Welcome to the first Tao of the Author column!
This will be a series of posts on the more philosophical side of being an author. We’ll cover organisation for the sake of your sanity, dealing with rejection, comparing yourself to others and a host of other subjects. 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.
So let’s get start by talking about The Magic Bean.
How do I become a successful author?
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 a future newsletter ). 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 is, unfortunately, these legendary secrets don’t exist. Despite how many “overnight success” or “they did it all themselves on the internet” stories you read, they’re not real. 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 before arriving at a finished project. Because that is the journey of the creative. Then, and only then, did they succeed.
What is an overnight success?
Yikes, that was a heavy start, wasn’t it? Let’s go with an analogy that doesn’t sound like a monochrome war movie tableau. Those creatives planted their magic bean and cared for it.
Ah, magic beans. That’s better.
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 (is that a euphemism? Possibly).
For us creatives, that can mean simply finishing your project. That book, painting, fan film or piece of music can’t go anywhere until you’ve finished it. Then it could be spreading the word about your work, getting friends and family involved, or sending manuscripts to publishers. All creatives, everywhere, go through this process. J.K. Rowling was dubbed an overnight success after years of struggling and an avalanche of rejections. It finally took a publisher’s 8-year-old daughter to see the potential of the Harry Potter series. J.K. tended her bean, and slaved over its growth for years to become an “overnight success”.
What do I need to be an author?
The beautiful thing? You already have your bean. All you have to do is place it in the earth.
That idea you have (you know, the one that keeps you up at night) is your bean. You hold it in the palm of your hand, the tip of your pen, the bristles of your brush. Just plant it.
Of course, there comes a warning. Not everyone’s beanstalk will reach the clouds (there be giants). Some people’s beanstalks stop growing around head height. Some people end up with a field of little shoots. 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. J.K. had hard work and luck on her side, if the tales are to be believed.
Being an author
Still, 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 to your garden for you, or tell you how. But you can be fulfilled, and have a great sense of pride and self-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 these Tao of the Author posts.
See you next time!
Thanks for reading.
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