Archive for November 3rd, 2007

Platform Development 101: A Winning Attitude

cmkwritermama.gifBy Christina Katz

I’ll get right to the point: Writers with a winning attitude achieve professional status and writers with a poor attitude don’t. Or if they do, I’ve noticed, their success doesn’t last because a poor attitude eventually rears its ugly head and takes a writer down with it.

Which raises the question: What is a winning attitude?

While working on Writer Mama and (somewhat) inspired by Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, I examined the attitudes and habits of my writing mentors and discovered twelve qualities of highly successful writers. Here they are:

1. Determination. Natalie Goldberg is famous for saying that it takes great determination to be a writer, and she could not be more right. Most who have persevered as writers over time have done so because of resolve; some might even say stubbornness. Think about the areas of your life in which you possess great determination.

2. Consistency. Writing is a regular task when you’re a professional. Writing success happens when effort meets opportunity steadily over time, but it takes effort to create opportunity. At the end of the day, it is consistency that sets the flash-in-the-pan successes apart from the lifetime achievement award-winners. Sure, the flash-in-the-pan writer might get some temporary glory, but the writer with staying power is the one who reaps the most satisfaction.
3. Ability to Prioritize. Prioritizing speaks to your ability to know where you are and what needs to happen next. It means you can ask the question, “What is the most important thing I need to do next in order to complete this project?” And then do it. This way, you don’t need to know the future as much as you must navigate your way through your work day by day.
4. Discernment. Discernment comes from taking time for reflection to get a clear “read” on the situation (and remembering to trust your instincts). It’s the ability to consider options you may not have planned for—the ability to say, “Hmm, that’s an interesting proposition. What would happen if I took this assignment?” It’s weighing and measuring options and going with the one that feels the most promising in the moment, which sometimes requires saying, “No thanks” to other opportunities.
5. Creative Thinking. Your capacity for circular, as well as linear, thinking is an asset, not a liability. The key is to know when to go non-linear and when to proceed in a good, orderly direction. A balance between the two is your best bet. If you easily switch back and forth between inspiration and logic, your writing career will surely benefit.
6. Self-Directedness. You are self-directed when you don’t need some¬one else telling you what to do in order to accomplish your goals. You determine on your own what needs to be done and how to proceed. Intuition is definitely an important part of the self-directed writer’s decision-making process. Responding to your internal compass is how writers get from where they are today to where they’d like to be in the future.
7. Responsiveness. Successful writers are a pretty communicative bunch. In order to join their ranks, practice being available, on a reasonable basis, to the outside world. Of course, you can’t be available 24/7, or you would never be able to concentrate on and complete important tasks. But there’s no need to be a hermit—unless you have a deadline looming—then you might want to think of yourself as a hermit-in-training (who still keeps in touch regularly with the family).
8. Detachment. In the writing life there are plenty of opportunities to take things personally—or not. On tough days, when things start to close in around you, take a deep breath—and pull back. Another rejection? They happen. An editor’s comment on your work feels like a zinger. Are you sure? Let it go, or ask for a second opinion. Editors usually go out of their way not to step on a writer’s toes. Once you let the annoying stuff go and get busy again, you’ll realize that you can’t spare the time to obsess about the slight stuff (or at least the stuff that feels like a slight). Remember that you can’t control others. So don’t dwell on it. Be respectful and you’ll get respect.
9. Resilience. Just like daily life, the writing life is full of ups and downs. Writers need to learn how to hit bottom and bounce back. Sometimes you are going to be up, and sometimes you are going to be down. Sometimes you may be both within one day or even one hour. The pros learn to ride the ebb and flow without hanging out too long in either extreme.
10. A positive attitude. Seasoned writers have a natural exuberance that comes from hard-earned success. Why shouldn’t they have something to smile about? And, even if you aren’t a success yet, which writer would editors rather work with again: the one who meets every challenge with an upbeat attitude or the one who meets them grumbling and making excuses?
11. Composure. A little different from detachment, composure isn’t about pulling back; it’s about staying sturdy and riding the waves. This one gets easier over time. In fact, composure is often gained from persevering through trying experiences. It’s about responding to success as well as to disappointment by staying somewhere in the middle. Exuberance is great. Venting frustrations feels good—true. But composure is grand.
12. Conscientiousness. Show me a professional writer and I will show you a person who takes quiet pride in her work, with the patience to go over her words again and again until they are polished just right, until—as one of my students once said—“It sounds like a song with every word exactly right.” On the flip side, a lack of conscientiousness will lead to a lack of opportunities, dissatisfied editors and a hollow feeling inside. Don’t be hard on yourself. Just do the best you can and keep on striving for personal excellence.
Here’s one final conclusion that I’ve drawn from observation over the past six-plus years of working with writers: Those who jump on opportunities to publish achieve publication and those who don’t…well, they don’t, at least not that I hear about.

The bottom line on a winning attitude is that the folks who are ready and willing to work at their writing career and all that it entails quickly reap the benefits. And a winning attitude also helps when facing a learning curve that goes straight up, up, up with no end in sight. I hope this bit of shared research will help you join the ranks of successful writers, whatever that means to you.

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at

Message from the Managing Editor: On Leaving the Nest

sage.gifBy Sage Cohen

This week, I signed my first book contract. While a lifetime of intentions and actions far too numerous to name have led me here, I’d like to share with you one particularly fortuitous experience that has accelerated my journey significantly in the past two years: mentorship.

As a co-collaborator with Christina Katz on this publication since 2006, I have had the privilege to witness up close and personal what can be possible when a talented, hard-working writer with vision and chutzpah dedicates herself to bringing her vision to life. Most importantly, I have seen someone I know and admire make the leap from successful freelance writer to successful author. As I observed Christina’s trajectory, I was able for the first time to visualize my own.

I feel particularly fortunate in my apprenticeship with Christina, because she is not only an inspiring role model, but also a motivating coach. Routinely, she challenges me to accomplish goals that have always felt out of reach. Over time, her faith in me bolstered my faith in me. And I stuck my neck out farther than has ever felt tolerable in the past.
Slowly, I began to mobilize a smattering of directionless potential into focused action, ultimately arriving at a polished book proposal––and then, in the end, a book deal.

Recently, I thanked Christina for pushing me out of the nest. She responded, “Oh, you had already leapt out of the nest. I was the one shouting, ‘Flap your wings! Flap your wings!’” What I wish for each and every one of you is some such person (or maybe the composite of a few different people) whose accomplishments inspire your own, whose faith restores your own, and whose cheering helps you transform that wobbly leap from the nest into a flight to remember.

How to connect with and learn from people you admire

• Take a class: This can be the most direct way to acquire the skills or knowledge you’re seeking from someone with expertise.
• Hire a coach: Writing and editing coaches can work with you to refine your goals and strategies as well as your writing––cultivating both confidence and career.
• Volunteer: Giving service is good for your community, good for the organization for which you volunteer and good for you. Often, you have the opportunity to work with and learn from people doing what you’d like to do someday. What a win-win way to rub shoulders with your role models!
• Do informational interviews: Take a writer you admire out for coffee. Bring a notebook. Ask juicy questions. Listen carefully.
• Go public: Attend readings, lectures, workshops and other literary events in your community. When you commit to participating in the communities that inspire and nourish you, the universe is far more likely to meet you halfway with interesting people and opportunities!

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, a creative companion for poets forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Oregon Literary Review, Cup of Comfort for Writers, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. For organizations including Writers on the Rise and Willamette Writers, Sage teaches poetry writing and publishing workshops. Visit Sage at

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November 2007

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