There is a famous drawing that shows someone looking for diamonds and giving up right before he finds them. It’s true, we never know when we will find success, but are we really looking for it? And if so, what does success actually mean?
For many years I thought a successful writer is an artist who makes a living by writing. I have managed to run workshops, publish my short stories, get a funding from the Arts Council of England, but I wasn’t happy since I had to keep working at my day job to pay my bills and rent.
I was reading my stories on paper or watching them on stage and kept asking myself “What’s the point? I still need to work eight hours a day doing something that I don’t love.” Was it really me talking? I tried to listen to the voice a bit more carefully and noticed that it wasn’t mine. It was a mix of voices from society, media and probably my beloved working class mother. They were all saying the same thing: “To be successful means to get paid for what you do.” “To be successful means you are famous and get hundreds of likes when you post a picture of yourself eating a burger.” “To be successful means you give interviews and people recognise you when you walk on the street.” These voices had every right to speak but I didn’t have to agree with them, and neither do you.
The more I was paying attention to my little, frail, inner voice the louder it was becoming. But what was that this voice telling me? “To listen more to the people I meet in workshops or to the readers. To listen more to my body and observe how it feels when I complete or publish a story.” “To read my stories carefully and ask myself if they are worth publishing.” I was feeling happy and fulfilled whenever I was spending time on writing, or when readers were sending me emails telling me how much they liked my story. However, I was so used to shutting down these emotions since I had persuaded myself that happiness goes with success and success goes with fame and money. So, I decided to linger on the positive emotions I was getting from writing, learn to take in the positive feedback, listen carefully to the constructive feedback and stop bullying myself and putting myself down with sentences like: “You will never become a famous writer”, “you will never manage to finish this novel”, “your writing sucks” and so on.
I had persuaded myself that happiness goes with success and success goes with fame and money
Writing was and still is interlinked with my life. I learned to express myself, share my ideas and feelings through words. It would be great if I could make a living out of it but if not, is it really worth giving it up? The answer is no. If you remove writing from my life my life will probably be a boring and empty one. What writing taught me is that success is when you fill a blank page with words. If you manage to complete a story it’s good. If you manage to publish the story it’s even better. If one person reads your story and tells you he loved or hated it, it’s amazing! The successful bit though is the very first stage, when you find time to sit down and actually write something.
It is vital when you have concerns about giving up your dream to ask yourself what is it exactly that you get out of your art. If your art makes you fulfilled and keeps you balanced then maybe you should think twice before you abandon your dream. If your art makes you stressed and puts you down, think carefully. Maybe it’s not the actual art but the relationship you have with it. Maybe it’s just the way you look at things, and remember the way we look at things is often influenced by other people’s opinions.
I see many people around me, old friends or school mates giving up their dreams or distracting themselves by keeping occupied with other activities, relationships etc. If this makes them happy it’s great. If not, I am wondering if they have ever considered the amount of energy, time and money they have spent to chase their dream.
Since you’ve made your way through up until this point to get the diamonds, are you sure that now is the time to give up? We are human beings and it’s important to embrace our weaknesses or allow ourselves to feel tired. It’s fine to say “I can’t do this anymore. I’ve had enough.” I am only suggesting to explore whether your relationship with your art is a healthy one.
Franz Kafka, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and many others experienced little or no success during their lifetime. I have no idea if they considered themselves successful writers but I know for a fact that they didn’t stop writing.
Banner image: @fart_lyfe