She turned away and stared into the distance. Neither of us moved. A heavy silence wrapped around us, muting restaurant conversations, clattering dishes, melodious laughter. After a moment, she nodded her head—a small nod really, just the tiniest of affirmation—and looked me straight in the eyes. “I want out,” she said, the calmness in her voice strong. “Success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
Maybe I hit her on a down day, but our conversation made me reexamine my own definition of success. Last month, mystery writer Kay Kendall and I flew to Northeast Alabama Community College to talk about our novels to six classes of students, and in Nashville, we were the featured authors at Mysteries and More Bookstore. We teased each other about living the author’s dream: flying around giving speaking engagements, connecting with readers at book clubs, chit-chatting with famous authors, and signing our novels at bookstores. Sure, we wished we had a stronger following—but heck, we were both debut novelists. We knew we’d have to earn our readers’ loyalty. But still, our definition of success brought us happiness.
That’s not to say we were oblivious to the demands our profession created. Writing was harder than we thought it would be. We had to make difficult choices: saying no to outings with friends in order to meet a deadline; simplifying meal-making to squeeze in a non-writing related task; starting over again to reconstruct a scene we’ve been working on for weeks, and weeks, and weeks. But for us, there was joy in the struggle.
But as I’m learning, not for all of us.
I think back on the paths other close colleagues had taken. One excellent writer gave up because the process of receiving rejections was too painful. One fine writer made sure she started another project before she finished her current one. That way she never had to go through the submission process. And then there’s the colleague who produced novel after novel because she enjoyed writing stories, but she didn’t want to engage in any activity on the business side of the career. She basically didn’t care if anyone read her stories. Each of these people were making choices that were best for them. Each was seeking happiness his or her own way. So why do I feel a loss when people with writing talent decide not sharing it with the world?
Why, after I had left lunch with my dear, struggling friend and realized that her achievements didn’t bring her the joy she anticipated, did I felt a heaviness in my gut. A sadness in my heart?
Perhaps it’s because this colleague is so very talented. I want the world to know how talented she is. I want readers to enjoy her thoroughly-entertaining stories. I want her to feel my delight in walking the writer’s path. But it’s not my life, and if I want to be a true friend, I need to celebrate her happiness in whatever way she chooses. Just because she started down this writing path doesn’t mean she needs to continue. Good for her for checking out this side of the street. Good for her for having the courage to say, “Been there. Done that. No, thanks.” Good for her for knowing what brings her joy and pursuing it.
Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I, II and III. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, delves into the secrets that emerge following a sexual assault at a high school dance and features a remarkable teen who risks everything to expose the truth. TWISTED was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival and won the Texas Association of Authors 2014 Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award. TWISTED is available in digital and print at http://tinyurl.com/cvl5why or http://tinyurl.com/bqcgywl. Marjorie invites you to visit her at www.marjoriespages.com.