Ken Liu shares his wisdom with SIS


On March 23, famous short story author Ken Liu visited SIS through Zoom to talk about his career journey and his passion for writing. A-day English students were all invited to listen in. The majority of Liu’s talks were about his past struggles and failures in finding his identity as a writer. 

“There are a lot of stories about successes you can find easily but there is not enough talk about failures,” Liu said. “I want to tell you specifically about my failures, and what we can learn from them.”

Liu explained that writing was not his original career choice, but was rather a hobby. He was originally a programmer and a corporate lawyer, and he slowly developed and submitted his writing to magazines that would review and publish the ones they liked.

“The editors of the magazines would send you a rejection letter if they didn’t like your story,” Liu said. “I received a huge stack of rejection letters before I first got accepted for a magazine. I collected so many rejection letters that you could wall a whole room with them.”

However, despite his initial failures, Liu did see early successes that solidified writing as a career more than a simple hobby. His writing was accepted into three prestigious literary markets, but this high set the scene for a new low.

“I wrote this one story that I thought would be my best story, one that I would be remembered by, and I sent this story to the top literary markets,” Liu said. “They all refused to publish it, and I became obsessed with this story, continuously revising and submitting this story over and over again until this story had collected 30-40 rejections.”

This failure put a damper on his writing and caused Liu to abandon his career as an author. He fell back on his former jobs as a programmer and lawyer to fall back on. However, a certain magazine that exclusively publishes stories rejected by other publishers reached out to him asking if he would submit his story, and it was finally published.

“Don’t understand my message as ‘the right opportunity will come for you’ and ‘somebody will eventually recognize you,’” Liu said. “My message is that you have to see progress as a combination of goals and milestones. Goals are something that you can achieve with effort and are under your control, and milestones are something that you can not control at all, depending on other people’s tastes. If you end up tying your entire identity or self-worth to milestones instead of goals, you will be very unhappy. You have to focus on things that are under your control and work on achieving them.”