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5 lessons learned from 5 years as a full-time writer and author entrepreneur

Five years ago in June 2011, I gave up my job as a website editor at a national sales company to become a full-time professional writer and author entrepreneur.

This is the part where I should pop out the old chestnut that most small businesses in the US fail within the first five years.

But I’m still here.

I’m a full-time, self-employed author and professional writer. I write and publish both my own books, as well as articles for a range of print and online publications. I also structure my business and schedule so that I don’t work all the time, but am actively involved every day with my wife and our two small children. I work on our house. I cook (quite a bit, actually). I’m present in life, family, and work—and five years on, I’m still going strong and wake up each morning excited for a new day.

I know that you may be pondering your own journeys. Maybe there’s one you’re on, maybe there’s one you’re yearning to start. So I wanted to take a little time today to talk about 5 lessons my journey has taught me so far.

  1. Get started. Don’t quit.
  2. Big projects are actually lots of little projects added up.
  3. There is no muse. There is only process.
  4. Understand your options, make confident decisions, and follow through.
  5. Fear shows you crossroads, but love should pick the path.

1. Get started. Don’t quit.

When I started my old job in 2004, I was thinking that I could have the best of both worlds: a steady, decent income, and time on the side to write. You know what I didn’t do for seven years?

I didn’t write on the side. I put other things ahead of my writing. Writing kept being something I wanted to do instead of something I was doing. Finally, my wife and I realized that I needed to put up or shut up. I either had to write and publish stories, or I had to let it go and move on.

I chose to commit. Once I got started, I made one other important choice: I wouldn’t quit. I would keep making small steps and big steps, small decisions and big decisions, that kept moving me along where I wanted to go.

The key to a journey is to not only to start, but to keep going. There are difficulties, setbacks, and challenges. But if you keep at it, you will find little successes that keep adding up to bigger wins and better opportunities.

For me, I needed to take the big leap. I chose to go full time, but that’s not required. The important part is the commitment. Maybe it means writing a little every day, or finally sending in that manuscript, or refining your process (more on that in a bit). No matter what, it’s time to make a promise to your craft and stick with it.

2. Big projects are actually lots of little projects added up.

Whether it’s a 1,000-word article or a 100,000-word novel, a project can seem like a giant, impassable, impenetrable monolith. You stare at the bloody thing, but there’s no way through it, no way up it, and no way around it.

Until you look closely.

All writing projects are the sum of lots of little projects added up to the complete whole. Just as the human body is actually a mass of trillions of cells working together, any writing project is letters and ideas, words and paragraphs that add up to something bigger than their component parts, but which could not exist without those smaller parts working in concert.

All my writing projects get broken down into smaller steps. For an article, that’s usually first the research, second the interview, third outlining the piece, fourth writing a rough draft, and fifth revising to final draft and filing the story with my editor.

A novel is on a different scale, but the same principle holds true. Break down the novel into different smaller parts—preferably tied to some sense of word count, to give you some sort of concrete number to aim for. If you say you are going to sit down and write a book… you will wind up putting your head through the desk. But if you sit down with a goal of writing a book with 50 scenes of 1,500–2,500 words per scene (which adds us to a 75,000–125,000-word rough draft, by the way, not chump change by any means)? That is doable. You can wrap your head around that.

At least, with four books published over the last 5 years, that’s working out pretty well for me so far.

3. There is no muse. There is only process.

Anyone who asks me about writing doesn’t hear about the muse. They don’t hear about flashy spells of inspiration where I write furiously for days on end, followed by dry spells where I write nothing because, man, the muse just isn’t there, man.

Dude. I’m a parent. I’m running a business. The muse doesn’t change diapers, wash dishes, sit down at the keyboard, or meet deadlines. I do. Muses are mooches. They don’t earn their keep. I don’t write for a weekend and then do nothing for six months. I write at least a thousand words a day, six days a week. Editors like working with me not because I meet deadlines, but because I often file before deadlines.

So when people ask me about writing, they hear about process. Process is key to writing, and process is key to working toward and realizing your writing goals.

