These days you’re dead in the water if you’re just a writer.
This is especially true with self-published writers who have to run the whole show: promoting, marketing, designing, business-ing.
There’s a popular saying that goes: ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’
But now the best way to get ahead is to be the master of one and proficient in many more.
You also get the added bonus of having a much more interesting life.
Don’t get me wrong. I love writing. If I was stuck on a desert island and had to do only one thing for the rest of my life, I would choose writing. But I wouldn’t be happy about it.
There’s a big old glorious world beyond the pen and paper/word processor/chalk and sidewalk and I wanna experience it all.
So if you’re thinking about becoming, you know, a proper human being, here are…
10 Ways You Can Be More Than Just A Writer
Some of these suggestions will directly feed into your writing endeavours.
Some of them will do so indirectly by making you a bit more sane.
All of them are sure to massively improve your life by roughly 321% (That figure is a rough estimate based on zero science).
1. Learn a completely different skill
Maybe the right-brain/left-brain dominance thing has been debunked. But writing uses a distinctly different set of skills from that of maths or science.
Whenever I indulge in something more logic-based, I feel my brain whirring into life. I feel challenged.
That might be because when we’re writing we are on autopilot most of the time. In contrast, logical stuff takes more conscious effort. Either way, it gets your brain working in a different way and that’s always a good thing (unless you use your powers for evil).
Two things I like to do to engage the left-hemisphere:
- Coding/programming: I recently signed up to this Udemy course that teaches you how to code by creating games. I’m a complete coding newbie and always thought coding was just not for me. But now I’m smashing through those negative self-imposed limitations, damn it! And I’m having a blast.
- Chess: Buying a board and playing with a real, living human being is your best option. Even if they’re 5-years-old and still call the knight a ‘horsey’ (and move it like a pawn). But if you’re a complete misanthropic dog and like to taunt people from behind a computer screen (like me), sign up to chess.com and you can play people from all over the world.
Spending a little time coding or playing chess every other day really makes writing more invigorating. Kind of like when you return home from a brief trip away or after you’ve spent some time on the golf course/playing tennis/mucking about with the wing suit.
2. Learn graphic design
I needed an ebook cover the other day. But I wanted it super fast and didn’t wanna wait for a professional.
‘If only I had some ninja Photoshop skills,’ I thought. ‘I could bang this cover out in 20 minutes.’
In the past, I’ve used many professional designers for covers and have particularly liked these two:
But I really wished I could have the ability to make the cover myself.
I actually did discover a way to make an ebook cover super fast for only $5. I used this site:
I was really happy with the result but I still couldn’t help but think this is a skill I should have (even if I do choose to go with professionals).
Having an in-demand skill like design means you can…
- Hustle up some extra cash when times get tight
- Help friends with basic design (if they are nice to you first)
- Communicate with professional designers more effectively (you could make a mock-up)
- Make funny photoshopped pictures where you take your loved ones and put them in weird situations
If you don’t know where to start, you could always take this free Udemy course that introduces you to the art of graphic design.
3. Learn marketing
A ton of writers are horrible marketers.
Then there are a bunch of so-so writers who are AWESOME marketers (you know the ones).
Which ones are living it up in billion dollar mansions and eating caviar off their wife’s ass?
And which ones are floundering in poverty complaining about how ‘no one respects great art’?
Exactly, man. Learn marketing.
Copywriting is different from other writing. Copywriting is psychology.
There are many fine writers who can pen eloquent character studies filled with gem-like turns of phrase but they would have no hope in hell when it comes to actually selling that writing using words…. the supposed tools of their trade!
Books that will help you start learning copywriting:
Read those first before you ask for more (you greedy monster).
There’s a cool idea over on The Fastlane Forum.
A bunch of entrepreneurs are doing a 30-day Gary Halbert Challenge.
They are basically writing a bunch of famous ads by hand. I haven’t done the challenge myself but it sounds like it could work. And by ‘work’ I mean ‘make you start thinking in copy-speak’.
4. Public speaking
Being able to effectively speak in public will improve basically every area of your life.
Imagine if you were a writer that could also stand up in front of a stadium of 1,000 people and command their attention.
What would the possibilities look like for your writing career?
- You could narrate your own audiobooks
- You could start a YouTube channel where you narrate poems and other bits of writing in order to market your work
- You could appear on podcasts with other writers and discuss all things literary without fear
A couple of years ago I found this YouTube channel by Tom O’Bedlam called Spoken Verse.
His voice is fantastic. I began to think, ‘DAMN! With a voice like that, I could narrate my own work and leave the reader dripping in literary goo.’ (Apologies for the weird, vaguely sexual image.)
Also, have you ever listened to Stephen Fry narrate the Harry Potter books?
Jesus, that man has a voice like warm, luxurious velvet.
I’ll probably never sound that wonderful but if I could attain just a fraction of what Mr. Fry’s got going on with his voice, I’m sure I could shift a few extra audiobooks.
I bought this awesome microphone for the purposes of doing my own podcasts/YouTube stuff years ago.
But… because I spent those years being JUST A WRITER, I haven’t actually gotten around to using it.
Luckily my girlfriend has got a lot of mileage out of the mic. She uses it for her own YouTube channel and podcast and has also managed to improve her vocals by recording and listening over the years.
Anyways, if I wanted to get good at public speaking, I’d probably sign up for Toastmasters. One of the best public speakers I ever met recommended it to me and said you see progress super quick.
5. Take on a sport/ work out/ do something kinaesthetic
Writers are cool.
But ripped writers are ROCKSTARS.
(Except rockstars actually are cooler.)
Personally, I wouldn’t be able to write if I didn’t work out.
Running, lifting weights, and swinging the hula around my hips forces blood to my brain. And seeing as my brain ain’t that big, it needs all the blood it can get.
My best writing sessions are right after I’ve sweated my sins out in the gym.
PLUS – If you don’t work out AND you insist on doing this crazy writing business, you’re gonna have a spine like a question mark from sitting on your lazy, artistic ass all day.
Get your body swinging a baseball bat, kicking a football, or throwing another body over your shoulder.
If you really want some inspiration for your writing, try taking an unconventional sport.
Here are some that take my interest:
- Hurling – cos I’m Irish (my ginger pubis confirms it)
- MMA – get in a cage and stand on someone’s head. What could be more fun?
- Base Jumping – cos I wanna see what it’s like to crap my pants while hurtling 120mph towards the ground
It doesn’t have to be a sport either.
DANCING is a wonderful skill and a great way to let off steam/signal your fertility at the local watering hole.
Personally, I’d choose one these three types of dance:
- Capoeira (does that count?)
Other physical stuff you could do:
- Mountain biking
- Shoot guns (so fun and definitely ‘physical’)
6. Learn a language
Japanese is my current linguistic love affair.
The biggest thing you gain from learning another language (aside from being able to communicate with the speakers) is a new way of thinking.
There are common English concepts that we have words for that simply don’t exist in Japanese.
Likewise, you’ll find yourself expressing thoughts and emotions you never express in English when you speak Japanese.
Learning another language gives you access to a new way of seeing the world, a vital tool for writers.
Also, imagine all the great works of literature you could read in their true form if you spoke the writer’s native language.
- Learn French and you have access to Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Proust, and Molière.
- Learn Russian and you have access to Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, and Gogol.
- Learn German and you have access to Nietzsche, Goethe, Hesse, Mann, and Schiller.
Learning a language gives you new models of thinking that will positively influence your writing.
- See how Tolkien used his language skills.
- See how Burgess used his language skills.
- See how Nabokov used his language skills.
Two ways to get started learning a new language:
- Sign up to iTalki and take a lesson from a native (use my link and you’ll get $10 worth of credits)
- Invest in a Rocket Languages package
7. Pick up a camera
What if words weren’t the only way you could tell a story?
What if you could make films, documentaries, TV shows?
One of my favourite things to do is to wander around my city with a camera and storyboard films in my head.
Masterclass have the following classes coming soon that could help you with this:
- Werner Herzog teaching filmmaking
- Annie Leibowitz teaching photography
- Aaron Sorkin teaching screenwriting
Learning how to tell stories, evoke moods, and express truths in different mediums will enhance your writing and open up more opportunities.
8. Learn business
The most successful writers are often highly skilled business men and women too.
Understanding business stuff like finance, negotiation, hiring and firing can all come in handy to make sure you don’t get shafted during your publishing endeavours.
I recently read a book called, ‘What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School’ and I came away with many new ideas for how I run my publishing business.
The book that I believe every entrepreneur should read is ‘The Millionaire Fastlane’ by M J DeMarco. This book completely changed my mindset from consumer to producer and I still refer to it today, years after the first reading.
I highly recommend you learn about how another industry works (e.g. shipping, hospitality, pharmaceutical) preferably from someone who has been successful in that industry.
Then see how the same principles apply to the publishing industry.
9. Take another artistic course
I used to feel ashamed that people called me creative when writing was basically my only creative skill.
I couldn’t draw or sing or play the guitar.
Then I’d look at fine artists like John Martyn who wrote beautiful songs AND sung them beautifully AND played the accompanying instruments beautifully… and my sack would shrivel up along with my dreams.
If you feel like me, you might wanna try these simple remedies:
- Take an art course: I bought ‘Art as Therapy’ and ‘The Story of Art’ and then I tried to draw some stuff by following Mark Crilley’s manga YouTube videos and I also wandered around some big art galleries.
- Pick up an instrument: My sister can play the piano and the violin and a bunch of others to awesome levels. And she’s only 12. I’m so jealous. To get started, I would follow this 80/20 guide over on Tim Ferriss’ website.
- Learn ice sculpture: I’m totally doing this one. I’m serious. After that scene in Groundhog Day I made up my mind that I would do this some day.
Imagine what a horrendous show-off you could be at dinner parties if you were a writer that played Chopin flawlessly on the piano AND painted nude self-portrait watercolours AND carved accompanying ice sculpture dongs.
In the immortal words of Jack Black in that film where he pretends to be a substitute teacher and kidnaps a bunch of kids to win a rock concert….
Those who can’t do, teach. And those that can’t teach, teach gym.
While that is DEFINITELY TRUE of any teacher holding down a 5-figure position at a mid-list university (only half joking), I actually believe teaching is one of the best ways to improve your own skill set.
If you can effectively teach what you know to someone else, your understanding of your craft deepens.
There’s a reason why many of our greatest writers had day-jobs as English teachers and librarians.
I love teaching but I hate doing it for long stretches of time.
It has great value if you do it for a streak of time (say 6 months) and then take a break, digest what you’ve learned, and come back to it in another capacity a few years down the line.
Teaching is super rewarding because you’re passing on your knowledge, benefitting others, and getting a ton out of it yourself too. I recommend everyone try it at least once.
Be more than just a writer
When you do things not directly tied to the craft of writing, you will often end up being a much better writer because of it.
You’ll understand different ways to get your writing out there, you’ll have more ideas from your rich experiences, and you’ll have a delightful surge of blood to your body’s second most important organ.
Now go claim what’s yours. Go get your humanity. Then write about it.