Tuesday, August 4, 2009

No excuses - The 4 Magic Questions

When I tell people that my family loves to travel and we really love Europe, I always hear the same thing. “Gosh, I wish I could do something like that, but…” I’ve heard this all of the time. I heard this when I was younger and in Scouts and decided to go the National Jamboree in Virginia. I heard this when I wanted to go hiking in New Mexico. I heard this when I decided to go to a private college for my undergraduate degree and then for both of my Masters Degrees. I was always stumped by this reaction because I was always able to do things. Why couldn’t anyone else. Look, my family wasn’t rolling in it. I was in debt after college. But still I did it.


The same goes for writing and publishing. I am sure a lot of you suddenly find you are around a lot of people who are “writing a novel” as soon as you tell them you are a writer. I bet you hear the same thing “You know, I’d love to write a book, but…” I even hear this from people who do claim to be a writer. Many who participate in conferences to the National level. Writers who take classes and then, when you ask them about where they plan on selling their book to, they suddenly back peddle and end up with that same comment, “Gosh, I’d love to but…”


Right after my wife and I got married we had a students stay with us because her family couldn’t afford the room and board at the private college she was attending. We knew her through speech and debate (my wife and I were both high school and college coaches), so this seemed like a great fit. Since that time, she has gone on to earn her graduate and undergraduate degrees, started working in the juvenile court system and eventually moved to a position in the upper ranks of Homeland Security as a director. She has also gone on to have a great family with two wonderful kids. Her success stemmed from that same attitude of not seeing the limits to what she can do.


Along the way though, she also learned of these 4 magic questions. When she learned about them, she was working in the juvenile lock up, but since that time she (and we have to) found that the 4 magic questions worked for anyone who was struggling with making the right decision, or simply using the whole “Gosh, I wish I could” argument.


1.       What do you want?

2.       What are you doing to get it?

3.       How is that helping?

4.       What should you be doing?


Let’s look at each of the questions in a bit more detail.


  1. What do you want? This one solidifies what the person really wants out of life. For some unpublished writers, they simply have no idea. Sometimes they find that they don’t even want to write. Hmmm? What you do you think they should do? For the published author, they too have to identify what they really want out of their publishing life.
  2. What are you doing to get it? This one really hurts because now the writer is faced with seeing that the problem doesn’t lie with other people, but lies within their own actions. If a published author, with a career that goes flat looks at the first two idea, they see just what is in front of them. Let’s assume they say they want to go on to bigger and more advanced books, but what they are doing right now is simply writing the same style they have been doing all along because “this is what they know.” Suddenly, they see the problem.
  3. How is that helping? Hmmm? If I don’t change my writing. If I don’t attend conferences. If I don’t find a critique partner. If I don’t write daily? The answer will always be “It isn’t helping”
  4. What should you be doing? This is the goal setting step. This is where you make a plan. Look, if you want to be a professional writer, make that plan to write daily.


The key to all of this stems from how active or passive you are in your own life. When I first started the agency, people looked at me and questioned if I could do it? I look back now at those people and can clearly say yes. Now, do I have bigger goals down the line? You better believe it. Will I get there? I am betting yes. My question to you is: Will you make it?




Scott C. Eagan




  1. It also feels freaking *awesome* when you can answer all four of those questions. :D Two and a half years ago, I couldn't have.

  2. Awhile ago, Scott Eagan requested a partial. It was declined due to no depth of the characters. I did what I expect my clients to do, learn from it and move on. I analyzed my mss, edited, added and began submitting again. His decline only strengthened my resolve to make it better and it helped in many ways.

  3. Ouch ouch ouch. You do have a way of cutting through the BS.
    I especially like the part in which someone finally admits that even those who have had a lifelong identity, as a "writer," and have worked in the field, just can't admit to themselves that they don't even want to do this anymore.Burned out, way too much work for declining compensation, too many would-be authors, and a total lack of interest in the hot topics of the day, vampires and soft-core porn disguised as worthwhile writing. Don't care about the porn, but please don't put a pig in a dress and insist that I call it a princess. It's just another pig, being peddled to the next generation for which it is apparently still a novelty.
    One solution-return to writing for myself, publish it on Kindle or BookSurge, and at least regain some self-respect, Life is change. May the best vampire win.

  4. I hope I didn't give the wrong impression, but the reason Scott Eagan gave in his decline had validity. He was right. I added 20,000 words and gave it a stronger life. I could've whined (which I detest tremendously from myself or in my field, because it goes nowhere, creating too many delays)and instead gave it a chance. At this time the full mss was requested. I'm a straight up kinda girl and really appreciate when it comes back straight up.

    Good luck with your writing (smile)!!