Sunday, June 13, 2010

Success? Suck This.

It’s a fact of life that we all know someone who’s done better than we have. There’s no such thing as top or bottom in life, just endless rungs on the ever fraying rope ladder. Eventually that ladder will suffer a catastrophic failure and we’ll all tumble down to oblivion together. Does it really matter where we were before we fell? Are we so shallow that we care who falls first; who’s above or below us when the shit finally hits the razor tipped fan and we’re sliced into nothingness?
Fuck yes, it matters.
I played in a band at school with a guy who’s now the bass player for a very successful, internationally famous group regularly pulling in crowds in the tens of thousands throughout Europe. He owns a ranch in Texas. He has horses, for fuck sake! He grew up in Toryglen, he’s a ned! I obviously wish him all the very best in life. I also want to kick him in the face. Jealous? Yes, yes I am. Fair enough, I reckon. I’m sure his horses will protect him if I ever get close enough to threaten actual violence, he’ll be fine.
I had the agony of watching another guy I was at school with act in not one but two of the top rated shows on TV in the same weekend recently. One was a US show and the other was British. The thing they had in common was that they were both not only popular but also good (unusual these days). And he was brilliant in both. He’s a great actor, and I know for a fact he’s worked his arse off for years to get to where he is today - in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Prick.
What about writing, does the same nonsensical hatred of success apply? Of course it does.
Back on that withering ladder, I jumped a couple of rungs by winning a competition that got my first book published a few years ago. Those rungs quickly disintegrated, bringing me right back down to dirt before anyone made the mistake of envying me. Or did it?
Not too long ago a fellow struggling writer mentioned something about being chuffed that someone in my position liked his stuff. My position, I thought. What the hell does that mean? Then I realised he thought I was successful because I’d been published. For utterly altruistic reasons I chose not to disabuse him of this opinion - it wouldn’t be fair to shatter his illusions, I reasoned. Nothing to do with me liking the idea of someone thinking I was ahead of the game. Obviously I felt it would be rude to mention the mammoth sales my novel achieved - well into the tens of, oh, tens, by now.
The fledgling writers’ community is relatively small, and any perceived success is quickly shared and congratulated, at least publicly. Every time I see a new forum topic with a title like ‘Snagged an agent!’ or ‘Just got a short accepted!’ or even ‘Got a three book publishing deal with a proper publisher who pay advances and everything!’, I shake violently with delight.
Jealousy could be useful, though. I could write a new story about a really jealous writer or something - it’s all potential material.
The reality is that - and yes, I do think I speak for all of us here - there’s at least a wee bit of us that says How come they got it and I didn’t? How did they get so lucky, the bastards?
Because it has to be luck, doesn’t it? It can’t be because they happen to be a better writer than I am, that’s ridiculous. It can’t be because they’ve worked harder and longer, that’s nonsense. It has nothing to do with the fact they spend months tweaking and editing every word, every phrase, every sentence. Surely it couldn’t be the case that they’re simply more talented than I am? Nah, it’s just luck and they’re a bunch of bastards, that’s all.
Hopefully it’s only a little bit of my brain that thinks that way and I’m not overly bitter and mid-listed. I’d like to think I can learn from people who find their way round the maze and make it - yes, there may be practical things they’ve discovered that might make the path that bit smoother, but, in reality, I hope I can see where they went right with their work when I’ve gone wrong. I, at least when I’m sober, hope their example can help me become a better writer, not just a better salesman.
Because that’s the real truth, let’s not pretend. It’s easy to point out that Jordan or Dan Brown or whoever can’t write for tofu, but they’re not actually the competition. The competition is the many, many writers in the world who can write and write superbly. And the fact is, we know some of them. I know many writers way, way better than I am who haven’t made it yet (and I hate them all). Unless we actually want to write shite there’s no point getting upset when shite writers get ahead. And there’s no point in pretending it’s just down to luck, it isn’t. It’s down to talent and graft. And, sometimes, luck. Having talent and graft on our side doesn’t guarantee success, but if we don’t have both in our arsenal we have no right to complain. Luck is just, well, down to luck. No point worrying about that.
I think I’m a brilliant writer, but I like me. It’s not unlikely that my view of my own work is a wee bit on the biased side. It’s entirely possible that I’m just not good enough to get properly successful. Does that mean it’s time to give up? No, it means it’s time to get better at this thing I enjoy doing. Or stop doing it and do something useful instead.
But, if I want to get better, moaning about how jammy Russell Brand, or that guy/girl from school/online friend is isn’t going to help.
So, here’s a call out to all us wannabie writers - stop pretending celebrities have stolen our chances at getting published, or that the good writers just got luckier than we’ve been. Be better writers. If you’re the best writer you can be you’ve already won, anything else is gravy.
Dan Brown’s still a cunt, mind. And as for that T*%y C*^%£n …

* this will probably be an article in the next Words With JAM, so pretend you haven't seen it.


  1. Warped, twisted and brilliant!

  2. Been there, worn the album and listened to the T-shirt and so, so, accurate. Great stuff, Danny.

  3. Many a true word is spoken (written) in jest.

  4. Absolutely.

    I always think it funny when someone says, 'Oh, I could have done THAT.' Yeah, but you didn't!

  5. Mm, yes, Susan, that's what REALLY makes me angry when people have a go at Tracey Emin's bed or Duchamp's urinal - yes, ANYONE could do that given they've seen it done already. But only one or two perople could have come up with the idea and had the chutzpah to carry it through.

    Danny, your take on luck, work & success is spot on. So often I hear "work hard and you'll maek it." Whcih isn't true any more than "it's all luck" is true. You've got the order bang on - hard work and talent won't guarantee success, that needs luck as well (but why bother even putting that in the equation, like you say, that's what luck IS), but WITHOUT hard work and talent, you sure as hell won't make it - that mix may only give you a 5% chance, or whatever, but that's better than nowt.

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  7. There's no doubt luck plays its part, as it does in all walks of life, Dan. I do think we (okay, 'I') can be too quick to give it more credit than it deserves, especially when I know exactly how hard a lot of people have worked to get anywhere.
    And Greg, I hate you too.

  8. You Bastard! I should have written this.


  9. I am one of those people congratulating other writers when they get a break, genuinely happy for them...But I become a black hole-concentrated degree of rabid, hate-filled, seething monstrous spite when some Z list 'celeb' gets a book deal. Like the ex Eastender, yoghurt endorser who claimed to have written the synopsis of 'her' novel on the back of an envelope and had three big publishing house fight for the rights.

  10. @Trevor - why thank you, sir.

    @Raven - I know what you mean, but I don't see the point in getting upset about celebrity authors. I just won't buy the books. Obviously plenty of people do, sadly.

  11. Ah, any author who finds success deserves it. I've decided not to worry so much about the whole HUGE success thing. Write. Enjoy. Eat. Drink. Love. Fuck. Write some more. Treat your kids like every moment could be the last you'll ever spend with them. Make sure your wife/husband/lover/partner knows they are the greatest thing ever to happen to you, ever. Write some more. Be kind. And if you publish a book or two along the way ... be grateful.

    Still. I hate you, Danny. You make me laugh and you're fucking talented.

  12. Wise words, Greg (well, apart from that last bit).