Become an Overnight Success (in Fifteen Years)

Shirley Jackson wrote her best-known story “The Lottery” in one draft after a long walk. It was featured in the New Yorker and anthologized countless times.

Stephanie Meyer says the idea for Twilight came to her in a dream and took just three months to write, according to a blog by Literary Agent Nathan Bransford. An editor read the draft on an airplane and as soon as it touched down she frantically called Meyer’s agent to buy the manuscript before someone else could. Meyer had never written before attempting Twilight.

Photo of Lightning
(Courtesy of National Geographic.)

“It’s tempting to think all it takes is

an idea and a wisp of effort. Very tempting indeed,” Bransford writes. “The truth is a lot more banal: It takes a lot of work.”

More often the path to any real success comes only after late nights and early mornings, failed stories and novels, and fizzled attempts to connect with readers. Good writing, likewise, just seems effortless. Most writers refine their scenes moment by moment, like needlework, to capture the story exactly.

I’m not at all surprised that Sara Gruen, someone I had assumed was an overnight success, is not one at all.

She was a laid off technical writer when she turned to writing fiction. Water for Elephants, her breakthrough novel, was her third and her previous publisher rejected it. I’m sure there were nights when she thought about giving up writing, moments of frustration that interviewers usually don’t ask about.

When I read …Elephants, I assumed it was just a lucky break. I should have known the old cliche is still true: luck is just hard work meeting opportunity.

Anything worth doing isn’t easy. If you want to be a writer or any kind of artist, take the time to hone your craft in a class or in a group. Work on your own. Meet people and learn how others have become successful. Most of all, practice to discover what your vision will add and what will make you distinctive.

I leave you with Branson’s final thought:

Each journey is our own, and we’re all the better for it. Rather than wishing for lightning to strike quickly, it’s better to enjoy seeing it flash in the distance and know that our time will come.

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