Notes from Jon Acuff's Start Conference: Writer's Workshop

Notes from Jon Acuff’s Start Conference: Writer’s Workshop

The Start Conference was a two-day event in Brentwood, TN this past September 13-14, centered around the new book “Start” by author and speaker Jon Acuff. You can find out more about Jon and his book at his website:

Before the first sessions began, there was a reservation-only Writer’s Workshop featuring Jon, along with Jeff Goins, writer and author of the great new book “The In-Between“. Check out more about Jeff and his generous work to encourage  and equip writers at his website:


1. If you asked Jeff a few years ago, he wouldn’t have said he was a writer.

2. Writing for him was like the girl next door he was in love with but never asked out.

3. But a conversation with a friend changed everything: “Jeff, you’re a writer when you say you are.” (Tweet This)

4. Once Jeff ‘made it’ as a professional writer and quit his job, he didn’t know what to do. And he wasn’t writing as much as he should.

5. You don’t just ‘make it’ as a writer; things don’t get different. You hustle the same (or more) as when you were trying to ‘make it’. (Tweet this)

6. To stay on top of your game, you have to go back to the basic habits that got you there in the first place.

7. For Jeff, those basic habits were getting up at 5am, writing in the margins about life, just like the year he wrote a blog post every day.

8. Whatever it takes to get you where you want to go, you can’t stop there. That same intensity will get you to the next level. (Tweet this)

9. It’s just as much about the life behind the writing as the craft itself. (Tweet this)

10. Don’t pass up the chance to say hi to Kim Kardashian on a plane just because you doubt it’s really her. (For Jeff, it was!) (Tweet this)


11. To make it as a writer, you have to do better than average. Everyone with a blog is a writer, now.

12. ‘Craft’ = a learned skill, something you use your hands to build. Writers use skill, their brain, and hands to build worlds with their words.

13. Jeff hit his stride after getting better at writing, which only came after hard work.

14. Don’t do C-level material and expect an A-level return. (Tweet this)

15. The future goes to the writers who go the extra mile in offering something to their readers.

16. Good writing is effective for the audience that you have. (Tweet this)

17. The craft of writing is three things: 1) Show up; 2) Do the work; 3) Get feedback. (Tweet this)

18. Think of all the positive feedback you get from your friends, when deep down you know you could have done better.

19. You need someone around who will tell you like it is. You need the feedback you don’t want to hear, but need to. (Tweet this)

20. “Somebody lied to you and told you this was good. It’s OK, but you want better.”

21. Just because it happened to you, does NOT make it interesting. It needs to engage with and connect to the reader. (Tweet this)

22. Greatness always happens in the context of community. (Tweet this)

23. Do something every day to build your craft.


24. If you want to be a writer in the 21st century, you need a brand. And you already have one. (Tweet this)

25. Brands as in cattle brands = they leave a permanent impression, mark, or insignia.

26. Everything you do and say leaves an impression behind. That’s your brand. (Tweet this)

27. The question is: will you be intentional about your brand? (Tweet this)

28. And brands are NOT fame. Jeff’s millionaire musician friend didn’t become successful until he stopped caring about getting famous.

29. Stop worrying about being famous, and start worrying about success. (Tweet this)

30. Success = accomplishing what you set out to do, whatever that is for you. (Tweet this)

31. Norah Joyce, wife of James, famous author and one of Time Magazine’s most influential people of the 20th century: “Why don’t you write books that people understand?”

32. But what looks like irrelevance now can leave a legacy later. (Tweet this)

33. “I write for tomorrow, not for today.” –Seth Godin (Tweet this)

34. To build a brand, you need: 1) Friends; 2) Fans; 3) Patrons. Not all about a website, logo, or emails. (Tweet this)

35. Friends = encouragers. Fans= people who love you for you. Patrons = the current currency of connections and relationships.


36. Good writers can’t just write in a field on a blanket and let someone else worry about money.

37. “We don’t make movies to make money; we make money to make more movies.” –Walt Disney (Tweet this)

38. Once Jeff got to quit his day job, his time OPENED UP to write. THAT is the goal- but you need to maximize that newly found time.

