...my reasoning behind this is that I haven't really talked a lot about myself for a while so I thought it would be a fun little experiment to post - once a week, for seven weeks - a series of essays about little ol' me: where I came from, my professional journey, being an editor, being a publisher ... and even my hopes and dreams for the future.
Hope you like!
I was recently introduced as a successful writer: which immediately got me thinking – always a good thing.
What is a successful writer?
We really should start by clearing the board a bit and admit that success is a pretty meaningless word. I know a few writers who have only written three or four books but have made indecent amounts of money from them, I also know writers who have written dozens and dozens and dozens of books, and I even have a few writer friends who have won amazing awards – so which one is the most successful? The reality is that for every literary success story there's usually a dark side: the author who makes a lot of money may very well be trapped by the genre that brought them that nice, juicy income – they simply can't afford to write anything else; the writer who has written dozens and dozens and dozens of books may be respected but has to live in their parents' basement; and the author with all those awards may be terrified by the thought of it's all downhill from here.
When I teach my (commercial begins – Sex Sells: How To Write And Sell Erotica class – commercial ends) I always take a few minutes to remind my students that writers are professional liars: it is, after all, our job to convince people that we are everything from aliens from the dark nebula, a serial killer, a turn-of-the-century grand dame, or whatever/whoever else – meaning that when I writer opens their mouth about anything you should always take what comes out with more than a grain of salt.
Writing, without a doubt, can be a very tough life. Sure, as I mentioned, what we do is special, brave and even magical, but it can also regularly, methodically kick you in the gut: bad reviews, poor sales, rejection, rejection, rejection ... it is not for the weak. It's not a surprise – though it is a bit shameful – that some writers deal with the harsh reality of being a writer by wearing an armored suit of arrogance. They are the ones who love to tell you about their great new sale (though it took them a decade to do it), their amazing award (though no one really respects the quality of their work), the thousands of words they just wrote (that is nothing more than gibberish), or the huge royalty check they got (but will never see again).
I have a rule: if I happen to have a fellow writer in my life who doesn't make me feel good about me or my work then that person can no longer be in my life. Yeah, that might be a bit harsh, but anything or anyone that keeps me from working at what is already a damned hard thing to do is someone not worth having around. The same holds true for blogs, twitter-twits, Facebook 'friends' – if you are not a positive thing in my life then you are simply not going to be in my life. Writing can be tough, as said, so there's no reason to keep people around who make it any tougher.
So what is success – especially for a writer? If you've been kind enough to read these little pieces you probably know where this is going ... but bear with me. I really don't think success has anything to do with awards (I love this quote: "Awards are like hemorrhoids: eventually every asshole gets one"), money (which is extremely slippery for anyone doing anything creative), books or stories written, fame (just watch All About Eve), or anything similar.
For me, success is ... have you ever seen The Paper Chase? For those that haven't, it's about a student (Timothy Bottoms) facing a very difficult time (to put it mildly) in law school. It’s a great film (hey, it's got John Houseman so it has to be) but the ending has always resounded with me: after spending hour after hour, day after day, night after night, our student works and studies and studies and works – and, at the end, his girlfriend hands him an envelope with his final grade in it. But rather than open it he simply tears it up, scattering it to the wind: he doesn't need to know what it says because he knows, without a doubt, that he has not just passed but understands the law.
Now I'm not a lawyer (thank god) but that scene, for me, is my personal definition of success. Sure, money would be nice; an award would be flattering; having a nice, fat Wikipedia entry would be sweet; but what I really want is for one day to write a book that I finish with that same glorious moment of artistic satisfaction: the unshakable knowledge that what I have done is truly, inarguably wonderful.
It's subjective, of course: your version of success if not mine – but I hope this had made you think a bit about what you want your own, personal, artistic journey to be.
But before I close I have one final piece of advice – one that I tell as many writers as I can, as well as hold very close to my heart: we all might have different ideas of what success is, but the only time a writer truly fails is ... when they stop writing.