Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Things I've Learned About Being an Author

By Andrew E. Kaufman
Author of psychological thrillers

I’m working on my third and fourth novels right now, and in some ways, I think I’m starting to get the hang of what this gig is all about. I’m not saying I know everything, nor do I think I ever will. Life is all about the learning curves, and the only time we stop riding them is after we die. But I’m at a stage now where, because I’ve put on some miles, I’m able to look back at the road and see things with more clarity. Of course, everyone’s journey is different and experiences will vary, but here’s what mine has taught me so far:

Follow your heart and everything else will follow right along.

I was once at writer’s conference. They were talking about how to sell lots and lots of books. When the speaker opened the discussion to the audience, I raised my hand, and when he called on me, I said:

“Don't you think if you follow your passion everything else will fall into place naturally?”

“Are you bull$h#ing me?” he said.

“No,” I replied, shrinking into my seat. “Why?”

He rolled his eyes and called on the next person.

But regardless of the less-than-enthusiastic reception, I still hold firm to that belief. In fact, I believe it now more than ever, and I’ve used it to guide me through every decision. I write about what inspires me, even when logic or “the rules” tell me otherwise. I allow my passion for writing to lead the way. So far, it hasn’t failed me. When you do what you love, and keep doing it on a consistent basis, success  is bound to happen.

My readers owe me nothing, but I owe them everything.

Make no mistake about this: whatever success I’ve had thus far, I owe to the people who have chosen to pick up my books and read them. Yes, talent can be a good thing, but it will only get you so far. If you want people to read your work, you need readers. The choices these days are mind boggling, and I’m grateful as hell to anyone who spends their hard earned money or precious time on my work. I will always be thankful to my readers, never take them for granted or lose sight of how much they mean to me, and I will always strive to give them the absolute best I can offer. 

Trust The Process

Writing a novel is a journey. Sometimes it’s bumpy, sometimes it’s invigorating, and yes, sometimes it’s just a plain old pain in the rear. But it’s all part of The Process, and it’s all necessary. There is a purpose for everything, and I’ve learned that if I allow it to occur, good or bad, I'll be just fine. I’ve also learned that the more I resist, the more I tend to get in my own way, so I do my best to avoid that pitfall. It’s all about allowing The Process to do its work. 

I write because I have to.

I often get caught up in the numbers game, on selling books; most of us do, but I’ve found that's the very moment I start to make myself miserable and unhappy. It never fails. On the other hand, when I forget about all that and focus on my writing--what I love--I remember again why I got into this business in the first place; it's because I have to write. Yes, sales are wonderful validation for hard work, but the real validation comes every time I start a fresh new page and watch my story and my characters come to life. Nothing else can compare. Nope, not even big sales numbers. Yes, I know...we also have to pay the bills, but let's be honest, if that's what it were all about, we would have chosen a career with much more stability.

I will never stop learning, never stop improving

Because the moment I think I’m too good to do better will be the exact moment I fail. There will always be room for improvement in my work, and to be honest, for me, that’s part of the magic. There's nothing better than seeing my skills stretch to new heights, and I never want to stop experiencing that feeling. To grow is to live life to the fullest.

What about you? What has your journey taught you? It doesn’t have to be about writing books; it’s about life.


  1. You nailed it! I have followed a similar path, writing what I feel passionately about and ignoring agents' advice to write a nice cozy series because publishers buy them.

    If I'm not in the middle of telling a story, I get restless, then unhappy. So, I wrote for 20 years before I made money, and I'll write after the fiction money stops coming. I'm grateful to have found something that brings me such joy and grateful to have readers who also enjoy my work.

  2. Agreed, LJ. I think with those values, you can't go wrong. It's so easy to forget the important things, to get caught up in the small stuff. But everytime I do, finding my way back to what really matters seems to ground me again. I think if you talked to most sucessful people, you'd find the same thing, that their passion is what drives them; I feel so fortunate to have one.

  3. Fabulous post. I'm in the very early stages of learning all of these things.

    The other day I needed to write a new scene in the manuscript I'm getting ready to send out to beta readers, and the relief at actually putting new words to paper was a real eyeopener for me. It had been a few days.

    Marketing and numbers make me cranky. Writing gives me wings.

    I think you can boil it all down to two words: Just write. Where have I heard those before?

