Take Your Career to the Next Level–Getting Pruned

Image via Mark Smith Flikr Creative Commons

Image via Mark Smith Flikr Creative Commons

I’d like to blame it all on Jay’s roast, but having time away, true downtime, allowed me to do some thinking (which is generally dangerous and has a wide blast radius). For any of you who’ve done any yard work, you know that for a vine to bear fruit, for a rose bush to produce more flowers, for a tree to grow taller, it needs to be pruned.

One of the key ways we grow in our careers (or even as people) is to be pruned. Pruning hurts. It sucks. It takes away all the pretty fluff we thought was “progress” and renders us naked and vulnerable. After pruning, we might not look like a lot to others, but inside and beneath, great things are happening. Our roots (commitment) dig deeper so we can stand taller.

Image via Keith Williamson Flikr Commons.

Image via Keith Williamson Flikr Commons.

The first step to being pruned is honestly and critically looking at where we are weak. I know there are all kinds of experts who say, “Only focus on your strengths. Don’t work on your weaknesses. You can’t be good at everything,” and that is true to a degree.

But…

On some stuff? We need to become experts.

When I first started writing fiction, my dialogue was fabulous, my prose lovely and my characters all adorable…but I could not wrap my head around the antagonist and plotting, thus wasn’t generating true dramatic tension.

Okay, I was playing Literary Barbies.

This was a critical node that would undermine everything I wrote. So I read every book available about plotting and tore apart every book I read and every movie I watched until I had it nailed. But I had to admit my weakness (pruning) to grow stronger.

Practice does make perfect, if it is intelligent practice.  If practice isn’t guided, it can just create a crap load of bad habits we’ll just have to fix later. Just ask anyone whose worked five minutes with a golf pro. Swinging the club incorrectly a thousand times doesn’t improve our game. It creates tendonitis, back problems, and eventually we get a lot of chigger bites from hunting for golf balls off in the rough.

Image via CompanyGolfLessons Flikr Creative Commons

Image via CompanyGolfLessons Flikr Creative Commons

Ah, but to know where to gain expertise, we need to know and admit our weaknesses and flaws.

Back to pruning. We love to look at our flowers, the stuff we’ve done well. Ah, it’s so pretty. I think I’ll call her “Tiffany.” It’s hard to admit where we fall short or are outright failing.

This is one of the reasons rest is so vital (and has been an area where I’ve been failing a lot). We can’t live off caffeine and adrenaline (Who knew?). And if we are always knee-deep in the mess, we lack perspective. Pulling away allows us a new vantage point and permits our brains to calm down long enough to really “see.”

Know there is a difference between fixing weaknesses and fixating on them.

I launched WANA International about a year ago. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I wanted a way to reach more writers and offer affordable classes. I also wanted a way to highlight what I believed was emerging talent and use my platform to boost theirs.

Launching a business (publishing a book) requires risk and often we don’t know what we don’t know. More often, we figure it out when it goes BOOM. The learning curve of being a baby CEO has been steep and I am still learning.

My CEO photo.

My CEO photo.

I have been pruned…a LOT.

I’ve had to fire people I adored, who I really wanted to succeed. I’ve tried technology that sucked and formats of classes that just didn’t work out. Put out classes no one signed up for.

To succeed, we need to take risks and I will warn you ahead of time that a lion’s share of the risks we take (especially early on) will be mistakes. But some will turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done, too.

I took a risk on Lisa Hall-Wilson and Marcy Kennedy and they have become shining WANA diamonds. But for every person who works out, there are fifty who haven’t. The ones who didn’t? That’s pruning. Each “failure” took me down a notch to learn to be better at diamond-spotting. Still working on it.

Sometimes ideas are just coal.

Sometimes ideas are just coal.

I took a risk helping Piper Bayard with her disaster book, Firelands, which has become a best-seller. But for every Piper, there have been a hundred writers who didn’t want to face the ugly and do the hard stuff. Some just faded away, gave up, and some have been all-out cataclysms (for more read Plagiarism and Terrell Mims–A Chronic Case of Epic Stupid).

Major pruning *head desk*.

Terrell (and others) taught me that talk is cheap. Pay attention to what people do and what they say. Are they congruent? Does the person have character? Are they focused? What is the person’s work ethic? Are they willing to do the hard stuff?

