The Temptation of Thinking Someone Has Made It

by | Oct 21, 2010 | Writing Advice | 99 comments

One of the corollaries of the “if only” game is that there are some writers out there who could not possibly have reason to worry about anything as they have achieved a level of success that is unsurpassed, and who represent the pinnacle of the writerly world.

Examples include King, Stephen; Rowling, J.K.; Meyer, Stephenie.

There’s a temptation to think that once an author has “made it” and made it bigger than anyone else, this author will have achieved boundless happiness and contentment and couldn’t have a thing to complain about.

In the comments of my recent “When Dreams Become Expectations” post, as Ermo pointed out, people tended to think of true satisfaction always being perennially elusive, unless you’re a Rowling and King. Then, it seems, people believe that would be completely satisfying.

I don’t know these mega-authors personally, but signs point to this not being the case. In the recent Oprah interview, Rowling said, “You ask about the pressure… At that point, I kept saying to people, ‘Yeah I’m coping…’ but the truth was there were times when I was barely hanging on by a thread.”

Not the sound of someone who feels like they have it made in the shade. I personally doubt Rowling would trade in her success and the sheer level of love for her books for anything, but I also don’t think there’s anyone who ever feels total and perfect contentment and satisfaction with their station. We keep striving no matter how high we’ve climbed, even those who have climbed the highest. Pressure can cut into satisfaction, and the spotlight can be uncomfortable.

It all reminds me of the speed of light (or at least my own understanding of the speed of light, which is likely wildly flawed). The way the physics of light works is that no matter how fast you personally are traveling, from your perspective a beam of light will still look like it’s traveling at the speed of light. You can’t travel alongside a beam of light. There’s no catching up.

And I think there’s actually something great about that. There will always be something to chase, always something to strive for, always another horizon to pursue. Who wants to be perfectly contented? Where’s the excitement in that? There will always be something great to chase around the bend.

Photo by Mila Zinkova via Creative Commons


  1. Chris Phillips

    I get what you are saying. There is always going to be a higher summit or something else to achieve. On the other hand I had a chance to meet Gordon Korman this week. He was published by his freshmen year of hs when he mailed his book into scholastic himself and how has 71 books in print. To me, while he still has writing to achieve, he has also surpassed my wildest dreams with his accomplishments. To me that guy and the guy who wrote Jacob Wonderbar are living it up on Easy St.

  2. Yamile

    If there's nothing to reach for, there would not be a point in living. Imagine a life without goals, without hope and excitement. Nice speed-of-light metaphor. Great post, Nathan.

  3. Dolly

    I think people sometimes forget that even those who have "made it" are still human. They have their own insecurities and issues that will keep them striving. And chasing that light is a good thing, otherwise after a point, we will just be stagnant.

  4. Tahereh

    absolutely brilliant. i couldn't agree more.

  5. Nathan Bransford


    Ha – the street I live on is named after a fruit.

  6. You know who

    So true! What's the point of life if you're not working toward someting, striving to be a better person?

    And, isn't the next book always in the back of your mind, anxiously waiting to get out?

  7. Jewel Fern

    I think you have to find a balance of being content and having that drive to keep wanting to go further. We seem to focus so much on what can be. It's hard to live in the moment and say "I'm happy with where I am right now." I'm not saying that you stop at that point, but learn to have moments where you can appreciate where you are. Then push forward to create even better work the next time.

  8. Ramsey Hootman

    If you haven't, Nathan, you should watch Millennium Actress.

  9. Steven Brandt

    Your statement about the speed of light is correct, btw.

  10. reader

    But you're talking about two different things, though. Life and writing.

    I think they have made it — not in terms of life itself, because life, no matter who you are, is very messy. Confidence ebbs and flows. Relationships are tough.

    But in terms of the book industry, they've made it. My definition of making it would be if, no matter what you wrote, someone would publish it, fervently, and give it a huge marketing campaign, without even knowing what it was about. And readers would make it an instant best-seller, too, again, without even having to know what it was about. So by that definition, yes, they've "made it."

  11. Joseph L. Selby

    I don't follow the connection between contentment and the absence of aspiration. I have goals I have not achieved, but that does not make me discontent. I have a great wife, a great home, and a great job. I work hard, treat my neighbor well, and have fun with friends. This is a terrific life.

    I'll still find things to complain about. 🙂 And I will always have a new goal to work toward, even if I'm a trillionaire.

  12. The Invisible Writer

    As Langhorme Slim sings: "You've got to learn to get happy along the way."

    If the end goal is the only place you think you will be happy, you will always be miserable.

  13. Caroline

    And this is why I sometimes imagine my life is being written by an unseen author. There is no story without conflict, escalation of the stakes, and a goal to chase, even among the "greats." We all have something to fight and something to lose.

    Lately, I think my imaginary author's been watching too many soap operas…

  14. Sierra McConnell

    There's a difference between…

    Contentment: Being able to do what you love for a living and pay the bills with it, not having to force yourself to get up in sickness and pain and do a job that is thankless and filled with people who could care less you exist.


    Aspiration: I have several ideas for books that could have sequels assigned to them. I get inspired by a lamp in an antique store. I constantly find things to write about, even while writing about other things, but am focused to see those things through.

