Monday, November 7, 2011

Non-Writing Tools for your Writing Toolbox

Ah, being a writer. Isn't it wonderful to have a job whose title and job description are basically the same? It's not like being a cashier, who barely handles cash these days, or being a bank teller, who never tells anyone anything worth hearing. Nope, being a writer is simple. You write, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, your job as a writer is to write your book. But, if you want to be a successful author (wait, there's no job description in that title!), you need to develop some skills beyond pounding the keys on your preferred writing utensil.

What skills? I'm glad you asked.

  1. Public Speaking: I think I just heard a collective wretch coming from all the writers reading this blog. Indeed, the very reason you became a writer might be because you're more comfortable typing in your jammies with a steaming cup of Earl Gray than you are speaking in front of your family reunion. (Heck, you might be more comfortable exfoliating with a cheese grater than with public speaking.) But, if you want to promote your book, learning how to speak in public is a necessary skill you can't afford to ignore. In fact, I feel this skill is so important (and, after 15 years as a professional public speaker and musician, I should!), I'm going to be writing two more blogs about it this week (Pt 1 here, Pt 2 here). So, fear not, glossophobics, I'm here for you.
  2. Selling: I used to hate sales. Every time I tried to sell anything to anybody, I felt like a used car dealer, laying on the BS so I could swindle a poor, unsuspecting person out of their hard earned cash. Then I realized two very important facts: (1) If you feel like Snidely Whiplash you're probably doing it wrong, and (2) If you want your book to sell, you'd better be ready to start selling.
  3. Negotiating: But, wait, isn't that why I'm getting an agent? (Or, isn't that why I'm self-pubbing, so I don't need to negotiate with anyone?) Sure, it's pretty darn important that you let your agent do their job of negotiating for you, but there does come a time when you have to make some decisions on your own about your work, your income, and your future as a writer. A lot of writers either are as hard headed as a ventriloquist dummy and make no concessions whatsoever, or they're doormats and wind up miserable because they didn't stand up for themselves. Finding the balance between what you want and what you can sacrifice to move ahead is a skill not naturally born. Read a book about it, and you'll see what I mean.
  4. Booking: Yeah, it'd be great if your Google Calendar was suddenly filled with speaking engagements, school assemblies, book signings, library visits, interviews, and TV appearances. It'd be nice if the publisher came along and handed you the perfect book tour. But, guess what? It's not going to happen. Inevitably, you need to learn how to call venues, set dates, find cheap hotel reservations, get the best flights, negotiate rental cars, and fill your calendar on your own. And, for the love of all that is literary, write things down! Double booking is a sin, I tell you.
  5. Accounting: Ok, before I even get into this, let me put a disclaimer: The most important, beneficial person you will ever team up with will be a bookkeeper/accountant. The headache and hassle of filing Self Employment taxes, estimated quarterly taxes, etc. etc. etc. will drive you to finding a job at McDonald's. However, even after you partner with a brilliant accountant, you still need to take care of your own dadgum finances. Here's why: Nobody, not even your accountant, is going to tell you how to spend your money wisely. Not when it comes to the day-to-day operations of your life. So, you need to learn how to budget, how to keep receipts, how to determine your weekly paychecks out of your lump income, and on and on.
  6. Self-therapy: How many writers in history were alcoholics? Or drug addicts? Or committed suicide? How many divorces have stricken writers? How many kids turned out screwed up? How many spouses committed adultery? Too many, far too many. You need to learn how to see the signs of impending danger and how to ask for help. Just like with the financial side of your life, having someone you can trust with your mental and emotional health is also an essential part of your writing life. (And, yes, my wife is a therapist, so I am a little biased) Remember, writing can be a lonely exercise, but it doesn't have to be.
 I'm sure there are more, and if you can think of any, leave them in the comments. Coming up in a couple of days: "The Writer's Guide to Public Speaking"


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