I was reading an article recently by Tommy Suggs, who was a legend in powerlifting in the 1960’s and a member of the original York barbell gym. He was talking about the difference that drives some of the top competitors in the nation, and what makes some gyms so much better than others, despite having the same equipment – The X Factor that provided the magic.
And I realized, this works as well for writing. We all have the equipment to write, so what makes some folks so much more prolific than others?
Three in one: The X-Factor consists of three primary aspects 1) enthusiasm, 2) aspiration, and 3) will. Although each aspect is independent in action, synergism suggests that each, in the final analysis, is amplified by the others. I will point out how each aspect stimulates the other two and is stimulated by them.
Enthusiasm – we all know the excitement of a shiny new project, the idea or scene or character that’s got you sneaking away from anything else to write, the high that comes when the words just pour out. And it’s necessary to driving you to write. But that enthusiasm can be fleeting. How do you stay enthusiastic for the entire book, and the next one in the series, and the one after that?
Well, first, if you lose that enthusiasm, it’s not the end – it will come and go.. But it helps to reinforce it by surrounding yourself with like-minded people who are also enthusiastic about writing, storytelling, making art, whatever your common goal.
This where writing groups come in – like lifting weights, you’re competing against yourself, and there’s no way anyone else can put in the work for you… but it’s a whole lot easier if you have someone else also working beside you. The Inklings group included CS Lewis and Tolkein, as well as Charles Williams. The Scribblies included Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Pamela Dean, Patricia Wrede, and Steven Brust. Brandon Sanderson’s mentioned that he, Dan Wells, Dan Brown and a few others formed a writing group, and they all got published, too.
As for me, well, the North Texas Writers, Shooters, & Pilots Association (A name I came up with when somebody set a beautiful knife in my hands and said “Hey, go present this from us to Tom Rogneby for publishing Via Serica!“) ensured I got the second book written, alpha-read, and published.
The friendly competition, the expectation that you’ll show up with a chapter to dinner, the questions on how’s its going, the suggestions bounced off your frustration on “How am I going to get him out of that one?”… the enthusiastic descriptions of souks in North Africa, the help copyediting an adventure on an emu farm… These help create and sustain the enthusiasm for your work.
But what if you don’t have people nearby? You can still hang out with other people online. Watch some of the Brandon Sanderson Masterclass videos. Read blog on writing like Kris Rusch’s or Dean Wesley Smith’s, hit a forum where they’re talking about it, and let the enthusiasm fire you up. Let the writing prompt or craft technique make you say “I can do that!” and all motivated to try.
In fact, that’s kind of what this blog is right here – a group of us trying to help pass on enthusiasm and knowledge, and keep fostering it among ourselves and all our commenters.
Aspiration – You will only hit as high as you aim. One of the big differences between my husband and myself, when it comes to writing, is that I can (and do) hold down a full-time job, and write as a hobby, where Peter has approached writing as his full-time job. In raw defiance of the neurosurgeon who told him he’d never support his family again, he plugs away at it every single day, and the discussions we have on work-life balance are never on the “You should write more” end of the balance!
Unsurprisingly, he has 14 books out, and a short story in an anthology, several more stories and books under contract, more due out for indie… and I have two.
Think about the book you want out. Or the pile of books. Or…what, sitting on a panel with John Ringo and Larry Correia? USA Today Bestseller? Come up with a dream for yourself. When you feel down in the doldrums, let that dream motivate you again. Want it, so you’ll work for it.
Will – I can’t say it better than a guy who pushed himself to world-class.
Will is defined as the power of control over one’s own actions. On the journey to the top, enthusiasm will get you started and keep you moving and your aspirations will define how far you will go – if you have a strong enough will to get into the gym and do the work. Often have been the times when the night before a scheduled workout my enthusiasm had me all fired up only to have me looking for excuses not to train when it was time to put thoughts into action. Will gets the work done. Without will there is nothing but emotional enthusiasm and dreams, and neither of these separately or together will get you bigger and stronger. You must do the work, and an application of your will is necessary to get this done. Your will is the battery needed to power your Tonka toy. Your enthusiasm will motivate you to get the toy out and the toy is perfectly capable of fulfilling your expectations with its performance. But nothing is going to happen without a battery – your will – to provide the energy to make it move.
Consider all the gifted athletes that fail to reach their potential because they are unable to discipline themselves – lacked the power of control over their own actions – to do the work necessary to excel. Some individuals seem to be gifted with a strong will while others struggle to will themselves to do anything. But will can be developed and strengthened just like muscles. Every time a person wills themselves to do something they know they need to do but, for one reason or another, just don’t want to put forth the effort required to do, the will is strengthened. Continually putting a demand on your will, and meeting that demand, strengthens your will. The next time you are looking for excuses not to train because you just can’t face the squat rack and the work it holds for you, force yourself to train. That right, I said, “Force.” Let’s not pussy-foot around here. Consciously forcing yourself to do what’s necessary is how you increase your control over your actions, and your will. It may not be an easy task, but no one said manifesting dreams was easy. Just do it.
…or as many writers say, Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. You can’t edit, you can’t publish what you didn’t write. So write!
Note 1: Original article here: https://startingstrength.com/article/reaching_the_top_with_the_x_factor
Note 2: The book in featured image here: https://www.amazon.com/Joy-Cometh-Mourning-Reverend-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00OZFSOR2/
Reverend Joy Norton is a timid city girl, and she’s never been the primary priest in any parish. When her bishop sends her out to a remote back-country church, she doubts both her ability and her suitability. Those doubts grow when she hears of the mysterious death of her predecessor. But from the first encounter with her congregation – having her little car rescued from a muddy ditch – she finds herself deeply involved with her parishioners and touched by their qualities and eccentricities. Which makes it worse for her to think that one of the people she’s coming to care for murdered the previous priest…
dun Dun DUNNNNNNNN!
ok serious reply: you can have all three of those and yet go nowhere, because there are a fourth and fifth thing on this list:
Without those, the first three get you a half million half-finished projects…. ask me how I know!
*mischievous smile* How do you know?
(c4c; it’s not a serious question.)
I know many things, for I walk by night! Or, as my daughter says, “No, Dad, you snore!”
I was impressed by 1) the huge number of people at the writers’ meeting I attended yesterday and 2) the number who have at least a chapbook of poetry published. There’s a lot more interest and energy in the group than the last time I attended one of their events back in 2012 or so. Has the lowering of the publishing barriers kicked people in the will? No idea but it was great to see so many people with a hunger to know how to get their poems and stories Out There.
I’ve fielded a number of calls to the Teeny Publishing Bidness in the last couple of months – people wanting information on doing just that.
Of course, most of them haven’t actually FINISHED their book yet … but it’s good that they are thinking ahead!
It’s made a difference for me, certainly. For a long time, I wrote occasionally, but I knew that it was a wild dream with a vanishingly small probability of coming true that I would ever see anything published. Now, with all the encouragement I’m getting about Indie, I’ve got a plan to finish three books this year and have at least one published before January 1 rolls around.
Hey, that’s two more books than some people have managed.
My will is broken.