Perhaps the Wisest Writing Advice of All (About the Ones Who Succeed)

At the 2008 AWP, I was sitting next to writer and professor Michael Martone, who was signing Rules of Thumb for students.

I don’t know how this came up, but I caught a bit of wisdom from Michael that I’ve never forgotten:

Only 10% (if that) of writers keep at it, and because they do keep at it, they are successful and known—even if not talented.

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to say it’s impossible to get published or that you have to be lucky.

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12 thoughts on “Perhaps the Wisest Writing Advice of All (About the Ones Who Succeed)

  1. Larry Hunter

    Should be added to the end of the sentence-or rich.
    Just like a salesman. Take the 99 doors slammed in your
    face waiting for that one door to open wide.

  2. Sally

    Discouragement is always at the door. So good to hear this repeated and repeated. My 92-year old mom is a painter who has had moderate success during her life (still painting.) She always says it is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Yes, she is talented, but she got there through persisting. A little luck doesn’t hurt, but ultimately, you are right. Rejection really stings, but need to keep on keepin’ on. Thanks for this, Jane.

  3. Matt

    I think it really is a case of "making" your own luck. You keep at it, perfecting your craft, learning the publishing process, maybe attending a few conferences. Somewhere, you meet the right agent or editor who happens to be right for your project.

    It’s so easy to get discouraged and give up as the form rejections pile up, your short story/novel gets a "thanks, but no thanks," and you start to think it will "never happen." Once you’re defeated, you’re done. You have to keep at it.

  4. Perry

    Great advice. I have heard people complain that they can’t get published but when I ask what they’ve done to try getting published invariably they haven’t done the work on the manuscript to make it publishable, or have only sent out the complete manuscript a few times.

    I know the publishing business is hard to break into but so are most industries.

    Time to put on the big girl panties and do the work.


  5. Benjamin

    But you DO have to be lucky. I don’t know one friend who hasn’t been lucky. Now, you can call it making your own luck by pimping yourself, being in the right place at the right time (by being in 500 places at once), or just pure dumb blind luck / destiny, but luck it is. Not giving up and lucky–two sides to the same coin, or two distinct coins? I should really not comment, should I?