Let's say you came up with a great idea for a novel. Now let's say you sat down and wrote that novel.
Is that a big deal? Yes, absolutely, that's huge. Congratulations. You've done something that very few people have done. If you're like most writers, you don't have any friends who have written a novel. This is a rare accomplishment, so you deserve to feel proud.
Will it bring you writing success?
If all you've got is a novel, even a very good novel, probably not.
Sorry, I realize that's harsh. The unfortunate truth is that there are millions of novels out there, and a significant number of them - if not a large percentage - are good. But hang in there a moment. I'm going to give you an idea of how to get success.
So what else do you need?
The answer came to me like an epiphany, which, as the cliche says, only took ten years to strike me overnight.
What else do you need? A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN. Is acquiring a plan an incredibly hard thing to do? Maybe not. But you must have it, and I'll explain why.
First, let me tell you how this realization came to be.
I was thinking about Lin-Manuel Miranda and his extraordinary success writing the book and music and lyrics for the musical Hamilton. Oh, right, he also starred in it. And it immediately went on to become the most successful Broadway show in memory. It made an ungodly number of millions of dollars. His Hamilton cast recording topped Billboard's Rap chart for ten weeks, and his Hamilton Mixtape album hit number 1 on the Billboard 200. The musical is still sold out on Broadway even as the national touring company is beginning to bring it across the country.
Has Mr. Miranda done anything else notable? Just a little. He wrote the musical "In The Heights" and also starred in it on Broadway. (He completed the first draft of In The Heights while he was a sophomore in college. And he wrote other musicals while in college.) He also helped write the hit Disney movie Moana. He's starring in the upcoming movie Mary Poppins Returns. He's won a Pulitzer Prize, two Grammys, an Emmy, three Tony Awards. And there was that little confidence booster he won called a MacArthur Genius Fellowship. He's written jingles, co-founded a Hip Hop comedy group and a whole lotta other stuff. As a result of his amazing body of work, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate from Wesleyan University.
Of course, all of this success takes a huge amount of time, right? I imagined that putting together such a career would take many decades of hard work. When I first learned about Miranda, I guessed that he was probably 60 years old. Maybe 50 at the youngest. Possibly 70. Good guess?
No. Miranda is only 37.
So my rhetorical question to myself was this: Did this Miranda dude just happen to write some stuff and it became enormously, immeasurably successful? Was he a one or two-musical wonder boy? No. It seems obvious that he had a plan. A comprehensive, well-thought-out plan. I don't know the exact details, but I have a pretty good idea of how it went down.
Way back in high school, he was focused on writing and working in theater. While the rest of his classmates were, like me at that age, riding their bicycles and skiing and thinking about dating, he was working. When he went to college, he wrote with great determination. I don't imagine he participated in many pizza-and-beer parties.
Is there anything wrong with biking and skiing and pizza parties? Of course not. But Miranda had a plan that was more important. He was one of those people who won't be denied. His future success at writing was like the laws of physics, immutable. I'm certain that he didn't just try to write clever rap songs that would be shaped into a musical. Instead, he no doubt determined that he would find theatrical success by thinking carefully about how to set himself apart from all the other wannabes. And once he decided how he would write to that goal, he pursued it step by step, refusing to be deterred by the uncountable obstacles in the way of all creative people.
Of course, the usual stuff about work ethic and tenacity still applies. Stuff like what Einstein said, that persistence trumps genius. The current popular term is grit. Success comes to those who have the grit to keep going no matter what. The Japanese proverb also applies, Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight.
The problem for writers is that grit and persistence, while very important, aren't enough. Just because you keep on writing doesn't mean you'll find a writing career.
This is where a comprehensive plan comes in. What are the steps in this plan? Tune in next week, and I'll lay out some ideas to get you there.