14 December 2016 by Published in: Uncategorized, Writing 25 comments

I just typed The End on my 51st book written since mid-2011, titled A Girl Apart. Very different from my prior work. I rather like it. We’ll see what the world thinks soon enough.

As I close out the year, outlining and starting my 52nd book, it occurs to me that I haven’t blogged a whole lot over the last couple of months, so I’ll make up for lost time and share a few things I’ve learned during my little publishing journey, although there is much I don’t know.

My thoughts and advice to aspiring authors follow in no particular order:

  1. Determine who you are and why you’re doing whatever you’re doing, and do it with purpose and passion. Ensure your identity pervades your work, and don’t flinch from who you are or attempt to second guess its imprint on your writing. Maybe it will make it unsellable, or result in genius, or somewhere in between, but at least it will be a true reflection of you in your work, and that’s what will set it apart. Readers don’t buy books, they buy stories by voices that resonate with them. The more distinct your voice, the more likely your signal stands out from the rest of the noise.
  2. Every time you sit down to write, find the passion in why you’re doing so, and imbue your words with that fire. If you can’t find passion today, fake it.
  3. Much of the time you might not have much, or any, enthusiasm – things might seem indistinct, or pointless, or meandering. Trust that you will find your story’s compass on rewrite. Don’t use the lack of it as an excuse not to write, if writing is what you want to do. Write through the phase, and believe that you will get it right in the end. You don’t have to rain brilliance upon the page on first draft. Consider it laying foundations upon which  you’ll build your temple later, and free yourself to suck ass on first draft. Most of us do. It’s part of the process. Like a sculptor staring at the stone, your job is to find the statue within it – but your first try at trying to get the rough shape right is unlikely to wow anyone.
  4. Write stories you would want to read, not stories you think some random hypothetical audience might want to.
  5. Be true to yourself, but be willing to compromise when qualified criticism is offered. It’s possible you’re wrong. Listen to sage counsel, but in the end, it’s your work, and you have to take responsibility for making it as good as you can.
  6. You’re on the planet for a finite amount of time. Anyone who’s known someone diagnosed with a fatal illness will tell you that it changes them – the idea that they have unlimited runway collapses, and they’re left with their mortality being a known quantity rather than an abstract. Don’t wait until you are diagnosed. Recognized we all have the same disease – a limited life expectancy – and make your time count as though you’ll never get any more of it, because you won’t. So if you’re going to write, or sing, or dance, or pound nails with a hammer, or any of a million other possible things, do it for real, because going through life phoning it in is a lousy way to go about it.
  7. Discover the joy in testing your boundaries, like a toddler discovering the world for the first time. In that sense of wonder and exploration lies magic.
  8. You are not automatically interesting or relevant. That too will take a lot of work. It’s up to you to convince the world. Better put on another pot of coffee.
  9. Belief that you are capable of absolutely anything you commit 110% to achieving is paramount. If you are unwilling or unable to commit that much, find something to which you can and pursue that instead.
  10. Push yourself. Set out to prove something to yourself every day. Clock’s ticking, and this is your big chance for a personal best.
  11. Don’t pursue sales. Court readers. Be the author who delivers what nobody else can, or otherwise, what’s the point? To try to make a few bucks at a longshot endeavor at which the odds say you’ll fail? Why bother if that’s the motivation? Money and acclaim may or may not come, but in the meantime, there’s only the now. Make your now awesome, even if it takes everyone else forever to catch on to how awesome your now is. Throw your life’s party, don’t be a spectator at everyone else’s.
  12. Don’t kid yourself that you’re better than you are. You might be decent, or even pretty good, and you will probably get better with time if you try. But it won’t happen because you feel like it should. You will pay for every improvement with sweat and tears. That’s part of the job. Think of it as cutting onions if you like. Although I hate cutting onions, so I eat out a lot.
  13. Nothing is easy except mediocrity, and even that can be kind of tough. So don’t expect or settle for easy. Easy happens occasionally, but mostly it’s hard work that wins races. And even a marathon is a race.
  14. Work to live, don’t live to work. Your worth isn’t what you do, it’s how you do it and how you view yourself, the experiences you collect and the impact you have on those whose lives you touch. Nobody remembers who the richest man was 200 years ago, or who the most famous author was, or the name of most popular musician, unless they’re planning to compete on Jeopardy. We all think we live in an exceptional time, and this is the big show, and all else was preamble. Wrong. This is only our show, and we are tomorrow’s preamble, so lighten up and have fun with whatever you’re doing, and if nothing else, try to be nice, unless you’re a dick, in which case be honest about it.
  15. Master your craft, or at least try. You likely never will. That’s part of the challenge. Revel in it, don’t hate that the goalposts always seem to move just a little farther away. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
  16. When you think your story is as good as it can possibly be, sit down, take a deep breath, and demand that it be better. Ask yourself how, tear it apart, and force greatness from anything that is even slightly questionable. Your job isn’t to fill up space with words. It’s to choose words that compel your readers to stay up all night to read. Best of luck with that.

