(Hey Liz, your posts prompted some thoughts that I wasn’t sure how to say in a comment. Have a post instead.)
Last Friday, my father called me before he left work. I have a fairly close and adult relationship with my dad. He’s the one I talked to before deciding to self-publish. He’s a pretty non-judgemental guy with a out of left field sense of humor. We are often told we share a brain, which when it comes to working together can be detrimental because we really don’t. I can’t read his mind. It can’t be frustrating.
But, I don’t talk to him about my creative endeavors. I didn’t talk to him about my fashion projects or my creative writing. I sat in the office of his shop and between screens loading with his old accounting and job building software frantically typed the first draft of the Lone Prospect and an office manual for said software. So, I was pretty happy when I published the Lone Prospect in paperback that he actually bought it even though he knows I only get 34 cents from the sale. He’s not an ebook reader type of guy. I wasn’t even sure if he’d read it.
My dad’s reading taste is pretty eclectic. He works a lot so seeing him read anything other than the Bible or machinist magazines was pretty rare when I was growing up. When I was a teenager, his reading habits were whatever book you left laying unattended in the living room. I learned quickly not to leave my books unattended. He had the ability to flip open a book I was reading (and may not have even finished yet) and find the one sex scene in the book (that I hadn’t gotten to and didn’t know existed.) Embarrassing. As a teenager I didn’t want him to know I was reading about sex, just as much as I didn’t want to know that he and mom still had sex. (Oh the stories from my sister and cousin whose bedroom was over my parents.) When I was in college, I didn’t really want to know that my father knew I wrote sex scenes. When I found out from my mother that he’d found my fan fiction LJ accounts and had looked into what I was doing online, I f-locked the accounts. (I was in my early twenties for God’s sake.)
So far, sex hasn’t come up in anything I’ve published. I can put off this dilemma for another day. (Thank Goodness.)
Last month, he told me he was reading Honor Harrington. Hard political science fiction mixed with hard core space battles. I was pretty floored. Not what I expected. Friday, he told me that he’d read my book and was actually reading it again. I asked him outright if he liked it because he won’t tell me these things unless I do. (Working for him was a pain because I never was sure I was doing a good job.) He did. (He also found grammar errors and missing words in the first 70 pages that have been through three Microsoft products, two format changes and then adobe products and losing words is what happens when too many software formats collide and I refuse to touch it again or else I’ll scream. But he notices these things! Engineers.) His approval and enjoying my book made me really happy. Because I want my father’s love and approval. In fact, he wanted to know if there were more books.
If this was the pinnacle and definition of success, then I’d reached that goal. Success achieved.
Of course, that’s not really where my goal of success lays. But it’s a good, life affirming step.
Being a successful published author isn’t easy no matter if you’re a self published author or if you’re a traditionally published author. You end up doing a lot of the marketing work yourself. You aren’t just a writer. You’re an entrepreneur of your own brand. And it’s work. It’s a journey, a road, an experience not for the faint of heart. Because you can spend hours and hours writing something, publish it, grind your tailbone flat marketing and promoting and get no response, and then spend an hour dashing off a meaningless dribble and be an overnight sensation. You just don’t know how it’s going to play out.
I’m at the beginning of this original work self-publishing journey. I published my first book in August of 2016 and I know that it may be years before I get more than drips of sales. I’m still on the “what type of promoting is going to work best for me” stage. (Especially since I have no money to put into it.) It doesn’t make me a failure. It means I don’t know where I’m going yet. I’m at the fork in the road and trying to determine which way looks the best. (I may look back at this in a few years and go, oh Ginnikins, you naive little sod.)
Everyone’s journey is different. Everyone has their own realizations about themselves, their writing, creative process and what is important to them at different times. Sometimes, the first step of the journey as a writer is to realize that you can’t stop writing. Then the next is whether or not it’s important to you to share that writing. The journey is about yourself, the inner you and while other people may come into this journey, they aren’t the stars of it. Trying to make someone else the star of your journey is at least a very big distraction. During the journey, you can grow or you can stall and stay the same.
Eighteen years ago, I started writing in order to connect with a friend. Fifteen years ago, I was writing fanfic. Where the hardest thing after having a successful story was writing the next story and trying to duplicate that success. Ten years ago, I was a big name fan (BNF) running a pairing community and hosting awards. Nine years ago, I burnt out. I switched fandoms. I stopped posting WIP. I stopped posting stories all together. I faded out of fandom. No one looked for me. Six years ago or more, I said I’d never publish an original book. Because I didn’t want to lose creative control of my characters, plots and writing style. Four or five years ago, I finally had an emotional breakthrough and came up with my ideas for the Lone Prospect. Two years ago, I looked at my health and faced reality that I needed to try to get another source of income that I could get while sitting on my couch, writing. I started querying agents. Six to eight months ago, I decided to self-publish because even if I got an agent to look at my writing, it’d be another two years before I was published by a publisher. And in two years, I could publish 5 books myself plus whatever short stories I wanted.
Who knows where I’ll be in two years? I don’t.
Even if I’m not getting a lot of sales. Even if I’m working part time jobs or as a consultant or whatever I need to do to keep a roof over my head and food in my fridge. I won’t be a failure. I will just be at another part of my journey. As long as I don’t give up and I keep writing. (I can’t stop writing. I get frustrated and depressed if I stop writing.) Then I’m still a success because I’m moving forward slowly, one step at a time.
One of the major realizations I had in this journey is that I don’t need outside affirmation that my writing is good, that I have good stories to tell. I know I’m a good writer. I know I’m a creative person. There are stories I write, that I only share with one person because I know she’ll like them too and she wants them. And if I didn’t have her, I wouldn’t have to share the stories with anyone else. Because they are for me. (Self indulgent character driven stories of properties I don’t own and one or two I do.)
The stories I write and that I do share, they’re for me too. I share them because I hope others will also enjoy them. I hope that others will find meaning in them even if it is a few hours of entertainment. But it took a great deal of time for me to come to this realization and that if people have problems with the stories I write and the way I write them (outside of technical things like grammar and missing words) then they aren’t the audience for my stories. Their opinions don’t have to sway me from doing what I love to do.
I don’t say this out of arrogance or hubris. I say this out of confidence. I know what I do well and while I may stretch myself in order to grow and improve, it won’t change my style and method of writing. There are things I can’t do and don’t need to do in order to tell my stories. And I acknowledge those things and move on. There are enough people out there that could and would tear me down and shred me apart that I don’t need to do it to myself. (And there are lots of lovely people out there too that could build me up.)
I say this because the moment I let an outside opinion define my success, then that person has power over me. That lack of power can undermine my confidence, make me second guess myself. It takes way from me being single minded in my goals to write. This leads to fear of not being good enough, of being rejected and of being a failure. Fear leads to depression. Depression leads to being paralyzed.
And then I’d be stuck on my journey, not willing to go forward, unable to go backwards. And even if you’re just taking that first step in your journey by opening a document and writing the first sentence, you’ve come too far to stop now.
As long as you keep going, as long as you stay on your journey, then you can’t be a failure. There may be mountains and molehills or turning molehills into mountains. There will be flat spaces where it’s happy and easy and storms when it’s hard and you’re anxious and stressed and not sure if getting out of bed in the morning is worth it. There can be twists and turns. Sure, maybe your journey will veer away from writing. Maybe there will be a new passion and a new place to put your energy. But that doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a writer or a person. It just means that there is a new exciting path ahead of you.
Please, don’t give up on it.