“When you react to other people’s success, you’re trying to reverse-engineer a bolt of lightning.” – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A friend of mine is having amazing success with her fiction. Her first novel wouldn’t sell in the U.S. No publisher wanted it. A small press in Sri Lanka finally picked it up.
It went on to win prestigious awards. She got a deal from a major publisher in the U.S., and has been reviewed in the NY Times, on NPR…and the new edition of the book is now for sale in Target. This is all a huge deal.
And I’m thrilled for her.
Another fiction writing friend just texted me with great news about an indie publishing breakthrough. I texted back “That’s fantastic!”
It’s so great to see the fruits of her labors starting to pay off in public ways.
These days, I feel nothing but joy at the success of my friends.
My fiction writing self of age 20 would not have been so happy. Why? I was still comparing my life, my level of success, and my creative output to things outside of me.
I hadn’t yet grown into myself. I would look at successful authors and either be jealous of their thunder and lightning or I’d be trying to figure out how to copy their success.
You’d think, now that I’m back to writing fiction again, I might be envious of my friends. But I’m not. While we can all learn certain things from one another, I’m sure, their writing careers are not mine.
I don’t want to reverse-engineer their lightning. I want to create my own.
On the flip side of this, I’ve seen people who were envious of my successes. This always baffles me because my path is so idiosyncratic and it’s always felt like a major blessing that I was able to make any sort of living at all.
How did I do it? I kept listening to my life to the best of my ability. I kept making mistakes. I kept saying yes and learning how to say no.
We all do it in our own way. No two sculptures or stories are alike. Neither are two lives.
If our creations – and the ways that we connect to the world – are different, why would we expect our success to look the same?
Both envy and jealousy tell us that we fear lack. We either want what someone else has, or we fear that someone will take what we have.
There is liberation in wanting what we ourselves create. We create stories, art, gardens, careers, families, friendships, and communities. We have help, of course. Nothing is created in a vacuum.
Some twenty year olds get that. I didn’t quite. I needed more time to grow into my life. I was still testing and comparing my life’s efforts to those of others. And that’s fine: comparison is part of how we learn.
So are struggling, trying, giving up, and trying again. All of these still serve to teach me:
Listen to your life. Listen to what draws you forward. Listen to what calls on you to serve. Notice how this dovetails into what the world needs.
And once you figure some of that out, keep listening.
Because lives always change.
They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice. So even trying to model our current efforts on old successes often doesn’t work. We have to keep learning. We have to send out a new arc and see what it connects with.
We can allow the electricity of our own passions to ignite the sky. We can let our lives become lightning.
I’m happy for my friends, and I’m happy for myself. Few people know of me as a fiction writer yet. My stories may never end up chosen for a major chain store’s book display. None of that matters. What matters right now is that I keep writing.
What matters to you?
If you are interested in creativity, you may find my book Sigil Magic for Writers, Artists, & Other Creatives to be of use!
This is reader-funded writing! Via Patreon, each month, interested readers fund one essay and one piece of short fiction, to be released for free to the public.
I give thanks to Omorka, Unwoman, Shemandoah, Sarah, Rain, Cid, Alley, Mica, Christine, Vyviane, Katie, Emilie, Louise, Victoria, Greg, Ealasaid, Jennifer, Louise, Rose, Starr, Sinead, Lyssa, Aeptha, Cara, Crystal, Angela, Misha, Eridanus, Cheryl, David, Lori, Soli, Peter, Angela, Ambariel, Sonia, Jennifer, Ruth, Miranda, Jeremy, Jonah, Michelle, Jenny, Jen, Mir, Ruth, Emilie, Jonathan, Kate, Roger & Nancy.