Want Success? Then Work Hard!

Image by JD Hancock

Last week I spoke at the All Sports United Summit at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. It was a great time, and I got to meet several current and former athletes who have built foundations to better their communities.

Smoking cigars and talking with NFL players and Olympians was an eye opening experience.

We were very, very similar in our approaches toward work. Professions aside, we were all type As. Each of us enagaged in a different activity, they the world of competitive sports, me in the blogging and writing world.

They asked me how I write books. I said I wake up every morning at 6:00 a.m. and write or edit for an hour or two before my family rises. Some days I double up and write/edit after my family sleeps.

I asked how they train. They wake up every morning and start their workouts before most people have had their first cup of coffee. Like me and writing, these pros work out religiously. The NFL players were in their offseason. They’re still working out every day.


AllSports United Finalists Madieu WIlliams, Israel Idonije (winner),  PVBLIC Director Rachel Gerrol, Jeremy Staat, and TYrone Keys
AllSports United Finalists Madieu WIlliams, Israel Idonije (winner), PVBLIC Director Rachel Gerrol, Jeremy Staat, and TYrone Keys

AllSports United Humanitarian Award Finalists Madieu WIlliams, Israel Idonije (winner),  PVBLIC Director Rachel Gerrol, Jeremy Staat, and Tyrone Keys

They were all very competitive people that want to do better. The athletes wanted to have a strong next game, or a great next fundraiser. I want to take my writing to the next level with each book I write. I want every one of my clients’ campaigns to absolutely crush it.

The effort and discipline necessary to achieve repeat successes requires an iron commitment, one that will not wilt through the seasons.

What Commitment Looks Like

Steven Wright once made a joke about writing a book. He said, “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.”

It’s true, publishing requires going beyond thinking or saying that you are writing a book.

Many people have set out on this journey, but could not complete it. You hear the excuses all the time: “I’m too tired. I had to take a business trip.  I can’t focus. It’s not perfect so I rewrote it. There isn’t enough time. I can’t.”

When I hear these things, I nod and smile, but say to myself, “No, you don’t want it bad enough.”

Image by Anthony Tripoli

Because when you want something bad enough, you do it. Period. There is no sob story. The sobbing comes from the sacrifices. Let me tell you about my year so far:

      • My grandfather died. I wrote or edited every day that week.
      • I participated in physical therapy three or four times a week for the first five months of this year. I wrote or edited every day.
      • At SxSW, I hung out with people every night. I woke up every morning and wrote or edited.
      • My Dad visited to celebrate his birthday and first day of retirement. I wrote every day that weekend.
      • My wife has a night off every week, she spends it with friends. I write or edit on my night off, more often than not. The same thing goes for our weekend free time.
      • My friends played poker one night last April. I fell asleep so I could wake up early and write.
      • My novel needs proofing at the end of the month. I punched in edits every day for the past two weeks.
      • I helped Vocus throw a major conference this week. I wrote or edited every day this week.

I ALWAYS write or edit no matter what. It may only be 250-500 words a day, but I do it.

Writing requires sacrificing major components of my personal life. I have five roles/jobs during any week; father, husband, consultant, writer and self care. I get to enjoy myself at a game or a movie once a week. That’s it.

And you know what? I’m not complaining. I may not be as happy or have as much vicarious pleasure as others, but I’m doing what it takes to publish. It’s my choice.

Toils and Suffering

That choice also causes me to be somewhat less sympathetic toward authors that complain about the difficulties of writing and marketing books.  Books require serious work. Everything worth doing takes hard work. Everything, not just writing books.

Colin Powell said, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”

Some people expect an easy road to success, but I don’t think that’s possible.

I don’t believe in the four hour work week. Life is not always easy. Invariably, success requires suffering. You struggle. Jobs become tense. Children get sick. Fatigue plagues you. Someone dies. You have to travel.

Name your scenario. Even in the cushiest of lifestyles, we suffer. In fact, wealthier people tend to suffer more with a tendency towards misery.

First world problems, right? It’s hard to take the problems of the wealthy serious.

Regardless of physical well-being, life is not meant to be a cake walk. If it was, could we appreciate great achievements? I don’t think so. We would not be able to recognize them.

To truly love the sun, we must have the rain.

Wanting to win fuels you. You have to go through more to accomplish great things. You shut up, keep quiet, focus on what matters, choose your battles, work that extra hour. You do all of these things because you need to achieve the larger goal.

Then you fail, and you start again because you must if you want success bad enough.

So I choose to suffer.

Is there a right way to endure the pain? Increasingly for me, I rely on a few friends to ease the load, and then it’s face first into the wind.

Toil with grace as much as possible with a stiff upper lip. Sometimes you gotta break. It’s too much. Rest and recreation helps. Then you get up again, walk forward step by step, and sooner or later you finish.



Often, good times just seem to happen on their own. When you are so busy focused on the actual action — the next right thing — you don’t notice the transition from toil to spoils. It’s quite nice.

When the good times start — the gravy from all the hard work — you appreciate them even more.

You have to be grateful. Not everyone publishes four books or blogs for eight years successively. I am thankful for the people who helped me to achieve these successes.

Frankly, real life issues occur that can make it all go away in a moment. Sometimes you really want to quit, too, but if it’s who you are, well then, you do it. And that’s why the successes are so special.

You encourage friends and acquaintances when they say, “Hey, I want to write a book, too.” You tell them your personal process, and hope they succeed. More importantly, prepare them for the labor.

It’s special a thing to succeed.

There’s nothing quite like sitting down and talking with someone else who’s been through the toils. It’s like wearing a pair of glasses; you see things differently, you think about ideas and projects in a macro sense. It’s one of the benefits.

