Learning from Dickens

Comments (1) Posted By Joe on March 9, 2012 in Business Basics

Last month, fans of Charles Dickens honored the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth with readings, remembrances and musings on the Victorian scribe’s contribution to Western literature.

Amid the celebrations emerged a useful lesson for small-business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.

No, I’m not talking about Dickens’ exhortation against stinginess in the form of Ebenezer Scrooge. I’m referring to the manner in which the author created some of his most famous works: Dickens wrote and published many of his novels in monthly, chapter-length installments.

People who dream of publishing a book often find the process of writing one to be taxing and tedious. The same goes for people launching the business they’d always planned to start. Even thinking of all the tasks involved in running a successful business – marketing, accounting, sales, innovation, and more – often paralyzes new entrepreneurs. Dickens’ example offers a wise strategy: instead of worrying about the entire undertaking, focus on the immediate next step.

Entrepreneurs can look to writers – who also engage in a solitary endeavor that is creative but grueling at times – for lessons on how to penetrate the haze that settles around stressful projects.

Like starting a business, writing a book is a daunting venture: the author must work numerous personalities, themes, and events into a cohesive story. Authoring a book is a lonely pursuit, but publishing one affords the writer the chance to fail in a spectacular, public way. The writer worries constantly that the work into which she’s invested countless hours will result in reproach or, worse yet, indifference, from critics and the buying public.

Like starting a business, writing a book is something almost everyone dreams of doing. Business-ownership and book-authorship both offer the tantalizing prospect of self-expression. Both seem to offer autonomy. Both attract aspirants in droves with the possibility – albeit more elusive than any dreamer would care to admit – of public renown and fabulous wealth.

The trouble is that while the prospect of wealth and eminence beckons from the worlds of authorship and entrepreneurship, it also adds harmful doses of anxiety to each. Embarking on one’s life’s work is far more stressful than, say, organizing the files at a company you work for but despise. Creative endeavors bring a prospect of failure that is real and very personal. That’s why most people avoid them.

Still, a small portion of the population writes great books and starts amazing businesses. Are they fearless? Some are, but most are as scared as the rest of us of criticism and grueling work. I lack evidence that would tell us the camp in which Dickens falls. But having read myriad accounts of writers’ and entrepreneurs’ habits, I have learned something: the successful ones are those who plod through their self-inflicted resistance and do great work, one small step at a time.


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