and write them down.

Open Your Calendar

Success as a WriterMcCleary’s second way to make it more likely for serendipity to strike in your life is to open your calendar to down time.

Down time? There aren’t enough hours in a day to complete our “must dos,” let alone make time for our “want to dos.” Right?

Funny thing is, serendipitous moments, those instances of happenstance when we make fortunate discoveries by accident and find something valuable or delightful when not looking for it, rarely happen while we’re performing our “must dos.”

We need to leave time open in our Day-Planners for serendipitous moments to catch up to us, instead of allowing them to fly right by? Zip; gone; like the flybys Victor Smith writes about in his post “The ‘Flyby’ in Visionary Fiction.

“Without attention, recognition, curiosity, and capture,” he says, “they remain fussy potential no-things buzzing about in an ethereal soup, alien vessels without a place to moor.”

Increase Your Odds

Try more things and more good things will happen, McCleary suggests. But don’t wait until you’re sure of success. Doing so, she warns, actually decreases your odds of serendipitous life moments.

There are many ways you can grow as a writer while writing or revising your fiction for submission, such as taking a creative writing course and experimenting with another form of creative expression.

Success as a WriterI thought of this while standing at the podium in front of 70 people at a Tule Review reading, sponsored by Sacramento Poetry Center.

I was there to read a poem called Messy, Slick Roads that I’d written as an assignment for a creative writing class through UC Davis Extension.

When my creative writing teacher said that she wanted us to learn how to “identify and shape our own unique style and structure when writing in any genre” and “to expand our repertoire of possibilities,” I was not a happy camper. She introduced us to the poets Hayden, Carruth, Merrill, Thomas, Justice, and Kizer, and to poetic pattern forms, including StanzaVillanelle, and Pantoum. I can get through this, I thought, until the dreaded moment arrived when she asked us to write—I wasn’t sure my heart could take this—a poem.

As my instructor is my witness, I went into this assignment unwillingly. Therefore no one could have been more surprised than I was when she handed the poem back the following week with the suggestion that I submit it to Tule Review for consideration. I was even more shocked, when a few months later I received notice that Messy, Slick Roads had been accepted for publication in their summer edition.

Sometimes the road to publication is slick and messy, and inspiration, cool and wet, is all around you. Your mind might be ready Success as a Writerfor a good soaking. Push a little deeper, come a little closer, to that nugget within you, that you can mine and present proudly, a finished, polished gem. Your voice, a voice the world has not heard before, a finished, polished gem, your small contribution…

Composing Messy, Slick Roads and reading it to an audience of “real” poets stretched me in a way I’d never stretched before, as have so many other ultimately rewarding experiences on my journey as a writer.

Take Chances

McCleary’s next action for working on serendipity is to take a “risk and step out of your comfort zone.” Oh my.

Success as a WriterWhen I was asked to speak at the California Writer’s Club/Sacramento breakfast meeting about how I’d built my website and decided on my platform and marketing strategy, my first thought was: Hold it! You’re talking to a technological greenhorn here—miss trial and error, miss whoops that didn’t work out too well, miss if you don’t at first succeed, try, try again.

In other words, I was hardly qualified. But then I thought: Maybe that’s the point.

It’s no secret that many writers take on website building and marketing strategy because they must, not because they have a talent for it or even remotely want to. So there was a strong possibility that many of the writers attending the CWC breakfast meeting would actually be favorable to hearing how an amateur managed to accomplish a task that at first seemed overwhelming.

Well, not only did I say yes, but I built an entire website just for that talk, featuring short, step-by-step posts, reiterating and augmenting what I’d be sharing that day . Yes, I worried and complained and had moments of regret for agreeing to do something that took me so far out of my comfort zone, but what a wonderful experience it turned out to be. Plus, as an unexpected bonus, I’m about to start a author/community outreach program with a new set of partners I met that day to help writers in our area publish and market their books.

Let It Go

McCleary’s last suggestion on how to increase one’s luck is to let go of bad experiences and concentrate on the good.

I’m talking rejection, here, fellow writers, something we know a lot about: critiques that often feel like rejection from teachers and writing partners, rounds of revision notes from editors, those thanks-but-no-thanks letters from agents and publishers.

It takes courage, diligence, faith, and hope to stay on track during good times and bad.

Success as a WriterDon’t let disbelief in your ability outweigh thoughts of success. Discard the bad news like yesterday’s newspaper. When you hit roadblocks along the way, face your fears, clarify your purpose, and re-imagine new visions of success. Then hold that success in your mental eye until you realize it in your outer world.


Success as a Writer

Successful writers are always on the alert for serendipitous moments to reveal themselves, so when they show up in your life, capture them and give them “a place to moor.”

Good Luck!

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About Margaret Duarte

Although warned by agents and publishers that labeling her work Visionary Fiction was the “kiss of death,” Margaret Duarte refused to concede. “In a world riddled with fear, misunderstanding, and lost hope,” she says, “I believe there are people prepared to transcend the boundaries of their five senses and open to new thoughts and ideas. The audience is ready for fiction that heals, empowers, and bridges differences.” Margaret joined forces with other visionary fiction writers to create the Visionary Fiction Alliance, a website dedicated to bringing visionary fiction into the mainstream and providing visionary fiction writers with a place to call home. In December 2015, Margaret launched BETWEEN WILL AND SURRENDER, book one of her "Enter the Between" visionary fiction series. Through her novels, which synthesize heart and mind, science and spirituality, Margaret encourages readers to activate their gifts, retire their excuses, and stand in their own authority. Margaret is a former middle school teacher and lives on a California dairy farm with her family and a herd of "happy cows," a constant reminder that the greenest pastures are closest to home.
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21 Responses to 5 Ways to Shape Your Success as a Writer

  1. Margaret,
    Great suggestions for opening ourselves up to support from the universe — and each other!

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  2. Margaret, Such wise and helpful reminders, especially applying them to our careers as authors. When we open to these possibilities – I agree with you – we get surprising results. More juice for our creative passion, and more depth for our stories and characters can come through.

