You picture yourself sitting at a desk, a queue of fans waiting eagerly to get a glimpse of you, to get you to sign their books. You envision hundreds, thousands, even millions of people enjoying your stories. Laughing, crying, anticipating every page.
You have an idea. You’ve been brewing on it for months, years even. You doubt yourself. Your skills. The idea itself. Certainly there a people better than me? No. Stop. How can you even think that if you haven’t tried? You have no one’s expectations to live up to but your own.
Stop making excuses
You have postponed writing – really writing – for a long time. Not to mention, you didn’t dare let anyone read it. I get it, I experienced the same. It even feels nice to have your writing all to yourself, to do it as a practice. However, if the introduction above speaks to you, you need to stop making excuses.
In my case, I wanted people to read my stories, but I was simply too afraid. Afraid that people wouldn’t like it or told me to aim for something else. For years I didn’t let anyone read what I’ve written. There were maybe two or three people who even knew I wrote. Granted, the first few words I have ever written on a page don’t deserve an audience, but at one point you will know what you would like to share. Then comes the fear again.
What I always do is ask myself what is the worst that could happen? In my case, no one would enjoy reading my stories or no one will want to visit my website. But if you never plunge in the deep, you will always wonder: what if? The only thing that helps is to take action. And the most important outcome? It feels great once you’ve taken the plunge!
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
If you need an inspiring book to kick you in the but and let you tap into your creativity, read "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. Find out what keeps you from writing, fight your inner struggle and conquer your fear.
It is February 2017 when I listen to a podcast by Tim Ferriss in which he is interviewing Mr. Money Moustache. They talk about personal finance, and money management in general. (Listen to the interview here).
During the interview I envisioned a Money Tree and a man who is worn down by sudden riches. The idea stuck with me and I wrote it down in the Notes app on my iPhone. (I like to write it down on my phone, since I always carry it with me. Plus, it is automatically synched to other devices, which makes it easy to jump around and copy paste).
Inspired, I wrote down more ideas for stories. And then it occurred to me: all these ideas could be short stories! Stories in which I reflect on human values, vices, sins, needs, progress, the future. On our shared human experience.
I had been writing for years already. I had worked on novels (that may never see the light of day). Time and confidence were two of the main aspects that held me back. I dedicate my time to running my company, and whenever I read a good book I thought, I still have so much to learn. I did continue writing, but just for me, to practice.
In the days since I listened to the podcast, the idea for The Money Tree progressed and mid February I started writing. It felt good, and I felt an urge to share it with people, something I hadn’t really felt before.
Forming an idea
It took me some weeks to get it right. There were days of writing and days of thinking. On those days I was toying with an idea to launch a website of short stories. To provide the stories for free. To reach people with my stories. In the hope, that in the future I might release not only more stories, but also some novel ideas I had been working on.
Soon, my Notes were filled with ideas, plots, scenes and pieces of dialogue or random sentences. I already had enough ideas to last me a year worth of stories! But when I would launch a website, how would I attract readers?
I came across the author Hugh Howey, writer of the Wool series. I found a podcast interview with him on the James Altucher Show (listen to the episode here). After I heard his story, I decided to dive into his blog posts and ideas of self publishing.
Both these writers triggered me into finding out more about their journey. As an entrepreneur I like to have a certain amount of control. In addition, I like marketing products or services. The psychology, the tools and the ever changing environment of it. Both authors have used their own ‘platform’ to create and eventually, publish. They remained in full control and formed a bond with their readers. And sometimes these readers even became contributors.
I like that they first created on their own terms, and then sought out their audience. Money wasn’t an object and they were not dependent on anyone. Of course, with traditional publishing a lot of work is professionally done for you. Marketing, editing, distribution, making sure you are in the right stores. However, with self publishing you find the audience first. And if you’re lucky, you might be able to sell your work to them, while you have more financial control.
Writing my first story
So I had an idea of a poor man who suddenly had a Money Tree in his garden, changing his fortune. I wanted to write a story not necessarily about the concept of a Money Tree or how a poor man would turn his life around. No, I wanted to examine an all too familiar human sin: greed. Furthermore, I liked to examine how money can change a man and his environment. And all that in the context of a modern fairy tale. I set myself up with a difficult, but exciting task.
Around the time I wrote The Money Tree I read a novella “The Tale of the Unknown Island” by José Saramago. It had the style of a fairy tale, and it really spoke to me. From that style and premise I started to write the Money Tree. Furthermore, I was inspired by the complete works of the Brothers Grimm.
The story took me over two months (now I produce a story in two to four weeks). I found it difficult to tie in all the ideas I had into a good narrative. Also, I had trouble with writing the ending. What I usually did when I got stuck was let the story simmer and get back to it in a day or two. That helped! But what is truly important, is the next part.
Put your work in front of others
During March I finished The Money Tree. Up to this point I hadn’t told anyone yet about my plans. However, one of the most important steps was to let friends and family read the story. To see if I was up to something or not. And I think that is the most important step when you start out. To let other’s read your stuff and give feedback! I know it is scary. There’s a lot of yourself in a story. First, let people close to you read it. Your partner, your parents or best friend. And when you ask them what they think, look them in the eyes. You’ll know if they really liked it or not.
