by Meg Dowell
You don’t know which projects are going to succeed, and which ones are going to fail.
Many people assume that because I’ve been writing for a long time, I now do so professionally, and I give advice on my blog, I’m the expert who knows it all.
And with that point of view comes the assumption that I’ve already learned all I need to learn to be a successful writer.
Thankfully, these wrongful assumptions are the reason this blog lives and thrives despite being one of many (MANY) in its niche. It’s when I draw from my own experiences, and the things I’m learning as I slowly build my career, that my readers seem to resonate with my content the most.
Which is why I want to share something important I learned last week. Rather, something a fellow writer shared with me that has completely changed my perspective.
So here’s the deal: we all want everything we write to do well. We know not everything we create will go viral, but we still hope what we publish gets as much attention as possible. As much as you might love writing because creating is just part of who you are, we all write partially because we want people to read and connect with what we have to say. The more people that discover our work, the more we’re filled with a sense of fulfillment every writer dreams of.
But the reality is that most of the writing that gets the kind of attention we strive for starts with a really good idea. And what too many writers tend to forget — or never seem to realize — is that many of the ideas you come up with aren’t “really good.”
So if you want more of what you publish to do well and circulate on the web or around your local chain of bookstores and coffee shops, you have to come up with a lot of ideas to generate enough “really good” ones. And this also means you have to write A LOT. Even if much of what you write never makes it past the self-editing stage of the review process.
What my writing “mentor” reminded me of was this:
“Eighty percent of what you write will never go anywhere.”
Such a simple string of words. But words I didn’t even know I needed to hear.
It’s hard for many writers — especially beginners — to swallow the reality that they’re going to spend a lot of time writing things that won’t succeed. I know it can feel like a waste of time. I know you might feel like it’s hard enough to manage your time as is — why spend more time writing when what you’re creating might not even “make it”?
But you have to be honest with yourself here. Much of the writing you do in your lifetime will be practice. If you only wrote when you knew something was going to do well, or only because you’re depending on a paycheck, you’re never going to learn anything, or get better, or test out new — even crazy — ideas.
The best, most promising writers out there are the ones who write, no matter if what they’re writing has any chance of success.
If your fear of failure stands in the way of getting any writing done … that’s something you really need to work on.
If your lack of confidence is what’s stopping you from pursuing a big idea, you need to remember that creating doesn’t always produce the best product. But something is so much better than nothing.
In your lifetime, you’re going to write a lot of things.
Probably about 20 percent of those things will do well.
So stop worrying about whether or not your ideas are good enough, interesting enough, or worthy of becoming bestsellers or prize-winners. Just write. Because you don’t know which projects are going to be part of that 80 percent, and which ones are going to make it into the much more favorable 20.
I have a feeling some of you really needed that reminder today.
I know I did!
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.