The Secret to Overnight Success

JordanA Writer's Guide to Persistence

Since this is that time of year when we all begin our planning and prepping for the New You, the newly improved, fitter, better, kinder, gentler you that will hopefully arise from your resolutions, I thought I would quickly insert a few thoughts about success. Because isn’t that what we are all essentially hoping for? This will be the year your career dreams are realized; that you create, solidify or heal your family; that you get your weight or fitness under control?

I actually have the secret to overnight success–the kind where the whole world seems to stand up and take notice, particularly in the artistic realms like writing and creativity.

It’s not a paint-by-numbers formula.

You won’t find one single book that contains its essence.

Your version of it will look vastly different from someone else’s.


The secret to overnight success is: good, hard work.

Do you hear the “waaa-waaa” of anti-climax?

I’m not trying to be a bubble burster, actually. The fact is, by the time most people have produced a best selling novel or made their name with a killer essay in the New Yorker, behind them are years of good, hard work to show for it. Because when something matters to you, you’re willing to do the work.

I will admit to an occasional impatience with people who wonder why they aren’t “there” yet, but I’ve learned more patience around this human desire to arrive. Sometimes it just takes more suffering or longing to know just what you’re willing to do.

I spent the better part of 20 years slinging words at the page and submitting my precious babies in paper envelopes to publications whose response times varied from 3 months to never. Why did I keep at it when I suffered so much rejection? Why did I keep at it in the darkest moments of the process when I was quite sure no one would ever read me?


I absolutely love to write. It’s an imperative in my being, the only act that will instantly calm me down in the midst of emotional turmoil or momentary angst. Writing is my thing. Does that mean it’s never hard? No. Does that mean I write gems with every draft? No. Does that mean my success came swift and heady when I was still in my thirties? Nope. Sometimes I like having written more than the act of doing it. Sometimes it is a bit like my fingers are magic quills made from unicorn horns and the words write themselves. Most of the time, it requires sweat, deep thought, presence.

The culture I live in is nothing if not one of instant gratification, of short attention spans, of the quick and easy read. That’s not me. I must give deep, luxurious time to this art and craft of mine, but at the same time, after twenty years of doing it, it’s also gotten easier. Some of it is more rote, a muscle I can flex without much work.

This year alone? I’ve had almost thirty pieces accepted for publication, most of them paid. Since July.

Not all hard work feels hard. Not all work feels like work.

You want to be a success as a writer? Find a way to love the work.

Most importantly: Persist. Keeping at it is the only surefire way to get where you want to be.

And have a Happy New Year.

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. For a dose of optimism, read my column, The Persistent Optimist, at Sweatpants & Coffee.

The Second Annual Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson happens at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015.

Photo, “Writing” by Sara, with quote by Earnest Hemingway, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

JordanThe Secret to Overnight Success