What is it about being an author that even when we get exactly what we want, we’re not happy. We plan and worry, push, petition and complain, but when that desired event comes to past, it’s . . . not enough. Perhaps it’s the Suffer for Your Art gene we creative types are plagued with. We feel we need to be tunnel-visioned, unsettled and miserable in order to call ourselves writers. Unless we’re clawing and scrapping and clipping coupons to survive, we don’t feel like we’re working hard enough toward that elusive goal.
Sometimes I wonder if we’d recognize success if it bit us on the @ss.
What is success? How is it measured? In the amount of the advance? In the rave of the reviews? In the admiration of your peers? In a placement on the Lists? It’s the journey, you say, not the destination. But sometimes you just want to scream, “Are we there yet?”
I’m OCD. I never leave my carport without a Google map. I like knowing every turn in advance and exactly how long it will take to get from here to there. I don’t have an adventurous bone in my body. If you ever hear me say “Wherever the wind blows me” I’ll most likely be in the middle of a tornado. Not my idea of a fun trip. So what, you may ask, am I doing in the most unpredictable and frustrating profession imaginable? Just when you think you’re going the right way, there’s a detour. Your destination is so close you can almost touch it and you come up against a Road Closed sign. Even though you’re peddle to the metal, you’re either going in circles or reverse. Even when you’re following on someone else’s trusted bumper, you still get lost and have to pull over. And then there’s the constant Cone Zone construction that brings forward momentum to a crawl . . .
When I started out I thought all I had to do was sell that first book and it would mean an automatic dump outside the Barnes & Noble store. Dream big, I always say. I’ve since learned to have a more realistic reach. I made goals for myself as a way to judge if I’d “made it” as an author. A multi-book contract. Sell on a synopsis. An award. A full page color ad I didn’t have to pay for. A five figure advance for each book. A publicist. A hardcover. A starred review in Publishers Weekly. An enthusiastic fan following. Goals that once seemed impossible, don’t seem that important once they’re attained. They’re gas stations that make it possible for you to go on but not an end in themselves. They don’t make what’s up ahead any smoother. Because there’s always a U-turn when you least expect it. Because you still haven’t arrived at the final destination of ‘success.’
So if it’s not those points of accomplishment that give a writer validation, what does? When do we take the exit for career contentment? It’s not on the map. It’s not the destination. Sometimes we wonder why we get in the car if the trip is so uncomfortable and never ending.
It’s the ride, itself.
For me, that was a revelation! While growing up, we never took ‘joy rides.’ We loaded up the car with Mom and Dad in the front seat of the Rambler (both smoking) and we three girls, fighting over the window seat, crammed in the back with a hunting dog and gerbil cage. Being the youngest, I was always squished in the middle with my feet on the hump. And we never stopped until we got there . . . unless the dog had to pee. We never paused to see the sights or to explore side roads or tourist traps. The whole point of the trip was to get there. Enjoying the trip was out of the question.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and traveling with writing friends to conferences or riding with my daughter-in-law for a day trip that I discovered the surprising pleasure of the unplanned stop. It took a while to silence my inner OCD that was crying, “It’s not on the map!” but suddenly I found I enjoyed the unexpected side jaunts more than the actual arrival. Sometimes detours brought me to places I otherwise never would have seen, to opportunities I would have zoomed past without knowing what I’d missed. It wasn’t about where I intended to go, it was all about how I got there.
It’s what you pack for the trip. The excitement of beginning a new project. The smugness of getting paid for doing something you love and would do for free. The awe of reading back that perfect sentence or scene and telling yourself “Did I write that?!” And the number one ‘Don’t leave home without it’? Those awesome friends you meet along the way who’ll tag along for the ride. The readers. The bloggers. The newbies who think you walk on water (while you’re paddling like crazy beneath the surface!). Your critique partners, your writers’ group, your conference pals, your Facebook friends who don’t care about any of those important goals you’ve set for yourself because they think you’re totally awesome as is—the people you collect on that crazy road who make the trip fun.
It’s the journey.
Goals are great. They keep you focused. They prove your mettle to the outside world. But they’re just things. It’s the enjoyment that keeps us going. The passion that fuels the engine and keeps it running. It’s the sheer pleasure of doing what we do that makes the stressful and sometimes painful trip worthwhile. It’s not about the destination. It’s all in how you take the ride.
Along that journey, one of the unexpected discoveries I made was this group. Insecure Writers Support Group. I had to laugh at the name. How appropriate. Writers encouraging and commiserating with one another in ways no ‘outsider’ could understand. We’re all on different roads, with separate maps, yet somehow we’re taking the same trip.
What are some of the goals you’ve set for yourself? How do you define success? What are some of the unplanned detours you’ve taken that proved to be beneficial? After sharing your experiences, follow along the IWSG links to visit with at least a dozen other writers and encourage them with your comments.
Look forward to seeing you next first Wednesday as we take our journey together.