James Manos, creator of Dexter (via James Altucher’s newsletter)
Yes – but maybe, as Ben Goldacre often says, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
If you are lucky enough that the work really important to you has become a source of money then this holds true. Even then the fact that you are paid for this work must not have affected the work so much that you no longer value it in the same way.
But there is a gentler, more easily attained version of success for the rest of us. You can also be successful, can feel like a success, if you manage to set up your life to allow yourself at least some time for work you really value – work that does not feel like work and instead feels like pleasure. If you manage to set yourself up with subsistence work that earns you money but does not take over your life and allows you time for this important work. Your valuable work does not have to be performed all week in order to be fulfilling – that is for the few and far between James Manos’s.
If I manage ten or twelve hours a week for writing, and that feels like some kind of success. And besides – much of the time at subsistence work can be spent thinking about my valuable work. That’s what notebooks are for.
Po Bronson, from his novel The First $20 Million Dollars is Always the Hardest
Not just in America, not just in 1995. In this novel their work is wasted in ’90s Silicon Valley, but it could have been any profession, any time.
Young people want to do innovative work, work that doesn’t waste their brain. But they are deceived into thinking that they are going to find non-wasteful work in a traditional career within a company.
(Not quite as good as the author’s fabulous first novel, Bombardiers, a Wall Street satire, but excellent all the same.)
I have a couple of email tricks I do every day:
a. I’ll find someone from 3-10 years ago that I will send an email to. Someone I miss but have always liked. I’ll act as if we just spoke yesterday. It will be fun. 100% of the time they respond.
b. I’ll find two people I think should meet each other. I’ll first ask permission from both: ‘can I introduce you to so-and-so?’ If they both say ‘yes’ then I’ll make the connection.
I call this ‘permission networking’. My network is not the list of how many people I know. THE STRENGTH OF MY NETWORK IS HOW WELL EVERYONE I KNOW HELPS EACH OTHER. Most people don’t know this important principle.
c. Finally, I’ll write to someone I want to meet. To do this I need to offer them something of value. So I have to be creative in my email.
James Altucher, from his occasional newsletter.
The non-schmoozing side of networking, the side that I like. Must write to more people I want to meet. (James Altucher goes on to say that most of the people never write back or acknowledge that he has written, but it doesn’t matter at all.)
it is coming, I promise! just finishing a second edit, then it has to be read by a copy-editor… and then it will be out as an ebook…
happy to send you a before proof copy after the next edit if you like… can you read it as an ebook?
One of the problems with working in a profession is that you have to be a professional. People expect you to work to a professional standard – there’s very little room for exceeding expectations.
Amateurs can exceed low expectations all the time. Pick the field you want to work in, and forge a self-made career. It doesn’t matter at all if you have no experience in this work. It doesn’t matter if you earn no money doing this work, because it’s work you really want to do. Learn as you go along.
The gentler notion of success, the one more ground in realism, the one (I say, even though have never known – and probably never will do – crowd-pleasing, fame-filled success) that can sustain a large number of us in a life worth living.
Maybe not the apex of civilisation – but a whole sight more worthwhile than placing your hopes for life’s fulfilment in the 9 to 5 career.
a) They don’t want you to
b) Because they haven’t the balls themselves and your doing it reminds them of their status as havers-of-no-balls
c) Because your life is worth documenting
d) Because if you do not believe your life is worth documenting, or knowing about, then why are you wasting your time/our time? Our air?
e) Because if you do it right and go straight toward them you like me will write to them, and will look straight into their eyes when writing, will look straight into their fucking eyes, like a person sometimes can do with another person, and tell them something because even though you might not know them well, or at all, and even if you wrote in their books or hugged them or put your hand on their arm, you still would scarcely know them, but even so wrote a book that was really a letter to them, a messy fucking letter that you could barely keep a grip on, but a letter you meant, and a letter you sometimes wish you had not mailed, but a letter you are happy that made it from you to them.
Dave Eggers, in the appendix to his first book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, talking about his hindsight view of his book (after he had written it and it was successful, mind you. Talking without the hindrance of Imposter Syndrome).
Because all books (the ones that I value, anyhow), are in some form a documentation of the author’s life, whether non-fiction or fiction. And everyone’s lives are interesting, when examined in an honest manner, if the author has dug down to what has really happened to them, and tried to transmit it in a way that demonstrates why the experience was meaningful to them.
Goes along with Dorothea Brande’s observation or originality (from Becoming a Writer):
Dorothea Brande, in Becoming a Writer
One of the pleasures I take from writing, before any writing has actually happened, is the stimulation and ideas received from reading the writing of others. Discovering how this feeds into your own ideas makes reading for me more pleasureable than when I was just reading. But, as with food and alcohol and money and all manner of other stimulants, I regularly forget that every increase in stimulation does not lead to an increase in pleasure.
This is especially difficult to understand in relation to reading the writing of others: ever-increasing stimulus does not lead to more writing, another book read is not another page written. In any moment of spare time I am tempted by a book/article/online lecture/random surf of my favourite websites. But the short-term dopamine hit from discovering one more new idea has to be resisted for the longer-term pleasure gained from not-reading, from the wordless activities of walking or sitting or whatever you like to do, that allows your mind to sift through the ideas.
When I remember, this is the greater pleasure for me: to be involved in a wordless activity with a notebook to hand, and ideas coming to mind unbidden.
(See also: Self-imposed Rules for Rationing of Good Stuff)
The parts of the novel I’m working on that I have already written, and that I like best, all seem to have come about through improvisation – the more unconscious the writing, the less I was thinking as I wrote it, the better.
Which ought to make progress easy: improvise more. Except it doesn’t, because improvising doesn’t come easy.
So I need to understand the times when it does come easy: what are the circumstances, what materials do I need for the best improvising?
An initial list – circumstances: start first thing in the morning, as little interaction with other people as possible… certainly no interaction with the internet. Materials: not too much pre-plotting that will limit improvisation… but some idea of the direction, otherwise too many possiblities… good knowledge of the characters…
(My list will no doubt be different from the lists of others.)