To Succeed or Not—It’s More Complicated Than I Thought

search-for-success-intro-220x140[1]In an earlier blog, I wrote about the question of success for writers…what it means, how we define it, and I pretty much decided that it’s up to each of us to define our own measures of success. This often involves meeting goals, some that might have little to do with large royalty checks and tons of book sales.

Of course, the reality is that the world beyond our front door will judge us by our income, book sales, awards and prestigious reviews. Whether that matters is up to you, but apart from my own definitions and goals, I find the overall topic of success fascinating. So I was pretty excited to come across a book called Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.

In this book, Gladwell makes it clear that the success achieved by Bill Gates and the Beatles, for example, is not just a matter of talent or IQ, but of cultural background, family and community support, opportunities seized upon (right time, right place) and decisions made. There’s also the matter of the extreme amount of practice put into mastering their skills.

Gladwell cites the famous study which suggested that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieved the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. This goes for lawyers, rock stars, and writers, I expect.

It makes me wonder how many hours authors put into writing before publishing that first book (traditionally or through self-publishing), and if that practice is a sufficient foundation to reach multiple book publications and huge sales (whatever huge means). I’m just not sure that the 10,000 hour rule is all that straightforward.

For instance, if authors manage to put in 10,000 hours of writing practice before publishing that first book and landing a contract, is it enough experience to help them write the next two books that publishers often expect in quick succession? Will the authors have the mastery to produce the same quality of work that landed them a contract in the first place?

While Gladwell provides some intriguing anecdotes and stories, not all of the answers are there. He discusses the concept of failure as well, through the story of one of the most intelligent men in the world, yet very few people know who he is. It’s an insightful story.

I do think that Gladwell is spot on when he reveals that the super stars portrayed in his book are well aware that they didn’t get there alone. Again, this is also true for writers. If you’re interested in the topic of how success is created in some people and not in others, then I would definitely recommend this book.

Five Great Quotes for Writers

success-failure[1]Great quotes are like mantras to me. Words to live by, to be inspired by. They can be funny, poignant, or even maudlin, but if they resonate with me in some way, they go into my collection.

I don’t have a large collection yet, but after reviewing the few I do have, I found that they still work for me, even though some I found over 20 years ago.

I’m sharing five of my favorites. You’ll notice that many have a lot to do with success and failure, which isn’t a negative in my view, but rather a reality, a challenge, and a necessary part of life.

Some of the quotes directly refer to writers or the writing life, but many are more generic thoughts that certainly can apply to writers. Do any of these resonate with you?

  1. Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill 
  2.  Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe. – Sumner Redstone
  3.  Rejection is a writer’s best friend. If you are not failing regularly, you are living so far below your potential that you’re failing anyway. – Gregg Levoy
  4.  I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. – Michael Jordan.
  5. I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by. – Douglas Adams

And finally, I’m sharing one that has nothing to do with writing, but given the world’s political climate, I couldn’t resist:

No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office —  George Bernard Shaw

If you have any great quotes, please feel free to send them along!