This is my personal blog and does not necessarily reflect the collective views of Hard Limits Press

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writerly success

I am paraphrasing many a writer and humorist when I say that writers, overall, are the least able to handle criticism and disappointment, yet have the profession guaranteed to give them both in excess.

Masochism? Probably. There's some truth to that wounded artist trope, the suffering poet. (My father, given to embellishment, excess, and things fantastical, is a living example of the tortured Irish creator. Cue the chorus of "no wonder you're like that!" here) I also find that a lot of us create because we had nasty childhoods. (though not all of us, of course) We told ourselves stories as a coping mechanism, perhaps because we had a natural ear for language. Trauma, tragedy, unseemly curiosity, and isolation, however, served--and perhaps continue to serve throughout a writer's life-as a peculiar kind of refining fire.

Dreams are part of this creation process. A story is just a dream, a series of disconnected sensory details until given form. Nathan Bransford reminds writers that sometimes, we can dream a little too well here.

What I think Nathan is talking about is the success ideal. The idea of a single type of success for everyone is a harmful idea, intended to create those who have, and those who have nothing. Regardless of how suited a particular type of success might be for a person, they are expected to strive for it regardless and define their worth only by a very narrow list of criteria. I bet most of you can name a lawyer who really wanted to run a farm, or someone running a farm who really wanted to be a lawyer. In this case, it's making a spot on the New York Times Best Seller list the only sign of success you as a writer will accept. It is your "have." If you do not achieve it, even if you have good reviews, high sales, and a solid fanbase, you therefore "have nothing."

This is the dark side of the American Dream.

On the other hand, as much as I know that to be true and as much as I love e-books, I am not immune to the notion that the big guys in New York are the only legitimate way to go.

So what are your thoughts on success? What about small publishing houses and e-book publishing versus the traditional way? Would you ever go with one of these options?


  1. Love that quote at the beginning. Writers sure have a tough row to hoe, but we seem born to dig.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment, Nathan. I especially like your analogy because of Seamus Heaney's poem, Digging. The poem makes me think about what we are born to do and how the labors of those who came before us serve as a foundation.

    "Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I'll dig with it."

    --Seamus Heaney

  3. Hey - I clicked over from the Bransforums :D

    I suppose my personal idea of success is having a good-sized readership (several thousand, I suppose, though more would OF COURSE be appreciated). I also have the little fantasy of having people tell me that I wrote their favorite book, so that'd be a big success for me, too. I like to think I'll make it to traditional publishing someday, but I might consider more non-traditional means when the time comes. We'll see :)

  4. Steph,

    you know what mine would be, writing wise? Having people write fanfiction for my stuff!

    I think my plan is to try traditional, but I am comforted by the notion that even if no one in that sphere buys it, I can still use a platform like Kindle to get it out there.