I used to think that to be a writer, all you had to do was learn to write well. But that’s just not true. There’s a lot more to writing than that.
If you think all you need to do to succeed as a writer is practice writing, you are fooling yourself. Writing all the time is exhausting. It depletes your creative reserves and requires them to be full again before you can produce more work. So how do you replenish, then? You have to invest in yourself.
It wasn’t until I invested in my growth that I started to see measurable success with my writing. Now I don’t believe you need to “spend money to make money.” Nor do I think you should go into debt to pursue a dream. But I do believe the craft of writing is worth whatever resources you have to invest. If you don’t invest in your growth, who will?
Looking back, there are five investments I made (and continue to make) that have meant the difference between starving and thriving, and I hope they help you, too.
Investment #1: Get a Coach
Successful people do not succeed alone. They get help.
While working a day job, I found a group coaching opportunity I knew would help me, so I asked my boss to pay for it. He said yes. This program was where I first called myself a writer.
Today, I consider coaches essential to the work that I do – ranging from informal mentors to biweekly counseling sessions. Some of these people are paid, some are not. The point is that I have finally let go of my ego and asked for help and guidance in areas where I am less experienced. Without the insight and perspective of these guides, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Coaching opportunities can take many forms, from small groups to one-on-one sessions with an industry expert. The challenge, then, is to begin. Here’s how to get started:
[specialbox]Action step: Find an opportunity that can help you get where you want to be. This should be more than an infrequent meal with a mentor, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal coaching opportunity, either.[/specialbox]
It does need to include time with a trusted expert who has succeeded in ways that you have not.
Successful people do not succeed alone. They get help.
If it costs money, find a way to pay for it. Some coaching arrangements may even overlap with the responsibilities you currently have at your day job, which means your organization may likely support you or even pay for it completely.
If you can’t afford it, find a more cost-effective or free alternative. Be sure to ask about scholarships and possibly trading services in exchange for some coaching.
And of course, there’s always the option to find a mentor who is willing to invest in you for free. Be sure to follow my 10-step process for approaching influencers and getting them to invest in you.
Investment #2: Take Smart People Out to Lunch
Successful people spend time with people who are smarter than them.
I learned this from Dan Miller who taught me that if you’re the smartest person in the room, then it’s time to find a new room.
When I was first getting started as a writer, I didn’t have much money. But I knew it was rude to ask an influencer out to lunch to pick their brain and not offer to buy their meal. So I set aside a few bucks once or twice a month and started asking people to coffee.
What surprised me when I started doing this was how many said yes, and how some even tried to pay. What I learned was this: it’s not paying for their meal that impresses an influencer; it’s offering in the first place.
I am not exaggerating when I say that my first book deal began with buying someone coffee. It sounds simple because it is, and because in the very noisy world we live in today, we’ve forgotten that human connection is always going to get you further than writing the perfect email asking someone to share your stuff.
[specialbox]Action step: If you want to pick someone’s brain, don’t start there. Instead, offer to buy their lunch or at least a cup of coffee and ask a few questions about the choices they’ve made and why.[/specialbox]
Here’s one question that always works to honor the person in front of you and get the conversation going:
“What’s one thing you would do differently if you had to start over today?”
If you don’t live near the people you want to connect with, no worries. Start by showing up in the comments of their blog or find them on Twitter.
Get familiar with their message and make yourself available to serve in some way. Doing favors for people is the best networking there is.
Investment #3: Study the Work of Other Writers
Successful people are students of success. They study what others have done and pattern their own success after the masters who have come before them.
When I started out as a writer, I knew I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I figured the best place to start was to learn about the lives and practices of other writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs.
It was Josh Kaufman who taught me that one of the best, most cost-effective investments you can ever make in your success is books. His Personal MBA book list consists of 99 business books that, yes, might cost a few hundred dollars—but that’s $100,000 cheaper than getting an actual MBA. And let’s not forget that compiling that list helped Josh secure his own book deal with a major publisher.
Successful people spend time with people who are smarter than them.
Books have the power to educate us and transform our lives. As soon as I realized that, and as my wife and I were able, I gradually increased my monthly book budget, investing in resources like Audible and buying more books as soon as people recommended them.
I read a mix of genres, all of which teach me different things about writing, but biographies of famous creative people have been the most inspiring to me in my own journey. There’s just something powerful about learning how Walt Disney built his company or Ernest Hemingway got his start.
Stephen King once said that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write, and it really is that simple. You must invest in the work of others if you expect others to invest in yours.
[specialbox]Action step: Make it a personal goal to read at least one book per month. If you’re already doing that, increase the frequency to once a week. And if you’re already doing that, then you can join me in my aspiration of reading one book per day.[/specialbox]
Don’t have enough time to read? Try audiobooks. You can sign up for a free trial membership of Audible and get a free copy of any of my books.
