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6 Rules to Pump Up Your Writing

When considering who gives out the best writing advice in the world, the first name that pops up might not be Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But a decade ago, Schwarzenegger presented his “6 Rules of Success” in a now-famous commencement speech at the University of Southern California.

And these rules just might hold the key to your success as a writer.

Rule #1: Trust yourself.

Deep down inside, you know that you need to write a novel. It’s not just an idle idea—it’s a burning desire. An obsession. A dream come true. Isn’t it?

If you want to succeed as a writer, you need to trust that.

“Inside my head and heart were a burning desire to leave my small village in Austria,” Schwarzenegger said once. “Not that there was something wrong with Austria. It’s a beautiful country. But I wanted to leave that little place and I wanted to be part of something big, the United States of America, a powerful nation, the place where dreams can come true.”

Rule #2: Break the rules.

Everywhere you look, you can see authors who are succeeding by breaking the rules.

The old rules used to tell you to get a literary agent before the book deal. Science fiction author Hugh Howey did it backwards, becoming a bestselling author first—and only signed with an agent afterward.

Rules exist for a reason, that’s true. But a good writer knows when to break them for maximum impact.

Rule #3: Do not be afraid to fail.


Years ago, I met soon-to-be-author Dolores Johnson in a copy shop, making photocopies of a manuscript. “My debut novel,” she said, beaming.

“Wow,” I said. “Your first novel?”

“Well, not the first one I wrote,” she said, after a moment. “Just the first one to get published.”

She told me that she’d written half a dozen manuscripts that had been roundly rejected. But she just kept writing. She knew that she’d get published sooner or later, and she never gave up. She went on to become the author of a successful mystery series.

No matter what your dream is—publishing a novel, winning Mr. Universe, whatever it is—know that you’ll spend a lot of time failing. Getting rejected. Losing contests. But that’s not the end. In order to succeed, you have to get up and keep going.

“You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself,” Schwarzenegger said. “You keep pushing because you believe in yourself and in your vision and you know that it is the right thing to do, and success will come.”

Rule #4: Do not listen to the naysayers.

For years, my Mom would tell me, “Nobody earns a living as a writer.” To which I always responded, “I do, Mom. I make a living as a writer.”

“But do you get health insurance?” she’d insist, shaking her head. “Paid vacation days?”

We all have naysayers in our lives. People who tell us that we can’t do it, or we’re making a mistake, or that things don’t work this way.

Hollywood agents told Arnold Schwarzenegger that there was no way he’d ever become a movie star. Not with his thick accent, his weird name and his massive physique. But those exact traits ended up being his strengths. If he had listened to the naysayers, he might still be in the Austrian Alps, yodeling.

Rule #5: Work your butt off.


Schwarzenegger started bodybuilding as a teenager. When he joined the military at age 18, they had him out doing field maneuvers, many miles from the nearest gym. So how did he stick to his workout routine?

By loading his weights onto the back of a tank. After they parked to make camp for the night, he’d pump iron for a few hours before dinner.

He left the military to pursue bodybuilding professionally, and at age 20, he won Mr. Universe. He went on to win Mr. Olympia seven times.

Are you willing to work that hard to finish your novel?

There are 24 hours in a day. If you sleep a full eight hours, you still have 16 left. If you devote one full hour to writing, and no more, that’s only 6% of your day.

Yes, it’s difficult if you also have a day job. And kids. And all of the other aspects of daily life. But it’s still only 6% of your waking hours. When you look at the math, every excuse falls flat. You can afford an hour a day to write a novel.

Hey, it’s not like you have to go load dumbbells onto a tank.

Rule #6: Give back.

I’ve donated dozens of manuscript critiques and a portion of my book royalties to various charities that support literacy, fight diabetes, and provide nourishing meals to those coping with life-threatening illness. I don’t do this for the bragging rights. I do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Oddly enough, I never experienced any success as a writer until I started giving back. I don’t know if it’s karma, or something spiritual, or simple gratitude. But it’s real, and it works.

Find a cause that you care about and give back to the community. Offer to write or edit a community newsletter. Volunteer to mentor a child. Donate to a charity that you believe in. It will not only help others, it will help you.

You’ve been blessed with a rare gift: the ability to stir up powerful emotions with mere words. Use that gift to make the world a better place. You’ll find that you become a better person, too.

Don’t get blocked. Get pumped.

Remember these six rules, and they will save you. The next time you start to doubt your writing skills, or you feel a bout of writer’s block coming on, or you’re stuck in the middle of your novel, just come back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 6 Rules of Success. Before you know it, you’ll be telling that writer’s block, “Hasta la vista, baby!”

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