Advice for New Writers

By Sean Platt

Today’s question is what advice do you have for an author just starting out?

(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the Smarter Artist Podcast)

I love this question because there are so many things I’d have done differently if I was just starting today.

Still, having said that, my mistakes led me to this path and I’m very grateful for them because I do think that the best way to get smarter faster is failing forward, failing fast, being willing to take risks, make mistakes; ready, fire aim, all of that.

However, I’m also a big believer of looking to other people who have done exactly what you want to do, or at least something similar to what you want to do and piggybacking off of their success.

So, in that vein, I would suggest that a writer just starting out really learns their craft.

What made a really big difference for me is to just start writing, and writing as much as possible. Writers are in a hurry, and that makes sense, but you don’t have to be in so much of a hurry. There’s that great Abraham Lincoln quote, “give me eight hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first seven sharpening my ax.”

That’s such a great quote because it’s exactly how I feel about all of this.

We are gaining a lot of momentum this year, but it’s because we worked really hard the first few years and I did a lot of learning and training in the several years before that, before I even published Yesterday’s Gone.

You have to understand the difference between prodigies and people who really make it.

Prodigies get a lot of early attention and people say oh, they’re just genius, they’re so great. But then they kind of get comfortable with that praise and they don’t work as hard. They don’t learn as fast.

Athletes early on who are just really praised, they may not outlast the person who’s just behind them who wasn’t getting all the notice, who has to work really hard to excel.

That’s the person you want to watch, and that’s the person you can be.

Keep your nose down and work really hard and constantly learn and improve and get better with every project that you do. That makes a really big difference.

My hardest times are definitely at least partly responsible for my best times.

I started out writing keyword articles for $5 because I wanted to make a living as a writer and I didn’t go to school to be a writer. I had no connections in being a writer. The only way I could do it was writing keyword articles that I did not care about, 500+ words for $5. I learnt to write 20 of them a day. I became a ghostwriter and to feed my family I had to write really well and really fast, and about anything.

Fortunately I learned to write a lot of sales letters and marketing copy, which I’m grateful for that because it taught me a lot of persuasion techniques. It taught me how to write for the reader, because that’s what copywriting is. It drives readers to action and it really has to be reader-centric if it’s going to work.

That was five years that I spent doing everything from SEO to ghostwriting marketing copy and sales letter, and keyword articles. I wrote even a few ghostwritten fiction and non-fiction books.

I learned everything I needed to know so that I could start.

Clearly, I still learn every single day but I spent almost five years just learning just that basic stuff that could help me start publishing on a regular basis for myself and for Dave, and then later for me and for Dave and Johnny.

You’ve got to know you’re not where you want to be, and that you’ll get there with practice, and then be willing to do the practice.

Man writing at a table.Take the time to get good.

Finish your first book with the full knowledge that you very well may need to throw it away when it’s done. Mine’s still collecting dust on the hard drive. It’s terrible. But I started it and then I started on the second, and you should probably do the same.

If your first one is great, awesome. If it’s not, don’t worry about it. Just get going. The next one will be better. When you have a few, then publish and start to market.

My very best advice is what would you do if you were just starting now? I would lay kind of low. Probably for the first entire year and just write, write, write.

I’d get as good as I could and I’d build up a little bank of catalog.

Because the worse thing that you can do as an author is have a reader fall in love with you and then you have nowhere else to send them.

Write your terrible book and then write three good ones and then put those out and then start your career as an author. Otherwise you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to drive attention to something that is just not much of anything. That’s a mistake.

You only have so much time in the day and you should spend as much of it as you can writing. Click To Tweet

A lot of writers get out there and they’re so eager, because self publishing is easy, relatively compared to the way it used to be with all the query letters. You can get your own cover, you can get your book done, you can publish it quickly and then you can just wait for the money to roll in. But that’s just not how it happens.

I think if you spend the first year sharpening your ax, you’ll chop down a tree pretty quick, or your second tree.

Sean Platt is the founder of Sterling & Stone and loves that he not only gets paid to make up stories and come up with crazy ideas, but that he gets to do so with his best friends. Together, they've also co-authored the bestselling non-fiction titles Write. Publish. Repeat., Fiction Unboxed, and Iterate & Optimize to help Smarter Artists get smarter, faster.

Sean lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Cindy and their two children, Ethan and Haley.

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