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Defining Success

Discussion in 'Café Life' started by Paul Whybrow, Sep 12, 2017.

  1. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

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    One thing that happens, as soon as you tell someone that you're a writer, is that they ask you how well you're doing, by which they mean how many books have you sold? It's a sad fact that any creative endeavour is judged by how successful it is in commercial terms.

    It's also the way of the world that others make more money off an artist than they themselves do. J K Rowling may be the first billionaire writer, but consider how much loot her publisher has earned! After an artist dies, the vultures swoop in making more money than the artist ever did in their lifetime. Just think of famous painters who died penniless, but whose previously derided art now sells for millions. Many singers sell more records dead than they ever did while alive. Cynically, dying is called a 'great career move.'

    One obvious definition of success would be to make a living solely from writing—while you're alive! But, even published authors, many of whom have won literary prizes, need to work at another job to survive. A lot of them do so by teaching about writing and literature.

    On the other hand, there are authors who aren't as well-known who are coining it in by self-publishing online. They may not be household names, never appearing as guests on television art shows or being asked to speak at literary festivals, but they run lucrative writing businesses.

    Independent novelists on how to self-publish successfully | Daily Mail Online

    Personally, I think that anyone who completes the writing of a story is a success. There are millions of folk who claim that they've got a book in them, but who never do anything about it. Just think how much more interesting a person becomes once you know they've written a book. Of course, as soon as they say they've written dozens of titles the commercial aspect intrudes...If they've written so many, and they haven't sold, does that mean they're all rubbish—the writer a delusional loser? With my own writing, I try not to think about such things, firmly believing that I'm continuing to learn about my craft while loving everything I do...except for editing! :mad:

    Patricia Highsmith made a wise observation in her Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction:

    A writer should not think he is bad or finished (if a book fails to find a market)...Every failure teaches something. You should have the feeling, as every experienced writer has, that there are more ideas where that one came from, more strength where the first strength came from, and that you are inexhaustible as long as you are alive.

    Accordingly, I intend to keep on keeping on writing until I drop. I favour rock singer Jim Morrison's interpretation of William Blake's observation on perception, in which he claimed: "There are things known and things unknown, in between are the Doors."

    The doors, in the case of writing, come in the form of literary agents, publishers and marketing, and the rusty hinges don't move unless the oil of commercialism is applied. Getting known in any form of art is a long, hard slog. Think how many performances an actor or singer makes before attracting the attention of the public. We're all in search of a breakthrough, and that won't happen by giving up.

    How do you define success?

    Do you still believe in your work, even though it languishes unrecognised?

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Great question, since everyone defines "success" differently. It's as subjective as appreciation for a certain painting, or a specific book.

    I decided I was "successful" when I had my first offer of publication. That's what I wanted, after all, since I could define the concept. To be a published writer. :)

    Will I ever make enough in royalties to quit my EDJ? Only time will tell. ;) Or, retirement will force it along anyway. LOL!! :D
     
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  3. Marc Joan

    Marc Joan Venerated Member Founding Member

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    It's a moving goal, I think. Once you achieve one thing, you'll want something else.
    I suppose.
     
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  4. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

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    I don't think I have an end goal in mind. I want to see how far I can take this. Have I been successful? When I see a kid geeking out about one of my books, even if only a handful of people have actually read the books, yep, I feel I've been successful. Would I prefer to be making a living from book sales? Yes, of course. But that's a different sort of success. I expect that those writers who 'succeed' by the world's standards are those who can see, appreciate, and celebrate the little successes along the way. Otherwise, they would have given up long before they achieved fame and/or fortune.
     
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  5. MaryA

    MaryA Well-Known Member

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    'Success' is a chimera of a word. The kind of success (acceptance, publication, praise) I've had for some of the non-fiction writing doesn't mean much in comparison to the inward feeling of having succeeded in taking a risk and getting something worthwhile written. In the same way that criticism is something I don't mind and usually learn from (as opposed to blank rejections). Failure is also relative and a subjective matter.

