You Need a Reason Why If You Want to Be Successful
From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer. I don’t remember when I decided I wanted it. It’s more that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t.
My mom was a writer and I used to watch her fingers fly across her typewriter keyboard while she talked to me. She didn’t even have to look at the keys to know the right ones! Some day I want to be able to do that, I remember thinking.
(I now can, though not of course on something as quaint as a typewriter.)
I was always something of an overachiever, at least in my mind. When I saw in The Guinness Book of World Records that the youngest author was six, I remember being sad. I was seven. I couldn’t set the record.
But I could try to catch up.
I Went Out and Did It
My writing “career” started, you could say, when I began submitting stories to children’s magazines. I don’t know when I started doing that but I do have a copy of one of my early rejection letters from when I was 10 years old; the editor thanked me for submitting my story about getting a splinter in my foot but alas he wasn’t going to be able to publish it.
(What can I say, not a lot had happened to me then.)
I wrote for my college paper and edited the college literary magazine and, once I graduated, got a series of internships at magazine which led to jobs at magazines which led to freelance writing which led to book writing.
It worked! I was a success!
But Was I a Success?
Something happened during the years that I published my two novels and four non-fiction books.
I started off my career with the purest intentions. I wanted to write because I’ve always been obsessed with both words and the psychology behind how people work.
I also wanted to write because it’s how I make sense of myself, my choices and my life. It’s how I heal those things I can’t in therapy or recovery meetings or anywhere else.
But forgot that along the way.
I Forgot Why I Was Doing It
When my first publisher was fired in the biggest scandal the industry had ever seen, my book was orphaned. (In publishing speak, a book is orphaned when the editor leaves for another publishing house; in my case, my book was orphaned and then the orphanage was burned to the ground, as Regan Books disbanded a few months before my book came out and Party Girl was released under an imprint HarperCollins created for it.)
I was shattered. Regan Books had had high hopes for the book, as had I. The day Judith Regan was fired, I had met with her and she had told me as much.
While the book got a lot of press and I believe the people who read it love it, a smash hit it was not.
And So I Shifted My Focus
It’s only in retrospect that I see how impacted I was by the book not meeting its expectations. Suddenly, instead of caring about the words and the psychology behind how people behave and what felt good and smart and funny to get on the page, I was thinking about pre-orders, Amazon reviews, and if the woman who did the ordering for Barnes & Noble would like it.
My writing suffered. But even worse: my feelings about writing suffered. Suddenly I hated it.
I couldn’t see then that my purpose had shifted from a pure one to a mercenary one. “Will this hit?” became my mantra without me even realizing it.
And with that as your mantra, you’ll never succeed.
Getting Back to My Purpose
They say that babies are born able to do all the yoga poses but years of living undo what was once natural.
The same was true for me with writing. I had to work hard to get back to where I’d started.
I needed to remember why I chose this career path in the first place—to make sense of my life and ultimately to heal. And then I needed to take what I’d learned in the ensuing years about being of service.
My purpose, I’ve now concluded, is to combine those two things—write to heal and then help others to do the same.
It’s Easy to Go On Autopilot
I don’t blame myself for losing my way. (Hey, before I got sober, I lost my way with far more damaging habits.)
Besides, life flings a lot our way and we all have periods where we forget our “why.”
It happens to me semi regularly; in fact it just happened to me with 12-step meetings. I’ve been sober for over 17 years and about a month ago I saw that for the past five or so years, I’d forgotten why I went to meetings.
I was going to meetings, really, because I told myself I “should.” And with that as my impetus, I started going to fewer and fewer and not connecting the way I had before.
It was only last month, when I started to notice that I was living with a chronic level of dissatisfaction, that I followed my sponsor’s suggestion and started going to meetings every day.
Shocker, It Worked
As I write this, I’m still in my everyday meeting phase (we’ll see how long it lasts; I’m a realist so I know it won’t happen forever). And guess what? That chronic level of dissatisfaction has evaporated. Now I’ve remembered that I go to meetings for the same reasons that I write—to heal and to make sense of the psychology behind how people work.
My 12-step program is, of course, much better than it was.
I have no idea if my writing is any better than it was before I re-connected with my original reasons for wanting to do this for my career. I just know that I feel entirely different about it.
I like writing again. Sometimes I even love it. And sometimes, I don’t like it at all. But even then, to quote Dorothy Parker, I like having written.
Should You Become a Writer?