As writers, we always look for ways to improve our writing and writing business. We never want to rest on what we’ve always done. We want to continue to dream and grow and build as writers and as writing entrepreneurs.
This became even clearer to me during a road trip a few years ago. In an effort to pass the time during an hour-and-a-half drive through winding Oklahoma backroads to take our daughter for a weekend stay with one of her best friends, Chris and I listened to The James Altucher Podcast where he interviewed J.D. Jakes, Pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, and a best-selling author and entrepreneur. They discussed Jakes’ book Soar: Build Your Vision from the Ground Up.
During the interview, which I recommend anyone who has a dream listen to, Jakes made this comment, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’ve outgrown the room.”
That sentence struck me. How many of us writers spend time working on books, magazine articles, manuscripts, blog posts, whatever, and find ourselves alone in the room? How often do we talk about our writing with family members who support us but don’t understand what we do? In both those cases, we are the smartest—or best—writer in the rooms. And as I thought about this more, I realized that there are two “rooms” that writers find ourselves in on a regular basis—our writing and our writing business—and how to improve both.
Not the Smartest WRiter in the Room
As writers we must challenge ourselves to sharpen our craft. We must learn to show not tell, build story structure, finish the manuscript, draft a query or proposal, conduct interviews that compel the subjects to talk, find credible sources that hold our readers’ attentions and edit with the precision of a 3-D printer. We can do that over and over again, but without the input of others, we won’t improve. Or maybe we’ll improve, but with the input of others—mentors, trainers, teachers, models, influencers—we move from slogging through mud to running on water. Writers’ groups, writer’s conferences like WriterCon in Oklahoma City, online groups, and mentorship programs help us improve our craft.
I recently spoke with a novelist who had finished her first novel and begun working her way through the editing process. She had sent her book to a mentor and two editors. With each feedback, she works the edits into her manuscript and prepares to submit it to an agent. I marvel at her tenacity and humility. And I can’t wait to read the book when it’s in print.
“It’s almost ready,” she said.
She wasn’t trying to go it alone. She didn’t finish her first or second draft and rush to send it to agents or publishers. No, she took her time. She listened to feedback and made sure she wasn’t the smartest person in the room. Her book is sure to be better for it.
Not the Smartest writer in the business Room
Of course, there are many kinds of smarts. We can also improve as writers by surrounding ourselves with those who challenge us as marketers and entrepreneurs. If the idea of a writer being an entrepreneur sounds strange, get ready to have your mind blown. In this current era where publishing moves like spider lightning across a dusky sky, writing and entrepreneurship huddle side by side.
For traditional publishers, writers must be marketers… ahem… writing entrepreneurs. We must look for ways to build our platform, get our book to our audience and sell the publisher on our next idea.
For the independent author, the idea of writing entrepreneurship grows exponentially. Every sale rests on us executing our ideas. We are the CEO, CFO, VP of Marketing, traffic manager and office custodian. We do it all, and if we want our business to be profitable, we must do it well.
That’s part of the reason Chris has started producing training videos for virtual marketing machine solutions on our You Tube channel. Chris sees the challenges writers have with marketing their books and even other small business owners. We certainly have. And to solve our dilemma of too much work, not enough hands, we’ve had to find solutions to help us without spending a fortune.
This idea of not being the smartest person in my writing business room became clear to me a few years ago. Chris and I found ourselves face-to-face with a business person much smarter than I. She began asking Chris and me about our pricing structure for collaborating and editing and how we planned to grow our business.
Pointing to a bag of shredded orange slivers on the counter, she encouraged us to think beyond our immediate jobs, otherwise we’d only be “paying for the carrots.” That phrase has hung in my head ever since. It’s helped us make long-term strategic decisions rather than short-term knee-jerk reactions. It all happened because we weren’t the smartest people in the room.
I write this as much for myself as for others. I am thinking of ways to improve my craft of writing and build my business, and I hope you do the same. Though it may sound strange, I hope none of us are ever the smartest people in our rooms and when we are, I hope we find another room in which we can grow, learn and thrive.