Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Two Essential Ingredients of Success

Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.
–Ludwig van Beethoven

I had the opportunity to speak with a writer’s group the other day. They asked a lot of questions, and I did my best to offer honest answers. But if I could do it again, I’d summarize my advice in two words: passion and practice.

Two Essential Ingredients of Success

How do you get good at writing? What does it take to publish a book? How can you get the world to hear your message? 

Here’s how: Love what you do. And hustle. That’s it. Simple, but not easy. And there’s way more to each of those than meets the eye.

You have to love the work

When I took my first job, my boss-to-be asked me one question:

Is this something you can get excited about?

I was in food service that summer and didn’t understand the question. Wasn’t this just a job? Why did I need to love it? He wouldn’t hire me until I could say, “Yes, I want to do this.” So I did, and shortly after that conversation, he hired me.

The job was far from ideal. First, I wrote email copy and then proofread brochures. After that, I edited my boss’s blog and taught our staff how to tell stories on the Web. Then, I was promoted to help other departments with their email copy. Eventually, I started my own team, which taught me many important lessons.

Looking back on that job I almost didn’t take, I now realize it was the perfect apprenticeship. Seven years on the job taught me first-hand what’s required to take a passion and turn it into a reality. I put that same knowledge to work to launch my career as a writer.

And it all began with a shift in attitude. I had to learn to love the work.

If you’re going to do work that matters (which is something we all should long for), you need to be able to love it. In a sense, it should drive you but not own you. This doesn’t mean you can’t get tired or worn out from the demands of the job, but if you don’t wake up excited every day, you need to be doing something else.

Of course, that’s just the beginning. Let’s not forget practice.

Passion is not enough

Life without practice is dangerous. Just watch American Idol. Every season, they have someone (a lot of someones, actually) who didn’t practice, who didn’t put in the work and somehow believed they were good enough. They were wrong.

At some point, someone lied to these people, convincing them that all they needed to succeed was passion. And they failed, sometimes without knowing why or what they did wrong. Nobody wants to be that person, but rarely do we realize when we are that person. The safeguard is to not give your passion too much credit.

Finding your passion isn’t some fleeting feeling of pleasure. It means understanding the core of who you are and tapping into what lights you up inside. Typically, these pursuits are not new things, but old ones. They require us to listen to our lives and take decisive action. It means looking at what you love, but also finding where that intersects with your skills and the needs of the world.

In other words, don’t just practice anything; practice the right thing. Find your true gifts, the things you were born to do, by putting them through the crucible of practice. Forget 10,000 hours of mediocrity; this is about deep practice.

Intensity and frequency matter more than mere quantity of hours.

And let’s be clear: Doing something a few times a month is not practice. It’s a hobby. Practice means pushing yourself to the utter limits of your abilities. It means getting up every day to do the work, because that’s what’s required of you. And because that’s what you love.

What this doesn’t look like

In The Art of Work, I wrote about my failed plans to become a professional musician. Before I could learn what was the right path for me, I had to get good enough at music to realize it wasn’t my true passion.

Turns out, we don’t find our passion and then practice it. Rather, practice is what helps us discover what we ought to be doing in the first place. Discovery accompanies dedication; it doesn’t precede it.

For most of us, this discovery process looks like disciplining ourselves to love the work we do (or changing the situation if we don’t) and undergoing a rigorous regimen of practice. You have to start somewhere, but sticking with something is essential. Otherwise, you drift through life, wondering what to do next.

This process of integrating passion and practice helps us not only grow the skills we need to achieve excellence. It also helps us develop the discipline we need to deepen our awareness so that we know where to focus our efforts.

Passion and practice. They work together. Without passion, the work will feel rote and mundane. And without practice, it will get sloppy. You need both. And when you combine them in just the right way, something magical can happen.

Note: My latest book, The Art of Work, is available for 40% off on Amazon. I have no idea how long that will last, so if you wanted to pick up a copy (or a second one), grab one while it’s available. If you’ve already ordered a copy, it should be on its way later this week.

Are you practicing what you love? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Jeff, I think you nailed the secret for success in most areas, passion and practice. Thanks for sharing.

  • Amy

    YES and thank you. I appreciate your honesty. I have been told since childhood that I am a ‘good writer’. Now at 33 I have finally decided to enter the literary world and find out if maybe they were right. Writing is the first thing that I actually want to put the work in for. And work it will be! Passion and practice and then practice and then perhaps. . .a little more of the practice. I completely appreciate your diligence in sharing your message with people on such a regular and inspired basis Jeff. (Over here in Canada anxiously awaiting my copy of Art of Work)

  • Susan Bailey

    yes, Yes, and YES! Totally true, lived it just as you said, even the musician-to-writer part! 🙂 So much is said today about passion but the emotion of passion is fleeting and something has to be there when the feeling decides to fly away for a time. That’s when the discipline kicks in (yes, that dirty word “discipline:). That’s what saves you from failing. And then, you get gifted with another visit from “passion” and it’s delicious! Good luck with your book.

