Take Courage

As a writer, are you willing to take the steps that you need to, in order to succeed?

The other day, I got to visit with my nephew. He works as a very successful physical therapist, and said, “You know, I often have people ask me how to become a physical therapist, and so I tell them, but no one ever follows my advice. But I have to tell you how impressed I am with your son Spencer. He not only asked for advice, he has then gone on to follow the advice every step of the way.”

His words make me think about writing students. A lot of people ask me about writing. Some are just kind of interested, but others are willing to make huge sacrifices in order to do what is necessary to succeed. Sometimes, I have to admit that I am amazed by some of my student’s courage.

For example, years ago I was writing little Star Wars novels for Scholastic, and my editor mentioned that his boss really loved the books and wanted to ask for my help. She wanted to know if I would look at some books and give her a recommendation on which one to push big for the coming year. I agreed, and she sent me a couple of boxes of books. I searched through them, and recommended that she push a certain book. Not only did I recommend that she push it, but I made some concrete suggestions on when to push it, how to advertise it, and so on. She asked if I would be willing to speak to her marketing department the next day, and I agreed to do so. But during the night I began to wonder. The book that I suggested that they push had been rejected by several other publishers. Pushing it would require millions of dollars. What if my plan failed?

Well, they forged ahead with the plan, and the book Harry Potter did all right.

A similar thing happened a couple of years later. I was teaching at BYU when a promising young student asked, “What’s the next step toward publication?” I suggested that he go to a convention across the country, and told him how to talk with editors and agents. The plan would require him to have his brother handle his shift as a night manager at a hotel. It would also require him to max out his credit card for travel expenses. Doing it would require a lot of courage. But to Brandon Sanderson’s credit, he followed the plan perfectly. At the convention he met an excellent agent, and a couple of years later sold his first novel. Within a few months of that, he was calling trying to figure out how to shelter his income so that he wouldn’t have to pay all of his profits out in taxes. Now, of course, he makes a good nine-figure income each year as a writer.

And so it goes. I think that following writing advice is especially tough, because many times, even if the advice is good and it will work, you won’t see the payoff for years. So I’ve watched students like James Dashner (the Maze Runner), Stephenie Meyer (Twilight), or Brandon Mull (Fablehaven) all become #1 New York Times bestsellers, but each of them had to do a lot of heavy lifting for months and years before the advice paid off. And I have other promising students who are still in the midst of the journey.

Sometimes I look at myself and wonder, do I have the courage to follow my own good advice? Well, today I do. I’m going to get my butt in my chair and write for the next few days. A good friend of mine, Kevin J. Anderson, has a quote that I like: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” He’s right. Opportunities and rewards follow those who do the hard work.

My online writing workshops have reopened, so if you would like to register, now would be a great time.

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