The events of this year have impacted everyone. There is an eerie, end-of-times vibe to it. One thing is certain — we won’t be going back to where we were before Covid-19. Maybe this is how it felt in 1969, the year Vietnam-war protests, Woodstock, Charles Manson, and moon-landings all converged. We remember the extraordinary events that define years, but I often wonder how ordinary people felt as they went about their daily lives.
At the beginning of this year, I was in an unfamiliar space. Like many, I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. The part that was unusual for me was that I had time to think about what I wanted. I needed to earn money but didn’t have a job or even an offer on the table. I was stuck in a kind of limbo: full of motivation but nothing to direct it at. I read books, paid for courses, and for the first time in forever, I took stock. I worked out a plan to become a digital publisher, and over the next three months, I actually achieved my goal.
The highs and lows of entrepreneurial life
My career has been a mix of chance and some prods from necessity. I was lucky to get into tech startups when the Internet started to boom again in the early 2000s. Over 10 years, I helped create more than a dozen tech companies as a founder in a Hong Kong holding company.
Being prolific did lead to some wins. Several of the companies we built were sold, which was exhilarating even though the windfalls were modest. It also came with its share of failures: companies that couldn’t break even and one which went bust, prompting me to seek shelter in a paid salary role for a few years.
When I do something, I am “all in” to a fault. In those startup days, I would yell at myself on my way to work, like John McEnroe, motivating himself to greater heights. I felt like every day was game-changing. After two decades of being perennially busy, though, I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. There is so much talk online about motivation and productivity when what I actually needed was a plan.
A writer can always find naysayers
After reading many books, taking some courses, and a few missteps, I realized that writing was what I wanted to do more than anything. I have always wanted to write but had never done much about it. I took the fact I didn’t write to be some heavenly sign that it wasn’t meant to be. There were plenty of earthly pointers as well. Anyone I spoke to about becoming a writer always seemed to have a negative answer handy. The world still doesn’t see writing as a way to make money.
With my new-found time to reflect, I realized that none of the acquaintances I had asked before knew anything about writing. I discovered Medium with its smorgasbord of motivating stories about writers. I thought about what mattered to me, and I pieced together a plan to write as my full-time occupation.
What can you really do in 14 weeks?
The path to becoming a writer seems a lot like a maze. There are so many different steps you can take, with no signs showing what order to take them in. What should you write about? Where should you publish? Do you need followers first? I couldn’t find comprehensive answers, but this is how I dived into it.
I started with a theme for my writing because I don’t think adding my musings to the web will really help anyone. Evan Carmichael’s book, Your One Word, made me think about why I had gravitated towards tech startups. I am fascinated by the differences between working for yourself and working for someone else. I decided to focus my writing on how online business can make you independent; my one word.
I posted my first ever piece of writing on Medium on June 29 about how door-to-door sales had given me the skills to make a million dollars. It was a bit long and cumbersome, but the process of writing was exciting. Only receiving four claps after spending hours writing was exactly the feedback I needed. As much as my writing needed to improve, I saw first-hand how hard it is to stand out amongst so much competition.
Undeterred, I began writing my first book because I thought that format was better suited to my idea than a series of blog pieces. I spent almost 2 months editing and writing Independent Wealth: How to Start an Online Business in 5 Steps. I got up at 5 am to find quiet time, and some days I spent all day writing or editing. I could have continued for another two months, but I decided that the book wouldn’t be any better for it even if I did.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
I really had no idea how to upload a book to Amazon or how to promote it. The next 2 weeks were a veritable baptism of fire as I learned about pricing, promotion newsletters, Amazon advertising, and, most of all, the algorithms that power the bookstore. The book has fared better than I expected, reaching a sales rank of 26,676 out of seven or eight million Amazon eBooks.
During the 14 week process, I saw many references to an “author platform.” Essentially this means followers. I did create a blog, TheIndependentYou.com, and social media pages, but I had very few followers when I published. I was really learning as I went along, and I struggled to get reviews for the book early on. I am also working on an email list to grow an audience in addition to the blog and social media.
The knee bone's connected to the thighbone
Between June 29 and October 3, I wrote around fifty thousand words, edited out about half of them, published and promoted a book on Amazon, created a blog and social media pages. I have started work on two more books: one of my own and one I will write for a business client, my first publishing deal.
My publishing empire is tiny, but it is now my main source of income. It is what I will be doing full-time in 2021. It’s a radical transition from where I was a few months ago.
When I think about why and how I could make that kind of life change, I attribute a large part of it to having a plan. I found out that I can’t write when I don’t have an end goal in mind. For me, writing isn’t a stream of consciousness; it’s a story with a purpose. One building block has to connect to another.
- Choosing a theme for my writing was key — my “one word” gives me direction.
- Writing and publishing a book allowed me to compress a great deal of learning into a short space of time.
- The book demonstrates my ideas and ability to execute more powerfully than the same content volume on a blog.
I understand the feeling of not knowing where to start with writing. I had that feeling for most of my adult life. Having time to think in this most unusual year was a catalyst for me, but I realize now I could have created a similar three-month window at almost any other time of my life too. I always thought the reason I didn’t do it was a lack of motivation or productivity, but once I set a plan, I found I lacked neither.
It’s normal to feel like you can’t do something or even that you won’t, even if you know-how. Everything points to it — all of the evidence is that you won’t because you haven’t. There is no shortage of people to tell you something can’t be done.
Ignore the negativity. If you have the chance, create a plan, don’t look around, put your head down, and follow through on it for three months. I am sure you will surprise yourself with what can be done.