Aug 21, 2013

Seven Habits of Successful Writers (and three footnotes that sure can't hurt)

When something's not working for me - after I'm awake enough to recognize there's a problem in the first place - it's cathartic to identify the problem then share it with others. So here's my latest wake-up - a list of seven habits that can serve anyone in business, but especially writers. The last three foot notes are important too, but the first seven seem to be found among every successful writer I've met. So, without further preamble, I bring you these golden chestnuts.

1) Don't throw money at your problems.
You've heard the saying, "throwing good money after bad". Things to spend money on: Book covers and editing. Things not to spend money on: ghost writers, promotions/advertising that don't yield adequate returns, publishers that only offer Draconian contracts or an inequitable share of profits, agents who want a share of your self-published royalties, PR people who can't guarantee earnings equal to their fees, etc. 

2) Do'ers vs. Planners.
Having a game plan is all fine and well, (and to some extent, recommended), however, if you're not willing to go outside your plan when all hell breaks lose, you're not going to get very far. "Do'ers" are those people who aren't afraid to change direction when the aforementioned game plan goes to pot, or if the original plan didn't take into consideration some unforeseen gopher holes.

3) and 4) Customer Care and Product Quality
I'm lumping these two together. Although they are decidedly different, they are also inextricably linked. Successful business people care about their customers. They go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. And part of that customer care is in producing a quality product. I recently had an experience with a company that carries a pretty decent product, but their customer service is, shall we say, decidedly lacking. The poor customer support has completely altered my feeling for this company and whereas before I had highly recommended this product to others, I probably will not do so in the future. The product is the same - pretty decent quality - but the poor support makes it not worth doing business with them. Good product. Crappy service. The same is true with a poor quality product, but excellent service. It might take your customers longer to drop you - out of personal devotion to your sweetness and light - but eventually, if you keep turning out a poor product, their love for you will carry your business just so far.

5) Reliability
There are some things you can depend on and some things you can't. When a reader picks up your book and loves it, they pick up the second book, expecting to fall in love again. Let's have a show of hands of everyone who loved the Harry Potter series of books. Now, let's have a show of hands of everyone who loved J.K.'s THE CASUAL VACANCY. It was equally well written. But it wasn't Harry Potter. Fans fell in love with those characters, that genre, etc. 'VACANCY was an adult mystery. It was a very well written mystery, but it wasn't what readers had come to expect. Bummer. There's nothing wrong with straying from the path and writing your bliss, but it'll come back to bite you in your wallet. Customers count, and this harkens back to numbers 3 and 4 - customer care and product quality. Heck. Let's lump number 5 - "expectation/reliability" with numbers 3 and 4.

6) No expectations.
That's on the writer's end. Writer's are not allowed the extravagance of expectations. Successful writers write for the love of it. If you come into writing expecting the world to roll-over at your feet, publishers to come pounding on your door, people to buy your book and write reviews just because of your awesomeness for having finished a book - any book - then you've set yourself up for disappointment. You can reasonably expect your mother to read your book. Your spouse, maybe. But if you expect your entire graduating class to purchase and read your book(s, you're in for disappointment. Only a very small number of them will read the book to begin with and even the two who read it and said they liked it, don't want to read your incessant self-promotions. One or two might show up at a book signing, but your audience is teensy. It's miniscule (at first). They are a microscopic number within your graduating class. No one owes you a read or accolades or reviews. Any pleasure you get from writing has to be from some internal motis. Money - income from your writing - is earned and definitely not a certainty and definitely not coming from a small unrelated pool of people, such as your former classmates, your fraternity brothers, and not even your coffee clutch. Sorry, but you'll have to put out regular, quality products to earn (and find) your audience. (Note: this is not the same has not having a game plan - see habit 2 above.)

7) Avoid procrastinating habits.
I'm hungry. My coffee is cold. I'm cold. That window needs cleaning. Wonder who just posted on Facebook. Ding - new e-mail. I should write a blog about the habits of successful writers. (Yes, I'm procrastinating. I left two characters dangling in another window while they figure out their next scene and sequel.) 

And here are an additional three footnotes that are also very important to success, although I have met very successful writers who suffer from all three of these problems:

1)Toxic people
There are things that are within your control and things that are not. People who denegrate what you do, suck up your time and energy by using you as their midnight dump or use you to run errands to help streamline their lives... those are toxic relationships and those are things within your control. Clearing the deck of those people or just nipping those abusive behaviors in the bud, is critical to your long-term health and happiness. It's not cutting off your nose to spite your face or burning bridges. It's self-preservation.

2) The right tool for the job.
Designate a writing space, (always subject to change. I'm working from the quiet kitchen table today, despite a lovely office two rooms away). And invest in adequate software/hardware to get the job done. That's not an excuse NOT to write if you don't have those things, but rather, it's helpful if, after you write the entire book by hand in your spiral bound notebooks, you have some means of compiling the words into a format that can be uploaded for publication. This can easily turn into a means of procrastination, (see habit 7 above), but there is a happy medium between taking the time to find the bottle opener and knuckle busting your way into the vino. Get a lap top. Empty a closet and move your desk and chair in there. Make it sacrosanct - for writing only. It's your reward to yourself. That and finishing the book are the only guaranteed rewards within your control. Take advantage of it. (This would also fall under the category of "things on which you should spend money".

3)   Step up to the plate - every day!
In short, this is a job. Just because you work at home, doesn't mean you get days (and weeks) of vacation for writing a couple of lines. You have to step up to the plate - EVERY day! Do you have kids at home that need your attention? Start small. Let them know you're working and set them up with their Lego's in the living room. Get in 10 minutes, then 20, then maybe, someday, 30! Woo hoo! You'd be surprised how much you can accomplish in just 30 minutes. I used to do leg-lifts with a 20lb toddler hanging on my leg. I figured out a way to work, exercise, eat, sleep, poop - with children popping around the door to "check up on me". I've graduated to writing at the kitchen table despite homeschooled teens calling me to look at the latest greatest gone-viral Youtube video every half-hour. You have to practice being on-task, and children, pets, etc. are part of your training. Soon, they will learn to respect your work time too, (for the most part). Obviously, you may have occassional obligations that have to take precedence, but I have yet to meet a parent who couldn't squeegee out time for a job that brought home a pay check. This is work! Get crackin'! Get off your blog!

Sofie Couch struggles with (almost) all seven habits and the three important foot notes. She grants permission to you to use this article in its entirety, provided you give her mention as the author and a link to either this blog or a buy links for one (or all) of her books.

Sweet Romantic Comedy:
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