The only secret of success for writers
I'm tired of living this way.
It was a cold autumn morning.
My husband had a short break when we talked on the phone, my daughter was running circles around me. I was staring at our bank balance.
A huge debt staring back at me.
This morning, I decided to ask a question. A question that held a certain finality.
One I had to answer - before admitting to my defeat and going back to a day job.
What's the single most important trait that makes successful writers?
Is there a secret behind successful indie writing careers?
So I did.
I asked successful indie writers in the industry for this one secret. Not everybody answered. But the answers were surprisingly unanimous.
There is a secret of success. But it's not a magic wand.
It's something that challenged me at exactly the point where I needed it most.
It will hit you right where you need it. So if you're not afraid of a challenge, read on.
“Diligence. The ability to wake up every morning and do the work is key. You can't control how you feel about what you're doing. You can't always control the results of what you're doing. But you can always control what you're doing and the fact that you are doing it. Putting the emphasis and the enjoyment in the work rather than the immediate results allows you to be patient as you persevere.”
K. M. Weiland
“Persistence 🙂 Everything else can be learned.”
“Without a doubt, perseverance. You have to be gritty and willing to toil in obscurity, have books that bomb, and make mistakes. That's how every great success story begins. You only lose if you give up.”
They might have used different terms. But they all meant one thing.
The only secret of success is: Perseverance.
"You only lose if you give up."
A knot tightened in my throat. Wasn't it what I was about to do? Give up. Get a day job. Live like "everybody else".
A writer I knew put her self-publishing career on hold and explained it in a blog post. She called self-publishing a fast-food book industry, angry with the writing-fast model and the emerging pay-to-play environment, blaming scammers, readers, and fellow writers.
There was bitterness in this post. A bitterness I understood.
Self-publishing is far from a dreamy vision of: Everybody can become a famous author overnight.
I felt her pain that morning. I still feel it now.
Could it really be that simple? Just keep going and you'll succeed one day?
I dug deeper. Analyzed the answers Katie, Joanna and J had generously given me. Looked into what others had to say.
How can we persist in the face of the terrible things that might even threaten our existence? Is there a right way to persevere?
These are the 4 secrets I found. Secrets that will enable you to persevere.
Edison's secret of Success #1: Expectations
Wrong expectations ruin careers, marriages, relationships, and lives.
When I got married, I knew marriage would be hard. But I didn't expect it to be that hard.I didn't expect my first child to alter my life this massively. I didn't expect my first years of writing to go this badly.
You do prepare for difficulty.
But somehow the high of the excitement about this new adventure suggests: Maybe you'll be spared from the abyss? After all, it's such an exciting event. And you're prepared.
You'll be fine.
We are somehow under the illusion that the motivation, this ecstatic feeling – of standing at the altar, holding your baby or finishing your first book – will never wear off. And when it does, we're disappointed.
We didn't expect to fall that deeply. We didn't expect the abyss to be that dark.
Why do we give up?
Because reality doesn't match our expectations.
Maybe the most realistic expectation is that your fall will be greater than you think. That you'll fail harder than you even through you could. That it will be very, VERY hard.
Why persevere then?
Because the reward is worth it.
Thomas Edison was considered unteachable at a young age. When he went on to create the electric light bulb, most thought he “failed”.
He simply said he found over 1,000 ways to not build a light bulb.
Returning to J. Thorn's quote: Every great success story begins with making mistakes.
John Grisham's secret of success #2: Small results
Have you heard of paralysis by analysis?
It's another way to give up.
This is what sets in if you concentrate on the big picture. You're paralyzed by the enormity of it.
Establishing a writing career is a task too huge to face: A catalog of over 20 books, marketing, covers and book descriptions, podcast and blogging. If you look at it in all its enormity - or compare yourself to those who have been in the industry for over a decade - paralysis by analysis hits you.
That's John Grisham's recipe to persevere: Focus on writing one page per day.
He didn't focus on the task of writing 45 titles or 1.4 books per year. Instead, he only focused on one thing: at least one page per day.
If you focus on daily small results that move the needle, the small successes that you achieve, you'll persevere.
Tony Robbins' secret of success #3: Decisions
Persistence is about choice.
Remember K.M. Weiland's quote? You can't control how you feel about what you're doing.
Stop chasing the high. Feelings change moment to moment, minute to minute. Don't let the feelings define you.
Staring at the high debt, I felt tired. Defeated. But was I? It was a feeling, and now I had a choice to make. Do I act on that feeling? Or do I choose to persevere?
You can always control what you're doing and the fact that you are doing it.
Learn to step away from your feelings.
In directing class we learned to never give directions to an actor that involved feelings. "Act as if you were sad/angry/happy." Why? Because an actor cannot decide how she feels. She can only decide on an action.
This is how we're wired.
Choose to write time and time again. Fail. Fail better. This is the secret to perseverance.
"Decision is the ultimate power." - Tony Robbins
The greatest secret of success #4: The process
"Love the process." – a phrase so hackneyed that it makes me frown.
So how is the process a secret?
According to multiple studies, about 70% of all lottery winners end up going broke and filing for bankruptcy.
They didn't earn it.
They never prepared to be the people they needed to become in order to handle such an amount of money.
The secret of the process is that you need to change who you are to earn your success. To get where you want to get, you need to become another person. A better version of yourself.
You need to earn it.
Not only will this be a triumph but it will become a success that lasts.
Beware: Giving up is life-altering.
Habits form because of a reward we get from an action - mostly, a good feeling. Giving up feels good. The resistance is gone. You feel an amazing sense of relief.
Next time resistance hits you - the option of giving up will be more alluring.
It's another cold autumn morning. And I'm still here, writing.