What I Didn't Learn at University - A Writer's Journey

Karen McTackett By Karen McTackett, 9th Apr 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>General Non-Fiction

Education is fantastic, but there is only so far learning can take you. Practice, experience, and failure are guaranteed to advance your abilities and skills exponentially. Writing education is not that different to any other education - it is in our own unique experiences, dedication, and passion that we form a solid foundation for a career.

Learning Versus Action

I learned much in my three years in my Master of Arts (Writing) course, and there was so much I didn't learn. I didn't learn to connect with myself, or with my reader, I didn't learn how to create with consistency, and I didn't learn to brand myself as a business.

With 35 years of experience in writing and 14 years of higher education, I still needed to learn the steps of writing and publishing a book through self-education and trial-and-error.

I feel this goes a long way to explain why so many people get caught in the, “I don't know how to publish,” trap, or the even-more-terrifying, “I don't know how to start,” trap. These are the two most common responses I hear from entrepreneurs and business owners when asked why they haven’t already written and published a book. They know they need the authority and credibility, they know every entrepreneur must have a book, and they don’t know how to do it. Well, rest assured, neither do many ‘writers’.

Only 32% of my graduating class are published authors (including me). This is a group of highly passionate writers, so I'm here to tell you that even graduates of writing courses still suffer from human inertia.

Have you read that only 3% of books that are started are ever finished? Only 20% of those are ever published - that's only 6 out of 1000. 6!

At the end of the day, the question is not what can you learn, it's what can you DO?

It's what WILL you do?

I Didn't Learn to Connect

While at University, I didn’t learn that writing is really about the reader and what feeling they want from reading your book. As writers, we are often told to write what we want instead of what we think others want and I feel that what's missing here is the CONNECTION.

Why does anyone read anything? To feel something. To learn something. To grow. What do want your reader to think, feel, know, experience, and what question do they want you to answer? Who will benefit most from reading your work and in what way will they benefit?

It is about so much more than creating the story, you are creating an experience.

I didn’t learn that our words are not as important as the interactions of words and that our voice and layout can make or break our book. You may be familiar with Mehrabian’s 1971 study that showed how words, tone, and body language come together to create communication. In this same way, your rhythm, voice, and layout create a complete meaning that allows you to share your message.

I didn’t learn that the most powerful tool for creativity and for designing a great story is our own internal compass - intuition. The beauty of vulnerability is inherent in creativity and I didn’t learn that that was because of the openness to self-trust, the intuition, and the playfulness that creativity invites.

What I’ve discovered is that knowing your message and your audience are the first steps to plan your manuscript and without them, you may as well just write anything because it’s not going to resonate with anyone. When you know your message and audience, you know the feeling they want to experience and you can sculpt the content and the layout to deliver invoked meaning.

Trusting ourselves to feel our way with our intuitive compass and listening to our deepest thoughts, even when they make no sense in our minds, is the path to writing that connects you with your audience.

They Never Showed Me How To Create With Consistency

They never showed me a proven, successful, replicable step-by-step end-to-end system that would give me a structure I could use every time for any style of writing, be it a poem, a short story, a novel, an article, a blog etc. Having a structure gives us certainty and the comfort or familiarity minimising any resistance to doing something outside of our natural skill set.

They never showed me the next steps or options. For the most part, I was not directed to the array of services needing consideration in the full production of a work (cover design, editors, etc) and when I was, it was limited to a single option. Having a checklist of services and several proven methods to connect with these, given any budget or requirement, takes the pressure away from needing to do it all ourselves.

They didn’t tell me that writing is not a solo experience as many would have you believe. A surgeon never works on his own. He has a team of highly qualified staff who are specialist in their own areas in which he is not a specialist. He does what he does best and trusts his team to do what they do best. And more than that, he has a mentor, he asks questions, and he goes into that surgery with a known benchmark.

What I’ve discovered is that a replicable step-by-step end-to-end system takes care of the thinking, quickly. My first novel took 4 years to write and publish. My last three books (1 fiction and 2 nonfiction) were each written and published in 90 days. The primary reason most people never finish their book is the lack of resources. I can write and publish my books consistently in 90 days or less because I have a replicable system with action steps, a five draft process with checklists, and a team of specialists supporting me.

