We are at war.
Each day, facing the blank page and our own fears, writers around the world do battle with the same forces that would prevent us from simply producing the words, no matter their purpose.
Thankfully there are trailblazers — allies that arrive in times of uncertainty — our fellow writers and teachers who offer their wisdom, courage, and assistance.
Jeff Goins is one of those guides, an author, award-winning blogger, and coach, who stopped by The Writer Files to share some of his battle-tested stories from his own journey as a writer.
In this installment, Mr. Goins shares his advice for beating Resistance, the nobility of writing every day, and the one trait every great writer must possess.
Let’s dig into the file of Jeff Goins, writer …
About the writer …
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Jeff, and I’m a writer. I write nonfiction books and share what I learn with my tribe.
Part of what I do (writing and publishing books) I consider my “art.” I do it because I have to, but I don’t expect it to pay the bills. The other part (selling professional education to other writers) is what I consider my patron that makes everything else possible.
What is your area of expertise as a writer or online publisher?
I also help other writers and artists beat resistance through my blog, books, and courses.
Where can we find your writing?
The writer’s productivity …
How much time, per day, do you spend reading or doing research?
I read every morning for about an hour. I don’t consider this research, though.
Research for me happens when I start writing; I’ll get stuck and have to look something up. I like it that way, because everything I’m learning is practical and applicable.
When I read, it’s just for my love of good books and to deepen my understanding of the craft.
Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?
Sometimes, I pray. Usually, I just tell myself to shut up and write.
What’s your best advice for overcoming procrastination?
Stop calling it procrastination. What most people call being “lazy” is really just fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear, fear, fear.
Call it what it is and face the blank page, anyway.
What time of day is most productive for your writing or content production?
Definitely early morning. I try to wake up and write before any of my distractions do.
Do you generally adhere to a rigid or flexible writing system?
Rigid: I write every day, no excuses or exceptions.
Flexible: I don’t do word counts or timed sessions. If I’ve written, even just a few words, then it’s a success.
How many hours a day do you spend actually writing (excluding email, social media etc.)?
I write for various projects about two to three hours a day. Beyond that, I start to see diminishing returns. But I’m still new at this, so who knows.
Do you write every day?
This is like asking if I sleep every day. It’s not so much a matter of want to as have to. I can’t not do it.
The writer’s creativity …
I think that’s like saying, “Define the wind.” Not to get all Zen or anything, but it’s easier (and more helpful) to describe what the wind does than to say what it is.
Creativity brings good things in the world that otherwise would not exist. It’s a noble act of pushing back darkness and giving hope to despair.
Who are your favorite authors, online or off?
Ernest Hemingway. Seth Godin. C.S. Lewis. Anne Lamott. Michael Hyatt . Shauna Niequist. The Apostle Paul.
Can you share a best-loved quote?
Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.
~ Stephen King
Do you prefer a particular type of music (or silence) when you write?
Ambient. My go-to channel on Spotify is Explosions in the Sky.
How would you personally like to grow creatively as a writer?
Lately, I’ve been fascinated with narrative nonfiction. My next book is a memoir, and it’s kicked my butt more than any other single piece of writing. But I love what I’m learning and how I’m growing.
Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?
No. I like what [Anne] Lamott says about this. To paraphrase, there’s a difference between being blocked and being empty.
Sometimes when we feel blocked, we need to do something that is not writing to fill back up. Other times, we’re just afraid.
Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment (i.e. specific creative inspirations)?
For me, writing is a calling. It’s not something I chose; it chose me.
My muse is the conviction that I don’t just write for myself, I do it, because I have to.
Would you consider yourself someone who likes to “take risks?”
Not really. While I like doing new things and the thrill of the unknown, I’m terrified of failure. So as much as I can, I try to play it safe. But then I get bored and have to do something that might not work.
What makes a writer great?
What doesn’t make a writer great is talent or intuition or giftedness.
What makes a writer great is one thing: perseverance.
The writer’s workflow …
What hardware or typewriter model are you presently using?
I use a MacBook Pro, 13 inch. I also own an old typewriter, but I’m not sure of the brand.
What software are you using for writing and general workflow?
I usually write on Text Edit, a basic text-editing program for Mac. I also use Ommwriter, when I need to be free of distractions.
Do you have any tricks for staying focused?
I’m sorry … what’d you say? I wasn’t listening.
I am terrible at this. I’ve tried systems and procedures and think what really works for me is to create urgency.
If I can procrastinate or do something besides write, I will. So I force myself into a situation that requires me to write. That may mean a public deadline or going some place I know won’t have wifi. I have to trick myself.
Have you run into any serious challenges or obstacles to getting words onto the page?
Yes. Myself. I always get in the way.
How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?
Once a week, I throw away anything on my desk, in my office, or on my computer that I haven’t used in a while. Other than that, it’s more like managing chaos than staying organized.
How do you relax at the end of a hard day?
I play with my son, read a book, and cook dinner. Then I usually watch a movie with my wife.
A few questions just for the fun of it …
Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?
My favorite book on writing was Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. She taught me that a writer writes not because she wants to, but because she must.
What’s your biggest aggravation or pet peeve at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?
No time. Where does it all go? I’m spread too thin and consumed with busyness when I want to be getting better (not just more popular). It’s both a great and tough thing being a writer in this Information Age.
Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.
Definitely Hemingway. But we’d probably have to go hunting.
Do you have a motto, credo, or general slogan that you live by?
You can outlast those who are lucky
and outwork those who are lazy.
What do you see as your greatest success in life?
Other than staying married and creating life (no two small feats), when it comes to writing stuff, I’m really proud of the online course, Tribewriters.com, I started last year. People tell me it’s changed their lives. That’s really rewarding to hear.
If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?
Seville, Spain. I studied abroad there and have been dying to go back. Once a month, I literally dream of returning.
What would you like to do more of in the coming year?
I want to write more words that people don’t see. I feel compelled to do more of the deep writing that professionals do — the long, hard stuff that doesn’t get noticed or applauded. But, it’s what makes you great.
Can you offer any advice to writers and content producers that you might offer yourself, if you could go back in time and “do it all over?”
Yes. This is the one thing I didn’t do for years, and it defeated me more than anything else:
Don’t give up.
Keep going, don’t stop when you get discouraged. Go, go, go. This is about endurance, not energy. As the cliché goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this, and it’s a lesson I learned from Copyblogger:
All good writing is copywriting. Every writer has to earn a reader’s attention, word by word and line by line.
And finally, the writer’s desk …
Line by line we wage the battle.
Thankfully, the only weapons we need are our wits, our will, and a reliable method by which to record our best ideas.
And whatever you do, don’t forget to celebrate your victories, however small, as Mr. Goins reminds us with his strategic placement of maracas. Olé!
Thank you Jeff!
And thank you for flipping through The Writer Files …
We have more Q&As in the pipeline from our favorite writers.
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Now put on your flak jacket and get back to work!