Success: it means something different to everyone. As writers, we have concrete markers to measure traditional definitions of success: sales, reviews, awards, money and publishing status. But is that how we really view ourselves as authors?
We authors view ourselves differently then readers and non-writers see us. Despite my own insecurities and hang ups, I’m always startled when people are impressed that I’m a novelist, or shower praise on one of my books. Why don’t I view myself the way outsiders view me? Because success is a relative concept? Do New York Times bestselling authors feel like failures if they haven’t published a bestselling novel in years? Or if they haven’t won a Pulitzer or Nobel? An Edgar or Agatha?
I remember when I was unpublished and struggling with my manuscripts. I would have given my left arm to have a novel published. To me, just having that happen would have been the culmination of all my hopes and dreams. Then it happened and it was an amazing experience. It’s like your first kiss: you never forget it. So what happened in the ensuing years and the other ten books?
I’ve been traditionally published by a big NYC publisher. I’ve self-published and published under fantastic indie publishers. I’ve made good money and won some big awards. And yet I’m still hungry and unfulfilled. It’s a bit like making money. If you make one million dollars, you want two. If you earn ten million, you want twenty. And so on and so on. I think this is natural human behavior for someone who strives to achieve so much in life. It’s also a self-defeating and harmful way of thinking if taken to the extreme.
Are there second acts for us seasoned writers who have been at this for awhile? Am I delusional for feeling like every book I write has the potential to be a New York Times bestselling book? I don’t think so. As writers, we need to feel optimistic and empowered if we are to write the best novel we can. We need to feel like what we have penned is on par with Shakespeare and Dickens. We just need to keep bringing the positive vibes if we’re to keep getting published.
For me, what it comes down to is gratitude. We need to constantly remind ourselves how far we’ve come and what we’ve accomplished, whether we’ve written ten novels or one short story. Any writing is a great accomplishment, and we need to be thankful for bringing forth art. Get yourself off social media and stop looking at what other people are posting and doing. While I’m happy for the great success of my fellow authors, one cannot compare themself to others.
And this is where process comes in. What I’m most grateful for is my love of the writing process. The act of turning inward and burying myself in the most beautiful and mystical of life’s activities: creation. I believe it’s spiritual in a lot of ways. This is what I’m most thankful for as a writer. Despite my frustrations and constant bitching and moaning about my status as a writer, I still love writing. When I’m writing, I don’t care about all that. I’m in the moment and feeling the juice of life’s most wonderful gift. Honestly, I feel like a god.
Be grateful for your success, whatever level you’ve attained. And when the idea of success starts to make you queasy, lose yourself in the writing process and let it carry you away. Writing catapults us into the moment, where we (through our characters) experience love, death and every emotion in between. For most writers, this is where it all started.
Write on Joe!
Words of wisdom.
Very well said Joe.
Nice, Joe. We are always pulling and pushing between being imposters and feeling like heroes. . .
Delightful essay! Well said.
A friend once asked me, when I whined about my career, “Did it ever occur to you you’ve had as much success as you were meant to have?” This column about always needing reinforcement hit home for me, because I’ve spent almost the last forty years feeling that way. Finally, now in my eighties, I am writing to please me. Reviews are nice, so are comments about my long career and some nice awards won, but I no longer judge myself by those. It’s a revelation that has freed me to enjoy writing. (Hasn’t upped my sales, but that’s the whole point in a way)