Let me preface what comes next by saying that, by any objective measure, I am a successful author. I have an audience. I sell books. I sell a lot more books than the average author sells.
It’s not enough to make a living, but there are names for the kinds of people who just write books for the money. And none of them are nice. There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “is it’s not possible to make a living writing, it’s only possible to make a killing.” Publisher’s Weekly reported that the average non-fiction book sold 250 copies a year. Fiction has to be less. I moved 3,000 of the Merchant Adventurer in a day. (Bookbub!) And while we all lust for more success, I am immensely grateful for what I have and where I am.
There is a quote from a play by Joseph Addison that has stuck with me. I picked it up from the book 1776 by David McCullough. It was a line that people like Jefferson, Washington, Adams and Franklin quoted to each other a lot in letters.
‘Tis not in mortals to command success, But we’ll do more, Sempronius,—We’ll deserve it.
It’s a lovely, stoic sentiment. And one well-suited to the lunacy of attempting to steal a country from the most powerful nation the Earth had ever known. And it begs the question, do I deserve more any success than I have?
To be totally honest, I think not. I can see stupid mistakes. I can see laziness (who can look back and say the could not have done more?) and distraction., I can also see someone who has not become an asshole Dad and husband in pursuit of his goals. But more than that, I can see ways that I have worked too hard in the wrong direction.
No shit, I think I have written too many books and too few outlines.
One must be driven to write a first book. And if had known how hard it would be to write the first one, I never would have written a second. But having made it through the first one — and damn if that didn’t take long enough. I started noodling ideas for stories in 1995. How to Succeed in Evil went live on Kindle in 2012. I am a tough opponent. — the next was easier.
With everything that I have written so far, there has been a mania. A fury. A feeling that demons were chasing me and I needed to write very fast. That I was already so far behind that — anyway, you get the idea. So rather than figuring out the story, I jumped right in and got lost. Or stuck. Or blocked.
This is not a pantser v. plotter discussion. Both ways obviously work. But if you rush or your are too nervous, nothing works very well. When you come to problem in a story you have to stop and think. And, upon reflection, I could have done that better and faster.
So the prescription for this, for me, is to write more waaaaay more outlines. Not quick, dashed out things, but really good plans for books. Make sure the conflict and the resolution is right. I can flesh out characters. I can craft witty lines. I can change the whole thing on the fly. But, right now, it feels that cranking out story architecture will help me get better and write faster in my increasingly limited time.
In one sense deserving more success is either writing better books, or writing more of them. I think I can get a little bit faster and a whole lot better. Better is what drives me anyway. But, in another sense, I think Guillermo del Toro was right when he said,
“Success is fucking up on your own terms.”
I certainly get to enjoy the luxury of doing that.