Last week I talked about what success meant for me nowadays. A big part of why the shape of success has changed for me over the years is a growing acceptance of the things I can and cannot control in this writing life.
I was very unrealistic in my youth. I wanted it all, but without working for it. I wanted to be recognized and feted despite putting no effort into getting recognized or doing something worth celebrating beyond finally producing a first draft. The glory was just supposed to ‘happen’ for me, because I wished ardently for that to be the case.
I refused to do my research and work out what I needed to achieve beyond write a draft. I knew there was an industry out there, and I’d need to interact with it, but finding out about it seemed terribly bothersome, and very like hard work, so I bought a book or two about it and barely broke their spines, still hoping a literary prince charming would appear from nowhere to sweep me off to a land of endless parties and praise.
Now, that was all ridiculous, and I must say in many ways I was so lazy I didn’t even daydream that hard about it all, I just had the draft and was going to ‘do something about it’ later. I had a job and a flat and was getting on with life in my 20s and all the distractions that presented. My earlier self would dispute the characterization I have described above and say I was just editing, or busy, or even doing nothing, rather than say I was just hoping for something to come out of the nothing that was my utter inability to engage with making a career from my passion.
So what changed?
I accepted a lot of things. This took a long time, and happened incrementally over a number of years, and is still ongoing today. I’m not the finished article by any means, and likely never will be, which is fine by me.
First, I accepted I needed to start again with a new story. I accepted the need to rewrite and edit. I actually worked on learning what that meant: a spine or two, real and virtual, were actually cracked and creased as I put some time in. Eventually I accepted that I needed external help.
Once I decided to self-publish, I accepted that I was going into a crowded market, and would be responsible for my own destiny. I finally accepted that I could only control my own actions, and not impose my (daydreaming) will upon the world. I accepted I would make mistakes. For many years I had always described to other people the vast numbers of books written versus the tiny handful that were published traditionally, and then the vast number of published books versus the tiny handful that became genuine, life-altering bestsellers, so there has long been an acceptance that the simple numbers game was against me, but you always hope that you’ll beat those odds. Once I decided that I didn’t require the blessing of the publishing house gatekeepers, I accepted that despite my best efforts, it would be very hard for my writing to find its audience, and furthermore, I could not gauge the potential size of that audience. (You can do market research, but still I think with fantasy books in the current market, now fractured with sub-genres, it is difficult to say with confidence what your potential reach is. I decided to produce my best, and go from there. Perhaps naïve, but I’m stuck with it, for now! This may well be one of my many mistakes, but if so, it is one I will learn from. Eventually, haha! I’m okay with that, because right now what I am doing is fulfilling, and I believe in what I’ve written, and what I’m working on. Doing what you love and believe in is never truly a waste of time or effort, in my opinion.)
I am continuing to learn, trying to improve both the quality of my writing, and its ability to appeal to readers in a way which I hope is complementary, but I recognize that I have a lot to put together in that department, and perfection, while worth striving for, is far from within my grasp. I accept this, and the challenge it represents. Sometimes it is daunting, other times, like right now as I type this, it is exciting.
Acceptance is a strange thing. It isn’t fatalism, or ennui, or resignation. I’m still engaged with my dreams, am possessed of ambition and drive, yet I accept that for all my efforts my writing may end up as a small brief ripple in an oceanic pond. I accept that, because to rail against it, to demand that I am somehow due the attention of large numbers of readers requires a reality-denying level of ego I’m not inclined to feed. I think it would be damaging for me as a person. Now perhaps if I had that intense focus, and decided to settle for nothing less than my wildest dreams come true, perhaps that would increase my chances of success a fraction more, but it would also make the failure to beat the odds sting much harder. So is this acceptance a self-preservation tactic? Maybe. But just as I accept I have a lot to learn from writers of all genres, from commercial fiction to experimental abstraction, so I accept that perhaps my shift in focus over the years has been a way to soften the blow of failure. The funny thing is, accepting everything I have mentioned so far has advanced me further down the road to success than denying it ever did, because in acceptance I found ways to overcome the fear of failure that for years held me back. I never expected it, but the slow altering of my attitude has enabled me now to do more than I thought possible, with much much more to come. I will continue to learn, and strive, and enjoy what I have and am doing. For me, right now, there really is nothing better than that, and acceptance has helped me to get to this place, and I feel very fortunate indeed to have got this far.