It happens to all of us. Whether you’re just starting out on your writer’s journey or have been traveling the path for years, you fall into a rut. You get used to doing the same thing and getting the same results. And while that can be a great way to create good habits, it can also stunt your growth. You can tend to coast, not take chances, and therefore, not grow.
Sometimes it takes someone else to point this out to you, like your wife telling you that you’ve been wearing the same pair of sweatpants for five days in a row—at least that’s an indicator in my house.
I’m fresh off of two live author events that I co-hosted with my friends—Rock Apocalypse 2019 with Zach Bohannon and The Sell More Books Show Summit with Zach, Bryan Cohen, and Jim Kukral. Nothing gets me out of a rut faster than attending an author event and interacting with people in the real world.
But you’re an introvert. Well, you might not be, but if you’re a writer, then you’re statistically more likely to be an introvert than an extrovert. We do well in our writing hideaways, gleefully clacking away on the keyboard for hours on end, pausing only for the occasional bathroom break or glass of water. We revel in the solitude.
Attending a live event seems counterintuitive if you’re an introvert. And if you’re not, there’s a host of other reasons why it would seem to make more sense to stay at home—or at least stick to your routine.
I’ve gone to many live author events over the years and only recently started hosting my own. The Indie Lab by Writer’s Digest was a worthwhile endeavor and Podcast Movement 2016 turbo-charged my podcasting career.
And in some cases, I haven’t had to leave my town as I attended local author presentations and gatherings presented by my local library.
But despite many opportunities to attend live events, many of us still pass on them. We might plan to attend, even purchasing a ticket, and then not show up for reasons that sound legitimate at the time.
My friend and I don’t go out to see live music as often as we used to. He calls it “couch inertia,” claiming that he has scientific evidence that proves the longer you sit on the couch, the harder it is to get up. Ten p.m. feels a lot later to me than it used to twenty years ago. I think something like couch inertia is at play when it comes to authors attending live events.
As I write this piece, it’s only been a week since my last two live events, and I’m still on a writer’s high (which I think is more satisfying than a runner’s high). I took pages of notes, and I’m still thumbing through dozens of business cards as I think about all of the possible projects and initiatives that I plan to start, based on what I learned and who I met.
But that begs the question: Why do you need a live event to become motivated, inspired, or educated? Can’t you simply get what you need from Google or a blog post, and save all of that time and money?
Once you realize that you’re stuck in a rut, Resistance will try to keep you there. Although I can’t speak to the validity of couch inertia, I do believe that physics will back me up on this one. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.
That means Resistance will do its best to complicate matters. It wants you to stay in your lane…or more accurately, your rut.
The digital world can only take you so far.
Yes, we have access to more information on craft, marketing, and publishing than at any other time in history. We can Google, read, or listen to the most accomplished and successful people in our industry, like Shawn and Tim on the Story Grid podcast.
And we should. I consume dozens of podcast episodes per week. I read over a hundred books a year on craft, marketing, and mindset. I’ve taken several online courses this year alone. Seth Godin’s Freelancer Workshop fundamentally changed the way I approach my business, and if you consider yourself a small business (you should if you’re an author in 2019), you should take this course.
So, you should absolutely leverage all of the resources available to you. It would be foolish not to. However, something is missing.
I run Molten Universe Media with my good friend, co-writer, and business partner, Zach Bohannon. We’re in constant communication via Slack and we often video conference using Zoom. It is a wonderful way to run a partnership that would not have been possible only a few decades ago.
But every couple of months, we meet for a few days in Cincinnati, Ohio. I live in Cleveland, and Zach lives in Nashville. Cincinnati is about halfway between us. We’ll rent an Airbnb and spend our time discussing upcoming promotions, holding story meetings, planning the next stage of our company.
We could do this over Zoom, but it wouldn’t be the same. Every time we get together in person, we come up with an idea or an initiative that wouldn’t have happened over a video conference call. I don’t understand the science behind this, and I don’t have a study to cite, but I’ve anecdotally heard the same thing from enough people that I know there’s something to it. There is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting.
In text-based communication, we lose almost all of the communication signals that we’re hardwired to detect from millions of years of evolution. To put it in a way you’ve probably heard before, 95% of communication is nonverbal.
