4. The Writing Life
(iii) HOW NOT TO ENJOY THE WRITING LIFE
Are writers ever satisfied? The worst thing you can do is compare yourself all the time to other writers. Someone somewhere is doing better than you? Well, what did you expect? Not everyone can take out the gold medal, and anyway this is a very very long race. Envy is the mind-eater!
It’s sad when authors who have made big sales whinge about not winning awards, or when authors who have won awards whinge about not making big sales. Anyone whose books are published is already a huge winner.
Spectacular early success must feel wonderful—on the other hand, anything less later must feel like a failure. What a huge burden to write under, always striving to live up to early spectacular success. The psychological pressure seems to have got to J.K. Rowling round about the fifth book, though thankfully she struggled through it.
As for later success—from what I see, it never becomes an easy ride, no matter how high you go. (I’m talking other authors here, since I’m still waiting to achieve mega-sales myself!) There may come a time when everyone keeps buying your books, but there never comes a time when everyone loves and acclaims them. On the contrary, people can become quite vicious if they decide your reputation is overblown.
Even Stephen King gets bad reviews from reviewers who think his latest book isn’t as good as it should be. In fact, he probably gets more bad reviews than a first-novel newcomer whom nobody envies.
Of course, he does at least get reviews, and a bad review is better than no review, as all authors constantly remind themselves. But a bad review still hurts. Even for a super-successful author, it hurts. Yet almost no authors can hold back from reading them.
We judge ourselves in other people’s eyes, we can’t help it. I find it hard to believe anyone who says they’re writing a novel purely for themselves, with no wish for publication. I definitely disbelieve any published author who claims not to care about praise and fame. But the external public satisfactions can be elusive.