Process is how you get it done.

You’ll note that I have yet to mention my super-secret, one-size-fits-all magic pill silver bullet that cracks the code on all your writing dreams.

That’s because there isn’t any. If you want to believe there is, no offense, burn your notebooks and go do something else. You won’t be a writer. You’ll just be chasing crap that you’ve confused for gold. That search will have no end, because you’re seeking something that doesn’t exist.

There is no muse. There is only process. Every successful writer, trad or indie published, has worked out a process that works for them. So has anyone who completes projects in any field, from the arts to sales, manufacturing to real estate.

No process, no success. Know process, know success.

You’ll also note that I’m not telling you my process.

That’s because it won’t work for you. Just like your process won’t work for me.

No one’s process is a template that you can just plug in to your brain. Here’s the only thing that works: You have to figure it out for yourself.

How do you learn your process? By good ole trial and error. You can research, read articles, take courses, talk to people, yes, those are all good things that will inform your process. But ultimately you must apply that learning to your own writing, and you can’t let learning become an excuse that stops you writing. You will never know enough. You will only know enough to get you started—and if you want to finish, first you have to start.

But here’s the thing: you’re not taming tigers. Nothing is going to eat you because you wrote a crappy story. If you write that crappy story though, and figure out why it was crappy, then you can learn from it and do a better job on the next one.

The more you work at it, the more you will refine your process. It took my first two books to teach me my process. Four books in, I now have a solid idea of what works for me to get my writing done and to have a story that damn well sings on the page.

But as I start outlining my fifth book, I will still be refining my process. I will be on my fiftieth book too.

Start figuring out your process, and it will be like a treasure map to your goals. Follow your process, and you will get to where you want to go. You don’t need a muse. You just need your process. But hey, if it helps, call process a muse. Process won’t care, and you’ll get more done.

4. Understand your options, make confident decisions, and follow through.

This is the hardest thing to do… except for #5. But we’ll get to that.

Anyone who wants to make a big life change often hits what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance. This is not the Resistance of the kickass song by the band Muse. It’s not a group of revolutionaries. Resistance is the scared part of you that wants to preserve your current state of being at all costs, out of terrified concern that any change will destroy you.

Resistance, though, can be repurposed. That fear can become the energy that drives you. The key to making it as a writer, or pretty much anything, is very simple. It’s not easy. But it is simple:

Understand your options.

Make confident decisions.

Follow through.

Understanding your options means educating yourself. For example, do you want to publish through a traditional publisher, or do you set up your own publishing operation? Each option has positives and negatives. One option may be perfect for one project, but not the next. Learn about the options and how they apply to your situation, your dreams, your project. Know what you’re getting into, what the pitfalls are, what you give and gain.

Then decide. Indecision is the enemy of completion. Anyone who does anything has to make choices. Those choices will likely be flawed. You likely will be plagued by doubt. You still must choose.

And you must follow through. Following through means sticking to what you chose. But it also means learning. If you made a mistake, following through also means changing course, making amends, or using the mistake to springboard to a better decision.

My son is sometimes terrified of making mistakes. He’s a lot like me in that regard. And I tell him the same thing I keep telling myself: mistakes are opportunities to learn, but in order to learn, we first must choose, do, and keep at it.

Understand your options. Make confident decisions. Follow through.

5. Fear shows you crossroads, but love should pick the path.

We all know what it is to be afraid. I’ve been afraid many times, and I’ll be afraid many times more. And I’ll tell you a secret: I’m not afraid right now… I’m terrified.

Whenever I have felt trapped, or when I have felt overwhelmed, or when I have felt like I can’t make a decision, it has always been because I am at a crossroads. Fear usually shows me these crossroads—it’s very good at sniffing them out.

Over my five years so far as a full-time author and professional writer, I’ve been afraid lots of times. And like I said, I’m terrified right now. I’m working hard on improving my marketing. Talking more. Being more personal and open. I’m a very private, closed, quiet, prefer-to-listen-instead-of-talk kind of person. Being more open online scares the hell out of me.

