In Stephen King’s On Writing the author talks about success. He says something like this(I’m completely paraphrasing here): that many people don’t care about what you’re writing and will think your work is of little importance UNTIL you’ve been published. Then, suddenly, everyone comes scurrying out of the cracks and exclaims: “We always knew you’d make it!” Then, suddenly, they want to read your stuff, get your autograph. They are impressed!
What defines success? You have one writer who writes every day, but his novel ends up in a drawer. And then, you have another writer, who writes every day, but his work will be printed and placed on bookshelves for people to buy. Both work hard. Both write every day. Both are writers, no? Is one successful and the other not?
I suppose I also wonder what it means to be in that “meantime” place, that space of time where one is working on craft, learning, growing, and creating singular work that will one day be ready to be released into the world, ready for publication. During this time is one less of a writer? I personally believe if one writes, then they are indeed a real writer.
I found this poem by Marge Piercy and wow—I love it. I wanted to share it with all of you. It certainly tackles the idea of success…
What do you think it means to be a successful writer? Does one need to have published to have really “made it?”
Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.
Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.
Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.
The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms
is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.
The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
Copyright 1980, Middlemarsh, Inc.
from THE MOON IS ALWAYS FEMALE
Alfred A. Knopf, New York