Hey, Writers! Be Careful What You Wish For

Is the grass always greener on the other writer’s metaphor?

Well, folks: it’s that time again, when we look back on the achievements of the year – or in some cases, our complete lack of them.

(You could say it’s also the time of year when bloggers start planning their New Year’s Resolution posts for the first week of January, because nothing scores hits like hand-me-down resolutions from other people… but that would be cynical, and as we all know, I am an eternal optimist whose positive sense of hope and bonhomie is matched only by my ability to lose weight and write catchy pop tunes.)

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But with all these thoughts of taking stock, counting blessings and adjudicating ourselves into an early eggnog, it’s made me think about what writers do to themselves, when they wish for things.

After all, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a person who could imagine a bigger future for themselves, than a writer.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to story ideas, so a writer’s idea of future success would have to be big and bold, wouldn’t it?

There are those who would say that there’s no point in shooting for the trees when the stars are above them. Conventional wisdom would seem to demand therefore that if a writer is going to have ambitions, they should be absolutely mahoosive ones, starting with the New York Times bestseller list, and ending with a magnificent blockbuster-funded estate, deep in the countryside, to which literary greats flock in their droves at weekends for the type of salon which makes people feel enormously intelligent even just hearing about it.

But one of the benefits of living in a small country is that most of its ponds are also very small. Although Ireland might be said to have more than its fair share of big authors, those of us who even have a toe-hold in the literary community get to meet pretty much everyone at some point. And this sort of small pond is very informative when it comes to an overview of writing careers, and how somebody might be feeling about theirs.

Hey, Writers! Be Careful What You Wish For

And so, it’s come to my attention – through all I’ve learned from watching author journeys over the years – that it’s hard to find someone who feels properly successful for any decent length of time.

What seems to happen with published or discernibly successful authors is that a hierarchy of needs opens up once you have a foot properly on the writing ladder, and every achievement you make is eclipsed by another you didn’t.

The ladder, or journey, or whatever metaphor you’re having yourself therefore goes something like this:

  1. You start writing a book, and you think it would be an amazing accomplishment just to finish it – but the guy in your beginners writer’s group is already on his second, and says dismissively that his first book was only for practice.
  2. You’re on your second book – but the woman you met last week hasn’t finished her first one yet, and SHE already has an agent.
  3. You get an agent – but your book then doesn’t sell to any of the publishers you had dreamed of.
  4. You get a book deal – but someone else’s was far better, with quadruple your advance, and royalties to die for.
  5. You hit the Irish Times bestseller list – your mate’s book is on the Sunday Times list.
  6. You hit the Sunday Times list – but the woman you met launching her debut last month is now on the New York Times list.
  7. Your book sold into 24 territories, including China and India – but your publisher is still going on about the fact that they were sure you would make the New York Times list, and how puzzling and disappointing it is that you didn’t, and you don’t like that look on their face.
  8. You’ve had a bona fide bestseller – but your second book is proving difficult to finish, and your editor is beginning to make you actual threats now.
  9. Your second book isn’t getting the same rave reviews as your first.
  10. You got excellent critical reviews – but your fellow critically acclaimed authors are all winning Big Prizes, and you didn’t even get long-listed.
  11. Your utterly brilliant book deal fizzles out because you didn’t meet the sales targets set by your publisher, and now you owe THEM money.
  12. You start writing another book, and think it would be an amazing accomplishment just to finish it. Or at least, that’s all you can think about right now.

And it’s not only writers, you know: it’s the same for bloggers. We can all remember the first time that a post of ours really took off. Similarly, we can remember how shortly after that, we found out that our highest ever traffic was only half of what Anne Instagram got on her worst day, when she only got 2,000 likes for that photo she mistakenly took of her elbow.

The moral of the story is, that when we’re making our New Year’s Resolutions next month, we should probably aim a little lower. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that there are 5,000 ways to fail at writing AND internetting – rising to 10,000 when you’ve actually been successful.

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Sidenote: I’m guesting over on Anne R. Allen’s blog later today, once the western part of the US wakes up, with a related post on what writers wish for at Christmas. I’ll post a link here in coming days. Funnily enough, five years ago I would have considered myself so lucky to get a slot on Anne’s blog. And do you know what? I STILL DO. Nothing’s changed. A slot on her blog is a privilege and an honour and I’ll defend my right to be smug about that to the death!!  

