I think it's understandable that when authors are very early in their careers, they imagine that everything they write will become a bestseller. Through all the editing and submission and rejection, that vision of success is a powerful beacon, a reason to strive. Many writers fail or withdraw from that process, and never know whether they would have become the next big thing - some will continue to harbour resentment towards agents and publishers for denying them their chance. Others - a tiny percentage - fight their way through the obstacles and get a book on the shelves. The vast majority of those won't become bestsellers either.
Ok, I'm not telling you anything you don't know. But with the odds stacked against us like this, why do we keep doing it? It's not enough to say we enjoy writing, because so much of the author's journey isn't about writing at all. Why not self-publish? What is it about a mass audience that makes it so much more attractive than a small group of adoring fans?
Studies have shown that working towards a goal is more rewarding than achieving it, and perhaps this is what spurs us on to bigger and better things. I like to define the process in terms of frustration and contentment:
- Frustration - This is a feeling of dissatisfaction with our present level of achievement and a desire to better ourselves.
- Contentment - This is an ability to celebrate our achievements, to see our work with an uncritical eye and take pleasure in it.
The writer I was talking to likened her own experience of writing to mountaineering, a process that is pleasurable by virtue of its extreme difficulty. And of course, there is that moment when you finally finish a book and stand in the fresh alpine air, looking down at what you've achieved.
The problem with mountains is that there's almost always a higher one left to climb.