Knowing Vs. Doing

I see this gap all the time: “KNOWING” vs actually doing. To me, this gap is bigger than the knowledge gap we pretend education is all about. That all the information in the world is often useless if we don’t take action based on it. Have you ever worked a job where management talked about solutions, and talked, and talked, and talked… but nothing ever changed? So too are the lives of many writers.

So when I work with writers, it is all about action.

If you aren’t living the life of a writer, then you are merely an anthropologist, studying their habits from a distance. And that gap is huge. It’s the same gap between singing in front of a mirror into a hairbrush, vs getting on stage at a local club or cafe and actually singing to an audience.

Every day, I work with writers to help them get past their biggest challenges. I constantly get emails, or panicked messages with titles such as “STUCK,” with an explanation that the writer has hit a wall. They are working hard to find their audience, to engage with those who are ideal readers, to find time to write, to feel like any of this makes sense. And they get lost, or lose focus, or motivation.

The wall is rarely knowledge-based. I mean, sure, I teach courses, and in doing so, share LOTS of knowledge. Strategy, tips, resources, step-by-steps, etc. And that is why people think they sign up for them. But really, the value they get is this:


Huh? Let me explain. My friend, and a client, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore talked bout this recently: THE CURE FOR BUTTERFLIES? GET A BUDDY. In other words: everything feels better when you have a buddy with you along the way.

What we often need is someone to work with, someone to help us crack the code. Another writer recently wrote this to me: “I have to get out of my own way.” That is typically the biggest obstacle to success – not the barriers others put in front of us, not some critical piece of missing knowledge, not some “secret,” but rather, getting out of our own way.

This is what I help folks do. I help writers get out of their own way to find success.


Should Writers Take More Risks?

Chuck Wendig asked some interesting questions recently:

“It’s a shame sometimes to see self-publishing so overwhelmed with people doing the same thing. You see more of the same kind of covers, more of the same kind of romance or science fiction. Why don’t you do something different with format? You can be as long or as short as you need it to be. You can be as serialized as you need it to be. Self-publishing doesn’t need to just be like, “Well, it’s an ebook novel and it looks just like what you’d see on the shelves,” or, unfortunately, in some cases, worse. So why not take some risks and get crazy with it?”

This immediately made me consider how writers measures success. Is it sales? Is it in the creative process itself? Is it in affect the lives of others? Clearly, each writer will have their own combination of these and many other measures, but it begs the question of whether becoming “an Amazon bestseller!” is the end goal of publishing.

Ze Frank explore this from a different angle, responding to a fan of his who is nervous about venturing off alone to a big city to start college. Ze’s advice:

“You are a worldmaker… you have so many different possibilities of creating a world that is right for you… and that’s exciting. It’s more exciting that trying to fit into a whole bunch of things that are expected of you.”

And I do see many writers and creative people RUSHING AROUND trying to figure out the quickest path to “success.” They obsess over what is working today – they want to know the “best practices” that make false-promises of shortcuts to an audience, to a platform. Oftentimes, the biggest headlines of what works really describe what worked 18 months ago for a handful of people, and is now no longer all that unique.

We seek what is known because it is safe. We justify it as being “proven,” but the fact of the matter is that success is a process of many tiny failures that add up to the more than the sum of their parts.

I tend to view writers as entrepreneurs. There is so much risk involved emotionally, in the return on investment of their time, and in any efforts they make in the publishing process. Even a moment ago, I read a quote from Steven Spielberg that his Oscar winning film Lincoln was “this close” to being a TV movie on HBO, never landing in theaters. As a viewer, we see Lincoln as another great award winning Spielberg film. But from his perspective, he likely pushed past barriers and risks for years on that film, including it never even getting into theaters.

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude created works of enormous scale that required lengthy approval processes from governments and private organizations in order to build their art:

“These were all enormous projects in terms of scale, cost and planning. Sometimes it can take years for the artists to obtain the required permits to carry out their plans. The permit process often requires extensive environmental studies, costing millions of dollars. Avoiding words like “red tape” or “bureaucracy”, Christo and Jeanne-Claude simply call their quest to get a project approved as “process.”

The process was a core part of the art. I do feel that writers would be better served if they accepted a similar attitude in their work. That publishing is part of the process. That crafting a meaningful platform with readers is a part of the process.

Should writers take even more risks? No. But they should accept the risks that they are taking inherently as writers, embrace them, and use them to expand their work in new ways.

