How does a writer define success? Is it completing a novel, getting an article published (web or print), or some other descriptor that defines their version of success? How I describe my first writing success is a complicated web of descriptors and is far less wholesome than I would have hoped for.
While I was inspired to write as a young girl, I never managed to produce anything that I was pleased with until I was a teenager. Up until then, my perfectionism always took everything away from me. I couldn’t be happy with anything because it wasn’t perfect. Even now, it is a struggle for me to let things go without a dozen or more rewrites (I’m working on it).
I had discovered Mills&Boon (Harlequin to those not in the UK) romance books. I know they’re not appropriate for a twelve-year-old, but by that point, the library had already barred me for too many late returns.
My first writing success was a piece that I never intended to allow anyone to read. I wrote soft erotica for a fourteen-year-old audience.
I was fourteen with urges I had never acted on and an active and fertile imagination. I had never been kissed, nor had a boyfriend. All of my information and inspiration came from between the covers of a book and my stimulated imagination.
How do I define my first writing success?
How I define this first foray into writing is perhaps different from how I would define success now.
- Completion – Finishing something and making it complete and whole, without rejecting it half-finished
- Letting Go – Admittedly, I didn’t let it go willingly, I was caught out at school with the wrong notepad in my English class. Once it got out, there was no stopping it, and I had to either go with it or cry foul. As a less-than-popular girl, I opted for the path of least resistance.
- Acceptance/Positive Feedback – This is not to say that I can’t deal with negative feedback, but positive is always better for the ego.
- Getting Paid – Don’t we all want to get paid for writing?
Yes, I did say getting paid. My very first foray into hormone-induced erotica was very well received, and further writing actively encouraged and solicited by my peers. It is no great achievement to make a teenage boy horny, but I took pride in the fact that I was able to do it with my prose. We exchanged cash for personalised efforts. While today I would be thoroughly offended by the offer of £5 for a 3000-word piece, for a 14-year-old in the mid-nineties, that was a substantial chunk of cash. Result!
Things change, and so do definitions of success.
While I defined my initial success above, I wouldn’t characterise it the same now. Although, I will admit that the broad strokes are roughly the same. The significant difference in how I would define success now is that I don’t need all positive feedback. If all response to my work now was positive I would think that I was doing something wrong. Criticism, whether constructive or emotionally charged backlash, is worthy of consideration and I genuinely appreciate it.
I still define success in terms of completion, letting go (and these days I’m far more careful about doing so), feedback and pay. However, while the payment is an essential part of a writer’s life, I don’t require it to feel that a piece is successful by itself. Instead, getting paid is more of a determination of whether I am successful, not whether a project or piece of writing has achieved success. It’s a fine line of distinction.
Where did I go from there?
What happened to that impetus and joy in success? I have no idea. No, that’s not true, I do know what happened, and I’m not proud. Interest in my stories waned, the internet was gaining traction, and the more visual stimulus was more readily available to the average horny teenager, as more households acquired home PCs. Sadly, I also did the genre of erotica a terrible disservice. I felt that I was selling out and not writing proper literature. Now, I feel like a complete idiot because that industry is booming.
Another unfortunate situation is that I joined the ranks of the sexually active (obviously not at 14, that would be rather disgusting), and discovered that reality could rarely compete with a fertile and rampaging imagination. I lost my spark with that realisation and whenever I finished a new piece I felt the bitter resentment that my sex-life in no way compared with the one that I was trying to spin.
So went my first writing success, my early fictional success. I want to rekindle the fire that compelled me to write. Perhaps that was my brief shining moment in which I peaked. I do hope that isn’t the case, and I don’t believe that it is. I have plenty of time to scale new creative heights. With the right partner, maybe I can even rekindle my first love of writing erotica.