In Part One we left off with the idea that there are many illusions a writer might face throughout various stages of his or her career. I discussed a few areas in which I believe I achieved some introductory success as a writer, and not to embellish those achievements. The point was to establish a small amount of success to show that even a small amount of success can lead to all kinds of obfuscations and illusions for a writer.
So you got a book deal and you're in Barnes & Noble? Produced some television? Saw your name on the big screen, maybe? Perhaps the most painful illusion related to success is that success is guaranteed to recur. It's not. Another major illusion is the idea that success will never happen at all. Keep plugging away. Another illusion is that success is guaranteed to happen in a certain way, or in the way we expect, or the same way as before, and it's quite easy to get discouraged because what one defines as "success" comes too slowly or with too much effort. Think outside the box. Although hard work tends to pay off in general, success is not something the writer can always predictably control. Paradoxically, the only guarantee with success as a writer is that there are no guarantees with success in writing!
We can set ourselves up for failure by expecting to see things unfold according to a traditional formula or presupposed plan. When certain assumed markers aren't readily in sight we might falsely conclude that we lack talent, ambition or appeal. For example, we might wonder what's wrong when some blowhard is cussing us out on the internet or when a pallet of copies is sitting with a particular distributor. Yet this, or that because one doesn't need to get a bigger mailbox to accommodate their self-published book sales, or because every or any lit mag and/or newspaper isn't hounding one for an interview, or because the phone isn't ringing off the hook with publishers and agents begging to publish one's book – none of these things is any reliable measure by which we can accurately judge our competency as writers. In fact, unchecked focus on any or all of these things will likely prevent us from writing fearlessly and fiercely, and inhibit us from writing who and what we really are.
Say you're a blogger but you've never published anything and that's your ultimate goal. Upon startup, you might lament the fact that barely anyone leaves comments at your blog, or that the stats are begrudgingly low. You might think these facts lead inevitably to the conclusion that you are dull and unappealing, but such is simply another illusion. Things take time. Different people have different degrees of power at their disposal to promote and market their blog. Different ideas are more popular than others. Number of hits or comments does not entail that any blog is good or even worth reading. Yeah, certain blogs get a million hits per month, but look at the intolerance and stupidity of the wildest sort in so many of the threads! Of what good are ten thousand hits per day if the resulting threads are reasonably describable as an intellectual infinite regress? Quantity does not equal quality, if I might borrow a common axiom, and it's a fool's game to treat blogging or writing like MySpace. Who really cares about popularity and the moronic predictably of following of party lines? Be you.
Another illusion is to define success in an exclusively pleasurable context. Success will not always entail pleasure, and ironically, privation endured can lead us right back to success. Long, arduous periods of intense and unpaid writing is actually great success – success of determination, will, discipline, faith and perseverance. The production of spec scripts, blog content, manuscripts or any other type of content is virtually always a good thing for any real writer. But you're right – no one wants to eat Ramen and beans forever, either. You won't.
Don't get me wrong, there can certainly be rags-to-riches success stories in a writer's career. It happened to me and I still can't believe it. When I saw my first screenwriting produced and joined WGA and saw my first books published, I entertained all kinds of absurd and licentious fantasies. Going from homelessness to a legal six-figure yearly income overnight can do that to you. But my experiences also testify that rags-to-riches deals are short-lived and futile to expect, not to mention few and far between. And I'm essentially as broke now as I ever was. No worries.
There is perhaps one thing I can say about success that is not an illusion but an undeniable fact: True success often lies in the small milestones to be found in every writer's career. Guess what? That spec script you wrote a few years back? That's a small (actually more like medium-large) milestone, one that could potentially land you a rags-to-riches deal. Trust me. So don't get discouraged by lack of results.
Continuing with our blogger example, keep plugging away and let the chips fall where they may, and guess what? Sooner or later you'll start to achieve small milestones. You'll get your 100th comment. Then your 500th comment, then your 1,000th, and so on. You get some regular readers and your blog starts to develop a feel. Commenters begin to engage one another in the threads, and for better or for worse, other bloggers begin to devote entire posts to yours. None of these is going to buy you a new car or anything, but all of them are small milestones whose aggregate can only be defined as a cumulative success.
And from such foundations, who knows what might happen? Look at Ebonmuse of DaylightAtheism. All opinions aside, his huge collection of small milestones and great writing led him to a book deal, and that's an awesome accomplishment. But remember, lasting success is not possible without small milestones, the unsung heroes of every writer's career.
So think about that next time you're discouraged on the subject of writing, I suppose. You might have already sealed a six-figure deal without even knowing it. That's about the best I can say on the matter at the moment.