So, a couple weeks ago, I read an article addressing the ever-fascinating topic of how to rise above the crowd of voices in SF/F, how to become A Success, defined for the purposes of the article as an internationally recognized winner of awards and rich beyond your wildest dreams of avarice.
Followed a list of five-ish Things To Do, at least three of which we — by which I mean Steve Miller and Sharon Lee — had, so far as we know, invented. At the very least, we were very early adopters.
I showed the article to Steve, and he nodded and said, “Yep, yeah; do all that.”
“I know we do all that,” I said. “What I want to know is why we’re not A Success.”
And Steve lifted his index finger and pointed at the ceiling.
“Roof,” he said. “Over head.”
Which, yanno, is fair enough, and a Good Reminder that Success is a moving target; it’s always ahead of you, and — pro tip! — you will never catch it.
Back when I was a baby writer, I thought success was selling a short story and seeing it published in a professional magazine. And, in 1980, I hit Success dead-center. I sold and saw published “A Matter of Ceremony,” to Amazing Stories.
Only. . .to really be A Success, I had to sell two more short stories to professional venues, so that I’d qualify for membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and be recognized as A Pro.
Well, I hit that Success, too, and then, it turned out that, to be a Solid Success and a Real Pro, one needed — absolutely needed — to write and sell a novel. Anyone can write short stories, after all.
. . .And we did that. Then, we wrote and sold more novels, because anybody can write one novel, and to be A Success one needed a Body of Work.
And, then of course, to be A Real Success, instead of a tawdry wannabe success, one had to win awards!
. . .and. . .one had to teach!
. . .and. . .be important in the media!
. . .and. . .be Guests of Honor at science fiction conventions! No, wait — at WorldCon!
. . .and. . .there’s Success, always ahead, dancing and laughing, and taunting.
So, the point of this — I really do have a point — is that Success — by which I mean Third-Party Success, envisioned by Someone Out There, and built according to their rules — is a mug’s game. Worse, trying to catch Success opens you to the corrosive effects of envy, and self-dissatisfaction, which will leach happiness from your life, and joy from your relationships.
You’re better off — oh, so very much better off — setting your own goals, and celebrating each one that you achieve, without reference to what Other People are achieving, or what you “ought” to be achieving in order to be a “Real Success.”
This world is full of ways to make you unhappy and desperate (Once upon a time, an acquaintance said to me at a party, “So, I hear you have a new book out!” “Yes,” I said excitedly. “Have you read it?” “No offense,” he answered, sipping his wine, “but I don’t have time to read good books.”). Your job is to visualize your own happiness and success — and work toward those goals, joyously.
It’s not easy — nothing in this life is easy — but it’s worth the effort, in ways that chasing Success will never be.
. . .and now?
I need to clean the cat fountain — I keep cats because I enjoy the company of cats, and they make my life better, and they really prefer to have running water — and then I need to get to work.
See you on the flipside.