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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Holding On While Searching for Success

Courtesy of sqback

Success is one of those tricksy creatures that's neither one thing or another, and usually doesn't look exactly the same for each person. In a way, it reminds me of the magician's egg. (Or it could have been a sorcerer's. I read this fairy tale a long while ago, and have forgotten the name.)

The magician had put his heart into an egg, so of course--he being an evil sort of magician, the hero of the story had to find the egg and destroy it if he wanted to get to the magician.

Which was fine, except the egg didn't stay an egg for long once someone picked it up with the intent to smash it. To the hero's horror, the egg went through a number of transformations--most of them sharp, deadly, poisoned, unpleasant, and pointed.

But the only way to reach the magician's heart in the egg was to hold on no matter what. This advice is all well and good if you're the hero just starting out on the journey, but when you're actually living the tale, the advice doesn't feel so sound anymore.

The egg turns into a viper? Don't let go, even if it's sunk its fangs into your hand. Now it's a ball of fire? Keep a hold of it, never mind the burning. Now it's a bit of fur with razor sharp teeth? A man's soul isn't judged by the number of fingers he keeps in this life. It's a rabbit now? Well, that's ok--er, they're awfully slippery little things, aren't they? And, oh. Yes, they bite too.

In this story, the hero didn't have a lot of choice as to which forms the egg would take. Writers pursuing the dream to be read will also find that they have little to no control over so many important things that will affect the outcome of measurable success. Like finding the right agent (not just an agent, the one who is the right fit), a book deal, book sales, low returns, a beautiful cover, readers, etc.)

But there are two things a writer, just like the hero, can control completely: their preparation and when--or if--it's time to let go.

A writer in search of readers must do their very best to prepare for the journey. This often equates to spending a great deal of time learning, but everyone learns and flowers at a different rate. The important thing is to keep striving to do better and learn more. The moment a hero decides he's learned everything there is to learn, the moment the skills he does have begin to grow rusty. This is also usually the time when a new, unknown monster comes to town, devouring the villagers and destroying the village, and generally needing to be dealt with.

A hero must also resist the urge to compare himself to the horde of heroes in the training yard. Instead of looking on with envy or disdain, a wise hero studies what others are doing and learns from them. A hero who has a good chance of succeeding is also open to new ideas as well as pointers on improvement.

A hero enters the fray with success, not failure, in mind.

(And alas, in both life and the tales, success is never guaranteed--at least success that relies on other people. That's what ballads are for, to remember those who have fallen. And even that's some measure of success, because those heroes wouldn't have fallen if they'd never tried.)

In short, a hero puts in the sweat and time and blood and tears to prepare as best he can, always with an eye on succeeding.

And then there's that other thing. A thing that's sometimes harder than all the hard work that came before. Only the writer can decide when to let go and when to hold on. There will be times, so very many times, when the hero is weaving on his feet and seeing double--if he can even see at all. Those are the times when the hero must decide whether or not to hold on.

Sometimes letting go is the right decision. Maybe what the hero wanted in his heart of hearts was not to defeat the magician, but to discover the path to an underground kingdom. (The portal just happened to be in the magician's study.) And sometimes the hero wants the egg so much, he will hold onto it no matter what it turns into. No matter how it burns or cuts or pains him.

Because to lose the egg, he would be losing a part of himself he isn't willing to part with.

The search for success, no matter where that success may take place in, is a path full of sacrifice, hard work, joy, and a thousand other emotions words have no name for.

Ultimately, we all have our own path to success that will often be unlike those of our friends, our crit partners, or others who have gone on before. But the tools we use to get there are generally something we have in common, no matter what stage we're in or what we're aiming for.

Hard work and tenacity. And wisdom to know when it's time to hold on for dear life, and when it's time to find a new dream.

What are some things you've done to either get ready for the quest or to hold onto the egg?

Danyelle Leafty writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. Her serial novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA can be found here.


Louisa said...

Thank you for a wonderful analogy Danyelle. I have been considering whether to hold on or let go. You have given me the inspiration to keep holding on, no matter what the cost to make my dream materialize.

Anonymous said...

Good reminder, Danyelle. We need the encouragement.

Danyelle L. said...

Thanks, Louisa! And best of luck with holding on. You can do it! :D

Thanks, Marlene! :D Writers definitely need all the encouragement we can get. :o)