7 Questions with Jerry Nelson
The Prolific Writer: Writer Spotlight
1. Why do you write?
Because I can’t do anything else.
I don’t mean I’m physically challenged in any way. I can do and have done, many different things in life.
But writing has always been a mainstay for me. At times writing has been locked away and kept hidden from even family and very close friends, but it always came out of the vault. Sometimes with a roar. Sometimes with a murmur. But writing for me has been a wolf in a trap, willing to go to any length to raise its head and scream for attention.
Part of me is still five-years-old. Remember how you presented your mom with the latest drawing in elementary school? You waited on her to ooh and ahh before relegating it to a place of honor on the fridge door.
That’s still me.
The money is nice, but the thrill and excitement of seeing my name my byline on something that is on the world’s fridge’s door.
Nothing else brings me the same contentment.
2. When you get stuck and are staring at the blank page. What steps do you take for moving ahead?
I don’t get many chances to stare at a blank page. The type of writing I mainly do is for clients. They decide the topic, so that doesn’t leave much room for blank pages and staring.
On the rare occasion, I want to write something, just for myself and am looking for inspiration, Reddit is a nice tool and so is Quora.
I also use Twitter as a muse. With a quarter-million fans and followers, I just have to send one tweet and the problem goes from “what do I write about,” to “which one of these great ideas do I write about?” So maybe it’s the same problem, just dressed differently.
3. Share a writing/publishing failure. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
I get what you’re asking, I really do, but I’ve never had a writing or publishing “failure” in the sense you may mean it. All of my efforts have been successful, and, like any writer, some have been more successful than others.
But if I have to identify a writing failure, I would say my tendency to suffer from “the imposter syndrome.”
I’m a Top Writer on Fiverr — in the top 1% of 1% of writers, but I still choke when it’s time to send the client their order. I catch myself wondering, “Is it good enough?” “Does it answer the question they had?” “Is there something else I could do?”
Maybe it all goes back to the refrigerator door, but I tend to procrastinate when it comes time to send a submission. I don’t procrastinate when it comes time to write, but I do when it comes time to hit send.
I have to force myself to push that green button.
Another aspect of the “imposter” syndrome, for me, is “Who am I to be this lucky?”
I’ve got a great life. Alejandra and I have a condo in Buenos Aires which overlooks Rio de Plata. At night, when the sun has set, I can look across the river and see the lights of Montevideo start to come on.
It’s fall here as I write this and the Capuchin monkeys are migrating north for the winter. There’s a gnarly tree around one-hundred years old which sets feet away from the balcony. The Capuchins use it as a rest stop overnight, so when I come out to the balcony in the mornings to work, I ‘ve got several of the little critters waiting to see me.
I’ve been published on all seven continents, even Antarctica — and have clients around the world.
There are hundreds of sidewalk cafes in the city and I have my pick of any of them from which to work. There’s at least 30 within a couple of blocks of our condo.
So, I ask myself again, each day, “Who am I to be blessed with such a great life?”
4. What mistakes do you see newbie writers making (Craft, marketing, or business related)?
Marketing would have to be the biggest mistake I see repeated. When a new writer asks me what they should study to get ahead, I tell them marketing.
A person can be a Hemingway or Carver or O’Connor, but without the ability to get the work out, no one will know about it.
The writing days of “Build it and they will come,” are gone and never will be seen again.
There is, as you know, a lot of noise and static surrounding writers today. Marketing is the only way to rise above that static and get noticed.
5. How has your perspective on writing evolved over the years? What would you tell your younger-writer-self?
Always say yes. Never say no. Well, usually.
A potential client tosses a topic at you and they want 600 words by tomorrow afternoon. Who knows what the topic is? Who cares. The topic could be XYZ Widgets and guess what. You don’t know anything about widgets.
Say yes to the project anyway.
The benefits are yours to reap. You can pick up a few coins, learn about widgets during your research and you’ve gained a new client. It is a win-win for you.
There are times though, that you want to say no and run to the nearest exit. One reason is the client that is more concerned about money than quality. There is nothing you can do to make them happy. Don’t even try.
Closely related are the clients who want to spend hundreds, or thousands, of dollars on web design and scrimp on the content. I always ask this client if they really believe that it is the whiz-bang design which keeps drawing customers in and keeps them coming back — or is it content?
6. How do you determine which project to work on next? What’s your process for cultivating new ideas?
Much of my work is ghostwriting for clients — books, articles, posts & white papers, so the topic is already chosen for me.
For my own writing pleasure, I keep a tickler file in Trello. When I’m reading throughout the week, I send a possible topic to Trello. If I’m ever stuck for what to write next, I have a laundry list of potential topics to write waiting on me inside Trello.
7. Give 1–3 writerly truths for beginning and intermediate level writers.
One time I had breakfast with Stephen King. I asked him the same question and his answer was brief, and do the point: “Write a lot.”
Too many beginning (and intermediate writers) fool themselves into thinking they are ‘working’ while they read books about writing better, watching YouTube videos about writing, working on their author website, skimming Quora, Reddit or Facebook.
A writer is only working when they are writing. So write a lot.
Pelton notes: “It’s amazing how many people complain they can’t seem to finish anything or they're paralyzed by searching for the next great idea. Ask a few questions and you realize a lot of talk about creating, but not much doing.”