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  3. Nice adaptation of McCleary's article, Margaret and great reminders (I like that you quote the "flyby" guy; I've have been called that by a few women but they put "night" at the end of it). Seriously, taking that risk, innovating, stepping out of one's comfort zone is the secret to keeping all this fun and exciting, and it shows in the writing. As one who started with poetry and then migrated to the novel, love that you brought out your inner poet.

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    • "Flyby Night Guy." Love it! Actually, my creative writing teacher "forced" the inner poet out of me, and only for that one assignment. I haven't heard from that illusive part of me since. Who knows what she's up to and if she'll ever rise up from the deep confines of my comfort zone again. That said, I remain open to the surprises that keep writing "fun and exciting."

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  4. Christopher Sly says:

    Margaret, great post. Maybe I am seeing what I want to see, but I have a theory (ahem), that movement between locations (growth) requires a passage through uncertainty. All five of these points speak to me of the value of humility, and the heightened awareness and interactivity that it motivates. When we know the truth, awareness becomes superfluous, perhaps even detrimental, as it might erroneously challenge our right answer, forcing us back into the discomfort of uncertainty. Here at the VFA, I suspect you all thrive on uncertainty. It is our playground, our skinny-dipping swimming pool filled with the universal solvent that frees us to create again.

    BTW, I'm in the Philippines right now, but next week will return home, to Sacramento. I'll keep me ears on for local events.

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    • Hi Christopher. Enjoy your stay in the Philippines. Maybe you'll find the inspiration – the heightened awareness, the motivation – there to share a post here at the VFA playground. We'd love to hear from you.

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      • Christopher Sly says:

        Thanks Margaret. I do have something I would like to share that i wrote recently titled A Writer's Guide to the Hero Way. I am afraid of giving the authors here the impression that I believe I am "special" for even attempting to write something with that title. So I am going to beg-off, and call it a writing exercise, and then blame you for talking me into posting it. You have reminded me that I can't very well go on about the virtue of facing uncertainty, and then be afraid to share.

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      • Christopher Sly says:

        BTW, how would I go about posting here?

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    • Great point, Christopher. My first meditation teacher called it phase transition. Water heats up and stays peaceful and liquid. Right before it turns to steam, it gets chaotic and boils.

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    • Christopher, any time you have a post to share, you can email it to Vic, Eleni, Jodine, or me and we'll set it up. Let me know if you need my email address.

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      • Christopher Sly says:

        Great, because what I really meant to say was how would I go about submitting a post to those who will kill it if it is not ready or right for this audience. I've got your email. Thank you.

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    • Don't worry, Christopher. Part of what the editors at VFA do is exactly that: "kill it if it is not ready or right for this audience." What we often do is suggest to our guest bloggers ways of restructuring a post to make it a perfect fit for VFA. I'm looking forward to your submission.

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  5. reanolanmartin says:

    so true! great tips. serendipity matters partcularly in visionary writing!

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  6. libredux says:

    Margaret, this is a very clever post, and I like it a lot. There is a Persian proverb that sums this up perfectly: Luck is infatuated with the efficient. 🙂

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  7. Admin - Eleni says:

    “Don’t let disbelief in your ability outweigh thoughts of success. Discard the bad news like yesterday’s newspaper. When you hit roadblocks along the way, face your fears, clarify your purpose, and re-imagine new visions of success.”

    I have been guilty of this for many years. It really is about facing my fears. Thankfully most of them imagined! And I love how you found success with your poem after your reluctance over writing it. It just goes to show you how sometimes we fear because we underestimate our own talents!

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    • And this coming from you, Eleni, one of the most talented people I know.

      Here is a quote Paulo Coelho recently posted on Facebook that says it all.

      Success does not come from having one’s work recognized by others. It is the fruit of the seed that you lovingly planted.
      When harvest time arrives, you can say to yourself: ‘I succeeded.’
      You succeeded in gaining respect for your work because you did not work only to survive, but to demonstrate your love for others.
      You managed to finish what you began, even though you did not foresee all the traps along the way.
      And when your enthusiasm waned because of the difficulties you encountered, you reached for discipline.
      And when discipline seemed about to disappear because you were tired, you used your moments of repose to think about what steps you needed to take in the future.
      You were not paralyzed by the defeats that are inevitable in the lives of those who take risks.
      You didn’t sit agonizing over what you lost when you had an idea that didn’t work.
      You didn’t stop when you experienced moments of glory, because you had not yet reached your goal.
      And when you have to ask for help, you did not feel humiliated. And when you learned that someone needed help, you showed them all that you had learned, without fearing that you might be revealing secrets or being used by others.
      To him who knocks, the door will open.
      He who asks will receive.
      He who consoles knows that he will be consoled.
      (Taken from “Manuscript found in Accra”)

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