No One Can Give You the Key to Success
Why you can’t replicate success by following in someone else’s footsteps
“A writer’s notebook is the best way in the world to immortalize bad ideas.”
— Stephen King
The critically-acclaimed author, Stephen King, doesn’t believe in notebooks. This guy is responsible for your fear of clowns, and yet, he doesn’t approve of one of the most common ways to record ideas.
The first time I read this advice, I bought into it. If someone so successful advises against something, you’ll naturally want to listen. Especially since he has a solid argument to back it up.
King’s argues that writing down bad ideas keeps them around forever, and that good ideas will stick around no matter what. There’s some truth to that, but then I realized something that makes it impossible for me to follow his advice.
I have ADHD. Sooner or later, I’m going to forget all my ideas whether they’re good or bad.
So I still use notes to record ideas, and I think I always will. Does refusing to do what a successful person told me mean that I won’t be successful too? Absolutely not, because no matter what any of us do, we’ll never be Stephen King. So why try to be?
Successful Writers Didn’t Follow Any Guides
We’re so obsessed with following step-by-step “how-to” guides that we forget there’s only so much we can learn from following other people’s example. When all of us live completely different lives, it’s hard to say that what works for one person will work for everyone.
How many of those successful authors tried to replicate others? Most of their success stories involve them getting extremely lucky or just putting in the work until their big break happens.
- J.K. Rowling: This crazy woman endured a lot of terrible events, got the idea for Harry Potter on a train ride, typed it up, and only submitted it about 12 times before it was accepted for publication.
- Stephen King: He essentially just kept writing until his stories (mainly The Dark Tower) brought him success. He initially struggled with depression, but after encouragement from his wife, he stuck with it.
- E.L. James: Literally just wrote Twilight fanfiction. It became popular and became Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s it.
I’m definitely simplifying the journeys these writers took to become as successful as they are today. However, the simple point I’m trying to make is that they didn’t stick to any guide to become successful. All they did was write, sharpen their skills, and try their best.
So Is There Any Point in Following Others?
That’s not to say that there’s nothing to learn from successful people. Regardless of what they’ve actually done or accomplished, they all have one thing in common. One thing that’s extremely valuable to everyone: experience.
Experience is the key to making any career work. Having a general idea of what to do is good, but knowing what not to do is even better. Knowing what didn’t work for others might steer you in the right direction.
The trials and tribulations I endured by sending out 70 query letters that were all rejected shaped the kind of writer I became. The sales of my self-published books influenced me as well. I knew what I’d done wrong, and I envisioned what I’d do differently if I could.
If you looked at 50 different authors, you could cobble together an original plan using bits and pieces from all of their experiences.
Can You Really Just Do Things Your Own Way?
At the end of the day, no one’s taking your journey but you. The tips you look up and the experiences you endure can’t carve out your path for you. You’re the only one who can take those steps.
No matter what you do, your life will never look exactly like anyone else’s. Everyone diverges at a certain point, and that’s not a bad thing. It means that everyone’s unique, which should already be common knowledge.
So don’t get discouraged if you do everything a guide tells you to but wind up at a different outcome. It’s only natural that something like that should happen. It just means you’ve got to take it from there.
No one can tell you how to become successful. If you do what they did, you probably won’t get as far. And that’s fine as long as you know what to do next.
Don’t try to copy someone who’s lived a completely different life than you. Just learn from their mistakes and keep their successes in mind. Sooner or later, you’ll end up with something that works.
Kesten E. Harris is an author with four books and counting under his name. When he's not publishing those, he's writing self improvement articles.