Wednesday, February 15, 2012

15 WOW Wednesday: Marshall Dawa on Adapting to Create Success

Are you tired of not succeeding as a writer? You'll love this post from Marshall Dawa. And check the end for contact information!

Find It and Chase It

Face it, writing isn’t easy, even if many think it is. Not everyone can do it, either, though many think they can. My story is no different from anyone else’s: a modicum of success as much from persistence and diligence as from honing skills and chasing dreams.

When I graduated from college, I wrote short stories, poems, and started countless novels as I worked odd jobs while traveling the world. But I was stubborn. I wanted to do it my way.

I hung onto stories, plotlines, and characters, and welcomed no advice. But nothing got published. I had no direction and focus. Just obstinance and inapproachability.

But I evolved.

What got me on track was finding out some things about myself. One, I love creating stories. Two, I hate “work”. Writing is work, yes, but I hate other kinds of work. Three, I want to make a living writing, not doing anything else. I owed it to my talent in, affinity for, and love of writing to chase making a living writing.

See, there are writers out there who just enjoy writing solely for the sake of the craft. I used to be one of those people – and it’s great to be that way. But…


…writing for a living entails a different mindset than writing for the sake of it does. It means adapting and knowing when to hold on and when to let go.

See, we writers live a double-edged existence: we are at once confident and insecure. We know we can spin an amazing yarn, but we’re insecure that others won’t see it the same. We’re also stubborn (it’s MY story), distrustful (it’s MY protagonist), resistant (it’s MY style), and possessive (it’s MINE).

If you’re any of those, making a living writing isn’t easy.

Even if you aren’t any of those – you adapt, trust, open up, and share – you’re still not going to make a living writing very easily.

But your chances dramatically increase.

I know talented writers who are out of work or don’t have book deals because they refuse to adapt. They’ve been writing the same story for five years. A decade. They hold onto it. It’s their baby.

Yet they complain. No work. No book deal. Envious of others. Nothing against hanging on, but sometimes we have to fall in order to soar.

Learning when to do the former so as to experience the latter is tricky.

Recognize the Chaff from the Choice

I finally learned to let go. Of past stories. Of fragmented storylines. Of unengaging characters. And in learning to parse the dregs, I began to recognize the gems.

A few years back, a friend of mine commented that if I wanted to make money writing, I should write science books for elementary school-age readers because there weren’t many “good, fun, educational” science stories and her son LOVED reading about such things as marine biology, meteorology, and physical science.

I spent a week after that on the floor at the local library going over children’s books. And I came up with an idea for a series and a character to narrate the it.

But it was too commercial, marketable, modern. I wanted classic, literary, lasting.

So I shelved the idea for more than a decade.

It took traveling the world, working dead-end jobs, and marrying a wonderful woman to realize the only way I was ever going to be happy career-wise was to write for a living.

So I hung up the hang-up and redialed the good idea I’d had on hold. Last year, I pulled out that old children’s book character/narrator, submitted it, and got a deal for a series of books, all narrated by that character.

The publisher thought that the character was too cartoonish. And the character’s name wasn’t commercial enough.

As I’d learned to adapt, I modified the cartoonishness without losing the fun yet educational style. And I devised a new moniker for the character.

From the orginal series have come two sequel series and another, unrelated series. Dozens of stories in all. They’re not the 500-page tomes I’d envisioned creating and setting the world afire with (I’m still working on those!). But they’re stories I’m happy with and proud of.

And there are more spin-offs on the horizon.

All because I’d kept in the vault an old idea that I knew was a good one and then unleashed when the right opportunity arose.

In Search of: Good

I live in Hollywood, though I am by no means “Hollywood”; it’s just where my beautiful wife and I happen to live. But in living there, I keep up with what’s up. And what I keep hearing, in addition to the usual (work hard, never give up, blah, blah, blah…), is this: there’s a dearth of good writing.

Let me repeat. There’s a dearth of good writing.

