August 9, 2015

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Success Equals Profound Peace…Not!

[Note: This turned out to be WAY harder to write than I thought it would be!]

In an article I read every year to my students in writing classes I teach, Laura Resnick delineates the progression of writers bemoaning their fate when she points out that no matter WHERE they are in their career, some people want the next level more than they want to enjoy where they are…“I have seen this sort of thing often. (And not just from aspirants, alas.) Someone is ‘lucky’ to be a pro, so sell novels, to break into hardcover, to crack the bestseller list, to get a six-figure advance, to have two publishers, to be under contract for four books, to work steadily for years, and so on...”

Let me share my own experience.

Somewhere around 1982 (thirty-plus years ago), I was about 25 and had finally started submitting my stories seriously. I’d sent out one of the stories – I think it was called “Dogie” – to the offset print magazine called ANTITHESIS. I was renting a room in someone else’s house, substitute teaching, and just getting my feet wet in the “real” world.

One day, I got an acceptance letter from the editors.

I wept. *

A few years later, I was married, a father, and a full-time middle school science teacher. I was still sending out stories, hoping against hope that I would get a publication again. One day, my wife called me at work. I’d gotten a SMALL letter in the mail from ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT. She asked if I wanted her to open it, I said, “Yes! Yes!”

She did, and there was an acceptance letter from Stanley Schmidt.

I wept.

Then I put together a collection of children’s science sermons, shopped it around, and sold it. I did a curious thing – I belittled it in my mind because it wasn’t with a big publisher, I’d sold all rights for $100, and it had been so easy to write, it had practically written itself.

I scorned.

Last week, my editor at MuseItUp Publishing sent me an email to say that my first SF novel, “Emerald [of Earth] made it to Amazon's Top 100 Best Sellers in Children's Sci-Fi Aliens books.”

I wept.

Despite my meteoric, twenty year climb to success (see what I mean – even when I’m examining this strange response…I HAVE the very response!) After each achievement, I found myself quickly, BLITHELY^ discarding the accomplishment and shifting my “hopes and dreams” to the next level.

Really fast.

Maybe even, too fast.

While I’m not saying that I wasn’t “supposed to” do that – how else would I have reached it to ANALOG or if I didn’t continually challenge myself, moving the goal farther and farther out?–  I find that, like SOME writers, I moved on without proper celebration of reaching a long-sought-after goal.

“You’ve surely heard it before, celebrating even small successes will help to keep you motivated and energized...There are those who will... remind you it is more important to be humble and focus on learning from your failures than celebrating your wins…there’s a measure of truth to each...[but]consider…that there is a significant difference between shouting your success to the world, and giving yourself permission to feel joy and satisfaction; to acknowledge the measure of dedication and took to achieve your goal...increases positive emotions such as self-respect, happiness, and confidence...there is a growing body of research that associates cultivating positive emotions on a regular basis with psychological well-being, resilience and living longer.”

At this late date, I find myself bothered by the response. Will I end up being like Laura Resnick’s “aspiring-and-not-just-aspiring” writers, dissatisfied forever; always wanting more; victim of what I call the “Adam & Eve Syndrome”?

I will HAVE to work harder to stay out of this trap. But what is the alternative to the “a-a-n-j-a” writer’s dissatisfaction? Maybe I can ask around to some of my writer friends and bring quotes back that might shed light on this…

References: *(The story was never published because the magazine went under, but that’s a different writer’s horror story altogether…); ^ “without thought or regard; carefree; heedless: a blithe indifference to anyone's feelings.”


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