I always think the authors I love are magic, that they are somehow different from me, and that’s why they are successful (famous, published, whatever). But that’s not true.
What does Galway Kinnell have that you don’t have? What does Mary
Oliver have? Nothing! (Or nothing that you can do anything about.) The only difference is that they kept at it. For years. And years. You can’t control things you can’t control, like luck or inborn talent (if there is such a thing). But here are three practices that you can control. They will make a difference:
- Practice Persistence—keep going! Usually this means taking some sort of action: writing, revising. Some days it might seem like you’re not going anywhere, but even if you’ve lost all hope and can’t take any action today, if you say to yourself, “I’m still here,” that’s persistence.
- Build Skill—most of what people think of as talent is actually skill. If you want to get good at something, you can.1 All you have to do is study. My definition of study has three parts:
1. find people who are good at what you want to do,
2. see what they do to get better, and
3. do that.
- Seek Community—connect with people in your field. Meet other writers, editors, anyone who does something related to what you do. Write charming notes to authors you admire.2 Go to events. Make your own events. Join organizations. Make friends with people who understand what you’re trying to do and who want to help you succeed.
The reason community is so important is that it helps you do the other practices. Keep going? Much easier if your friends are doing it too. Improve your skills? Hey, let’s take a class together. Humans are social animals. Other people are a huge biological influence on your behavior. You can use that to your advantage instead of letting it bring you down.
There’s a fourth practice that you probably need. It’s totally fine to write just for yourself, and that’s enough for many people. But if you’re reading this, it’s probably not enough for you. If writing is your art, you need to release your work. The pile-up-great-work-in-a-drawer method pretty much only ever worked for Emily Dickinson (and, by the way, she actually did let people read her poems).
You don’t have to show people right away; you don’t have to show everything; and you definitely don’t have to show it to everyone. But the basic message is this: do the above three things, and be willing to let your work make its way into the world by whatever means makes sense at the time, and you give your work its best chance to make a difference.
You deserve to create what’s in you to create.
So please, stick around. Control the things you can control: keep going, improve your skills, seek out community, and release your work. Give yourself the chance to succeed.
1 Please read Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.
2 For more about charming notes, see Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life.
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