While video conferencing allows you to pick up on many of those non-verbal signals, it’s still not the same as looking at someone across the table over a cup of coffee.
I loved Seth’s Freelancer’s Workshop, and I would highly recommend it the next time it’s open. The activity and engagement in that group far exceeded most other online courses and communities I’ve been part of. But it’s not a live event. It’s not meant to be.
One of the downfalls of online courses is that there isn’t often accountability unless you create it. And let’s face it, if you could create your own accountability, you wouldn’t need someone or something else to hold you accountable.
But that’s not how it is for most of us. We need someone to poke and prod us, encourage us, or motivate us to keep going when we don’t want to. That doesn’t happen with most online courses. Once you’ve made the purchase, it’s now on you. You don’t even have to begin the course, let alone finish it. Again, I don’t have hard statistics, but I know anecdotally that the majority of users who purchase an online course never finish it. Participation drops as the deeper you get into the lessons.
I have two courses in my inbox right now that I’ve purchased but not started. I will, because they’re both related to mission-critical initiatives at Molten Universe Media, but I haven’t even created my user ID yet. The creators of those courses have done their job. They’ve created the content and provided tremendous value, but it’s not their responsibility to make sure I take action. The accountability is completely on my shoulders.
In one course that will remain nameless, I ghosted. If you’re an introvert (and again, you probably are), you know what this means. “Ghosting” is the practice of disappearing from a gathering without the long, painful goodbyes that drive introverts nuts. Dear extroverts—we just want to leave when it’s time to leave, not linger.
I’ve ghosted online courses. I’ve started them and then faded away.
To be clear, I offer a free online course to every person who signs up to my email list. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take online courses. Like books, blogs, and podcasts, these can be invaluable in advancing your writing career.
But like the Zoom calls I have with Zach, something is missing.
Without the accountability piece, it’s easy to rack up hundreds or thousands of dollars in digital materials and then never use them. Especially in the independent publishing world, online courses can become dated and irrelevant within years if not months. Use it (soon) or lose it is the approach you need when purchasing an online course.
In my experience, joining a mastermind group can be the perfect combination of online learning and authentic, real-world connections, provided it’s designed that way. I’ve joined several mastermind groups over the years, and most of them operate the same way.
A leader or facilitator runs the group, organizes the meetings, and so on. Members meet (less than 15 is ideal for me) on a weekly one-hour video call to discuss concerns, issues, or problems. The group offers suggestions and solutions. This is often called the “hot seat” in mastermind groups. The hot seat rotates each week, so everyone gets a chance to share problems and help to solve them. In some mastermind groups, there is a critique group element as well where writers can share scene work and solicit feedback from the group.
And the best mastermind groups I’ve been part of also have a live, in-person meet-up opportunity. This can vary from group to group. It can be a week together in a secluded location or simply a weekend getaway in a cool part of town.
Mastermind groups often provide the accountability lacking in online courses, books, and blogs. And that can be a vital component of growth for many authors.
I’ve participated in, and run mastermind groups, so hit me up if you want to know more.
It’s easy to convince yourself that none of this will work for you—that your circumstances are different. But if you can beat back Resistance long enough to spend some time thinking about it, you’ll realize that you have a choice.
A real-world event is often expensive in both time and money. You have to consider your schedule, work commitments, family obligations, and more. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that the live event is going to be great. You can look at the speakers and presenters ahead of time. They can deliver outstanding presentations. But in the end, you can never be sure you’re going to get exactly what you need.
If you do get exactly what you need from a real-world event, it’s usually a long-tail gain. You can’t immediately draw a direct line between interaction and a positive ROI the way you can with online advertising. Usually, the connections you make with other attendees begin relationships that can last years, but it’s not something you can “monetize” as soon as you get home.
If you’re an introvert, there’s an emotional cost as well. Although most extroverts talk about this cost in terms of us exhibiting anti-social behavior, that’s simply not true. It’s not that hardcore introverts don’t want to be around people, it’s that doing so drains us. Extroverts don’t always understand this because being around other people energizes them.
Resistance will convince you that it’s easier to stay in your hole and not go to an event with other people around. And Resistance is right. It’s definitely easier—like staying in your rut.
Going to an author event is a risk. A costly one.
On the other hand, can you really afford to continue doing what you’re doing?
