I haven’t hit a point where I feel really successful as a writer, and I probably never will. Part of this harkens back to my days as a true novice. I’ve written some crappy crap in my time: lazy articles, uninspired short stories, and a wealth of essays that will remain in the dark because I didn’t understand that I had to make a point. Oh, and it wasn’t like people didn’t notice. People noticed. They really did.
I had a pastor tell me what a lousy writer I was (but I took good photos—keep it positive, dewd), I had a teacher tell me that it appeared I enjoyed writing but my work didn’t reflect my interest (she was a sociology professor with a publication in a science journal—pull out the accolades everybody), and I had a lawyer rip into me about inaccuracies in an article I wrote (I got nothing to say here—that was all me).
When I think I’ve had it bad, though, I try to remember that turn-of-the-century pulp writers had it the worst. H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, for instance, churned out stories like they were constructing shoes in a sweatshop—the long hours and crappy pay applied. Most pulp writers were not revered in their time either, and suffered greatly from short deadlines, inconsistent publishing houses, and stories that varied in quality. If you need evidence, consult Howard’s “Rogues in the House.” It reads like a thirteen-year old’s Dungeons and Dragons campaign….but far more uninspired.
But after years and years of pitiless toil, switching publishing houses, enduring crap pay, and then death by sickness and suicide, Lovecraft and Howard achieved fanfare. Lovecraft is considered the father of weird fiction, and Howard gave fantasy an erudite edge, which acted as the catalyst for a genre unto itself—sword and sorcery.
You’re probably wondering: is this one of those crappy essays he was talking about in the intro where he forgets to make a point? Worry not, it’s coming….probably.
When I first began to take writing seriously, I lamented a concern of mine to my older brother and mentor: “I don’t want my writing to be remembered as hackery. Not hated, nor lauded. More so, I was worried that my writing would be derided for its average-ness, or, if nothing else, its laziness. If I’m going to shoot for such a lowly position in the writing world, why even try?
“So, because you aren’t a New York Times best-selling author, it’s wrong if you just make a living, or, for gods’ sake, simply enjoy writing in your downtime?” my brother asked me quizzically after my lamentation.
Because it was early in my tutelage, it took me years to fully understand what he meant. Success is how you view it; not how others view it. I never thought of R. L. Stine as an author to emulate, for instance, because of his perceived status as a “children’s” author. I always wanted to be a serious writer—not some knucklehead who wrote adolescent tales of monsters and macabre. But, for him, I’m sure his numerous awards and $41 million salary begs to differ; not to mention, interviews with the guy clearly indicate that he enjoys his work. Now, not that I need to make millions of dollars to feel successful, but that feeling of only wanting to emulate serious writers is derived from a false vision of success.
In other words, I can only describe it as “delusions of grandeur.” What I mean is: if one-hundred people slap you on the back and tell you that you’re the next best thing, does that make it true? Of course not. It makes you a person who’s been slapped on the back by people who are more delusional than you are, especially if you take the more cynical road rife with impostor syndrome, then you are convinced you’re a real piece of crap no matter what.
I should also say that my stilted view of success also hampered any chance of me actually achieving something worth a damn as far as writing goes. After one goal was completed I would immediately try for something that was “next” on my list, even though it was probably just as unimportant as the first thing. That is: get published in cheap magazine that clearly takes all comers was first on my list. I did that and immediately tried for another magazine without sitting back and analyzing the situation. A smart person could learn a few things from the moment, such as one’s need to work harder to be in better magazines, ezines, etc, etc. As Entrepreneur.com author James Altucher writes, “Success is a cheap god that gives you pleasure for a second before sticking the knives in and throwing you out of heaven.” The moment of elation after one has achieves success soon ends, and it becomes apparent that one has to do more in order to be successful: make more money, be more artistic, work harder, write more, go insane….so on and so forth.
Often times, I’ve become jaded at the prospect of succeeding as writer, blogger, or journalist, but I’ve always come back regardless if there was money involved or not because something in me tells me that I have to do it in order to scratch some itch. The point I’m trying to get at is that no matter where I want to be as a writer, I’m certainly somewhere as a writer, which is a good thing. So, regardless of where you fall on the totem pole—just starting out or just received your first rejection (or you are some multi-million dollar writer dewd living in a hilltop mansion)—ideas of success are fabrications of our own twisted visions or the false realities people tell us about (“You are gonna be the next best thing, buddy!” *slap on the back*) The best part of this is that we have the power to change this, to stop telling ourselves the lie over and again so that we can perhaps go pursue some real success no matter how large or small.