I can hear the cogs in your brain turning; why would anyone need to “cope” with success? It’s what we’re all after, right? True, but success is a fickle and funny friend; it can make us complacent, lazy, and overconfident.
If you want to keep on succeeding you need to know how to cope with success and keep your hunger on a leash; the minute you assume you will succeed again you’re on a downward spiral.
Two types of people; two kinds of success
I should probably break this down. Success, like so many things, is taken in different ways by different people; it can spur us on, or actually demotivate us by removing the pressure that made us work so hard in the first place.
If you fall into the first camp this post probably won’t help you much (but read on if you want!), but if you’re in the second, like me, this could be kind of a big deal.
You see, I too am a success-coaster and that’s something I’ve realised later than I’m happy with. When I succeed, when I do really well, I have a tendency to assume that the worst of the hard work is behind me and coast on the success so that my work plateaus at a certain rate/quality until failure spurs me on again. This is as valid a method as any, I guess, but it’s risky because you never know when you’ll suddenly stop making the cut. Hence, this post; I’ve spent the last few months learning how to cope with my successes and failures so that I can pass my experiences and advice on to you. Hopefully it won’t be complete garbage!
So, if you’ve recently had a success… if you’ve completed a draft, had something published, or just finished a scene that’s been stymieing you for weeks; Congratulations! And now back to work. That’s the first piece of advice I have to share;
When You First Succeed, Try and Try Again
Sorry for murdering a good ol’ saying, but this needs to be said. When you succeed you will, and should, celebrate, but you should resist the urge to coast thereafter. Like I said before this is a thing; I never knew this until I caught myself doing it, and I never realised how many people do it until I started to talk about it.
Success-coasters are everywhere; they’re the smart people who suddenly come up with D’s before rebounding to B’s and A’s, they’re the people at work who work themselves to the bone one month and do next to nothing the next. They’re the people who write 30,000 words in three weeks and then not a thing for months on end.
Success-coasters embody wasted potential, but we can be saved!
It starts with trying again, and again, and again. It starts with celebrating your success and then using it as a platform from which to evolve and grow.
What did you do right?
What did you do wrong?
Collate this information (after a suitable amount of champagne or vodka or chocolate), and then deploy it for your next project.
I’ve learned the hard way that planning and looking ahead can sometimes be the only way to beat a success-slump. When I get something I want, when I do well, I relax into a cosy glow of comfortable enough-ness, and I revel in being good enough rather than thinking about how I can be better.
Plan the next project before you’re all wrapped up with the first. It can be a new story, an edit, some blog posts, or a review. If you’ve done well enough to get published it could be planning your marketing strategy, but do something.
Success is only the first step; this is more so the case for writers. You can never perfect the craft, and few master it. The truly good writer drags their arse out of bed, gathers their shit together and says,
“I will be better, and better, and I will be better.”
A smug, big-headed winner is not only irritating, but they run the danger of becoming so conceited that they forget how to take advice. A humble winner knows how to take advice, listens to hear not to reply, and identifies their weaknesses without pride or resentment. Let your successes illuminate your flaws and weak points as well as your strengths and unique selling points.
Take a deep breath and think before you respond to criticism; even where you disagree take it with calm, composure, and grace. You don’t need to act on it all, but you should be open to hearing it.
Continue to evolve outwards as well as upwards, so to speak. By this I mean keep reading in different genres, styles, time periods, and about different people. Write in new styles, from new perspectives, and write about things that scare you. If you have total confidence in your ability to write a story you are either overconfident, or playing it safe. Don’t coast; challenge yourself.
Keep researching, too; reading non-fiction is one of the best ways to find inspiration, I think. Read about the Gowrie Conspiracy and don’t feel compelled to write about it; I challenge you.
If you handle your successes as well as your failures you will continue to grow and evolve as a writer, and (not to be cheesy) as a person!