The Tao of the Author: Success!

Hi everyone,

[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 back to The Tao of the Author, a new thread of blog posts that will address the psychological and philosophical aspects of being an author in an effort to help people like me with the mental health issues they might come across during the course of their career. Click the category over on the right side of the page to read the previous posts.

This week, I’d like to talk about success. That one, shining word that covers whatever it is you want to get out of being an author. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to remember what our idea of success is when the world/internet is telling you what it should be.

Let’s delve.

When you start on your path to becoming an author, or any kind of creative for that matter, you have two things in your head. The first thing is the idea; that little nugget of inspiration that you absolutely have to get out of your head and into whatever medium you want to work in. The second is the goal; where you want to be, what you want to get out of doing what you do. Some people write only or themselves. The love of it is what drives them. Some people want to share with others what they’ve done. They want to find a publisher, maybe even move on to getting a movie deal, or becoming a New York Times bestseller. That’s their ultimate goal, and that’s fine. What isn’t fine is when people equate gaining their ultimate goal with gaining success. These are two very different things.

For the sake of your mental health, I implore you to learn the difference.

The internet/media deals in “success stories” when it comes to these things. We hear about “overnight success” an awful lot. What they try to tell us is that success is the end, the finish line. J.K. Rowling is considered a success because millions of people have read her books. Same goes for E.L. James (the less said the better about that one). They’re a success because they’ve taken their stories as far as they can go, into other languages, travelling across mediums, making millions.

But there are a lot of writers out there, and although most of them would love to walk the path of J.K. Rowling, statistically almost none of them will manage it. That’s a harsh truth but a truth none-the-less, a truth that shouldn’t stop you trying, anyway. But, if you only consider yourself to be successful when you reach the ultimate goal, whether it’s the one you set yourself or the one set for you by others, then you’re setting yourself up for what I can only describe as misery.

In an effort to explain, I’ll use myself as an example (eek!).

Am I successful? Let’s see.

I’ve been writing seriously for about nine years. When I started out, I wanted to get an agent, get a book deal, have readers and write awesome stories that people enjoy. Maybe I even dreamed of having a movie made out of one of my books. I certainly thought about writing a comic book at some point. I think I wanted to be Terry Pratchett more than anyone else. Maybe the ultimate dream was to be able to pay my bills with my writing. Now, almost a decade on, how much of that have I accomplished?

  • Agent? Nope. Skipped it.
  • Published? Yep! That’s a tick.
  • Readers? Not many, but the few I have are lovely, enthusiastic and supportive. I couldn’t ask for nicer people.
  • Movies and paying my bills by writing? Not even on the radar. The radar hasn’t even been invented in terms of this analogy.
  • Written a comic? That goes in the yes column, although it hasn’t been drawn, yet. Still, the work has been done and I had fun doing it.
  • Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t spontaneously become Terry Pratchett.

Now, do I consider myself to be successful?

This is a tough thing for me because, as you may know, I struggle with self esteem and depression. I want to say “no” very badly. But, I’m going to talk to myself like I’d talk to any of you: positively. For the last nine years I may not have reached my ultimate goal of world domination and financial freedom from my writing but, dang it, I’ve worked hard. There are ticks on that list. And, on the whole, I’ve loved the journey.

Am I successful by the media/world definition of success? Definitely not.

Am I successful by my own standards? Definitely yes!

Whether you’ve just put pen to paper, or you’ve finished your first novel. Even if you never get a publisher or an agent, if three people read your work and they’re your family, it doesn’t matter. A feat of creativity is a success by its very nature. I don’t care if it would win awards, and neither should you. You have done something that no one else has done or can do; you’ve told your story the best that you can.

You see, it isn’t about one huge, final success. You’re not completing a computer game. You’re not working up to the final scene in a movie. This is life. Every time you do something worthwhile, it’s a little success. Your life, and your writing career, is a series of those little successes. Extending that logic, you’re already a success. You can only get more successful because no one can take from you the hard work that you’ve one.

 

The Philosophy

Here we come to the real philosophy section of the post, where we try to find the things that have been said by much smarter people than I, that you might bear in mind when thinking about your own success:

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Teddy Roosevelt.

That’s a good point. Why compare your own success to that of another? Get distracted by their success and it’s easy to miss your own.

“Success has always been a great liar.” – Friedrich Nietzsch

In case you hadn’t noticed, I think Nietzsche and the Stoics are pretty useful for authors:

“A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” — Seneca

And finally, this is another nice one, although slightly off-topic:

“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” – Henry David Thoreau

There was another quote that I had in mind for this post, but be damned if I can find it, now 😀

 

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Tao of the Author: The Recurring Question

Hi everyone,

[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 back to The Tao of the Author, a new thread of blog posts that will address the psychological and philosophical aspects of being an author. The first post The Magic Bean talked about how it’s important to remember that there’s no quick track into authorship, and no magic ticket. This week, I’d like to talk about a question that I get asked a lot:

“How do I get published?”

My reply to this is another question which, in the moment and out of context, might sound harsh but I promise that I deliver it kindly.

“Have you finished your book, yet?”