But where would I be if I’d just sat and cried I was bad at business and a failure and terrible at judging people?

Fix, don’t fixate.

Pruning isn’t Personal

I suppose part of the reason it’s tough to have a Kristen Lamb roast is that I serve roasted Lamb daily on this blog :D.

After my vacation, I have a teensy-tiny list of like one small thing…okay a long…okay a looooooong, looooong, like longer than my arm list of stuff I am committed to working on now that I’m home.

For instance, there are areas of business I just don’t understand as well as I need to in order to be an effective CEO. Does this mean I need to get a degree in business and be a new Jack Welch? No.

But I do need to study, to understand stuff well enough to know who to delegate what to and then how to hold said person accountable. I need to know enough to ask the right questions and understand if I am getting the right answers….or even if I need better answers.

Yes, work on your strengths. Writing is my strength and I train it daily. But, as writers, we are also small-business owners. We need to know the business side of our business or we waste time, energy, money and can even get fleeced.

And you will likely screw up. It’s okay. We learn by making mistakes. Too many people expect to write the perfect book the first time out, or hire the right web person day one, or make every business decision perfectly, but that isn’t how life works.

We Can’t Avoid Pruning—Indecision IS a Decision

I actually had to fire someone I cared about because this person would not take risks. This person needed validation from twenty people that every decision was perfect, and if one person said change the plan, this person changed the entire plan. We cannot live life by committee. Not and stay sane, at least.

This person was afraid of being pruned, didn’t want to lose the pretty flowers. But no pruning? No growth.

My advice? Get out there. Get dirty. Take risks. Yes, failure and mistakes will come, but they prune us so we can bear more fruit and better fruit.

What are your thoughts? Are you like and bracing for a new round of pruning? Does pruning scare you? Have you been pruned and have the fruit to show for it?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENT: I have a class coming up SOON, Creating Conflict and Tension on Every Page if you want to learn how to apply these tactics to your writing. Use WANA15 to get 15% off.

Also, my new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

I will announce July’s winner when I’ve had a chance to unpack.

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  1. #1 by Ruth Hartman Berge on August 7, 2013 - 11:16 am

    Another one right on the money! I’ll add a hearty amen, too.

    I belong to a critique group. My mentor (and friend) happens to lead the group. I’ve seen the look on the faces of new members after she finishes ripping up one of my pieces and it ain’t pretty. I always feel compelled to tell them that I asked for this. It’s the best way for me to learn. And I have to remind my mentor of that when she apologizes. If I can understand what I did wrong and why it didn’t work, I can fix it and perhaps avoid it next time. But if I get handed only fluff, it’s basically useless.

    Thanks for another good posting. I love reading your blog.

  2. #2 by thewordverve on August 7, 2013 - 11:24 am

    I am a firm believer in “pruning.” (excellent comparison) I’ve stood pretty bare and unexciting a few times in my word services career, and likely will do so again . . . several times over. I hadn’t thought about it in terms of pruning, but that’s exactly what it is. And it works! Excellent post. Thank you.

  3. #3 by Christa Wojo on August 7, 2013 - 11:29 am

    Pruning also helps keep the ego in check. A writer’s ego can be especially dangerous and needs to be cut back every so often to avoid suffocating overgrowth.

  4. #4 by Sharon Willett on August 7, 2013 - 11:31 am

    I read your blog and love it, but never comment. Had to this time because this post was the best! Thank you.

  5. #5 by Jack Flacco on August 7, 2013 - 11:39 am

    Thanks for this, Kristen! I went through this whole pruning exercise last year when I found your blog and began implementing some of your tips in my blogging. I took the pruning to extremes though.

    I burned my old blogspot blog to the ground. Nothing left of it except the ashes. I charred it to a cinder. I found with my old blog I was chasing after a dream that wasn’t really there and it had become a collection of bloghops, awards, and mentions. Not much content, really. I was also inconsistent. In a short time, I realized what was missing. The old adage came into play, “If you build it, they will come.” I was missing content. Content that had to do with what I was writing about. Sure enough, once I began concentrating on building a blog that highlighted people’s interests, I began seeing a response. I wasn’t planning on a massive response, but apparently that’s what I got!

    My blog now is clean. I support others not by awards but by commenting on their blogs, liking their stuff and tweeting with them real time to build connections. WordPress is incredible. It’s equipped with tools to aid in connecting with people in a very helpful way.

