Writing vs. Having Written—Are You Addicted to Success?

Filed in The Writing Life, When Writing Is Hard by on April 15, 2014 • views: 1551

Success Addicted B 2Do you enjoy the process of writing, or are you happiest when “having written?”

I’ve heard colleagues say writing is difficult and painful, while “having written” brings achievement, elation, pride.

“I asked a Hamline workshop once how many of them actually liked to write and most of them preferred having written: the pride in finishing, the appearance at a local book store, the feel of the book or magazine in one’s hand,” writes blogger Ron Koertge. “Only a few preferred the quotidian: sitting down with two or three hours, a cup of coffee or tea, the favorite pen, the notebook with its inviting blank pages.”

We need accomplishments in our life to feel like we’re moving forward, and to give us that important positive feedback that we need. But what about the rest of the time, in between the highs? Do we remain committed to the work, or do we become addicted to “having worked?”

It can be a slippery slope. After all, it feels so good to finally have those achievements, whatever they may be, particularly after lengthy periods of working in isolation with little to no encouragement. But therein lies the rub—after experiencing the high, how much difficult it can be to go back and face that isolation.

But face it, we must, if we are to call ourselves writers.

After Success is When the Real Test Comes

A really good example of what I’m talking about here is the sophomore novel. You’ve probably heard of it—the dreaded follow-up to a successful book. And by the way, doesn’t have to be a published novel. Could be your attempt to follow up any successful endeavor, in any field.

Travel writer Kim Wright, as a guest author on K.M. Weiland’s blog, sums it up perfectly in her article, “Why a Sophomore Novel is So Different from the First”:

“A sophomore novel is actually more a test than the first….the second book is where the writer screws up his courage and learns to proceed without the illusions and wild optimism….Even more important, he knows he’s writing not because of any particular fantasies about how publication will change his life—he’s writing because he wants to. Because he’s a writer. And, despite the disappointments and the setbacks, this is what we do.”

I think it could be said that it’s after you succeed—with whatever success means to you—that you face the real test. Do you rest on your laurels and spend the rest of your life “being” a writer, enjoying the fruits of your labors past, or do you get back to “doing” writing on a regular basis, no matter the potential outcome?

Writers Who Find Writing to be Hard Work

American poet and writer Dorothy Parker is quoted as having said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Yet write she did, appearing in The New Yorker and receiving two academy award nominations for her screenwriting.

Agent Rachelle Gardner posted about an interview with prolific novelist Nicholas Sparks, who when asked if he enjoyed writing, said “No.” He went on to talk about the hard work, and how for him, it’s much like any other job.

“I’m sure, like many successful authors before him,” Rachelle writes, “that he enjoys having written even if he doesn’t enjoy the process of writing. He likes the results—as do most writers.” She goes on to say that she, also, finds writing difficult, and enjoys “having written” more.

We all know of some writers who love the process, and would rather be writing than a number of other things they might be doing. But there are also a lot of successful writers out there that don’t see it as all fun and games.

Kirk Vonnegut was quoted as having said, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

Either Way Works

In the end, which you prefer really doesn’t matter. If you want to be a successful writer, the only thing that counts is output—what you do.

  1. Do you talk about your writing more than you actually write?
  2. Do you wait for inspiration to strike before you go to your notepad or keyboard?
  3. Do you live for conferences and other social gatherings where you can tell people you’re working on a novel, but then find yourself having made little progress after six months?
  4. Have you produced anything of substance after your last significant success? Or have you spent all your time promoting and marketing that one success?
  5. Do you see yourself as a writer, or as the “author” of your last work?

Only Through Doing Can We “Be”

I was inspired to write this post after reading Ray Bradbury’s poem entitled, “Doing is Being.” Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite—it’s Ray’s wonderful way of saying that only when you’re actually “doing” are you really living. You can find the rest in his book, Zen in the Art of Writing.

…To have done is not enough;
To stuff yourself with doing—that’s the game.
To name yourself each hour by what’s done,
To tabulate your time at sunset’s gun
And find yourself in acts
You could now know before the facts
You wooed from secret self, which much needs wooing,
So doing brings it out
Kills doubt by simply jumping, rushing, running
Forth to be
The now-discovered me.
To not do is to die,
Or lie about and lie about the things
You just might do some day.
Away with that!

There’s more—pick up the book for some great insights on writing, creativity, and staying true to your own voice.

Where do you land in the writing or having written camps? How do you meet the challenges? Please share your thoughts

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Comments (6)

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  1. Terry Tyler says:

    IN my experience, the people who talk about it least and go to the least conferences/festivals/belong to the least author groups are the ones who write the most. We don’t have time for all that stuff – we’re too busy writing the next novel 🙂

    A large number of those who write are more eager to ‘be a published author’ than to write something good, and keep on writing it. 🙂

    • Colleen says:

      Yes, the allure of being a “published author.” Like so many things in life, it involves a lot more work than people may realize initially! Thanks, Terry. :O)

  2. Love this, Colleen. It really is a slippery slope! And it’s one of the reasons I don’t actually talk about my novels in progress 🙂
    I counsel writers every day as well, and am often saying this same thing. Don’t talk about writing, do it!
    Good post!

  3. K.M. Weiland says:

    Thanks so much for linking to my site! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. But guest poster Kim Wright actually gets credit for writing that one.

    • Colleen says:

      Thanks so much for bringing that to my attention—I’ve made the correction in the text. Appreciate it! :O)