The amount of people who reply “no” is overwhelming. To those people, and to anyone who is reading this who has the same question, I would like to suggest that you do so. Think about first things first. Maintain the dream of becoming published, but don’t bog yourself down with the mechanics of it. You aren’t ready if your book isn’t ready. Your author self and your book come as a package, you see?

To the rest of you who do have a book/comic/poetry collection/whatever completed, I would say this: Do your research. Because every track into the creative world is different depending on your product. But, from a philosophical standpoint, I think the mindset behind the question is an interesting thing to discuss. You see, people are focused on doing things “the right way” when there is only “your way”.

We are creative. Our minds are attuned to the world in a way that some people can never experience. Everything we see, hear and feel, while ignored by most, is assimilated by us. We see through the cracks, around the corners. We ask questions of society and normality and, when we realise there is no satisfactory answer, we create one of our own. Whether you write “Chick Lit” (a genre name that I don’t believe reflects how good it really is), Horror, Sci-fi or Fantasy, you are taking the real world, holding up a mirror, and either dissecting or representing it in a way that touches others, that brings people together who otherwise feel as if they exist alone. The nature of humanity is that we can never see what another is thinking, feeling or planning; we see only into our own minds. That can be lonely. Creatives bridge that gap, showing how we all share experiences in a way that everyone can understand. Art, in all it’s forms, is the closest we humans get to telepathy.

And yet, your standard creative will still fall into the trap of asking for a solid answer to shoehorn into our ephemeral world.

We are creatives. From the first time that we see a landscape, or the play of emotion on a stranger’s face and think “I must represent this with art”, we’re walking an uncertain path. But we don’t deal in certainty. Our currency is ideas. Everything we do is outside of comfort zones and social norms. It has to be, or we can never craft anything entirely new.

Our journey into creativity is not an earthly thing. It’s born of a dream, and made of human connection beyond mere words on a page. That kind of connection doesn’t come from a 9-5 bubble. It doesn’t come from the classroom or from grades. It doesn’t come from manuscripts printed in 12pt, times new roman, double-lined spaced with generous margins. It comes in spite of those things.

What am I getting at? There is no certain path. My experience is not your experience. My path is not your path. And no one can tell you how to get published. I got published after years of hard work and then, when I was about to give up, I sent out a tweet. And got a publisher. Is that the “usual” way? No. But it was my path. And I can tell you stories of people who have gotten an agent before getting a publisher, some have self published and Amazon have bought their book that went straight on to a movie deal, other people self publish and sell copies out of the boot of their car on Sundays, more still have diversified themselves to the point that they can write simply anything and make a good wage from that flexibility.

There is no one path. Find yours. You do so by first preparing your equipment. Make sure your book is the best you can make it with the resources available to you. Then head into the woods. Veer off the track. Stumble through the undergrowth. Grow thirsty and hot and lost, and I swear to you, if there is a way for you, you will find it. But no one ever got anywhere by sitting down when the track turned uphill. And sometimes the old man who you meet, whose directions seem so useful, so easy to hold onto as a sign of some certainty in the vastness of the forest, are half remembered lies from when the forest was but a copse of firs.

How do you get published?

By keeping your boots strapped tight, and throwing away the map. You do it your way.

The Philosophy

And here we come to the real philosophy section of the post, where we try to find the things that have been said by much smarter people than I, that you might bear in mind when thinking about your creative path:

“No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

And what about if we go even further back in time? Confucius suggested:

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

And, equally important:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

 

Thanks for reading!

The Tao of the Author: The Magic Bean

Hi everyone,

[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.

The Philosophy

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.

The Tao of the Author

Hi everyone,

Welcome to a new thread of posts! I recently had the idea (well, someone told me to do it) to write up some of the things I’ve learned over the last six years of being an indie author. But, as usual, I can’t do anything the easy way.

There are a lot of tips for authors out there. A lot of tricks and get-there-fast schemes. There are a lot of online courses that will cost you hundreds and teach you nothing. There are good ones as well, but they take some finding.

So, I wanted to do something a little different. I’ll be avoiding tips on how to craft a chapter, how to pace your novel, how to make a short story really hit home, and I’ll be focusing more on philosophy.

WAIT! DON’T GO! It’ll be good, honest.

In an effort to make it sound all impressive, I’ll be calling the thread The Tao of the Author. Hopefully some of the things I share will help you to better contend with the mental and emotional hurdles that a lot of authors have to climb over. I know that I have. We’ll be talking about Imposter Syndrome, handling rejections, and how to maintain your headspace when its swimming with worlds and voices both real and imagined. We’ll be talking about some of the advice out there, how it sounds profound, but can actually be toxic to your creative survival. I’m hoping it will be useful and fun to read.

Just one explanatory note: I’m not perfect. Oh, sweet Cthulhu, I am not perfect. The Tao isn’t coming from a high hilltop where I meditate in a state of creative perfection. The reason I can share these things with you is because I have fallen foul of them and still do on occasion. But, if we keep reminding each other of these important things, maybe it’ll get easier for all of us.

The first post will be “The Magic Bean” and it’ll drop tonight. I’ll be writing a bunch of these and releasing them on Wednesdays, I think.

 

As always, thanks for reading, everyone. Your constant support keeps me dreaming, keeps me writing, keeps me going.