Manvotional: Jack London on Success

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 23, 2013 · 46 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals


Editor’s note: We’ve recently been researching the life of Jack London for a future post(s), and came across this bit of advice he gave to writers — which really applies to those in any vocation in life.

From “Getting Into Print,” 1903
By Jack London

Don’t dash off a six-thousand-word story before breakfast. Don’t write too much. Concentrate your sweat on one story, rather than dissipate it over a dozen. Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will none the less get something that looks remarkably like it. Set yourself a “stint,” [London wrote 1,000 words nearly every day of his adult life] and see that you do that “stint” each day; you will have more words to your credit at the end of the year.

Study the tricks of the writers who have arrived. They have mastered the tools with which you are cutting your fingers. They are doing things, and their work bears the internal evidence of how it is done. Don’t wait for some good Samaritan to tell you, but dig it out for yourself.

See that your pores are open and your digestion is good. That is, I am confident, the most important rule of all.

Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.

And work. Spell it in capital letters. WORK. WORK all the time. Find out about this earth, this universe; this force and matter, and the spirit that glimmers up through force and matter from the maggot to Godhead. And by all this I mean WORK for a philosophy of life. It does not hurt how wrong your philosophy of life may be, so long as you have one and have it well.

The three great things are: GOOD HEALTH; WORK; and a PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE. I may add, nay, must add, a fourth—SINCERITY. Without this, the other three are without avail; with it you may cleave to greatness and sit among the giants.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken February 23, 2013 at 11:40 pm

I couldn’t agree more to this statement. Excellent words to be put in this great site indeed.

2 Taylor Pizzuto February 24, 2013 at 2:09 am

This is exactly what I have needed. I am a young, fresh writer in college – fairly new to the field – and yearn to be something as Jack London was. I have recently been reading more and more by him and sense so much manliness, truth, and wisdom in his writing. I have struggled with trying to get into the habit of writing something every single day, but with this great manvotional I have greater strength and will look to this for motivation. Thanks for this article, and I hope to see much more about and by Jack London in future articles.

3 Nicholas February 24, 2013 at 6:25 am

Jack was a candle that burned bright. He lived with fervor. He’s a model for all of us who want to live deliberately and suck the marrow from life.

4 John February 24, 2013 at 7:16 am

True for writers and any other vocation. It’s amazing how in only 100 years we’ve so drastically changed ourselves and our views of what’s important. Hard work, discipline, and devotion to your craft seem to be in such short supply these days, it’s refreshing to see things like this being discussed again.

5 Errol Alger February 24, 2013 at 7:44 am

Good man-to-man fatherly advice. I especially like “dig it out for yourself” and “Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.”

6 Guy February 24, 2013 at 8:09 am

Thumbs up!

7 NT February 24, 2013 at 9:20 am

Is this the same Jack London that followed Marx? : )

I believe the work statements though.

8 kathleen February 24, 2013 at 10:02 am

I miss men.

9 mims February 24, 2013 at 10:49 am

hmm, he forgot to add down be curious and listen to other people’s stories. My first neighbor when I moved to Sonoma County was a 80plus year old woman who grew up on a small ranch near JAck london’s valley of the moon spread. Her father was a day laborer for Jack. Apparently Jack loved to hang out down near Sonoma Creek with the hoboes who get drunk and took turns telling stories all day. Apparently that is where alot of his inpiration came from according to Ardes.

10 JohnB. February 24, 2013 at 10:56 am

Excellent post. That is stuff We can carry through our lives.

11 cj February 24, 2013 at 10:57 am

This, I love to see. Total no-nonsense tips for getting sh** done. I like when I see no available excuses too. The succinctness and clarity of these tips is staggering when you consider all the drivel out here on the web.

12 Daren Redekopp February 24, 2013 at 11:08 am

From the maggot to the Godhead! Nice. Experience has taught me that striking phrases like this one come so much more often when a regular “stint” is in place. Spontaneity is a plant best grown in the garden of discipline.

13 Daren Redekopp February 24, 2013 at 11:17 am

There is something so upright and refreshing about reminders like this: to trade in our obsession with impression management for the headier delights of true virtue.

14 Mato Tope February 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm

What an absolute gem of a find! Looking forward to your future Jack London posts.

15 lp February 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm

this short article was actually really powerful for me. Feels like Jack London uses the bear minium when it comes to word count, yet still manages to get across a very vibrant message. It’s sort of intoxicating to read Jack London.

thanks for this

16 Steve February 24, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I guess old Jack never heard of being sincerely wrong. But then again, maybe he did: “It does not hurt how wrong your philosophy of life may be, so long as you have one and have it well.” I can’t agree with those statements. I could live my life with the sincere philosophy that I’m a fish, but the moment I try to breathe underwater, all the sincerity in the world won’t keep me alive. This is a perspective I think we could very well leave behind.

