#SWAAYthenarrative

The Biggest Mistake Writers Make

5 min read
Career

From the first draft to the finished product, you labored over your book or article with devotion. During your writing breaks, you imagined the accolades that would be poured on you from friends and family when they read your masterpiece. You even practiced the modest reactions you would have to their endless praise. You feel that the people in your life motivated you. In truth, they stifled you.

What went wrong? In short, you cared about what the people in your life would think about your published work, thereby putting your true message in second place. You held back so as not to offend anyone you know or gave false praise in an attempt to please them. Authors often do this without realizing it. Even if you know you're doing it, you might think that others will not catch on or that it does not hurt your writing. It does.

You feel that the people in your life motivated you. In truth, they stifled you.

Whether it's one-dimensional parents in a memoir or a not-so-steamy love scene in a romance novel, a good editor knows when you've pulled your punches. Doing so doesn't make you a bad writer, but it doesn't make your writing good. Twisting and muffling your message results in lackluster writing and hours of your life squandered. You will never become a great author until you become an autonomous author.

Considering how critical people in our lives can be, it's no surprise that we take their opinions into account—consciously or not—every time we attempt to express ourselves. To make matters worse, women are criticized more often than men, especially in roles of leadership and authority. Even as I type this article, each keystroke brings up concern over what others might say to me about what I wrote or forgot to write.

Am I really saying you shouldn't care about the opinions of those in your life? When it comes to your writing, yes.

After nearly two decades of working with authors, I know that what I'm asking of you is easier said than done. So, I'm going to share a harsh truth about your writing that I would like you to keep in mind as you write. This applies to any type of writer and any piece of writing, from full-length novels right down to your shortest tweets.

No One You Know Is Going to Read Your Work

Everyone has told you that you should write. You shared snippets of your manuscript with your friends, family, and dog walker, and they have all told you that the story is so good it should be a movie! They can't wait to read it, and they are but a small and unbiased sample of the world's population.

Then you publish. Days, weeks, and years go by, and no one you know has read it. What gives? Are they all too busy encouraging other writers? Sure, let's go with that excuse.

Whether it's one-dimensional parents in a memoir or a not-so-steamy love scene in a romance novel, a good editor knows when you've pulled your punches.

Aside from that one borderline-stalker frenemy, your work will pass unnoticed and might even be dismissed by those you love.

Attempts Will Be Made, Which Is Worse

The people in your life love you. Even though they are not publishing professionals, their encouragement and support is genuine. Some will attempt to read your finished work. Four things might happen then:

(1) The Guilt Read. These people skim your work out of guilt. It's not really their thing, but what if you ask them about it? You dedicated the book to them, after all. They're living in your home and eating your food, and you gave them a free copy. There's no escaping the guilt read for them. They crack the spine knowing that no matter what you've written, they're going to say they loved it. YouTube plays in the background as they read.

(2) The Overanalytical Read. These people will put their own slant on your work because they know you, so when they get to the brooding neighbor with the sultry eyes in the second chapter, they think it's about them. They always knew you had a crush on them. Rather than accept the work for what it is, they misinterpret your message and might even argue with you about it. They'll also tell you what you should have written instead. Doesn't that sound fun?

(3) The Rejection Read. These people read it and don't just reject the story; they reject you for writing the story. Why are these people even in your life?

(4) The Love Read. These wonderful and smart people read your work in its entirety. They get it. They love it. They love you more for writing it. I'm only including this one to make you feel better. Consider it an awkward one-arm side hug from me to you.

It doesn't matter why everyone you know does or doesn't read your masterpiece. What matters is that if you wrote it for them, or with their possible opinions in mind, you cheated your actual audience and weakened your writing.

So, what can you do to prevent this mistake from happening and improve as a writer?

Write for Yourself

You write because you have something to say, and writing is the way you choose to say it. The message hums in your head, and the humming gets louder and louder until you absolutely must write it down.

Am I really saying you shouldn't care about the opinions of those in your life? When it comes to your writing, yes.

Whether you're aspiring to be a novelist, journalist, thought leader, or any other type of writer, you're putting in the hard work first and foremost for yourself. You write because you must—then comes your audience.

Write for Your Ideal Reader

The other reason you write is that you know your message is of value to someone else. Rather than caring about the opinions of those in your life, you should be caring about getting your message across to your intended audience. No piece of work is for everyone, though some aspiring writers want to believe otherwise.

"Know your audience" is common writing advice that is often interpreted to mean knowing the genre in which you're writing. While that is part of it, it's not all that helpful as you're writing. What is helpful is knowing for whom you are writing.

Create a composite ideal reader in your mind. Who is this person, and how will your message improve their life? Keeping this person in your mind as you write will help you write a clear and impactful piece of work that will have maximum benefit to you, your writing career, and your true audience. Trust me, your mom is not your ideal reader.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.