[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.
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.
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!