As an unpublished writer, there’s the tendency to look around and mourn for other peoples’ successes.
There was a time many years ago when a woman I knew was awash in international sales, over-the-top reviews, big dollar movie deals. Everywhere I turned her face was plastered on some media. A lonely Friday at Blockbuster was made worse when an ad for her movie simultaneously screamed from each of the six televisions – such a bouncy soundtrack! -- and the video-case display took up an entire wall. There were even posters with the words, “based on the novel by…” Sigh.
I’m a better writer, I fumed. Her book is predictable, how hard could it have been to write? Mine were the thoughts of a green-eyed fool.
I remember later this woman telling me how she’d been afraid she would change with success and how utterly unprepared she was to find the people around her had changed more.
As I choked down my slice of humble pie, I began to understand that her success wasn’t my failure. It’s said that we learn more from our mistakes than our accomplishments, and it’s true. I’m glad to have had the experience of being the bad guy in my own silly drama.
Know this: We writers are not competing against one another. Even within the same genre, even while jockeying for position on the same bestseller list, it doesn’t matter how our writing compares to another’s, what his advance was and yours wasn’t. What matters is how our writing compares with our own best effort. I’m satisfied that today I wrote as well as I could. Tomorrow, I expect to do better. It doesn’t matter how poorly written or inexplicably brilliant another’s book is, how much attention it receives from the New York Times Review of Books and Oprah herself. The awards don’t much matter. Frankly, it doesn’t matter anymore how well-regarded my own work is by any critic, any where. I must first satisfy my own standards: write well, write often, write with intention and joy. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?
It’s a relief to be rid of the horrifying creep of envy. I’m ecstatic when I get a call or email from a friend telling me of her significant deal or glowing review or third printing. Their successes wholly belong to them, I understand that, but as a writer, I find myself basking along with them, knowing they’ve just scored one for the team. For me, though, I don’t expect to find an abiding sense of accomplishment once I’ve published a book, done the tour, glowed under some imagined set of klieg lights.
It’s the getting there I find dazzling.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007