39. Every day, do something to build your bottom line.

40. To build a business: 1) Ask questions, find the problem; 2) Help by offering a solution; 3) Let them pay you. (Tweet this)

41. Your number was called a LONG time ago. You already ARE a writer, you just need to WRITE. (Tweet this)

42. Every day, do one small thing to: 1) Build your craft; 2) Build your brand; and 3) Build your business.


43. Jon started with two self-published books, basically the best of his first blog ‘Prodigal Jon’.

44. Jon lost that first blog and all of its material to a bad web host, and had to change it to ‘Prodigal JoHn’ (not his name). Way to build a brand!

45. He really only had about 100 posts, so 80 of them were in the book. Lesson: you need more content.

46. “Like a lot of people, I’ve written 50 ‘almost’ books.” (Tweet this)

47. ASK YOURSELF: What kind of book should YOU write?

48. Write the book you MUST write or your head will explode. (Tweet this)

49. Three phases of writing a book: 1) Research; 2) Writing; 3) Selling. The first two last 6 months-1 year, the third never ends. (Tweet this)

50. Keep a “bucket” of ideas from which  to draw inspiration and direction. (Tweet this)

51. Never sit down with a blank sheet of paper, do your research first.

52. Riff off of the best to find your own voice. Jon has been riffing off of Steven Pressfield for the past 3 years. (Tweet this)

53. Mirror other voices you like, to get a sense of them.

54. Timing matters. Of your multiple book ideas, think of which one to write first. Stuff Christians Like wouldn’t sell the same way, now.

55. It still matters to be the first into the conversation on the market.

56. Jon shoots for 60,000 words for a book. He wrote 100,000 for Start. But DON’T get stuck on the metrics. Just write.

57. “Inside every piece of bad writing is good writing trying to get out.” (Tweet this)

58. No matter what, you will (should) end up with more material than you need.

59. You will be able to talk your way out of every book idea. DON’T DO IT. (Tweet this)

60. If your friend talked to you the way you talk to yourself, you wouldn’t have coffee with them.

61. The only way to write what hasn’t been written before is to write YOUR story. (Tweet this)

62. “Only no one can be you.” –@FAKEGRIMLOCK (Tweet this)

63. Reality: you never end up with the book you set out to write. (Tweet this)

64. As a writer, write your way OUT of the lie that you don’t make mistakes. Admit the mistakes. Be vulnerable.

65. For your first book, you will have to go in and “rescue the good one” to make it better.

66. Habits: Jon recommends writing at the same time every day. You develop muscle/brain memory.

67. Always write as if it’s your first book, NOT your last book (unless it is your last book). (Tweet this)

68. Stop writing once you are done for the day. If the momentum stops, let it go.

69. “We need to match our energy with our activity.” –@tonyschwartz (Tweet this)

70. When you are naturally inspired, use that energy and write at THAT time.

71. Don’t give the best of yourself to the least important tasks. (Tweet this) Make a list of your weekly repeatable activities.

72. Meetings at 4:30pm Friday? “There’s only one good thing to do at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, and that’s fire somebody.”

73. Find out your best time of the year for inspiration. Jon can’t really write in the summer, it’s too bright and happy.

74. Don’t throw any material away. Keep all the scraps. It might end up on a different platform. Everything you write is redeemable. (Tweet this)

75. Think honestly about what shelf your book would be on in a bookstore. Who are your neighbors?

76. Live your life in a way that’s conducive to your writing. (Tweet this)

77. “How dare you sit down to write before you stand up to live.” –Thoreau (Tweet this)

78. Your stories get older every year. Don’t let them get too old.

79. Look a year down the road. Is the life you’re living worth writing about?

80. Don’t overfill the story and leave no room for the reader to come in.

81. Great writers know how to invite the reader in to the story, and allow them to finish pieces of it in their head. (Tweet this)

82. Stories start things that facts just won’t. (Tweet this) But if you’re too vulnerable or detailed, you crowd out the reader.