  35 comments for “Hey, Writers! Be Careful What You Wish For

  1. December 9, 2018 at 10:45 am

    You should be proud, inter alia, of a guest spot with Anne, ’nuff said. I’m a bit jazzed truth to tell, when my comments on this blog get past the moderation filter. Maybe that’s a key to happiness, modest goals.

    And I will add this- perhaps just as unrealistic for me is daydreaming of all the things that WOULDN’T change, with fame and fortune and groupies. My fantasies of success never seem to involve changing my daily routine, or moving, or traveling “for the book” at all. Just keep working the day-job, keep driving the daughter to uni (maybe in a car made AFTER the president was named Bush). The money and the ratings and the fame all come rolling in, but I haven’t changed a bit.

    In my dreams…

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 9, 2018 at 12:24 pm

      I’m at one with you on that, Will! I wouldn’t want anything to change either. For one thing, if I didn’t have a day job to go to, I’d never sleep. All my visions of success also involve nobody in my workplace even knowing about it. Let’s hope our underwhelming dreams are totally whelmable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. December 9, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    Now you naughty thing. You don’t fail 5000 times, you just eliminate options on your way to the pinnacle of success. I know you, you’re fishing for a compliment, aren’t you? Well as it’s Christmas… I think you’re… really highly… and undeniably… erm, you know… pretty… that is… scrumbunctious… yep, exactly. And keep blogging, ok? I need a regular dose of Sparling. Like that laxative my granny used to take… it keeps me moving. Happy Crimbo btw. I believe in your ultimate success.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 9, 2018 at 5:26 pm

      Me, fish for a compliment?? Never. We both know I demand them. I wouldn’t stoop to fishing. Even that one time I was brought fishing, I wouldn’t stoop to it. Nonetheless, thank you for your kind words. I have never been so delighted in all my days to be likened to a laxative. With that in mind, my forthcoming autobiography will be entitled “Likened To A Laxative” and it will have an entire chapter dedicated to you, Geoff. You can thank me again later.

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 11, 2018 at 12:10 pm

        I’m touched. I shall happily consider myself the suppository of your archive when you are famous

        Liked by 1 person

  3. December 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    So true! It’s a killer. Gotta laugh; said at gathering recently by well-meaning (eh?) non-author ‘friend’: “With all your bestselling books, and what is it? Ten awards? You should be better known by now.” (*cocks gun*)

    Liked by 2 people

    • December 9, 2018 at 5:30 pm

      Now that’s a compliment delivered with a Federer-worthy backhand, Melodie. Tell me, is your friend still your friend?!
      By the way I finally worked out why your comments go into moderation! Apologies as always. But it’s because of my settings… anything with a hyperlink goes into moderation – and your name is your website address. Mystery solved!! But sadly to be continued…


  4. December 9, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    The road to misery is paved with envy. Self-inflicted.

    Liked by 2 people

    • December 9, 2018 at 5:31 pm

      Isn’t everything, Alicia? Especially in December!


  5. December 9, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. December 9, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Reblogged this on Jeanne Owens, author.


  7. December 10, 2018 at 3:44 am

    As you say, we should aim a little lower. But let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. December 10, 2018 at 9:24 am

    I’m aiming for a bathroom out of my first bestseller, and a kitchen out of the second one. I think that’s pretty sky high. You’ll be pleased to hear (course you will) that I’ve written 90k words of my blockbuster about Aoife Rua. I’m counting on you to go into ecstasies over it when it’s finished. Could be a while….

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 10, 2018 at 3:18 pm

      I cannot wait for my Celtic historical ecstasy-fuelled bookgasm, Jane. And if that’s not graphic enough for a Monday, then I really don’t know what is 😜


  9. December 11, 2018 at 12:13 am

    Nice list, Tara. I supposed the good thing about hanging around at number 2, is that I don’t have to deal with 3-10 on the disappointment scale. Ha ha. Love the humor as always and the uplifting message for the holidays. Is it almost January?


  10. December 11, 2018 at 1:40 am

    Reblogged this on Where Genres Collide.


  11. December 11, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    This is so perfect 🙂
    I am glad I found you for reading.
    Enjoyed reading your post

    Liked by 1 person

  12. December 11, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    It’s scary when someone not only knows you well enough to describe your past, but they also map out your entire future in what can only be described as an uncanny act of prescience. Get out of my head, Tara. GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. December 11, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Reminds me of the conversation in the ad agency creative department:

    Creative 1: What are you doing now?

    Creative 2: I’m writing a book about my time in the ad business.

    Creative 1: Right, neither am I.

    Liked by 1 person

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