Slowing WAY down.
I never fully abandoned the path, in truth, but there were times that I stood so still, for so long, that I'd become almost a Writing Zen Ninja. That was doing wonders for my ability to go undetected in the darkness, but it wasn't helping me become a published author.
Why would I hit the brakes? Unlike many authors, my reasons weren't family or health-related, but primarily based on my career choices. In a word, I've been BUSY. I've gone from a high-demand corporate life to a high-demand freelance writing business life. I consult. I teach. I work. It all seems very dull to discuss, but it does take time!
I wish I could say that there was one thing that enabled me to flip the switch from aspiring to contracted, now prolific author -- but this is me, here. So there's actually a list. I've done everything on this list (some more thoroughly than others) and I have to say, it's all helped. And hopefully, if you're looking to flip that same switch, you'll find a mix that works for you!
1. KEEP WRITING.
On the path to publication, you'll find some people have roller skates and some seem to have cement shoes. But everyone can move forward, even you, if you just channel your Winter Warlock and put one foot in front of the other.
Most writers read compulsively, but sometimes what you read can make the difference. The parenthetical qualifier above was actually hard for me, because I read for enjoyment as much as learning. But finally, kicking and screaming, I listened to an award-winning author's teeth-gritted advice to read outside of my genre, especially books that made literary types swoon. And, to my amazement, some of those books didn't suck. (NOTE: Some did. I don't care how many English majors swear otherwise). Still, I learned a LOT from the ones that were both well-crafted and well-paced.
3. Watch well-written movies.
If pacing is your problem, or layering, or emotion, or action, or... you get the idea. Watching stories unfold instead of reading them can help jump-start your process.
4. Find a process that works for you... and stick to it.
Standardize and keep improving your process, but spend less time on FINDING a process, and more time writing. (I'm one of the people convinced that the magical process unicorn does exist, I'll admit. And I'm pretty sure it breathes fire. But in the meantime, I'll keep using my current process).
5. Aim for Professional, not Perfect.
For years, I was determined not to submit a manuscript until I'd polished it to within an inch of its life. Time after time, I succeeded--in polishing the life completely out of my manuscripts. Now that I've moved a little further down the path to publication, I've learned that your agent (in some cases), editor, and your copy editor (eegads... your copy editor) will give you more edits than you ever thought possible or even REASONABLE. So stop fussing over your manuscript. If it's professional... that's perfect. Send it out.
6. Tailor your work to your audience (and then submit it).
If you're writing for a particular type of publisher or audience, take the time to learn about them. Your audience could solely be readers... or it could be readers + New York agents/editors. Or it could be readers + a niche publisher who does extremely well in your preferred genre. Take the time to tailor your pitch/manuscript/Brand to whomever your audiences are. You are creating an artistic product, no question... but you are also SELLING that product. So know the folks who are going to buy from you. And then submit, submit, submit.
7. Write first, promote second.
In the world of social media, it is easy to become caught up in blogging, tweeting, pinning, facebooking, expanding your circles or groups, or creating a billion and one promotional items (don't make me give you a button). But you can never lose sight of the fact that you're a WRITER first. If you don't write, you don't have anything to promote. If you don't KEEP writing, your readers won't get your next book... ever.
Whew! That was a longer blog than I intended! But hopefully, it's of some help.
In fact, in looking over this list, it could be modified as a "How To" for reaching just about any dream--a combination of learning, doing, and announcing your dream to the world. So to all of the dreamers out there, I welcome any other tips on how YOU accomplished your goals!
Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.
Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 7, 2013, assuming she gets her revisions done ;). You can find Jenn online and on twitter.