My cousin was the first one to ever read my writing. She is a bookworm like me and during a dinner I told her about my plans. Not a good idea: to let someone read it in front of you. Especially when you see her expressions while she’s reading. Every expression became a new worry. I literally went into another room, anxiously waiting. When she finished, she expressed how much she liked it. Relieve.
By this time, I had told some friends and family about my ideas. And the greatest thing was, people all asked to read it. In a week’s time I sent the story over to a couple of friends, and my parents. And then I waited. Luckily, more positive feedback. Such a great feeling! What’s more, people came up with suggestions, tips, spelling or grammatical errors.
When you have had five or more people read your stuff and they’re enthusiastic, genuinely enthusiastic, I’d recommend you go to the next step and improve your work. At first I found it a bit intense, but you NEED that kind of feedback. To make your work better. To learn and improve.
In his book, Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday stresses that “you must undertake a paradoxical and difficult task: finding and submitting your work to the feedback of a trusted outside voice (or, in some cases voices).” And, in addition: “This is the most counterintuitive part of any creative process – just when you think you’re “done”, you’ll often find you’re not even close to being finished.”
I took on the advice and started expanding, deleting, moving around and sculpt it into a better version of the initial story. At this point, March turned into April and I had an improved version of The Money Tree. A version I was excited about.
Luckily, I have some great friends who are avid readers and wanted to provide me with thorough feedback and ideas. I am very grateful to them. The stories become so much better. Traditionally one would have an editor. Up to this point I don’t work with a traditional editor. For financial reasons and because I don’t know how to approach one yet. I’ve tried hiring editor services via fiverr.com. If I compare those edits to those by my friends… Well, let’s just say those services were not satisfactory.
Create something you’re excited about
Write something you would love to read. I read a great piece of advice from Tim Urban of waitbutwhy.com, in the book Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss. He imagines a stadium full of Tim Urbans when he writes. “I started out basically imagining I was writing for a stadium full of replicas of myself – which made things easy because I already knew exactly what topics interested them, what writing style they liked, what their sense of humor was, etc.”
Imagine the audience you write to. If you can, be specific. Who do you want to reach with your stories? What type of reader would like it? Could you think of other pieces of literature you feel your work is related to?
To be honest, I still find it hard to pinpoint exactly who my prospective readers are. It is also something unnatural almost. For it is important you write what you want to write, not what you hope resonates with a certain group of people. That would limit your creativity. However, if you can think of a certain niche, genre or just a stadium filled with you’s you will get closer.
When you are planning to self-publish, you have to have somewhat of a business approach (more on that in another post), there’s no denying. First create something you are excited about, something you would find interesting. It will become clearer once you produce more work.
Slowly my plan started to take more form. I thought of a name and registered it with a Dutch hosting company. Happy it wasn’t taken!
Later on I would build a website through Squarespace. Without any programming skills, I managed to set up the website in about a day. It is that easy! More on that in a future post.
I pictured my stories to feature an awesome illustration. At first I was planning on doing it myself, but when I started sketching I knew it wasn’t good. Luckily I have a friend whose work I admired. Would he like to help? I was a bit scared to ask, because I have nothing to offer him (yet). I explained my ideas for the website, for the future, the basis of the stories. He agreed on reading The Money Tree and if he would feel it was interesting and he could conjure up inspiration, he would send me some sketches.
In the mean time more and more ideas had formed. Whenever I read a book, article, listened to a podcast or talked to someone, ideas started popping up and I grabbed my phone to write it all down in the iPhone Notes app.
Naturally my Notes app is full of thought blurbs and ideas, without any structure. What I do is extracting all ideas and categorize them in Evernote. I make lists with ideas for stories, marketing, launching steps, potential platforms to pitch my website to etc.
I read more about writing (I highly recommend the extremely fun Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott), watched interviews with authors, listened to podcasts with writers, read blogposts, dived into marketing. I learned a lot.
I learned more about self publishing, Amazon Kindle Publishing, building an audience, pitching your ideas, creativity, self-editing, eliminating words, asking for help, finding outside editors, traditional publishing vs. self publishing, the list is long and exciting. However, I am never done learning and continue to do so.
Sometime in April, my friend had send me some first sketches for The Money Tree. I was blown away. An illustration at the beginning of the story really gets you into the vibe of reading. It makes you curious, you form an idea of what the story might be about. And you want to read the story to figure out if you were on the right track.
In the coming months I will share with you all steps, resources, hurdles, ideas, and experiences while writing and building www.turnerstories.com. I am nowhere to where I want to be yet, but I hope you would like to accompany me on this journey of learning and progress.
So to start:
- Stop making excuses
- Find your inspiration
- Form an idea
- Don’t measure yourself by someone else’s work
- Follow you niche, write about what you know and what you’re interested in
- Plan ahead
In the next months I will dive into:
- The best marketing book for creative people – especially for writers
- Setting up a website without any programming skills
- Social media strategies
- Building an email list
- Reaching out to influencers
- How to attract website visitors, spending $0
- Goal setting
- Monetizing ideas
- My entire process, journey and progress
Disclaimer: some links in the text above refer to Amazon. Those are affiliate links and if you would buy something, I receive a small commision. Feel free to choose another retailer or not use the link. I incorporated it, because I need to even out the costs of hosting my site and I don’t want advertisements on the site :-).