  • Chantel Adams

    “Discovery accompanies dedication; it doesn’t precede it.” Love that!

  • You’ve mentioned numerous times that we need to discover our passion. When I began to write I did it release, a simple hobby. It was in the doing I found what I had been looking for. It all comes down to action.

  • I trained for many years in the martial art of jujitsu. Eventually I realized that art & writing, not martial arts, were my true passions. But the disciplined practice I brought to jujitsu conditioned me to do the same with my art and writing.

    • Ooh, I LIKE that! Using your byproduct. I realized the same thing with music. Even today, it helps me understand cadence and flow in my writing.

  • It really does seem very important to have passion for what you practice (and vice versa). I wouldn’t assume that one couldn’t achieve a lot of skill by practicing something they weren’t passionate about, but it seems like it’d be an empty ‘victory’, even if one was successful at it.

  • donnafreedman

    I’d like to add two more P-words: patience and persistence. Passion and practice are essential, obviously. But unless you’re some overnight sensation — and really, how often does that happen? — you will need to be patient and persistent.
    When the first (or the 50th) rejection letter arrives, be patient with those editors. Clearly they don’t get it, but maybe the next one will.
    Don’t let the 51st rejection letter knock you off the game board, either. Be persistent until you find the editor/audience that DOES get you.
    I’ve been making a living as a writer for 31 years. Ask me about a fifth P-word: perseverance.

    • Donna Ray

      In your opinion, does that mean that you should rewrite with every rejection?

      • donnafreedman

        Heavens, no! It doesn’t hurt to give your work a second look, of course, especially after repeated rejections. But to rewrite it to fit the whims of some editor who rejected it for a reason s/he might not even explain (hello, form letter!) could mean you’d wind up with something you no longer recognize.
        What I would suggest, however, is to check whether you’re sending it to the right potential home. I used to interview editors for the Children’s Writer newsletter, and all of them had what-the-heck moments. Stuff like twee little poems about Easter bunnies to magazines for readers aged 10 and above, or violent sci-fi manuscripts sent to publishing houses that specify “no science fiction or fantasy.”
        Make sure you’re targeting the right markets, and keep at it. Good luck!

    • I like those!

  • “Turns out, we don’t find our passion and then practice it. Rather, practice is what helps us discover what we ought to be doing in the first place.”

    So true. Two years ago, I thought becoming an EMT was my passion, that thing I was meant to do. But having actually done it for awhile, I’ve realized, man, I really don’t want to do this the rest of my life.

    It really is just a matter of trial and error. I’ve been writing since I was a kid and doing it seriously for several years, but only recently decided maybe I should pursue it as a career. I’m still young, but so far I haven’t found anything else I truly love to do even on days when I hate it. 🙂

    • I love that. Learned a similar lesson.

  • You mean you can’t just demand the success you think you deserve?

    • Well, you can do anything you want. But results may vary. 😉

  • Caroline Starr Rose

    I’d add in risk and hope!

  • Carol Anne Olsen Malone

    All I’ve even been told is “passion is all you need.” Thanks for clearing the bull away, Jeff. I believed that and when the passion fled, I didn’t have the will to go forward. Passion doesn’t hold my motivation like having deadlines, expectations, or setting priorities for myself. You’ve opened my eyes to see it’s just practice, practice, and more practice. Work!

  • Kathryn Leonard

    These are such great reminders and truly motivate! I am enjoying the combination of encouragement and conviction in “The Art of Work”! It is the best teaching on “calling” I have ever heard! Thank you!

  • Hey Jeff, I love that your summarize success with passion and practice. I have abundance of passion, especially in writing. Even wrote in a book on passion. But it’s only when I join your group “My 500 words” that got me writing every day. Now that I have the habit to write each morning, it’s weird not to write something. 🙂

    I agree that you need both.

  • Alexi George

    Jeff, I sometimes have this type of “revelation” after I speak to a group of people. It seems after I’ve heard myself speak, the concepts come together in a more orderly fasion. Sometimes, my outline comes together after the event. Appreciate your vulnerability here.

  • Jeff. I loved the part where your boss asked you “Is this something you can get excited about” It’s important to be excited about what we are doing. It’s also equally important to practice what you are passionate about. I think practice does make perfect.

    keep writing 🙂