Here is my wife experiencing Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates” in New York City in 2005. She is looking out on something totally unexpected, something many did not consider to be “art” when first proposed by the artists back in 1979. It took 25 years to turn their idea into reality.

Should Christo and Jeanne-Claude have put oil paint on a rectangular canvas instead of crafting a wholly original process and works for art?

As a write, as a creator, you get to decide that for yourself. Porter Anderson recently explored the pressure being put on writers to write more and write faster. Well work checking out.


Tweeting is not a Marketing Strategy

Preparing for success is not about getting “followers” on social media. It is about crafting meaningful work and connecting it with the right readers. Paul Jarvis adequately encapsulated most writers’ book marketings strategy (although he is using a different example in this instance):

“Before social media, it was a simpler time. If you had a product or service, you’d actually have to bust your ass to come up with a marketing strategy and then work that ass off some more to implement it. You’d have to get out there and connect with people on a one-on-one basis to build relationships to get word out there. Yes it took a long time. But not everything can be instantly gratified.”

“Now it seems “I’ll tweet about my [book]” is a marketing plan. And the advanced strategy is “How many times a day I will tweet about my [book]”. Social media has removed every gate-keeper (which is awesome)—but sometimes those gate-keepers were there for good reason.”

When we talk about what it means to be a successful writer, it is often a combination of these three things:

  1. The craft of writing
  2. Luck
  3. Preparation (what I call the craft of platform)

Here this is as a fancy diagram (the orange in the middle is where you want to be):

Okay, but this seems like some vague boring B.S. Venn diagram without some context, right? Let’s look at an example, an author that everyone seems to be talking about this year: Hugh Howey. Hugh’s story has inspired many with some simple facts, such as that he was reporting earnings of $150,000 per month from ebook sales of stories he self-published. The story is much deeper, but that alone grabs your attention, right?

I’ve seen Hugh speak, read lots of interviews, and read his story told by quite a few people. I’ve also read his most popular book, Wool, and enjoyed it. Hugh is a down-to-earth guy and talks about how he just uploaded his fiction online, and waiting for readers to really pay attention. But I think that his success goes far beyond that. So let’s apply the model here:

In other words:

Hugh had to develop as a writer, and he actively does so. He has a meter on the left side of his homepage that shows you his progress on several stories.

Hugh couldn’t plan for this to happen. He had no idea that WOOL would be the story that resonated with readers far beyond others. Right stories, right place, right time.

Hugh COULD plan on taking action based on what he saw. He paid attention to which stories were getting read, and took action to craft more of them. He noticed who his fans were, where they are online and off, and took efforts to connect with them. He is very open and down-to-earth, once you meet Hugh (virtually or in person), you want to stay connected. You will also notice that Hugh does not have an enormous social media following. His goal is not to grab as many “followers” as he can, but rather be present with the fans he meets online and off.

I do feel that being prepared and crafting one’s platform does help encourage luck from happening. For instance, too many writers:

  • Write a “good enough” piece of work, then try to protect it. As anyone who writes professionally will tell you, it is hard work, day in and day out.
  • Wait to go “viral.” They think they can plan for luck. You can’t.
  • Don’t prepare. They see how much work it is to craft a meaningful platform, to understand who their readers are, to do something more than the “best practices,” so they make token efforts and go back to waiting for luck to happen.

Every successful writer has a slightly different story. There will be a different balance of the “writing craft, luck, preparation” equation. And it’s true, some work will succeed with only two of these three elements:

  • Books that get critically panned for poor writing, but sell millions anyway.
  • Books that are well crafted and the writer was inventive and tireless in their efforts to get it in front of readers, one at a time.
  • And occasions where luck was 90% of success, and where it was 10% of success.”

What always interest me is how to be prepared for success. Hugh has been open about the role of luck in his success, that you can’t plan for becoming a bestseller by doing the exact things he did. But you can be prepared for success. You can learn to be more observant, find meaningful ways to engage with fans, and focus on the quality of connection with readers, not just the quantity.

I tend to see too many writers settling for only the “best practices” – the stuff that everyone else is doing. What I think is more critical is to do the deep research about readers, forging meaningful relationships, and creating a process for crafting your platform as a writer.


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Table of Contents

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DanBlankMy name is Dan Blank, and I help writers build their platforms, and work with publishers to grow their online communities. I have worked with hundreds of writers to help them develop the skills they need to build and engage their audiences. I have taught courses for Writer’s Digest and Mediabistro, and spoken at many of the major publishing and writing conferences. For my full background, please check out my bio and LinkedIn profile.

