Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Veni, Vidi... What?

[Know-it-all aside: the famous 'I came, I saw, I conquered' quote was probably pronounced with significantly less badassery than the quote is usually spelled in English. According to a friend who was a Classics major (making this about as reliable as it deserves to be), it probably sounded more like 'weenie, weedie, weekie.' Nothing that includes the word 'weenie' can possibly be badass - 'weedie' and 'weekie' aren't helping any, either.]

The question is, what is success?

The Online Mirriam Webster dictionary calls it:

degree or measure of succeeding b: favorable or desired outcome ; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.

But really, I only included that because I like definitions. It's almost completely irrelevant to the issue.

Writers (and everyone else, presumably) are mad about success. We want it. Especially as artificial goalposts of success, like NaNoWriMo, loom on the horizon, we covet it. We all set goals, and sometimes we achieve them. We all have hopes and dreams, and some of them come true. How can we determine if we have, in fact, been successful?

I think it's important to remember that success is subjective and comes in stages. If we hold ourselves to goals that make more sense for someone else, or for ourselves further on down the line, we're going to make ourselves miserable.

For example, for me, right now, success means posting in this blog every week day, getting my final draft for White Wolf in on time, and then picking up Rat and Starling again and resuming my goal of at least 1k words per day every weekday, no excuses.

Once I've done that, success will mean getting a second contract with White Wolf, finishing the first draft of Rat and Starling (and finding a title for the thing that is, you know, evocative), promoting Burning Zeppelin Experience until I have more than a handful of readers, and maybe branching out a little. Polishing up a few short stories and sending them to magazines? Editing A Knight of the Land and sending chapters to agents? Getting caught up on I Should Be Writing? The possibilities are endless, and I haven't decided what to tackle next.

But let's say one morning, I woke up and mistook myself for the creator of I Should Be Writing, the inimitable Mur Lafferty (that would be difficult, as she is a slender Southern female with a husband and child and I am a bulky New York-bred Californian male with a girlfriend, but I'm sure I've made dumber mistakes). Suddenly, I would be saddened and distressed by my lack of progress on my third book, worried about promoting a popular podcast, and annoyed at myself for falling behind in scheduling interviews with science fiction and fantasy luminaries.

Then I'd realize who I was, roll over, and go back to sleep, swearing to myself that I'd never again eat Indian pizza before bed.

The point I'm making, though, is that alien as they would be to me, those goals all make sense for Mur Lafferty. She is working on her third book, promoting a popular podcast, and interviewing science fiction and fantasy luminaries on said podcast. For her, success means finishing that second book, gaining another thousand listeners for her podcast, and scheduling more interviews. For me, success means editing that first book, gaining another ten readers for my blog, and meeting some science fiction and fantasy luminaries. And resisting the urge to tell them about my book when I do.

At the same time, there are people for whom having an idea - let alone writing it down - is a huge victory. There are people for whom even attempting NaNoWriMo is success. And there are those for whom those goals would be total cop-outs. This is not about quality, talent, brains, creativity, passion, worthiness, goodness, divine favor, or infernal revelation. It isn't about anything except for where you are. It just what it is. Where you are. Being someone for whom succeeding at NaNoWriMo is a distant dream but trying would be a success has no more moral value than being in Pittsburgh.

This is such a serious issue for me because I was for a long time - and let's face it, I still am, I just tripped upon a little confidence-building success - the kind of person who did place a moral value on that status. I was sick of being Mark Simmons who never finished a story, for whom writing for money was a distant dream. I wanted to be Neil Gaiman already (I mean, who doesn't?).

The thing is, I get the impression that at one point in his illustrious career, Neil Gaiman wanted to be Michael Moorcock.

You are who you are, where you are, and while you can aspire to be somewhere you might like better, try not to attach a moral value to it. You'll only get in your own way. Be where you are, set goals to improve your situation, and to hell with anything else.

* * *

  • When have artificial goals distracted you from realistic, self-defined goals?
  • When have your own goals gotten in your way, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • What is your definition of success? What has this definition got to do (if anything) with reality?

* * *

For those of you following at home, by the way, the (*bump bump*) wordcount blues are over. I've cut my submission down to a mere 200 words over, and it turns out that one can usually go over by up to 10% before it becomes a problem. Yup, I emailed my boss. Funny how it was the right thing to do all along.

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