5 Tips For Long-Term Writing Success

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The Internet is overflowing with all kinds of “guidance.” Often, we have to learn by trial and error. What’s sound and what’s a shill? Being a Fort Worthian, I’ve learned that comedian Will Rogers nailed it when he said, “There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Assuming y’all can delay any plans for peeing on the literary electric fence, I’m here to (hopefully) shorten your learning curve in regards to going pro as an author.

Choose Company Wisely

Mirroring is built into the human brain. Great writers are exemplary at mirroring. This his how these authors can create characters so real they might just have a heartbeat. That’s the good news.

Maybe you find your mannerisms, body language, pace of speech or even your accent changes depending on the group you’re in. It takes all of three minutes in NYC for me to sound like I’m a native (Mom being from NY probably compounds this). Yet, put me on a plane to LA? Within the hour, I sound like I’m from Orange County.

While mirroring is great for socialization and writing, we must be careful. Attitudes, negativity, and belief systems can stick like a BP oil spill on a sea turtle.

Original image courtesy of NOAA via Flickr Creative Commons.

Original image courtesy of NOAA via Flickr Creative Commons.

I’m an extremely loyal person. For years, I refused to let go of certain childhood friends even though they consistently made epically DUMB life decisions. I kept believing I could “help.” What happened? EPIC STUPIDITY rubbed off on ME. I had to break away. I wouldn’t change them, they were changing ME (and not for the better).

If you’re a natural giver? Takers and users can smell generosity like blood in the water. This is why learning to set firm boundaries is vital. Ditch complainers. Lose the lazy. Psychic vampires will not stop until we are emotionally drained and dead. Avoid those who live off excuses.

Conversely, seek out excellence. Search for those who work more than talk about work. Choose friends who give generously with no strings attached.

Remember, character is contagious.

Be a Finisher

No unfinished book ever became a NYTBS. Finish first. Refine later. If we’re trying to shape facets into a diamond not yet dug out of the ground, we’re wasting valuable energy for no payoff. The more we projects we finish (even the crappy stuff) the more we learn, the faster and more efficiently we work. Confidence comes from work, from finishing.

Write What You Love

We can’t predict trends. My POV? I’m convinced a part of every writer’s soul dies every time someone mentions the awesomeness of Fifty Shades of Grey. But, thing is? The book was finished. Our writing can’t catch fire in the collective consciousness of our audience if NO ONE CAN READ IT.

Ann Rice was told time and time again that no one wanted to read a book from the perspective of a vampire. She ignored the naysayers and persisted because she was passionate. Interview With a Vampire became a super success and is largely responsible for creating the vampire craze of the past thirty years.

Tom Clancy invented the techno-thriller because he wrote what he loved.

These authors didn’t write to trends, they created them.

Slow and Steady

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

There are no real “overnight successes.” Shortcuts are a lie and there are those who profit off selling them. WANA ways are not overnight tactics to build a strong platform. I believe in relationships and roots. Many author-bloggers give up after a couple months because they aren’t as big as Guy Kawasaki. I blogged a YEAR AND A HALF before anyone other than the man-part enlargement bots cared.

Then suddenly….

If we look to authors who seem to blaze in from nowhere like comet, it’s easy to believe the “instant success lie.” Yet, look closer and most of those writers were at it for years or decades and no one cared.

Stephen King wrote from the time he was a kid. He had so many rejections with Carrie that he finally tossed the manuscript in the trash. It was his wife who rescued it and told him to keep on. Carrie was the work that launched him out of obscurity and into the stratosphere. It’s how he became the legend we admire today.

This isn’t to discourage you. But if you’ve been at this a while and feel like you’re stuck? You probably aren’t. We grow roots before shoots 😉 .

Dreams are Still WORK

With greater success comes increased responsibility. When we’re new, we might think, “I’ll be happy when…” When I finish the book. When I land an agent. When I get a book deal. When my book is on Amazon and selling enough to write full time.

Yeah. Not reality.

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Be happy during all of it, because a new level only means a new devil. This is why yesterday’s post emphasized ignoring feelings (because most are pathological liars). This is why learning self-discipline and how to be self-motivated is so crucial to becoming successful.

In the beginning, we don’t have a paycheck to validate our blood, sweat and hard work. We can’t point to a book on display. We can’t even count on friends and family to be supportive (and outside validation can be a dangerous addiction).

