By: Noelle Sterne
Like most writers, I keep bumping up against articles on how to treat my writing more like a business. And probably like many writers, I rebel at this advice, always trying to pry out more time for the writing itself. But browsing through an older business publication, I stumbled on an article that didn’t give me administrative agita. Even immersed in creative bliss, a writer can hardly resist the title of Jeffrey Strain’s article from TheStreet.com, “Ten Traits That Make You Filthy-Rich”
The five points here from Strain’s evergreen article are especially applicable to writers. The parallels remind us what we need to do, not only to become rich (yes, it’s possible) but to stay true to our writing potential.
“Patience is one of the most important traits when it comes to saving money.” (Strain’s traits are in italics.)
Ah, patience. We all struggle to develop it, and not only as we squirm over the interminably slow growth of our 401 (k) s. Daily, weekly, monthly, patience relates to the drafts we labor over, the queries and pieces we send out, and our seemingly empty email inboxes and silent phones.
We’re sure our submissions got sucked into some gigantic slush vacuum. Or the editor fell off her pricey ergonomic chair laughing at our manuscript, which got deleted by an intern or fluttered to the floor and swept up at midnight by an indifferent office cleaner.
Patience means too, our endless time and effort in getting down that first draft and then coaxing it into bare acceptability. Patience means our single-mindedness to slog to the end of the work, even when the shiny new bloom of our brilliance has faded like an old birthday bouquet and we long to go to the movies. Patience means keepin’ on to the written perfection (we hope) of our vision.
“When you’re satisfied, there is no reason to spend money on nonessentials.”
Satisfied in writing, we don’t need to succumb to time- and energy-robbing escapes—binge sitcom watching, endless pizza stuffing, aimless shopping, pseudo-research blog combing, whining over lattés with other writers. The astoundingly prolific writer, Isaac Asimov, had the right idea:
“Whenever I have endured or accomplished some difficult task—such as watching television, going out socially or sleeping—I always look forward to rewarding myself with the small pleasure of getting back to my typewriter and writing something.”
Some might call this compulsion. I call it Satisfaction.
“It’s important to be able to look at your financial decisions and reflect on their results. You’re going to make financial mistakes. Everyone does.”
In this passage, substitute the word “writing” for “financial.” We make decisions all the time—to write at dawn or midnight (or not at all), work on one piece over another, complete the current piece or leave it hanging while we yield to the seduction of a new idea, divide our time between writing and research and marketing, sketch out queries and proposals before or after the first draft.
We make constant decisions about the work itself—pile on the adjectives or strip them like Hemingway; cut or retain our verbosity, unable to resist displaying our dazzling insights; follow a particularly heady tangent we’re sure showcases our brilliance, or excise it and save it for another piece.
Following Strain’s advice, for all such decisions, try out different approaches and reflect on the results.
Eventually, you’ll arrive at what works best for your most effective and consistent writing. With scheduling decisions, ask yourself:
- When do I feel best and most clear-headed?
- What piece do I positively yearn to attack (or continue or finish)?
- What’s the best time for research on markets and marketing?
With content decisions, ask yourself the hard questions:
- Does this passage really contribute to the piece?
- Elucidate my argument?
- Enhance readers’ understanding? Or my ego strutting?
If your answer is affirmative to this last question, grit your teeth, cut cut cut.
Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
Further translating Strain’s advice here to writing, we make other decisions that can lead to mistakes. Instead of sticking to our present work, we get fired up about that other enticing subject and plunge in. After a few paragraphs or pages, the fire fades to an ember, and even breathless fanning fails to revive it. In the process, we’ve lost the momentum for our primary work.
Or we get an excellent idea for a timely piece, but put off writing it until two days after the editorial deadline. An opportunity has gone. Or without proper research, we gulp too thirstily less-than-honest agents’ or publishers’ fulsome praises of our work. And we get taken, disappointed, and frustrated by their inability to deliver or their unreasonable requests for upfront cash.
Reflecting on such mistakes, we learn to do our homework. We stick to our promises and schedules, revise as our inner guidance dictates, develop more confidence in our work, thoroughly investigate agents and publishers, and then act on our best decisions.
“To build wealth, one needs to be willing to take risks.”
Financial wealth requires risks. So does writing wealth—a substantive body of work and a writing career. Where do writers shy away from risk?
Do you write about only what’s familiar, comfortable, comforting? You know you’ve hit on a hazardous and possibly fruitful area when your brain instantly howls, “But I can’t write about that!”
Tiptoe to the panicked edge of risk-taking. Bargain with yourself. Swear you won’t send out the draft, or show it to your partner or beta or zeta reader, or even talk about the piece. Scary, yes, but writing about that subject will ultimately free you and strengthen your guts for taking even more risks.
When you send out your work, do you stick with the modest, small, friendly publications? Maybe they even publish you. Great. Well, take a giant step into the arena of the Big Mags and Giant Journals.
