This follows on from my post a few days ago, Getting published: is it luck or skill? One of the comments, from Billie Jo Woods, pointed out that “some of us will always have to work harder than others to get little to no reward and others will get their break with minimal effort”. This got me thinking about those people (we all know them) who have success pretty much given to them. They seem to waltz through life, getting everything they want just for breathing, whilst the rest of us struggle to get where we want to. A lot of people are jealous when people like that get success.
But I’m not.
The thing is, success is made better by hard work. Sure, they might have some fame and more money than me, but I can guarantee it won’t feel as great. Hard work is what makes success. If the moment I typed the last word on Politics in Blood, a publisher had appeared in a puff of smoke and said “Well done, here’s some cash”, it would have seemed like a very hollow victory.
A lot of people I know, upon hearing that my book still hasn’t been published, have asked me why I haven’t just put it on Kindle myself. The answer is “Because I can”. Before I go any further, I know that there are a lot of writers out there who work very hard to produce a high-quality book which they then self-publish, and they should be applauded for that. But places like Lulu and Amazon are full of ebooks that someone has written in a few days, and not even proofread. Terrible style, terrible grammar, terrible characters, terrible blurb; it’s on Amazon for £5 and they sit there wondering why nobody buys it.
For me, I have grown up imagining the day when a publisher accepts my work. I started writing Politics in Blood when I was about 14. I finished it when I was 19, but in the three years since then it has been upgraded, revised, mutilated and mashed-up so much it is nothing like the book I started writing. But I don’t consider the actual writing of the book as hard work. It was tough, yes, but it was a hobby and a pleasure. I wrote it, as I write everything now, because I was inexorably compelled to do so by something inside me. I don’t see writing the book as the hard bit, so self-publishing it would leave me with a very hollow feeling inside.
Which isn’t how success should feel. I wouldn’t think of it as success. To succeed, you have to overcome obstacles. Success is defined by the hard work that has gone into it previously – the more you put in, the more you get out. As human beings we are predisposed to relish in something that is hard won. It’s a vital fact of all life, no matter what it is. If Jesus had hopped off the cross the second he was nailed on and strolled off, it wouldn’t have had much of an impact. If the Berlin Wall had fallen over the moment the builders took the spirit level off the top, it would have gone down in history as just an embarrassing footnote.
It’s why we all love stories. The world is filled with obstacles – we all face them in our daily lives – some of which are easily removed, some of which block our path indefinitely. In a world where obstacles can destroy humanity, civilisation and culture, we all love to absorb ourselves into a story about someone who actually does something. The problems of this world can be solved, by protest, by unity, by a show of strength and love. We have to dig our heels in and refuse to let the machines of greed, of capitalism, of tyranny roll over us. We have to stand and fight. But this takes time. Whilst it does, we satisfy our need for resolution, for progress and for triumph in the pages of a book, in the spoken words of a play, or the images of a film. Our desire to see someone triumph over their obstacles is what makes us read. If Mount Doom had been an unguarded hole in Frodo Baggins’s back garden, The Lord of the Rings would have been terrible. It was the challenges he faced that drew us in, and it was the fact that such a small, unimportant person could change the world that lit a fire in our hearts as we secretly dared to believe the same could happen in this world.
It’s why we empathise so strongly with people who aren’t real. The central characters of books go through hard times, and we are right behind them because the struggle means something to us. It’s something that is inside of every one of us, whether it is our own internal demons or external aggressors, our circumstances or our faith or lack of. We read because we want stories of triumph. In a world of immovable obstacles, a narrative climax is a burst of hope. It sets a precedent for our own lives.
Which is why, although it may have been easier had a publisher magically appeared, it would have saved a lot of anger, of stress, of asking ‘why not me?’, of self-doubt and anguish, I know that deep down I wouldn’t have been happy had it really happened. I don’t know when my book will be published, but I know that when it does, the relief and euphoria that comes from it won’t be from the act itself, but from the years of work and effort that have piled up behind me, driving me forwards under their weight.
Whether it be trying to end racial hatred, go outside without feeling scared, or getting the recognition we crave, we each have our own struggles. It is the work we do that makes the end a climax, not simple a rounding-off of events. It is hard work that creates progress. Without hard work, all we have is forward motion, and what an empty thing that is.
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