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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to be a Successful Rube!

They say there's one born every minute.  But suckers aren't really born or made... they have to be given the opportunity to turn themselves into their namesake.  And those people providing those opportunities are the scum of the Earth.

You'd think that most suckers deserve what they get.  After all, who buys a "Rolex" that just "fell off the truck" for $100?  Suckers, that's who.  But not all suckers are also idiots.  Plenty of them are trying to get an education, and the charlatans who prey on them know that this is their weakness.

They can been seen in colleges across the country, colleges that are increasing their tuition, increasing the number of students, and lowering standards so they can pump out one useless degree after another and soak up government money.  They promise a "college education" on the cheap, but the quality of that education is sub-par to say the least.  My brother fell for one, an online degree that provided nothing but debt.  So he took the hard route and found out where successful people in his field got their degrees, then enrolled there.

But writing... that is another world.  No college on the planet can guarantee that someone will be on the New York Best Seller list.  Sure, Harvard credentials might help, but more often than not, it is not what you learned at Harvard, but rather the fact that you garnered some media attention due to the fact that you went to Harvard and decided to be outspoken about something.  Just look at writers.  They come from every walk of life, from the affluent to the destitute, the college educated to the not-quite-GED.  Successful writers have had tons of classes about writing and teach it in universities, and they have had NO writing classes yet still create best-sellers.  There is no cookie-cutter writer.  Each one is as different as the stories we weave.

But it is understandable that, when some company, magazine, or author offers the secrets to writing success, plenty of us writers sign up.  I have seen this happen far too often.  Writer's Digest is a magazine that writes articles for writers, but it is not free.  Who would offer such advice for free, after all?  Of course, the "good" articles, often labeled things like "10 mistakes that will kill your manuscript" or "Habits of a best-seller" all cost a considerable amount of money for what is essentially an opinion piece. The editors and writers at Writer's Digest have no more secret insight into what makes a writer successful than my cat does.  If they did, publishing houses would come to THEM to find out the secrets and turn them into millionaires.  Yes, publishing houses.  They also don't know the secret.  Sure, they have some clues and can influence somewhat - the more money pushed into pre-sales and ads, the better - but no one could predict the runaway success of J.K. Rowling.  If publishers knew the secrets, they'd use them to find consistently superior writers.

There are others.  I recently discovered a writer/blogger who went from 0 to over 100k followers in 2 years following his "3 simple steps."  Sure, it took him many years BEFORE then of trial and error, but in only 2 years he got a ton of followers.  I looked at his offerings as well, and found that they are sound advice that lack enough specifics to be really helpful.  And, shortly after reading them, realized that he was starting up his own online course to teach you how to do it too, starting at only $600.

A fool and his money...

Now I'm not saying that what these people are selling is not helpful to someone, or that their advice didn't work for some people.  The trick that this author/blogger used may well have worked for him, but that does not mean it will work for you.  I find these sorts of people, who want to rid struggling wannabe authors of their meager funds, to be deplorable and despicable.  Writing is not something that makes a lot of money.  If you are writing for the money, do yourself a favor and stop right now.  This is a labor of love for us.  It is a rare and wonderful thing when a writer is able to support himself and his family completely on his writing.  Want to know something many successful writers have had in common?  Benefactors/money.  They didn't have to worry about where their next meal was coming from.  They were freed up from these concerns so they could really write!  Others have quit good-paying 9-5 jobs to take the nightshift at a local supermarket simply so they had more time to write.

So when I see someone trying to take my money to tell me how to be a better writer, I want to punch them in the gut.

Like everything in life, there is no fast-track, no cheat, no instant-win.  It takes dedication and hard-work.  Want to lose weight?  Change how you eat and how you exercise... for good.  There, I saved you from another useless diet fad.  Want to be an Olympian?  Spend nearly every waking hour with the right coach perfecting your talent.  Want to be a writer?  Write, then write some more, then write some more.  And while you're at it, read.  And interact with your fans when you get them.


There IS some good advice out there, however, if you are truly determined to follow this crazy path.  Sadly, it, too, is generally NOT free.  And telling the difference can be hard.  So I will offer up some of what I have learned.  Once you know the mechanics of a good story, develop a strong sense of grammar, and learn how to take criticism (i.e. know how to write), only then are you really ready to take this step.  As I am not yet published, I also recommend you take this with a grain of salt.  I am learning still, too.

First, try to do some research into the publishing industry you wish to find yourself in.  There are authors you could contact, publishing houses you could call, courses you could take (yes, not all courses are out to get all your money.  Just don't go for an online course or a college that treats itself like a Starbucks), and plenty of free blogs you could read.  Join online writing communities and ask questions.  Consider buying a book on the subject (but I would recommend only one or two, so do your research, look at the reviews).  If you can't afford what someone is asking, don't fret!  You can probably figure this stuff by the seat of your pants as it is.  There's nothing quite like diving in head-first.

Next, join a critiquing group.  They are usually cheap or free (mine is $5/year).  Go a few times and see if you like them.  These groups often have established authors in them who can offer invaluable, sage advice.  And they will help you improve your writing!  This is a real community of writers that can offer real help.

If you are having trouble writing your book, there are a few tools you can learn that will help.  So far, the BEST and more encouraging place I've found is Jim Butcher's old, never-updated livejournal.  This thing is a true goldmine.  And I'm sure with a little research, you can find other authors with truly helpful, and free, blogs.

After all of this is said and done, you have the daunting task of learning how to LIVE like a writer.  There is no course I've ever seen that will teach you this.  If you want to be successful, all the self-help books and publishing articles in the world can only take you so far.  To truly excel, you have to learn what works for you.  I have found one book that I highly recommend, which is filled with great advice that I am starting to implement into my life.  Brick By Brick, by Stephen McCraine.  Plenty of it is up for free on his site, but scroll down a little and you can find a $5 PDF version.

The ultimate step, from what I can tell, is both the easiest and the hardest.  Don't quit.  Don't let self-doubt bring you down.  Don't let poor critiques tear apart your career before it starts.  Don't give up because it is too hard.

Just keep writing.

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