I recently read the book Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage by Richard Stengel. Richard Stengel, editor of Time magazine, collaborated with Nelson Mandela on Long Walk to Freedom, and Mandela’s Way is a reflection on Nelson Mandela’s leadership skills.
Each chapter concerns a different skill, and as I read this lovely book, I noticed that seven of these principles could easily apply to writing. The principles come from Mandela’s Way, the observations are mine:
“Courage is Not the Absence of Fear” – Robert Dunbar talked about courage in writing; unfortunately a lot of writers allow their fear of rejection to override their creative abilities. Sometimes we desire publication so badly, we compromise our principles to jump on any bandwagon that rolls along. It is the writers who are true to their stories and their core principles that make the best authors. I may not agree with everything someone has to say, but I admire any writer who can clearly establish their point of view in a non-confrontational manner, be it in their novel or on their blog.
“Be Measured” – Every word counts. Read the masters of literature and you will find that every word, every sentence carries you forward in their stories. They mean what they say, and they say what they mean. Don’t be vague and obtuse in your writing. Be clear. Be measured.
“Look the Part” – No, we shouldn’t judge people by their clothes, but we do. It’s instinctive. So when you’re at conventions and meetings, look the part and that doesn’t just mean wearing nice clothes. People will judge you by how you speak and how you carry yourself. Most importantly, people will judge how you treat others.
“See the Good in Others” – Yes, a lot of books are published that I personally have no interest in reading. That doesn’t make these books bad. Don’t classify other people’s novels as drivel simply because you don’t like them. There’s something to learn from all them, and if you look hard enough, you will see the lesson.
“Know When to Say No” – Not everyone who critiques your manuscript will be right. Learn to evaluate other people’s opinions about your work. Make sure the agent you choose is right for you and remember . . .
“It’s a Long Game” – Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison before he saw his dreams come true. Twenty-seven years is a long time to wait. I’m not sure if some of the younger igottahaveitnow crowd can appreciate that kind of patience. Publishing is a slow business, and I’m ready to invest the time and care into both my career and my manuscript. You should be too. Edit, evaluate, edit, edit, edit, then submit.
“Quitting is Leading Too” – There always comes a time to stop. If you’ve been submitting a project and getting nowhere with it, put it aside and write something else. A retreat in strength is not a bad thing, and there comes a time for all of us when we need to move forward to a different project. This can apply to a manuscript or to holding on to a position in a club or organization too. Sometimes we need to step aside and give others the opportunity to have a chance.
If you get the opportunity, please read Mandela’s Way. Stengel presents a fascinating study of Mandela’s leadership abilities with practical advice you can apply to your own life.
Meanwhile, keep writing . . .