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My Sentence

John Lim  |  May 9, 2019

THREE YEARS ago, I decided to write a book about money for my children, then ages 9 and 11. Raising Your Child’s Financial IQ: The Most Important Things is now finished. Here are six things I learned along the way—which apply not just to writing a book, but also to life more generally:

1. Yes, you can find the time

I’m a physician, working 50 to 60 hours a week. When I get home, greeting me are two children eager for my attention. Where would I find the time and energy to write? My solution: Wake up at 5 a.m. and write for just 25 minutes.

My experience shattered the romance I had always associated with being a writer. I discovered that writing a book is an extremely lonely and slow endeavor. At times, a voice in my head would whisper: “This is rubbish. You’re wasting your time. Who do you think you are, writing a book?”

2. Jerry Seinfeld’s hack

A young comedian, Brad Isaac, asked Seinfeld if he had any advice: “He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.”

Isaac continued: “He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

I realized my job was simply to show up and write every day. It shifted the focus away from the results to the process. For me, it was a gamechanger. While I had little control over the quality of my writing on any given day, I could control the physical act of sitting down and writing.

This simple trick can, I believe, help you excel in anything you pursue, whether it’s becoming a comic, writing a book or training to run a marathon. The key: Make sure you turn up each and every day.

3. Power of compounding

Money compounds, but so do many other things in life. I remind my children about the power of compounding daily. If we do 25 minutes every day of anything, our skills will improve. It was certainly true for my writing: By putting pen to paper each day, it not only became easier over time, but also my writing began to improve.

4. Impostor syndrome

I found that perfectly formed thoughts, elegantly and succinctly expressed, did not flow directly from my consciousness onto the page. I also observed that my writing greatly improved after the second (or third or fourth…) draft. This was a great source of encouragement. But it dawned on me that there was a downside: In the quest for the perfect sentence, I could rewrite forever.

This rewriting also plays into the “impostor syndrome”—the fears and doubts that come with such a lonely and ambitious undertaking. I realized that endless editing had become a way of procrastinating. If I were still editing, I was by definition not finished with my book. And if I wasn’t finished, I would not have to face the moment of truth—showing my work to the world and facing possible rejection.

5. Kindness of strangers

After I finished the final draft of my book, I sent it to financial writers, bloggers and investors who I greatly respected. I meekly asked if they would read the manuscript and provide a blurb endorsing the book. In most cases, I was a complete stranger to them. I was blown away by the response. Not only did most of them read my draft, but they also kindly offered suggestions and gave me blurbs for the book.

If there is one trait that all writers share, especially novice writers, it’s insecurity. It was inspiring and reassuring to receive kind feedback and the all-important blurbs from people I looked up to.

Need help with your career or with some other endeavor? What I learned is that even those you consider famous or important will surprise you with their kindness. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—and be sure to pay it forward.

6. Love the journey

J.K. Rowling was turned down by 12 publishers before Harry Potter was finally accepted for publication. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was turned down by 38. The list of bestselling books that were initially rejected by dozens of publishers is a long one.

My point: Rejection does not equal failure, nor does acceptance guarantee success. Ask yourself: If you knew your book would never be accepted for publication, would you still write it? Do you believe enough in what you have to say to write for an audience of one? Whether it’s writing a book or any other challenge, you need to love the journey—and value it more than the destination.

John Lim is a physician. His previous articles include Yielding ClarityGrab the Roadmap and Bearing Gifts. Follow John on Twitter @JohnTLim.

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