3 Things You Need to Succeed

I’ve received many questions about the business end of writing. To answer I’d like to start with a high-level overview of what you will need to make it in any creative business endeavor and then drill down in later posts about Agents, Editors, and Proposals.

You will need ANY TWO of the following THREE things to succeed.

Talent: You have a gift with words. Your prose is flawless, and your characters spring fully formed from your forebrain.

Drive: You get you at 4 AM to bang out a few revisions. Three hours later you’ve written an entire chapter.

Luck: Mega Hollywood agents accidentally call you. You’re mother is friends with major media CEOs. You inherit a million bucks letting you quit your day job!

Let’s examine these in order of least-to-most importance.

Talent is least important. You can learn how to write. I did (at least what passes for modern popular writing). Don’t get me wrong, true talent is a gift to be cherished. Sometimes, however, great talents refuse to change a word of their prose to appease editors or adapt to find a new (larger) audience. By and large people with only talent fade from the publishing world.

Drive. You can guess how I feel about this. There are impossible deadlines, endless rejections, and countless rewrites. And then you get up the next day and do it all over again for the pure joy of it. Without Drive your career will slow to a crawl, choke, and fall into a coma.

Luck. The single most important thing. There are innumerable barriers beyond your control to getting published. Once published these obstacles continue as you climb from first-time writer, to mid-list author, to “hey I can actually make a living at this!” …and beyond. Luck opens holes in publisher’s schedules, aligns cosmic factors so the NYTIMES reviews your novel, and keeps the editor who loves your work gainfully employed.

In the end, however, you can only control ONE of the three things. Talent–you’re born with it. Luck? At the whim of the stochastic and often-cruel gods. That leaves Drive…and that ALL up to you.

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