Yesterday we discussed the very frustrating reality that many successful authors admit they don’t know why they are successful. Luckily, I have some ideas. Let’s explore them together.
The lesson I take from the big authors who profess that they don’t know what they’re doing, that they don’t know why they are successful, is they’re not analytical enough to define it, and they have a sense of artistry that maybe the rest of us can’t quite define. (Can you lack talent and be successful? Of course. Look at “50 Shades of Gray.”) We can’t all paint like Rembrandt. We can’t all write like Stephen King. But while those examples may have been born with talent, they had something else. They developed that talent.
And they persevered.
They got discouraged. They had bad days. They weathered those tough times. At one point while King was writing “Carrie” – his first successful book – he threw it in the trash. It’s safe to say he was feeling a bit low at the time. But he didn’t quit writing. (And I can admit, I’m a fan, but there are a LOT of his books I don’t like. Some are unreadable, to me. It’s okay to say it.)
Successful authors write a lot, not just one book and that’s it. It seems like many didn’t become successful until after book five or six. Can you hang in there while the first four books flop? (Can you? Five flops? Sure, if you know number six will put you on the map. But you don’t know, and number six may flop as well. Maybe it’s number ten for you. Or number seventeen – that’s pretty scary, right? It sure is.)
They fake confidence until they make it, and many they still fake it after that.
They learned from mistakes and
They kept going. Even if they were discouraged, they keep going. Perseverance. Not settling for less. Not holding back from that extra mile when they’re tired or scared or depressed or feeling like it’s never going to happen.
There are oddball rules, too, about writing. Join a critique group and you’ll learn them in an hour. I say, write how you want, but understand that readers are conditioned to read a certain way, and those silly rules will help you with that. That doesn’t mean you’ll be successful, it means you won’t fail as badly the first few times.
Sorry, that’s the truth of it.
If you are crossing a big river, start with a boat, not a car. Yes, you can plug all the holes in the car and maybe make it across. It’s better to start with a boat. Don’t stand neck deep in the water explaining about how the car should have floated and that the water is unsophisticated. The one drop of water that understood, didn’t come in; the rest did.
“You’ll write some bad songs.”
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s one of the hugest pieces of information you can embrace and understand. A successful friend (I think it was Jackson Brown) of one of the founders of the music band The Eagles (Glenn Frey), one of the most successful bands ever, told members of The Eagles this.
Frey was worried; what if the songs I write are bad?
Brown had the answer. “You’ll write some bad songs. But you’ll write some good songs, too.”
The Eagles became one of the most successful bands ever. Doesn’t sound like that was in the cards from reading that first statement, where the guys were obviously lacking confidence, does it?
That, my friends is a key.
You’ll write some bad books. Do your best with them, then bury them and move on, but learn from what you did wrong and what you did right in that book. Give its demise an appropriate amount of thought, then walk away.
Don’t rewrite it ten times.
Write ten new books.
There’s somebody out there right now who has the same amount of talent as you, or maybe even less talent, the same or fewer connections, the same or fewer hours to write, but because they are willing to work harder and do things you won’t, and to learn to be smart about it all, they will be successful. Will you?
The next time you say to yourself “I should be doing that” – the terrorists win.
So here’s what it comes down to for me, and this will make zero sense if you didn’t read the 1600 words that came before this. (It may not make sense even if you did read it.)
Persevere. “You’ll write some good ones, too.” “Don’t settle for less.”
Don’t do what doesn’t work; try to do more of what does work. (Duh.)
Analyze things objectively. That’s the “duh” removal. How objective are you really being? Have friends help with that. They will be more objective, but insist on the truth.
Write another book, because you need about five to get any notice at all. Some of us will need more than five. One guy needed seventeen years’ worth of books. I may need twenty.
Read more from good authors.
Know the difference between being stupid as opposed to being stubborn.
Don’t write one book and re-edit it forever.
There’s more, but that’s enough for one day. Okay, maybe one more:
Have a friend who you can vent to about all this, or vent it here.
I know a lot of people who make a living through their writing. Most will tell you their secrets if you ask. I will. Most authors want you to be successful because helping people feels good – and I’m no saint, but I’ve helped a lot of authors and I’ll keep doing it because I want to be more successful. If I help 100 author friends to do better as an author, that’s 100 successful authors I’m friends with who can help me, right? I can’t do it all, and neither can they. We each bring something different to the table. They push me to be better.
The difference between you and somebody you envy is: you decided to settle for less.
I just can’t settle for less and just hope to be lucky.
You can’t, either.
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