25 things I Learned About Writing That Will Help You Succeed at Anything, in no particular order

This is the guts of a talk I am giving for the Cincinnati Chapter of MENSA’s annual gathering tomorrow – a bit long, but hopefully worth it.

  1.   Not everybody is going to like what you do. Some people will. Some people won’t. Your job is to be yourself, the best ‘you’ you can be, and create the most authentic, book, painting, or widget you can. Then go find those people who do like and want what you do. It takes work, flexibility, and the willingness to get up off your ass when life knocks you down. You’ve got to get rid of your preconceived ideas of what help, opportunity and success look like. You need to be determined to learn what you need to know and able to look at your stuff with an unbiased, critical eye. You must do all this with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. … Or you can hang out in obscure little coffee houses, waiting for the Book Fairy to sprinkle stardust on you.
  2.   The failure to comprehend a problem is sometimes the best way to transcend it. If you don’t know how hard it is to do something, you are less likely to stop yourself from doing it. This applies to my trip through the Andes as well as my journey in publishing. The folks who made a killing in the early days of self-publishing were those who were either ignorant of the realities of publishing or chose to disregard them. i.e., it takes 10 years of rejection letters to get anywhere, and the only way to success is the right publisher.
  3.   Do the numbers. Success amounts to overhead vs sales. Be creative in handling your overhead, and you can make a success out of a niche that can’t support a larger business. It’s a great way to get your foot into a market. My mother was after me to get an agent when she read my first manuscript. I self published instead. In less time than it would take for me to get my first rejection letter, I earned enough to take the rest of the year off to finish my second book and haven’t had a job since.
  4.   Write what you want to read. That way you know that at least one person will enjoy it, and if one person enjoys it, more will. Breakthrough successes by no-name authors were books that were written purely for themselves, by folks who had no intention of publishing. Think, “The Christmas Box,” “50 Shades of Grey” And “Slammed.”
  5.   At some point in the process, you will hate your book. You will think it is the worst piece of trash ever created, and you will not want to look at it, ever again. This happens with every book, with every author. Successful authors know that this is a phase and they power on.
  6.   Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman said: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
  7.   Brilliant people are often assholes, not because you have to be an asshole to be brilliant, but because your average asshole has the confidence of his convictions to do what he wants to do, the way he wants to do it, regardless of other people’s opinions. You have to have that confidence in yourself to dare to be different. You have to believe your work is more important than other obligations. You have to put yourself (via your work) first. Your belief in yourself has to be strong enough to withstand all external evidence that you will never make it, because the world will heap that on you. (rejection letters).
  8.   Professionalism and consistency combined with competency will beat out talent every time. Being an asshole makes it hard to get ahead because nobody wants work with you if they can help it.You will get further being competent, professional and easy to get along with than you ever will by being an ego-driven diva.
  9.   A rising tide lifts all boats/You need friends. Create a peer group. Not a Master Mind group, but a closed environment (Secret group on Facebook) a safe place where members have similar pursuits and issues, and where they can share anything as long as they are polite and people will help each other if they are available and have something to offer. Having a group with the goal that we want everyone in it to benefit form our experiences has enabled those who have applied themselves to our collective wisdom to become full time breadwinners with their writing.
  10.   Word of Mouth and direct contact Rule. A friend, VP in a publishing house told me 6 months ago that they were seeing no difference in sales whether they did or did not advertise, because readers made purchases based on word or mouth and reader reviews. Not critic reviews, but reader reviews. Based on their observations, they cut a 600K advertising budget with Amazon to 0.
  11.   Part 2: I invest the majority of my effort into an email list developed from a link in the back of my books. I send them fun content every month and have giveaways. I treat them like gold because they are the ones who are most likely to tell people about my books. I respond to all emails. And if anyone writes me and tells me they told their book club or dog walking group about my books, I send them a tee shirt. Hugh Howey and Colleen Hoover are fantastic at engaging fans.
  12.   Part 3: The best way to get people to do something is to ask them personally. Let them know WHY you want them, specifically, to do it. If you need a bunch of people, ask every one of them individually.
  13.   Part 4: If you need a bunch of people, progress from your easy asks to your most difficult. First go for accumulating numbers of folks you can rely on. Then, when you have a base, start asking the folks you don’t know as well, and toss in, “I’ve already got XXX number and XXX names (if they know folks you already have). Build up to the folks who are your star prospects so that by the time you ask them, your project looks like a big deal that they don’t want to be left out of.
  14.   Success requires discipline. Create a structure for your writing to build strong neural pathways. If you consistently write in the same place at the same time of day, your brain will be ready to write when you sit down at your desk. Just like my dogs are ready for their afternoon walk at the same time every day and will disrupt whatever I’m doing to make sure it happens.
  15.   Pick a genre and concept and stick to it. In my writer’s group (80 + self-published authors), some folks wrote series and some folks wrote multiple books in multiple genres. The books that took off were all in a series. NONE of the stand-alone books has achieved any traction. Even successful writers lose traction when they take time out to write in another genre. Granted, it’s not all about the money. Remember, money equals readerage, and that’s a good thing.
  16.   Brand yourself. It gives readers confidence. It starts with what you write, but extends to your cover, Your business cards, your online posts, and even your comments on other people’s blogs. (The internet is forever. Don’t have a melt-down)
  17. Understand what your readers want. Your readers will love you if you push the envelope on their expectations. They will hate you if you promise one thing and deliver another.
  18.   Yes, you need to have an original hook. It’s not as hard as it sounds. – Pick your favorite genre, the one type of fiction that you’ll read and be entertained, even when the books are mediocre. – If you are truly ready to be an author, you will be vaguely unsatisfied with most of what you read. Some writing will be too violent, some not racy enough, and some will lack description or likable characters. You’ll follow plots and think, “If I were writing this, I would (fill in the blank).” Your niggling complaints reveal what you want out of a book. Use that. — Next look around you. Places you’ve lived, careers you’ve had, disciplines you’ve studied. How can you add your experiences to your concept? Now, just Be yourself.
  19.   Dare to be different. Part of the success of Indie publishing is that the voices have not been homogenized by the publishing industry.
  20. People judge books by their covers. You may not like it, but if you don’t respect it, it will sink you. This is the most important place you must invest. Get the best you can afford.
  21.   You can’t do everything. Know where the gaps in your skills are and find talented people to help you.
  22.   Say thank you whenever possible.
  23.   A Book is never finished. It will never be perfect, but it can be overwritten. Learn when to let go. Learn to live with good enough. I counted 12 egregious typos in a Nora Roberts eBook, including “she tarred herself up” instead of tarted.
  24.   You can never prepare enough to be perfect the first time. You will learn more, faster, by putting yourself out there. Tami Hoag’s first books were awful. Try the low bar strategy. Exactly how good do you need to be to get in the game? Pick someone you know you can beat, then work up the ladder.
  25.   You can’t just create it and set it adrift. you have to tend it. Publishing the book is only the beginning.

BONUS: Buy plants you cant kill. Simplify your life wherever possible.

BONUS #2: Five years from now, people will merely think you are eccentric if your wash piles up for 2 months while you write the great American novel. Don’t let trivialities get in the way of your dreams.

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