Does overnight success really happen?

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day when I stumbled upon this piece of advice:

The most valuable thing I’ve learned as a writer: working your ass off actually pays off. Overnight success is rare. 20-year success? Real.

And later:

There’s such mythology around the idea that This Book Is The One That Makes You. Untrue. Every day at your desk is the one that makes you.

Both these tweets come from a writer named Maria Dahvana Headley. I eventually found my way to a Storify collection of her tweets on this subject, and I highly recommend that you check them out (link here).

I know that hard work and persistence and essential to achieving success in many areas of life, and writing is no exception. The thing is, I have a hard time putting the time into my writing that I need to if I want to accomplish anything. I have ideas, but I don’t have the patience to see them through, or the faith that they will amount to anything even if I do.

I guess I’m going through a bit of a dry spell when it comes to my writing, if I’m being honest. Part of me wants to feel guilty about this, and part of me wants to take more of a big-picture view of things.

That part of me says that life is long, that I’m still young, and that I have time to figure things out. After all, many writers and authors came to their success later in life, the voice inside me says.

But (as Maria Dahvana Headley has reminded me) I don’t know how long those writers were working and writing before they achieved their success. It’s true that some people do change careers later in life and go on to be very successful authors, but how much writing were they doing on their own, quietly, before they took that jump?

I can’t expect to coast though my life and then magically find success the moment I decide to get serious about writing. However, feeling guilty about all this doesn’t seem to be a terribly helpful strategy either.

Maybe someday I will figure out how to manage my creative energy and find a balance between all the various methods of creative expression I want to engage in. After all, life is long, and success (in any area) doesn’t happen overnight.

 

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Every Sentence Is a Question

This is a great post that breaks down a really common problem in student writing. It’s written from the perspective of a teacher, but the concepts covered in this post can be helpful for writing tutors and students as well. Check it out! 🙂

The Incompetent Writer

Me, teaching
If you teach Composition, or a general essay-writing class, perhaps you worry that your students don’t always make clear, easy to follow arguments.

Perhaps they hand in essays that often — to put it bluntly — don’t make sense. Their papers may display some interesting ideas; the students may appear to have worked hard and done some real research. Yet when you read those papers, sentence by sentence, you have to stop and scratch your head before you understand the logic of what they are trying to say.

If this is the case, read on: this post is for you.

This is the sixth post in the series: How I Teach College-Level Writing.

The previous posts are here:

  1. The Intro
  2. The Theories
  3. The Diagnosis
  4. Why I Teach Cool
  5. The Essay, The Problem

(Thank you to everyone who has read the posts so far!)

Now, I’d like to…

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Blizzard Books

I’m snowed in today, so I’m going to share some of my Blizzard Books with you.

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I’m in the two book zone for the blizzard (picture sourced from Folly Quarter Media on Twitter https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CZQLrhIWQAAu31v.jpg)

Blizzard Books (also known as Desert Island Books) are the books you would chose to take with you to read if you knew you were going to be stranded in a place far away from civilization (and book stores).

If I could only read five books for the rest of my life, these are the books I would choose (in no particular order):

  • The Complete Jane Austen
  • The Complete Works of Shakespeare
  • The Bible (New King James Version preferred)
  • Middlemarch (by George Eliot)
  • The Complete Father Brown (a collection of mystery stories by G. K. Chesterton)

Yes, I know that including collections of complete works is cheating a bit, but I don’t care.

For us, the question “What five books would you take with you to a desert island?” is completely hypothetical, but it’s really interesting to imagine situations where this kind of question is actually relevant.

When I was in middle school, I read a slim little sci-fi story called “The Green Book,” written by Jill Paton Walsh. In “The Green Book,” the characters must leave Earth, taking only one book per person as they try to settle on a new world.

When you can only take one book, you must weigh the value of practical information with the value of preserving human culture and great literary works. This conundrum has stuck with me for years.

If you were stuck on a desert island, or snowed in for the winter, what books would you want to have with you?

Stories of the past, stories of the present

“…to tell a story about the past is to tell a story about the present. To recount a fantasy, a story of the imaginary, is also a way of recounting a tale about the actual.” Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights