The only secret of success for writers
A friend of mine recently gave birth to her very first child. I could tell that she was struggling, but the way she framed her everyday battle stuck with me.
"Life's not like in the Pampers adverts," she said.
Inside, we have hidden expectations about how our lives should look like. Expectations formed subconsciously by our upbringing, culture, and media.
We expect our wedding to look like Instagram, our apartment like Pinterest, and life with a new baby like a Pampers advert. But 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 as an online entrepreneur to go this badly.
It was a cold autumn morning when I called my husband. My daughter was running circles around me. For a couple of years, I've been trying to make it as a content creator – on Story Artist and as D. F. Wink. Now, I was staring at our bank balance.
A huge debt staring back at me.
I'm tired of living this way. Those were the words I said.
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, the lady in the Pampers advert makes it look so easy.
The illusion that the ecstatic feeling of standing at the altar, holding your baby, or finishing your first book, is so alluring that you are tempted to think it will never wear off. And when it does, you're disappointed.
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 creatives?
I asked indie writers for their secret success stories. 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 to Success: reframing
"If you ask a Dane about the weather when it is freezing, gray, and raining outside, they will unwittingly answer: ‘There is no bad weather, only bad clothing’ or ‘I am glad we can get cozy inside at home tonight.’ If you say, ‘Too bad it’s the last day of our vacation,’ they might reply, ‘Yes, but it is the first day of the rest of our lives.’ If you try to get them to focus on something really negative about any topic, you may be mystified at the way they can reinterpret it."
–The Danish Way of Parenting.
A year ago, we moved apartments.
When I entered the new place, I could barely get in because boxes were just everywhere. Stacked in every room. Especially in the spacious entrance area, too inviting to carry any box past there.
My first reaction was paralysis. Luckily, I learned the solution to that kind of situation from my mom and quickly switched mindsets.
But not my husband. The poor guy stood lost amidst all boxes, staring at me. I smiled and told him to go and get the rest with the guys.
Just start with one thing. This was my mom's voice inside my head.
So I did focus on this one task: getting the right boxes into the right room, and out of the entrance area.
When my husband returned 30 minutes later, he was mystified by how different the apartment looked. The chaos was gone, and the setup allowed an overview of what to do next. Not less overwhelming. But at least with more clarity.
Paralysis by Analysis
A common way that forces us to give up is paralysis by analysis.
Paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.
We all felt it. When the task in its entirety seems too overwhelming and you don't even know where to start. This ugly feeling sitting in your gut, a feeling that urges you to take flight instead of confronting it.
The enormity of the big picture paralyzes you.
Establishing a creative career is a task too enormous to face. You need a catalogue of at least 10 books, a website, a mailing list, networks, social media, online courses, paid advertizement and content marketing.
Even the broken down tasks on their own paralyze. Writing a book, for example. The idea, the process, the tagline, the cover, the blurb, the outline, the first draft, editing, language, research... the list is endless.
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. It hits you hard. And it tells you to throw the towel.
John Grisham's secret to success: A single simple intention
John Grisham wrote 45 titles. And 1.4 books per year.
Do you think it was the focus of his career? To write 45 titles? If it was, we would have never heard of him. And this would be a shame because his novels are brilliant.
John Grisham has a secret. It's a simple intention that he focuses on every single day: write at least one page per day.
One page per day is 365 pages per year. Which is around 1.5 novels. Which are 45 titles in thirty years.
Alright, we did the math, and you probably instantly feel the overwhelm coming back. What do you mean – thirty years? Just focus here with me. Focus on this one page. Every. Single. Day.
Every week, I break down my daily task to one single focus. Record a video. Publish a post. Setup Ads. When I focus my day on one thing, I know I will get it done.
If I try to cram more inside, I will fail, and most likely procrastinate because I subconsciously feel the paralysis.
A single simple intention is a secret to perseverance. Focus on a daily small result that moves the needle. What will be yours today?
You can't control how you feel
In Film School, we were told that you shall never, ever, direct an actor by using feelings.
"Act as if you were angry."