What’s to lose? Email time, postage, face? What’s to gain? Yet another rejection? You’re used to them. Stretch your sending boundaries, and one day you’ll see from one of those Prestigious Publications the exciting words, “We would like to publish your . . . .”
Marketing remains the bane of many of us, and we can use truly creative excuses to avoid it. We swear we’ll write 2,000 words daily with of course no time or energy left for marketing. We maintain that our writing alone should be good enough to get us recognition. We tell ourselves the local newspaper looking for published writers to interview gets no real circulation. We self-righteously feel we won’t sell or sully ourselves by marketing, maybe even citing an obscure winner of the Hermit Award as an example.
If we do dip our toe into the marketing currents, we may grossly downplay ourselves. A writing colleague contacted a book review editor about her latest book and neglected to say that this was her third novel; it was published by a major house and had received two awards.
The editor refused to review it. When I asked my friend why she hadn’t told the editor about the credits, she said she felt the book should speak for itself.
Well, there’s modesty, and then there’s foolishness. It’s highly doubtful the editor would rush to Amazon to look up the book (many editors specify they won’t go web- or link-hunting). My friend torpedoed herself before she started.
Marketing requires more risks. You may feel you’re committing the sin of hubris, but you’ve got to boast about yourself on paper, online, and in-person if you want to be a published and eventually known writer. Unlike my friend, list your pubs and accomplishments, blog about your latest acceptances. With everyone you meet, swallow, clear your throat, and tell them about your writing and latest coup (have a two-line elevator pitch ready). When you do an interview, speak confidently into the radio mike. When you do a workshop, face the audience, smile, and let your passion for your work carry you through. The more you take such risks, the more natural you’ll feel taking them.
5. Working Hard, Working Smart
“Creating wealth and staying out of debt rarely come about without a lot of hard work. Many people hope that the lottery will solve all their financial problems.”
It’s well known that many people who win the lottery lose their winnings within a year. Gifts don’t solve writers’ problems either. A successful academic friend was awarded a grant to finish his scholarly monograph at a scenic retreat. He thought, “Ah, two months of no-distraction writing.”
Not quite. My friend later admitted that at the retreat, he could only work three to four hours a day, about the same time as he put in at his own study. He “used” the rest of the time to walk in the woods, explore the local town, and share rejection stories with the other writers-in-residence.
So, time and money aren’t universal panaceas. Like building monetary wealth and staying out of debt, if you want to produce polished, worthwhile pieces and publish, you’ve got to work at it. As if you haven’t heard this before, set writing goals, and stick to them. Give your writing all the necessary time and thoughtful attention. Revise mercilessly. That’s working smart. And that’s how you’ll stay out of the worst kind of debt—knowing you had it in you but failed to bring it out.
Applying these five lessons from the business world, even if, as Strain promises, you may not become filthy—or cleanly rich, you’ll likely produce more work, more regularly, more often, of better quality, and with increased creativity. And you’ll gain greater success in creating real wealth—of completed pieces, sold works, and ongoing fulfillment in your writing.
Author, editor, writing coach, writing and meditation workshop leader, spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 600 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, short stories, and occasional poems.
Author Magazine, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Coffeehouse For Writers, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, Mused, New Age Journal, Pen & Prosper, Ruminate, Sasee, Story Monsters Ink, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Coaching, The Write Place At the Write Time, Unity Magazine, Writer’s Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest.
Academic mentor, editor and coach, with the Ph.D. from Columbia University, she helps doctoral students wrestling with their dissertations and publishes articles in several blogs for dissertation writers. Noelle has delivered requested presentations on academic writing at several universities and is a regular contributor to Abstract, the blog of the Textbook and Academic Authors Association (TAA).
She also contributes pieces to other national and international publications on dissertation issues and writing. In July and August 2018, she, was one of six webinar presenters for its “Writing Gym.” Her topic: “Get Started, Continue Your Draft, and Finish.”
Eons ago, she published a children’s book of original (groanworthy) dinosaur riddles, Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (What do you get when dinosaurs crash their cars?). Riddles from the book appear in several elementary school language arts texts, and the book was featured on PBS’s Reading Rainbow.
A Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast (May 16, 2017) featured her story “Time to Say Goodbye” from a 2013 volume: https://chickensoup.podbean.com/e/tip-tuesday-why-you-should-remove-toxic-people-from-your-life-and-how-to-do-it/_
Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings.
Her book Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) is an invaluable resource for doctoral candidates.
As part of pursuing her writing dream, Noelle’s mission is to help other writers reach theirs and create the lives they truly desire.
Taking her own advice (hard as it may be), she recently completed her first novel.
Author, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal and Spiritual Struggles
Columnist, Textbook and Academic Authors Association
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
What have you written lately that you need to submit? Poetry? Prose? Problem-solving for the writer and blogger? Then take Noelle’s advice and risk sending it today.