Some articles may include Amazon affiliate links. All proceeds go to helping us pay for original stories and to support writers of speculative fiction. Read more here.
I’ve been working my way through all the videos from this year’s AuthorTube Writing Conference, and one of the videos I saw was so impactful that I wanted to spotlight it in its own article.
There were more than forty sessions at this year’s conference, held in mid-July. I mentioned it previously in my weekly writing advice-roundups, but there’s so much stuff in there every week that you might have missed it.
The Make Good Choices talk by Becca Syme starts out slowly, you can skip ahead to the 11-minute mark. And, yes, there video problems and they just keep getting worse as you watch.
But stick with it. Syme has coached more than 5,500 authors — yes, that’s more than five thousand authors — about becoming successful writers. Everyone from absolute beginners to number-one New York Times bestsellers. So she definitely knows what she’s talking about when she tells us what works and what doesn’t.
And what works can be summarized in one sentence: Do what you’re good at and STOP DOING EVERYTHING ELSE.
That seems counter-intuitive. All the advice we get from everyone around us — the people in our critique groups, the books we read, the videos we watch, the podcasts we listen to — is about ALL THE THINGS we SHOULD be doing. We are making all these mistakes we have to fix. We need to be on ALL the social media platforms. We need to have a newsletter and ALSO learn how to buy ads. We need to have strong character arcs AND good pacing AND perfect grammar AND meaningful themes AND vivid descriptive language… The list of to-dos is nearly infinite.
But if we try to do all the things, we will end up with very little to show for it.
The example she starts with is a study about speed reading. It might not seem relevant, but stick with me here.
Study participants were divided into two groups — “slow” readers who were reading at 90 words per minute, and “fast” readers who were reading at 350 words per minute. Then both groups took the same speed reading course. The slow readers improved to 150 words. Sounds good, right? Sounds like every slow reader should take this course. But the fast readers improved to NEARLY 3,000 WORDS PER MINUTE.
It seems counter-intuitive, but the people who were already good had more room to improve. They had natural talent to build on. You can read the original research paper here.
We all have natural talents. And a million things we’re bad at. By focusing on improving our natural talents, instead of trying to fix all the things we’re bad at, we can become exceptionally good. And it’s being exceptionally good that leads to success, instead of just trying to be average at a lot of things.
I would personally liken it to becoming an athlete. If you ask a hundred random people on how to become a good athlete, they might suggest working on your running speed, working on your endurance, working on your sprinting, working on your upper body strength. Someone might tell you that the best athletes are the teenage gymnasts on the parallel bars, and you should do that. Someone else might tell you to learn to throw a football. Someone else might tell you to learn to ride a horse. Someone else might tell you to learn how to play golf.
Imagine if Michael Jordan took all that advice. He’d be working on trying to get his 6’6″ body onto the parallel bars or onto a horse instead of working on whatever people work on when they play basketball. Dribbling? I’m thinking dribbling is involved. Also — baskets. Anyway, he’d never become a basketball star.
The other surprising thing from the Gallup study is that people don’t usually know what they’re good at. The talented readers thought that they weren’t anything special — everyone reads like them. Those that don’t are the exception, not them.
So the trick is to figure out what you’re good at, and stop everything else. Some of the things to consider, according to Syme, are personal interest, available time, and starting skill level.
For example, a common question she’s asked is whether people should be on multiple social media platforms.
To decide whether to do it, writers should ask themselves whether they’re comfortable sharing their private lives with the public, if they have lots of free time, and whether they already love social media.
I first heard about Syme when I listed to the 6 Figure Authors podcast episode titled Leaning on Your Strengths for Greater Productivity in Writing and Marketing. She gave a few examples of how different personally types will translate to different types of activities.
She emphasized that no one type is better than another, but they might be better suited for particular activities than others. If you’re an extreme introvert, doing something that requires a lot of public speaking will be difficult, and maybe you should focus on other things instead.
The thing I took away from the podcast is that some people are strong at setting their own deadlines, and some people are best when they have external deadlines. Trying to force people into one category when they’re at the other is going to make them miserable. Most people who give productivity advice fall into the first category, and they recommend things like calendar apps and planning tools. Those are useful for people who are internally motivated. But people who are externally motivated would be better served by trying to figure out how to get external deadlines, instead — such as putting their books on preorder, or promising a chapter a week to their critique group, reserving an editor’s time at a particular point, or working with an accountability partner.
When I stopped trying to force myself to write because I SHOULD write, and set up an automatic newsletter instead so that I had to write every morning to meet the newsletter deadline, I wrote ten novellas and novels in the course of a year. Apparently, knowing that people are waiting for my next installment was exactly the push I needed.
So, next time someone tells you that successful writers do this thing, and you should do this thing too if you want to be a successful writer, remind yourself that Michael Jordan is still a great athlete even if he never conquers the quadruple salchow.
Anyway, watch the video and listen to the podcast. Plus, Symes gives one of her books, Dear Writer, You’re Doing It Right, away for free to people who watch the video — check the YouTube video description for the link.
Syme is a Gallup-Certified Strengths coach, author coach, and nonfiction author. She runs the Better-Faster Academy, and part of the talk is a pitch for her courses. You can skip that part. Or you can check out the courses, if you’re interested, by following her AWC 2022 links. And, if you’ve taken the Gallup strengths assessment test, she also has a bunch of free videos for how to build on each of those strengths.
Watch the full AWC2022 video below:
Edited by Melody Friedenthal
MetaStellar editor and publisher Maria Korolov is a science fiction novelist, writing stories set in a future virtual world. And, during the day, she is an award-winning freelance technology journalist who covers artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and enterprise virtual reality. See her Amazon author page here and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email her at [email protected]. She is also the editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business, one of the top global sites covering virtual reality.