Several weeks ago I gave a talk hosted by the library here in La Quinta, CA entitled, “Local Author Series.” In an effort to promote reading, writing and greater community connections, I agreed to share some of the things I’ve learned after nearly 30 years of writing. But rather than just make it a show-and-tell all about me, I approached the presentation with the intention of helping others curious about writing and who might be looking for encouragement. After all, I believe like author and mentor Julia Cameron, that we are all innately creative. And what often leads to artistic success is mostly the audaciousness of not giving up.
As for myself, I had no clue I would grow up to be a writer. My working-class neighborhood contained few professionals, let alone writers. Yet, my curiosity, my desire to experiment, grow, learn and then share that information, led me constantly to expanding adventures. Then sometime in my early 30’s, I began to recognize a voice inside of me that wanted to express itself in a bigger way. Regardless of my lack of training or education, writing became the obvious choice. I’m convinced that the how or when we decide to create matters little. What matters most is our courage to let it out and share it with others.
Here are ten tips I’ve learned through the years about writing:
- Give yourself permission to be a bad writer. We all have to start somewhere and comparing your writing to the best writers in the world will only cripple your energy to start and continue.
- Annie Lamott says, “Write just one inch at a time.” If you want to be a writer, you have to write. And keep writing. Don’t fool yourself into believing that writing is a magical thing that only happens to the most talented. Be audacious! Write!
- Good and done is better than perfect. Sure, some art is more precise than others—but seldom is it ever perfect. Artists just have to stop at some point and say, “Done.” Perfectionism kills more creativity than just about anything else.
- Make your writing as much a part of you as breathing—similar to a spiritual practice—then regardless of the outcome, you will benefit.
- Be very clear about why you are writing—what are your intentions? If you are doing it for solely for the money then realize that it is difficult to work and only a small number make significant income. But as Confucius said, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
- Discipline is critical. Learn to avoid distractions like the television, Facebook, Twitter, or your phone.
- Keep reading. Anyone who wants to be a writer must read. If you want to do videos or podcasts, listen to those—just don’t confuse the one with the other.
- Never let critics stop you from writing. As author Rob Sheffield said, “You can’t control who reads your work or how they respond. What you can control is how much your writing means to you—if you write about things that fire up your passions, things that stimulate your neurons, writing will probably make your life better, whether anyone else reads it or not. That’s not the only reason to write, but it’s a good reason.”
- Don’t do it for the money. (I say this about everything—but especially writing!)
- Don’t try to make other people happy, to get others to agree with you, or let others define how writing must be done. As Stephen King says, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enrich your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
In 2003, a small independent publisher in Scotland named Findhorn Press published my first book. Well known in its particular genre, I thought being published by that company was the ticket to a successful writing career. Now after two books published by traditional publishers and three self-published through Amazon, I’ve learned a few things about publishing as well.
- Don’t assume that landing a publishing deal is a key to writing success.
- Having your publisher help you with editing, cover design and other publishing details can be helpful—but it can also be a battle.
- Whether you publish your book yourself or you have a more traditional publisher—nearly all the promotion and marketing will rest on your shoulders.
- It used to be very expensive to self-publish. Now it is possible to publish your own small printed book for about $2.50 or $.0 if done as a kindle book.
- It is possible to make a much larger profit on your own self-published book if you also know how to market it well. Distribution and marketing is key.
- You can literally do it all yourself. But you have to be willing to accept the quality of your product—and judgments on that choice.
- Just like with your writing—be clear about “why” you want to publish.
- Don’t do it for the money!
- Learning to self-publish in both print and ebook is like learning another language and staying current with trends. Don’t be afraid to try. If I can do it anyone, can.
In 2007 I decided to try my hand at a blog. I started with a blog focused on the environment and then six years ago switched to SMART Living 365.com. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far.
- Realize that blogging is a LOT more work than most people realize. It only looks easy when it’s done well.
- Be clear about your intentions/purpose for blogging, just like for writing or publishing. The “why” you do what you do matters more than you realize.
- If you go into it to make money, please understand that it takes as much, if not more work to be a successful blogger than it does to start and run any successful business.
- Growing a blog following takes time. Patience and discipline are necessary.
- Choose a name and a “topic” that excites you and inspires you to want to keep doing it for a long time.
- Don’t try to make your writing please your family and friends. Write what satisfies you, and sometimes your friends and family will like it too.
- Try not to get obsessed with numbers and counting—most of those markers are just a distraction.
- Don’t worry if others leave comments or not. Be satisfied with the occasional word from people that they are getting something positive from your site. And remember, more comments means more work.
- Only use your own photos! (Or at least make sure each is genuinely copyright free.)
- Prepare for the unexpected—especially if you created and manage your blog yourself. Computers crash. Websites go blank. Uncertainty is guaranteed, so get comfortable with change.
- Don’t fight with trolls. The more you allow critics or trolls to get under your skin the less you’ll create.
- Try not to compare your blog or your writing to others. Be yourself.
If you believe that success is only achieved when lots of money is made, then my writing career surely falls short on that measure. But if you believe that real wealth comes from meaningful work, the opportunity to create, growing self-awareness and service to others, then writing offers that gift to any of us who consistently puts words to paper. As usual, the SMART approach is to stay awake, aware and audaciously alive regardless of how you decide to create.