The experts tell us not to compare our success against others. Good advice, yet where else are we nubies and neo-pros to go for the information we need to become successful? The very act of seeking to improve our craft invites self-comparison–which inevitably leads to feelings of inadequacy and indecision. Who should we listen to? Which advice is best? Which experts understand how to succeed in today’s rapidly-changing marketplace? Which mentors should we choose? Who can tell me what I need to do to become a successful writer?
The answer is (of course), it depends.
Three months ago, I moved from a freestanding 3-bedroom house in a rural/commercial area to a small (some would say tiny) 1-bedroom apartment in my favorite city. The old place was spacious and comfortable, with a yard for the dog, and an attached garage. The new place (being so MUCH smaller) has none of those things, and required me to sell or give away almost all of my worldly possessions. Gone are the collections, antiques, photos, art, cookware, family heirlooms, jewelry (yes, I sold every bit of gold jewelry I own) and other items which I’ve amassed over the years and which have survived numerous cross-country moves. The apartment is 200 square feet smaller than advertised, and a week after I moved in, demolition began on the block across the street–5 days a week of jack-hammering which will culminate in 2 years with the building of a 200+ unit condominium complex. The old place was well-insulated and had a gas fireplace–perfect for chilly mornings. The new place depends on the heat of my upstairs neighbors to maintain a comfortable temperature. I didn’t realize that until this week, when they left town for the holidays, and the overnight temperature in my apartment dropped to 63 degrees (even with my heater turned on all night).
And yet, I adore my new digs. The town is charming, people are oh so friendly. My concentration, creativity and writing productivity are better than at at other period since I started writing. My life is so much better for having made this move. And perhaps it’s all a synchronicity, but I’ve sold more books in the last 3 months than in the past 3 years combined. I’ve never felt more optimistic about my future as a writer. I’m getting warm.
Other people might not say so. Other (better) writers might look at my situation and say, this is a textbook example of what not to do. She should be doing x or y or z. Get a job. Write in a different genre. Write more, faster, better. Yes, yes, and yes, that is all good advice.
I’m an avid fan of learning by example, and I pay attention to the writing and life lessons shared by more successful writers, each of whom struggled in their own way to achieve the level of success I’m aiming for. Over time I’ve stopped following those who have become overly shrill with their rhetoric, particularly by those who perceive offense from commenters who mean none or belittle the actions of writers who are not drinking their particular brand of writing beverage. Writers who in practice present a ‘my way or the highway’ advice, even while espousing that there is no one way to be successful. That kind of attitude leaves me cold.
When I find myself becoming stifled creatively because of that a certain author says I MUST do, then it’s not the right advice for me. When the advice becomes a yardstick, instead of the results, I stop listening. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t post my word counts every day. If anyone could show me the correlation between posting my daily word counts and making the New York Times bestseller list, I’d probably think about it. It may be good advice for someone else, but it’s not a yardstick that gets me where I want to go. I’ve learned to trust the feeling in my head that says yes, this, more of this, please!
That said, the writers I pay attention to these days (be they traditionally published or indie), are on the bestsellers lists now— Scalzi, Konrath, Wendig, Howey, Bellet, & others. I read heavily in the genres I write in, even though I color pretty heavily outside the genre boundaries. And I’ve recently discovered the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, a really helpful series of podcasts featuring successful writers on their way to bestseller-dom.
Neil Gaiman said something once that I’ve recently come to appreciate. Something about when faced with a decision about what to do about his career, he asked himself, is what I’m doing taking me closer to what I want? Not what other people say are what I should be doing, but what is right for me?
Seems like pretty good advice to me.