Warrior Writer: Creating a New Generation of Authors for the Future of Publishing
by Bob Mayer
What do you want to achieve as a writer? How will you develop the courage to both conquer fear and devise a plan to achieve your goal? I recommend becoming a Warrior Writer: use the techniques that make Green Berets the most elite soldiers in the world to conquer the seemingly unassailable world of publishing.
What is the Warrior Writer Program?
I served in the Special Forces as an A-Team leader. I also taught at the JFK Special Warfare Center & School at Ft. Bragg for many years. The JFK Center produces the best soldiers in the world. Green Berets are capable of accomplishing the missions other consider impossible. Using those experiences, I wrote a book, Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear & Succeed, and then applied Who Dares Wins techniques to the world of publishing to create Warrior Writer
The Warrior Writer program operates off a core of nine Special ‘Forces’ (What, Why, Where, Character, Change, Courage, Communicate, Command, Complete). This circular flow gives writers the tools needed to become successful authors. Here is an introduction to the first Area (WINS) of Warrior Writer:
Special Force #1: WHAT specifically do you want to achieve with your writing?
Writers have to develop an overall strategic writing goal, then supporting tactical goals, then all goals must be integrated and aligned.
Simply put, your strategic goal can be defined by asking, “Where do I want to be in my writing career in five years?” Too many writers as so focused on simply getting published, they have no plan beyond that. And once published, most authors only look as far as the next book contract. We are constantly reacting—not acting. A tenet of Special Forces: always keep the initiative. Having a strategic goal, written down and posted in our offices, helps us see beyond the immediate future and keeps us on target.
Researchers have found that intelligence and talent are not the primary determiners of success. Perseverance and the ability to set a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes until that goal is achieved is the key to success. So lock down a specific strategic goal and use it to align all subordinate goals. The verb in your one-sentence goals must be positive. The outcome must be clearly observable and measurable.
Strategic goal: I will be a NY Times best-selling author in five years.
Tactical goal (book): I will write a unique romantic suspense in the vein of Successful Author X, except in my books, the heroes will be members of (insert something unique) tasked with defeating (an overarching threat that can present numerous antagonists for the series).
Tactical goal (book): I will research and finish an outline for the second book in the series.
Tactical goal (book): I will research and write down the idea for the third book in the series.
Tactical goal (business): Every week as I write I will research and make a list of five agents interested in this type of book.
Tactical goal (business): I will attend a writers’ conference this month where there is a published author who has achieved what I want to and attend every session of hers that I can.
Tactical goal (business): I will attend a writers’ conference in four months where there will be agents that represent my type of novel to get feedback from them.
Tactical goal (short range): I get up an hour earlier every morning to write.
Tactical goal (short range): I will write five pages every day and have a draft done in ten weeks.
Tactical goal (short range): I will re-write the draft for plot, for character arc, for symbols and for subplots.
Tactical goal (short range): I will re-write my cover letter and synopsis until they are the best I can make them.
Tactical goal (business): While writing the second book in the series, I will do a rolling submission to five agents a week so I can incorporate any productive feedback into future submissions.
Special Force #2: WHY do you want to achieve these particular goals?
The What is intellectual while the Why is emotional. What is the real reason you are writing? Why are you writing this specific type of book in this genre? Are you writing the book you should be writing?
Many writers are all over the place: the Chinese menu of writing and querying. They’ll send an agent a query saying “I have a romantic suspense, a paranormal, a historical, etc. etc. Which would you like to see?”
And the agent’s response will be rejection because that kind of query indicates no focus and little passion. Recently at the Emerald City Writers Conference, Cherry Adair said you have to pick your specific area to write in and commit to it. You can write other stuff later if you break out, but to start, focus on your passion, not just what you think will sell. Knowing why you want to write in a specific field will allow you to mine your passion and produce the best book you can.
Special Force #3: WHERE will your sustained change occur?
I was discussing the publishing world with Elizabeth George, a successful mystery author, and she told me she had gone to Susan Wiggs for publishing advice. I was searching for answers myself so I emailed Susan and asked for some career advice. Having a plan (WHAT) was the first thing she came back with (replying within 20 minutes, a sign of how much she’s willing to help others—or that she spends too much time on the Internet). She said that it was a good idea to study authors who have achieved what you want to, and then make your own plan and find an agent who is best equipped/professionally positioned to make that plan a reality.
In Special Forces we called this an Area Study: knowing everything about the place you wish to enter.
The other key piece of advice from Susan was to plan to write three books with a unifying theme and a unifying concept because in today’s current market a sense of continuity for readers is key. The simplest way to do this is have the same protagonist. You can also have the same setting (Susan uses a town) or group (like Suzanne Brockman’s Navy SEALs). If you study Nora Roberts’ career, this three unified book mantra is a repeating pattern. The book I am currently writing has a theme of honor versus loyalty and the concept is West Point, part of my ‘platform’ because I graduated from there.
Conquer Your Fears and Succeed
In the army at Ranger and Special Forces school I was taught the correct way to defeat an ambush if trapped in one. Here’s the scenario:
My patrol is walking along a trail and suddenly we are fired upon from the right. My fear wants me to jump in the convenient ditch to the left—to avoid. The problem is, if the ambush is set up correctly—that ditch is mined and I’ll die if I do that. My next fear-driven instinct is to just hit the ground. Stay where I’m at and do nothing. Except I’m in the kill zone and if I stay there, well, I’ll get killed. The third thing I want to do is run forward or back on the trail to get out of the kill zone-- escape. Except, if the ambush is done right, the heaviest weapons are firing on either end of the kill zone. And I’ll die.
The correct solution is the hardest choice because it requires courage: I must conquer my fear, turn right and assault into the ambushing force. It is the best way to not only survive, but win.
In publishing, I have learned, applied, and now teach the same lessons. This article touched on some high points of the Warrior Writer program that I use to help authors grow in their craft and their careers. My message:
Whatever your fears are, you must assault into them in order not only to survive, but to succeed. And I want every writer to succeed.
Be a Warrior Writer.
Bob Mayer is the NY Times best-selling author of 40 books. He runs Writers Workshops and Warrior Writer workshops around the country, when he isn’t trying to add to that number or running in the woods with Cool Gus, his yellow lab puppy. www.bobmayer.com