Regardless of how you measure such things, The Martian is an unqualified success.
Commercially, it is in a photo-finish with Gravity for the best October opening in U.S. history ($55 million) and it also pulled in another $100 million globally.
It also marks a welcome return to prominence for both a legendary director and a beloved leading man. After Prometheus and Exodus: Gods and Kings, people (a/k/a The Internet) began asking “What happened to Ridley Scott?” and wondering if the director should give up filmmaking entirely.
Similarly, The Martian also gives Matt Damon a much needed boost. It may not feel like it, but it’s been a while since Damon has had an undeniable hit, let alone a film that resonated with people. Although he’s obviously a great actor, his recent filmography — We Bought a Zoo, Promised Land, Elysium, and The Monuments Men, even Interstellar — has not been exactly bulletproof and, when combined with that foot-in-mouth diversity comment, it becomes clear that he needed this film as much as Scott.
However, all of that pales in comparison to this: The Martian’s success is a massive win for anyone that has ever had a passion project on the side while working a 9-to-5 to pay the bills. What began as a serialized free story on author Andy Weir’s website turned into a self-published book, which then became a runaway hit and may have even saved NASA and the space program.
The best part? Weir was still going to work every day as his book began attracting attention from both publishers in New York and executives in Hollywood. As he explained himself:
Within a couple of weeks he had me on the phone with Random House. Then, while those negotiations were going on, Fox came for the film rights. Now I had both of these negotiations going on at the same time, all being managed by my agent. At this point I was still a full-time software engineer. I was fixing bugs in my cubicle and then running off to take phone calls on my movie deal and then back to fixing bugs in my cubicle.
It was really surreal.
We can all take inspiration from that. You don’t have to take a sabbatical to chase your dreams. You don’t have to quit your job, sell all of your possessions, and move to Walden to write your novel. You don’t need to lock yourself in the basement or shun your family and friends.
You just have to find the spot where you can merge your passion with your work ethic. It took Weir time and effort to research all of the details he put into the story, but that’s a big reason why it worked. When Mark Watney says, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this,” you need to be able to back that up.
We can all learn from Weir’s experience. Research your subjects. Hone your craft. Brainstorm ideas. Polish your writing. Do work that you’re proud of and then get it out to as many people as possible (Weir listed it for the lowest cost possible, 99 cents). From there, let word of mouth take over.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but Andy Weir’s success story should be encouragement and motivation for the rest of us.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.