Observations on the retreating horizon of Success

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.





7 thoughts on “Observations on the retreating horizon of Success”

  1. Leaves me wondering about the “acquaintance”. Whether he only read *outstanding* books. Or whether he only read *mediocre* books, so he could review them scathingly. Wondering how he knew which was which.

    Which reminds me of the East Tennessee boy who encountered a Thermos jug for the first time. “It keeps hot things hot. And it keeps cold things cold.” ……..
    “How do it *know?*”

  2. The acquaintance under discussion was a professional clown. He was paid to come to parties and talk to people, and provoke “funny” situations and devise party games and whatnot. I was always an easy mark, and I should’ve seen the set-up, but his skill really was in seeming like, this time, he wasn’t setting anybody up. I imagine he did deep study with Charlie Brown and Lucy during football season.

  3. Sharon & Steve: All I will say is that you rule. I have not as yet acquired your latest, but it is on my buy asap list.

  4. Ow, that background put a very different and much nastier slant on the anecdote, for me. Hurting people’s feelings on purpose, to get a laugh, is bullying behaviour; he and any host(ess) who hired him for that (and probably fed him starter tidbits) would immediately get the “not trustworthy, no friends, have as little to do with as possible, and don’t believe what they say without corroboration” mental label from me.

    As I tend on first encounters to take people at face value and to believe that most people (in their own minds) mean well, I first read that anecdote as a lot less mean.
    I thought, well at least he knows you write good books, and he knows himself well enough to know he only reads trashy stuff. Not much of a recommendation maybe, but though he doesn’t go for your kinds of books, he did know that you are an author and have a book recently published, so maybe he’s interested enough in your doings as a friend-of-a-friend to notice that. Might be enough for a short party conversation. Still disappointing for you though, if you were desperate for “outside” reader impressions.

    Another very clear example of how everyone brings their own mental landscape along when reading, and how much that influences what one picks up from the text.

  5. You remind me of a quote I saved, “If you compete with everyone else, you will become bitter. If you compete with a previous version of yourself, you will become better. It’s as simple as that.” -I couldn’t find who said it, but I saved it anyway. Your fiction has given me some better role models than the ones I grew up with, and your nonfiction (this) as well.

  6. How ’bout “Success is people pestering you in your blog to get on with the writing…”

    Ok, ok, yes, I do have a spastic brain with a wierd sense of humor. Besides, it was colder here than I wanted it to be for getting on my bicycle & getting some exercise. Flog me with a sharp noodle!

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