"You're very sad about this situation."
"This new information makes you happy."
If you ever hear a director talk like this – you know his secret. He's a fraud.
Why is this such a big faux pas?
Because people can't control what they're feeling. Emotions come to us without having asked for permission. They overwhelm us, some caused by things, some just out of the blue. And we cannot decide on them. We cannot make ourselves feel happy.
Remember how in the first email of this series, I showed you the quotes given to me by industry professionals, answering the life-and-death question: What's the single most important trait to succeed?
Remember what famous author K. M. Weiland said:
"Diligence. [...] You can't control how you feel about what you're doing. You can always control what you're doing and the fact that you are doing it."
Read it again. You can't control how you feel about what you're doing.
To accept the fact that you can't control your feelings about your creative endeavors means going from amateur to professional.
The problem is: artists often chase the high. The moment when they feel the kiss of the muse and the itching in their fingers to start the work.
This is the mindset of an amateur. Feelings change moment to moment, minute to minute. A professional refuses to be defined by feelings.
When on this fateful morning, I stared at the high debt on my bank account, 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.
Tony Robbins' secret to success: The Ultimate Power
Tony Robbins, probably the most successful motivational speaker, who started his career as early as 17 years of age, promotes the philosophy of decision.
"Decision is the ultimate power."
- Tony Robbins
He calls decision the "ultimate power" because, in the moment of your decisions and the actions you take accordingly, your destiny is shaped.
Learn to step away from your feelings when they're not getting you where you want to go. When you feel like an impostor. Like a failure. Like a fraud. When you want to give up.
Instead, pull from the power of decision by asking yourself:
- How do I want my daily life to look like?
- How do I want my life to look like in 5, 10, 20 years?
Then, decide accordingly.
Choose to create time and time again. Fail. Fail better. This is the secret to perseverance.
It was night in Paris.
Robert Daniel sat behind bars in a station house, angry with himself. This is where his temper got him. This is where his dream of becoming a professional wrestler got him.
He was good. The problem was his personality. Got him far in wrestling but not far in life. He had wrestled down a policeman this night. Just imagine – a policeman! He felt like a hero.
But the feeling didn't last very long. Stupid, that's what it was. He realized it now, in this cold cell where he couldn't even lie down for a few hours of sleep.
Maybe it was time to give up.
The morning crept in like a hyena, eating away the dreams that had died that night. Robert gathered his belongings, meandering to the exit and to his apartment. His head ached. He was tired.
Time to give up, buddy.
But what now? All those years of training – for nothing? What would he even do with his life? Find a decent job, wear a bowtie? He dropped into his bed, never appreciating his old mattress more.
He would look ridiculous in a bowtie.
The phone rang. He picked up. Maybe they wanted to summon him to court now.
“Robert Daniel?" His name sounded absurd in a French accent.
“Here's the Police Sports Foundation.”
Robert held his breath. The sports foundation? The man on the other end continued:
“Your qualities as a wrestler have raised some tumult here this morning. We would like to invite you to perform at our charity event next week.”
Why the process is crucial
We all heard the hackneyed phrase: "Love the process." The problem is: the process isn't always very loveable. It mostly doesn't consist of Eureka moments and charity events.
It entails metaphorical prisons and cold, uncomfortable nights. It's filled with failure and doubt, rejection, poverty, and the always present whisper to just give up.
And yet, exactly this process is crucial.
According to multiple studies, about 70% of all lottery winners end up going broke and filing for bankruptcy.
Those people lack the process. They didn't earn it. They lack the years of hard work, failure, trial and error, and experience necessary to become the people they need to be in order to handle such an amount of money.
The secret of the process is that you need to change in order to deal with your success wisely. To get where you want to get, you need to become another person. A better version of yourself.
Yes, there are ways to optimize the process. But when you find yourself in those situations where it feels like you're caught behind bars, like you failed again, and the small voice whispers inside of you:
Time to give up, buddy.
Remember that all of this is part of the process to transform you into that person that you need to become in order to be successful. And that success might just be around the corner.
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, creating.