Yet, even when we DO get to the point where we’ve written and sold books or even made a best-seller list, each work is a brand new battle. We also have new jobs piled onto the writing like taxes, running a business, travel, branding, etc.

I’m blessed to know many NYTBSAs and while all are grateful for “making it”, each new book is nerve-shattering. Can this book do as well? Better? Will it tank? Expectations are much higher, so obscurity can have benefits.

Kids don’t want to go play and take a nap. They want to make their own decisions. Adults would sell a kidney for a nap, three months of vacation and a DAY of making NO decisions.

Same in writing 😉 .

What are your thoughts? Have you had to change friends or writing groups because they were affecting you negatively? Have you had to let go of friends or even family members? What ways do you seek inspiration? Are you getting better at working even when you don’t “feel” like it? Are toxic people contaminating the muse? Remember, it is better to be respected than popular.

I love hearing from you! And here is some fun for FRIDAY! Warning, it’s PG-13.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3qZLrC7Ot4&w=560&h=315]

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).


Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

 Going Pro Craft is CLOSED, but with the bundle you will get the recoding and notes in On-Demand format, then Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding September 6th TOMORROW, Going Pro Business September 10th, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE). Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. Reblogged this on Logan Keys Fiction and commented:
    Brick by brick my citizens!

  2. This is really helpful for me today, I needed to hear it! I recently published my second novel and… well… so far it’s not doing very well at all!

    I actually felt quite low about it today and was wondering how best to go from here. I feel a bit lost when it comes to marketing, so I need to have a good think about what I should be doing to promote my novel.

    Your point about it not getting any easier when you hit the big time as an author really resonated with me. So often I can kind of think ‘if only I was selling well’, but as you say it doesn’t necessarily solve all life’s problems!

    So thank you for a really helpful post. 🙂

  3. Kristen,
    You hooked me, pulling me in today with your dead -on advice to take out the trash, dump the do do, re thinking friends and support systems.

    Your blog is one of the tools that keeps me writing. I am starting to believe in myself, after a 8 month period of writers block. The fog has lifted( thanks to you) I am half way done writing one book, and a quarter of another, I started getting ideas again and feel really great.

    Isn’t that what writing is about? We think, and feel these wonderful stories,and we must put them it into words on paper for the world.

    Maybe I will never sell any books, but I will always write them.

    My friends and family do not believe in me, they can’t be bothered by reading what I have written so far( with the exception of one daughter)

    I will call myself a writer anyway. I was not always a writer, writing, but I was always writing books in my head while I worked the job that eventually let me retire and start writing.

    What I decided to do is join the many groups that read each others materials, and give advice.


    1. Appreciated your words of encouragement today. Ditto to everything Elaine said.

      1. Glad I’m not the only one! 🙂

  4. Kristen, I love how you make me really LOL and yet provide such practical advice writers can hit the road with. Your book and blog are ones I recommend the most at conferences and to my clients. Thanks again for a helpful post.

  5. Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News and commented:
    KMGN: Good words and good advice.

  6. Totally needed this today, Kristen! Feeling overwhelmed.

  7. This is exactly perfect! Write and never give up! Sometimes the thoughts that hurt the worst come from family. But if you love it, if stories are in you, you can’t stop! It’s just how the writing brain works!

  8. Absolutely GREAT stuff in this post! When i was a young ‘un, I thought that all i had to do was write a book and, “presto chango,” i’d be living the dream. What I wish someone told me back then was: “Gotta work. always. Work. But, you gotta work for free and because you love the work.” Now, I write because I have to, not because I think i’ll become a “famous” writer. I just love/need to write. THANK YOU for the post!

  9. Reblogged this on A Blog by Juan Blea and commented:
    If you’re a writer, musician, or artist (or just a human being), you GOTTA check this post out!!

  10. Clever parody of 50 shades….

  11. Love this post! I just have one correction to the Stephen King bit: In On Writing, King talks about how he started writing Carrie based on an image he had of a girl getting pelted by tampons in the girl’s bathroom by other girls (I think he says her period was showing on her dress or something?). He says he got so many pages into the manuscript before he got overwhelmed by how little he actually knew about high school girls and threw the story out because of that. His wife then rescued it, etc.

