Last week, I started this series on the subject of visions and visionaries, and what it means to be a future-thinker as an author. I teased at the close of that post that I’d be returning to the subject this week with some key pointers on how to become one of these people who manages to “think different” (as Steve Jobs might say) and change the world, or at least the publishing industry as we know it, while at it. I’m here to deliver on that tease!
If you go out and Google “how to become a visionary,” you’re liable to run up against a wall of more clickbait than you’ll know what to do with. I know that I did. And worst of all, very little of the advice doled out by heavyweight publications Inc, Psychology Today, Forbes, and Business Insider apply to us, as overextended self-publishing authors (often exhausted, or limited in terms of emotional, energetic, and financial budgets to boot), in ways that are both tangible and possible to achieve. Either that, or the points just don’t make sense.
Some of their points, however, we like. I’ve condensed down a list of my top 6 suggestions for steps any self-publishing author can take (or leave, depending on schedule and other constraints). Mix and match to your heart’s content, and know that even if you just make gains on one or two of these points, you’re still making progress towards becoming that great and majestic thing: a visionary.
- Examine your routines. Often habits of the mind reflect habits of the body, and while some things simply can’t or shouldn’t be disputed (such as school drop-off or pick-up times, doctor’s visits, mealtimes), quite a lot of the average person’s schedule is occupied by arbitrary space. And the first step to becoming a visionary is being willing to examine the way things have always been … and take steps to break out of that. Maybe your schedule works … but it doesn’t empower you to write as much as you like. Consider what all can go, and lay out some ideas for new routines. Start with some ideas for what you can do next week, some others for next month, and so on.
- Take a minute for mindfulness. This can look different for every person, but it’s a consistent component of every breakout author success story that they have found times to sit for a moment each day and think. Just think. Maybe you need to clear your mind. Maybe you need to just focus on one thing for a while—like your book. Maybe you need to work through some steps. If you don’t know what works for you yet, then I have good news: there are plenty of mindfulness strategies to try! I personally prefer to do mine at the end of a day, but I can definitely see the value to switching that up and doing it in the morning, before things get started. I use a mindfulness app, like Headspace, because it’s easy and came as a built-in app on my phone. But YouTube is packed with resources for people looking for guided meditations or mindfulness activities.
- Keep nothing sacred. That is, when someone says or suggests something new, and your first reaction is to think “no way!” or “that won’t work for me,” consider why you think that. And keep nothing sacred—because nothing is, not really, except for of course certain cultural or religious things to which I’m not referring here. I’m thinking more about habits, and ways of thinking, and so forth. And reconsidering one’s assumptions is incredibly difficult, since they’re very often, well, assumed. And implicit, under the skin. Drawing out what you assume to be true about yourself and the world—and your book!—is vital to becoming one of those people who can “think different.”
- Think of an ecosystem, not individual “things.” Nothing exists in a vacuum, right? Including your work-in-progress. Including this or that writing habit which you’ve picked up somewhere along the line, or this or that routine you’ve decided to follow. Including the publishing industry! When looking to cultivate some of those future-thinking or visionary possibilities, remember that every “thing” or behavior or system exists as part of a network or relationships, like an ecosystem of plants and animals. Take away the top-order predators and the system collapses. Take away the simple single-celled organisms at the bottom of the food chain and the system collapses. But it also works in reverse: tweaking the little fiddly bits of how you think and how you write and how we publish can strengthen the ecosystem as a whole. The key is to boost the vitality and flexibility of every part of that ecosystem, not just to look at the “top” (big decisions, like where to publish) or the “bottom” (little decisions, like what pens to buy).
- Expand your list of futures. What will the future look like? I mean, to you specifically. Well, it can look like a lot of different things, and the list keeps growing and shifting with each and every passing day. I recommend exposing your mind to the voices of as many future-thinkers as possible, either by seeking them out on web forums or in podcasts or in the science fiction section of your library. Publishing, especially self-publishing, is tied up with all sorts of cultural, societal, historical, and technological trends. Read up, listen up, and absorb. It will enrich your idea of what’s possible, and possibly even encourage you to dream up some of your own ideas—ideas you can act on. I recommend the “Future Thinkers” podcast, BBC Future, and the “Ideas” page on FastCompany.com—just to start. There are loads of other resources out there!
- Do the leading thing. Becoming a future-thinker means becoming a leader, although there are so many kinds and varieties of leaders that it doesn’t mean you have to become a CEO or a General in the Air Force (though those would be cool things and you should go for them, if you want to). But what is it that all leaders do? They share and guide others. Find a way to share your ideas that fits with who you are and what you already want to do as an author. Whether that’s starting a Twitter account or a blog dedicated to sharing tips and tricks to writing, or signing up to start a writer’s group in your local area, or volunteering at the library to help develop programming for authors and speakers in your area—there are ways you can be a leader.
And we’ll always be here to support you while at it.
You are not alone. ♣︎