A few days ago, while scrolling through Facebook during my dinner break, I came across this quote, “Writers are more afraid of success than failure.”
What? I read the quote a second time to see if my initial displeasure might change. Nope, I didn’t get it. I scrunched my nose, and I thought, “What the hell? Is there any truth to that?” Now granted, I’m filtering the quote through my 58 years on this planet, and it might mean something completely different to you, dear reader. I’m still thinking about the meaning, and this morning, I realized the reason I was miffed might have had to do with a difficult man I met.
At a friend’s gathering a few months ago, a man I don’t know well announced that writers should get a real job instead of writing books. I believed I was the only writer in the group, so my ears were pricked. He announced that when writers work eight to ten hours a day, for years and years, then they can say we have a job. A real job. When I replied that I write full time and love writing books, he scoffed, saying, “You’re earning chump change from your published book. What’s the point?” I raised eyebrows here. I asked why in the world it mattered to him what writers did if they were happy? His response was, “Writing doesn’t make you happy. A good, honest job makes you happy and makes you a productive member of society.” Good grief.
I’ve held many jobs in my adult life, including counseling others, and I knew his comment was HIS baggage. The truth is, when pursuing my creative projects, I feel fulfilled and very happy, with gardening a close second, and the main reason I moved to West Virginia was to return to my creative life. I felt his ridiculous outburst had nothing to do with me, but I still found myself taking offense until I realized I was speaking to someone who might never understand why I write. I let it go. I might have muttered under my breath as I walked away, but I can’t be sure.
Later I thought, are creative and non-creative folks so different from one another? Obviously I took his comment to heart, but I was also curious. What had set him off? The fact that I don’t work a traditional nine to five job, or that I work from home and I’m self-sufficient? Who knows? I only know that he’d ruffled my feathers in a big way. Slowly the indignation softened to a slow boil of anger, which finally led to shrugging my shoulders—I know who I am—a writer and an artist. His path is his path, and somewhere in our lives, we’d reached a fork in the road. I took a completely different path than he and most of my friends did. And that’s okay. I am doing what I love.
It took me five years to get my ducks in a row, for my children to graduate from university and find jobs, and for me to gather enough courage to decide to return to my creative life. I was driven to write full-time, and when it was time, I jumped off the cliff and landed in the writing life. Easy? No. Courageous? Yes, I believe so. Risky? Bring it on. I was ready.
Writers are the most driven, hard working, wonderfully complicated, interesting people I know. We write alone, spend thousands of hours writing and researching over long weekends, holidays, and late into the night when most folks are sleeping. Many writers hold full time jobs, raise kids, and all deal with moments of self-doubt and anguish over ever seeing their book in print. Most writers deal with constant rejection, periods of little or no sleep, and hours upon hours of work for no pay, until their book is published–if the book is published. Many intrepid souls work tirelessly to self-publish their book. Writing books is not a life choice for the faint of heart.
After a book is published, the real work begins with marketing, social media, and publicity. Non-stop, every day, every waking moment is spent trying to get the book noticed; to attract new readers. Writing blog posts, doing interviews, interviewing other writers, searching for ways to encourage readers to write reviews—this has been my life for nearly five years since I picked up an old manuscript. After years of editing and more research, the book was published in February 2015. Writing IS a job. I run a small business! I wish I’d said that to the irritating man 🙂
Am I afraid of success? Not by a long shot. I work long, hard hours. I sacrifice. I dream, as do my fellow writers. Maybe the question to ponder is what success in writing means to you, the writer, the creative. Are you looking for financial freedom? Does writing success mean you can buy a villa in Tuscany for cash? Will success from writing mean you can leave your day job?
That does happen for some writers. Perhaps their planets lined up with the right star at the right time. That’s not what writing success means for most writers, and certainly not to me. So, what then? Why write and risk personal ridicule, rejection, and “chump change” for your art and craft? Why risk failure? Why pursue the writing life at all?
You write and risk because you must–because you can’t imagine doing anything else but telling stories. You have a message, a voice, an opinion, a desire, and an experience you want to share with the world. Because you are courageous, tenacious, driven, a little loony (aren’t we all?), and very special. And don’t you forget it. Where would the world be without the creative folks—the communicators, the writers, painters, sculptors, the poets, and photographers—who risk a little and everything for their art? What a dull, lifeless place this world would be without the creatives.
Don’t listen to the naysayers, the inner and outer critics, or the people who pat you on the head, saying, “Nice hobby”, “How many books have you sold?”, or “Is your book a bestseller yet?” while they might snicker behind their hands. These are small minds; the fearful; the followers. Probably the people who bully others, or exhibit road rage on our streets and highways because they have no outlets—no creative outlets that allow and encourage self-exploration; facilitate more self-love and understanding of the world and everyone in it; and outlets that develop higher self-esteem; and grow personal courage, independence. I feel sad for those who will wait for their dreams to materialize until they retire, until their kids grow up and leave the nest, or until they are dead.
Writers and creatives—be grateful for your gifts. Celebrate your uniqueness. Thank God and the Universe for your life experiences that have turned into words, into books, short stories, paintings, songs, screenplays, theater pieces, and poems. Keep at it, doggedly pursue your dreams, and stand strong and proud. Writers–read, keep reading, tell your story, and continue learning more about the craft of writing. Never give up. Support other writers.
The creative folks I know aren’t afraid of success—they might be fearful of other things, but not success. Honestly, they are already successful in my eyes by the mere fact that they took a chance and created. They have my utmost respect.
Me? I’m fearful I won’t have enough years and brain cells left to continue telling my stories! That’s what I fear.
About Eleanor Parker Sapia
Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.
A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.