    He *did* get loads of rejections, though — so many that the nail he was using to hold them to the wall fell out of the wall.

    And yes, I’ve ready On Writing maybe more times than is healthy…

    1. I read it too long ago, LOL. Well, still makes my point, 😀 .

  12. You had me at “put your manhood in my inner goddess now!” oh you made my day with this one darlin’ ‘specially how she wrote it on the way over and now it’s ON DVD! thanks for all of it, as usual, Yoda.

    1. I laughed SO HARD. Couldn’t help myself *giggles*

  13. Another great article about not giving up on writing. I enjoy being introduced as “This is Ellen. She’s an author. She’s written two books now.” Thankfully, no one ever asks me about my rankings and royalty checks. Although, I’m still holding out that I may make ‘the big time’.

  14. Yep, time to get back to writing. Thanks for the encouragement to stick by the stuff. I am trying to tune out the nagging voice in my head that keeps taunting,”writing full-time for a year and no paycheck? You’re not a real writer?”
    Anyone know how to duct tape it’s mouth shut?

    1. Well, people give a hell of a lot of respect to the med school intern and they aren’t even licensed yet! You ARE a real writer because I say so. There 😛

      1. Thanks. I needed to hear that!

  15. Kristen, on one of your recent posts you mentioned where you get all of your great pictures. I’ve been going back over the posts but can’t find it. Another easily distracted person – I didn’t write it down when I first saw it. Would you tell me the site again?

    1. WANA Commons on Flickr. Creative Commons on Flick or Wikimedia Commons.

    • skfigler on September 5, 2014 at 3:34 pm
    • Reply

    Terrific encouragement post, just the right amount of love tap and whip. I have no trouble writing and finishing books and stories. (I just finished my fourth novel-length ms. and have a book-length ms. of linked short stories.) My problem is sending my work out, partly because the creative stage for me is like breathing ocean air, while marketing feels like breathing pollution. At least I tell myself that’s it. My full reality, however, contains an unhealthy amount of fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of success, some aspects of which you list in the post. The solution comes from my lovely and brilliant wife. She just dropped on me the Lysistrata Ultimatum: “You will market at least two novels before you start another project, or there will be no sex.” Which supports that old adage, Behind every successful man (I hope) stands a good and wise woman. Or sometimes in front.

    WordPress.com / Gravatar.com credentials can be used.

  16. Reblogged this on Vampire Syndrome Blog and commented:
    People with grand unfinished novels love to deride the new breed of “assembly line authors”, but a number of those same authors are MAKING A LIVING off their writing.

  17. LOVE these pieces of advice. I especially love the part when you’re talking about Setting Your Own Trends. If you go chasing the latest trend, you’ll likely just end up in the massive piles of all the OTHER writers trying to follow the trends.

    One little thing though, that I just have to touch on, since my mom is writing her Master’s thesis on it. Anne Rice of course had a HUGE part in making vampires the romantic hero and making them the “good” guys. But really, the trend started with Dark Shadows, the old TV soap opera. But Ms. Rice really solidified the trend.

    I am a total nerd. =P

  18. always enjoy your blogs – I learnt years ago to step away from negative people, especially those who tell you you shouldn’t or worse — can’t or even worse give you a condescending look.

    This means I have left a lot of people I cared about behind but I knew I had to step away and do things my way. And having gone back for an event and seen them15 years later and realized they have never moved on or changed I am very glad I took that road. I would have disappeared under all the sameness.

    My biggest problem is focus. Focus on what I am doing and stay focused on THAT task. I am going to try a suggestion you had the other day – lists. I am going to start to make daily, weekly, monthly lists and I am praying that keep my eye on the prize – more writing done, more revisions done, more household chores achieved etc. etc.

    • Kit Dunsmore on September 5, 2014 at 6:43 pm
    • Reply

    I once belonged to a writing group that turned out to be poisonous for me. The others in the group were all older than me (although I don’t know if that was a factor at the time or not). They weren’t harsh or cruel, but they weren’t helpful either. Two of the members got most of the attention, because they wrote brilliant stuff (one beautiful, the other funny). The main sign that they were not good for me: my productivity went down over time. So I moved on.

