5 Surprising lessons for writers from the business world

Open for BusinessLike 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 more time for the writing itself. But in an infrequent browse 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: “Ten Traits That Make You Filthy-Rich” by Jeffrey Strain (TheStreet.com, February 1, 2008).

The five points I discuss here from Strain’s evergreen article  may be new 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. (Strain’s traits are in italics.)  

  1. Patience

Patience is one of the most important traits when it comes to saving money.”

Ah, patience. We all struggle to develop it, and not only as we squirm over the interminably slow growth of our 401(k). Patience relates, daily, weekly, monthly, to the drafts we labor over, the queries and pieces we send out, and our screamingly 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 inadvertently deleted or fluttered to the floor, swept up at midnight by an indifferent office cleaner.

Patience too means our endless time and effort in getting down the first draft and then loving it into bare acceptability. Patience means our single-mindedness to slog to the end of the work, even when the shiny new bloom and secret certainty of our brilliance have 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.

  1. Satisfaction

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. 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 (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/273690).

Some might call this compulsion. I call it Satisfaction.

  1. Reflectiveness

“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 mornings or evenings, work on one piece over another, complete the current piece or leave it hanging while we chase the enticing freshness of a new idea, divide our time between writing and research and marketing, sketch out queries and proposals before or after the first draft. And in the work itself—we pile on the adjectives, or strip them while bowing to Hemingway; we overanalyze, unable to resist displaying our dazzling insights; or we yield to and retain a particularly heady tangent that we’re sure showcases our brilliance, or excise those paragraphs and save them for another piece.

For all those time and action decisions, try different ways to work and reflect on the results. Eventually, you’ll arrive at what serves you best toward your most effective and consistent writing. For all those content decisions, ask yourself the hard questions: Does this passage really contribute to the piece? Elucidate my argument? Enhance readers’ understanding? If not, grit your teeth, cut cut cut those passages, and make a new file for them.

Other decisions that can lead to mistakes: We get fired up about a subject, but after a few paragraphs the fire fades to an ember, and even breathless fanning fails to revive it. We get a great idea for a timely piece but put off writing it until way after the editorial deadline. We gulp too thirstily less-than-honest agents’ or publishers’ fulsome praises of our work without investigating them. And we get taken, disappointed, or frustrated by their inability to deliver or their extravagant requests for upfront cash.

Reflecting on such mistakes, we learn to do our homework. We stick to our schedules, revise as our inner guidance dictates, develop more confidence in our work, investigate agents and publishers, and act on our best decisions.

  1. Risk-Taking

“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.

Risky subjects: 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’twrite about that!”

Tiptoe to the panicked edge of risking. Bargain with yourself. Swear you won’t send out the draft, or show it to your partner or beta reader, or even talk about it. Scary, yes, but writing about that subject will ultimately free you and strengthen your guts for taking even more risks.

Risky sending: Sending out your work, do you keep safely to the modest, small, friendly publications? Maybe they even publish you. Great. Well, stick your toe into the frigid sea of the Big Mags and Giant Journals.

What’s to lose? Postage, email time, face? What’s to gain? Yet another rejection? You’re used to them. Stretch your sending boundaries, and one day you’ll see those exciting words, “We would like to publish . . . .”

Risky marketing: Marketing remains the bane of many of us, and we can sometimes shrink unbelievably from it. A writing colleague contacted a book review editor about her latest book and neglected to say that this was her third novel, came from a major house, and had received two awards. She told me she felt the book should speak for itself.

Well, there’s modesty and 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.

Other types of marketing require more risks. You may feel you’re committing the sin of hubris, but if you want to be a published and eventually known writer, you’ve got to boast about yourself on paper, online, and in person. List your pubs and accomplishments, blog about your latest acceptances. Swallow, clear your throat, and tell everyone you meet about your writing and latest coup. Speak confidently into the radio mike. Face the audience, smile, and let your passion for your work carry you through. The more you take such risks, the easier they become.

  1. 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, a month 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 don’t do it. 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 needed necessary time and intelligent 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, you’ll likely produce more work—more regularly, more often, of better quality, and with increased creativity. And you’ll gain greater success in producing real wealth—of completed pieces, sold works, and ongoing fulfillment in your writing.

© 2018 Noelle Sterne


Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and motivational counselor, Noelle has published over 400 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com


The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.