For a while now, I’ve advocated the turtle method of writing success. Slow and steady wins the race. It’s something I learned from listening to Brenda Novak speak: To make the best progress, keep your head down and focus on your own business. When you start worrying about the competition around you is when you trip yourself up. I think of this advice whenever I see one of my colleagues racing ahead of me career-wise. It’s why I wear a turtle bracelet, and why I have a turtle picture hanging on the wall of my office: to remind me that every writer’s journey is different.
Of course, I don’t always follow my motto. There are days when I panic (or pout) about where I am in the journey – just ask my buddy, Donna Alward. She’s talked me back on track many, many times. Staying true to your journey can be difficult, especially when, in this social-media driven world, it feels like the everyone is passing you.
I’m also a big believer in the idea that you can want something too much. So much that you kill your own chances of success. While cleaning out my nightstand the other day, I ran across my old journals, some written prior to my selling. Interestingly, in one entry, I wrote this: “I don’t believe I’ll sell until I let go of my desire to sell.” I’m pretty sure I wrote this around the same time I read Judith Orloff’s book about Positive Energy. There’s truth in this sentence. For years, I craved publication. Whenever one of my chapter mates achieved the elusive goal, it felt like someone stuck a knife into my heart. And yet for me, success seemed so far away.
Eventually, I came to realize that I needed to loosen my grip on my dream. Judith Orloff would say that you can hold on to a dream so tightly that you block the positive energy from reaching you. Perhaps that’s true. But for me, letting go meant keeping my head down, focusing on my own work, and ceasing to worry about results. In other words, embracing my inner turtle. A year later, I won the Golden Heart.
There’s a third component to success that we don’t talk about often, and that’s luck. Everyone is looking for the magic bullet that will catapult them to publishing super-stardom. Truth is, there is no magic bullet. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Hugh Howey said as much on his blog the other day. A lot of publishing success is a combination of being in the right time at the right place, and require the alignment of many elements completely out of our control.
Nora Roberts became Nora Roberts partly because of when she broke into publishing. Jennifer Probst exploded onto the scene because she happened to be released by an e-publisher at time when e-readers were plenty, and good eBooks were few. Even my biggest success, Weekend Agreement, succeeded largely because it had the good fortune of coming out on the heels of Jenn’s success. None of us created the atmospheres in which we wrote our stories. In fact, we, like most writers, had but one thing in our control: the books. We wrote good stories, and because they happened to be in the right place at the write time, they succeeded. (Same, by the way with Wool. If Hugh Howey’s book stunk, I doubt we’d be singing his praises right now.)
So once again, the journey goes back to being a turtle. Yes, we can improve ourselves, learn new processes, leverage our chances at creating luck through promotion, but ultimately everything boils down to the story. Have a good one in hand, and the other items will fall into place.
Keep your head down, focus on your own work, and progress will be made.