    The pruning was a drastic measure for me as well because it meant changing platforms and moving to a new blog paradigm. All in all though, it was worth it and I’m seeing the growth in the short eight months I’ve been blogging again.

    • #6 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 7, 2013 - 11:48 am

      SQUEEEEE!!!!! *does Snoopy dance* Go you!

    • #7 by lythya on August 7, 2013 - 1:52 pm

      Thank you for just making a light bulp go *ding* in my head. You made a piece of the puzzle fit. I knew it all already but suddenly I realize how to use my word cloud, haha!

  6. #8 by Kate Sparkes on August 7, 2013 - 11:42 am

    I’m there right now! It does hurt, but I don’t want a bouquet of pretty-but-flimsy flowers. I want a fruit-bearing tree, dammit. I fear pruning, because my bark’s not thick enough yet to protect me from the cuts and bruises and I worry that I won’t know how to grow. But I ask for it anyway, and try to be grateful for every branch I lose.

    I have a long way to go. I was one of those annoying kids who did well in school without trying, and now I don’t know how to take a good pruning and come out stronger. But I’m learning.

  7. #9 by Lisa Hall-Wilson on August 7, 2013 - 12:00 pm

    Very grateful you took a chance on me. And I’ve met so many wonderful peeps through WANA and so many of them have been a positive influence. :D

  8. #10 by Lee Chaix McDonough on August 7, 2013 - 12:04 pm

    Sometimes our failures lead to quiet, hidden successes too. Case in point: the Terrell Mims debacle. I first read about him on someone else’s blog almost two years ago, and the author commented that he had manipulated and hurt really good people, people like Kristen Lamb. Who is this Kristen Lamb, I thought? So I clicked the link to your blog, and since then, I’ve been a loyal lurker who’s read every post, bought every book, and referred all of my friends. I’m sure I’m not the only one who found you through what could be described as an epic fail – trusting Terrell Mims. So, Kristen, not only did you grow personally through that traumatic experience, but your blog and your following grew as well. Failure is fertile ground for success, sometimes in ways we could never imagine. But to keep that ground fertile, we have to prune what grows. Thanks for a great post!

  9. #11 by cynthiagrstacey on August 7, 2013 - 12:31 pm

    I have to say I have been doing a little pruning lately, especially after reading your book. Which I loved by the way and am rereading. My domain is now my own name…lol I have been contemplating more in depth pruning but with hesitation and now I believe I will just go for it. Thanks for this post!

  10. #12 by cynthiagrstacey on August 7, 2013 - 12:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    Awesome advice from Kristen Lamb, author of Rise of the Machines-Human Authors in a digital World

  11. #13 by Marilyn Hudson Tucker on August 7, 2013 - 12:34 pm

    Fix don’t fixate. Priceless.

  12. #14 by Heather on August 7, 2013 - 12:53 pm

    Hi. Love this. Q about the courses, and maybe there’s a quick link I missed, but what if I can’t make the time due to other commitments but want to go. Recordings?

    • #15 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 7, 2013 - 3:20 pm

      It’s recorded and I send out a PDF of any notes :D.

      • #16 by Karen Stumm Limbrick on August 7, 2013 - 5:50 pm

        OH This is awesome – I was wondering the same thing and it has kept me from doing classes in the past (not just yours though, Kristen.)

  13. #17 by jameskaniainc on August 7, 2013 - 1:29 pm

    I like your first step. Taking a step back and honestly looking at ourselves to pinpoint our weaknesses. If we can strengthen those parts, the results will speak for themselves. Most of us have strengths that we rely on. We are hindered by our weaknesses!

  14. #18 by lythya on August 7, 2013 - 1:51 pm

    Hahaha, wow! PRUNING! That’s what it’s called! My dad has a christmas tree farm and we’re doing that to the trees right now BIG TIME or they’ll get too broad, but I called it trimming in my blog. Does that word work, too?
    Anyway, I’m glad to once again feel the deep inspiration I sometimes get when I read your stuff. Sometimes the place I am in life and the post you write add up, y’know? I do need to just jump into the editing. And damn it, I’ve been looking forward to it, too. Seeing this puny draft become something more … which shouldn’t be too hard, since it’s pretty crappy XD
    Thank you for another awesome post. I hope you enjoyed your much deserved vacation and remembered to relax!

