The Secret to Being an Interesting Writer

There is certainly no shortage of outlets if you’re a writer today. Writing is easy. Writing something new, interesting, compelling, time after time, is difficult. But what is it that makes writing interesting?

glowing-tube-1423139Take a look at the New York Times Bestsellers in nonfiction. What do they have in common? Here’s a hint: the information in those books did not just spontaneously appear in the writers’ minds. They had to seek it out.

The secret that nobody ever tells aspiring writers is that to be an interesting writer, you first have to be a prolific researcher.

Maybe it’s investigative journalism, maybe it’s archival research, maybe it’s a lab experiment, or maybe it’s a statistical analysis of some observed phenomenon. If you want to be able to tell a story no one else can tell, you’re going to have to do research.

My guess is that for really great reads, authors spend way more time—sometimes a lifetime—researching, than they do actually writing.

It can be frustrating to do research. As a writer your instinct is to want to write something, not read articles and interview people. If 80% of your piece is research, then 80% of your effort will produce nothing tangible. Frustrating.

I think the real secret to being an interesting writer is to remind yourself that you’re a writer even on days you don’t write anything.

 

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The Most Valuable Asset in the World

With a title such as that, I suppose you are expecting to learn about a special class of rare coins, trophy real estate in the south of France or natural gas exploration in the Marcellus oil field. No. The asset to which I refer is much more valuable. However, every coin that was ever collected, every property ever purchased and every cubic foot of natural gas ever extracted began with the investment of this asset. And no, it is not money. Money is simply a medium for exchanging one asset for another. In and of itself, money—those little pieces of paper with some ink on them—have very little intrinsic value. The asset to which I am referring is intrinsically very valuable.

Usually things that are valuable are scarce, only a few people have them and they tend to hoard it. Not this asset. Not only is it the most valuable asset in the world, but everyone has some of it. It is how we use it, spend it, invest it, that gives it its value. For this asset, while valuable, is also easily squandered. And once it is, it can never be replaced.

This asset is what Warren Buffett, Sam Walton and Bill Gates all used to amass their fortunes. And you have some of what they had when they started. But this asset is fickle. It can be worthless in the wrong hands and worth millions to those who know how to use it.

The asset to which I am referring of course is time. The great equalizer. The richest man in the world gets the same twenty-four hours a day you do. And everyone has some degree of freedom how they spend it. Even a person in prison can choose how they spend their time using their mind.

You can do what you want with your time: drink a beer, watch American Idol, read a book, work out, write a blog, start a charity. It is up to you. Just don’t lose sight of how precious it is. And if you do not think time is the most valuable asset in the world, just talk to a dying person. Ask them which one of their “real” assets is more valuable than the time they have left.

Time is flexible, up to a point. You can savior it, use it, invest it, share it or even squander it. The only thing you cannot do is save it up. It is like a coupon with an expiration date: use it or lose it. So, what are you going to do with your most valuable asset? The clock is ticking.

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The Starbucks Learning Curve

I went into the local Starbucks last week to order my usual drink: a grande caramel frappuccino with whipped cream. If you are not familiar with this drink, it is what you would order for your last meal were you ever to find yourself on death row. Heck, the calories alone might kill your before they got you to the table. It is my vice and I am sticking to it.

As I watched the young girl make my drink, I could tell it was her first day on the job. Her cluelessness was palpable. Her every movement punctuated with hesitation. And when she finally delivered my decedent delight, I noticed she had committed the ultimate sin of the frappuccino chef: she forgot the caramel topping. No big deal. I nicely asked her if she wouldn’t mind adding a little of the luscious brown sauce to the top of my whipped cream mound. After briefly apologizing for her “obvious” oversight, she did so with great alacrity.

Here is a truth we all have to come to terms with: we suck at something the first time we try it. In fact, we are usually so bad the first time out that we cannot even imagine a time when we will not suck at it. It is even worse when our initial incompetence is on public display for all to see. An accountant can hide in the back room and make their mistakes in private; a Barista cannot.

There is no doubt that I will one day soon walk into that Starbucks and witness that same young girl whip up a perfect frappacino while simultaneously juggling a dozen other responsibilities. Learning is like that. At first you cannot walk and then one day you are running a marathon.

It is sometimes difficult to remember that the initial incompetence we experience when trying something new does not last forever. In most instances it does not even last very long. But it is no doubt frustrating (and sometimes embarrassing). What it can never be is a deterrent to trying.

Michael Jordon got cut from his high school basketball team. Jerry Seinfeld froze on stage during his first standup comedy performance. We all suck at first; welcome to the club. Embrace it, just do not let it stop you from starting, and do not let it deter you from continuing on.

Your biggest fear is that you will suck in public, embarrass yourself in front of someone you know and be the laughing stock, forever. I hate to burst your bubble, but most people do not really care that you suck and they never give it another thought. Why? Because they know at some point in their past they sucked, and they may suck again in the future. And because it is just not that big of a deal. Go ahead and suck. Embrace the Starbucks Learning curve. Soon you will be making perfect frappacinos.

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The Three Prerequisites for Wealth

The three prerequisites for wealth I am about to share with you are not “secrets” to wealth. They are not a shortcut—or even a path—to wealth. But without them, all the secrets to wealth are of no use. These prerequisite are so simple, you may dismiss them as unimportant. But understand this, if you do not practice these three prerequisites you will either never become wealthy or you will eventually loose what you already have.

Prerequisite #1: Spend less than you make. It sounds simple, but it is very powerful. Actually it is the definition of wealth: a store of money. Everyday you spend less than you make, you are to that degree, wealthy. It does not matter how much you make either, the definition is the same. If you make $45 dollars a day, spend $40 and save the remaining five, that day you are wealthy. Contrast that to the behavior of the famous ‘90s rapper MC Hammer. Just one of his albums, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, generated over $30 million. But a few years later he had to file for bankruptcy. Why? He spent more than he made. You can make a lot of money, and if you spend more than you make, you will end up not wealthy.

Prerequisite #2: Learn to sell. Knowing how much most people hate even the thought of having to sell something, this probably turned you off. But the kind of selling I am talking about is not used car sales, boiler room telemarketing or door-to-door selling. (Although if you are good at any of those, it certainly does not hurt.) What I am referring to is learning to sell yourself.  If you are to be a successful entrepreneur, you are going to have to sell your goods or services. And if you are to be a successful employee, you are going to have so sell yourself to an employer (whether for a job or a promotion).

The good news is there are many different ways to sell today. Perhaps you are uncomfortable with direct sales. Maybe you prefer in-person networking, or online networking, or social media marketing, or e-mail marketing. Great. It does not matter, but plan on mastering one of them if you desire to be wealthy.

Prerequisite #3: Know the value of things. Not only is this a prerequisite for wealth, it can also be a path to wealth. More than one fortune has been made by someone purchasing undervalued real estate, art, stocks or even a business. If you do not know the value of things, you will constantly be paying too much for what you purchase and receiving too little for what you sell, and that includes yourself to an employer.

Of all the prerequisite to wealth, this one more, than the other two, requires some education. Whether taking a class in accounting, researching the best mutual funds for retirement, or studying the value of businesses to purchase, the more you understand value, the better the deal you will make for yourself and the easier will be the road to wealth. And the less you understand value, the longer and harder that road will be.

There you have it: the three prerequisites for wealth. Two cost nothing and the other is extremely expensive not to have.

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What Every Business Can Learn From My Dentist

Endodontist, actually. You know, root canals. Had my first one two weeks ago. Not too bad. Ninety minutes of discomfort for a lifetime pain-free tooth.


But that’s not the point of the story. It’s what my Dentist, er, Endodontist did that makes this story. I had my root canal on a Friday, and on the following Monday, at around 4:30 in the afternoon I got a call, on my cell phone, from him. Not his secretary. Not his assistant. Not his “service.” Him! He just wanted to follow-up and see if everything was okay and to let me know I could call him if I needed anything.

How many calls have you received from a doctor in your life? Any kind of doctor? I’m guessing not too many.

He has countless years of schooling and if he is not already a millionaire, he will be soon. He already has a million-dollar dental practice. The restrooms in his office are the kind you would expect to see in five-star Beverly Hills restaurant. He serves people in a very upscale area of Los Angeles. In short, he did not need to call me. But he did.

In his world, he is not the Dental King and I am not the Patient Serf. He is not too busy, too rich or too well educated to give personal service. Or to actually care about his patients.

What is the likelihood I will use him again if I need another root canal? What are the chances I will tell everyone I know this story? What are the odds I will blog about it?

In a world where everyone is trying to invent the new new thing–the latest technology, the coolest web site, the hottest app–it was a simple phone call that will assure my dentist’s success. That is a lesson every business can reinforce.

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Nothing Happens Until This Happens

For the longest time I never fully appreciated the role of sales in business. When I was a young engineer, I showed up, did my engineering thing and come Friday, money showed up in my checking account. I never spent much time thinking about the fact that for me to be able to have that job, somebody had to sell something. Money had to exchange hands.

It was not until I actually got a job in sales that I had a chance to see up close the cause and effect that sales has on everything in a business. You want better benefits?  Make sales. You want a raise? Make sales. You want to develop the next generation of cool products? Make sales. You want job security? Make sales.

Whether you are in the sales chain or not, you need to have a strong appreciation for the miracle of sales. Yes, it is a miracle. Jobs get created, taxes get paid, products get manufactured, companies go public, fortunes get made and redistributed. And none of that happens without a sale. Engineers—can’t afford them. Accountants—don’t need them. CEO—huh?

People are constantly worrying about job security. Do you want to have job security for eternity? Be an effective salesperson. You will never be without work and you will always make a good income. From an accounting perspective, sales people are the only employees who are not an expense. (Technically they are “Cost of Sales.”)

Are you an entrepreneur? Until you make a sale you are a hobbyist. If you want to start a business (or keep one going) you need to become obsessed with sales. And if you are employed at a company, even if you are not a sales person, you ought to become “sales aware.” You should be able to explain your company’s value proposition to a stranger and you should know what a customers looks like. That way, if you ever sit next to one on an airplane or run into one at a social event, you can tell them about your company and maybe even facilitate a meeting with your sales department. I am always surprised by people who live in fear of losing their jobs, but do not know what their company sells or what a customer looks like. Today, everyone needs to be in sales.

I guess that is what I find so frustrating with a bloated government: too many government agencies filled with too many government employees. Most are good people trying to do a good job, but deep down they do not understand the preciousness of sales. They do not have to convince a customer to part with their money and they do not have to better their competition in the marketplace. Their paycheck shows up without anyone ever having to make a sale. Their pay magically shows up every Friday just as mine did many years ago before I learned the truth about sales in the private sector: nothing happens until that happens.

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