But I’m doing it anyway.

Because here’s the thing: I have to. The next phase of my business’s growth depends on my being willing to improve how I do outreach and awareness for me and my work. My fear of this has shown me that I’m at a crossroads.

I can keep being afraid, and I’ll eke on, doing okay, but not really breaking out.

Or I can work past the fear, and skyrocket.

So here’s what I’m trying to do: Thank the fear for being there, for showing me this choice.

Then I will tell it to step back. That I’m in charge, and that we’ve got things to do. Because I love what I do, and because I can do better, if I am more open and trusting, then my business will grow. I will write more stories. I will sell more books. I will get where I want to go.

In every decision that has been worthwhile in my life so far, love has led the way. In every decision where I wish I’d made a better choice, fear did the choosing.

So now, even though I’m terrified, even though I have screenfright like some people have stagefright, I’m working through the fear and working on the fear. Yes, I’m at a crossroads.

Fear showed me the choice.

But love will do the choosing.

I know my choice. So I’m committing.

So I can keep going for another five years and beyond.

These past five years have been an amazing ride. I’ve written dozens of articles. Published four books. All while bringing two kids into the world. Thank you for being part of this journey. I can’t do this without your support. You’re part of the love that guides me. You’re part of why I do this.

I hope these lessons from my experience are helpful to whatever journey you’re on or wanting to take.

I can’t wait to see where you are in five years.

Let’s get to it.




Jack St. Clair, Inc. (JSI)

This is a recent copywriting and website project I did for my dad’s company, and it’s the newest part of my online portfolio.

JSI 2015

When your business is built on 60 years of excellence, you have that same expectation for your website.

Terry St. Clair, the owner of Jack St. Clair, Inc. (JSI), is also my dad. I grew up around dump trucks and excavators, long deep ditches and the smells of diesel and dirt. When it came time to update the JSI website, I dug into code and copy to give my dad’s business the online presence it deserves.

The JSI site was in need of new content and a new look. I put together fresh copy, current and historical photos, client testimonials, and extensive details on the company’s services for a website with a clear message, powered by a new, responsive template. Now the website clearly communicates to prospects why JSI is the right company for the job.

Website: jackstclairinc.com

Project Dates: 2014–2015

Client Comments

“We had put up a basic website years ago, but it was outdated, needed a redesign, and didn’t have enough content. Anthony provided fresh content and a new template that looks good even on today’s smartphones and tablets. He also worked with us to make sure technical details about the business were correct, while also getting to the heart and history of who we are. I’m so happy with the site, and am glad we have such a stronger online presence now.”
— Kelly Proffit, Vice President




Eugene’s Silicon Shire: The tech (and beer) are better here

Yes, Virginia, there are tech jobs in Eugene. Learn more about the Silicon Shire at http://siliconshire.org »

Yes, Virginia, there are tech jobs in Eugene. Learn more about the Silicon Shire at siliconshire.org »

It’s a common lament that there are no jobs in Eugene, especially no tech jobs. Many people think they have to go to Seattle, Portland or San Francisco to find a job in the tech sector.

And you know what? They’re wrong.

“I’ll take the Silicon Shire over the Silicon Valley”

Eugene got tired of this naysaying, especially Cale Bruckner, Vice President of Technology for Concentric Sky, a Eugene company. He came up with the Silicon Shire concept on the way back from a business meeting in San Francisco.

“I was looking out the window as we came into the valley on our approach to the Eugene Airport, and thought to myself—I’ll take the Silicon Shire over the Silicon Valley any day of the week,” Bruckner said. “The green trees, the river, and the natural beauty reminded me of the Shire described in the J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.”

After that, Concentric Sky cooked up the Silicon Shire website to show all the opportunities in Eugene for jobs and careers in the IT sector.

  • Hardware Development Company
  • Software Development Company
  • Gaming Company
  • BioTech Company
  • Tech Services Company
  • Digital Creative Company
  • Micro-Brewery

While the company and job listings are great, it’s just as vital to see that Eugene is also tops for craft beer opportunities too. After all, where would innovation be without a healthy dose of IBUs?

