I think all aspiring writers crack open writing books hoping to find the fountain-of-youth secret to literary success. They close each book disappointed, never finding the searched-for magic words. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is no exception.
And she knows it. From page one, Lamott admits that writing well is “about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat.” In the middle of all the advice on networking and platform building and editing and publishing I have received during the last two years, this simple statement is most welcome. There are days when I need to hear that writing is hard for someone else, someone who has been published.
The only consistent writing I am doing right now is a daily haiku for the month of November. Just producing those three lines every day is challenging—as it should be, according to Lamott. It feels good to “get a little work done everyday,” even when I don’t feel inspired.
Another statement Lamott made that has been running around in my head is people “kind of want to write, but they really want to be published.” It has taken a few weeks to see myself in her words. I love writing, I do. But as much as I want to write well, I want to be published more. And not just published, I want to be famous—ridiculously famous and sickeningly wealthy.
Logically, I know I don’t want the pressure and lack of privacy that comes with fame, but in the recesses of my mind I am still preparing to be famous some day. I imagine critics, scholars, and students examining my work, debating its symbolism, and searching my journals for clues. A year or so ago I resigned myself to the fact that this fame would probably not come while I am living.
More recently I resigned myself to the fact that this fame will never come.
It seems ridiculous that I have held this fantasy intact for so long.
But then, not so ridiculous when the primary promise of the program I am enrolled in is a “100% chance of being published” before graduation. It is implied that with publication come money and fame and these three add up to success.
Publication is heralded as the one sign of success while excellence of writing and integrity of content are secondary concerns. After five semesters under this philosophy, I have a dozen bylines, mounds of frustration, and muddled career goals.
With the delusional dreams of fame dissipating, I have to redefine success for myself. As far as writing goes, I appreciate Lamott’s description that writing can help the writer “to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up.” Writing a haiku everyday wakes me up, makes me really pay attention. I hope my small poems help others pay attention as well. That is enough success for me.
How do you define success? How are you accomplishing your goals of success?