Monday, January 13, 2014

Stepladder to Success

Success so often is defined in numbers.

I know it was easier me for me to feel confident about my career when I was practicing law. I could define my success by the number of hours I worked, the size of my bonus and how many deals I was able to juggle at the same time.

So often, when I think about my writing career and read fellow writer's blogs, I feel like we are all groping through the fog in search of hard and fast rules, the kind found in the corporate world, that will allow each of us to climb the ladder of success for writing. 

First the bad news.

There aren't any hard and fast rules. As much as we might search and wish, there's no recipe for the kind of good writing that will lead to success.

But, the flip side to the bad news is the vacuum of linear steps to writing success means we get to write our own rules, which should be fine, us being writers and all. 

Most writers I know make an effort to read publishing newsletters, attend conferences and generally keep abreast with the industry. I believe these are important activities, but it's equally important for writers not to lose sight of the fact that, the industry is us.

The writers. We're the ones with the words and as we write our words, we also write the rules.

It's hard to know who's going to be the next Neil Gaiman or Ursuala LeGuin. Even Neil Gaiman and Ursula LeGuin don't have have access to that information. But at some point, some writer's work will bubble up out of the huge soup of words that is produced each and every day. Their work will be recognized as fresh, new and maybe even groundbreaking. They will, literally, have written their path to success.

Maybe it will be one of my writer friends who rises out of the slushpile to take hold of our
national conscious, or who am I kidding, wouldn't it be lovely if it were me. But the point is, as much as we'd like it to be, the creative world isn't a straight line. It's more of a mosh pit, where someone periodically gets to ride on top of the wave of hands before being deposited back down on the ground.

Instead of searching for benchmarks, rules and stepladders to success, I think we should enjoy our unprecedented ability to lose ourselves on the creative dance floor, mixing and mingling in person or via the internet with people whose ideas spark and ignite with our own, like thousands of pieces of tinder rubbing together to create a forest fire of words.

Like I said, we get to make our own rules for success, and in the process we just might redefine all the rules that came before. Which, when you stop to think about it, is so much cooler than climbing the ladder one step at a time.


Stephen Tremp said...

Rules are like laws. They are for people who need them. Laws were made for the lawless, not for people who don't break them. Same with rules.

I love to get lost in my writing. Its a great place to be. I do my best writing there.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like the mosh pit idea. Since we all define success differently, measuring it is really difficult.

Barbara Watson said...

Good insights, Johanna. Sucess is measured differently for each of us, and I love your closing paragraph.

PK HREZO said...

Love this, Johanna! I'm realizing this more and more as I go. It's not about fitting into the mold--it's about breaking free and being unique and different and showing others they may just like it.
The downfall, is that not everyone WILL like it cuz it's so different. But it takes time to get to be the one riding that moshpit wave. (BTW that just gave me a cuper cute idea for a novella)

A Beer for the Shower said...

We also shouldn't define our success by becoming the next Neil Gaiman, because you can still sell a ton of books and never become a household name. And yet, it doesn't make you unsuccessful because you can't attain his same level of fame/sales.

And to illustrate my point, I have absolutely no idea who Ursula LeGuin is or what she writes. Nor does my blogging counterpart.

Johanna Garth said...

Stephen, lost in your writing is a GREAT place to be.

Alex, so true. And I've never been in a mosh pit, but I think it would be really cool (or maybe dangerous, not sure).

Thanks Barbara!

PK, see what I mean about getting ideas from our creative friends :) And I'm so glad this post inspired something!

Wait, what!?! Kidding, but only kind of. Maybe I know of her because she's sort of an Oregon icon.

Weaver said...

Neil Gaiman gave a commencement address last June where he talked about advice he'd been given, all but one he took. The last one, that he didn't follow, was to enjoy the journey.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Wonderful, wonderful words. Lately I've been wallowing in what I want and don't have instead of marveling in what I have that is more than I ever had before.

I write because I love writing. And I don't need to have Neil Gaiman's success to love writing. I just need to make sure that I don't allow NOT having his success to spoil what I love about it. said...

Yeah, we do trip ourselves up when trying to follow a prescribed formula rather than following our creative instincts and own rules of the moment.

Great insights, Johanna.

Shell Flower said...

Yeah, girl. I totally love the mosh pit metaphor. Ride that wave!!! So much more interesting than the lame corporate ladder, which I hope to jump off of soon :)

Tammy Theriault said...

thank you for this!! thank you thank you. and my favorite line of all : "the industry is us". DARN RIGHT!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh yes, billable hours and juggling. I remember those days and you're right. It's easier to see the rules and the ladder, for that matter, in a concrete setting of corporate.

The arts...well, I agree there isn't a lot of rules of if you do A,B, and C, consistently, then ta-da success.

Anything artistic you simply have to go with what's inside. That driving vision you have. Follow it to the end.

The mosh pit analogy is a good one.

Sia McKye Over Coffee

Carol Kilgore said...

So true. But I was sure hoping you'd give us some rules. I was ready to take notes.

Deniz Bevan said...

I worry about this when I start comparing myself to other authors... Kait Nolan does a great job tracking her own outputs, she's got all kinds of Excel spreadsheet templates available on her blog!