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.]