“Even graduates often leave without knowing there are opportunities in the area.”

“The Eugene-Springfield area supports a great technology community,” Bruckner said. “There are a lot of really successful technology businesses here. The community, and constant stream of talent from University of Oregon and Oregon State University, make this a great place for technology businesses. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people that know that. Even graduates often leave without knowing there are opportunities in the area. As a community, we need to let the world know we’re here. I felt like putting a catchy name on the area would be the place to start,” Bruckner said.

You can also check the site specifically for companies currently hiring—a list that’s growing all the time.

Learn more about the Eugene Silicon Shire, events/mixers and more

Go to the Silicon Shire »




October Newsletter: Craft Beer Cookbook, Social Media Tool, Urban Fantasy Novella & More

Anthony St. Clair Newsletter, October 2013

Travel Fiction, Craft Beer & Copywriting

All this info and more is available in the Anthony St. Clair October 2013 Newsletter »




2 Pluses of Google+

Google+

Google’s own powerful social network deserves more social media attention from you and your organization.

In August I attended the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. My goal this year was to continue evolving my marketing chops, especially when it came to the not-really-new, ever-more-important, still-not-really-understood Google+.

Boy howdy did I come away with some knowledge.

Google+ is powerful, growing and engaging. Plus, you know, it’s Google. Here are 2 reasons to give Google+ higher priority in your marketing:

  1. When people say they want your content, you don’t have to pay for them to actually see your content (unlike a certain social network whose name rhymes with “took”)
  2. The quality of features and conversations is like bringing in the best attributes of Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc., all within the sphere of Google, the most important search company on the planet for your organization.

No matter how shallow or deep you want to dig in to Google+, I recommend this excellent guide from Martin Shervington. Videos and blog posts guide you step by step through every facet of this powerful social network:

What is Google Plus? A Complete User Guide »

BTW, you can follow me on Google Plus at +Anthony St. Clair




September Newsletter: Travel Fiction Novel, Espresso Stout, Google+ and More

September 2013 Anthony St. Clair Newsletter

September 2013 Anthony St. Clair Newsletter

Travel Fiction, Craft Beer & Social Media

All this info and more is available in the Anthony St. Clair September 2013 Newsletter »




Eugene Suzuki Music Academy

Eugene Suzuki Music Academy (ESMA)

With a new design for 2015, the ESMA website is this music studio’s primary way of reaching and acquiring new customers.

 

When families sign up their children for music lessons, they aren’t just signing up their children for music lessons. They’re demonstrating their trust in the teacher. They’re saying that they’ve found a good match of personality and temperament that won’t just make for better music-playing, but that can help their children be better people.

Eugene-Suzuki-Music-Academy

The ESMA website’s original design. In April 2015 it was replaced by a new, responsive design with a fresher, brighter template that works across all devices and displays.

As co-owner of the Eugene Suzuki Music Academy (ESMA), I help director (and my wife) Jodie St. Clair market our Suzuki music lessons and early childhood classes to the people seeking the kind of environment and instruction ESMA offers. By maintaining the studio’s website, developing email campaigns, posting to Twitter and Facebook, and constantly evolving our marketing strategy, ESMA has been able to expand staff, add classes and operate a full music instruction studio.

ESMA continues to look at how it will build on its successes. And I’ll be there to make sure the studio’s website content and online marketing continue to evolve to meet the needs of the studio and its students.

Website: eugenesuzukimusic.com

Project Dates: 2009-Present




Mid-Valley Chapter, Willamette Writers

Mid-Valley-Willamette-WritersAs Oregon’s largest organization for writers and authors, Willamette Writers maintains local chapters throughout the state. In 2011 I joined the Eugene-based Mid-Valley Chapter, where I started a WordPress-based chapter website and eventually took over management of the chapter from a long-time chair who had decided to step down. I served as co-chair until September 2014.