Of course, you don’t have to spend money to read or listen to books. That’s what libraries are for. But I recommend you commit to a reading schedule and invest your time in working through lots of different kinds of books.
Investment #4: Continue Your Education
Successful people never stop learning. For them, life is an endless educational experience.
People often ask me if I studied English in college. I didn’t. What I did do, however, was get a job as a writing tutor, which forced me to stay current on grammar rules and continue to strengthen my writing.
After college, I took the advice of a good friend and kept learning – signing up for community classes and other opportunities where I could learn. When I got serious about writing, I took a few online courses and bought some eBooks on writing and blogging, learning from people like Darren Rowse and Corbett Barr who had an expertise that I lacked.
I learned a lot from these courses including what makes for a great online learning experience and what doesn’t, all of which helped me when I decided to create my own online course, Tribe Writers.
People who invest in their success tend to succeed more than those who don’t.
Are online courses expensive? Some are, some aren’t. But that’s the wrong question to ask. When considering investing in a course, you want to know how tailored the information is to what you want to learn, and how knowledgeable the instructor is.
[specialbox]Action step: Find an online course to take that will help you grow as a writer. A great course has the following: 1) relevant information on the topic you want to learn, 2) legitimate credentials (i.e. the teacher has actual first-hand experience with the material), and 3) access to the teacher and to other students.[/specialbox]
Recently, I was talking with a friend who said his university is still teaching traditional marketing tactics that haven’t worked in the real world for a decade and there’s no discussion at all of online marketing. The online courses I’ve taken have been far more practical, timely, and relevant than most classes currently available in my community, and they can be taken from the comfort of my couch.
Compared to a university class, online courses are not only a steal; they’re a great way to continue your education.
Investment #5: Attend Conferences and Events
Successful people don’t wait for opportunity to come to them. They go where other successful people are.
This started for me with local free meetups, and eventually turned into a few yearly events that I would save up for and splurge on.
What I learned from conferences, and why I finally decided to throw one myself, is that they are an excuse for a group of like-minded people, a tribe, to show up in the spirit of connection, growth, and support. Especially for writers, it’s tempting to hide away while working on our masterpieces, but we know now that creativity doesn’t actually work this way.
Research tells us that we do our best work when working with and being inspired by others; it tells us that “group genius”, as Dr. Keith Sawyer calls it, is the answer to our frustrations about isolation, loneliness, and the pressures of producing work that endures. We must get out of the house and into the world if we want to connect with that world through our words.
The content of a conference is important, of course, but that is easily found on YouTube or in that same speaker-author’s book. The value of a live event is in the connections that happen between you and others who are present in the room with you.
These are connections that can continue for years, inspire your writing, and take your creative career to unimaginable places. I have made life-long friends at conferences. I met my first publisher at a conference. I connected with people who have made me lots of money (and I them) at conferences.
Something powerful happens when people get together and share their lives. If you haven’t experienced that yet, it doesn’t mean conferences aren’t right for you. It means you haven’t yet found your tribe. Keep looking, because they’re waiting for you.
[specialbox]Action step: Sign up for one conference in the next year. I’m biased, but I think the Tribe Conference is a great one.[/specialbox]
Again, the point of all this is not for you to go spend a bunch of money you don’t have. There are ways to do each of these things on a dime, just as there are ways to splurge. But I do believe there is an important principle at work here: People who invest in their success tend to succeed more than those who don’t.
Forking up a little cash or committing a regular block of time to personal growth is an important means of forcing yourself to take your dreams a little more seriously.
For me, when I made these investments into my writing career, I was surprised at how much more I grew, simply because I was taking it more seriously. And in making these investments of time and money, I found others who were just like me. Others who could help me succeed in ways that I couldn’t on my own.
This was why I decided to launch the Tribe Conference last year. I wasn’t sure it would work, but when 150 people came, and when lives and careers changed, as a result, I knew we’d created something special—a place for writers and creatives to find the encouragement and challenge they need to grow the audiences they deserve.
We already have 250 committed to coming this year and have another 250 tickets available. But the price is going up in just a few weeks, so if you’re thinking about coming, I encourage you to check out the conference page and get a ticket before it’s too late.
If you’re still not sure what this is, here are some more details: The Tribe Conference is a two-day event (I’m calling it a marketing conference for non-marketers) packed full with inspiring speakers and practical content. You’ll hear from guest speakers like Asha Dornfest, Nathan Barry, Carlos Whittaker, me, and more!
The conference will be held at The Factory in Franklin, TN, from September 16-18, 2016.
What’s one investment you’ve made in yourself and one you’re thinking about making? Share in the comments.