  15. #19 by Gry Ranfelt on August 7, 2013 - 3:09 pm

    Speaking of pruning – I’m thinking of taking your tension and conflict class. Since I’ve never taken an online course I was wondering if there’s anything in particular I need to have ready? (LIke skype etc?)

  16. #20 by Rebecca Enzor on August 7, 2013 - 3:12 pm

    I was pruned last week and it still hurts, but I’ve already began to bounce back. Nothing like a good set of shears to get your butt in gear.

  17. #21 by Dennis Langley on August 7, 2013 - 3:16 pm

    When pruning a tree, the rule is to remove no more than one third a year so as not to kill the tree. It is hard to fix more than one or two things at a time. So, once the weaknesses are identified. We should pick the one’s that are most problematic to concentrate on. Of course if there are too many weakness, perhaps we should consider a career change. :-)

  18. #24 by Holly Michael on August 7, 2013 - 3:16 pm

    OUCH, pruning does hurt. Writing is really hard job!

  19. #25 by danielocceno on August 7, 2013 - 4:28 pm

    Pruning is the secret to growing things indoors. Good one, worth keeping.

  20. #26 by Cate Masters on August 7, 2013 - 4:36 pm

    I’m always up for a good pruning, lol.
    Question (if dumb, sorry) – is the class time Eastern time? I’d love to take it but I’m no night owl!

  21. #29 by malindalou on August 7, 2013 - 4:51 pm

    So true and so good!!

  22. #30 by Shea Ford on August 7, 2013 - 5:21 pm

    Thanks to your words, I’ve already been pruning. I cut off the part of me that didn’t want to blog and tweet. Still trimming…;)

  23. #31 by Karen Stumm Limbrick on August 7, 2013 - 5:48 pm

    Over the past year I have had so many distractions that I had forgotten my commitment to complete my first manuscript, no matter the results. Recently I realized I had much to gain even if it meant not being published as it would only lead to being a better writer/author (and I have a lot more stories in me to write) – so I recommitted. This hits home with me on my epiphany and re-commitment to “carry on because I want to be a writer” especially a well pruned one. Thank you for your inspiration and encouragement.

  24. #32 by FairytaleFeminista on August 7, 2013 - 5:56 pm

    It was a hard lesson to learn that sometimes looking at your weaknesses doesn’t mean you’re weak. The opposite is actually true. It takes real strength to analyze and be introspective. It has to be done individually and even with relationships. It’s why my husband and I have a “State of Our Union” every year so we’re on the same page. And even with that we have to make sure we’re okay periodically. The same is true individually. I step back from my writing and ask if it’s still okay. I had to learn to make characters real instead of perfect…the hardest lesson. Thanks for a great post.

  25. #33 by Andrew on August 7, 2013 - 6:00 pm

    …huh. This blog post is pretty serendipitous (I like that word so I had to use it, haha) for me. Been experiencing a lot of that lately. Anyway, I’m in the process of some major pruning. I realized recently I had NO idea anymore what I was doing with my blogging and writing. Also that I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. Sure, I don’t expect everything to be all sparkles and rainbows all the time (sparkles aren’t a good look for horror authors anyway), but when you dread coming to the page every day there’s an issue. So, I nixed my old blog and the project I was working on. I’m taking some time to step back and figure out what I really want to do, both in writing and in general. Weirdly it’s a bit of a relief.

    Anywho, I hope you can get the whole CEO thing figured out! Plenty of good books out there, and I’m sure there are some business savvy WANA’s out there who can give you some tips if need be.

  26. #34 by ontyrepassages on August 7, 2013 - 6:31 pm

    Pruning is painful and scary, and each time it was the best thing that happened to me. I’m about to go through the process again. I’m also about to reread your book and that means another pruning because you just had to fill that thing with information that made sense. :)

    In a way, pruning is much like exercise in that it’s difficult at first, but then the benefits begin to outweigh the effort and pain and you find yourself more confident going in because you know how much you’ll grow later.

  27. #35 by Kali Anthony on August 7, 2013 - 6:34 pm

    Ha! Have only just finished pruning my roses. Now it’s time to prune me. Where are my secateurs? ;-)

    Thanks for the great advice, as always.

  28. #36 by Ryder Islington on August 7, 2013 - 7:11 pm

    Reblogged this on Ryder Islington's Blog and commented:
    Boy, I’ve been here and done this. This article was so good I just had to reblog it. I hope everyone enjoys..or at least learns from…it.

