In my last post, I wrote about the pressures we all face in moving our writing and our businesses forward. The pressures of huge numbers of choices to wade through, the many interdependent decisions an independent writer or artist has to make, and the pressure to try new opportunities and to be everywhere at once.
When we’re talking about perceived pressure for an artist or a writer, we have to talk about success, definitions of success, and fear of success.
The whole idea of success can be a land-mine for creatives. In some ways, creative types are fearless…it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there as you have to do as an artist. It takes a lot of courage to put any attempt at art into a physical medium. On the other hand, many creative types are also self-critical to a hyper degree. That’s what pushes us to be better at our chosen form of expression, but it’s not particularly helpful when it comes to living an emotionally and mentally healthy and satisfying life.
I’m a firm believer that we can do both. We can be emotionally and mentally healthy, with full, happy lives, and continue to grow as artists. First we have to expose the tapes we’re listening to in our own minds for the BS they are, and write new scripts that are more supportive of a full life, not one spent pining over our art.
So…on to defining success. It is a word that operates on multiple levels.
From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, in the order presented on their website:
- the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect or fame
- the correct or desired result of an attempt
- someone or something that is successful: a person or thing that succeeds
Isn’t that order a perfect killer?
The first part to focus on, of course, is the second definition. The correct or desired result of an attempt. This is the aspect of success that is in your control.
Your decisions every day affect your achievement of the correct or desired result of an attempt. Make a different decision tomorrow — work harder — and this form of success is closer at hand. For many of us, this aspect of success has been achieved. I, for instance, have written and published many books. I have developed my storytelling craft, and I continue to learn — love to learn — about how to tell stories. I have succeeded and am succeeding regularly; my attempts at novels, novellas, short stories, story arcs over series, etc, are finished regularly and have the desired result of entertaining the readers who choose to pick up my work.
Now, you could argue with me that at a broader level, whether or not your attempts (for instance, in publishing a novel) have the correct or desired result (for instance, readers discovering and devouring your work), is not in your control. There are too many factors that affect book discovery and reader habits, and your book finding its audience is not in your control. This points out, once again, that BIG OLD WALL between the creative side of this work, and the public, discoverability, BUSINESS side of the work.
But if you’re going to have a creative career, the first step is reaching the desired result of attempts at your art.
That’s a brilliant turn, isn’t it? The thing that will most benefit you in the long-run development of a career is spending time at the art that you love, the passion that drove you to be here, considering an artistic career, in the first place.
Back to the definition of success…Can you control the first part of the definition above? The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect or fame.
You do not control becoming wealthy, famous, or respected for your art. I think we can all agree on that.
Yes, the harder you work, the better placed you’ll be if luck should come calling. And the more of that second type of success (explored above) throughout your career. But you still may never become wealthy, famous, or respected.
Many artists don’t even want that sort of success. However, culturally, it seems to be assumed that we do.
And so we get into some of the fears surrounding success, and we’ll return to the third definition from Merriam-Webster in a few.
Fear of criticism
To be read is to be critiqued. To be read widely is to be critiqued widely, and harshly. This is likely the first ‘fear of success’ you’ll encounter on the path to a writing or artistic career. Conquering it takes getting over your pride, acknowledging your imperfections while not allowing them to stop you, and simply climbing over the wall (as often as necessary) and going on with your work.
Fear of losing oneself
Obscurity is oddly comforting to many an artist (myself included). Especially in the early years when the expression of your art is changing and progressing so rapidly…any sort of success can be frightening, because it turns your attention from the inward view you need to grow as an artist, to the outward, world-focused view. It’s a huge distraction, and being watched closely doesn’t help one experiment and play in the way you must to grow as an artist. If one of your first few books is a big success…how do you follow that? It’s a lot of pressure!
Fear of expanding obligations
This is one you won’t ever think about until you have a bunch of books out, and it’s taking work just to maintain your backlist. You have to split your precious writing time now with business chores and marketing. Even if your chosen forms of marketing are fun, which is what I hope you’ll choose for yourself, it is still time you can’t spend with your first love, your writing. What if your books start selling, and people suddenly want things from you? They want to talk about your work, or have you involved with events. Agh! How will you ever make the time to satisfy the social obligations that come with SUCCESS OH TERRIBLE SUCCESS?? (See, we got back to that, eventually. 🙂 )
You might not feel this way at all. Maybe it’s just me.
Once again, all of these worries are outside of your control, because they’re linked to that first definition of success. The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect or fame.
The best thing you can do for your sanity and well-being is DON’T THINK ABOUT THIS STUFF. It’s a cross-that-bridge-when-you-come-to-it deal.
Back to that third definition of success, the one that concerns persons or things. Someone or something that is successful: a person or thing that succeeds.
This is where it gets personal. Are you a success, or aren’t you?
Don’t let others define this one for you. Look inside for the measure of your worth — not to outside acclaim or regard.
Own Your Success.
Own your definition of that word.
Don’t let fear of success or what success means be a barrier to your creative growth.
I am wishing you success in your endeavors this week. Happy writing!
For a full list of Own Your Writing Career posts in the order they were written, visit my Writers page. I’ll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!
“Own Your Writing Career: Success, Oh Terrible Success.” copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson