Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 18, 2021

5 Life "Rules" That May Change Your Writing Future

by Jenny Hansen

A lot of leadership advice, training styles, and life philosophies pass by my desk in the course of my day job. Books like Emotional Intelligence 2.0, The Storyteller's Secret, and Start With Why are sitting in my workspace right now.

When I'm really really lucky, those leadership philosophies and "life rules" inform and enrich my day job AND my writing life.

If you've never heard of Simon Sinek, I think you'll like him. His mission in life is to inspire others and he's got some amazing lessons for creatives like the video below.

Simon Sinek's 5 "Life Rules"

Lesson One

You can go after whatever you want, you just cannot deny anyone else the ability to go after what they want.

In the video, he shares a story about how you perceive your goals - do you see what you want, or do you see the obstacle that stands in the way of what you want? This is a thought-provoking distinction. The only thing I didn't like about this story is the way he bypassed the obstacle. However, his point is valid.

  • Focus on what you want.
  • Don't impede others' success.
  • You don't have to do it the way everybody has done it.

Lesson Two

Sometimes you are the problem.

As an example for this, many writers I speak with self-sabotage. Here is a list of what their self-sabotage looks like:

  • They over-commit.
  • They put themselves and their writing last.
  • They criticize themselves and their talent.
  • They listen to others, rather than trusting their gut.
  • They rush to publish, before they've done a deep edit or multiple drafts.
  • They won't ask for help.
  • They don't keep learning.

All of you are way ahead of the curve, just by being at blogs like WITS. You are for sure in the learning mindset already! And I promise I'm not picking on you with that bulleted list above - I do half these things as well.

Simon's hard-but-valuable advice: You can take all the credit in the world for things that you do right, as long as you also take responsibility for the things you do wrong.

Lesson Three

Take care of each other. Writers overall are really good at this. We hang out with other writers, we talk about writing, we write. But what about making sure you reach out and ask, "what are you writing?" Or offering to do some chapter critiques?

Think of all the generous souls who helped baby-writer-you and pay those kindnesses forward. In the end, I promise you will get far more out of your volunteer time than you put in.

Simon's takeaway: If you wanna be a lead warrior (aka exemplary creative), you must be really really good at helping the person to the left of you, and to the right of you.

Lesson Four

Be the last person who speaks. Simon shares a story about Nelson Mandela and his most important piece of leadership advice. Mandela's father was a tribal leader who let his son tag along. HIs father told him to "be the last person who speaks." Period.

Simon's point: To be a good leader, be the last person who speaks. It gives everyone the feeling, that they have been heard. And it gives you the benefit of hearing the others before you take action. Understand what they are saying.

Lesson Five

(This bit is actually my favorite piece of advice.)

"As you gain position, people will treat you better. None of that is for you, it's for your position. It's for the level you have achieved as a leader. Be grateful for them, but remember. They are not for you..."

He explains what he means, but my favorite example of this comes from our own Laura Drake. She and I met in our local writing chapter and, as you might have guessed, we both jumped in to volunteer. One day, she was due to pick up a big-name author to drive her to the airport and was running around in a frenzy to get ready -- washing her car, changing her clothes multiple times, printing out a fresh copy of her manuscript.

When her husband asked her why she was fussing so much, she explained to him who she was driving. And he nodded and said, "That's nice. And just think, some day you'll be visiting a chapter to speak and some writer is going to be scrambling around getting ready to have Laura Drake in their car."

And he was right.

It's hard not to get used to the special treatment that comes your way. But with humility and gratitude usually comes happiness so just remember, "those perks aren't for you" and just be grateful in the moment for that perk.

A Timeline of the 5 Rules

Since 15 minutes is more than many of us have right now, I've included a summary I found of each lesson by time:

1. 0:40 - go after what you want
2. 4:50 - take responsibility for all your actions
3. 5:41 - take care of each other
4. 8:47 - listen first, speak last, don't agree or disagree but ask
5. 11:19 - everyone deserves a styrofoam cup

A word about creating your vision

This item, from another Simon Sinek video that's under two minutes, particularly resonated for me for writers:

"Vision is the ability to see that which does not yet exist. As we slowly bring that vision to life, more people will start to recognize the work we're doing and join our crusade. But, like an iceberg, there will always been much more waiting underneath the surface."

