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Tom Clancy’s Secret to Writing Success

October 4, 2013

Tom Clancy has died. No word on why. He was clearly too young, 66, and I’m sorry.

Back in 1990, Clancy came to Annapolis to address the Maryland Writers’ Association.  He peered into the darkened auditorium of Maryland Hall that evening from behind huge 1980’s–style glasses. Unpublished writers sat gathered together in his presence hoping for some words of wisdom, our desire palpable. We wanted Clancy to share his formula for success, his magic. We wanted some of his mojo– his secret– for having gone from the obscurity of ordinary insurance salesman, to the fame and fortune that came with the publication of “The Hunt for Red October.”

He had wanted to write a book for a long time, Clancy explained, but he continued to sell insurance. He had had a great idea for years, but had continued to sell insurance.  “What I did,” Clancy said, “was waste all that time. All that time I could have been enjoying the success I have now. All the years I could have been a best- selling author with a book translated into 20 languages, I spent selling insurance.” And Clancy didn’t know then, that he would not live to be an old man.

“You probably have ideas for a memoir or novel,” he said. “So what are you waiting for? Write the damn book.” Of course that was 23 years ago, so I may have the phrasing wrong but the message is verbatim and he was talking to you.

Raising kids?  Write the damn book.

Working for the government?  Write the damn book.

Running a shop? Selling stocks? Teaching? Repairing cars?

I can hear Clancy now saying just what he said about all our excuses that night.

“Cry me a river. Just write the damn book.”


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  1. So sad that he’s gone too soon. I love this post.

  2. Great advice. Wonderful post.

  3. Thanks. I have to take Tom’s advice just like everyone else. There are so many reasons NOT to write!

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