It takes more than words to make a writer great.
A great writer is selfless. He doesn't look to his own needs, but finds a way to help others. He's a servant.
If you're going to take your writing to the next level — to be truly great — you're going to have to learn to do the same.
The big question
One of the biggest questions other writers ask me all the time is, “What do I write about?”
The wrong answer is whatever you want to write about. Now this is tricky, because every writer needs to write first for herself. That's where your writing begins, but it's not where it ends. As Stephen King says,
Write the first draft with the door closed and the second draft with the door open.
How do you tackle that second draft and do the work that others will see? Simple: You serve.
Serve your audience
You need to reach out, be a resource, offer to use your words to help someone in need. Here are three ways to do that:
- Solve problems. Not just any problems, but the ones people don't know they have. If you have to ask, “What can I do for you?” you're asking the wrong question. You need to know what your audience needs before they do. This means creating a new sub-genre, addressing issues in a way nobody else has, or maybe just telling your story.
- Answer questions. If you don't know where to begin, look at the questions you want answered. Be observant. This applies to writing fiction and nonfiction alike. Put yourself in the seat of the reader, and guide them where they don't know they need to go.
- Help people. Do favors without being asked. Be generous (think over-the-top here). This doesn't mean giving away a free chapter of your book — that's predictable. Do something remarkable, something truly outstanding that will get noticed. And do it for someone else. Like how Seth Godin wrote and gave away a million copies of Unleashing the Ideavirus before selling it.
Are you ready to be generous and start serving your audience? Here are a few ideas to get you started (pick at least one):
- Do a giveaway of a product or service. Find authors or organizations wanting to partner with people like you, and ask them for donations. Do this to build trust with readers, and make sure whatever you give away adds value.
- Conduct a survey. Find out what readers (or perfect strangers) want, what they struggle with, and create something just for them. This can be a blog series or an eBook or a whatever. Just make sure there's a need for it before you make it.
- Write something important and give it away. Publish an eBook to Amazon and distribute it through the KDP Select Program. Or offer a free PDF in exchange for people subscribing to your blog.
- Answer all correspondence. Respond to every single email, phone call, tweet, etc. Do this until you can't possibly keep up anymore. This is how tribes are formed — through accessibility.
Why we do this
We do this because we can. Because we're trying to overcome anonymity. Because art, at its core, is about generosity. Not profits — passion.
We serve our way into an audience's affections, because this is the only way influence is earned: gradually, over time, little by little through permission.
We don't give because we get, but if we do this enough we'll learn that what goes around does, indeed, come around. This isn't the point of why we do this, but it's a nice byproduct.
Put people first
Everything you do from now on should be geared towards helping others.
When you write, don't begin with a “get” mentality, seeing how many readers you can get or how much money you can get. Instead, put the giving before the getting. Because if you're going to leave a legacy, your work will need to about others.
This is where most people fail. They stop finding ways to address what people need, especially when it gets hard. They quit before realizing their potential: to push back despair and bring hope to a world in need of their words.
They fail to be writers. (I hope you do better.)
This eBook has been my most popular work yet. It was downloaded over 15,000 times in the past two days, which is more than a lot of New York Times Best Sellers do in a week, and it's still available for free till midnight.
If you haven't gotten a copy yet, get it here. Please tell your friends.
End of the series
Lastly, the 15 Habits of Great Writers series is now officially over (sniff, sniff). Did you stick through the whole thing? Congratulations. I'm thinking of turning it into some kind of eBook or guide. Let me know what you think about that.
In the meantime, grab yourself an achievement badge to embed on your blog or use to brag about your mad writing skills to your friends.
Thanks for doing this with me. I had a blast, and I hope you did, too. We'll do something like it again maybe in a few months.