Artists, Writers and Performers, oh my.
The thing about creative pursuits is that, sooner or later, they should be shared with others. Yes, a person can write for themselves, but the magic happens when you share the story and other people can relate to it. Musicians can become masters of an instrument, but the magic happens when they share the beauty of that instrument and what they can do with it to the world. Actors can get together and read plays, but the magic happens when an audience member is held spell-bound at the intensity of emotion dramatized on the stage.
So the creative arts allow us to connect with others in a very unique way, but they also make a person vulnerable. Creators will receive external feedback at some point-sometimes good, sometimes bad. Or they won't receive any feedback (ie. no one will even bother to engage with their creation) and they'll wonder why.
I don't want to give a definition to what being successful as an artist is. Each person has their own definition, and maybe it wouldn't even include sharing their work with outsiders. However, the world's definition of success often involves significant social approval.
As a writer, it seems that popularity equals book sales (if you're indie) and/or agent/publishing deals (if you're taking the traditional route), and so if those things aren't happening, you're not successful.
There, I said it.
And by that definition, even though I'm doing better than some, I am sooo not successful as a writer.
And there are lots of my writer friends who are feeling this pain as well. I'm seeing lots of blog posts about writer fatigue, how to deal with those depressive writer feelings (this one here, by Jan O'Hara at Writer Unboxed has some great advice), and questioning if they should continue or just quit.
How common are you?
On Monday, I was followed by @GritFire on Twitter, and saw the following tweet:
Don't be common. pic.twitter.com/XtdFpqbKOV— GritFire (@GritFire) October 19, 2015
I retweeted it with the response, "I'm trying! But what do you do if "it" never happens?" Because that's what I've been contemplating lately, and what I think my writer friends have been contemplating.
As writers we're told that, if we just write a great story (being special and uncommon), your book will sell, or you'll get an agent, etc... Or we're told to market our books one way, or submit our books another way, and then you'll grab the golden writer ring.
But what no one talks about it is the element of luck involved. Well, no one but Porter Anderson (@porteranderson). Thank God for Porter and his reality-based publishing industry posts.
Yes, hard work is first and foremost. If you don't put in the work to develop and master the skills to write a good story, then you're sure to be a failure. But the message of the tweet, and of writer society in general is "Work hard and you'll become something (special). If you don't become something, it's your fault. You weren't good enough."
But I don't feel like that's true. There have been plenty of famous people who acknowledge the roll luck, or timing, or any of a number different variables besides hard work played in their success. And then there are the confusing monumental successes that cause you to question humanity's taste and ask WTF?
There have been several opportunities for my writing career to be different, but it's not happened - and those opportunities have been out of my hands. External feedback, be it positive, negative or indifferent, is not something I can control.
I'm coming to accept that my stories, my blog (me!) just aren't resonating with a large audience of people, for whatever reason. And what do I do now? Should I quit? Should I stop dreaming? Should I stop trying? Am I truly not good enough to succeed as a writer?
An Answer from an Unlikely Source
@GritFire was nice enough to favorite my tweet, but they didn't give me an answer. I did find one, though, in the e.e. cummings-like tweet from Luka Sulic of the 2Cellos. (When I got blown away by their music several weeks ago, I naturally followed them (both individually and the 2Cellos account) on Twitter.)
Serendipity is everyday magic. How funny that a random tweet would be a fitting response to my question of GritFire.
His instagram stated:
Be yourself. Believe in yourself.
No, not rocket science, and definitely been stated before, but for some reason I heard the message differently this time.
We are writers - all of us struggling-to-persevere people are creative, wonderful people. Just by being human beings, we're already special and uncommon, and our stories are special and unique to us.
We are writers, and writing is what we do. Our stories can make a difference in the world, and deserve to be told.
We are writers, and we are good enough to not give up. To keep trying. And, maybe, to someday succeed.