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Alison: Carved-out satisfaction versus cut-throat success

There’s a ‘wealth’ of information out there and particularly online about how to become a successful writer, how to write, pitch, blog, market yourself, build up a following, get a publisher, be known. Much of it is excellent advice. However, what grates on me is the kind of ‘stop at nothing’ advice where you are meant to steamroller your way to the top by being relentlessly competitive with your contemporaries. Some will think I am naive. You simply have to stand out to be noticed, you need to blog more, network more, tour more, promote more.

Absolutely. You need dedication. You need to lose the excuses not to write. You need to be aware of what’s going on in the market. You need to know who’s in the know and what they know! But what I object to is ambition in a vacuum, the one-track mind to success that doesn’t consider other priorities like the people around you, your home and family life, or your relationship with others and with the world.

Last week Christina Katz, writer, woman, mother, powerhouse asked people to blog about happiness. To me happiness can be joy, exquisite moments of enjoyment of the process of writing, of the gorgeous reality of my children and their funny moments, a perfect moment of spring blossom and sun. But that kind of happiness is not always available moment to moment. What is available is an overall satisfaction with your life and its choices, an understanding that you may not always get exactly what you want, when you want (like all the time you want to write) but that you are doing your absolute best to fulfill your ambition while maintaining equilibrium with other parts of your life. As a woman and mother, this reciprocity and balancing of your own needs with the needs of your children, family, extended family and the community as a whole is integral. I am not going to blog everyday if it means that I don’t do a jigsaw with my two-year-old or colour with my daughter, if I can’t listen to my friend who is going through a hard time, if I never have time for giving rather than just getting. On Benjamin Kanarek blog Isa Maisa said recently: As our society today considers fame and fortune to be the Holy Grail of our sense of purpose, living a life in an attitude of a happy medium is hushed as insufficient and discusses Doris Lessing, Michael Jackson and Alexander McQueen’s relationship with success.

There are many people in the writing world I admire who are successful by building up a reciprocal and mutually satisfying relationship with their readers and with other writers. They bring others up with them, provide others with opportunities for exposure and development. In particular I would like to mention Vanessa O’ Loughlin of Inkwell Writers. She writes, provides great-quality writing classes, and has created a network of writers who regularly receive her extremely useful newsletter. She uses the newsletter to promote other writers and has provided opportunities for other writers to be noticed. Christina Katz is an expert at platform building and becoming known in the publishing world, making the most of opportunities — but she also promotes the careers of fellow writers and provides opportunities for them. The Year Zero collective is a group of writers who want to engage with and give back to readers. They develop a reciprocal relationship with readers by posting work regularly and getting feedback, by doing readings in intimate venues and by often giving away their work for free.

These are only a few examples. In terms of social media, there is, for the most part, a wonderful atmosphere on Twitter of reciprocal help, promotion and respect. There are also plenty of blogs (here, for instance!) where the object is mutual support and encouragement. Only occasionally do you find those whose own agenda of self-promotion comes ahead of their respect for others.

I want to be a writer first; I want to be a successful but also satisfied writer. But what that means to me is to develop a relationship with my readers and other writers first and foremost, to maintain a courteous, considerate and caring relationship with people in my personal and professional life. And after that, only after, will I count book sales and stats as a measure of happiness. What do you think?

[Cross-posted from my personal blog.]

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you, Alison. One of the most thoughtful responses I’ve read all year. I could not have said it better myself. 🙂

    May 5, 2010
  2. ALexsondra #

    well said. if doing what you love doesn’t harmonize with the other parts of your life, you’ll end up feeling empty.

    Cut throat writers/artists/doctors/musicians/ doesn’t matter what field, they have a serious impairment with their motivation.

