Five surprising business lessons for writers
Like most writers, I keep bumping up against, and avoiding, articles on how to treat my writing more like a business. I know I should pay more attention to the articles, but they always seem to interrupt precious writing time. In an infrequent browse through an older business publication, though, I stumbled on an article that didn’t give me administrative agita. Even deep 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 here from Strain’s evergreen article remind us what we need to do not only to become rich (yes, it’s possible) but to stay true to our writing potential, creativity, and drive.
“Patience is one of the most important traits when it comes to saving money.” (Strain’s italics.)
We all struggle to develop patience, 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 and proposals 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 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 a week-old birthday bouquet and we long to stream Netflix. 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.”
When we’re satisfied in writing, we don’t need to succumb to time- and energy- and money-robbing escapes—binge sitcom watching, endless pizza stuffing, aimless shopping, overzealous exercise, 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.
“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 chapter over another, complete the current proposal 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 outlines before or after the first draft.
And we make mistakes in the work itself—we pile on the adjectives or strip them bowing to Hemingway; overload the piece with citations; overanalyze because we’re unable to resist displaying our dazzling insights; or yield to and retain a particularly heady tangent that we’re sure showcases our brilliance.
For all those time and action decisions, try different ways to work and reflect on the results. Eventually, you’ll arrive at what works 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? Clarify my premise? Elucidate my argument? Enhance readers’ understanding? If not, grit your teeth, cut cut cut those passages, and save them in a new file (you never know when they’ll bob up to the top of your mind for another project).
We’ve all made 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 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, seek knowledgeable colleagues’ input, investigate agents and publishers, and act on our best decisions.
“To build wealth, one needs to be willing to take risks.”
Financial wealth requires risks. So does writing wealth—which I define as a Writing career and substantive body of work.
- 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 at a new idea your brain instantly howls, “But I can’t write 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 exacting colleague, or even talk about it. Scary, yes, but writing about that subject (and doing the necessary research) will ultimately free you and strengthen you for taking even more risks.
- Risky sending: Sending out your work, do you confine yourself to the modest, small, friendly publications? Maybe they even publish you. Great. Well, stick your toe into the frigid sea of the Prestigious Conferences, Superior Journals, and Big Five Publishers.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 make a career of shrinking 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). But my friend torpedoed herself before she started.
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, keep your bio up to date. Swallow, clear your throat, and tell everyone you meet about your writing and latest coup. Speak confidently in person, on FaceTime, into the mike. Look at the audience, smile, and let your passion for your work carry you through. The more you take such risks, the easier it becomes.
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.”
The chances of winning the lottery are miniscule, and it’s well known that many people who win lose their money 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 hours a day, about the same time as he put in at his own study. He “used” the rest of the time to take naps, 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 works 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 intelligent attention it deserves. 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 failing to bring it out.
When you apply these five lessons from the business world, you’ll likely create and complete more pieces—more regularly, more often, with more ingenuity, and of better quality. And you’ll gain greater success in producing real wealth—of finished pieces, sold works, and ongoing fulfillment in your writing.
© 2022 Noelle Sterne
Noelle is a contributor to TAA’s book, Guide to Making Time to Write: 100+ Time & Productivity Management Tips for Textbook and Academic Authors. Available as a print and eBook.
Dissertation 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 Sterne has published over 700 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. Following one of her own, she is currently working on her third novel. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com