Many of us work for years on our books. We might have two books or ten or twenty out in the world before we see any kind of momentum at all. The first time I heard Robyn Carr speak, she shared that she was a thirty year "overnight success."

That's a lot of patience and perseverance to nurture your talent and your stories for so long without accolades. That's a long time to spend waiting for others to share your vision. I hope you are able to embrace the joy of your process and believe in your vision, even as you wait for the world to catch up.

I see the writing life as a conundrum - one that nearly every creative person struggles with: Your masterpieces exist to give you the joy of creation and the peace of mind of their completion. Us creators, on the other hand, want the joy of sharing those creations with others and watching them enjoy it.

Writers in the Storm is here to support you as you navigate your creative journey, conundrums and all.

What "life rules" have you found you apply the most often to your writing life? Which of Simon's rules resonates with you? Do you have other video motivations we should watch? Please share them down in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

29 comments on “5 Life "Rules" That May Change Your Writing Future”

  1. Aw, Jenny, thanks for including that memory - I'd forgotten about it (didn't I marry a great guy?)

    My most important life rule I learned from my mother - not as a saying, but because she lived it.

    You may not make it if you work hard, but if you don't work hard, you have NO shot at making it.

    Simple to say, harder to do.

    Hugs friend - miss you.

    1. Ha! That was like my favorite Alpha Dog comment ever! The support and love, just from that simple paragraph blew me away at the time. He's such a reluctant marshmallow. 🙂

      I agree that hard work is where it's at. Certainly, if you don't enjoy hard work, writing is an impossible career.

      Miss you too!! XOXO

  2. Lots a gems and nuggets here. Thanks for sharing, Jenny.

    I've been thinking about my dad lately. Just published a digital newsletter about him (anyone can sign up at http://www.christopherlentz.org).

    One of the rules he showed me (not just told me) was "tend your garden."

    Literally, Dad loved working in the afternoon sun in the yard. He was a meat cutter (which makes me a real "son of a butcher"). He spent most of his adult life in a refrigerator, slaughtering animal corpses. Whoops, I should say more politely...he helped feed Americans delicious protein. Anyway, he had to thaw out, especially later in life when his circulation was becoming more challenged.

    Hands in the dirt and eyes on the flowers. That's one of the ways he defined happiness.

    And I do too.

    Applying that sentiment to writing, it means telling the very best story you can. It means taking the time to do some weeding and pruning and fertilizing and watering. Some things you just can't rush. I won't go on and on with gardening cliches, but you get the point.

    And, to all of you who are fathers or fathering, I'm sending you the respect, affection and thanks you deserve. Happy Father's Day!

    1. What lovely and simple therapy a garden must have been for your dad! I get so much joy out of my garden and it makes me laugh because I HATED working in the yard growing up. My mama loved it and would try to entice me outside and I wanted no part of it. But now? It's my total happy place.

      Both our gardening parents have moved on to heaven, but how nice is it that digging in the dirt brings them closer to us?

  3. I would get my hustle on to have Laura in my car. 🙂 And I totally agree with all of this--such a great post and I love you applied it to us writers!

    1. LOL...I'd get my hustle on to have you or Laura in my car! Nice to see you here, my friend. I think Simon Sinek has a lot of wisdom for writers. I took his Start With Why class (<$30 and worth it!) and was delighted to see so many creatives in there.

  4. This was invaluable. Thank you, Jenny. I can be proud that I'm doing a lot of this right, but I'm also falling short in some areas. That's where learning comes in. I've taken notes. I won't forget. In the meantime, I'll be revising all day—and be thankful that I'm able to do that. Thank you, again. 🙂

    1. We all fall a bit short, Christina! As Laura reminds me periodically: "No one gets it all." Perhaps you have the discipline or the time and lack the craft. Or you have the writing craft but no discipline or confidence. In my opinion, that's what writing friends are for - they remind us of our gifts and push us to take them further.

  5. Thank you for introducing me to Simon Sinek! I'm guilty of criticizing my writing to the point of paralysis sometimes. Working on that as I dive into the query process (thanks to Laura Drake). A big takeaway from this post is the advice to listen and speak last. Great point among many. Thanks for this post, Jenny.

    1. You are so very welcome, Barb! I think we all have that critical a-hole somewhere in our psyche who we long to shut up once and for all. Your Monday morning writing dates are something you do to shut that critic up. Just keep writing and submitting!

      Every word of every finished story is a step along the journey to writing confidence. You've got this!

  6. Wonderful post, Jenny! This is a valuable video with great lessons. Number three, taking care of each other, is the one that is most meaningful for me. My writer buddies are the best. I am grateful for them every day.

    I'm working hard on lesson two. I think realizing that it takes a construction crew to build a book is a good first step.

    1. Lesson 3 and his story about Navy seals really resonated with me too. I also think he is right that many of the people we know would love to help us and are simply waiting for us to ask. That one really stayed with me.

        1. Yes, I know...Ms. Fall-on-me-in-a-parking-garage-because-you-refuse-help. But I think the older you get the more you know that it truly makes people happy to lend a hand, and you are beginning to let them have that joy. Your Pollyanna pal (points at self) thinks you're growing into a bit more acceptance of help. Am I right?

  7. Hi Jenny,
    There are xamples of Sinek's taking care of one another lesson, even in the comments of your post. ?

    It is a long haul to hold our imaginary worlds in tact in out brains for years, but at least we can share this struggle with fellow writers.

    A simple 'what are you writing right now?' Is a useful question and I should ask it more often. When I do, it opens a space to talk about writing and it holds me accountable to my own writing goals.

    The suggestion about swapping chapters and volunteering for writing chapters is a reminder for me to follow up on my local group.

    This last year has been hard on writers groups and without our support and engagement, we could lose some of these valuable connections.

    Libraries, too, are opening up and can be a treasure trove of resources for writers.

    Sinek makes these points for all creatives, but I can definitely see how it applies to my writing life. Thanks for the thought provoking post, Jenny!

    1. Awwww, sweet Kris!! My local writing groups have given me so much in terms of knowledge and friendship. I wouldn't have traded my time with them for anything.

  8. I appreciated how he respected my time with that itinerary. Sometimes there's just too much advice. Trust your gut.

    1. Gabe - I completely understand busy! That's why I searched out that timeline. If someone only had time for one of the lessons, I wanted them to be able to get right to it. 🙂

  9. Great post, Jenny! Guilty of putting everyone else's needs ahead of myself and my writing. It's what Mom's do, right?
    My personal life rule that has helped me the most is: The answer might be no, but if you never even try, then answer is definitely no.
    I've applied this to so many facets of my life now, from showing up as a fledgling writer at my first Writer's Digest conference in Cali years ago (where I met @JohnPeragine and landed in the best writer's support group I could think of), to submitting my first WIP to agents and PitchWars, to signing up again for Ironman Arizona. Well, ok, that last one may be over the top, but point made.

    If I never try, the answer will always be no.

    Thanks for the link to the video. A motivational speaker I regularly listen to is Matt Dixon at Purple Patch Podcast. Yes, it is sports related, but he really teaches people about life: sport ( read: writing) balance, mental health, and critical habits for success that translate across many genres of work/people.

    1. That motivation is so awesome, Miffie! Thank you for sharing. And also for Matt Dixon - I love listening to podcasts when I drive. I'm so proud of you with all these goals you're knocking down!

  10. Great essay, Jenny! those are all good rules. The only one from the list of ways to sabotage yourself that I haven't been guilty of is: "quit learning." I can honestly say that I am always learning, whether it's magazines, conventions (moment of silence for the poor Left Coast Crime San Diego -- killed by COVID), other writers, or this blog. But I'll work on avoiding the other. Thanks!

  11. Thank you so much for this article. Exactly what I needed to hear at this time. I struggle with rejection, which is not good when you are sending manuscripts far and wide. Two pieces of sage advice I use, not always to good affect are from my Mum and my son. My mother was a successful public servant in a newly independent African government, and she would always say: Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today. No matter how small the task, do it. Then you can relax and smell the roses.
    My son is far more practical. "Grow a skin, Mum". He's an actor who knows how hard it is to sell yourself every day, and only occasionally find a taker.
    I'm getting better at taking this advice, and adding that to Simon's tips, I am sure one day....

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