Five Ways to Change Your Attitude for a More Successful Writing Career

Five Ways to Change Your Attitude for a More Successful Writing Career 1024 576 Reader Views

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author of the multi award-winning #HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers 

It seems politics is changing the way we think by discrediting words that never before leaned right or left. So let’s find a new way to keep others from influencing the seeds of our subconscious—that is words. Let’s start with the word pivoting Instead of letting “them”—whoever them might be—convince you that pivoting or changing your mind is unacceptable. In the case of pivoting, we come to recognize that we often do that when experience or a reliable resource has taught as better way of doing something. Here are a few ways to pivot using some other words we have assigned a negative meaning to –rightfully or wrongfully—so they can work in our favor.

We can make a few words (and habits!) that work against us into words that work for us—both consciously and subconsciously. Let’s start with these few: 

Defensiveness vs. Curiosity

Curiosity nurtures new ideas, new successes. Curiosity helps in our endeavors to observe details more creatively. Generally speaking, writers have already honed that skill. But curious people also listen more acutely. The asking of questions and the listening to answers are important skills for authors who do public speaking or teaching. Asking questions before we make assumptions can get us out of a whole lot of hot water.

For instance, being curious about how and why others think what they do may help you find common ground with a heckler! At one of my first bookstore presentations, I was rather rudely confronted by a man in the audience who wanted to know how I qualified to write a book. “I notice most of the authors speaking here have Ph.Ds,” he said and he said it with a little snort!

I immediately felt defensive. But I had just returned from a trip to the Galapagos where I met a nurse who questioned our guide ad infinitum to the annoyance of most in our group. It occurred to me that she both had the right to ask, but also that the guide’s answers were adding considerable interest to his lectures. We were in the Galapagos, but because of her abundant curiosity I learned there is a species of turtle in Australia that breathes out of his butt, a piece of information that I am sure was not part of this guide’s usual lecture! I couldn’t my heckler (possibly a future reader of my books!) anything quite that creative, but I did manage to tell him a little story about my recent experience of feeling a tad of something psychologists call “imposter syndrome,” enough of it to keep me from applying for an instructor position at UCLA. When a friend told me that the UCLA Writers’ Program there weighs experience in a field heavily and often puts less importance on graduate degrees when hiring.. If we all tried pivoting notions we’ve readily accepted, we might find that do-it-yourself, down-and-dirty kind of knowledge is more useful than a string of letters after our names that we may or may not be able to identify. So, lacking an MA or MFA, I went for it. And it paid gloriously with nearly a decade of on-campus teaching I would have never otherwise experienced.

Creativity is a term that can used more broadly than I expected. I think of it as related to curiosity. It’s about seeing things in new ways and thinking of ways to share that concept with others. I gave the heckler —er, prospective reader—I mentioned above a few ideas found in the first edition of my The Frugal Book Promoter. By then I was using it as recommended reading for that UCLA class I was teaching. I wrote that book because the books on marketing at that time were not author-specific and there were a whole lot of things in it I had learned from the school-of-hard-knocks that my prospective readers might need. I managed to do with almost no sign of defensiveness—almost.  This pivot takes a while to perfect. 

Envy or Jealousy Easily Pivots to Admiration

Instead of letting the little green monster take control of our thought patterns, we begin to see how easy it is to emulate what we admire. That simple change is a positive pattern for growth. I have a friend who writes great grammar books that are published by the likes of Penguin and Ten Speed. She was critical of a syndicated grammar guru, a woman about her age. She often disagreed with this famous author’s zero-tolerance approach to grammar and she  thought her columns were so…you know, dry as well as sometimes wrong. My friend has a sense of humor and found a way to take the fame she felt the grammarian did not deserve and turn it into something better, a whole series of her own books. And, as it happens, her grammar books are fun because she is only zero-tolerant about a grammar word when it’s absolutely necessary.

Turn Procrastination into Achievement 

A demand made by our jobs on the industry we work in often feel like burdens. When you focus on hating them (and avoiding them), they are destructive. Instead pivot to thinking about the procrastination you see in yourself or other as opportunities for learning. Maybe for learning another skill. Maybe that skill will be organizing our time better. You’ll think of others that might be particularly useful to you as you tackle each of your projects with a different attitude. I like the word perseverance as a partner in this process. I often hear from authors who have given up on a marketing technique they deem unsuccessful. I understand the annoyance and procrastination around marketing. It is hard to determine which of our efforts or projects are actually selling books . Often, these authors have given up a marketing plan just as it was about to take off. Yep, achievement is related to perseverance. When Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones was first released, pundits said it was an overnight success. Really. She had been teaching writing for years at a respected California university. Heaven only knows how many unsold manuscripts she had hidden away on her bookshelves! Bones was hardly  an easy-come stroke of luck! I think of her success is evidence of procrastination pivoted into achievement. (And, yes, that refusal to let a defense attitude keep us from something grand and positive.)

Turn Gut or Knee-Jerk Reactions into Level-Headed Thinking

One way to do this is to avoid making decisions when you are upset, disgruntled, feeling jealous, angry, sad . . . or even overly excited or enthusiastic. This rule has been with most of us since our parents told us not to act until after we have counted to ten. When we substitute the new term for the old, it becomes easier to do. Besides, we now have maturity on our side. Notice, though. “Level-headed thinking” does not necessarily mean that acting on something that comes to us is wrong. We can overthink. When my husband and I had a small chain of gift shops, we were offered the gift shop at what I think is the most beautiful racetrack in the world. Our existing gift shops were full of carriage trade, gorgeous stuff like Lladróporcelain and Waterford Crystal. This racetrack shop was full of souvenirs We were worried on a whole lot of levels and almost didn’t do it. We were refusing to recognize opportunity when it perched itself in our laps! We managed to put aside our personal tastes (and pride?). We upgraded some of the track souvenirs and applied a few of our fine-art instincts to the shop, grew to love the thoroughbreds, and used the profits from this new approach to souvenirs to pay for our son’s BA and law degrees. 

Turn Success into Humility 

This is the most important change. And perhaps the most difficult. How many celebrities have we seen get themselves into trouble because they embraced a sense of entitlement instead of humility? Success follows as your life-skills improve. Why not tape the word “humility” to your bathroom mirror as a reminder of how to handle success. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud. No one can be expected to review, promote, or even read a book if the author isn’t proud of it. You don’t have to negate your success to be humble. You do need to remember what it was like to be a beginner, and to give back to your community and the world at large. It will happen. Success fosters more success. And because you are reading this, I know you have the power of words on your side.

About the Author

Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers includes the third editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal EditorThe latter is the winningest in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of book, the full series soon to be published by Modern History Press. Her The Great First-Impression Book Proposal is a slim book in that series available in its second edition as an e-book, paper, hardcover, and audio. 

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.

The author loves to travel. She visited ninety-one countries before the Year of Covid and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her website is


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