I spent the entire morning finishing a big branding project. I was creating a list of names and taglines for a new sharing economy company and app. My brain was fried.
Because my brain was fried, I decided to have freelancer comfort food for lunch. For me, that meant a trip to the Taco Bell drive-thru. I placed my order for my fake Mexican food and a huge Pepsi and drove up to the window.
Inside the restaurant was a man in his early to mid-forties — my age. Phil (not his real name) was working hard. Without missing a beat, he rung up my order, took the order for the car at the speaker box, carried on a conversation with me, filled up my drink and the drinks for the car behind me, returned my debit card, and handed me my food.
He was fast, friendly, and efficient. He is great at his job.
I could never do his job. I can’t multitask. I’m clumsy. I also can’t handle dealing with morons. The first person that yelled at me for something out of my control would have gotten a scathing tongue lashing.
Phil is a pro.
But, Phil isn’t even the manager at that Taco Bell. Because I frequent this establishment all too often, I know that Phil is new.
I have no idea what has happened in Phil’s life that he ended up working an entry-level job at Taco Bell during what would normally be his prime earning years. God knows, that but for some privileged circumstances I would be right there with Phil, but doing a much poorer job.
I’m not here to judge Phil or to shame him. He’s a hard worker, and that’s one of the highest compliments I can give anyone. I don’t know his path.
Hard Work Isn’t Enough
However, I mention Phil because he illustrates the lie writers are often told. It’s also a lie that we tell ourselves.
We talk about how writing is hard work. We are told that if we work hard, we will make it.
That’s not true.
You can work hard every day. You can study your craft. You can write for ten hours a day. You can hustle and grind all you want. But, if you don’t bring more to the table than just hard work, you will starve.
What Else Do You Need?
There isn’t one secret ingredient to making it as a writer. There are an infinite number of paths to success because there are an infinite number of definitions of success. Hard work is just the price of admission. Hard work gets you into the building. But, if you want to make it to the top floor, you need something else.
It might be talent. If you are a once in a generation talent and you add it to hard work, you will make it. If you have chops like Lin Manuel-Miranda or J.K. Rowling and you work hard, success will find you.
Most of us don’t have that kind of talent.
But, there are other ways.
If you are smart about what you write and your work hard, you can make it. If you write things people like to read, hear, or see you can be a megastar, even if you are not as talented as some other writers. Joss Whedon and Shonda Rhimes are hard workers, and they know how to tell stories people love to watch.
Success will find you if you work hard and know how to please a mass market.
If you understand how to help businesses make money, attract customers, or create a big impression and you work hard, you will have success as a writer. You may not get as famous as some of the writers with other combinations of skills and talents, but you can lead a fabulous life. Copywriters like Sonia Simone and Bob Bly know how to use their words to persuade people to spend money.
If you understand how to help people solve problems and you work hard, you will be successful. There are thousands of bloggers, influencers, and authors who help people solve specific problems and make a great living doing it. These people are internet-famous. They rarely are well-known outside their niche, but many are successful by any measure.
There are other ways to be successful But, they all come down to pairing hard work with something else. It could be marketing savvy or the ability to perform your writing on stage. But, you have to develop your something else.
Your Something Else
You will find thousands of articles telling you how to be a better writer. But, you won’t find more than a handful that tell you how to develop your something else.
That’s because the something else is a secret only you can develop.
I say “develop” instead of “discover”, because like your writing voice, your something else isn’t hidden under a rock waiting for you to find it. It’ something already inside you. It’s up to you to cultivate it. It may take years of trying and failing at different things before you figure it out.
But, just like you have to keep writing, you have to keep trying new things to bring your something else to the surface.
Try baking, podcasting, drawing or anything else you are passionate about. Combine another passion with writing and see what happens.
Once you connect with your something else and you pair it with hard work, and success will find you.
What’s my something else? I’m a weirdo. I don’t fit it anywhere. I look at the world upside down, through a kaleidoscope. I break the rules and flaunt conventional wisdom. I get beat up. I get excited, really excited, about things like octopus sketches from the 1920s and werewolves.