If everything was perfect and the way you wanted it, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post or listening to the Story Grid podcast unless you did so strictly for entertainment. Most story nerds prefer to get their entertainment from reading stories, not from listening to professionals talk about storytelling, so you’re probably here because you want to fix or improve something.
If you continue to do the same things, you’ll get the same results. If you read books, listen to podcasts, and take online courses, and yet, you’re still in a rut, you’re going to need to do something different to get out of it. Physics doesn’t lie.
Eventually, you’ll be passed by. I’ve seen this happen countless times. A writer bursts on to the scene and has initial success at something but then is swallowed up into obscurity when the publishing landscape changes and she doesn’t.
When you gather in real life with like-minded folks, you tend to share experiences and information in a way that keeps you on top of current trends, even if you’re not prepared to act on them: at least you know what’s going on.
So what should you do? Do you skip the potential costs and risks of a live event or do you take a chance at breaking out of your rut?
In my experience, I’ve discovered that there isn’t a better investment in your career than attending a face-to-face event. I recognize the cost and risk involved. You won’t see an immediate return on investment. Attending a workshop or conference is not a “hack” that will add 10% more words to your first draft or magically increase your royalties by a few hundred dollars every month.
There are some things to remember when you’re considering that next event.
You’ll most likely get to travel, which can kick-start your imagination and rejuvenate your creative spirit. I’m a huge proponent of travel because I’ve seen the benefits. Experiencing a new city or even a part of your own that you’ve never been to can be a fun and exhilarating experience.
Contrary to what you might believe now, the world will continue to spin when you’re away and be waiting for you when you return. It’s easy to believe that your significant other, your children, or your job can’t survive a few days without you. They can. Once you get past the belief that you’re indispensable, you can then embrace the experience and get the most out of it.
Are we having fun yet? I rarely hear author services or events described as fun, but they should be. We’re strange folks, us writers. “Normal” people think of writing as a punishment or a chore, but we willingly put ourselves through the torture, sometimes daily. We love creating and writing because it’s fun, and so are author events. Simple, clean (mostly) fun.
However, it is fair to ask what you can expect to gain from the experience. When the dust settles, and you’re back into your daily routine, what tactics and strategies can you apply to your work? What long-term growth can you expect?
Yes, the featured speakers and presenters are important, and you’ll learn a lot from those talks.
However, the single greatest asset of any gathering is the attendees. You, me, all of us. I’ve met folks at events and then looked up years later to realize we’ve become good friends or even business partners. The relationships you forge at a face-to-face gathering can literally last a lifetime.
Conversations emerge, and ideas spawn, ones that had not even been a glimmer of a thought before the event. Whether it be creative collaborations or cross-marketing promotional plans, these ideas spring forth from chats over coffee or laughter over a shared meal. The spontaneous and exciting initiatives simply wouldn’t happen if you weren’t all in the same room at the same time.
Being a guitarist in a rock band for most of my life, we often play shows in front of a live crowd, even if we know we won’t make any money because the experience of being on the stage once is worth about 10 rehearsals.
Think of your daily author life as the rehearsals. By going to a live event and interacting with others, you’re fast-tracking your career in much the same way that bands do when they perform in front of an audience instead of an empty practice room. I’ve felt this happen after every single event I’ve ever attended. When I get home, I’ve realized I’ve leveled up, which saves me time and money in the long run.
So, you want to take advantage of the live event. You’re getting frustrated with social media, the shallow connections, endless political diatribes, the filtered life. You want to 10x your growth and have some fun, but where do you start?
This summer (of 2019) Story Grid is offering two courses that you can find more information about on this site. Both include a 2-day gathering in Nashville, Tennessee, as a culminating activity. That would be a great place to see the value of the live event.
If you’d like to know more about any of the events I’m hosting next year (my remaining 2019 events are sold out), you can click here, and I’ll make sure you get all of the information you need. Thanks to Joanna Penn, I’m often recognized as that “Authors on a Train” guy, but that’s not the only event I host.
And if you simply want to ask me a question about the value of live author events, you can do that, too. I’m happy to share my wins and losses with you.
What do you hope to get out of a live author event? Visit TheAuthorLife.com and tell me. You’ll also get access to a FREE course that will guide you from struggling writer to career author. It’s time to get out of that rut—start right now.
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