An excellent post over at Writing It Out talks about fears in writing: the fear of failure only being eclipsed by the fear of success. Every writer understands that fear of failure, but what about “success?” Any success brings expectations with it: Oh, you’re a published author? You must be rich, famous, and most of all fabulously talented. Living up to the expectations that success brings can be challenging, not least because those expectations are completely out of your control: they are the impressions of others about who you are, based on what you have done. And these expectations have sustaining power: if you succeed, people expect you to continue to succeed; if you fail people expect you to fail again.
In the video below, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, says (among many other things) that one of the best things we can do to cope with success is to separate your achievement from the work of getting there. I would argue that this is the best way to deal with failure as well, and for the time before the “success” of becoming a published author.
In other words, the achievement itself may be an expression of something not entirely within your control, and thus not entirely your success or failure. You are guaranteed failure if you don’t apply yourself, but applying yourself does not guarantee success, only the chance of success. There is still an X-factor to achievement, especially in this field, and whether you attribute this separate force to luck, divine intervention, or a disembodied muse of artistic endeavors (and I’m not sure I believe any of those), having that mental separation, I believe, is necessary to continuing the work that might bring you success.
I have had lots of successes in my life – something I attribute to hard work, an insane amount of stubborness, lots of leaps of faith, and luck. If I am successful in the world of traditional publishing, it will be because of those same things, but the story will not end there. Will I sell any books? Will I be able to sell a second or third book? Will I make any money at it?
I have no idea. My crystal ball is in the repair shop.
But I do know why I’m on this journey, and as long as I keep focused on that, I don’t need to fear the failures, or the successes. I don’t need to know what’s going to happen. Living the journey is the reward, and in many ways I won’t know the final destination until I arrive. As is true in most of life.
Taking one step at a time is very linear thinking, but then I’m an engineer. The wild leap of faith came when I started on the journey.
If you haven’t seen this already, and you’re a writer, it’s worth the 20 minutes to watch: