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What It Really Takes To Succeed As A Writer

Is earning $3,000 an article success? How about getting published in every top niche magazine in your field? Is teaching 3,000 students and over 100 clients how to write professionally a success? I’ve done all of this in just a few years.

None of this is writing success to me.

I’m not talking about fame or money here — though that can surely be an achievable byproduct.

The success I’m talking about involves:

  • Feeling really good about your writing.
  • Healing and expression from your writing.
  • The joy of sharing your knowledge or experience through writing.
  • Connecting with others on a higher level with writing.

This is what I wanted to do when I quit my job as a successful medical director.

Everyone, including my own parents, thought I was nuts for leaving a six-figure job to teach.

I switched careers to do something dramatically different: teach at-risk teens and adults in public schools.

This changed everything.

I’ve always loved teaching adult night school at the local college. My day job was a different story. The high school students were brutal. At-risk kids were very difficult to teach, as you can imagine.

But over time, they liked me. I put my master’s degree in literature to work. I was their new English teacher.

However, the stuff the state wanted me to teach them was kind of boring. I did my best with the readings, but I did flourish in teaching writing.

My idea was that it was the bard, the writer, and the creative that had the power in this world.

Words are things.

If you want to change something, it starts with words. First in your head, and then maybe on paper or a screen.

Soon the words get into the hands of others. Sometimes ideas spread like viruses.

And that’s power!

My students yawned at this idea.

Well, that was until they tried it my way. I made them bleed on paper. And it was easy for them. What they soon realized is that many of them had a lot to write about.

They came from broken homes. Fifty percent of my boys had probation officers. Three of the girls I taught were pregnant. Several of my students had parents in jail.

One kid once blurted out “This is the best meal I get all day!”

He was talking about the morning meals, which I tried once, and it made my stomach turn after three bites.

And there were drugs. Lots and lots of drug use at home.

To say my kids had it bad was an understatement.

Most of them were frequently angry at life: and it showed in their behavior!

But when I taught them what I learned about words, thoughts, and expression things started to come together.

They created short lists that turned into paragraphs. Paragraphs turned into lucid scenes, and scenes turned into full-blown stories.

We invited two very instrumental organizations into our classroom every year. One was a group that wrote plays who were called Portland Center Stage (PCS). These were real playwrights that received grants to teach in schools. The other was called Writers In The Schools, or WITS.

Every year, these two groups worked in dozens of schools and with thousands of students in Portland. The masters showed up and shared their craft, then gently guided my students to do the same.

For PCS, a handful of the best plays would actually be acted out in the biggest theater in the area. Parents, students, and the public were invited to see this in one of the most lavish theater spaces on the West Coast. Imagine your play being displayed by real actors!

With WITS, published authors would serve as their resident teacher to unpack the craft of fiction. I learned just as much as the kids. At the end of the year, students competed to be put into a yearly anthology of the best stories and poetry. Many of these books are sold at Portland’s beloved Powell’s City of Books downtown.

Though my kids were bruised and jaded from life’s unfair treatment, every year several of them were chosen for their remarkable pieces. They were chosen over countless privileged kids who were prepped with IB or AP classes, and all the luxuries money could buy.

So how did this happen?

Many of my students had English skills a few grades lower than their class. And most of them really hated school.

Well, when you surround people with support, good things can happen. I knew every single one of them had a story in them. If they didn’t, they had stories of others in their lives that added texture to their experiences. It didn’t matter that most of them couldn’t use a semicolon if their lives depended on it.

They found a way to transform their love, pain, suffering, and salvation to pen.

They bled in every word and every line. Anyone who read or saw their work could feel it. All the joy, pain, suffering, and hope was there. It was unashamedly raw and real. 

Because of this, they transformed their audience every time, and in the end, transformed themselves.

Everyone starts off writing with a bit of self-criticism. But at the same time, we all know the power of words and what they can do. We can say we do it for money or recognition, but most of us know it’s much more than that.

In our writing, we yearn to entertain, educate, change, and connect.

If you can tap into this yearning and desire, you’re well on your way to becoming a successful writer. When you practice writing, it will start to show. Whether you write for businesses or for a non-profit you’re trying to champion, people can really tell when your message bleeds from the heart.

Passion sells the message.

So for those of you still figuring out things with your writing, like what you want to do with it, and how you can become better, let me tell you: It’s IN you.

You have a heart.

You just need to tap into it and let your thoughts bleed onto the paper. Daily if possible.

What you’ll find is that your grammar or mastery of metaphors don’t need to be perfect. You can fix these things later. The perfect words don’t need to be there either.

You have a story, or you can find the story.

Your job is to fearlessly just let it out!

Listen to the Word Mogul podcast: https://anchor.fm/writing-income.

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