As co-chair of Oregon’s second-largest Willamette Writers chapter (after Portland), I managed the chapter finances, posted content to our website and engaged with area writers via Twitter. Once a month I also worked with my fellow co-chair to run monthly member meetings where a presenter leads a discussion on a current topic related to writing, editing, marketing or publishing. We used our website to engage new and current members by sharing news about upcoming meetings, member announcements and area literary events.

The Mid-Valley Chapter continues to grow and gain new members, in part because of our active website and Twitter presence. Many members tell us that they heard about the chapter online, and the website is a way to keep members engaged with the Willamette Writers community throughout the year.

Website: willamettewriters.com/mid-valley

Project Dates: 2011-2014

Client Comments

“When former chair JoJo Jensen asked for help to set up a simple WordPress wesite for our Mid-Valley Chapter, Anthony stepped up and made it happen. As they worked together, JoJo also decided he was a good choice to be her successor when she stepped down in 2011. Anthony expertly helms the chapter as Co-Chair in an efficient, professional manner. In his capacity as a Board Member, he wears many hats—from managing the bookkeeping and finances to regularly adding quality content to the chapter website and maintaining a visible Twitter profile. He is always on hand for an encouraging word and valuable advice as members work toward their writing and publishing goals. I’m thrilled to have him on the team. It makes my job easier knowing that our chapter is in his good hands.”
— Val Mallinson, Board President, Willamette Writers




First Responder Grants

First-Responder-GrantsWhen your time is dedicated to working remotely and on-site with clients all over the United States, how do you keep your website current? How do you stay in touch with customers and prospects?

Those were the questions First Responder Grants was trying to answer. We examined their services and products, and discussed where they are now and where they want to go with their national public safety grants consulting firm. From there, I revised content for their main services and classes, developed an evolving email strategy and launched social media presences on Twitter and Facebook.

The firm continues to move their initiatives forward, and they have seen growth in classes and services customers nationwide.

Website: firstrespondergrants.com

Project Dates: 2011-2013

Client Comments

“Anthony has performed miracles for us. Since we started working with Anthony, our website copy, marketing collateral, articles, emails and other materials have taken on a professional look that is gaining us the attention we have been seeking in the market. New customers and long-term clients have all been working with us more.”
— Margaret Stark, First Responder Grants

“Anthony is a consummate professional and one of the best web editors I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He was almost totally responsible for taking our requests and fashioning them into web material for our website, which has been rated as the #1 website for public safety grant information in the U.S.

“Anthony was quickly able to grasp our concept and brought an intimate undrstanding of our specific target audience and could hit the bullseye everytime, in putting forth the information we needed to give our clients in a concise and informative format, which was easily understood by the client base.”

— Kurt Bradley, Senior Grant Consultant, First Responder Grants




Oh So Graphic

Oh-So-GraphicWhen promoting graphic design services, a graphic designer’s work can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, those compelling visuals are what you want to appeal to the client. On the other hand, you also don’t want the client to base their decision solely on work you did for someone else.

When working with Oh So Graphic’s Janelle Frazier on the copy for her new website, we focused on bringing across her working style and personality, combined with select details about her projects. By combining designs with context, prospective clients gained not only a sense of design style, but an understanding of what it would be like to work with Janelle.

The end result? Told with the right mix of visuals and content, Janelle’s website paints a bigger, sharper, more compelling picture that brings in new customers.

Website: www.ohsographic.com

Project Dates: 2012

Client Comments

“I just had my first potential new client email me, clearly after reading my new contact page. She wrote out nice details about the project and even included a bit about why she’d be the perfect client. I was so happy to have detailed information right there in the first email… it really got us off on the right foot, right away. Nice! I feel like this is just a hint of how my new text is going to make things better for my overall workflow.”
— Janelle Frazier, Oh So Graphic




Hi.

Anthony St. Clair - Travel Fantasy Author / Craft Beer Writer / Business Copywriter

Author and copywriter Anthony St. Clair has specialized in online content since 2000, blogged since 2004 and is the author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series.

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