The Secret to Writing Success

Part of my recovery was joining a “mastermind” group inspired by the seminal Think and Grow Rich self-help book. That was  25 years ago after I first got sober — and have stayed sober ever since. My AA sponsor was into Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins and the like, so he suggested we work on career goals that coincided with our efforts to rebuild our lives. Anyone can stop drinking or doing drugs for awhile, but you still have to pay bills and make money while you’re clearing the inevitable wreckage that comes with addiction.

Given a second chance at the life I wanted, I told the group my goal was to be a professional writer. Since I had been a reporter and done some ad copywriting before I went to rehab, it wasn’t much of a stretch. But I was aiming higher — I said I was going to write a screenplay about my 28-days in an addiction treatment center, and maybe a book about it too. They applauded and in the ensuing months, at our weekly meetings they encouraged me to keep writing. Eventually I completed my first feature script, and met with a Hawaii Film Office contact who had worked on TV shows like Hill Street Blues. He had me send pitches to one of his Hollywood producer friends, but nothing came of that nor my rehab-inspired dark comedy. Yet, to me it was proof that positive thinking and working towards written goals could make things happen. I’ve kept to many of those same principles, year after year, plugging away at both new and old goals, with varying results.

However, when it comes to self-help gurus and their pitches for books or seminars that will reveal the secrets to success, I remain highly skeptical because I don’t think there’s much anyone can add to the basic advice offered by people like Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale or Zig Ziglar. Which boils down to one main concept: We become what we think about. Of course, that hasn’t stopped latter day self-help “experts” like Rhonda Byrne from cashing in by repackaging old ideas in The Secret  (remember that book phenomenon? Even Oprah bought into it!) or guys like the one I just met in Honolulu recently, who offered a free seminar on “Becoming a Best-Selling Author.”

Hawaii attracts dreamers and schemers by the drove — people who see these islands as an earthly paradise where fantasies come true. Naturally, there’s a lot of older hippie types, artists, New Age entrepreneurs, yoga instructors and life coaches, all selling something to one another. And many of them do have interesting life stories to tell — which is probably why they showed up at the same seminar I went to. To be honest, I went with the intention to sell this self-help guru on buying time on my Career Changers TV show to promote his seminars and services, provided it was all legit.

What followed was an entertaining and inspiring hour of anecdotes about how he went from being an unemployed software engineer to a highly-paid motivational speaker — $10,000 to $20,000 per engagement, he claims — after figuring out the secret to marketing yourself: self-publish a book, then spend the next few years promoting just that one book and making deals to reach the number needed to call it a best-seller. As a marketing tool, his approach actually makes sense for people who want a career on the speakers circuit, or who want to present themselves as an authority on a particular topic. In other words, the dreamers and schemers who feel compelled to share their stories of spiritual/professional/personal self-discovery. People in Hawaii are always discovering new things about themselves!

But he also offered practical advice on how to do it, which I jotted down because it was a good refresher course on Self-Help 101. First, commit to do at least one thing each day toward achieving your main goal. He suggests 90 minutes per day. But he feels the one-a-day approach will require about ten years for the big pay-off, so if you do two or three goal-oriented things each day, you can cut that time in half or better. That’s pretty doable if you have your own business (as many of those in attendance did) or don’t have to, you know, work for a living (and there’s many affluent transplants here who live off their investments). Oh, and btw, for just $2,995 — today only! — he will personally guide you through the process of self-publishing your book.

Then he broke down the costs of producing and printing enough copies to sell or give away, and showed how easy it was to cover the cost of his services and publishing within a couple of years. All you need to do is get someone else to pay you a grand here, a grand there to speak to their group and tell the story behind your book. It’s that simple. The thing is, he’s right. You can write and self-publish a book that will pay for itself, if that’s what you’re content with. Most writers want more than that though, and the self-promotion part is hard for introverts like myself.

On the plus side, he reminded me that I need to stick to that one-thing-a-day goal setting approach. In the weeks following that seminar, I finished a draft of a script, restarted work on a book project, picked up new sponsors for my local TV show, read a couple of books on my “to do” list… all by just tackling each project one page, one call, one email  each day. There have been times when I felt too tired or uninspired to do anything… then I looked at the guy’s flyer and said, screw it — I’m not gonna pay him $3K to teach me something I already know! And you know all this too.

The funny thing is when I pitched him a spot on my show as a sponsor for his upcoming “Best-Seller” publishing conference, he said he couldn’t afford the $2,000 I quoted him. Hey, if he just got ONE client off his own televised sales spiel, he’d make a profit, right? Guess he just didn’t have that much self-confidence, after all.

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