Stop Feeling Like an Author Wishbone: First Do No Harm

If you’re a writer who mostly listens to your own counsel and it’s working for you, this post probably won’t help. In fact, turn away. I urge you to leave. There’s nothing for you here.

To everyone else, especially if you’re feeling yanked hither and yon by expectations about building platform, here’s a recap of Part I:

The impetus for this series was the realization I had been making many of my writing decisions based upon expert advice. (Where “experts” means agent, editors, marketing and publicity experts, and publishing insiders. “Decisions” often meant business-y things, such as whether to build a platform as I composed my fiction and if I did so, to what extent and where.)

In essence, I defaulted to the way I learned in the education system which, because of my medical background, was a protracted-but-enjoyable experience. However, the longer I’ve been around, the more I’ve observed that:

  • Experts in the same field seldom reach consensus, implying lack of universal truth.
  • The industry’s cumulative expectations can be unrealistic. (And that’s for the relatively privileged me. How could a single parent of small children be expected to work full time, write 1-3 books a year, tweet, keep a presence on a blog, Google+, Facebook, and do this on a sustainable basis?)
  • The publishing industry has the same cycles I witnessed in medicine when a new procedure or drug came along. For example, in the last half year I’ve witnessed this evolution of advice coming from admired and articulate publishing insiders:

To break in as a writer, you must keep a blog a minimum of three times per week. Aim for a minimum subscriber list of X.

You probably should have a blog.

Don’t keep a blog at all. They’re a waste of your time. Instead, comment on already established blogs in your genre and keep a mailing list.

Ultimately, I was growing increasingly unhappy and distrustful of my own instincts, which in turn stalled my writing.

I began to think about the quality of evidence supporting many of these opinions.

In most cases, it’s inferior to the evidence available in medicine, which as we noted in Part I, can still get it spectacularly wrong. To complicate matters further, the industry is in flux, so what little data is available to a single author might well be antiquated by the time it’s received.

How do we proceed when evidence is poor quality? When trends are disrupted by the time we know we’re in the midst of one? When the little data that’s accessible might not be specific to our situation? Is there a systematic approach to making decisions in the face of uncertainty?

It turns out one principle can be helpful in both entrepreneurship and medicine. It involves some Latiny goodness.

Primum Non Nocere

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