  4. Excellent post, Drew! I especially like your last point - never stop learning. I'm happiest when I'm expanding my horizons and learning new skills. I find that stimulating and exhilarating. In my fiction editing, constantly researching effective craft of writing techniques and applying them to my editing makes me feel needed and useful - and I'm lucky to have clients who express their appreciation for my insights and comments. Also, I love traveling and going to writers' conferences - love the buzz of new places, new experiences, friendly, creative people, novel ideas. That's what makes life interesting!

  5. A wonderful post. Obviously the conference speaker who poo-pooed your "follow your passion" suggestion hasn't yet learned these things. And to me, that's why alot of writers suffer burn-out. I've had several friends write to the market, the agent, the editor. They're no longer writing because (I think) they lost their passion.

    As for the never stop learning: OMG, it's so true. I dropped out of writing for a number of years and when I came back the entire industry had changed. They weren't even using the same vocabulary! I had to start from scratch and re-learn everything. We can't afford to slack when it comes to growing and learning.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. I hope your passion for writing, storytelling and sharing with the rest of us never leaves you.

  6. This is one great post, Andrew. Very down to Earth and inspiring.
    In regards to the follow your heart comment and the lackluster response you received, I think it's maybe because of our different perception of success and how we measure it. In book sales, in the passion of our readers, etc.

  7. Excellent post! I especially like the "never stop learning" point. Life should always be a continuous journey toward being better than you were yesterday.

  8. Your comments are all so true. I think if we measure success with our hearts instead of with our minds, everything else snaps into place. Over thinking can be a deal breaker.

  9. Thanks,Drew, for sharing these thoughts with us. Having retired this past year, I have time now to write, and have begun my first fiction book. My first six books were non-fiction and poetry, but I now have a story that wants to be told, pure fiction, led by my characters day by day. I'm sure when I finish the draft, it will be only a beginning, requiring care and attention and craft. It will take more time than the non-fiction did, as it will require creating as well as writing. When it is finished (but is a book ever really finished?) I'll be happy to self-publish it and share it. But marketing is not my 'cup of tea' and happiness will be when I begin it's sequel!


  10. I didn't interpret the "always keep learning" comment to only pertain to writing, Jessie. One of the things I learned early on as an actor and author, is that nothing beats life experience or education. I've seen many eager teens srsly think of quitting school so they could pursue their dream of acting or writing. But the truth is, the more education we receive, the less static we become, and it can only improve our craft when we come back to it. What good is a story told from pure research? How dimensional can a character be if we've added nothing of who WE really are on that page? How strongly can dialogue affect if we've hernitted and not learned and dialogued from those more educated?

    I'm pursuing double-doctorates in Astrophysics and applied mathematics, so I only have my summers to write currently, but each time I return to it, I'm a completely changed person, full of new viewpoints, bias and knowledge, and that's what sets my work apart from everyone else.

    Just my tuppence.

  11. Srry--that should say herMitted. Typing from my tablet and didn't see the typo in time.

  12. I agree completely with you, Drew. I often think about the words of Joseph Campbell, "Follow your bliss!" Isn't that all that really matters? Everything else then falls into place.

    Maya Angelou said it well: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

  13. My link above ended up going to the wrong site.
    So I am correcting it here. :-)

  14. Awesome post, Drew! I've learned many lessons, but they're not as interesting as yours. :)

  15. I've learned it's okay to fail, but it's not okay not to even try. Fear held me back from writing for years, worry I'd make a fool of myself or not be good enough. I remember my first signing (with you, Drew) and wondering if anyone would believe in me. I've learned to believe in myself and push myself. This is also a fantastic business to be in to develop the most amazing friendships.

  16. I remember that day very well, Jenny. I'm sure I was feeling the same thing you were; in fact, I know I was worried about the turnout for our signing. Thankfully, it was good, and I met a fabulous author-friend. I should have added that to this list: The friends you make along the way. Maybe I'll do another when I learn more, as I travel this rocky but thrilling road.

  17. Carla, I was using writing and re-learning as an example only. I'm a perpetual student. I love learning about EVERYTHING! Of course, there comes a time we have to quit taking courses, etc... and produce.

  18. Hmmn. I don't really see it as an either/or proposition. Learning and writing don't have to be mutually exclusive. I don't think you must leave one to do the other. In fact, I think that the constant learning fuels the writing. I've tried very hard to never be static, so I have my hands in all kinds of different pies at once.

    But, I love learning everything, too. :)


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