You’ll find plenty of “secrets to success” on the internet geared toward writers. But the truth is that there are a few fundamental principles that most successful authors stick to. Writer Jeff Goins recently shared his 3 Important Lessons on Writing, which are simple on the surface, but really do form the foundation of an enduring writing career. Enjoy this excerpt:
Great writing requires great ideas
All great ideas start out as terrible ideas. The job of a writer is to constantly capture ideas, refine them, and deciding which ones will see the light of day.
Someone recently asked me how much of my writing sees the light of day. At one point, it was probably close to 100%. These days, it’s more like 20%. The older you get, the more critical you get—of yourself, of others, of everything.
Writing is a process of searching for the right idea and not stopping until you find it. Ira Glass once said of his show This American Life that the hardest part of telling a good story is finding one. Why is This American Life one of the most popular podcasts in the world? Because they are relentlessly seeking the best ideas and throwing out the average ones.
Malcolm Gladwell has said something similar about his own writing and how he tirelessly searches for the right story or the perfect piece of research to illustrate the point he’s trying to make.
Don’t settle for average ideas. Great books and articles and blog posts come from great ideas.
Writing is manual labor
Recently, while coaching a client who’s working on a book, she shared that she was behind her word count goal, clocking in at 17,000 words when she should really be closer to 25,000. I told her no problem. This is how it goes.
Inspiration tends to happen in fits and starts. It’s a bit of a crap shoot sometimes. One day, you turn on the faucet and all that comes out is a steady drip. The next day, it’s like a fire hydrant exploded. Your job is to go to the sink every day and turn the handle.
That’s writing. It’s an effort. It’s a job. We don’t control the inspiration.
At the end of the day, writing is just good old-fashioned blue-collar work. You sit down and you write until you’re done. You show up at the factory in your coveralls, punch your clock, and stand at the assembly line doing your work until the day is done.
Some days, you may write only a few hundred words. Other days, you may write thousands. It doesn’t matter. Don’t try to figure out the mystery of the process. Don’t try to squeeze all the productivity you can get out of a single writing moment. It won’t work.
Those efforts tend to do more harm than good on creative work. Just trust the process. Show up, do the work, and trust that something good is emerging.
So when you do show up, what does that look like?
I don’t know a serious professional writer who doesn’t have some kind of routine, at least when they’re on deadline—which, for a serious professional writer is almost always.
What is a routine?
- Pick a place to write in every day
- Pick a time to write every day
- Pick an amount of time to write every day
That’s it. It could be your kitchen table at 9:00 a.m. for thirty minutes. Do that every day—or at least more often than not—and you’ve got yourself a writing routine.
Everything is marketing
As a writer, everything you do is marketing.
Marketing is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the professional writing life. Marketing is not the mere promotion of your work. As Ryan Holiday says, you should constantly be sharing your message wherever you can, and ever so often come out with a new book. That’s marketing. It’s constantly talking about the work you’re doing and occasionally selling something.
People should never wonder what you’re about. They should never not know what you’re up to, creatively. That doesn’t mean there can’t be mystery. It just means your job is to live your message, to embody it.
Your message is your best marketing asset. Talk about it with anyone and everyone as often as possible without being annoying.
Get feedback wherever you can, because the best way to validate your message is by sharing it. People will naturally tell you what they think. And if they don’t, their silence is a message in itself.
As you are working on a book, you should constantly be talking about that topic, getting feedback, testing ideas, and so forth.
At Certa Publishing, we couldn’t agree more with these simple rules for writing. Do you have any to add? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.