Play to your strengths — Write what you know and not just what is popular. If you feel strongly about a topic then that is probably a good topic to write about. I feel strongly about being positive despite having cystic fibrosis. That’s why the theme of all my writing is this.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Lipman. Andy Lipman has cystic fibrosis, but cystic fibrosis will never have him. On his 38th birthday, Andy passed the current median life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis (CF). Now at 45, his life expectancy now exceeds the expected. Andy is a positive role model, who defied all odds to become a college graduate, Olympic-torch bearer, runner, author, husband, and father. He is dedicated to finding a cure for this genetic disease. Andy’s fourth book, The CF Warrior Project: 65 Stories of Triumph Against Cystic Fibrosis, celebrates the people from around the globe who, like him, persevere and live life the fullest every day even though they have a terminal, invisible disease. The CF Warrior Project is available now on Amazon. Lipman was inspired to write The CF Warrior Project because of his lack of CF role models as a child. He became concerned after reading an encyclopedia article as a young boy that said he would not live to see his 25th birthday. Andy has two written memoirs telling his story battling the long odds of a CF diagnosis: Alive at 25: How I’m Beating Cystic Fibrosis and The Drive at 35: The Long Road to Beating Cystic Fibrosis. In addition, he wrote the novel A Superhero Needs No Cape about a young person who grows up wanting to play Major League Baseball, but he must do so while fighting cystic fibrosis. Not just relating stories of survivors, Andy is also dedicated to finding a cure for this invisible, terminal disease. He and his family founded the Wish for Wendy Foundation in memory of his older sister, who died from CF after only 16 days of life. As of 2019, the foundation has contributed nearly $4,000,000 to help raise awareness for cystic fibrosis and fund research for a cure.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?
I was born in 1973 in Atlanta, GA. I was diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis, the same disease that took my sister nearly three years earlier. My parents were always worried about me, but my dad got me involved in sports. I grew up playing mostly baseball and tennis. Sports changed my life, both physically and mentally and I credit them for giving me somewhat of an edge against cystic fibrosis.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?
I would say the book I learned a lot from growing up was John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” I enjoyed seeing how these nomads never gave up despite tough times. I also very much enjoyed “The Diary of Ann Frank” as it showed that even during the worst of times one can remain positive.
What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
I remember growing up wanting to know that there were people like me who lived to do great things despite having cystic fibrosis. I knew of none and I just felt lonely. I wished back then that my book existed. It would have done wonders for me.
What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?
I hope to help young people regardless of whether they have CF or not to believe in themselves and not worry so much about statistics and doubters.
Now in my mid-forties, I thought a book about people living longer with cystic fibrosis was necessary and long overdue. I’m not just talking about people who are living their lives, but people who are also accomplishing amazing things while doing so. These inspiring stories will give hope to a new generation of CF warriors and their families, not to mention those of us in our twenties, thirties, forties and so on who could use a reminder here and there that life is there for the taking.
Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?
So far the book has sold pretty well, but it’s the reviews and the comments I’m getting which have revealed to me that what we put together was so necessary. These warriors inspire people and that’s what matters most.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.
When I started seeing parents sharing the book with their children and seeing pictures of them reading the book and smiling and even seeing photos of kids exercising after reading about these amazing warriors.
What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?
The most frequent thing I heard was that these stories were so powerful and really changed their perspective on life. It didn’t matter whether the person had CF or not.
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?
I would say the most moving thing was seeing people overcome the odds. We had one person for example who twice climbed Everest and nearly died the second time yet he still didn’t quit. We had another who literally had weeks to live before a lung transplant yet survived and is now thriving. That’s just a few examples
Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?
I believe the only drawbacks are trying to write another one that is just as powerful and keep this movement going but I am up to the task.
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
I believe that books are great because you don’t have to listen to outside opinions. You can come to your own conclusion without any noise around you. Books are for you and no one else.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study)
I became a bestselling writer because I don’t write just to put words on a page. I do it to pass on a message that I strongly believe will affect the world positively.
I would say the habit that has contributed mostly to me become a bestselling writer is learning from prior experiences. With each book I’ve written, I’ve learned from both criticism and praise. For example, when I wrote my second book “The Drive at 35”, it didn’t get nearly the fanfare of “Alive at 25” and that’s because I wasn’t as open in that book. I didn’t put it all out there. I have learned that vulnerability is so important when writing a memoir.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?
The biggest lesson I learned is that you’re always going to have critics, but you can use them to your advantage. Take what they say and determine if it would really help you.
The challenge I’ve learned most from my writing career is being willing to accept criticism. It’s hard to pour your blood, sweat and tears for months at a time and then have a critic take ten minutes to crumple up all your hard work. I’ve found that not everyone will like what you write but it’s important to be open-minded and pick up on weaknesses in your writing and work on your craft. It will make you a better writer.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (Please include a story or example for each)
1. Play to your strengths — Write what you know and not just what is popular. If you feel strongly about a topic then that is probably a good topic to write about. I feel strongly about being positive despite having cystic fibrosis. That’s why the theme of all my writing is this.
2. Be knowledgeable — Be sure to do your research. Don’t leave any stone unturned. If that means delaying a published date or anything like that then it is worth it. The important thing is making the final product the best it can be. You owe it to your reader and those you write about. I had one situation where I had to get a book to my editor by a certain date but I delayed it because one person I was interviewing had not confirmed her story. Turns out waiting paid off as we wrote 1/3 of her story over again due to a miscommunication regarding her info.
3. Be open-minded — Don’t go into a movement thinking “I don’t care what anyone says, this is how I’m doing things.” If you listen and remain open-minded, you’ll learn more than you think. I wrote about one person who didn’t have a huge Instagram following nor did she have the most remarkable achievements but because of how beautiful she told her story to me, it turns out she had the most interest from our readers.
4. Determination — It’s very important to go into a movement knowing you may not reach a single person, sell a single person or sell out a single event. If you’re ok with that and still determined to start a movement, you’ll probably be successful. As a little league coach, I always tell my kids, it’s not about losing or winning. It’s about doing your best, practicing the fundamentals and loving the game. You do all three of those things and the scoreboard usually reflects it.
5. Passion — It’s important that you love what you do. If you don’t love it, it’s not fun. My first two books were about me and while it was therapeutic to write about myself, I didn’t get nearly the satisfaction I do by writing about others and watching their stories inspire others.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?
I think the biggest thing is that our young people know that we are all different and that’s okay but we all need to make a difference. We need to stop viewing “different” as “weird” and I harp on this in my own speeches at schools.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
For more information, go to CFWarriorProject.org. Follow Andy Lipman and The CF Warrior Project on Twitter: @CFWarriorProj; Instagram: @CFWarriorProject; YouTube: CF Warrior Project; Facebook: Andy-Lipman; and LinkedIn: Andy Lipman. Tags are #CFWarriorProject and #CFWarrior.
Thank you for all of these great insights!