Monday, January 30, 2012

How writing a novel is like starting a company

Lucky or unlucky, I’m an action oriented person. Always happy to jump into new challenges I must hold myself back…recognizing that time is a limited commodity and doing a thorough analysis before undertaking a major commitment is essential (otherwise lots of unfinished projects!).

Currently, I’m buried deep in revising draft one of a sequel to Captive (at over 400 pages) and nursing a business plan. How to allocate my time and give each their proper attention and chance at success? Well luckily the two projects aren’t as diverse as they may sound and the skills required are very similar in many ways. But first I want to draw a distinction between writing a novel and writing non-fiction: in my opinion, non-fiction is much more predictable and structured, though not necessarily less creative.

So how is writing a novel like starting a company?

1. Creativity is an absolute must. One could argue that all stories have been told and indeed the best ones are variations of the classic story lines. Likewise, many new companies are only reinventing what has already come before or tweaking a new reality. Thus in both cases, seeing the possibilities in the marketplace or on the page differently is key to success.

2. Start with an outline or business plan but be prepared to deviate as necessary. Characters and marketplaces take on a life of their own and evolve seemingly beyond our control. When that happens, react (not over react) appropriately to meet the new realities and create a better end product.

3. Life changes: adapt. Selling and marketing a novel is so different from the standard paths of even last year with digital and bookstore realities evolving as we watch. Creativity and adaptability are now required off the page as well as on the page. When starting a company change also has a big impact on the original idea’s long term prospects. Markets, competitors, regulations, consumer choices, and the like all evolve and any new (or old) company needs to be reactive to these changes.

4. The idea is only the beginning; more important is the execution. Stephen King wasn’t the first to write a Kennedy book but his may sell the most when all is said and done. Neither Facebook nor Google was the first company in their industry sector.

5. Steal ideas if you want to succeed; just tweak them in a new way. Different from point one in that you can do better by learning from others and shouldn’t be ashamed to try. This point in is response to a shared post I saw earlier today mocking “piracy” and “plagiarism”. Don’t steal if doing so is illegal (such as with piracy or proprietary and protected technology) and don’t plagiarize. But do model the best and steal freely their ways.

6. Discipline and complete absorption into the new world you’re creating is essential. Starting something is easy; finishing and succeeding at building something great is very difficult. Successful people always work hard.

7. If you don’t market, what you create is just a hobby.

8. You will face a lot of naysayers. While I’d like to say that most are just jealous or too scared to do the same sometimes they are just more able to see that the risks of success are small. So be it. Not everyone wants to change the world.

9. You can change the world through your efforts! Not all novels or companies will do so but by innovating and creating something new and different you at least have a shot.

10. You will doubt yourself, your abilities and your judgment at some point. Get over it or you won’t succeed. No fully sane person ever sits down to write a novel or start a company (the risks are too high); find the inner resources to keep going.

11. Once done you will have created something new and (hopefully) different. You are an innovator and driver not spectator. What could be cooler than that?

I’m sure I could keep adding to the list but would only cloud my point. With the costs of self publishing or starting certain types of businesses plummeting and the traditional career paths not working as well, right now is a great time to try something new. The basic requirements are few but essential. Dare to dream?

Now, back to writing a long piece and not a blog….

Picture by Lauren


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Megan Lisa Jones said...


Thanks for commenting! I'll follow up.