Wise Words for Writers: Why we had a President Named Calvin

People ask, what is the most important thing necessary to be a successful writer?  You see this question posed regularly on forums around the net.  Answers vary. 

You have to hone your writing until it reaches professional standards.  You have to learn to create realistic characters who relate through realistic dialogue.  Show, don’t tell.  Develop an unique, strong and positive voice.  Start with a main character in a situation (problem, dilemma), not with background.  Learn to conclude.  Write so the reader will keep the pages turning.  Edit well.  (And my favorite): Tell a story that is worth reading.

All these are good suggestions for writing a novel, but none are most important.

Then you get notes from the other side of the coin:

Learn how to market your work.  Get your name out there.  Build your brand.  Network, if you hope to make sales.  Get reviews – find reviewers you can trust to say good things.  Facebook, linked-in, tweet, and talk to actual human beings.  Give interviews, book signings and sell, sell, sell.  And all these are good things, too.  But again, not most important.  And hardly relevant to the beginner who has yet to see something in print…

In my mind (with absolutely zero statistics to back this up) I imagined reality is something like this:

100,000 books are written this year.  90,000 suck, but of the 10,000 good ones, only a few will see print.  Most agents will tell you, the bad ones are easy to spot.  The hard part is deciding between the good ones – which ones do they honestly believe they can sell.  Agents don’t make money unless they sell.  But here’s the thing:

Of that 10,000, some 9,000 will never see the light.  They will never be sent, anywhere.  Fear, low self-esteem, no self-confidence and so on are your friends… in other people.  Still, that leaves 1,000 books in competition.  For maybe 900, the writers will receive a couple of rejections and give up.  Whether they decide it is too much work, they can’t handle rejection, they lose whatever confidence they had or whatever, they quit.

Out of the 100 books left, it may take 100 tries to find your place.  It may take 200 tries if some of the thousand luck out and get accepted before the couple of rejections turn them off. 

So then I came across the “most important thing” question on yet another forum, and it occurred to me there is a reason why we had a President named Calvin.  Here is what he said:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  – Calvin Coolidge 

As the Captain in the movie Galaxy Quest said:  “Never give up.  Never surrender.”  That is truly the most important thing if you hope to be a successful writer… or a successful anything else for that matter…

2 thoughts on “Wise Words for Writers: Why we had a President Named Calvin

  1. I think you hit it splat on the head here. Nothing is sadder and more infuriating than the talented person, the person you KNOW could succeed, who just gives up somewhere on the climb to the top — a rock in the shoe, a squirrel, a broken heart. It doesn’t matter. Catch your breath if you need to, and then keep climbing!

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