The Seventy/Thirty Question

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

There’s a book called DIY MFA which argues you don’t need an MFA to be a writer.  Instead one needs to a roadmap to developing skills, analyzing writing, and networking.  A lofty promise, but one I felt the book fulfilled, though some of it seemed very “standard” to me.

After some thought I realized of course some of the book seemed simple and standard – those were the parts I already knew.  Perhaps seventy percent of the book was things I knew (if not always did), but the other thirty percent was invaluable.  I had to wade through seventy percent to get the thirty I never thought of.

It was totally worth it.

I think this seventy/thirty rule is why writing conferences, guides, and meetups can seem repetitive to many.  Must we have another discussion of grammar, of romance tropes, of cover design?  Why must we hear something that I or we already know?

I myself have had these experiences.  I was wrong.

Writer events and groups cover seemingly repetitive subjects because we all have different seventy percent (do know) and thirty percent (don’t know).  Some of us are operating at fifty-fifty, and others are at ninety-ten and unable to fill in that last ten percent.

As we share with our fellow writers, let’s have some compassion and remember we all know things – and we all have gaps.

That means if you do know something, then share it.  There will be people who want to learn from you, even on subjects you consider pedestrian or repetitive.  Your seventy percent is their thirty percent – and you might just be the person that explains the lessons to them in a way that sticks.

This also means neither you nor anyone else should feel guilty requesting or attending classes on subjects that seem basic or cover the same ground.  You have your thirty percent of ignorance and for others, there’s probably overlap.  Stand up and ask to learn because I guarantee you’re not alone.

Let me close with a suggestion.  Create a list of things you’re competent at as a writer and things you could do better at.  Ask what you can share with your fellow creatives – and where you can boldly ask for help.

Your fellows might not just help you and be helped, but learn about their seventy and thirty as well.

Steven Savage