    Years ago I worked hard on a review of a writer I admired and the published review received a great deal of attention and positive comment. The author was thrilled and quoted me all over the place. Then I came across another much briefer review by someone who was just a journalism student and I saw immediately that this reviewer had put her finger on something I had missed and done a much better review. It was a bitter moment. That journalism student would go on to win awards and write for many prestigious journals. We became friends, and I'm glad my instincts were sharp enough to recognise the quality of her work at a moment when my pride took such a knock. Because at the end of the day, it is all about the work and the quality of the writing and that is what 'success' is really about.
     
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  6. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Quality, yes. You can't write the recipe but you can smell it straightaway. I prefer to think in terms of excellence. Not perfection but meaningful excellence, and whatever the job in hand, it means learning to get over yourself, learn to get out of your own way.
     
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  7. MaryA

    MaryA Well-Known Member

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    Last week I was reading Jessie Burton's second novel, The Muse, and there was a scene in which the young unpublished writer and narrator Odelle from Trinidad is confronted by her employer and mentor Marjorie Quick because Odelle's self-esteem and sense of self-worth is entirely bound up with the success or failure of her writing. Such a bracing moment, I thought I'd post it here.

    ‘It’s who I am. So if it’s not any good, then neither am I.’

    She stared at me. ‘Do you mean as a person?’

    ‘Yes.’

    ‘Oh, no. Don’t be moral about this, Odelle. You’re not walking around with a golden halo beaming out of you depending on the power of your paragraph. You don’t come into it, once someone else is reading. It stands apart from you. Don’t let your ability drag you down, don’t hang it round your neck like an albatross.’

    She lit another cigarette. ‘When something is considered
    “good”, it draws people in, often resulting with the eventual destruction of the creator. I’ve seen it happen. So whether you think it’s “good” or not should be entirely irrelevant, if you want to carry on. It’s tough but there it is. And of course, whether I think it’s good should also be neither here nor there. Even more so, in fact. I think you’re worrying too much.’


    When I feel like a complete failure as a writer, it helps to remember I have a life much bigger than writing, that friends and family will go on loving me even if I never achieve much success at writing. And I can make a mean lasagna.
     
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  8. James Marinero

    James Marinero Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Hear, Hear!

    I'm not it for the money (but would be nice). I set out to entertain readers and sales of books would be a measure of my success (not yet)! Years ago I read Alain de Botton's 'Status Anxiety' and it taught me a lot about measures of success and reverence in society. Not that I seek reverence, just take up of my tales.


    @Paul Whybrow 's points are good - and encouraging. The authors in the Daily Mail almost all emphasize the importance of marketing. I thought the piece by the cross-genre author was particularly interesting. Rules? What rules? Tear the rule book up!

    BTW I just watched a TV interview with Fiona Mozley (Elmet - Booker shortlist). What a great story, although I don't think she self-pubbed.
     
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  9. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

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    This revealing interview with Jessie Burton says much about the price of success:

    Jessie Burton: ‘Success can be as fracturing to your self as failure’
     
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  10. MaryA

    MaryA Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for that link, Paul.

    I've often noticed how many of us writers are introverts and a little reclusive. Being published and finding readers matters, but generating publicity by attending launches, doing TV interviews, having to try and sell books and sit in on writers' panels, giving interviews etc is nightmarish for some writers (who have been alone in a small room staring at the wall and rewriting sentences for years at a time). Especially when there's the next book at home Not Going Well. And the more public exposure there is in media, the more personal attacks and criticism can hurt. Success is a double-edged sword.
     
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  11. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

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    Someone once made a pithy observation, that's perfect for the career of an author:

    [​IMG]
    (Probably the illustrious Mr Anonymous—though this observation is variously attributed to Churchill and Lincoln.)
     
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  12. Sea-shore

    Sea-shore aka Anne Chen Staff Member

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    Have ordered The Muse thanks to @MaryA. Jessie Burton's blog is also worth a good read.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2017

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