Carved out satisfaction versus cut throat success

There’s a ‘wealth’ of information out there and particularly on-line about how to become a successful writer, how to write, pitch, blog, market yourself, build up a following, get a publisher, be known. Much of it is excellent advice. However what grates on me is the kind of ‘stop at nothing’ advice where you are meant to steam roller your way to the top by being relentlessly competitive with your contempories. Some will think I am naiive. You simply have to stand out to be noticed, you need to blog more, network more, tour more, promote more.

Absolutely. You need dedication. You need to lose the excuses not to write. You need to be aware of what’s going on in the market. You need to know who’s in the know and what they know! But what I object to is ambition in a vaccum, the one tracked mind to success that doesn’t consider other priorities like the people around you, your home and family life, your relationship with others and with the world.

Christina Katz, writer, woman, mother, powerhouse has asked people this week to blog about happiness. To me happiness can be joy, exquistic moments of enjoyment of the process of writing, of the gorgeous reality of my children and their funny moments, a perfect moment of spring blossom and sun. But that kind of happiness is not always available moment to moment. What is available is an overall satisfaction with your life and its choices, an understanding that you may not always get exactly what you want, when you want (like all the time you want to write) but that you are doing your absolute best to fulfill your ambition while maintaining equilibrium with other parts of your life. As a woman and mother, this reciprocity and balancing of your own needs with the needs of your children, family, extended family and the community as a whole is integral. I am not going to blog everyday if it means that I don’t do a jigsaw with my two year old or colour with my daughter, if I can’t listen to my friend who is going through a hard time, if I never have time for giving rather than just getting. On Benjamin Kanarek blog Isa Maisa said recently As our society today considers fame and fortune to be the Holy Grail of our sense of purpose, living a life in an attitude of a happy medium is hushed as insufficient and discusses Doris Lessing, Michael Jackson and Alexander McQueen’s relationship with success.

There are many people in the writing world I admire who are successful by building up a reciprocal and mutually satsifying relationship with their readers and with other writers.  They bring others up with them, provide others with opportunities for exposure and development. In particular I would like to mention Vanessa O’ Loughlin of Inkwell Writers. She writes, provides great quality writing classes and has created a network of writers who regularly receive her extremely useful newsletter. She uses the newsletter to promote other writers and has provided opportunities for other writers to be noticed. Christina Katz is an expert at platform building, becoming known in the publishing world, making the most of opportunities but she also promotes the careers of fellow writers and provides opportunities for them. The Year Zero collective is a group of writers who want to engage with and give back to readers. They develop a reciprocal relationship with readers by posting work regularly and getting feedback, by doing readings in intimate venues and by often giving away their work for free.

These are only a few examples. In terms of social media, there is, for the most part, a wonderful atmosphere on Twitter of reciprocal help, promotion and respect. Only occasionally do you find those whose own agenda of self-promotion comes ahead of their respect for others.

I want to be a writer first, I want to be a successful but also satisfied writer. But what that means to me is to develop a relationship with my readers and other writers first and foremost, to maintain a courteous, considerate and caring relationship with people in my personal and professional life. And after that, only after, will I count book sales and stats as a measure of happiness. What do you think?

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8 comments

  1. Wonderful post, Alison.
    I think to write, we have to have a particular personality that can disconnect with the world and be imaginative and be creative.
    To be a writer on the other hand, it appears that you need the marketing skills of Bill Cullen. The two don’t gel very well.
    You only have to read ‘Bog Body’ to see you have the imagination and creativity, talent always out. Marketing isnt everything.

  2. Great post, Alison. I agree – only by being happy with ourselves and meeting our priorities can we be happy with writing success. It isn’t all about pushing yourself forward at the cost of others; it’s about interacting and supporting others along the way.

  3. Thank you for your kind words – and I love the new look! One of the key things a publisher looks for in a new author is their voice, and as everyone’s voice is unique I really feel that writers only need to worry about their own work and not about their preception of the competition. Writers need to be competative with themselves, rather than others, to strive to better their writing in every way possible so that they reach their goal. Writing is subjective and even when entering competitions, writers’ can find that one story does extremely well in one, while not even placing in another. The key is to develop your voice, be true to your writing and work hard to be the best that you possibly can! Another great post Alison – best of luck for the WOWs!

  4. Hi Alison, the new look blog is really lovely, very soothing photo!
    I’ve yet to met a cut throat writer, maybe I’m the niave one (!), or just lucky?
    I agree with you that balance is everything, that family don’t get shut out and relationships aren’t sacrificed… on the other hand I’m perfectly okay with floors not being washed and dishes left waiting! Deciding to be in this for the long haul does make you assess what way writing fits into your life. It has to be sustainable doesn’t it, a habit that brings equilibrium, not chaos.

    1. Thanks everyone, brilliant comments. I think, particularly as women (no offence to men but their brains work slightly differently) we are constantly assessing where we are in relation to the equilibrium Niamh mentions, we carry an awareness of the ‘climate’ of the family and the state of our relationships with others. We can be fiercely determined but always carry that within the context of our other priorities. I love Vanessa’s idea of us being competitive with ourselves. We do need to strive and commit to extend our skills – the mark of a strengthening writer is an awareness of where we need to develop. This is an individual journey but we know the power and value of community too to help us along.

  5. Terrific post, Alison!

    It can be hard to reconcile the sort of writer I want to be with the relentless advice to drive myself, fight and hustle far more than feels right. I think if you’re not true to yourself, you won’t even write to the best of your own ability. I’d be very happy with the happy medium.

    Hope Vanessa paid you well for this one, though! 😉 (kidding!)

    Best of luck in the WOWs. 🙂

  6. What a positive and sensible post.
    I love my life and am happy with it. I am not alone in the world, that my writing is not the only thing in it. I no longer have the pleasure of a crayon, leaf rubbing session with my children, but I do have DH to consider.
    I have balanced my life to involve both. For me happiness is a well balanced life.
    One I wish for you and yours Alison.

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