Anne B. Walsh - Do you believe in magic?

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Anne's Randomness


It's a big topic for a little blog post, but one that's been much on my mind lately, especially as you, O readers, respond to my requests for comments. Sometimes those responses are wonderfully heart-warming. Sometimes they're a bit more thought-provoking. Sometimes... well, the world and my writing are both imperfect.
So. What does it mean to be successful? For a writer, the bar to clear used to be obvious. Get published, get retained, and you've succeeded. Get rejected or dropped, and you've failed. End of story. But with the rise of the Internet, of e-readers and independent publishers, that bar is somewhat less important than once it was.
For some writers, perhaps for many, simply starting a work of fiction is a success. Fear and doubt are most writers' constant companions (I have a little perch for them on the wall beside my desk) and can make it very hard to get even that first word onto paper or screen. What if? What if? What if? The ceaseless chorus rises.
Once you've started, how to continue past that same chorus? How to work past the slumps, the plot holes, the inevitable skews off course? National Novel Writing Month is meant to help, by simply forcing output and giving writers no time to let the internal editor interfere, but NaNo ends, and most people's writing won't end with it. 
Even once you've finished, written "The End" on your manuscript, does that count as a success? What about the revising process, which can be even more harrowing than getting the words down in the first place? No one likes to admit their creation is imperfect, and no two betas or editors will ever agree on what should be changed.
In some ways, this is why I've so much enjoyed writing my fan fiction. I seldom revise my chapters -- what you get on those sites is fresh from my fingers, usually finished less than an hour before it makes its way to you. This does lead to the occasional slip-up, but overall I think I've done pretty well at maintaining consistency and clarity.
With originals, though, the stories live in their own little closed world as you work on them. One or two other people may see them in progress, perhaps three or four if you have a trusted circle of reader-friends, and occasionally an author will "write in public", but as a general rule a novel doesn't leave its writer's home until it's done.
This is one of my troubles as I transition from fanfic to original. I got used to having the immediate feedback from readers, and being able to adjust things in upcoming chapters based on it. But unlike a fanfic, a novel is a finished product, difficult to change. You can try to change the next entry in the series, but it may not work.
Still, I've finished two novels, one historical fantasy and one family-focused fantasy, and am working on my sci-fi debut, along with two short story collections and all my fanfic work. Along the way, I've tried to listen to the feedback, to learn from what's painful and to enjoy what's good, and it has given me furiously to think.
Does everyone who reads my work enjoy it? No. Does everyone who does enjoy my work like every story I've ever written? No. Am I able to quit my day job, see my name in the newspapers, get recognized in the supermarket, hire someone to deal with the endless requests for interviews? No. By those markers, I'm not (yet) a success.
But. Do a great many people enjoy my work? Yes. Do people tell me they find hope and happiness in my work that they don't find in many other writers' offerings? Yes. Have I brought friends together and caused them laughter, given inspiration and help to other writers, brightened readers' lives and even possibly saved a few? Yes. I have.
It would be lovely to be rich from my writing, or to write such marvelously great books that everyone is crazy about them. But I haven't yet been on this earth thirty years and I already know that I have helped others. That I have made a difference for the better. By any measure you care to name, I think that has to be accounted success.
Thanks for reading, as always. The usual weekly schedule of topics resumes on Thursday but I couldn't resist blogging about this, after all the thinking I've done lately. Hope you've enjoyed and more writing is coming as soon as I can manage it! Also check me out (I can't believe I'm saying this) on Twitter, @AnneBWalsh!

4 Comments to Success:

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Geoffrey on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 2:22 AM
With the title of the post today, I was wondering if you were declaring success or discussing success. Well played. Of course, by filing it under All About Anne there was the expectation of something else…

But I have no complaints about a more philosophical topic. However, I fear you may have misunderstood me. I never meant to imply your writing is bad, or even less than excellent, or that you aren’t successful. I’m botching this even more, aren’t I? No, what I mean is that I greatly enjoy your work, but I have a hard time explaining why to others. Most of the time I just avoid the need to try.

Since you’ve appealed for feedback and comments often enough, I must suppose that you wouldn’t mind hearing why, so I’ll give it a go here.

Over the past eight years, I’ve read fanfiction off and on. I think it started with a papier-mâché wand (one use only!) and Jeconais’ work, and moved on from there. And in the background was this weird series about Hermione’s older sister written by someone with a bizarre pen name that seemed… supremely uninteresting. But, you know? It kept showing up. Year after year after year. Still updating. I scratched my head, a bit confused. Nobody is that dedicated to fanfiction. Nobody. So out of curiosity, I finally took a look.

And the first few chapters of Living with Danger were as cloyingly fluffy as I’d feared. And then something magical happened: you played Bach’s Prelude in C Major. How could you? The scene was still unjustifiably fluffy and didn’t really make sense without fluff-logic, but I could hear the music. I was hooked. And then Things started to happen, and the story developed life, but I was already invested.

But then you knew things. Impossible things. And there was this:
"Those… who enter… swear three oaths, three oaths in the deepest of magic. The first is an oath of fidelity, that they will keep faith with one another and with [those] who give them their trust. The second is an oath of sharing, that they will help one another… The third is an oath of sealing, by which they dedicate their very lives to the fulfillment of the first two oaths. And this final oath is sworn, must be sworn… in the bodies and persons of those… who swear, that it may govern their lives with every beat of their hearts.”

I should have known these things, but I did not, which shames me deeply. How could you? I cannot forgive you for explaining this. I cannot thank you sufficiently. I don’t know how you knew what you wrote, but I cannot say how greatly this passage impacted me. It felt like reading scripture.

I spent half the winter curled up with the Dangerverse, all the while wondering who could have written it. Fascinated, perplexed, amazed. And wanting to explain this, somehow. Reviewing chapters written long ago seemed ridiculous. And leaving it all in a review in whatever chapter happened to be the latest when I reached the end seemed equally absurd. But there, I’ve said it now.

Of course you’re successful by any meaningful measure, Anne. How could you not be?

And, I hate asking again, but where would one direct those tokens of affection known as “fanmail”, of the physical variety?
Reply to comment
Anne on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 6:46 PM
The papier-mâché wand made me smile. And thank you so very much for your thoughts. This post was partly, but not entirely, in response to some of the things you'd said, but mostly it's a challenge to my own less friendly side, the part of me that doesn't want me to succeed. As for the address, that's still in progress, but I should know by tomorrow and shall share in blog post and/or Facebook!

Adam Oliver on Friday, November 15, 2013 12:14 AM
Did you know that sites are making lots of money from your works?
Reply to comment
Anne on Friday, November 15, 2013 8:46 AM
Really? Which ones? Tell me more.

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