It’s Not About How Good You Are

This is graduation weekend, and this morning I sat on the stage, looking out on students I have been teaching (and trying to teach) for the past four years, as well as their parents. In addition, I am bumping into recent graduates who are here because younger siblings are finally getting their diplomas. Some are convinced (parents and graduates both) that it’s all a matter of excellence, connections and luck. That that first job comes because you’re the best, and you deserve it. And the first job will lead you to greater and greater things.

And partially that’s the case. If I didn’t believe that students needed to know grammar, sentence structure, how to write an inverted pyramid and how to conduct an interview to get that first reporting job, I wouldn’t be teaching it. But I’ve seen enough journalism students who have a hard time finding reporting jobs…and writing students having a hard time getting started as writers to know that there’s a lot more to it than that.

Bottom line? You’ve got to want it. Pure and simple. You have to want it more than anyone else out there. Want it enough to do whatever it takes to get it done. Want it enough to never take no for an answer. Want it to keep trying, pretty much your whole life.

That goes for any kind of writing challenge. I know this from experience.

I don’t consider myself a “great” writer. On the other hand, I think I’m a pretty good writer. I can say that because I have been willing to pay the price. What’s the price? How about more than 200 articles and stories published over 40 years, as well as 22 books. When people stand in awe of how many books I’ve written, I think to myself, “they don’t know the ‘why’ of all those books.” No one so far has asked me why I have written so many books. The answer? I am addicted to people reading my books. It’s a selfish answer, but it’s the truth. I get a rush when someone buys my book on Amazon, when someone posts a review–good or bad–or when someone stops me and says “I read your book.” To me, that’s a greater reward than anything else, including the money I could conceivably make.

As a Christian, I believe I have a message I need to share with the world. But I’m also human, and as such, I want people to read my books. So what am I willing to do to convince them do to that? Pretty much anything, including holing myself up in an office for hundreds of hours alone while I come up with the next title. There are no guarantees that I am wasting my time, but I have committed my life to this pursuit.

What about you? Are you a great writer? So what? What else are you willing to do to succeed?