It’s cool. Sometimes the Mod Podge eats you, know what I mean?
So here I am, hands still covered in the dried stuff, trying to come up with a new craft project. I’m sure this next one will also involve Mod Podge. Because gosh golly, I may not be a success with the Mod Podge yet, but I sure am learning a whole lot of ways not to use Mod Podge.
It makes sense that I would be thinking about success and failure the week that my third novel, Thanks a Lot, John LeClair is published. Book releases are strange things for me. I realize a book release should be an incredibly happy and joyous occasion. But I’m an anxious person when I’m not putting giant pieces of myself out in the world, so for me they result in more deep breathing and therapeutic self-talk than dancing and singing. (Are there authors who dance and sing on their release days? Do tell, please.)
Like Mod Podge, book release days are often a reminder for me of what a fickle word “success” is. When you first start writing, you spend a lot of time waiting for success to appear. I remember thinking that the moment I signed my first book contract everything would be fine—I’d be published! My books would be out in the world! I’d be successful!
Only for most of us writers, I don’t think that’s how it goes. Probably Stephen King, but not so much everyone else. We get that first contract, and we go out and celebrate. Maybe the book sells, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it gets good reviews and wins awards, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it sells but doesn’t win any awards. Maybe it wins awards but doesn’t sell more than a hundred copies.
And if you’re small-pubbed like I am, you can spend a lot of time comparing yourself to other, big-pubbed authors and feeling like you’ll never be successful. Like you’ll never get the publicity or the book tours or the sales or the sheer number of reviews they do. And no matter what your publication platform, I imagine that most of us authors also spend a lot of time worrying we’re not doing enough. Not doing enough online promotion, enough events, enough anything. Enough writing the next book.
In other words, I thought I’d get to call myself a success the day I finally signed a publishing contract. But I still spend a great deal of time feeling like an utter failure. And I think that might be the case even for the Laurie Halse Andersons of the world—those authors I would never consider anything other than “successful,” because hey, I somehow ended up owning three copies of one of her books. (Absolutely true. Strange discovery I made while cleaning out my storage unit.)
That’s the weird thing about the definition of success: it’s fluid and means very different things to very different people at different times.
So here I am, having just crumpled up a large pile of failed Mod Podge, paper, paintbrushes, and Christmas ornaments—it’s probably best if you don’t ask—and thinking about the definition of success. There is no way you could call tonight’s project anything but an abject failure. And yet I actually had a lot of fun crashing miserably through that giant glue mess. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of fun when I take out the Mod Podge again. And though my highly anxious brain tries to tell me otherwise, I have a lot of fun putting words on paper.
Normally I’d end here with some very hopeful and meaningful comment about how in the future I’m going to try to remember that success is relative and it’s the journey that matters and comparisons don’t get us anywhere in life, but that sort of sentiment feels hard this week. So instead I’m going to quote something one of my characters says in the book Thanks a Lot, John LeClair. I wrote this quote a long time ago, because my characters and I needed to hear it back then—and now I’m going to quote it here in this blog, because I need to hear it again.
“Emmitt.” Coach smiles. “You think success is some trophy you put on your shelf? Some number you graduate high school with? Success isn’t something you hold up for other people to look at. It’s a life that’s filled with happiness. Hope. Meaning. Things like that. That’s what the goal is. You end up with any of those things, and it won’t matter how many trophies and numbers you had to show off.”
Coach is a smart guy. I’m going to try and listen to him more in the coming weeks. And yeah, that was shameless self-promo I don’t regret in the slightest. Here’s more.