Don’t do it on your own, especially your first book - The surgeon wouldn’t enter his first operation and say, “It's okay guys, I've got this.” Do you want to kill your first patient, I mean book, or do you want to give it the best chance of survival by having a strong team around you?

They Didn’t Tell Me I Am the Business

They didn't tell me that it's all about business and branding. Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, kept his family link quiet until he had established himself as an author with his own brand. He could have utilised the connection of his father but he would have become a part of the Stephen King branding rather than the Joe Hill branding.

You are the brand, your book is a product.

They didn’t tell me not to pay for publishing! There was no discussion beyond traditional publication, so the other publishing options were never mentioned. This feeds the cloud of uncertainty and fear around publishing and is the reason so many people end up going with a self-publishing (AKA Vanity Publishing) company because it's the easier path.

They didn’t tell me how to sell my book, let alone how to sell my branding and myself. I didn't know how to market my book or myself and I feel that goes back to not knowing who I was writing it for. I had no idea how to get my book into bookstores and libraries, I didn’t know how to list it on Amazon, let alone get it to Number 1, and I didn’t know how to get it printed.

What I’ve discovered is that everything I write, even on Facebook, is a reflection of my brand. For Joe Hill, the easier path would have been to become a part of the Stephen King brand. The smarter path was to create his own.

If you take nothing else from this article, take this:

Never, ever, pay to be published!

Pay for services like editing, cover design, typesetting, printing, systems, structures, templates, and learning how to publish, but never pay for publishing. The publishing process is a free process and if you choose to publish under another brand, the publisher should pay you for the rights to your work. Or, you should learn how to independently publish with a mentor to guide you. When you pay someone to publish your work, what you’re really paying them to do is to manage your account which means they control your brand, your royalties, and your manuscript. Don't do it!

Publish independently under your own brand label or go through traditional publication channels to avoid giving away the one thing that will give you instant credibility - your brand. My students and I have our books in bookstores and libraries, they are listed on Amazon, they have several print options, and so much more. The smart way to write and publish your book, right now, is to learn how from someone that has done it over and over again, and take immediate action.

Where to From Here?

My knowledge, wisdom, and experience have grown from my love and dedication to the beauty of the written word, not from the knowledge I gathered from official studies. Allow me a moment to show gratitude and appreciation, for I count my university studies as a valuable time in which I gathered useful tools that have absolutely enhanced my skill set; however, it did not teach me how to be a business or how to replicate the success of others or myself.

And most interestingly, it did not teach me to take the action to create a work and publish it. A degree does not mean anything without experience, and experience comes from the doing, not from the information gathering.

Using a proven system provides certainty and focus that is absent in “pantsing”. Take care of the thinking before you start writing so that your intuition, your heart, your truth, your characters, your story, your message, rise to shine and are not stuck behind the excuse of not knowing what to write next. I never have that problem anymore.

I follow a seven-step system that allows me to write and publish five books a year while running a successful business. Does this block creativity? Absolutely not! I get the thinking and planning out of the way so that I can write with everything that us writers know cannot be controlled. I set the bumpers on the lane then let the bowling ball go nuts! It works for me.

If you still need steps, get a mentor. None of us can do anything new on our own and we aren't supposed to. Connect with someone that has done it before and can help you to map the full journey.

Happy writing and happy publishing!


Author, College, Publish, Published, Publishing, Publishing My Book, Student, Study, University, Write, Writer, Writers, Writing, Writing For A Living, Writing Skills, Writing Training

Meet the author

author avatar Karen McTackett
* Professional Writer/Facilitator/Speaker
* Writing Mentoring & Freelancer
* Master of Arts (Writing)
* WRITE NOW Creator -

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author avatar LOVERME
2nd May 2018 (#)

I am sleepy right now

long one shall read tomorrow

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author avatar Ptrikha
26th May 2018 (#)

Some great tips!

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author avatar Karen McTackett
14th Sep 2018 (#)

Thank you :D

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author avatar Karen McTackett
14th Sep 2018 (#)

@Loverme, hahaha - rock forth :)

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