    Thanks again

    May 5, 2010
  3. studiomothers helped me a lot in finding a balance between the artistic ambition and the love of family life.

    i certainly write for me first (or i’d be published and promoting myself a lot earlier and a lot more intensely). and i measure my success by how i feel about the writing itself – not how others pay me or criticize, etc….if measured by others’ standards, i wouldn’t even bother in the first place.

    i think this is why seeking out other mother-writers on the net has been instrumental in my sanity as i ‘go it alone’

    May 5, 2010
  4. i LOVE this post. here’s what struck me first: “But what I object to is ambition in a vacuum, the one-track mind to success that doesn’t consider other priorities like the people around you, your home and family life, or your relationship with others and with the world.”

    Yes!!! This is my beef with this explosion of “life coaching” out there. and the whole “you find time for what’s important” line of thought that says that if your art, in whatever form, is truly that important to you, then you’ll find time. I find that most of this type of advice is not coming from people who are juggling a full-time job plus a family plus their creative work…plus…plus…plus.

    okay, rant over. 🙂 great post.

    May 7, 2010
  5. I completely agree with what you say regarding the balance between ambition and family and how our society often demands us to surrender our life balance for success. I recently left a job in the p/d world where the motto was “following your purpose against all odds.” The result? Overworked, stressed people whose children were often the ones to suffer. What Kelly says about life coaching is something I also feel strongly about. Someone once said to me that goal setting is a life tool, not a life style and to be constantly reaching – thirsting – for the next success stops you enjoying the only moment – the real Life – we have … Great post. Thanks!

    May 9, 2010
  6. What a great post. the thing that bothers me about pursuing success is that the marketing side, which is vital to success, it so time consuming. I have made a commitment to put my family first before everything I do, which is working for me, and I make time to make the art and do some writing. But so little is left over after that for marketing! I blog, but you are only as good as your last post. I was blogging 4 times a week, but I have cut back to 3 and noticed my traffic has dwindled accordingly. I was feeling down about it last week, but I see now that I can only do what I can do. If I can’t make it with the level I am working, then it wasn’t meant to be. Success is alluring, but as you point out in this article not at the expense of real life happiness.

    May 11, 2010
  7. beautiful words and gentle reminders of how not to squander what is right in front of you: live! And this is really the only place from which PENETRATING words worth sharing grow

    May 13, 2010
  8. alisonwells #

    Thank you for all the wonderful comments everyone. I do think there is an imbalance in the world where success, achievement and so called ‘dedication’ to work are commended above voluntarism, reciprocal and mutually benefiting relationships and definitely above the private domain of family, children, elderly parents, sick relations etc. I know there are plain hard facts, if you blog everyday you will have more blog traffic, you have to produce work to have it seen but there is also this frenetic intensity about life now, everything is ‘more’ and ‘faster’ instead of ‘slow’ and ‘sustainable’. I hope the latter mindset gains credence over the years and that the ordinary diffuse work we do will become lauded as much as the sharp arrow of ‘success’.

    May 13, 2010
  9. I love this post too, Alison.

    To Shona’s point about having to make time for marketing (aka, building community, lol), I can relate to the pressure. Not that I have a book to market (although Shona’s new book is so beautiful and relevant that it will surely sell itself!), but there is a self-imposed (or publisher imposed) pressure to blog, post to social media, etc.

    Once upon a time, there was a new Studio Mothers post five days a week. But that wasn’t tenable in the longer term (especially as there was no income to substantiate the time requirement on my end). But I love this blog, and I know that infrequent posting leads to a loss of audience. This year, I’ve let the flow of posts become more organic, and decided not to worry about it. May and June are very busy months for most mothers, and I figure, if I don’t have time to create posts, then most of my counterparts probably don’t have time to read them, anyway! Or at least, this is what I tell myself.

    I trust, as Shona and other bloggers can trust, that when you have the bandwidth to increase post frequency, the traffic and participation will pick up too.

    To the main point of Alison’s post, it is so important to keep sight of one’s priorities — AFTER making sure that one has identified those priorities. Interestingly, for me, as a 40-year-old mother of 5, these priorities continue to crystallize.

    May 13, 2010

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