I wasn’t going to post anything today, but then I read this fabulous post on Zoe Winters’ blog. (Don’t worry, I’ll be waiting for you when you get back from reading it.) A few minutes after that, I started chatting with one of my critique partners about how easy it is to fall into the trap of measuring your own success (or failure) by the yardstick of other writers’ successes.
Of course, we all know better than to do that, right? No one else is you, no one else writes your books (if someone else does, you’re either plagiarizing or have a ghostwriter, and either way, it means you’re not a writer), and no one’s path will be your path.
But the truth is, it’s hard not to feel a little bit of envy (or even a lot bit) when you see other writers achieving the type of success and recognition you so desperately crave. It’s doubly difficult to avoid when some of those writers are your friends, especially if they started writing and seeking publication at roughly the same time you did. It was easy to commiserate with each other over rejections. It’s much harder to congratulate those same friends when they’ve received great publishing contracts and are clearly well on their way to stardom while you’re still digging in the trenches, just praying you can land an agent, let alone a contract. (None of which is to say that said envy makes you not happy to see your friends’ successes. But I will say that I have seen more critique partner relationships break up when one gets a publishing contract and the other doesn’t. It just isn’t easy.)
So how does this tie into Zoe’s post? Well, she’s right. We all want validation. And we all probably have pretty much the same yardstick for validation–that is, that our writing is good enough for other people to want to read it. Or perhaps more accurately, good enough for other people to be willing to pay to read it. Whether you’re published by a big New York house, a small press, an epub, or even self-published, it comes down to having the sense that someone other than you values your writing.
The problem is, for most of us, that goal of being valued by someone other than yourself is a moving goal post. At first, maybe all you want is for an agent to offer representation. It seems like that will be “making it.” But then, once you have an agent, the goal changes. Now you have to get an editor to like your book enough to publish it. But even when you get your contract, you haven’t “made” it, because now readers have to love it enough to buy it and recommend it to their friends and make you, if not an NYT bestselling author, at least a moderately successful one with good sales numbers so that your agent can sell your next book.
And man, it never ends. Wherever you’re at on the continuum, the goal post is always shifting and there’s always someone who’s “ahead” of you on the continuum. (Unless, of course, you’re Nora Roberts. But let’s face it, there’s only one of her.) Always someone who’s getting more love from editors, more love from reviewers, more love from readers.
So, how does one avoid this pitfall? Frankly, I don’t know if it’s entirely possible. And maybe a little envy is healthy. Maybe it makes us work harder, dream bigger, live larger.
But in the end, I think all writers (and artists of any stripe) have to come back to the place where “making it” isn’t defined by anyone or anything but our own satisfaction in having created a world we love in that place we call a book.