I’m not sure how much of this ramble will help anyone aspiring to be a working author, but after a few million books sold and some amazing windfalls, some astounding paydays and some whipsaw changes in the biz which continue unabated, what I can offer is that being an author is a fantastic career if you can handle the giddy highs and crushing lows, and power through it all, with near constant adversity making you stronger. Write stuff you can be proud of, and enjoy doing so, and then type The End, and go on to the next one.

The rest is up to the universe, luck, and retail marketing/promotions. And Amazon’s algos, of course.

Happy holidays, and make 2017 your breakthrough year. Make it, don’t hope for it.

How you do that is up to you.

And as always, go buy my crap.

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Comments

  1. Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 10:46 am

    Very inspiring, thank you for that, Russell.

    Reply
    • Vincent Fields  –  Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 11:14 am

      Great, helpful info as always Russell. Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 11:13 am

    Love this post! Thanks for this.

    Reply
  3. Elaine Emmerick
    Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 11:15 am

    Thank you Russell for your thoughts! I really enjoyed it! I love your writing and looking forward to reading “A Girl Apart”!?

    Reply
  4. Terry Parrish
    Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 11:23 am

    A Girl Apart, hope I live long enough to read it. Captivated my interest when you first talked about it.

    Reply
  5. Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 11:33 am

    I needed this today, Russell. Thanks for the kick in the pants. Here’s to an awesome 2017!

    Reply
  6. Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 1:35 pm

    GREAT…..GREAT Post, Russell! Did I mention GREAT?

    Reply
  7. Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 2:00 pm

    All. Of. This. ?

    Reply
    • Meghan  –  Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Ha! Ha! That ? was a smiley face!

      Reply
  8. Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Happy Holidays, my prolific idol.

    Reply
  9. Lynda Filler
    Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 4:41 pm

    As always, exactly what I needed to hear today. Thanks for the inspiration, the truth and the guidance. You always make time to guide aspiring NYT Best Selling Authors…. We love you for that. And yes, of course we will buy your latest book. 51 I believe I’ve read them all. I think you owe me dinner…or something !

    Reply
  10. Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 4:52 pm

    This is great stuff. I appreciate that in addition to making a career for yourself, you spend time, energy and brain cells trying to help others as well. Thanks for all the good advice, which will help us whether we’ve written nothing, a dozen books or a hundred.

    Stay away from The Office. That’s not the real world.
    Or maybe it is.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 10:53 pm

      Just got back. The 1800 flowed like water.

      Reply
  11. Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Add me to the list of those who think this is one of your best posts… ever! I particularly like #8.

    Reply
  12. EC Sheedy
    Wed 14th Dec 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Nail. Hit on head.

    Wise words, Russell. Always interesting that we, as writers, find it so very hard to be true to ourselves.

    I particularly liked number six . . .

    Reply
  13. Thu 15th Dec 2016 at 2:21 am

    Thanks, mate. That was sage advice. It reminds me that I’m not doing enough. One can always do more.

    I wish you the best for 2017. Cheers!

    Reply
  14. Brian
    Thu 15th Dec 2016 at 11:31 am

    Hey Russell – Great advice!

    Reply
  15. P.A. Woodburn
    Sat 17th Dec 2016 at 3:47 am

    Great post, Blake. I might frame it and put it next to my computer for inspiration.
    Ann.

    Merry Christmas.

    Reply
  16. Gareth
    Tue 20th Dec 2016 at 5:40 am

    Make your time count, absolutely true. Great post. Best wishes for 2017.

    Reply
  17. Fri 23rd Dec 2016 at 12:58 pm

    What a line of thought:

    We all think we live in an exceptional time, and this is the big show, and all else was preamble. Wrong. This is only our show, and we are tomorrow’s preamble,

    Wow.

    I’m reading Walden at night and admittedly everything else I read in the day seems a little Thoreauean (Thoreau-ish?). Anyway … what a line!

    Reply
  18. Tue 10th Jan 2017 at 2:12 am

    Great advice and inspiration. My main question, though, is how do you manage to find time to edit? Writing a book is one thing, but how are you able to be so prolific and move on to the next and the next when it’s time to go back and edit?

    What is some advice you can give on the editing process and not allowing it to hold you back from going “on to the next one”?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 10th Jan 2017 at 12:38 pm

      I do three drafts, and then send it off to the editor. That’s it. If I can’t get it right in three drafts, three more ain’t going to fix it. Plus, by the time I’m through with the third draft I never want to see it again, so it makes it easy to move on.

      Reply
      • Eric Beaty  –  Wed 11th Jan 2017 at 1:21 am

        Great advice. I’m getting to this point myself. It’s quickly becoming more important to get my book series published instead of perfect!

        Reply
  19. Fri 10th Feb 2017 at 12:41 am

    Thanks for making the time to share those points. And coming from you, they carry more weight.

    Reply

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