It’s very easy to get into writing for all the wrong reasons. You read about success stories like J.K. Rowling, who before Harry Potter was on the brink of poverty, and think “Hey, I can be that too.” Reading success stories can be great motivators. They can get you through the toughest moments of the writing process. But success stories can also implant illusions of grandeur that hinder your happiness as a writer.
There are several milestones in a writer’s career. Many of the success stories have these. An agent. A multi-book publishing deal. Making it to any of the bestsellers lists. Your novel adapted to the silver screen. And if you really want to dream, the setting of your novel created into a theme park. Yes, we’re back to the J.K. Rowling example. It doesn’t hurt to be swimming in dough too, because who doesn’t want to fill an Olympic-sized pool with cash just to roll around in? The possible paper cuts alone should turn you off, not to mention the amount of germs. Okay, this is not a joking kind of post.
Chasing these milestones can be destructive to a writer. We are creators, artists. This means we are extra sensitive to outside influences…like success stories. If we get it into our heads that we need to achieve all these milestones then anything we do achieve that don’t quite match up will never be enough. An example would be conquering NaNo for the first time. Or getting a five star review. Or completing the next novel in a series. Or even pressing send on the latest round of edits. Because we are chasing the wrong kinds of milestones, we’re setting ourselves up for utter failure. Or at the very least an unhappy, unfulfilled life as an author.
Don’t get me wrong. Dreaming of these milestones isn’t wrong. Dreams are free and give us motivation to become better. To hone our craft. Clock in our ten thousand hours. But it’s when the milestones take over even the minutest decisions we make about our writing that we forget why we became writers in the first place. It becomes more about the fame and notoriety, writing that bestseller, instead of writing for the love of the craft. For the beauty of transferring what’s in our heads into a blank page.
Chasing the dream is one thing. Letting the dream control you is another. Then when you don’t get the dream you feel less of who you think you are. Like you’re not meeting expectations. Your fellow writers then become the wrong kind of competition. You see them as obstacles instead of colleagues. Doubts begin to fester in your head. Pretty soon manuscripts aren’t getting written. When you do get published and don’t make the bestseller list you think you’re the worst writer in the world. The negative reviews blind you from seeing the positive ones. And then you start to envy the success stories instead of looking up to them, instead of trying to make something of yourself because their story inspired you.
The life of a writer is not an easy one. Every single person in the world has a book in him or her that he or she wants to write. But not everyone actually takes the time to sit down and get the work done. An even smaller percentage has the courage to share this book with the world. Smaller still is the percentage that finds a modicum of success in an increasingly crowded and convoluted publishing business. And smallest of all is the group that can check off all the milestones I’ve mentioned above.
And the worst part? Because there is one. Most of these successes don’t even care that they’ve become successful. That’s when you as the writer with the wrong kinds of motivation will start to think that it should have been you. That you’re working your ass off and nothing comes of it. That if you were the success story you would cherish every second of it. This is when your thoughts become absolutely toxic as a writer.
If you can find yourself in the penultimate group, shouldn’t it be enough? Shouldn’t actually sitting down and creating be the high instead of chasing milestones that might not be meant for you? Sure, one of your novels can become a breakout hit and everything I’ve mentioned will come true. But how can they when you’re keeping your eye on the wrong thing? When you’re chasing shadows instead of creating light?
You became a writer because you love the act of writing. The craft of it. Because you can’t see yourself doing anything else with your life. Everything else that comes because of that love should be secondary. Maybe even tertiary. Be thankful that you’ve completed fifty thousand words for NaNo this month. Be thankful that you have a novel ready for submission. Be thankful that you have several novels already lined up for publication. Be thankful that you’re a published author and that people are out there enjoying your work as you read this. Whatever stage you’re in during your writing career, be thankful because you’re pursuing your dream. Maybe even living it.
Remember, it’s about becoming a better writer. Continually improving yourself and your craft. Challenging yourself to be better, to create more. Not the possible milestones that come with the success of it.