“And as for fortune, and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world they were all I desired
They are illusions, they’re not the solutions they promised to be”*
The first part of this piece gained a few approving nods, which is more than enough to encourage any writer. Even one approving nod is often sufficient for us to stop sulking and rush back to the keyboard.
The creative cycle of getting a brilliant idea, creating the art/music/story that embodies it, followed by huge depression at the work being worthless (and by extension you are also worthless), seems to be the curse of many creatives I know. Several are sublimely talented yet regularly racked by self-doubt. Conversely, the ones with lesser abilities often seem to be the most confident.
So why do it, aside from it being an addiction, and an innate part of who we are?
Thinking about that single nod of appreciation, I remember the first message I received from a reader other than a friend or family member, a few simple words thanking me and saying how the story had inspired her. That was an important moment in my writing life, the realisation that a story can end up anywhere, be read by anyone and we don’t know the effect our writing will have. I still tend to forget it, I’m still surprised when a message from a stranger drops into my inbox. And it’s still hugely encouraging, a reminder that someone sees value in my work. Someone, somewhere wants to read your story, see your painting, hear your music. Create for them.
So, at last you wrote something you were happy with. Short story, poetry, a novel? It doesn’t matter what, doesn’t matter who read it and who didn’t, or who liked it: do it again. Write another story, novel or poem and make it better than the last one. Do deeper research, understand your characters better, know the new landscape in every season.
Your best work should be ahead of you, waiting to be written. If you have success by any measure – more on that another day – even on a small scale, don’t rest on it, be better, hone your skills. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does help.
Who knows, one day you might be a great writer. But don’t spend all those hours and all that energy with the intention of being recognised as great. Of course you’re allowed to imagine such a thing, to dream that you might be seen as such. But be careful what you wish for – great writers are usually dead writers, like their artist and musician counterparts. And don’t confuse great with popular as so many supposedly authoritative lists do. Don’t write with an eye on recognition, it will find you if you’re good enough, even if you may not be around to benefit.
And as for fame, forget it, dismiss it from your thoughts completely. Luckily, you wouldn’t recognise most famous writers if they rang your doorbell. Their names may be familiar (very few, though), but that is not the true curse of fame. Real fame is a burden, something to be continually worked at if you desire it or wish to keep it, something that’ll stick like shit to a blanket if you want rid of it. The Andy Warhol syndrome (“in the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes”) may be a more common disease than Mr Warhol could ever have imagined, but writers are thankfully fairly resistant to it.
Coming soon: Success! (Or the lack of it).