My Three Keys to Writing Success


I just got done reading an article about Seth Roberts, the second-year receiver for the Oakland Raiders, my NFL team of choice. Seth Roberts went to a small, no-name college and even though he played well in college ball, he didn’t get drafted by the NFL. He became one of the many undrafted players that show up at NFL team tryout fields to attempt to get onto the team.

Seth Roberts
Seth Roberts

There are thousands who play college football, and only a small percentage who make it into the NFL, but Seth was able to make it onto the Raiders’ practice squad last year. He looked for every opportunity to play in front of coaches and did his best. At the beginning of this year, the Raiders looked like they had plenty of receivers and Seth was unlikely to make the team. Then a player was injured, and he got on as the sixth receiver on the team.

Today, after the 12th game of the season, Seth Roberts has tied for second on the total number of yards received, second in the number of touchdowns (four), and has personally won two games for the Raiders with last-minute heroics.

“I can’t believe I won two games,” Roberts says today. “I can’t even believe I’m playing in the NFL.”

I was thinking about my own experience as a writer when I read about Roberts. I thought about the thousands of writers and would-be authors who continually try for success, many without seeing it, some with seeing it marginally and a few finding it in the end. And regardless of how you measure success, here’s my recipe (for today) as to what it takes to find success.

First, you need a small modicum of talent. Some people believe that if you’re talented, you’re destined for greatness, but I know better. I’ve seen too many people more talented than I am who were not willing to do what it takes to get where they wanted to go. Talent is only raw materials with which you can put together the recipe, and amazingly it doesn’t take a lot if you have the other two elements I am going to talk about here.

Your second key is luck. Some people don’t believe in luck, but it does come into play. It’s not as big a slice as the last element, but it’s a much larger slice than talent. There are many would-be NFL players who never made it because of a freak accident that blew out a knee or otherwise sidelined them. You may consider that kind of thing an act of God, but sometimes I think it’s just the way things fall. And even with books, you might have written the right book at the wrong time. Or the right time. Many best sellers were simply the result of great timing. In my book, that’s luck.

Finally, the big slice, the most important slice, is hard work. Amazingly, luck seems to work better with hard work. Talent does too. You need the first two elements, but they won’t go far without the last one. Seth Roberts, the NFL player I talked about at the beginning, got lucky. He was talented, otherwise he wouldn’t have been given the chance to even try out. But what pulled it all together for him was his strong work ethic. He was willing to work hard, harder than anyone else who wanted the same job. And because of that, he succeeded.

That philosophy works for the NFL, and it works for writing too. And for pretty much any other endeavor you want to try. It’s not rocket science; it’s common sense. Problem is, most people want a quick answer and a simple solution.

Well, there is a simple solution. Use your talent. Get lucky. And work harder than anyone else.

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