Until you’ve done what it takes to write a book, you can’t comprehend the effort or the scope. The NFL guys could say the same thing about surviving an entire season of pro football.

How do you make great successes happen?


  • I hate to leave comments that are banal and sort of duh, but all I can really say is that I love this post way way a lot. Also, the picture you chose at the top is the best thing ever :)

    Have a great weekend, Geoff!

    • Thank you, Margie! I loved it, too. It was part of the fun of the photo research. Flickr is an awesome social network!

  • A lot of people ramble on about “overnight success”. People often only notice you once you’ve become successful. They don’t often see what it takes to get there.

    Even at that, success is fleeting if you don’t continue to work your butt off day in and day out to reach the next level.

    Success is never the end of the journey – it’s when the real hard work starts.

    • Great point. Hugh Howey, the indie superstar who has taken the book world by storm with “Wool”, was an overnight success, except that he wasn’t. It was his ninth book.

    • Totally agree. I often reflect about how much I enjoy and look forward to the actual writing. I feel like the editing is batting ractice, but the writing is hitting the ball, and it’s so much fun. Even a few years ago I could not say that, and to me that says the journey has become a grand journey. I love the work, but understand the hard work is necessary to make the fun parts enjoyable!

  • Geoff: I love how you swim upstream on this one, demonstrating what it means to have great work ethic at a time when the current meme seems to be about how to find balance in life and work. Or as you write: “I may not be as happy or have as much vicarious pleasure as others, but I’m doing what it takes to publish.” Admittedly, it’s not the path I’m on, but respect to you for making your dream happen.

    • As much as I appreciate the need for balance — and you can see I am regimented in enforcing it for my family and even taking care of myself — I know from my own experiences and talking with others that to really rise above and do things like those discussed here — or to get a doctorate, or to fundraise $100k for a favorite charity, or to create a magnificent garden — you have to do the work. It’s just the way it is. It’s not for everyone, it can be a very painful path, and you have to respect people that say no thank you.

  • For me there is value in the mind-set I have with regards to writing novels (or non-fiction, as I’ve written one of those as well). I’m what is called a “pantster”, meaning I don’t outline my novels, figure out my characters ahead of time, or even know “who done it”, when I start. I write the first chapter and then follow it up with chapter two.

    I can’t imagine setting out to write a novel between 50 – 100K words. I don’t even think it is possible. That being said, I have written seven novels, 51K, 68K, 78K, 104K, 52K, 60K, 53K, and one book about the Iowa Hawkeyes Men’s basketball team from 1986, 52K. I’ve done this all in the last 3.5 years. Before that, I didn’t like writing.

    In my mind I can always write 1,000 words. I know I can do it over and over again. So, I don’t write novels, I write chapters. I don’t know if approaching books in this way helps anyone else, but it is how I keep banging them out.
    Now, editing, publishing, and marketing, that’s the hard stuff. :-)

    • You have said what I feel so eloquently. A trilogy or 60k word book is impossible for me. But I can write everyday. And for a few days a week I can write on the same topi, and arc. And then behold, after several months — perhaps a year — there before me sits a book.

      As you said, it’s about banging it out slowly, but surely. Great comment, Brian! Thank you!

  • The thing that most people don’t realize is that success if malleable. It’s not just books that require hard work. It’s everything. Health. Family. Work. Play. As soon as you people coasting in any area of their life, make a note of it because there is a good chance that they aren’t coasting … they’re slowly sinking, just too slow to notice. And that’s where most people are. Always looking for easy. It’s nowhere.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Another metaphor might be a shark. Sharks die if they stop swimming. It’s move forward, or sink to the bottom, literally.

      One of the things I almost included in this post was a conversation about training. These athletes see their bodies as their product. They do more than work out, they swim, they participate in yoga, they eat well, it’s a complete process, not just the picture. There is no coasting!

      • I’ve noticed the same across my life. Unless pain is a driver (as plenty of authors use it, including me at times) … staying fit, getting out, enjoying family … brings clarity of thought. I don’t know a better muse.

  • Hey, Geoff – Success in anything requires hard work and mental toughness (the latter is where things fall apart for most).

    Or another way to say it;

    Those who make it simply do what most are unwilling to do, and are foolish enough to believe they can.

    It’s simply amazing how much potential is squandered everyday :o

    • This message was right on time today. I know how hard it’s going to be to work full time and bring my book and dreams to life. Sunday begins the work and the outline. Yes it will be hard but I want this and I will get it done.

    • WIthout the effort, you can’t distinguish yourself. The two are inseperable, right?

      • Yes, those two are inseparable; however, without the mindset, you will never finish on top…

  • My favorite part…

    “Wanting to win fuels you. You have to go through more to accomplish great things. You shut up, keep quiet, focus on what matters, choose your battles, work that extra hour. You do all of these things because you need to achieve the larger goal.”

    Interesting, because I’ve told a few tennis players…when you care enough to pick up a bucket of balls and go serve every day, then let’s talk. Some people say “I play for fun”. I say I do, also. But winning and improving are fun, too.

    Why choose to be the same every day? In fact, being the same every day still means a slow decline due to aging. If it was money, and you stuck it in a mattress vs invest, then your net worth declines due to inflation. It’s important to invest wisely and diligently to get the best return on investments…whether they be financial or something even more precious: time.

    I guess I’m extreme and competitive in my thought processes, though?

    • I heard on the radio that Ray Allen shows up before everybody us to practice shooting threes. Larry Bird did the same thing. Great ones, and frankly, even the ones who simply make it to that level — publishing, pro athlete, etc. — invest that much more in their work. I think it’s not extreme, it’s proven reality. But is extreme in the same way that the 99th percentile is. In that sense, extreme is enviable.

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