Not a dearth of stories. Or of ideas. Or even of good. A dearth of good writing. Of stories that knock people’s socks off.

So, you think, “I’m a good writer. In fact, I’m a damn good writer! Why haven’t my submissions been accepted?” or “Why no deal, no agent, no house in the hills??”

Simple. What you’ve written hasn’t been good enough. I know, that’s as cold as a witch’s stare, but it’s true, even if you don’t like hearing it.

Don’t let it bother you, though.

Keep working. Publishers are always on the lookout for good stories, but they don’t appear by pushing a magic story button; they happen because of hard work.

Know why you write. Adapt, if necessary. Learn to discard what isn’t good and keep what is. Don’t take “no” for an answer if your idea really is good, either. But, you ask, “How will I know?”

I can’t tell you that because everyone’s different in how they perceive such things. My only suggestion is this: follow your instinct and creative vibe.

After all, isn’t that the real reason we write in the first place?

Write something good and the rest will follow.

P.S. Due to contractual obligations, I can’t divulge any more information about the upcoming series mentioned above (book titles, series titles, character names, etc). The first two series are set to drop later this spring and the other two in the summer or fall.

P.P.S I am revamping my web site and blog right now, but if anyone would like to drop me a line for any reason, please tweet me @marshalldawa or email me at I look forward to hearing from you. I’ll respond ASAP.


  1. Great tips. It took me years to learn not to be so stubborn about holding onto parts of my story that needed to go. Thanks for sharing your experiences and good luck with your new project.

    1. thanks, natalie...

      don't know if you'll see this since i'm getting around to replying now. i never thought anyone would be commenting... :-)

      it's hard to recognize what to keep and what to let go, isn't it?

      good luck to you...


  2. Yes, good luck with your new project.

    1. thank you carole anne...

      thanks for reading.

      best wishes,

  3. Adaptability is the key for a successful writing career. Learning to use critiques and criticism to your advantage will also help. Great advice.

    1. thanks, tina...

      good luck to you. i have learned that criticism can be my best friend.

      best wishes,

  4. Wonderful post. Thank you for your honesty.

    1. thank you, linda...

      not everyone likes it when i'm honest - lol...

      good luck with your writing.


  5. This is one of the first posts I've read were someone has suggested adapting. Many writers take that as selling out or letting go of their voice, but I think you make it clear that adapting doesn't have to mean either of those things. Thanks for a great post!

    1. thanks, michele...

      i didn't mention it above, but when revising the post, it occurred to me that a younger me might have said i was suggesting selling out.

      however, i learned the hard way that selling out is waaaaay different than adapting.

      good luck to you,

  6. I cut a character and a subplot from what I considered my "polished" manuscript today, and still have a few more changes to go. This is just the reinforcement I needed!

    1. hi, beth...

      keep trusting your changes. i still struggle with cutting characters and subplots sometimes until i remember that I'M the only one who cares (since no one else has seen or will see that particular draft)!!!

      best of luck,

  7. Great to hear a unique philosophy on this wild road of writing.

    1. hi, leslie...

      thanks for your comment. i don't know how unique my philosophy is because i'm not even sure i really have one sometimes. it seems to have a life of its own and goes amoeba on me quite often...! lol...

      good luck,

  8. hi, all...

    my apologies for taking so long to comment to anyone who read my post and took the time to comment. for various reasons, i got so busy with some projects that i never took any time to read the post (after all, i already knew what i had written...!)

    it wasn't until today when i realized i'd missed the last couple of WoW wednesdays that i'd been slack in responding to comments.

    further evidence of my being so slack: a couple of people tweeted me and i only realized it today!!! :-{

    if anyone else cares to comment, i promise to respond asap.

    in the meantime, should anyone ever want to contact me, please do so - tweet me or email me using the contact info at the bottom of my post. i promise to reply, even if it takes a while...!

    peace and good writing to everyone,


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