How to Use the 5-Percent Rule in Your Writing Career, Part II

How to Use the 5-Percent Rule in Your Writing Career, Part II

In the first post in this series, we talked about the chances that any given person will work as an author.

You can either head to the link to read the post, or you can read this quick recap: The fraction of people who get to be writers and authors is astronomically small, if you compare the number of Americans working currently in the field with the population of the United States. Ergo, the chances of working as a writer/author are slim to none. (About .0004 percent, as we worked out in the previous post.)

You should just give up now.

No! Wait! Come back! (Says the writer who almost never became a writer.) There IS hope.

And it’s in the titular 5-Perfect Rule.

What Is the 5-Percent Rule?

Roughly speaking, it’s the number of people who actually do anything about anything.

This isn’t my idea, mind. This so-called “rule” is actually just another anecdotal observation by brilliantly successful author Kristen Lamb, who received a bombshell piece of advice when she first starting trying to get into the author game.

Kristen says that “It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5 percent of any population is capable of sustained change,” and reports that an author to whom she looked up early in her career told her she just had to be among that 5 percent.

She then goes on to explain that you have to be among the small 5 percent that does any of the steps involved in creative success. Not just the first or the second one. All of them.

Because make no mistake, it’s very hard to be in that top 5-percent echelon. To wit:

  1. How many people actually decide to write a book?
  2. Of those, how many people set deadlines and boundaries to get that book written?
  3. Of those, how many join critique groups?
  4. Of those, how many attend conferences?
  5. Of those, how many send sample pages to agents when they’re asked?
  6. Of those, how many are willing to gut a novel?
  7. Of those, how many are willing to write an entirely new novel when the first one just doesn’t sell?
  8. Of those, how many are willing to build a real social media following?
  9. Of those, how many are willing to self-publish if they haven’t gotten any traditional publishing bites (or they just prefer creative control)?
  10. Of those, how many are willing to keep submitting/self-publishing until they hit the tipping point of success?

… You get the idea. Because believe me, Kristen does not end the list there.

Understanding the 5-Percent Rule in Action: Some More Damned Math

I’ll save you the rest, though, because I’m hoping her point is obvious by now: If you are willing to be among the hardworking, blood-sweat-and-tear-ing 5 percent in each of these categories, you quickly put yourself in a percentage as small as the frightening .0004 above. Let me do the math for you one last time:

.05 (which is 5 percent) to the power of 10 (or .05 times itself 10 times, once for each step in the list above) comes to a staggeringly small …


That’s the percentage of people who are willing to do all of the above steps, one after the other, unfailingly, with a good attitude, putting in work every day, really and truly determined to make it happen.

As you can probably see, that’s a much smaller percentage than .0004! That means if you are willing to do all of those things, you are practically guaranteed to make it as a writer or author one day. (Or achieve whatever long-held dream it is that’s revving your engines.)

The problem isn’t that people can’t do it. It’s that they quit long before the magic happens.

The 5-Percent Rule Is More Than a Tool for Success: It’s Your Procrastination Cure

The link to procrastination is, I’m hoping, obvious: By being among the 95 percent who “don’t really want to do it,” you’re robbing yourself of your dreams. And by robbing yourself of them, you don’t accomplish them, which makes you feel icky about engaging in them, and so on and so forth. Here’s what that looks like:

• Avoid work.

• Join the 95 percent who can’t hack it.

• Feel gross about yourself.

• Avoid work some more.

• Rinse.

• Repeat.

• Forever.

Now … imagine what would happen if instead, you just stuck with it.

As the Chinese proverb holds, No one who rises before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich. (Side note: Can we all just thank this beneficent Chinese sage for the five days off he’s giving us here?? O, the generosity!)

Seriously, ask anyone whose material/career/creative/family success you admire – anyone – and I guarantee they will affirm the worth of this observation. It is not talent or skill that separates the wheat from the chaff. It is pure, butt-busting willingness.

I can proudly say I do stick with things now. Maybe it’s the Protestant work ethic my parents drilled into me (which didn’t take until I was about 26 … sorry, guys) or the fact that I just can’t not be a writer, but I’ve never abandoned this dream. For decades now, I’ve kept going, through thick and thin … and guess what? I make a great living doing it now. But not because I sat around and wished for it.

I’m not trying to be the jerk who’s all, “I made it and you haven’t!” Because maybe you already have, and you just want more of the same success. Or maybe you’re sitting there laughing at me, waving your Pulitzer around, and I don’t even know it. In which case, you probably have better things to do ( … and also, a five-star review of my book would be nice, because people obviously respect you a lot).

Point being: I believe in the power of the 5-Percent Rule. I believe in your ability to do amazing things by just not stopping.

So don’t. Harness that 5 percent for yourself, and you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

An Exercise in the 5-Percent Rule

This exercise is simple. Go through the list above and list out your own, progressively more specific “5-Percent Rules.” What teeny subsets of your field are you willing to insert yourself into?

For instance, if you’re a budding copywriter, are you willing to be part of the 5 percent that pays for real lessons? The 5 percent that practices every day? The 5 percent that practices for at least an hour every day? The 5 percent that finds other writers to share with once a month, or once a week? And so on.

You can list 10. I know you can, so do. Right now. Remember, if you want to guarantee success, you need to figure out what the .0000000000098 looks like, and then MAKE IT HAPPEN.

In the meantime, you might want to check out a few writerly resources that will make your job even easier. If so, head down to the Free Resource Library and check things out today. I can guarantee the worksheets and downloads contained therein will put you on your way toward writing success sooner than all my jabber, so click the image below and go now! Run, don’t walk!

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