Success (however you define it) isn’t going to guarantee happiness.
I understand how lack of sales, lack of positive reviews, not winning an award, hateful email, and other things we deal with as writers can bring us down. This is normal. We’re in a roller coaster business.
But the opposite isn’t going to “finally make you happy”… at least not longterm. You might get a boost from it. There is a certain high in reaching a goal, especially if you did even better than the goal you set. But the high doesn’t last. It peaks and then fizzles. The high, just like the lows, are like a roller coaster. Often right after going through a couple days of a “wow, I did it!” high, I find I spend a day or two feeling down in the dumps–and there was nothing bad that happened to make me feel bummed out. I think this is the body’s way of leveling out our moods.
My point is that there is no external thing in our lives as writers that will truly satisfy us in the long run. No matter how many books you sell, you can always sell more. If you made it as a NYT or USA bestselling author with one book, you want to make it there with another one. If you win one award, you want another one. If you get one great review, you want another one. It’s normal. Once we get a taste of something, we want more.
If we don’t get it, we’re disappointed. Why? Because these things don’t sustain us.
You could have everything you’ve ever dreamed of as a writer, but that doesn’t mean you will be happy. Happiness is something that comes from within. It’s a state of mind. The good news is, this is one area you have control over. You decide how to respond to things that happen around you. The older I get (I’ll be 40 in October), the more I’m convinced that the way you think has a huge impact on how you feel.
A quick disclaimer before I continue: you will not be happy every single day for the rest of your life. There will be days that suck. But overall, there could be an underlying sense of joy in your life if you start focusing on the positives.
Okay, now to continue…
You reap what you sow.
Focus on what you can control.
If you focus on things you can do (realistic goals such as improving your writing or getting a little more writing in during the week), you are more likely to find contentment than if you’re running all over Facebook and Twitter to promote the heck out of your book with the hope you’ll hit a certain number of sales. Why? Because you can’t control if someone buys or reads your book. That is out of your control. And if you’re looking for other people to do something to make you happy, it’s not going to happen. It might give you a boost (and you should enjoy the boosts when they come), but it won’t sustain you.
Another principle of reaping what you sow…
The way you treat others ends up coming back to you somehow.
I don’t fully understand why this works out the way it does, but time and time again, I’ve seen people get what they’ve given. Generous people seem to get more than those that are stingy. People who reach out and help others often end up being liked by a large group of people. I think it’s because positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative.
In regards to writing, I would say treat your fellow authors and your readers with respect. That doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat. There are times when you have to say no. You can’t do it all. But you can be positive when you engage with others. Save the “I’m bummed out” for your close friends and family who go through life’s ups and downs with you. Publicly, be happy. When you are happy in public, it has a tendency to lift your spirits.
If you can get to the place where you’re content with your life, I think it’ll go a long way in being a better writer. You’ll have more creative energy and enthusiasm for your work. You’ll be more passionate about it. You’ll naturally do better without consciously trying to.
And if you do hit an accomplishment you have no control over, like selling X number of copies in a month, you will be grateful for it, but you won’t base your self-worth as an author on it. You’ll be humble about your accomplishments. When good and bad times happens, you’ll bounce back a lot quicker, and you’ll level off easier to an overall sense of joy.