Nothing new to say?
Ten years ago, Mark Manson was doing his best to make a living from his brand new online dating service. It wasn’t working. He was broke, overworked and short on success.
In May this year, his book ‘Everything Is F***ed: A Book About Hope’ debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
It’s his third book. His first, about dating, sold a respectable 15,000 copies. His second, ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k ’has sold over six million copies. So far.
Well done to Mark. Obviously, over the course of his struggles, he came up with some profound new insights that he could turn into a profitable writing career.
Except – apparently not. In his own words –
‘I got this criticism a lot – “He’s not saying anything new”. Yeah, well no shit. Who is?’
The books Mark writes – and sells by the millions – are described simply as ‘self-help’ yet there’s more to his work than the feel-good phrases and optimistic affirmations parroted by many in the same category.
He’s a deep thinker and devout reader who has taken classes in philosophy and psychology, explored Zen Buddhism and read widely on the Stoic philosophers as he explained in this interview in the Observer.
The point is like he says, none of the ideas he writes about are new. They come from ancient beliefs and philosophies that people like me and you, and Mark Manson, have been reading and talking about for centuries.
And somehow, the Mark who was working 10 hour days on his online dating service started listening to the Mark who was a voracious reader and thinker and started writing about these enduring beliefs from his own perspective.
Was his writing good at the start?
I don’t know but it’s unlikely that it was good in the way of ‘New York Times bestseller’ good.
That took writing and publishing and reflecting. And writing and publishing – and you get the drift. It took time and it took work and it took not giving a …. toss, about having anything new to say.
Yet not having anything ‘new to say’ still paralyses so many. They want to write but worry their work won’t match their aspirations. They think they have to have something original to say, otherwise what’s the point?
The point is – nobody else has lived your life. Or mine. Or Mark Manson’s.
That’s the only original, authentic thing we’ve truly got going for us. The collection of moments, those experiences and learnings and hardships that keep adding, layer by layer, to who we are. Just like the rings in a tree trunk, those layers add to the shape that is us at each stage.
And just as every tree is different in some way, every life will bring something different to the page. Not necessarily the ideas – there are no new ideas really.
Manson describes his books as self-help from a first-person perspective. He brings his experiences, insights and stories to the lessons he writes. And they are lessons – teachings for a 21st century audience about values and purpose, contribution and connection, philosophy and psychology. His work is grounded in practical, evidence-based research and teachings that have stood the test of time.
From trying to kick start an internet business that was going nowhere, to becoming an international best selling author, Manson listened to his own voice and then invested in growing that voice. As to his daily experience of being a writer, he has a few (likely not new) ideas to share:
- On his process: He writes outlines, often just dot points, to help find the direction for his work. He does it for big projects but then breaks them up into sections and even outlines his paragraphs.
- On writing for an audience: Write for yourself then edit or revise it for your audience.
- On his voice,‘I usually try to write the exact way I would try to sound if I was speaking’.
- On ‘writer’s block’: His attitude is compassionate – believing it to be anxiety generated by our internal filter that judges ideas to be worthy or not. His solution is to acknowledge that we’re judging then move past it and write anyway.
Once we accept it doesn’t matter that we have nothing new to say, we free ourselves to explore what it is within our own experience that can bring benefit for an audience. Just like Mark Manson.