10 Lessons I Learned About Life, Writing, and Business in 2023

Dec 26, 2023

One of the most important habits you can ever develop is reflection. The pace of life today is pretty fast and it’s easy to just keep going, going, going all the time.  (Turns out Ferris Bueller was right!)

When you stop and think about where you’ve been, it’s much easier to figure out where you’re going.

In the spirit of reflection, I’m excited to share 10 lessons I’ve learned about life, writing, and business I’ve learned over the last twelve months. 

These are in no particular order. I hope some of these strike a chord with you.

1. It’s fun to thank people for the work they create. 

I’ve gotten into the habit of tracking down the person who created something I just enjoyed so I can thank them. It’s surprising how easy it is to connect with almost anything through their website, email address, or LinkedIn profile. 

Over the past few weeks, I watched a couple of great documentaries—Reinventing Elvis (2023) and Becoming Cary Grant (2017). I tracked down both of the directors and wrote them to say thanks. They both replied back quickly.

We assume that creative people operating at a high level hear from fans constantly, but it’s not always the case. No matter how high you go, you always appreciate hearing from people who like your work. 

2. You have to make the offer if you want to make the sale.

One of my good writer friends recently put together an author coaching package. She was pleasantly surprised when the prospective client accepted.

It was a great reminder that people will only pay you if you actually create a package/product and offer it for sale.

Sometimes we wonder why we’re not further along. The answer might be as simple as offering a product or service, then giving people a way to pay you!

This goes for books, too. I'll bet you have a half-finished book or two sitting on your hard drive.

Finish that sucker and publish it! Give people the chance to read it. It’s not doing any good languishing on your computer.

3. It’s time to stop playing defense and start playing offense.

There’s no denying that the pandemic had an impact on everyone. While I don’t want to minimize anyone’s suffering or particular situation, I do want to make an observation: many people have been playing a game of “let’s emotionally hibernate and set our dreams aside until this is all over.”

I have news for you: it will never be “over.” There will always be cultural chaos, crises, and a hundred other reasons that make it easy to put your life on pause.

Now is the best time ever to start playing offense with our dreams. It’s time to be assertive and wake up from your long slumber. You’ve got this! I believe in you.

4. Don’t let anyone else define success for you.

One of the most challenging parts of being an entrepreneur or running an online business is that there are so many ways to make a living. Everybody seems to have their own definition of success. 

Is it a specific income number? Is it having a certain number of podcast downloads or book sales? Is it getting on the NYT bestseller list?

If you’re not careful, you start to compare yourself to other people’s external measurements. It’s easy to feel bad about yourself.

Don’t let that happen to you. Define what success means for yourself. No one can do that for you.

5. An easy way to become more profitable is by reducing your expenses.

When you hear about how to make money as a writer, 99% of the time it’s about increasing your income. As Dave Ramsey says, sometimes you need a bigger shovel.

But it’s also important to look at the other side of the equation—your expenses.

This a great time to examine your expenses for the year. Are there services, subscriptions, or recurring expenses you’re not using? When you cut them out, you’re increasing your income without doing any more work.

I recently terminated the lease for the office I’ve been renting for the past year. I discovered it wasn’t helping me be more productive. I had to pay a penalty, but it’s worth it because of the monthly savings. I'll bet you can find similar expenses you can cut.

6. Nobody is coming to save you.

I was a college professor for many years. I got paid every month and felt pretty secure that my paycheck would continue forever. (Fortunately, I left the college the year before it permanently closed.)

When you’re an employee, it’s easy to get lulled into the fantasy that someone will always take care of you. The truth, though, is that it’s up to you to create the life and income you want.

That becomes apparently pretty fast when you quit your job and start a business. The sooner you understand that your fate is in your hands, the sooner you can make real progress. 

7. You must let go of the good to make room for the best.

This year, I made the difficult decision to pivot my Daily Writer brand to The Profitable Writer. I had invested three years of my life (literally, on a daily basis) to building a podcast, writing a book, and running a membership group around that topic.

However, when it became clear that I needed to focus on helping writers build their businesses, I started to make the transition. (By the way, the Daily Writer is not dead. It’s now a part of The Profitable Writer. The Daily Writer book comes out in October next year!)

The thing that’s holding you back is not a bad or negative thing. It’s probably something good and enjoyable. But sometimes you need to let go of good things to make room for even better ones.

8. There is still magical power in being an author. 

In spite of all the ways you can build an audience today, there is still great power in writing a book. When you’re an author, you can command higher speaking fees, you have more respect, and your credibility as a leader in your field goes up.

Podcasting, newsletters, YouTube, and social media are all great. But nothing will ever top that “aha” moment someone experiences when you hand them a copy of your print book!

9. You never know where a referral might come from.

A few years ago, I spoke at a writing workshop three hours away. A friend of mine had put the workshop together, which is why I agreed to it. They had no budget and paid me in Chinese food! (Fortunately I love Chinese food.)

While I was there, I met a woman who had written a couple of books and was a junior high math teacher. We kept in touch and became friends.

The next year, I decided to focus on ghostwriting as my main business. I wrongly assumed that my first client would come through someone well-established in publishing or business. But nope, it came through her! 

That first project was a blast, and it wouldn’t have happened without that math teacher’s generosity and connections. You should never make assumptions about who someone might know, or what connections they have.

10. Podcasting remains my favorite way to connect with new people.

I started podcasting all the way back in 2013. Podcasting was still a new-ish thing but now it’s ubiquitous. Everybody and their dog seems to have a podcast these days. 

There’s a good reason for it, though. Podcasting is an incredible way to connect with people and share your message.

I’ve done hundreds of interviews over the years. These conversations have literally changed my life. I’ve made a ton of friends and learned a great deal about business and writing through these interviews.

Bonus Lesson 1: Successful ghostwriting is not just about writing words—it’s about being a trusted advisor.

You don’t need to be a ghostwriter very long to realize that people tell you things they have never told anyone else. In the midst of working on a book together, you spend a lot of time with your client. Especially hen the book entails their personal story, you will be privy to deeply personal information.

If you want to be a ghostwriter, you obviously need to have great writing and storytelling skills. But just as important, you need to be a trusted advisor who can keep secrets and recommend resources to improve their life and business.

Bonus Lessons 2: Make it your goal to build multiple streams of income.

I’ve been working hard over the last few years to build a few streams of income. Ghostwriting is still my primary income source, but several others are growing and will equal my ghostwriting income at some point.

Having multiple streams of income is super helpful because it reduces the risk of losing any one source. If you have one employer, one main client, or one type of income, losing that one source can throw your whole life into disarray fast. I don’t want that to happen to you.

There you have it: ten (and two bonus!) lessons I’ve learned this past year. I hope you will choose two of three of them and put them into practice in your own life and business.