Imagine getting a story accepted today. Yay! Now imagine getting another one accepted tomorrow. Fabulous, right? And now imagine getting yet another one accepted the day after. OMG, are you kidding? Totally awesome! But wait, there's one more acceptance waiting for you the following day, another one the next day and one more, and one more, and so on... until days turn into weeks into months into a year and soon you've had all your stories accepted for publication. It sounds thrilling now, but how would you be feeling at the end of the year? As excited as before?
It's not too difficult to guess that after so many acceptances -- a 100% publication rate, three hundred and sixty five days of overwhelming positivity -- you'd be feeling far from overjoyed. You'd be bored.
It's like having ice cream for dessert every single day. You'd literally get sick of it after a while.
Much as a scenario like this may be in the realms of fantasy, the basic premise remains true. Too much of anything -- even a good thing -- fails to make us happier. The reason is that you need balance; you need something to equalise all that goodness. If life is one constant high, you lose the ability to distinguish, discern and enjoy the high. You need an occasional low to be able to appreciate those highs to the maximum. You need an occasional rejection. It makes the taste of victory sweeter.
We all dream of success. It's the one hope that keeps us going, the jackpot at the end of the rainbow. If we start having too much of it, however, it can make us complacent. And complacency is deadly. Absolutely fatal. Complacency makes you think you've reached the end of the road and won. And just as you're slowing down, savouring the moment you cross the finish line, BAM! Someone else appears out of nowhere, streaks ahead of you, and pips you to the post. Someone else wins that exclusive publishing contract with that very popular agent, someone else bags the best feature space in that $2-a-word magazine, someone else signs that lucrative syndication contract for that high-circulation daily newspaper column. Before you know it, it is someone else whose book is hitting the stands, while yours languishes in your desk drawer wallowing in self-pity. Complacency kills. It kills your drive, it dilutes your goals, and it messes up your record.
So how can you emerge unscathed or stronger from a string of successes?
1. Rejoice in the now!
Celebrate your success, however big or small. Every little achievement in one step closer to your larger goal. So break out the bubbly and get that party going!
2. Don't get carried away.
After you've feted your success, put it on the shelf: to be taken down and dusted and admired from time to time, but not to beholden your future to, not to come in your way. Just because you've received $500 for a couple of articles in the past does not mean that every article you sell from now on should fetch you the same amount of money. Next time around, the recession may be worse, the publication may be smaller, the editor may be different. Set new goals, but make sure they're realistic. Getting $100 for a short story is not a personal affront, nor is getting $1000 for a detailed travel feature a sign of things to come. Don't get greedy; know how much is enough.
3. Believe in yourself.
Acknowledge your success. Don't downplay it. Don't feel it was undeserved. Don't deprive yourself of the joy of it. Don't sabotage yourself. You've accomplished something. Don't tell yourself (or others) "it's nothing." Forget about the guilt, the doubt and the defensiveness. Pursue that success with all you've got. You've every bit as much right to it as the next writer.
Be generous in your success. Share the credit: a lot of people may have contributed to your success in little ways and big. From the garbage collector who keeps your trash cans empty and your backyard clutter-free so that you can enjoy a calm relaxing evening in preparation for your next assignment, to your favourite television actor who entertains you and helps your brain unwind after a hard day's graft -- there may be a lot of invisible helpers behind each successful writer. 5. Move forward while staying grounded.
Look to the future and focus on your next task. Along the way, remember what is important to you and remain true to your principles, the values you hold dear: they keep you grounded. If you're more altruistic than business-minded, admit it to yourself without feeling ashamed, and then don't get waylaid by a deal that offers truckloads of cash in return for unethical reportage. If the reverse is true, don't get taken in by the next sob-story of a desperate publication on the brink of going under "unless it receives your help."
6. Accept the new.
Things change with success. You move in different circles, you do things differently, your mindset undergoes subtle but significant change. Expectations are raised, stakes may be higher, people around you may become envious, sycophantic or turned off. The world suddenly contains exciting new things, to which you will react differently. Handling them may require more effort, perhaps a greater commitment. Completing one book puts the pressure on to win a three-novel publishing deal. Accepting a regular commission means being able to churn out the same high-standard quality words on a remorseless continual basis. Yes, it's tough, it's scary, but it's inevitable and the quicker you accept it the easier it is to deal with. Prejudice, fear and perception will hold you back. Let it go. Pull up your socks and move on.
Escape ennui and change the game. If you've gained mastery in one genre, challenge yourself in another. Start at the bottom of the ladder and work your way up. Again. And again. Stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. Had fun with science-fiction short stories in print? Cool, now why don't you try writing memoirs for an e-book? Been making tracks in the poetry scene? Super, how about trying your hand at current affairs journalism? As you conquer each vertical, you're expanding your horizontal repertoire across a wide range of genres and media. If you're not using your skills, you risk losing them.
Success is what you make of it. You need to work at it to achieve it, you need to work at it to keep it. Be confident. There's such a thing as "too much success" only if you think there is.