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Monday, December 1, 2008

Defining Success

Every artist defines success differently. Some long to reach the pinnacle of cultural awareness in one shimmering, defining moment of glory. Some believe sweet recognition comes only through the slow, nurtured scope of a lifetime's body of work.

How do you define success?

For one reason or another, this question has niggled me the past month. Perhaps it's because success is a fluid idea, relative only to where we are along the path. What was success to me eight years ago-not entirely different now-has taken on an edge of maturity and appreciation. The process defines me in ways I was only an outsider to then. While I joke about the NY Times list-what writer doesn't?-I can feel the definition of success shifting within.

Imagine a writer who follows the creative path, always held prisoner to an idea that seems to define him. He experiments with different genres, grows in his craft, but this one idea encapsulates all that he is and loves in his work. He toils over its scope and magnitude for over a decade, while his peers mass produce books consumers are hungry for. His moment is coming, he can feel it as surely as he realizes the story he's creating is shaping his own life. And when he realizes success with this one masterpiece, more than he could have possibly imagined, he witnesses a glimmer few will ever know.

Imagine another writer, every bit as much along the creative path, but never stopping to find that one true elusive story of the heart. She is the steady racehorse of her publishing house, a mid-list author who's accumulated thirty books in twenty years, some her best, some utterly forgettable. Collectively, her body of work made it possible to live a decent life as an artist, garner peer awards, and develop a modest legion of readers. She wonders what it must be like for one of her novels to reach past the stratosphere of success, but doesn't toil over the fantasy. She has another deadline to meet.

Would the first writer spend the remainder of his days trying to recapture that glimmer only to fail? Would the second ever find the true diamond within?

If you, as an artist of any kind, could pick your success, which would it be?

8 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I guess I'd lean toward the middle ground. I'd like to tell the stories of my heart but there are more than one ensconsed there. I'd like to have a steady readership and produce relatively frequent books, at least one a year. And have a good readership for them.

Pam said...

I think I'm a bit like Charles in asking why do the two have to be different? I'd love to "live a decent life as an artist" yet I also feel I have that "one idea" glimmering within me until the time is right to write it.

But then, I've never been good at following directions--I do what I want. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't...

Rick said...

Hello, L.A. You ask the hardest questions, don't you? I figure as long as I'm doing the best I can with my work, that I'm successful, if that make sense. Whatever happens from there is a bonus round!

Vesper said...

I'm afraid to speak of success before I have even the slightest - a superstition, maybe. At this point, for me, success would be to start publishing... something...

:-)

laughingwolf said...

no easy answers, but i lean toward charles' and pam's, with a capful of rick's....

L.A. Mitchell said...

Charles and Pam...sounds like a good balance, but I'm not sure dedication can be split to accomplish both. In an ideal world, maybe.

Rick...that's a very Pollyanna answer :)

Vesper...a clear definition is perfect. There's not a shred of doubt in my mind you are destined for great things with your writing.

Laughingwolf...a success soup. I like it :)

Maybe I'm of the dramatic variety. If I had to choose, I'd rather toil over something defining and know it impacted a tremendous number of lives and will leave a legacy when I'm gone.

Rick said...

Well, I was very much in a Pollyanna mood!

Todd Wheeler said...

Hmm, I think I fall into the second category. Success as a very practical measure of moving ahead.

Success today is getting some editing done. The goal posts will be moved tomorrow.