Writer’s Excuses Part 2: “I can’t write…”

When you start introducing yourself as an author one thing you hear a lot is, “I don’t know how you do it. I never could.” It’s something I highly recommend if you want to make your living that way eventually. I’m the first to admit that writing is sometimes hard, but I completely disagree with anyone who says they can’t do it.

I think one of the big reasons people think they can’t write is that they have an image problem. A lot of people have “writing guilt” carried over from being forced to write according to some established standard during their formative years. People who struggled with writing in school are still carrying around those failures years later. Those rubrics and manuals of style are great if you want to give someone a grade on how well they can memorize and follow rules, but they have nothing to do with good story telling.

And that’s all writing is, a way of telling stories. We all tell stories. It’s integrated into human existence. If you disagree I’d be happy to discuss it in the comments, but I believe that communication is a part of life, and all communication involves storytelling.

Having a big vocabulary and excellent grammar skills is impressive, but in the end they are far from essential. In fact the vocabulary and grammar that you use are what give flavor and voice to your writing. What would your life story sound like if it was written in perfect grammar with a dictionary and thesaurus applied to every sentence? Would it still sound like you? I doubt it. Would it be believable? Probably not.

When you are writing, you are telling about your experiences and your knowledge. Even if it’s fiction your life is woven into the text. So get over yourself already. Put together the words as as if you were telling your best friend. Be honest, be candid, paint the picture of the world as you see it and it will resonate with someone. Notice I said someone, because no matter how polished your prose, it will never appeal to everyone. It just does’t happen. Still your readers are out there, and wherever they are they will respond to you when you find them.

Yes, there are rules for grammar. Yes, there are conventions for how to build a narrative. Neither of these things matter. Every writer needs to find their own style. There will be plenty of time later to analyze your words and polish what you’ve written. In fact, there is an entire industry, that I happen to be a part of, devoted to cleaning up good stories and helping writers make them better. The important thing is to take action. Find a way to tell your story. Get it out of your head and into the world.

A New Perspective: My Plans for World Domination

Today I am in Portland Oregon for the 2014 edition of World Domination Summit.

I attended the conference last year with no real plan. I had friends going and I was interested in meeting up with them. Plus they had spoken so highly of the event that I wanted to go and see what all of the fuss was about.

The reality was far beyond my expectations. It changed the course of my life. On my return I quit my job and began my journey toward becoming a writer. Even with all I took away from the experience though, I felt like I had missed some opportunities.

The attendee list for WDS reads like a who’s who list of unconventionally successful people. With all of the time I spent wandering around the sessions with them, I made far fewer connections that I could have. This year I want to change that.

amazonbuybuttonThe hardest thing about being a writer, other than a blinking cursor on a blank page, is finding your audience. I have a book that I’ve written that I think is really good.

I believe in it. I have had a lot of good feedback from the small number of people who have read it, but therein lies the problem. I need to find ways to get my work in front of more readers. That will be the story of this trip to Portland.

 

There are a lot of options to get your book noticed, but the one that proves consistently  superior to all the rest is to build a platform. Tim Grahl explained this very well in his book Your First 1000 Copies. To paraphrase, he believes that authors need to have a community. A group of people who enjoy their work and sign up to come along on their journey. It is possible to build a platform slowly and steadily over time, there is a better way. What is that path?

Borrow someone else’s audience.

Some of the fastest rising stars owe their current status to the previous generation. They met people. They built their network and then made themselves useful. They joined the conversation and made it better. The leaned in.

I need to find people I can help. I need to find people with an audience whose lives might be a little bit better for having my stories in them, then I need to find a way to make those influencers lives a little easier. That is my mission this weekend. I want to meet the right people who can help me find their audience then offer them my help.

Excuses for Writers Part 1: “But what if…”

One thing I’ve learned, since I’ve started introducing myself as an author, is that everyone has a story to tell. Some are fiction and some are not but everyone has something to teach the rest of us. Sadly, almost no one ever tells their tale. In the next few posts I want to share my thoughts on why this is, and offer some suggestions to get your words flowing.

Ok here we go. Numero uno.

The biggest reason people end up not telling their story is fear.

According to a Psychology Today article I recently read, public speaking is consistently at the top of the list of things people are afraid of. Writing and sharing what you have written, are a lot like public speaking. They’re scary. When your name shows up in a byline, especially if it’s on the internet, there’s a huge potential audience to bear witness to your flaws. We humans really, really hate to look bad. Consequently, we are very reluctant to take that kind of risk out of fear that we will embarrass ourselves.

This fear is a sneaky adversary. Our fear of embarrassment hides behind every rational excuse under the sun. I’m an introvert, I can’t write, I’m not interesting, someone else has already said the same thing…the list of excuses goes on and on. We are all great justifiers. I’m here to tell you it’s all crap.

I still have these same fears every time I hit the publish button, and I’m pretty sure everyone else does too.

It’s so easy to get something wrong, or draw a ludicrous conclusion. We never have perfect information. When I share my work, it’s almost guaranteed that someone smarter than me, with more talent, and more experience, will someday read what I have written (at least I hope so) and be shocked by it’s poor quality. No matter who you are, that person is out there somewhere just waiting to point out our ignorance.

We all know this on some level. It draws our finger toward the delete key. It makes us agonize over the draft email pitch that we know is good, but never quite manage to send. It keeps that story we wrote hidden away in a folder on our desktop, never to be submitted for publication. Our dread of being exposed, of people learning that we are not nearly as smart as they think we are, can kill a writer’s career before it ever gets off the ground.

Don’t fall into this trap!

The thing is, even the greatest thinkers and writers of all time have had to deal with this issue. Every single one of them has, in the end, been wrong about something. Every great writer has faced criticism of some kind. The only reason we still know their names is because they overcame their fears and sent their work into the world anyway. That leads me to the solution to this particular problem.

Look at the worst case scenario.

What is the worst that could happen if you screw up? The answer is you continue working away in obscurity for a little longer. Unless you are already famous, no one really remembers your failures. In nearly every situation, the worst thing that will happen to you is that you will be dismissed or ignored.

That may sound terrible, but it means there is really only upside for you. If your work helps people, and gets noticed, you gain a following. If you are suddenly at the center of a huge, negative, viral media blitz you have still drawn attention to yourself. Some fraction of those people will be on your side and will join you on your journey.

Either way you win.

From this perspective sharing your story is zero risk and all of your fears are unfounded. You have no excuse. Think about the story you want to tell, the one that is unique to you, and find a way to tell it. Let me know if you need help.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go hit publish.