83. The best way to find your voice is to use it. You have to experiment and write, “try on” voices to find yours.

84. The average reader will read the first 18 pages of a book. Grab their attention and hook them in. (Tweet this)

85. Don’t throw 60 unrelated ideas at the reader. Bridge, connect, making good transitions is key.

86. Storyboard and map out the flow of your book. You are not Quentin Tarantino. (Tweet this)

87. Your first chapter needs to grab people by the throat. Your last chapter is your challenge to the reader.

88. Coming up with a book title is the worst part. ‘Start’ was originally going to be called ‘More Awesome, More Often.’

89. Don’t get paralyzed about your first sentence. You can always come back and make a better one, later. (Tweet this)

90. Whether traditional or self-publishing, don’t let your ego get in the way. (Tweet this)

91. No one remembers who published a good book. Does anyone think, “The Great Gatsby…published by Simon and Schuster”? (Tweet this)

92. If you do traditional publishing, get a good buyback rate. 40-50% off is good.

93. Some publishers are now paying even better advances for first time authors than before.

94. “The goal of an author is to have six royalty-producing books.” –@JesusNeedsNewPR (Tweet this)

95. But the going rate for royalties from a foreign audience is about ten drachma (not much).

96. Serving your audience has to be central.

97.  You must be excited, or your audience won’t be. You have to go first. You have to care more. (Tweet this)

98. You haven’t overtweeted about your work; people don’t read tweets like the newspaper.

99. Three questions publishers ask of potential authors: 1) Is this a good idea? 2) Is this persona good writer? 3) Do they have a platform? (Tweet this)

100. They want you to have blog, traffic, and Twitter numbers. You would have to be the next Hemingway, and your book would have to be life-changing just by TOUCHING it, in order to get a book deal without social media, now. (Tweet this)

101. You don’t need a BIG platform, necessarily; you just need to show them you have an active passion.

102. The worst time to build an audience is when you desperately need them. (Tweet this)

103. Make friends before favors. Make a relationship, and don’t just use people. (Tweet this)

104. The question is not “do you have an audience” but “are you a part of the conversation?”

105. You need to connect your ideas with people’s circumstances, families, lives.

106. As an author, your JOB is to find out how to get more people into the conversation. (Tweet this)

107. You can take people into a different direction –if that’s where your life is actually going.

108. You can become the author you want to be if you stay work consistently on HOW you write.

109. Study other writers who have done what they do well. (Tweet this)

110. Always take an opportunity to promote outside of your tribe. The Quitter audiobook got 18,000 downloads on NoiseTrade. (Tweet this)

111. Find 50 tweetable things in your book, attach a link to Amazon, and schedule them. (Tweet this)

112. Don’t be insulted when you get a ‘no’ for endorsements. A lot of endorsements are actually written by the authors and just signed off.

113. Make it as easy as possible for people to say YES. Ask for honest reviews, not just 5-star reviews.

114. You can sometimes learn the most valuable things from the most negative reviews. (Tweet this)


115. If you get a book agent, oftentimes they can negotiate a better advance, to earn their keep. (Jeff)

116. Keep the proposals going. Kathryn Stockett’s proposal for “The Help” was rejected over 60 times. (Jon) (Tweet this)

117. Take a solid two hours to write a good blog post, rather than a few minutes writing a mediocre one. (Jeff) (Tweet this)

118. For people to read your blog: always be a part of a community before you create one.  (Jon) (Tweet this)

119. Make an Excel spreadsheet of similar bloggers to you, and make an effort to be a part of their community. (Jon)

120. Many of these bloggers/authors are friends. It’s not as hard as it used to be to reach out to them. (Jeff)

121. Balancing your art with your life is difficult, but very important. (Jeff)

122. Ask good questions of your readers, mentors, and yourself. (Jeff) (Tweet this)

123. Ask mentors, “How did you specifically get that done?” (Jeff)

124. Ask a few questions of good quality, and not a bunch of lazy questions. Do your research. (Jon) (Tweet this)

125. Don’t say “I know you’re busy, but…” Because,  it’s true! They ARE busy! (Jon)

126. Don’t ask a potential mentor for the moon. Just ask them out to coffee to chat. You’ll be surprised what may happen. (Jeff) (Tweet this)