Monday's Roundtable discussion was an attempt to define success as it pertains to writing. The fact that we couldn't nail down one right answer tells us how ambiguous success is in the life of a writer. Is it multiple contracts, large advances, royalties, movie deals, fawning agents, adoring fans, respect from peers, merely having written?
It's all of those things and none of those things.
Bonnie said, "Success [as it pertains to writing/art] is probably best measured in persistence." I have to agree with that. I began this writing journey 27 years ago, almost to the day. I dabbled as a writer long before that, but the day I sat down and began to write my first novel is when the writing life really began for me. So far, it's been:
one big roller coaster ride
three steps forward, two steps back
three steps forward, two steps back
nothing like I expected it to be
Nothing. Like I expected.
I wish I had a jarful of the naïve hopefulness I felt as that first novel progressed -- you know, the one that will NEVER be published, thank God. But, oh, the anticipation I had for that novel. I truly believed it would launch my "career" -- you know, the one I'm still waiting for. I could not have foreseen the mountain of rejection letters I'd amass from that one piece of work (double entendre intended). And I'm glad I couldn't. Because if I had, I'd have quit before the lead on my first pencil became dull. And I'm immensely grateful I didn't quit. First, because I'd have never come to know any number of people who have come into my life as a result of my writing, which includes all of you. Second, because the stories I've written have enriched me, and they've enriched others. Regardless of the scale, there's satisfaction in that. Does my portrait of success look the way I'd like it to after 27 years of hard labor? Not hardly. But while I don't have quite a jarful of naïve hopefulness, I still have some. I still hope that my next offering will reach a wider audience, and my next, and my next. That's the beauty of persistence. It's its own reward.
We have a saying in my family: "There's honest, and there's brutally honest." And usually when we say it, it's with one eye on my husband, who falls in the second camp. No, wait, he doesn't fall into the second camp, he spearheads it. But I've learned there's real virtue in that. There are no false suppositions that way, and false suppositions can blindside like little else.
So I want to be brutally honest with you today. Most of what you envision in the way of success for your writing you will fall short of. J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins are the exception, not the rule. But listen to me. Aim. High. Anyway. Because you have something to say, and you say it in a way no one else can. You will improve with each book you write. You will touch readers. You will make a difference to someone -- even if it's to you alone. I live by the philosophy -- reluctantly, I'll admit (I've got to stay brutally honest) -- that it is my responsibility to use the gifts God has given me, but it is God who gives the increase. I wish I didn't have to include that last phrase. I wish it were all up to me. If it were, we would all have the success of a Rowling or a Collins. Because, shoot, why not??
So keep writing. Keep improving. Keep hoping. Persistence is the name of the game.
In the end, Madeleine L'Engle got it right:
You must once and for all give up being worried about successes and failures. Don't let that concern you. It's your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures.