Mar 9, 2011

Fame (Not the Movie) - Success in Writing

"You have talent.  Now let’s see what we can do with it.”

Aptly said by Kelsey Grammer in the 2009 version of the movie, "Fame."  Whether we like it or not, writing is often similar to show business in the sense of defining success.  Just as there are superstars who reign supreme at the box office, the world of writing has its bestselling authors, some possessing the demonstrated ability to repeatedly leap to the top of the charts with each new novel.  It’s been said that people who are talented have a way of making their skill appear easy and it provides an allure to the rest of us who have yet to find our 15 minutes.

With our media culture flashing messages of instant success in front of us all the time it can be tempting to forget the hard work and effort it takes in order to be truly successful as a writer and I don’t mean “success” in terms of fame or fortune, but more succinctly as a means of self-awareness, enrichment and growth.  First and foremost, your quality of life comes first which feeds into your quality of work.  I’ve always been impressed by true artists and professionals who realize fame is a by-product of their efforts, not the end goal.  P.G. Wodehouse, the 20th century humorist, was wonderfully candid when he said, “What makes a writer write is that he enjoys doing it.”

Enjoy what you’re writing…
This is the first and most important part to being a writer.  Without this, the house of cards come tumbling down.  It may be fiction, it may be poetry, it may be mathematics, but whatever it is, pick a topic you have some interest in and go from there.  It’s tempting to go to the local bookstore, see what’s trending in a particular section and start writing, but if you don’t like the subject matter than what’s the point?  Whether we realize it or not, part of us rubs off onto our writing and our work becomes imprinted with a bit of who we are.

Ah, everyone’s favorite part of the whole process, right? J  Enjoying what you write establishes the base, but it’s the practice, practice, practice part that keeps everything going.  Am I able to write as often as I’d like?  No, but it’s important to keep making the honest effort as often as possible.  If you miss a writing session forgive yourself and move on.  There’s always tomorrow!

Practice some more…
I had to add this part for extra emphasis.  Keep shoveling coal or throwing logs into the fire and keep on pushing yourself to write on a regular basis.  You may have an upcoming sprint for a short story or a triathlon for a novel, but either way those muscles need to be stretched.  Keep at it!

Keep learning…
Upon hearing someone refer to him as a master of his art, Bruce Lee replied he was a student-master because he pushed himself to keep learning and felt he should only be considered a master when he was dead.  Continuous education is a real boon for writers, whether it’s practicing your writing technique or conducting research for a novel.  Even completely random subjects can have an unexpected influence on how you perceive the world and can find its way into a story without us realizing it.  Never remain static.  I know it’s hard, but do your best to keep learning new things all the time.  Pack your mind full, you won’t regret it.

Be true to yourself…
This is the intimate partner of Enjoy what you’re writing.  The Oracle from the Matrix nailed it when she pointed Keanu Reeves to the sign above her kitchen door stating, “Know Thyself.”  As a writer, it’s important to not only write, but to also reflect.  It’s easy to get caught up with what you’re doing.  Take a breather every now and then to think about things in general, how you feel and where you would like to go. 

At the end of the day, it really boils down to how you feel about yourself deep down.  We can usually spot a phony celebrity when we see one and also tend to separate the real McCoy from the bargain bin artists.  Don’t get me wrong, both brands of entertainment can be fun, but the key is to not be phony with yourself.  Be as authentic as possible.  If you can do that, you’re on the road to true success as a writer. J

I’d love to hear about your experiences with self-discovery and personal growth as a writer.

Photo courtesy of Filomena Scalise