The Crippling Possibility of Success

Here’s the wonderful and terrible thing about creative work:

YOU COULD MAKE IT BIG. One painting, one song, one poem, one video, one…book…could change your entire life.

Twilight, Harry Potter, Where the Crawdads Sing, To Kill a Mockingbird, and so many others that I could go on for a LONG time. An author’s breakout novel, or one of their first published works, hits it big. And OH MANNNN that could be you. That can’t be me. I’ve had too many behind me already. But it could be the next. Or the next. Or the next. Or…you get the idea.

Now, are you ready for one of the most damaging things I hear at writing conferences? Something I think keeps people writing LONG after it stops being fun for them?

If you just keep going, you’ll get there.

This seems inspiring, right? But here’s the thing – you might not “get there”–whatever that means. There is a chance that a person can work hard for years and years and never attain whatever goal/benchmark they’ve set up to tell them that they’ve “made it”. I sound like the literal worst right now, but this is truth. It’s real. The important thing is to make ourselves okay with this.

YES, hard work helps, but there is an element of luck to EVERY SINGLE SUCCESS STORY. Did hard work help them? Absolutely! Did working on craft help them? Absolutely! But luck will always play a part.

I’ve been deep in the publishing world for ten years now. I signed my first contract nine years ago – I’ve had spells where I felt successful, and some where I felt like a fraud, and some when I thought I’d never have an idea worth sharing. I’ve re-evaluated more than once to make sure that I still LOVE it. I spent about two and a half years ignoring the idea of a publishing contract, just to play with genre and category and what kind of story did I HAVE to write. And then, about six months ago, I found my heart in writing again.

After so many years of attending writing conferences, I see the same hope again and again. And man, I love hope. I LOVE IT. But I see people clinging to the hope of writing a bestseller, when they’ve stopped loving writing, because that promise of success still hovers. Writing often creates people who feel that they HAVE to keep going. And I get it! We’ve become part of this writing community. Our friends are here. Our conferences are a BLAST. I mean, sitting in a room filled with people who love books? That’s just spectacular. But, those friends aren’t going to abandon you if you decide that you need to step back. I mean, they might, but they’re not the kind of friends you should be surrounding yourself with. And guess what? Writing retreats CAN ALSO BE READING RETREATS. Just sayin’.

Here’s the thing:

  1. It’s not giving up or failing or quitting if your heart isn’t in it–it’s re-directing your energy into something new.
  2. Just because you take a break from writing, doesn’t mean it has to be a lifelong break.
  3. You can be part of the book community without being a writer.
  4. Stop thinking about goals and put your HEART back into your words.
  6. Remember, that you’re not stepping back, just maybe finding a new way forward.

You wanna write to market? DO IT. Is writing your day job? SWEET.

Write all the commercial fiction you can while the money is rolling in. Write all the billionaire/werewolf/sparkly vampire/sportsy romance as the mood of the readers’ strikes. Do what you want. Don’t apologize for what you love.

But my caution to creatives will always be–don’t sacrifice yourself for something that may never happen. Don’t call it a failure when you change your goals or change your idea about what words may mean to you in the future.


Happy Writing? (or something else)

~ Jolene

P.S. This post inspired by a lot of deep-thinking. I was lukewarm about my last book with AW (I love it again now, but then…meh), and so, despite being under contract for YEARS, I paused that direction of writing and re-evaluated, and it took me a LONG time to make peace with the idea that I was no longer someone who had publication deadlines, and for me to remember that I was taking a step FORWARD rather than a step back. I still don’t have a book under contract, but I LOVE what I’m writing again. I’ve found a new home.

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