Over the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to some inspiring podcasts from the wonderful TribeWriters course I’m doing. They’re interviews Jeff Goins has done with successful (mainly US) bloggers and writers such as Seth Goodin, Joanna Penn and Mary DeMuth. I’ve got a lot from them.

Except for the whale in the room.

My cartoon whale is a way of thinking about what happens in the world of writing and social media. Minus its whale2 features, it’s a statistical diagram with a positive skew. (See here for a simple explanation) Most of us are in that bulging head on the left. Our blogs get little traffic, our books earn very little.  Very few of us will end up in the tail with the people Jeff interviewed, with top-rated blogs, six-figure earnings, or as self-published Kindlionnaires.

Yes, just like the lottery, it could be us. But statistics tell us that it probably won’t be – even if we do all the right things.

Success is unpredictable. Inventions come as much from serendipity as research. The unorthodox person leap-frogs the one who plays by the rules. The writer of the poorly-edited rush-job hits the big-time while the literary gem sinks without trace. Luck often plays a part.

There are numerous people who do everything right, but don’t make it.  We need to hear from them too, if we’re to get the full picture. The whale in the room says, don’t simply ask the successful what they did to succeed. Ask, “How many people did the same, and failed?”

Rather than judging ourselves for failing to be mega-successful, it encourages us to put our energies into what we can achieve locally. In TribeWriter terms, to find our niche.  As George Eliot says of Dorothea in Middlemarch:

her full nature spent itself in deeds which left no great name on the earth, but the effect of her being on those around her was incalculable. For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts and on all those Dorotheas who live faithfully their hidden lives and rest in unvisited tombs.

What sort of people inspire you? Do you only like to hear the success stories?


2 Thoughts on “There’s a whale in my room

  1. Yes, I think the lottery is a fair comparison, in that it’s down to luck, but we do have to enter the lottery to win it – despite what some of those phishing emails tell us! And we improve our chances if we enter a lot of times. So, it’s keeping going and giving ourselves the best chance with e.g. a well-written, well-designed blog such as yours, while accepting we might not be “successful”. And, like the lottery, it is going to cost us.

  2. “There are numerous people who do everything right, but don’t make it.”

    You are so right, we don’t hear their stories, and I believe that we should. What we do hear are the voices of the “successful”, but only because they’ve managed to rise above the maddening online crowd enough for us to notice them.

    I wonder how many of those who didn’t make it think they did something wrong, when they didn’t.

    In the end, is it just luck? A lottery?

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