Success is one of those things that’s impossible to quantify.
If you’d asked me when I was a kid what my definition of success was, it’d probably end up looking something like what I’ve got now: I’m in a stable, committed marriage, with two (soon three) awesome kids, a job that pays well, and an entrenched writing career that’s on the rise.
If you’d asked me in high school what that “most likely to succeed” award meant in the eyes of my peers, I’d probably have dropped family from the equation and added in a whole bunch of money.
If you asked me now, I’d say (at least with regards to my writing, which the remainder of this post will focus upon), “I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’m there yet.” That little miner I sent into my brain to dig out the deep answers must have asphyxiated long ago.
With no concrete idea of what success meant to me, I began to look around at my peers. I’d see a movie deal here, an interview there, a positive review here, and this really ugly jealousy began to rear its head. Because I had no goals for myself, I began to covet what others had, and what others wanted. And that’s a sure-fire ticket to eternal dissatisfaction and misery.
So I decided to sit down and put together a bucket list for my writing career. To confirm the experiences I wanted to have, to solidify the skills I wanted to develop, and to quantify the validation that I have sought my entire life.
Beyond the passion I have for the act of writing itself, which seems to be eternal and infinite, this post focuses on what I’d like to do to see that writing turned into a career.
What follows is what today’s list looks like. It’s hopelessly vain and (if Hollywood is to be believed) too focused upon material success to ever truly make me happy – and will probably change with each new season of my career. But its point is to stop crazy comparisons between myself and others, and keep me focused on what I want.
It’s highly ambitious, but doesn’t shoot for the moon. This is today’s list.
1. Win an award
It doesn’t have to be the Nobel Prize for literature, but just having a panel of independent judges confirming that something I have written has managed to edge out its competition would definitely be a huge level-up in my seemingly eternal and interminable quest for validation.
2. Work in collaboration on a great TV show
One of the special features in The Shield DVD set was a look into the writers’ room for the Season Three finale. I can’t explain quite what happened to me when I watched that feature, but it clicked: that’s where I want to be. Working in collaboration with major talent, and putting together greater stories than any of us could manage on our own.
3. Sign a movie/TV deal
There are a few reasons this would be awesome. The first is the money. The second is the opportunity to see my work reimagined by someone else (and maybe even the chance to contribute and tick off item 2 in the process).
But the third, and by far the most important, is to stop people from commenting at conventions, “You should try to get this made into a movie. That’s where the money is, you know.”
4. Get a significant prose piece published
I love working in comics. There’s a tremendous energy in a piece that has synergy between words and art, and I love trying to harness that energy to tell stories. I’ve had some success in the realm of comics, and probably have more coming in the future… but I grew up writing prose, and that’s where my soul remains.
Almost every major comic project I’ve tackled began its life as a full-length novel – prose is how I do my thinking, and where I write my best stories. One day I’d like to get a prose piece published, and start a career as a novelist.
5. Connect with a big publisher
Zetabella is a great, visionary publisher. I am incredibly proud to have been signed as one of their first creators, and thrilled to have the bulk of my work under their name. But they’re a very small publisher, so exposure is not great.
I don’t have networking skills, and I don’t have the time to devote myself to full-time self-promotion. Getting signed to a big name publisher is how I’ll really get noticed. I have no idea if the experience will be a satisfying one (I suppose that depends upon individual publisher as much as anything else), but it’s a commercially sensible approach, at least to build my profile up.
I write science fiction and fantasy. It’s what I’m known for. But I really want to branch out. I want my magnum opus, when it comes, to be much more strongly grounded in reality. In today’s world. I want to stop hiding behind allegory and metaphor when telling stories, and just come right out and say something important.
In some ways, I feel like my entire writing career is an apprenticeship for this one future book, sort of like Steinbeck with East of Eden.
7. Sales of one book per day
Hooray for material success!
But seriously, at some point, I want to be able to step back a little from this self-marketing gig. It’s tiring and a little dispiriting. Once I have enough profile to be able to generate constant sales (even if those sales wouldn’t even buy me a packet of two-minute noodles per day), I’ll be able to focus more on writing, and just let the momentum sort itself out.
One book per day would be okay to start with. It’s not salary-replacement, but it’s momentum. And once you’ve got momentum, there’s always a chance of a snowball. Or even an avalanche.
Until then, you’re just rolling puffs of flaky snow by hand.