[EDIT – The Tao of the Author series has moved! Due to the necessity for funding, the column is being continued over at my Patreon page as part of the lowest tier reward newsletter.]
Welcome to the first in the Tao of the Author thread, a series of advice posts on the more philosophical side of being an author. This is the kind of advice I wish I’d had when I started out. I think it would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights.
Let’s talk about The Magic Bean.
Every author, and possibly every creative, at some point in their careers has asked the same question whether aloud, internally, or of Google. How do I become successful? (We’ll talk about what “success”actually means in another post). We’ve all wondered how we get from where we are to where we perceive others to already be. What magic formula, what golden ticket, will get us that status?
The fact, my friends, is that these legendary items don’t exist. Despite how many “overnight success” or “they did it all themselves on the internet” stories you read, they don’t exist. Because the people who are the subjects of these toxic media stories aren’t overnight successes. They didn’t rub the Lamp of Publishing and a genie appear to answer their wishes. Every creative person begins the same way, the same as me, the same as you. One day, the voices in their head got too much to ignore and they sat down to do the work. Then, they finished it. After that? They belly-crawled, persisted, tore their clothing on razorwire, persisted, got smacked down and infuriated by themselves and others. Because that is the journey of the creative.
If you’d like an analogy that sounds less like a monochrome war movie tableau, they planted their magic bean and cared for it.
You see, there’s no fast way to grow a beanstalk. You plant your magic bean; you water it and tend to it; when it begins to wilt you strap it to a bamboo cane; when it rains too much, you shelter it, and when the sun comes out, you rest in its shade. The magic beanstalk is the hardest plant to grow, which is why it grows the highest. You have to be prepared to tend your beanstalk.
The beautiful thing? You already have your bean. All you have to do is place it in the earth.
Some people’s beanstalks end up being head height; some stretch to the clouds. But you should always be proud of what you have grown with the soil, the sunlight, and the rain that nature affords you. Looking at other people’s beanstalks just distracts you from your own; they had different soil, sunlight, and some have greenhouses. It’s pointless to compare. When growing a beanstalk, it doesn’t matter how high it goes, or how you got it there. None of it matters. It’s that you planted it in the first place. Everyone’s beanstalk makes the world a little greener.
I hope that all makes sense. Analogies can get strained sometimes, and generalisations can be the work of the devil. But I hope that you can see what I’m getting at. Your work is your work. Your journey is your journey. No one can tend your garden for you, or tell you how. But you can be fulfilled, and have a great sense of pride and worth from the work that you do, no matter where it goes or how many people read it.
That kind of mentality is how an author survives, and that is what I’m hoping to promote with the Tao of the Author. Only if your mind is clear will you enjoy this experience. And you should enjoy it.
For some of these posts, I’m going to try to point you toward some people who are far more intelligent than me, and who can either back up what I’m trying to say, contradict it, or add some depth to the debate.
For the Magic Bean, we should probably mention Nietzsche.
Nietzsche would suggest that envy of others is a good thing. It’s healthy and natural to envy others. The caveat is that we don’t let it consume us, but use it to help us identify our goals in who or what we want to be. We don’t always get what we want, of course, but only when we know what our goal is can we strive toward it.
Another good one is Marcus Aurelius, who said:
“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself”
That idea has been useful to me several times in the past.
Thanks for reading.