17 Robert February 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Thanks, not only for this post but for all the great “points of reference” you put the light on.
Greetings from Romania

18 nathan February 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I have been working on my spelling and grammar in hopes of one day becoming a author and this is great advice. Thank you AOM and Mr.London.

19 CrzyDJM February 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Well-said, Mr London.

Thanks for sharing this.

20 Woelf Dietrich February 24, 2013 at 2:54 pm

i have read advice from many writers over the years and certain things always overlap. It comes down to three: live life, write a lot, and read a lot. What I also like about London’s advice is that you shouldn’t wait for inspiration. He’s saying you have to tease the muse to come to you by writing anyway. It’s good advice, I think.

Thanks for yet another great post, guys.

21 Bert February 24, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I’m really looking forward to the Jack London post. Working at home and being self-taught really made me relate to Martin Eden in a big way.

22 Peter Gilmore February 24, 2013 at 5:00 pm

@NT: Yes, Jack London was a socialist. He wrote extensively about socialism (which is an economic philosophy, not a system of government. Many today do not understand the difference). Many great western writers and thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries identified themselves as socialists. (Einstein. Hemingway. Sinclair Lewis – who ran for governor of California in 1912 on the Socialist Party ticket. He almost won). London published this essay, “What Socialism Is,” in the San Francisco Examiner on Christmas Day, 1895. There are many other citations online for those who are interested.

23 Stever February 24, 2013 at 5:19 pm

I’m not so sure that believing oneself to be a fish is the same thing as having a philosophy. If it’s fair to view a “philosophy” as an outlook regarding fundamental principles underlying some domain (such as ethics, politics, divinity, or like that), that seems different than having a belief about one’s own very-specific corporeal categorization.

24 Gregg Kimball February 24, 2013 at 5:38 pm

NT: Yes on Marx/Engels. Also the same Jack London who left a wife & family impoverished by taking his own life! I do appreciate his statements, but enjoy this old saw even more: “Definition of hypocracy? Do as I say, not as I do!”

25 Brett McKay February 24, 2013 at 10:47 pm

London was deeply committed to socialism as a philosophy. But his socialism largely revolved around the idea of a level playing field where everyone had a fair shake of rising in the world through work and effort. And his own “life philosophy” was quite complicated and contradictory. He was a fan of Nietzsche in his youth, and also a great believer in the social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer — which really doesn’t jive well with socialism. As one biographer of his put it, he was a Spencerian Darwinist first, and a socialist second. He wanted socialism as the guiding principles in government, and he professed his passionate belief in socialism publicly, but in his own life he was all about rising above his fellows by his own efforts, working like crazy, and becoming the best of the best. Becoming a Nietzschean “Superman.” And he greatly enjoyed the fruits of his labors. One of his friends called him the most individualistic socialist he had ever met.

Oh, and Gregg, whether he took his own life or not is much debated. After studying his life, I very much doubt it. He wished to live to 100, and his dogged loyalty and duty to providing for his family and all those who sought his help is a large part of what got him into debt and ruined him.

26 Harmony February 25, 2013 at 12:39 am

As a devotee of Mr. London – I think everyone could take this advice and apply it to all aspects of their life with great success! Thank you for sharing this; I now love this site even more.

27 Kammes February 25, 2013 at 12:52 am

If the words move you, accept it. Incorporate it in your life. If the devil did wrong but spout truth with words that inspire self-improvement, confidence, and motivation in working towards your goals, who cares the source? Learn to sift through the dirt and how to recognize gems. Talk to a hobo..

28 Essdee February 25, 2013 at 12:54 am

Thanks, Brett & Kay, for a great post on a great man.

London’s socialism was based on the class discrepancies he saw in his travels. Read “People of the Abyss”.

Most interestingly, London actually lived the life he wrote about. Gold mining in the Klondike (White Fang, Call of the Wild, etc.), seal fishing (Sea Wolf), he did them all!

As a kid I liked his writings because of the way he translated the thoughts of the animals, not treating them as slightly underdeveloped humans, but going into their psychology. Quite a bit of which, esp. with regards to dogs, has been proved to be true by scientifc research. As an adult, I like him because of the way he translated the thoughts of humans. The collection of short stories – “Son of the Wolf” – although filled with comments which would be considered “racist” today, talk eloquently of the men who were “there”. The men who opened new frontiers, who went “where no man had ever gone before”.

Thanks, Mr. London! And thanks again, Brett & Kay.

29 GENE February 25, 2013 at 3:24 am

Thank you for the inspiration. GREAT POST.

30 AC February 25, 2013 at 6:18 am

Gregg Kimball wrote: “Definition of hypocracy? Do as I say, not as I do!”

