Alumni Short

"Indulge the Thing You Love": Best-Selling Author Barry Eisler '89 Speaks about Work and the Meaning of Success

You can achieve success in an alternative career, argues Barry Eisler '89. You can get paid to do the thing you would pay to do.

"Indulge the thing you love," he advised his audience at Myron Taylor Hall on a late-September afternoon. "Good things might happen." A former employee of the C.I.A., Mr. Eisler has practiced law and been executive of a software-development startup. When the hardcover rights to his first novel sold in ten countries, he stepped off this career path to write full-time. An attraction to "forbidden knowledge--anything the government does not want most people to know"--dovetailed with his longtime interests in foreign affairs, judo, and jazz, and the result has been eight international-espionage thrillers since Rain Fall introduced the Japanese-American freelance assassin named John Rain in 2002. 

Written while Mr. Eisler was living and working in Japan, Rain Fall took eight years to complete. It garnered enthusiastic reviews, has been translated into many languages (including Japanese), and in 2009 was released as a motion picture. Such success, although always desired, was not part of the author’s approach. "I couldn't make my goal the New York Times bestseller list because that isn't attainable at the start. Many other things had to happen, none of which I could control. I had to focus on what I could control, and that was to write the manuscript. So that became my goal: to write the manuscript, to finish it." 

A "plan large, work small" strategy is effective for any long-term project. "If you think of writing a novel as having to write 100,000 words, it can be overwhelming.  I break it down into smaller pieces. I ask myself, 'Can you write a thousand words today?" And I know I can; it's about three pages. I write the thousand words, pat myself on the back, say, 'Nice work, pal,' and give myself the rest of the day off. If I do that every day for a little more than three months, I’ll have 100,000 words."

This process reflects a key principle of success: focus on doing great work and let the results happen. "In any career, remember that your job is not to be successful.  Your job is to do everything possible to increase your chance of success."

Barry Eisler’s ninth novel, The Detachment, was published as an e-Book original through