3 Lessons on Becoming a Professional Writer from Tribe Conference Speakers

Tribe Conference is a gathering of writers, artists, and other creatives who want to grow their craft and get the attention their work deserves.

3 Lessons from the 2106 Tribe Conference on Becoming a Professional Writer

As we prepare for this year’s event, I wanted to share some highlights from past Tribe Conferences with you that included presentations from Emily P. Freeman, Marion Roach Smith, and The Story Grid duo of Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl.

Uncovering your voice with Emily P. Freeman

Emily believes our default mode is to have a mediocre voice, and that we’re not alone in our struggle to make the change from sounding average to uncovering our authentic voice. She shared three keys to help us do just that:

  1. Frustration. What’s bothering you? Start there. Finding your most authentic voice is discovering what gets under your skin. Push ideas you think are worth addressing forward.
  2. Passion. Pay attention to what makes you cry. Your tears are tiny messengers from the deepest place of your heart. If you cry a lot, pay attention to the tears that burn. If you rarely cry, pay close attention to the times you do.
  3. Hope. We need to believe that sharing our voice can make a difference.

You can uncover your voice with only two of these three, but it won’t be your authentic voice. Instead, it will be a mediocre voice developed by a false formula:

  1. Frustration and Passion. Without hope, your writing turns into a cynical rant.
  2. Frustration and Hope. Certain things frustrate you, but you optimistically hope they’ll get better. You lack the passion for actively promoting a cause and instead settle for rote duty.
  3. Passion and Hope. This voice is like a Hallmark movie: it’s sweet, comfortable, and boringly optimistic.

Paying attention to all three keys in our lives will help us find the sweet spot to uncovering our voice.

We need people that write with hope.

Emily P. Freeman

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The benefits of writing with Marion Roach Smith

Marion Roach Smith left a great job at the New York Times to pursue her true passions: writing and living any place she pleased. She shares the benefits of writing and the secrets of doing it well.

The benefits of writing:

  1. It will turn you into a Zen master by forcing you to live in the moment. Open yourself up to feeling and reacting to your experiences. Then write about them.
  2. It will force you to embrace a thrilling life of crime. Write everything you hear down and quote everyone. If you quote them, it’s not stealing. But you will still steal like crazy.
  3. It will help you win any argument. You learn to explain complex issues with simple ingredients.
  4. It will help you become a super athlete. You learn to experience the pain of life and play hurt. Writers feel, experience, and react to pain by writing about it.
  5. It will improve your sex life. Your life improves when you learn not to share your writing with your family.

Never read your stuff to someone who depends on you for food, sex, or shelter.

Marion Roach Smith

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Turning pro with Tim Grahl and Shawn Coyne

After spending a decade in a shadow career that was very close to being an author, Tim Grahl decided to apprentice under Shawn Coyne to not only learn how to write fiction (a story that works) but also what it takes to become a professional writer.

Shawn summarizes that Resistance, a term coined by Steven Pressfield to describe internal struggle, keeps us from our calling and meaningful work. To beat it, you have to turn pro. Here is what Shawn and Tim have learned it takes to turn pro:

  • A pro is self-validating. A book deal, blog followers, agent, and book sales are all external validations that will fail to satisfy. A professional looks for approval within to see if she meets her standard.
  • A pro is patient. He doesn’t chase other people’s definition of success. He isn’t looking to be an overnight sensation. He builds habits and keeps working.
  • A pro seizes ground every day. She embraces the warrior mindset, identifies Resistance as the enemy, and fights for inches on the battlefield of creativity.
  • A pro does deliberate practice. It’s a lie that you have to be born with a unique talent to be a writer. Having innate storytelling ability is helpful, but the professional knows she doesn’t need a mystical gift. She learns the form and structure of a story and deliberately practices to hone her craft.

To listen to the interview portion of Shawn and Tim’s presentation on The Portfolio Life, click the player below. Their complete conversation plus an audience Q&A are included in the video above.

The way to beat anything is to break it down into manageable tasks.

Shawn Coyne

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