So, I read an interesting blog post yesterday by the fantastic Kristen Lamb (follow her. NOW!), and she addressed the idea that only 5% of prospective writers *actually* become successful authors. In her post, she argued that although this is a depressing statistic for those of us who aspire to be that elusive successful writer, 5% isn’t that bad. Check out her reasoning:
When I gave the 5% statistic earlier, many of you were probably discouraged. But let’s take a closer look at that number.
It’s been said that as much as 75% of the literate population would love to one day write a book. Out of hundreds of millions of possible authors, how many do you think actually take the idea seriously?
And of the tens of millions left over, how many sit down and write and finish a first draft?
Of the millions remaining, how many actually read craft books, get critique and keep revising that first draft until they have a polished draft?
Of those who finish that first novel then realize they have a train wreck and not a novel, how many suck it up and start over to write a better book that’s more likely to engage with readers?
Of those who finally write a decent book, how many take time to also build a brand and platform? How many learn to blog effectively in ways that reach and cultivate readers?
How many get in the regular habit of writing, researching and revising? They don’t just stop with the one book and keep on writing more books?
Of those who publish the first book and don’t instantly become zillionaires, how many keep writing and improving?
This profession is really hard. Toss a few hundred million people with a dream into one large funnel and most will not shake out at the end. Yet, if we look at the individual pieces of becoming “successful” it is astonishing how much we control.
Others whine, we work.
At this point of my life, I found this to be pretty inspiring. I recently left my 9-to-5 (read: my contract didn’t get extended), and though I wasn’t completely against going out and finding another one, I’m *kinda* inspired to give this full-time writer thing a try. So, that’s what I’ve pledged to do. I have my novel coming out next month, and I’m working to secure some freelance work. Is this plan risky? Of course. Am I worried? Not really.
In light of these things, Kristen Lamb’s reasoning got me thinking. Yes, 5% may not be so bad when you consider that a lot of unsuccessful writers are unsuccessful because they don’t put in the time, but the amount of commitment expected of a writer is nothing to laugh at. In fact, becoming a writer is often fruitless labor for the first while (10 years in my case), so with that seemingly unattainable dedication, why write at all?
I think the answer to that question is fairly simple. Anybody who is serious about writing already knows that answer, and I think it is those people who end up persevering and becoming the perceived unattainable successful writer. The fact is that writers write because they have to. They write because there isn’t anything else they’d rather be doing. They were “born this way”, so to speak (Thanks GaGa). And at the end of the day, a writer becomes one of the “lucky” 5% not because of luck at all but because they wanted to, and they worked their butt off to get there. I’ve always said that becoming a writer is like running a marathon: you don’t just wake up one day, show up at the starting line, and come in first place. There’s training. There’s failure. There are nasty blisters and early mornings and vomiting from overexertion (beautiful visual, Michael).
But writers like it this way. If becoming a successful writer were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. How fulfilling would it be if you could just laser beam 80,000 words onto a computer screen and then sell it to the first publisher you pitched it to? Not very.
So, take comfort in the fact that determination does great things. Work your butt off, but enjoy the process. It’s not until years later that you appreciate all the time it took you to grow. Trust me, reading old material has become a nice pastime for me. It’s kind of inspiring.
Why do you write? Do you worry about becoming a successful writer?