My publicist, Lauren Cerand, recently shared with me an email I sent her back in 2005 when we were first working together on PR. She asked me to put together a wish-list that would serve as our working goals. With Silver Sparrow, we’ve been able to mark almost everything off the list. Yesterday, I received an email from an “aspiring” writer who had one simple question, “How did you do it?”
It’s a question I have asked myself. My philosophy goes against of almost everything that I have ever read about having a successful writing career. I don't want to have a one-sentence elevator pitch. I don't want to go anywhere just for the sake a making connections. I don't even subscribe to Publisher's Lunch. I am not saying that all those how-to books are wrong, but I do believe that there are other ways to go about having the literary life you want.
I use the term “literary life” instead of “career.” About four years ago, I was feeling very frustrated because my books were not selling enough. I don’t know what “enough” was, but I knew that I was nowhere near it. This worry was taking the joy out of my writing life. When I gave readings, I was looking at the bookseller when I should have been looking at the audience. This is not to say that I don’t want to sell books, but I didn’t become a writer just to move units.
A writer friend of mine told me, “This is an ugly business, but a beautiful life.”
I didn’t feel like I was living a beautiful life. I had a long list of grudges and grievances that I lugged around with me everywhere I went. My friend’s comment helped me see that all my anxiety was just the business side of writing. I am a big believer in lists—I literally count my blessings—so I wrote down all the ways that writing had enhanced my life. On this list were not the accomplishments that I put on my bio. Instead I was recording meaningful interactions with readers, great places I had visited in order to give readings, and terrific artists that I have met along the way. After studying the list, I decided to organize my life in such a way to have more of these meaningful experiences.
I immediately set about implementing my new attitude. At a cocktail party when everyone else was trying to get the attention of the most famous person in the room, I looked to make a connection with the most interesting person in the room. I accepted invitations to give writing workshops in Ghana and Uganda although this wasn’t considered as prestigious as some other summer teaching opportunities. When my royalty statement came in the mail, I didn’t even open it. I started writing the Surviving The Draft column for SheWrites, because I wanted to talk about writing, my most favorite thing to do in the world.
My purpose in sharing this is not to say that you can find success by not striving for it. My point is that success is yours to define. Although I am grateful and excited by the momentum around the publication of Silver Sparrow, but for me, the real moment of success came when I finished the manuscript. I was able to enjoy that moment without having one eye to publication because I had finally figured out what was important. I recommend that you ask yourself why you started writing in the first place. I bet it wasn’t to win awards, or to get rich. Figure out what you really want based on what makes you feel good, based on what makes you feel like you are making a contribution. That’s what success is for you. Once you figure out what that is, chase it as hard as you can.
This is my last SheWrites column for now. Thank you for reading these and thank you for all your comments, “likes”, and tweets. Please check out my tour schedule. I’d love to meet you when I’m on the road.
Of course, I want to hear from you—