    • Carrie Kwiatkowski on September 5, 2014 at 6:49 pm
    • Reply

    I, too, had to become “A Finisher”. I used to obsess over getting the details right that I never moved forward. One day a lightbulb superimposed itself over my head and I got a clue. Write! It was the epiphany I needed. Thanks for all your wonderful posts. They really hit home.

  19. I love that some of the things you focus on are so logical and simple – strategies that anyone can employ. Often it takes someone to remind us of these things and give us the push we need to get powering on . Thanks for your insightful and most importantly, useful, posts.

  20. Great advice!

  21. Absolutely true. Success as a writer is always hard work, and it doesn’t happen by luck. What’s more, there are no short cuts!

    • Daniel Kaplan on September 5, 2014 at 11:24 pm
    • Reply

    Your advice is so good to this struggle. I wanna join wana. How?

    1. If you are on Twitter, we use the #MyWANA. We have a Facebook page or look to the WANA1011 group because they were the beginning of what grew into the movement. Also you can join WANATribe, the social site I built for the WANAs to from and play. It’s a social media site JUST for writers.

  22. Finish first. Refine later. So true. What should have been obvious, It took me a while to realize I had to finish my book for any chance of it getting published (My golden rule: Don’t talk about it; wirte about it and keep yourself glued to the chair and your fingers on the keys every day.) Love your blog and helpful tips. Thank you.

    1. Procrastination is a writer’s worst curse. Actually, there’s a lot of industry where this applies. Success is not automatic, it requires years of hard work.

  23. Self-motivation and self-discipline. Truly keywords.

  24. Another thought provoking post, Kirsten. I’ve joined a writing group. It’s fun, but it’s too soon to say how useful it will prove to be. Sue

    1. Sorry, Kristen.

  25. This is hilarious and really helpful. How I imagine Siri would be in real life!

    Thank you for the advice

    Soph x

  26. “We grow roots before shoots.” — Exactly what I needed to hear today!

    • Christine Hendershot on September 6, 2014 at 9:18 am
    • Reply

    Kristen, I LOVE your blogs!! And the Shades of Grey parody? I’m still laughing!! I agree with your lost soul theory. I know she became a millionaire from the book sales, but UGH! For me, they were beyond awful. I couldn’t even finish the first one! I don’t understand all the hoopla. But I am happy for her success.

    I wonder if you have any advice for those writers who have family members who have been mean spirited (to put it nicely) when responding to your work. I’ve recently published my first novel. It’s a fictional family saga. Although the characters and the events that occur are not true (hence, fiction) there are little snippets of truth from my life that are included. I had one family member write me a snarky, passive aggressive email, telling me that she realizes my book was supposed to be fiction but she was able to read between the lines. And she didn’t agree with my version of “reality.” When I wrote her back and explained, yet again, that it is fiction, she pulled a line (a nick-name) and used that for her validation.

    I am in the process of growing the thick skin you need to survive in this business, but family knows your weakest spots and can hit where it hurts. There was much more to this letter. If she had just said “I hate your book, the story sucks, you are an awful writer,” I could have dealt much better. Any advice?

    1. My family didn’t talk to me for TWO years when I said I was going to become a writer. Shrug it off. And I’d shut her up by saying, “Wow, how did you think that was YOU? It was based off Such-and-Such. If you thought that was you, I recommend getting professional help to deal with those issues.” And frankly, it’s why I started WANA. Family can be the biggest jerks so we are here to support you and encourage you.

  27. Ha, loved this! Thanks for the great reminders. You convinced me with the kids wanting to grow up to not take a nap. I am SO tired. =) And I’m definitely going to be telling my writer friends about Stephen King throwing his ms. into the trash. I’ve done that too, but mine (a book I wrote in high school) needed to stay there! Even my mother now admits it was awful. =)
    Thanks for the encouragement!
    Kimberly Rae
    Hold Out Hope

    • Greg on September 7, 2014 at 5:26 am
    • Reply

    I am so glad I found this blog! Boundaries! Yes, I do have the right to BOUNDARIES!

  28. Love it when great information is packaged inside of an entertaining read – kudos and thank you! Ironically, my new blog post was also on the topic of happiness and enjoying the journey. Even the part of journey that’s off the writing path.

  29. Reblogged this on Creative Mysteries and commented:
    So many writing tips focus on the here and now but sometimes writers like to look ahead. If you’re looking for some good ideas for how to succeed as a writer in the future, look no further than this post.

