Assume that you are placed in a prison cell against your will and
your jailers tell you that you have to write a publishable book in
order for you to gain your freedom. You are given access to the
Internet as well as a writing coach and any book on writing and
publishing that has ever been written. Do you think that you could
write a decent book? Clearly, many people — likely you included —
under these conditions would knock off a book within two or three
months that is better than thousands of books that have been
published by major publishers.
So why not write a book? Perhaps, like many people, you have
always wanted to be a writer. Deep down, there has always been
something about the Starbucks cappuccino-and-laptop crowd that
appealed to you. If you have thought intuitively for a long time that
you should have been a writer, you should give it some serious
consideration. Indeed, if deep down you have always wanted to
write a book, not writing one can be more difficult than actually
I know that we are ignorant and lack artistic talent
but is this any reason to give up on our self-help book? That crackpot
Zelinski has written
— Cartoon caption
How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free (over 125,000 copies sold and published in 9
Apparently 81 percent of Americans think they should write a
book, but only 2 percent have completed a manuscript. Alas, the
large majority of people are not prepared to pay their dues. Most
people don’t start or finish their books because of a lack of
commitment. How about you?
I have decided to devote a bit of space
to what it takes to be a writer simply
because there are so many people who
want to write. Fact is, being a writer is
one of the best ways to earn a living
without a real job. There aren’t a large number of unreal jobs that can give you as much personal
as the writing business.
I feel very rich when I have
time to write and very poor
when I get a regular paycheck
and no time at my real work.
— Natalie Goldberg
But the writing business has to be
run like — a business! That’s why the
vast majority of writers don’t make a
great living. They fail because they don’t
learn the business end. One of the most
important aspects of any unconventional
business is the marketing aspect, which
will be covered in chapter 5.
For now, let’s stick with what it takes
to generate a publishable product. Many options and opportunities
await you if you look for them. Whether it’s writing a novel, a self-
help book, or a newspaper column, you must choose what will give
you the most interesting challenge and satisfaction.
To be sure, not everything about writing is easy. Richard Bach,
author of the best-selling novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull, said
that it was tough for him to write his next bestseller, Illusions.
Ernest Hemingway stated, “I read my own books sometimes to
cheer me when it is hard to write and then I remember that it was
always difficult and how nearly impossible it was sometimes.”
Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, summed it up very well when he
stated that all great writers have difficulty writing.
No doubt some people are born with more talent than others.
This superior talent gives them greater potential to excel at certain
things, including becoming an accomplished author. Writing is
largely dependent upon commitment and perseverance, however.
A week doesn’t pass by in which I don’t meet someone much
smarter and literarily more capable than I am, who desperately
wants to write a book, but hasn’t gotten around to it. I tell the
person, “If I can write a book, so can you.” Granted, no one has
ever classified anything I have written — even one sentence — as
literature. This is missing the point, however.
As much as possible, I won’t allow my limitations to stop me
from writing the books I am capable of writing. What I realized
some time ago is that I can’t write a book on the same level as
William Shakespeare, but I can write a book by me. In fact, by the
time I realized how bad of a writer I really was, surprisingly, I was
too successful to quit. To deal with my bad writing, I decided to
write more books and improve in the process.
Above all, my writing accomplishments are the result of my
agreement with myself to write a minimum of three hours a day. I
try to write four pages during this time. These pages don’t have to be masterpieces. Sometimes, they
contain some pretty pathetic
writing, but at least I have four pages to work with. Even if I break
my agreement to write three hours a day, and write for only fifteen
minutes, I am still closer to completing a book than the lazy
characters who talk for ten hours about writing one, but never
spend a minute on it.
Most people cop out by saying that they can’t write. Others say
that they don’t have enough time. Still others think that no one
would be interested in what they have to say. These are excuses,
far from being good reasons. If people are too lazy to write, at least
they should admit it, and take responsibility for their own laziness.
Write a novel, write a poem, write a
movie script, write a play, write a short
story, write a newspaper article, or
write an opera. Whatever you have
wanted to write, start today. Even write
an unauthorized autobiography, but
make sure you write. All told, you can
write yourself out of poverty into
satisfaction and a livelihood simply
because others have.
