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[process] The bathtub theory of writing success - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2008-10-07 17:59
Subject: [process] The bathtub theory of writing success
Security: Public
Tags:funny, process, writing

A week or two ago, I was talking to calendula_witch about the processes of success as a writer. I was reminded of an analog a pro writer once gave me.

Think of the publishing world as a bathtub.


In that bathtub there is a line which represents the level of professionalism one must reach before one can begin selling pro stories.


Into that bathtub flows the water of your talent and effort.


It fills over time, as you practice your craft, learn new techniques, refine existing ones, submit to markets, apply consistent effort to producing new materials and generally do all the writing and writing related program activities which your favorite pros spend their time at. Note that the waterline is wavy, like a child’s drawing of the ocean. This is because while you have a baseline, or mean, level of quality in your output, at any given point in your career path some work will be better than other work. Variability within an established range, so to speak.

So, as the water of your talent and effort continues to flow into the bathtub, the waterlevel rises up.


At first you sell one or two stories over a span of time. The peaks of your waves have touched the “pro line.” Then you begin to sell with some consistency, still missing sometimes. The midline of your waves has touched the “pro line.” Eventually, if you are smart, persistent, lucky, and most of all consistent in your practice, even the troughs of your waves will rise to the “pro line”.

Think of success not as a point which you pass, but as a state which you enter with increasing frequency.

In other words, write more, and don’t forget to send out.

Your thoughts?

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

Post A Comment | 20 Comments | | Link

User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2008-10-08 01:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Great post!

...but what if the faucet's rusted and you don't know how to cover the drain?

BTW - I saw you had sold a story to The Morrigan. I'm honored and excited to be sharing a TOC with you.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-10-08 01:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Me and calendula_witch!
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User: southernweirdo
Date: 2008-10-08 01:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Whoops! I'm not sure what happened. LJ ate my post and classified me as anonymous.
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Karen, aka Ana Lake, ska Aine inghean Cathal
User: summers_place
Date: 2008-10-08 01:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What a great analogy! I'm certainly going to keep it in mind, and probably share it with a couple of classmates, too.
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timalyne: do not disturb
User: timalyne
Date: 2008-10-08 01:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:do not disturb
Does the tub have a safety drain? I once had a tub I couldn't fill to a reasonable depth because of one of those darn things...

But seriously...makes sense...nothing is constant, after all.
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User: selfavowedgeek
Date: 2008-10-08 02:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A great post.

I'm soaking it all in.

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calendula_witch: Absinthe
User: calendula_witch
Date: 2008-10-08 02:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's awesome--and it makes so much more sense with the visual aids! :-) Thanks!

And so, er, now to the writing, I suppose.
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User: spencimusprime
Date: 2008-10-08 02:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good analogy--though, having worked in publishing, I don't really see a line with a lot of the crap that gets published. I tend to go with the "shooting off in a bunch of different directions until you hit the target."
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User: kehrli
Date: 2008-10-08 03:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, but some of what I've rejected out of your slush is well below the stuff I see published... thus the waves in the theory.
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Gail Carriger: In The News
User: gailcarriger
Date: 2008-10-08 02:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:In The News
And here I always thought getting published was more like finding the soap in the bathtub, you can see it, but it's hard to catch, harder to hold on to, and probably won't last long anyway.
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User: bram452
Date: 2008-10-08 05:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You forgot the part where every now and then some rat bastard comes along and opens the drain for five minutes and you don't sell a damn thing for a year and a half.
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User: lazy_neutrino
Date: 2008-10-08 06:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
May I use that model in my teaching, please?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-10-08 06:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

a) It's not original to me. I got it from Dean Wesley Smith.

b) Anything on my blog which is not someone else's IP (such as snippets from a news story or another blog) is freely re-usable with attribution under a Creative Commons non-commercial license.

So go for it!
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User: lazy_neutrino
Date: 2008-10-14 19:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you very much!
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cathschaffstump: Japanus
User: cathschaffstump
Date: 2008-10-08 06:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'd say Eureka when the tub overflows, but I think we're technically into mathematics theory at that point.

It's a great analogy, Jay.

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Ken Scholes
User: kenscholes
Date: 2008-10-08 14:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Brilliant and utterly true at least in my experience. In the end, the only secret bullet is: write more, write faster, keep building skills and habit.
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User: hand2hand
Date: 2008-10-08 14:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
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D Kai Wilson
User: kaiberie
Date: 2008-10-08 17:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That ties quite nicely in with a post I did today about the 10,000 (hour) theory, actually. And I agree, but I think this explains the process afterwards better :)
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Erin Cashier
User: therinth
Date: 2008-10-09 08:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

This keeps me sane. This year has been a serious almost-but-not-quite year so far...and this model gives me cause for hope instead of despair. :D
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User: mmerriam
Date: 2008-10-09 18:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That is a fantastic post. I really like the part about waves and troughs. It seems so reasonable to me, especially the part about "variability within an established range."

I've hit the point where I'm selling pretty consistently at the small press/semi-pro level, but I am also not nearly as happy with my current work.

My wife pointed out that it is because I'm stretching to be better, and so stories that are written at a semi-pro level, stories that I would have been happy with as little as a year ago, don't cut it with me anymore.

Nothing for it but to continue slogging along, trying to learn new tricks and skills while improving the ones I already have.
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