You have to know what works and capitalize on this truth to achieve success
I first came across the 80/20 principle when I was doing research on dieting. There was a theory that eating right 80% of the time would be enough to see weight loss, even if 20% of the time I indulged.
Eighty percent of seven (days) equals 5.6. So, if I rounded off the data, I could eat healthy for five days and fudge a bit for two days of my choosing.
Intrigued about how this principle could work in other areas of my life, I did a little research. I learned that this principle actually had nothing to do with dieting and actually began with an Italian economist named Vilifredo Pareto. The whole principle, as a matter of fact, is not called the 80/20 principle but is named the “Pareto Principle” after him.
Pareto found, for example, that 80% of the land in Italy was controlled by only 20% of the population. Pareto realized he may have been on to an important idea when he also discovered that in his pea garden, 80% of the peas in his garden came from only 20% of his pea plants.
The principle became a metaphor over time for how one’s time and energy should be distributed to attain the greatest success in a given field or goal.
So my goal today is to help you determine how this principle can work for you when it comes to your goal of becoming a better writer.
Look at the subject areas in which you write
Study your successes and failures. For example, what are the topics on which you write that garner the most reads, the most shares, the most comments or responses? Which article topics are accepted more than others when it comes to pitches and on-spec submissions that you send out to various publications? There’s your answer. Those are the “pea plants” that produce.
Focus on this subject matter. Yes, you may feel that you have written all you can on the topic, and yes, you may feel a bit burned out on the subject matter itself. But spend the time available to you doing extra research in this area, brainstorming other related avenues on this subject matter that you have not yet broached in your writing.
I know that many writers, for instance, will Google the topic just to see what side searches come up. Then they further investigate how to turn these searches into optimizable articles.
Look at your audience
Are there fans or followers that seem to read your writing more than others? Are there publications, even culled from the 20% in your said area of expertise, in which the audience of reader responses are especially numerous and/or positive?
Perhaps give even more effort to these populations and the corresponding publications from which they spring.
For instance, in today’s social media-driven world, these followers would be the ones that you should be sure to target in your posts and newsletters, the ones you should show courtesy to through liking, retweeting, responding to or giving a generous reciprocal “re-follow” when they send out information.
For it is more likely that they will spread “your own particular brand of genius” to all their friends, thereby widening your network of possible readers and even professional opportunities.
Look at your writing process
What times is your writing most productive? In what environments or situations do you craft your best work? Are there even special circumstances that precede the writing process that you feel aid your creativity or focus?
Focus your energy on these times. If, for instance, morning is your sweet spot, make this your “go-to” time for creating. Find a way. Get up earlier if you have to, and then rest instead of staring dead-faced at a computer screen when you get home in the afternoon after work.
Or maybe you create in the morning and in the afternoons as well. The principle can still work.
For example, although I am a morning person, sometimes work or parenting obligations make this part of the day impossible. However, when I do create in the evenings, I find, for instance, that a hot bath and a glass of my favorite wine somehow enhance my focus and creativity. (Please don’t hold the glass of wine against me. After all. English-born American author Christopher Hitchens said, “Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.” Who am I to doubt a successful author such as he?)
So what does this mean for me? Morning writes when it is possible and hot baths and wine when it is not? It would seem so.
What about the writing environment? Where are you when your writing seems to blaze? To what music are you listening?
John Keats said, “Give me books, French wine fruit, wine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.”
Maybe these circumstances were the 20% that yielded 80% of his beautifully written and provocative works. So be it then. Maybe this is you as well.
Find a park, a small outdoor cafe, an outdoor concert where you can plant yourself on a blanket with an edible treat on which to nibble and let the music and muses take you where they may.
The bottom line
As a teacher, I despise the word “data.” As a professional educator though, it is an invaluable part of my learning curve as a teacher. And the same is true of my success as a writer.
Knowing what works most expediently, most reliably, is the key to gaining success. As always, I wish you the best of luck as you find your own 80/20 principle.