Frank Kaiser is an example of
someone who wrote himself to
satisfaction and a livelihood. In 2000
Kaiser entered retirement age with a
$616 Social Security check and
nothing else — no corporate pension
and no savings. After having gone
broke starting StreetSmarts Coalition,
a non-profit organization whose
mission was to help south Florida’s homeless men and women
attain self-sufficiency, Kaiser needed an income-producing venture
so that he and his wife wouldn’t lose their house.
Kaiser thought about how seniors are the most avid readers of
newspapers and, yet, how dull most newspapers are. That’s when
he came up with the idea for a regular column where he could
provide more interesting topics for these seniors. “In school, I was
taught to write what I know,” Kaiser remarked. “I decided to write
the truth about what it’s like to be a geezer.”
The regular column was tagged “Suddenly Senior” and his first
article was called “Have Sex the Way You Did 40 Years Ago.” An
editor at Florida’s Key Largo Independent liked the first article so
much that he decided to carry the writer’s regular column. Soon
Kaiser’s inspirational and funny writing caught the attention of
more editors and eventually led to Kaiser’s regular column being
syndicated to several newspapers and magazines.
With his popularity growing, Kaiser then decided to promote his
humor and philosophy on the Internet. He put his creativity to
good use by including cartoons, humorous photographs, and
funny stories on his website (www.SuddenlySenior.com). Within
relatively short time frame, the website was receiving 200,000
visits every month. In February 2002, individuals from seventy-two
countries had logged onto his site. Here is a sample of what you
will find on Kaiser’s website today: “Remember: Every 8.4 seconds
yet another baby boomer reaches age fifty and, to their horror, gets
invited to join AARP!”
As is to be expected, writing the newspaper column and
maintaining the website has been a big thrill for Kaiser. The
column and website have also been a big thrill for his readers, who,
in Kaiser’s words, have “become senior
before their time.” The best news is that
Kaiser is actually making a living from
Suddenly Senior. “No one is more
surprised than I,” he admitted.
There is no question that being a
writer offers one of the few opportunities
to make a great deal of money in a short
period of time. There are far greater
payoffs, however — adventure, personal satisfaction, and
acknowledgment from readers. Most accomplished writers profess
that the biggest reward isn’t financial. It’s the thrill of sharing their
views of the world with others, and having others tell them that
they experienced pleasure — even spiritual fulfillment — from
reading their poems, articles, blogs, or books.
You can also share in these benefits if you are prepared to do
all the difficult things that are necessary to write, particularly a
book that becomes a bestseller. If you can’t find a publisher once
you have written a book, publish it on your own if you believe in it.
Many books that went on to be bestsellers were self-published. But
don’t equate success with producing a bestseller. If your book or
any other work is enjoyed by one person other than yourself, it’s a
success — anything over and above this is a bonus.
You can take a writing course but it’s not necessary for many
people. Indeed, most famous writers never took a creative writing
course. Again, as Nike advises, “Just Do It.” You have to ask
yourself: Would others benefit from my article, poem, newsletter, or
book? If the answer is yes, then you have
a responsibility, not only to yourself, but
to the world to write.
Writing, plain and simple, is putting
your knowledge and ideas into words on
paper and then trying to arrange them in
publishable form, whether it’s for a book,
newspaper, magazine, or a website. Above all, writing is one of the
best ways to express yourself to the world, and make some money
at it at the same time.
Sit down at your computer and write 500 to 1,000 words today.
To date The Joy of
Not Working has made me about seven dollars
per word since it was first published. If you can put together a book
that goes on to be just as successful, writing 500 words (about one
page) today will end up making you $3,500 over the next several
Whenever I have a choice whether to watch TV or head down
to a coffee bar and write a new book on my laptop, the coffee bar
and laptop win out every time. To the best of my knowledge, few
success-seekers have become finders while watching TV.
Writing is easy. All you do is
stare at a blank sheet of
paper until drops of blood
form on your forehead.
— Gene Fowler