The Best Piece of Writing Advice I Ever Received


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.

37 thoughts on “The Best Piece of Writing Advice I Ever Received

  1. Thank you so much for writing this post. I’m realising more and more that great writing is a hard thing to pin down. It comprises so many factors: great ideas like you mentioned above, the ability to write in a way that allows readers to connect with your ideas, and more.

    Thank you so much for this post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good advice, but I wonder what would happen if the word “write” were changed to “publish.” Now that self-publishing is available to all, writers must be able to identify which of their works deserve that.


  3. Wow! This just blew my mind! Fear of failure and self doubt are major hurdles while writing. Hence its most important to just jump into it and focus on delivering a good work. As you said not everything you write will be successful but writing is important.
    To reach to that 20% we MUST to go through remaining 80%!


  4. “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Linus Pauling. From my days in tech and innovation, we’d spend hours brainstorming hundreds of ideas and then weeks sifting through them looking for a nugget of an idea we could polish. Thanks for the reminder that the same applies to my writing.


  5. When it comes to writing I have always carried with me the baseball mentality. If you are a hitter in the major leagues and you fail 70% of the time you are an all-star. You will be in high demand and make a nice living.

    I have created a lot of stories with the hope that one of them would succeed. Two months ago I received an offer from a publisher. My novel will be in print at the end of the year.

    Most of us have pages after pages of characters and places in our files that will never see the light of day. But that’s okay. They were practice that lead to our success.

    Excellent post. Thank you!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Once again you have shared some fantastic advice that I really needed to hear! I have already shared with you that I am extremely passionate about writing and I have always know in my logical mind, some of it will not go anywhere. I enjoy reading your amazing advice because you sharing the knowledge you have is more beneficial than you know and I believe you are helping more than just me. Thank you for the continued knowledge you share and I only can hope someday, I will be even a fraction of the success you are. I think it is safe to say, you are my mentor and we have never even met!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think what we all forget is that learning to write, like, really write in a creative way, is a process of learning. And just like we watch our own children acquire so much knowledge in school year after year, we have to remember that it does take all these years, with ups and downs, lessons learned, mistakes made, to get to the point where they finally graduate and “know” how to do some stuff, like mathematics, languages, science etc. In the end, it’s a bit naïve of ourselves to think that we can just be wonderful creative writers by one day deciding that that’s what we want to be, and not put the same effort in it as we’ve done with other things in our lives.


  8. Good piece! A couple of thoughts. Yes, in a way, it’s a numbers game; i.e. the more we write, the better our chances of being discovered, appreciated, etc. BUT this doesn’t apply if everything we churn out is lousy! So yes, we need the practice, but we also need good feedback. By “good” I don’t mean “positive” – not at all. In fact, we probably learn a ton more from negative feedback – as long as it’s constructive. In other words, I would never just tell someone their article was bad… instead I’d try to find some suggestions for improving it. So: it would help us budding writers if we joined a writing group. Or took a creative writing course (taught by a teacher with A-1 credentials). Or just exchanged our work with one or two other writers online, say, for some honest feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like what you’re saying here because it also ties into the idea that writers are idea factories. You can’t just have one good idea. They’ll keep coming and coming. You never know what’s going to work.


  10. Extremely helpful and a realistic perspective, even if it may be hard to swallow. I do have fear of failure, but you truly can’t know when you embark on a new project whether it will succeed or not. It’s hard sometimes to persevere.


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