The Road More Traveled: Sacrifice and Luck, the Two Paths to Writing Success

The older I become the more I’ve come to believe that there are really only two paths to success with writing. One is a thorny path that is something akin to what Frodo experienced on his way to Mount Doom (and you’ll be lucky if you only lose part of a finger); and the other has rainbows, freshly mowed grass, beautiful pools with jumping fish, and I’m pretty sure I saw a unicorn once. They are simply the roads of sacrifice and luck.

Many writers I know view the path of luck as almost an urban myth. That can’t be! they claim, everyone has to work to land their careers!  No, it does exist, my friend, yes, it does. If you don’t believe me, ask the daughter of Mary Higgins Clark, the son of Stephen King or Anne Rice’s son. You can find all three of them on amazon.com with shiny book deals for their first works.

One of my favorite examples of a writer experiencing the heavenly path of luck, I actually saw while studying the craft of writing at the University of Southern California. For the sake of this discussion, let’s call her Jane.  Jane was in the same program as me, and while I had no idea what would happen after the diploma was in my hands, she didn’t have that concern.

Her brother was a very established TV producer; and this brother had a job lined up for her on a TV show upon her graduation. She wouldn’t have to go the usual route of her peers—putting in hard, long, unpaid hours as writing interns with very little chance of actually getting their work seen as they bring a bunch of people their lunches. No, she would skip all the struggles of finding a TV agent or writing a spec script. Jane was on the lucky path and everyday in class she smelled like spearmint and rose blossoms to the rest of us.

Was I jealous? Yes, definitely, it was a great break. Just as much as calling Mary Higgins Clark your mom.

But was I bitter? Only a little.

It was the path of luck, and someday, if that path called to me, I would have no problem jumping onboard the unicorn and riding it into the rainbow. Yes, I would have no problem saying goodbye to my cohorts on the thorny path. I would expect a few apple cores to hit the back of my head on the way out, but luck is something that is hard for some writers to feel fair about. See, sad to say, for the rest of us writers here in the real world, it’s just not always fair.

Welcome to the path of thorns.

It sounds bad, but at least, I can guarantee you won’t be alone during your travels.  As they used to say on Mystery Science Theater 3000: Join us.

Whenever young writers ask me for advice, I always feel a little like the Grim Reaper as I take in all of the Oxygen my lungs can hold and jump into my winded speech about reality. I don’t want to kill anyone’s dreams of being the next J.K. Rowling, but the sad truth is that really, for most of us, the creation of an idea, the late nights with too much coffee writing until dawn, and the days struggling through writer’s block… Well, that’s the fun part… and (here is where the Grim Reaper part really comes in) it is only ten percent of the job.

The rest of the work is the sweat and toil of public relations, letters, contests, e-mails, conventions, and any trick in the book to make a new contact or get your work seen by someone who (let’s be honest) couldn’t care less.

It’s a hard path, but it is one even J.K. herself experienced. She was a struggling writer once; she survived the negative letters of agents and publishers. She was one of us. (And, let it be remembered, she has no problem killing unicorns.)

So why do I call this thorny path one of sacrifices? Ah, there’s the rub.

Because, you as a writer need to decide which parts of having a normal life can be sacrificed to pursue your dream. Are you willing to move? Quit your (possibly well-paying) day job to work for free in the hope of making a big break? Are you willing to watch relationships and friendships fall apart since you just don’t have the time to give them what they need to survive?

This may all sound dramatic, but they are honest questions; because many who are successful in the arts answered yes to all of them.  They are the writers working almost 24 hours a day finishing a script for a TV show (that they might secretly hate, but can’t say), or they are the writers creating the books that they just can’t put their hearts into, hoping that if “only I can publish this, then someone might want to publish that other thing.”  Undeniably, there is some give-and-take on this thorny path—it all comes down to how much you are willing to be pricked by the thorns.

Yet, for my fellows on this path, I want to close by offering a bit of hope, at least a small measure of relief.

You can find happiness without a New York Times Bestseller. You can find a sense of peace even if you are sitting on a stack of unproduced movie scripts. Frankly, it is concentrating on writing for “one” audience in particular.  Not the audience of the all-mighty dollar, but yourself. If you can find a way to write and enjoy the process and the products it produces, then the thorns are only a minor hurdle and the successes are just a bonus for a job well-enjoyed.

This editorial originally appeared on Emlyn Chand’s Web site. The original link can be found here.

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading my review, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen DaydreamMaximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

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3 responses

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