[Guest Post 009] Life Hacks for Writers – a Recipe for Mediocrity?

In Guest Blog, Uncategorized by Simon Whistler3 Comments

daveguestrFrom Simon: Today I have a guest post from Dave Cornford. It’s all too easy to click on titles that promise a lot, but deliver very little. In real life there are few shortcuts, something Dave highlights in this article. Over to Dave…


One of the big challenges for Indies is working out what to do. Being “indie” brings freedom as well as blessed immediacy, but it also brings choice. So much choice, so many decisions, so many ways of spending time and money.

Just how do you chart your own course in the fast-changing world of publishing? Did I say ‘publishing’? Straight away I’ve made a choice about the scope of the discussion –  is it publishing, self-publishing, writing, content creation or entertainment?

It depends. And it matters.

Every list of “Top Tips For Writers” comes from the perspective of the tipster, or what they think the “generic” perspective of their readers might be. Either way, the chance of that lining up perfectly with where you are is slim.

At this time of year, maybe you’re sick of staring at the mess that is your NaNoWriMo draft and have started planning out the year ahead.

  • What am I going to write next?
  • Where am I going to sell it?
  • What am I going to DIY, and what am I going to pay for?
  • How many podcasts am I going to listen to?
  • Will I ever have time to read another book again?

All good questions, but don’t give up that editing, and resist the temptation to surf the net looking for a blog post titled “10 Easy Steps to Turn You 50,000 NaNoWriMo draft into an Instant Best Seller with our 24 step marketing plan.”

I read a couple of articles recently about people who slavishly copy the personal habits of Apple Founder and legendary innovator Steve Jobs in the belief that it will make them successful – just like he was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor example, there are those who copy the dress habits of Jobs (and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg) – apparently in the belief that removing the time, stress and mental energy of choosing what to wear will unlock untold creative powers. The trouble is, no one is sure which way the causality might work – maybe it’s only true geniuses who forget about fashion. On top of that, no one ever writes articles about all the would-be geniuses who don’t make it because they were ignored and marginalized after people made the assessment that they were incapable of operating a washing machine.

Mmm. So working out when the “Top Tips” are relevant to you and will actually help, not hinder, your writing career is not so straightforward.

Daily Pages seems like a universally applicable discipline for writers. As a brief detour, here’s mine from today. I like writing alternative news stories.

Howe Hughey Sparks Briefs Renaissance

Howe Hughey created a storm recently on the ‘Self-Pub MasterClass Round Table Networking Podcast’ when he answered an off the cuff question about writing attire: “I wrote my epic best selling series ‘RAYON’ in my underwear. Sitting there in my Y-fronts,” said Hughey. “And at home, obviously, not in a café.” 

Turnover at the Barstuck’s coffee chain  dropped nearly twenty percent almost overnight, while controversy has erupted among the membership of the Romance Scribblers of the North Atlantic, Inc. after it reported Hughey’s comments in its weekly e-newsletter, The Naked Torso. An over-enthusiastic intern inserted an associate link to amazon.com’s line of y-fronts into the newsletter and the resulting sales have cleaned out amazon’s entire stock.

[Read the full version of the story here]

No one would believe that underwear would make a difference to their writing, but what about black turtle necks?

“By forcing yourself to adopt the behavior of your idol, you may be supressing your true temperament, which, it turns out, could be the right mindset for you after all.  We don’t need Mark Zuckerberg-types creating startups or Stefan Sagmiester-types creating art.  We need new ideas and new perspectives, which starts with owning who you uniquely are.” (From The Narrative Fallacy)

There might be, of course, some hard truth lurking on the flip side of this assertion. Maybe, when it boils down to it, you’re not quite good enough to “make it” – yet. Your ideas aren’t quite compelling enough, your ability to communicate them just not there. There seems to be plenty pretend-preneurs and would-be writers who want to walk in the footsteps of the great ones by by-passing the necessary life experience and the hard work by following “7 Ways to write like Writer X.”

With everything being new and there being so many things to learn, there’s no point in having to work out how to do everything from scratch, but there’s a difference between reinventing the wheel and conceiving the design for your own vehicle.

Here’s a couple of examples to think about.

Example 1 – Serials

In 2011, Sean Platt and David W Wright were being dubbed the Kings of Serials

on the back of their Yesterday’s Gone books. Weekly releases, cliff hangers, TV episode style structure. Although there were problems with the amazon repeat buying experience from the customer’s point of view, it was still a great model – it was what they wanted, what worked for them as a reader.

While Platt and Wright never said “you should all try serials”, it makes me wonder how many great novels were butchered into lame serials because “serials are a thing” around that time. For me, the whole serial thing struck a chord straight away. I had ideas flowing out all over the place, but the killer came from a photo I took while walking in an area of the city I’d never been to before. It was a lousy idea for a novel, a great idea for a tv show or a serial. At the time, I could only devote time to writing in fits and starts, which suited tackling my writing in defined chunks (I decided on 12,000 words per episode.) I do contemporary fiction and comedy, not post apocalyptic horror, so that’s what I did.

blogExample 2 – Blogging

The current debate about blogging is a bit the same. Having talked authors into blogging as an essential platform-building strategy, now the chattering classes are seeing the time-cost of blogging and asking questions about the value gained for the effort.

Really? Was it ever OK to embark on the effort of weekly blog posting without knowing who you are writing for, what you hope those readers to get out of your blog and how it would help you achieve your goals – especially for fiction authors? All of that important thinking was implied in the “Blog now!” advice, just lost in the stampede of people building a platform to somewhere or nowhere.

So, where to from here?

In December 2014, Sean Platt said this on Episode 135 of the Self Publishing Podcast:

Don’t just do things blindly. Do them because you understand why you’re doing them and what outcome you want to achieve. If you just do something because “Oh, I heard this author did this and it was awesome,” then you’re probably going to do something that isn’t in the best interest of your personal writing business.

Don’t think what you should do first, think about what outcome you want, then reverse engineer your outcome instead of going in just blindly with a strategy.

Very, very sound advice.

Life hack lists are really recipes for mediocrity. Greatness doesn’t come from some magic spark copied from a ‘successful’ person who’s not you, it comes instead out of a weird cocktail of hard work, skill, self-awareness, talent and, in many cases, dumb luck.

So, what next? I hesitated writing down a few action points, thinking that by now you’d probably rather poke a fork in your eye than read another advice list.

Here goes anyway:

  • Write as much great stuff as you can
  • If you want to sell it, write stuff people want to read
  • Tell people about it
  • Be interesting.

Spend the start of the New Year thinking about the world and your place in it, and unpacking what each of these points mean for you and your writing. Then you can look for help and some helpful tips, and go make your own luck – remember, it’s not transferrable.

Dave Cornford is a Sydney-based author and strategy consultant.  He has over 30 fiction titles on sale, including novels The Queensberry Rule and Warm Honey, the Live-Fiction novella series and cricket humour titles in the “Diary of the 17th man” series. He does not write commando, has so far resisted the temptation to write romance under a pen-name, and says ‘Sorry’ to Hugh Howey. Find out more at www.davecornford.com and www.live-fiction.com

Simon Whistler[Guest Post 009] Life Hacks for Writers – a Recipe for Mediocrity?
  • John L. Monk

    Excellent post man! I’m guilty of a little “do what they do” behavior myself 🙂

  • Nice life hacks. I definitely agree that you need to find out what people are interested in first and then write about it.

  • Greatness doesn’t come from some magic spark copied from a ‘successful’
    person who’s not you, it comes instead out of a weird cocktail of hard
    work, skill, self-awareness, talent and, in many cases, dumb luck.