  29. #37 by kellyhaslam on August 7, 2013 - 8:50 pm

    Great post! Thanks for validating the experiences we have had and will continue to have if we want to continue to grow! It definitely takes courage to take risks, but knowing that others have been there helps. My blog is about using music to help you along the twists and turns of life’s journey.

  30. #38 by susielindau on August 7, 2013 - 10:50 pm

    Ha! Great minds Kristen. I have been mostly out for the last couple of months I just pulled out my book and started a major rewrite. Now I am flying through it. I realized I was wasting a lot of time on social media, stats, etc. Now I am motoring. A 3 week vacation was just what I needed. The surgery, not so much!

  31. #39 by Sinistra Inksteyne on August 8, 2013 - 2:27 am

    I don’t know if it’s the nature of writing or if it’s you, but there’s a lot of what you say which has lessons for life – not just for writing. Thanks :-)
    Also, if I have a Texan Pruning-Shears Massacre nightmare tonight, I know who I’m going to blame!

  32. #40 by andrewknighton on August 8, 2013 - 2:47 am

    When encouraging myself to prune, I find it helps to think in terms of opportunity costs. Putting time and effort into something that’s only OK might not have bad results, but it’s costing me the opportunity to do something awesome. Or at least practice and rest up for that awesome thing.

  33. #41 by Joe Owens on August 8, 2013 - 5:59 am

    Good to see you are fully back. I am sure the break, although unplanned was appreciated.

  34. #42 by claudiadahinden on August 8, 2013 - 8:05 am

    I just discovered your blog as I’m new to wordpress, and I loved it: very inspiring – totally agree! I just began my career as a writer, and as I normally write in german, I don’t think I’ll be able to turn in something – but nevertheless, I wanted to thank you for your post. As a christian, I’m used to the image and idea of “pruning”, and I often think about this when gardening. I hope I’ll always have the courage to look at my weaknesses and do something about them, and also have the courage sometimes just to go for “try and error”. Getting better at that one every day :-) Thank you very much for your superb post, will come back soon and have followed your blog!

  35. #44 by bravesmartbold on August 8, 2013 - 10:03 am

    I’d never heard it said like that before: Indecision is a decision. This helped me understand myself, but mostly my superior who as much as I love her doesn’t make sense sometimes.

  36. #45 by Raani York on August 9, 2013 - 4:46 am

    *sigh* – Now I’m really scared… I don’t actually tend to give up… but I’m not the one to admit that I do have a hard time with critics. :-(

  37. #46 by Debi on August 9, 2013 - 10:41 am

    I could use pruning as well as conflict, conflict, conflict….at least on every page! When do you decide, Kristen, to begin blogging? I keep wondering what my next learning step should be. I’m not writing consistently although I’ve been expanding my “normal” love of writing in one particular genre which seems to be overwhelming me. Or so that’s what I tell myself. I’ve immersed myself in reading, but I’m not sure the plotting and conflict are sinking in even with that. And your blog keeps me connected to writing, pumps me up, directs me, gives me “Ahhh-haaaa!” moments. Keep up the good work.

  38. #47 by poetshide on August 19, 2013 - 9:42 am

    Reblogged this on The poet's hide and commented:
    If you want to know why I’ve chosen to reblog this article, please see my post http://poeticalpoet.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/im-back-and-fully-writerly-revived/ Thanks

  39. #48 by Michelle Morrison on September 4, 2013 - 12:07 am

    I love your blog…You give really sound advice about the writing life. It is true that you can’t learn unless you take risks and make mistakes. It’s not the mistakes that are the problem, it’s not learning from them. You’ve inspired me to get off my lazy (well, needing to learn about being disciplined) rear and start blogging again after a long break. I’m far from being an expert blogger at this stage, but the only way I will have a chance of getting there is to blog and learn what works and what doesn’t.

  1. Success: Are We There Yet? | Holly Michael's Writing Straight
  2. Take Your Career to the Next Level–When, Why, Who and How to Fire People | Kristen Lamb's Blog
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  4. Writing Resources 10 August 2013 | Gene Lempp ~ Writer
  5. Take Your Career to the Next Level–Getting Pruned | A Green Home and a Green garden
  6. I’m back – and fully writerly revived | The poet's hide

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