On Commitment (and the life of a writer)

A decade ago tomorrow, my wife and I got married. And because I view the world through the lens of writers, I want to talk about the value of commitment in the life of writers, and the incredibly hard work that stands behind every successful author.

(Note: I won’t pretend that my experience in marriage somehow represents any universal wisdom on how to have a long-lasting relationship. Your mileage my vary, just as every person and relationship is different.)

But as I reflect on a decade together, I think of the small moments – the small actions I took to try to make my wife’s days better:

  • Changing the water in the cooler just before I go to bed so that my wife has nice cold water when she wakes up in the middle of the night.
  • Buying an extra bag of Milanos so she can be surprised when she finds it hidden away in the back of the cupboard.
  • Finding solutions to problems with our house before I complain to her about it – saving her the drama of it all.

None of these is amazingly romantic or groundbreaking actions. It’s the boring mundane everyday stuff. But I think that adds up. Little surprises. Little solutions. Little habits.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote of the 10,000 hours necessary to master something. And as you can imagine, those 10,000 hours are likely the least glamorous hours one can imagine. Years of doing small things, often getting them wrong, but sticking with it anyway.

And that is how I view the lifestyle of writers: sticking with it through small actions each week. I recently gave this advice to an author asking whether they should either begin writing their next book OR develop their platform with readers:

“Do both. If you spend 3 hours per week writing, and 1 hour per week learning about who your ideal readers are and how to engage them, you are MILES ahead of most other writers.”

Don’t wait for a book launch, don’t wait for a glamorous marketing plan or “the right time.” Just take small actions each week. Focus on the core stuff: writing and readers.

For writers: develop your skills as a communicator; develop relationships; grow your platform in the process. Too many writers I speak with put off some of these things. They feel that since they are SO BUSY writing the book, they can ignore any thought of readers until “they are ready,” and “they have time.”

You will NEVER feel you are ready, and NEVER feel you will have enough time. You will simply box yourself into a corner until a book launch is upon you, and you have no choice but to spam people about your book in order to feel that you are getting the word out.

I’ll end on the advice my dad gave me just before my wedding:

“Dan, the secret to a successful marriage is using these two words often: yes dear.”

Thanks Dad. Oh, and happy 47th anniversary to you and mom at the end of this month.

For writers, I think this advice translates to listening intently to two things:

  1. Your inner voice as a writer. Taking action on those things you feel compelled to create. Actually writing as a lifestyle, a daily habit.
  2. Learning about your readership – the folks you hope will be moved by your work.

Say yes to both of these things. Often.

Both of these actions require a lot of empathy, and listening more than talking. Like any good marriage.