“At forty-two I had come to that point in my life toward which I’d struggled since I’d been a child: a place of security, importance, recognition. The only one from this town who had made it. The ones who had had the most promise in school were now milkmen, used car salesmen, married to fat, stupid dead women who had, themselves, been girls of exceeding promise in high school. They had been trapped in this little Ohio town, never to break free. To die there, unknown. I had broken free, had done all the wonderful things I’d said I would do.”
– Harlan Ellison “One Life, Furnished In Early Poverty”
I’m a liar. I’m a fraud. I’m a hypocrite.
For my lifetime of posturing and preaching about pursuing your dreams and making your wishes and hopes come true, I’ve never done it myself. I’ve never even tried.
I know what you’re thinking. “Yes, you have, Eric! You do everything you dream! You became a licensed hang glider pilot soaring over a mile above the earth. You moved to Hollywood with no job and ended up working for Walt Disney. You’re a published novelist. You go skateboarding in California pools with girls who win medals in the XGames. You’re an award-nominated filmmaker. Your photography has appeared in art galleries and you’ve worked with Playboy Playmates and television stars. You date fashion models. You’re an equestrian. A motorcyclist. You’ve been dragged by horses and fallen off motorcycles and you’re badass enough to still be walking and talking about it. What haven’t you done?”
Well, the truth is, all I ever really wanted to do, the only way I ever truly wanted to make a living, was as a novelist. Nothing else. All the other things I have achieved in my life are things I’m happy about, and proud of, and certainly grateful to have experienced, and my varied career choices have been honestly fun and enjoyable. But I have never sincerely pursued my one great passion. I have never even attempted to make a living as a novelist. I’ve never attempted it. I’ve never submitted a single manuscript for publication. Not one book. Not one essay. Nothing. I’ve never queried an agent. Worst of all, in my efforts to self-publish my work, I only spend a couple of months doing any marketing and promotions before I grow bored and just give up on it.
Earning a cushy 6-figures a year as a novelist – as a career, that is the biggest and oldest dream I have ever possessed. And I have never even tried to make that dream happen. Not really tried. Only half-heartedly.
I’m ashamed of that. I feel like such a putz.
Worst of all, I lied to myself. I convinced myself that simply writing novels was enough. I told myself that the act of creation was the only reward I required. But it is precisely because that bliss of creation is genuinely sublime, that it’s not enough. The work must earn a living for the artist, simply as a way to assure the creative process can be maintained for a majority of all their days. The addiction to art must be fueled by the success of the addiction.
That’s why I’m a liar and a hypocrite.
I always tell people to pursue their passions and personally, I have only ever pursued my own passion in a half-assed way.
No one has ever noticed. No one has ever called me out on it. Not until a few months ago, one person brought it up. But no one else ever has. I have written novels. I have published novels. Therefore, I can legitimately call myself a novelist and no one can contend that fact. That’s all I need in order to “fake it” and trick the world. Make everyone think I’m “going for my dreams” when I’m really not.
Often have I complained that friends and family have never had much faith in me. Not that they expect me to fail. They just seem indifferent to the outcome.
Oh, sure, they say the right things. I might occasionally hear a “that’s great” or a “good for you.” But no one who says that ever means it. If they were genuinely supportive, they’d actually purchase and read my books. None of them bother to do that and actions do speak louder than words. Anyone can say they are supportive. Another thing to truly be supportive. Friends of mine have actually posted on websites about other people they know publishing books, but they never bothered to mention any of the numerous books I’ve written. In fact, I knew one girl who was doing a fundraiser for her dance troupe on the Internet and I tried to help her out and I reposted her promotions all over my social media sites. Getting the word out for her as best I could. When I asked her to return the favor and let people know about my latest book release, you know what she said? She said she didn’t have time to promote my stuff, because she had to focus on her own project right now.
See? I’m telling you, I truly don’t have any friends. I have numerous acquaintances and selfish fucking assholes. The friends slot is full of cobwebs.
Heck, I’ve even put some friends in my books as cameo characters, and those people never read my books either. Some people who have been part of the artwork and images in a few of my novels have never bothered to read the book. Obviously, this is not indicative of the quality of the story. Not like the writing is bad, so they can’t stomach reading it. No. They don’t even pick up their copy of the book in the first place. When friends don’t even care enough to read a book you have written them into, are they really friends at all? Perhaps I’m mislabeling mere acquaintances with more credit than they actually deserve.
Therein lies another way in which I’m a hypocrite. So frequently I claim to not care that friends and family show no support. Truth be told, it bothers me a lot. I am always nagged by that same concern: “If the people who supposedly care about my fortune and success, don’t really give a shit, why would anyone else? If these people don’t care enough to read my books, who will?”
Then, I finally realized something.
I finally realized I had it backwards.
I realized I was being unfair. If I truly want to be a successful author, the key is to discover and cultivate fans. To nurture an audience. People who will appreciate my books because of the writing, not because they know me. And that audience must consist of hundreds of thousands of people, not a few dozen friends and family. If I sincerely want to make my dreams a reality, I need to think on a much larger scale and fans are the people I have to rely upon. No one else matters. Not friends. Not family. Not old coworkers. Not former classmates. Those people serve very different purposes in life. Friends and family are not here to help me realize my ambitions. That is not their job. To imbue them with such an expectation is my failing, not theirs.
The people I need to care about are the ones who value what I create. No one else. I used to think successful “marketing” meant I needed to share my literary accomplishments with everyone. All the time. Starting with friends and family. Now I realize that was never the proper attitude. Success stems from sharing your craft with the people who give a damn. Sharing it with anyone else is a waste of time. Regardless of whether they are friends, family, or strangers – if they don’t support and share an enthusiasm for your work, they are useless to your success. Throw those people overboard. So long as they are uninterested or cynical toward your achievements, they have no place in your journey to fulfill your dreams and ambitions. Get rid of them. Banish them from your life.
Perhaps I was wrong all along. Perhaps for some of us, friends and loved ones are never meant to be supportive. Perhaps their role is to play our villains. Perhaps in the stories of our lives, they are destined to be our antagonists. The ones who doubt us. The ones who push us. The ones who test our mettle and force us to hold firm in our convictions. The ones who challenge our resolve and thereby strengthen our commitment to attaining the goal. They are the embodiment of all which threatens to usurp our determination. They are the first monsters we must defeat. They are the teachers who show us how to defy the world and prevail against everyone who opposes us.
To be a writer, you walk the path alone. There are no friends. There are no confidants. No comrades nor compatriots. There are no crowds on the sidelines cheering you to victory. To bear this task is to tread through desolation. To be abandoned. To be forgotten.
On the road to nowhere, you shall cleave no companionship.
How glorious. To gaze about and see you need not tarry for anyone to keep pace, you need not be impeded by any who presume to detour your journey.
The quest be a lifetime. And what a triumphant trail lay before thee.