~from John Donne’s Meditation XVII
The world of a writer, often by its very nature, is a solitary one. Face it. We spend a lot of time in our own heads. Whether we are doing the actual writing, or researching, or outlining, or rewriting, or editing then revising, or…sigh…yeah, I am already tired thinking about it.
…oh and that reminds me…THINKING! We do a lot of that, and, for the most part, thinking is not a group activity.
With all this time in our own company, it is easy to forget we are not alone, that we are part of a greater fabric of humanity. It is easy to forget that our success—or even failure—rests heavily on how we interact with others.
Three Tips to Writing Success:
- Successful writers please the readers. Think Casanova.
This might sound corny, but I find it shocking how many writers (particularly new ones) write in ways that only have meaning to them. Writing is therapeutic, but not therapy.
Being a great writer is like being a great lover. Sorry if this sounds gauche, but it’s true. For anyone who has ever been on a date with a person who talked non-stop about himself, or who only talked about subjects he was interested in, or who only cared about her own drama…lose our number. And the date who kissed like an open-mouth bass or spent the night throwing an ex under the bus? Forget we met.
Storytelling exists in relationship. As a writer, the best way to be successful is weave your stories in ways that engage the reader and allow her to trust you (like that you aren’t going to suddenly lose your mind, stop the story cold and go into fourteen pages of exposition and back story). Write to delight a wider audience than one and everyone is happy.
And you non-fiction writers don’t get a pass. Your goal is to communicate information. That means if the reader is bored or lost? Um…not good. I once had a client who was a scientist wanting to write on the nuclear industry. Problem was he was so technical, only a scientist would be able to understand him. No one likes to feel stupid. And we certainly aren’t going to pay money to feel stupid, so make sure you keep the audience a priority. We all know you are smart, so now you don’t have the pressure of proving it…so have fun and engage us. It will make us feel smart and then we will really, really like you.
- Successful writers are kind, grateful, and professional.
Yes, today’s nobodys could be tomorrow’s somebodys, but that really isn’t the point. Excellence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is a collection of habits. Actions become habit. Habit becomes character and character becomes destiny.
Make kindness and gratitude a habit. People spend most of their lives feeling invisible and unappreciated, so your thoughtfulness (I am sad to say) will make you memorable. People spend their lives being cut off, brushed off and pissed off, so any extra kindness on your part will likely stand out. This is one of the greatest (and cheapest) investments you can make toward your career. The wheels of business are greased or stopped cold by people.
Take time to remember names, to ask people about their lives, their victories and defeats. But most importantly, offer thanks to those who help you.
Thank the agent, even when help comes in the form of a detailed rejection letter. Thank the family who gives up quality time for writing time. Thank the friend who offers feedback or the fellow writers who offer honest criticism. People LIKE grateful people and the ungrateful? Well, eventually we will ignore your e-mails.
- Writing careers are made by working well with others.
I highly recommend writers of all levels take Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer Workshop. Writing does lend itself to a certain level of solitude. Thus, it is easy to lose perspective if one is not vigilant. Bob has pointed out how the publishing profession has a serious lack in how it trains and informs those responsible for producing the product (ergo the creation of Warrior Writer—sign up at www.bobmayer.org ).
Many writers have no grasp of how the publishing machine works and, because of this, put themselves at a great professional disadvantage. Great. We have an agent. Now what?
What does an agent do? What is reasonable to expect or even to ask for? Do we need to have the movie rights? International rights? Audio? What does print run say about our professional future? How does a book make it to those front tables at B&N?
Without this “global” perspective, writers can end up with the short end of the lollipop simply due to ignorance. There are many, many assets any writer can take advantage of, but yet many don’t because of lack of knowledge. Writing is a team sport. Yes, we are the quaterback who carries the lion’s share of the fame (or the shame). Yet, it would be foolish to ignore that we are part of a larger team of editors, agents, readers, publicists, critics, etc. etc. The better we understand how to utilize the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of other members, the better the outcome for all concerned. When it comes to the writing, for the most part, we are on our own. But the wise writer, the author who is vested in a successful future, invests time in understanding the industry and the team he or she is a part of. Agents and editors are not the enemy…they are the linemen who keep us from being made into a red gooey stain on the literary field.
So have a glass of champagne to celebrate the New Year. Toast to the life lived excellently. Resolve to leave bad habits with the old year and commit to a life of greatness. And remember, above all, to appreciate others and treat them kindly. Your future is in their hands.
Until next time…