Coach Marla Beck

Writing Lesson from Photographers: The 3% Rule

by Marla

in brilliant mindset, brilliant writing career, brilliant writing life

Welcome to my new blog series, “Writing Lessons from Photographers.”  Today’s lesson is part one of a three-part series.

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Introducing the 3% Rule

It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I discovered the photo department.  What joy!

My first photo professor, Steve Zapton, was known for his direct feedback during class critiques.  “Not for babies!” said a recent student on Personally, I adored his straight-talk.

Professor Zapton taught me the most liberating of creative maxims:  “If you get one shot out of thirty-six, you’ve shot a successful roll of film.”

Contactsheet-MBOne shot out of thirty-six.

With this rule, suddenly the blurred, unlit and downright crappy shots on my contact sheets seemed less important.  If I could find just one image among all the experiments, mediocrity and missteps that unfurled in the course of shooting thirty-six frames, I was golden.

I could circle what really worked and ignore the rest.

The 3% Rule

Assuming my math is right, “one out of thirty-six” translates into a 3% success rate (2.78% if you want to be exact).

If just 3% of the time the magical mix of light, timing, composition and technique comes together to yield an image that really “says” something, a photographer is on track.

Imagine the creative freedom the 3% Rule offers to you as a writer!

If you expected success just 3% of the time you worked at your writing, would you be a bit more far-ranging and creative?

  • Would your “new queries” lists be longer?  More broad?  More daring?
  • Would you take more risks with your new poem starts and fiction ideas, knowing that you could discard 97% after a minimal initial investment of time?
  • Would you be a bit more forgiving with yourself as you revise and edit your work?

The beauty of the 3% Rule is that it stops that one of the biggest ways writers sabotage themselves. Instead of judging our creative process as we create (ugh!), the 3% Rule teaches us to retrain ourselves to stop expecting a masterpiece every time.

By lowering our expectations, we give ourselves room to experiment, room to fail and room to play on the page.  We can take our 3% and not get hung up in analyzing what the other 97% means about our talents or abilities.

Without this crushing self-criticism, we’re free to return again and again to writing.

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Next Up

If you liked this post, be sure to check out the second post in this three-part Writing Lessons from Photographers series:  “The ‘10,000+1’ Principle.”

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