Brands I have worked with:

Events I have spoken at:

Your Platform is Not a Stage You Stand On

Too often, people view the idea of “platform” as a stage for you yourself to stand on, one that positions you higher than others, from which you can publicize your message to a large, faceless audience.

When I saw author Chuck Wendig speak recently he said:

“Words such as PLATFORM don’t resonate with me because folks just want to write a good book. It’s not as if it is handed down to you from a platform, like Coke delivered it as a brand.”

While I have a deep respect for Chuck, that is not how I view what an author’s platform is, and today I want to explore why.

A platform is how you create new paths, new inspiration, new opportunities for others. And it is how your work does these things. Last week I experienced three platforms that did exactly this:

  • I saw Seth Godin speak.
  • I experienced the Creative Mornings meetup for the first time, hosted by Tina Roth Eisenberg.
  • I took a tour of The High Line in New York City.

Each illustrated different ways that your platform is what you create in others, not just what you create for yourself. That platform is the myriad of ways that your books, your craft, your work has an effect in others. It is about what happens AFTER people read something you wrote.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin
Seth is a wonderful speaker, and after years of reading his blogs, his blog, and even interviewing him myself, it was nice to see how his speaking style gelled with his larger platform.

What is Seth’s platform? Well, within it, he creates capacity in others. Sometimes he does that by inspiration, other times via practical processes to follow, creating products and services, still others by actually connecting one person to another.

In the talk, Seth described how your work is the heart of your platform. That when your work touches people, you are connected to them. He illustrated this by explaining how he came to be on the stage at that moment: he experienced the work of the event’s organizer Tina Roth Eisenberg, and through her work, felt connected to her.

He took it further and talked about the craft of platform, which is a concept core to my own work. Sharing your ideas, finding the right people that you will resonate with – that is the craft that Seth talked about. That you have to try ideas, understand who appreciates your work, and keep iterating.

You can see a video of Seth’s talk here.

Creative Mornings Meetup & Tina Roth Eisenberg

Creative Mornings
The event that Seth Spoke at is called Creative Mornings and is organized by Tina Roth Eisenberg and her team.

When you experience anything that Tina creates, you quickly realize that she connects people and empowers as the forefront of what she does. She also has a popular design blog, a shared workspace and two small startups.

The homepage for her shared workspace in Brooklyn is emblematic of this: below the header, the focus is entirely on the people working here and what they do.

Creative Mornings

What is Tina’s platform? It is how she communicates, how she connects, how she earns trust. And she offers many ways into these experiences, from her writing, to in-person events, to products & services, and so much more. Anytime someone mentions Tina to me, it is always gushing with how giving and amazing she is. How she has opened new doors and made people feel connected.

The High Line

I took a guided tour of The High Line in New York City last week from a friend who lives in the area and has watched how this elevated park has changed entire neighborhoods. The High Line is a 1.5 mile public park that was created on top of an abandoned elevated railroad line that cuts through the west side of Manhattan.

Walking the park gives you a completely unique view of New York city. You walk between buildings two stories up, through buildings, under buildings, all within what feels like a bubble of nature.

Why does this matter AT ALL in an article talking about the platform that a writer or create builds? Because The High Line’s effect was so much greater than just opening a park. Yes, The High Line is a destination in and of itself, but it has created so much growth for others:

  • Development of former industrial areas. Some of these projects are huge, almost literally building entire new neighborhoods from scratch. Others are new buildings, new museums.
  • It connects and extends already established neighborhoods.
  • As you walk through the path, you notice what seemed like dozens of gardeners. I can tell you from decades of experience in NYC, it is astounding to consider that there are all these people gardening in what was formerly an abandoned industrial train line.
  • There are the obvious other jobs created with Friends of the High Line.
  • But mostly, it is the feeling of possibility and connection that you get when you walk the High Line.

Some photos from my walk:

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line

I want to end with a quote from Aaron Dignan:

“A platform requires people are building upon it, changing it and shaping it”

While he was mostly talking about web platforms (such as Google or Twitter), the same ethos applies to the platform you craft as a writer or creator.

These are just some of the reasons why I never consider the concept of platform to include a stage – a separation or hierarchy between the creator and an audience. Instead, I view it in the ways described above – how we find ways to connect that bring us together and create new capacities.