    • Don Glenn on September 7, 2014 at 9:21 am
    • Reply

    All life is sinusoidal. We start at the bottom looking up with dreams of greatness. Somewhere in the middle we can see the top and think to ourselves, this is a lot of work. If we’re lucky enough to arrive the view is short lived because we start back down too our roots to start the whole cycle over again. We never arrive, we only travel a path fraught with hills and valleys. Enjoy the journey because you are one who choose to do something different.

  30. Many valuable lessons are learned by standing too close to an electric fence! I know. Great post, Kristen.

  31. That was great advice and probably the best parody of all time!

    I definitely think you can be right about people draining away your ability to make good writing decisions. For me it was my job as a nanny. I was just always too exhausted to write. As soon as I left that job, my book just started coming.

  32. The wrong crowd can definitely be a bad influencer. Thanks for this. Your posts have put my own writings into perspective. I’ve been daydreaming about a story for a long time and have finally gotten brave enough to write it. Who cares if no one likes it? I like it and I want to get it written.

  33. And then there’s the fourth kind: those that SIT on the fence. The “seek out excellence” advice actually has been given down the millennia. The problem though is that if the excellent were to do the same one could never reach out to them as they in turn would reach for the next higher rung too. To we cannot argue in the abstract here – rather I’d suggest we look for people who gain from parts of our excellence while giving back parts of theirs. Otherwise tutelage cannot really work among equals.

  34. Reblogged this on North Country Writers' Night Out.

  35. Reblogged this on Gina L. Kimber and commented:
    This is a good reminder. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

  36. Another very inspiring post. Talking about someone who hinders you or projects their negativity – I had a fantastic writing partner. I wasn’t really crazy about her writing subject, but kept that to myself and helped her edit, create ideas and support her hudred percent. Only when it was her time to return the favor, she suddenly couldn’t find the time/energy/motivation. It made me sad and we stopped being writing partners/friends shortly after. Not by my doing, to be honest. I asked her few years later why she stopped talking to me and she said that I wasn’t supportive enough.

  37. Reblogged this on Untarnished Truth and commented:
    when you feel like giving up on your writing dreams, read THIS!

  38. Reblogged this on pjno1.

  39. OOH, great post! Especially timely since I’m in this writing streak where I can’t stop writing even if I try. “It’s” finally happening! I will be reading more of your writing. Thanks!

  40. Thank you. I’ve been indie publishing since 2012 and haven’t sold more than 50 books yet despite having 8 on the market. So your statement: “This isn’t to discourage you. But if you’ve been at this a while and feel like you’re stuck? You probably aren’t. We grow roots before shoots 😉 .” really helps.

  41. Just found you through Twitter’s recommendation. What a breath of fresh air. You are the second person I’ve read telling me about the company I keep (which isn’t much considering how many days I spend alone in my office). Kismet and serendipity do not escape me. And the desire to revise revise revise before it’s done…too strong for words. Thanks for posting and I love your wit!

    1. Great to meet you! We get pudding when we behave. …we never get pudding 🙁

  42. Character is contagious – so true! It’s also a matter of what we think about. As with driving, whatever we focus on we unconsciously veer towards.

    • Liz on September 12, 2014 at 1:29 pm
    • Reply

    I feel so motivated now! Thanks. I’d never thought about the effects of mirroring before in terms of my writing. Food for thought.

  43. Hi Kristen – This is such an informative post! I feel a lot more encouraged now that you say you blogged a year and a half before anyone cared. Sometimes, you feel that you’re blogging into thin air. Write what you love and slow and steady – I can do that!

  44. Note to self: stop peeing on electric fences. Ha! Spoken like the mother of a little boy. Thank you for the nudge, I mean shove, to finish the D – – – book. Also for the hilarious before breakfast video of faux sex. Cheers!

  1. […] 5 Tips For Long-Term Writing Success from Kristen Lamb. […]

  2. […] Lamb has these five tips for long term writing success that were […]

  3. […] at authors, some of them apply to life in general. One I’d love to share with you is her recent 5 Tips for Long-Term Writing Success! Yes, its about writing, but these 5 tips apply to a lot of life’s challenges. Check her out. I […]

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