No, Gregg (“Greggory”?). If anything “hypocracy” would be “government by hippopotamuses”, which is probably not the brightest idea.

The accusation you’re making against London is actually “hipocrisy”. It’s still nonsensical though. Even if he commited suidice, that’s not a political category, so it’s not any more incoherent with socialism than it is with any other political ideology.

As for those seeing a contradiction between defending socialist views and striving for self-improvement, I think they’ve been listen to too much illiterate nonsense about “lazy socialist spongers trying to take away my money”.

31 Ara Bedrossian February 25, 2013 at 9:47 am

Most of the hard work in life isn’t in the physical sweating, but in your thinking that makes you do it.

32 b serbian February 25, 2013 at 10:04 am

He makes something so complicated seem so simple. Like all great men (or women) who are really good at what they do.

33 Emily February 25, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I would also add that, for those who are stuck, writing anything is better than nothing. Too many people get bogged down with trying to be “inspired” and coming up with original ideas, but putting words down on paper is the hardest part. You can always edit them later.

34 Danny Lancaster February 25, 2013 at 7:40 pm

What is the most complete biography written about the life of Jack London? There are several on Amazon, but I was wondering if anyone could make a recommendation.

35 Ben February 25, 2013 at 7:42 pm

When I was 13 years old my father gave me the collected works of Jack London. He was and is the greatest author I have ever read and any time I’m sitting by a campfire under the stars on a cold night, I feel like a part of the world he wrote about.

36 Toni March 1, 2013 at 8:28 am

Yes, London was a Socialist, but lived like a rich capitalist. He even ran for mayor once openly as a socialist. But he was also a eugenicist, and a racist. He was an alcoholic and accused of plagiarism more than once. Great writer, but a mess personally.

So, yeah… philosophy matters.

37 Terry March 1, 2013 at 10:44 am

“Don’t write too much” comes from London, “Write every day” comes from Stephen King, who’s right?

38 Jasper March 5, 2013 at 11:30 am


I think you missed Jack’s point. He was saying “don’t write too much” as in too many projects at once, just concentrate on one. Less than two sentences later, it is noted that Jack wrote 1,000 words nearly everyday, so I guess the comparison is useless, or the conclusion should just be “write everyday.”

39 Tim March 11, 2013 at 10:02 am

Many Socialists have lived like rich capitalists. I see nothing wrong with that. They aren’t required to take a vow of poverty. Of course it may seem hypocritical to some, as is the racism and belief in eugenics, however he should be looked at, in the context of his times.

40 Lisa March 12, 2013 at 11:03 am

i’m just starting to research London, after visiting the Jack London National Park in Glen Ellen CA. here’s a great book with countless great snippets and advice from him.

41 Eric March 16, 2013 at 3:24 am

Call of the Wild, still one of the only “classics” i have read and has to be one of my favorite books. As for the fish philosophy statement, that was extremely ignorant. As a philosophy major I can tell you that the way you used that word is wrong in every sense. I know nothing about Jack London, only what I have heard from other people and the fact that he was a complicated man is obvious, but sometimes the most complicated multi dimensional people provide the greatest advice. From the little I do know of London though he was first and foremost a short story writer with many of his critics calling even his longest stories, short stories pressed together. I think if you want to model a writers style when it comes to short stories he’s your man.

42 Matt March 26, 2013 at 7:18 am

Wow! I feel like a blind man that’s been hit squarely in the face with a shovel and now I can see. I’ve worked hard all my adult life ( 27 years) as a hardwood floor contractor here in Michigan and with the economy what it is is I’m always looking for inspiration to keep moving forward. My wife has been telling me for years to start writing my thoughts and ideas down every day, wives are so smart. Thank you for this article and thank you Jack.

43 Onion March 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm

As a volunteer at Jack London State Park I get to see first hand the fruits of his labours and his mistakes.
Witch to me means if your not messing up your not doing anything!

44 Nadders March 27, 2013 at 10:37 pm

I’ve read so many of Jack London’s books and imagined the man writing them. This is exactly how I imagined him.

45 Michael March 30, 2013 at 8:54 am

The part about the stint is just what I needed. I’ve been following Elliot Hulse’s channel on youtube and he mentioned something called “the heartbeat” where you pick 2 things to do EVERY day in order to achieve your goals. He calls it “the heartbeat” because like our heartbeat….these 2 things should never waver or stop.
To be brutally honest, it’s easy to do for the first couple weeks but if you don’t see immediate results, it’s hard to keep up with it. Reading this manvotional got me going again…..thank you.

46 Lee Simon December 14, 2013 at 2:07 pm

To Greg Kimball: Jack London did not commit suicide and he did not leave his family impoverished. He died a natural death of kidney failure and his wife was quite well-off.

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