    I see your point, but being able to live your dream, and just stare at it are two different things.

  15. M.A.Leslie

    I received a positive reply to a query the other day and put all of the work in question together, submitted it, and then proceeded to chew at my fingertips until I couldn't type. Unfortunately, the response that I received was a quick rejection. However, it was the first time that I made it to that step.

    Honestly Nathan, if it hadn't been for my constant stalking of your blog and pilfering your great advice, I may have just sulked about the experience, possibly gave up. Instead I am still celebrating my almost not a rejection and I am using it to charge my writing forward in a stronger direction. Basically, in my own delusional way I feel as though temporarily I have it made. I made that first step.

    Like many others that read along with me HOOKED ON PHONICS didn't work. We prefer HOOKED ON NATHAN.
    Thank you for always keeping it in perspective.

  16. Avery June

    Isn't it a relief to know that "making it" is only temporary?

    How many times have I wiggled out of my sleeping bag while I could still see my breath, and hiked to the base of a climb with my gear clacking around on my harness like I've been badly costumed for a futuristic hula, and finally flopped down on the endless slab hours later with one side of my body sunburned and my lips so chapped I can't smile? Well, more than a few. And, my God, it feels so good every time I make it.

  17. vnrieker

    I love the speed-of-light metaphor. It rings true for me.

    I tend to dreaam it up with "if only" alot, but I always come back to the things I always wanted and have already gotten, and how the happiness spike always came back down (I think you've addressed this in another post).

    When I was a girl, I always thought, "When I get married, then I'll be happy."
    And I got married. And yes I'm happy, but life didn't stop, and I didn't achieve some sort of nirvana.
    Then I said, "If only we can get our own apartment, then I'll be happy."
    So we got our own apartment. And I'm happy. But life didn't stop, and I didn't achieve some fairytale state-of-mind.
    So now when I find myself saying, "When we buy a house… when we have a baby… when I get published… then I'll be happy," I try to remember how life doesn't stop, and I'll never have a perpetually blissed out state of mind.
    And how that's okay.

    Great post, as per usual. LOVELY having you back!

  18. Vegetarian Cannibal

    Good post! I think many writers "lose their way" in the quest to achieve "Rowling-greatness" as opposed to being happy in their own achievements.

    I'm happy that I've been published at all. I'm 21 yrs old with "professional" publications. No, that doesn't make me a Stephen King but it does make me happy that when I put my mind to something and work really hard, I can succeed. (Even a small success is a success worthy of feeling good about!)

  19. Matt

    This is a great point. I find myself looking up to others as if their life is perfect. I think we'd be better off, happier at least, if we'd look back at where we've been, as well as those who do not have all we have. We always want what we don't have rather than appreciating how fortunate we are.

  20. Tracy

    I would think, for me, having "made it" would add it's own pressure. Sure, I'd likely always be able to find an agent/publishing house to pimp my work…but at that point you no longer have to strive to get to the top, you have to fight like hell to stay there.

    At that point, critics and fans alike are going to be seeing if you can capture your magic again. Lots and lots of pressure! I still wouldn't mind experiencing it for myself though.

  21. D.G. Hudson

    We all make choices in life which affect what we perceive as success. It depends on what is most important to each of us — fame, family, money, love, career, etc.

    The only trouble is success as we 'envision' it isn't always the success we achieve.

    I find it hard to be sympathetic to very successful people who whine about their privacy, or media attention. Fame comes with a price tag, as does many of our 'wants'. What a person chooses to sacrifice for these goals will indicate what's really important to them.

    Interesting post, Nathan.

  22. Katherine Hyde

    No matter how much success we achieve in the eyes of the world, we always have the challenge of writing the very best book we can possibly write. That book is always the next one, never one that's already finished.

  23. Sara Flower

    I like your perspective! It's so true – things get boring when you become content.

  24. Ben

    I guess a good example of what you say is Dennis Lehane, who started in crime fiction (Kenzie series)…to move on to more of a literary drama (Mystic River/Shutter Island, with crime/noir influence still) and now with a full blown literary epic "The Given Day"

    Am I understanding this properly?

  25. Julie Kingsley

    Zen post… but, I've just come home from yoga. Yes, I agree, but wouldn't it be cool to have the power to promote reading at the level of King, Rowling, and Meyer? Yes, I'm writer, but more importantly I'm a lover of books. I'd be psyched to influence the masses, but I realize that I need to create my own happiness and try to respect the journey (Notice what hot yoga does for me? I'm so relaxed, for a change.) Thanks!

  26. Chris Phillips

    King is a bad example IMO. Any author who has made a cameo on Sons of Anarchy as a biker who specializes in body disposal has "made it" in spades.

  27. Josin L. McQuein

    I can definitely see what Ms. Rowling meant by the pressure she was under. When your star climbs that high, you don't only have the expectation of those who expect (read: demand) the next book to be bigger and better. but the eager snapping jaws of those waiting to shred it for the smallest fault – real or otherwise.

    That's the point they cease to be merely writers and become brands. Others can glom on and grab a little fame just by trying to defame someone who's work is well known and well liked.

    There is no "it" to make. There are levels, and within those levels their are tiers.

    You can climb from one to the other, and you can fall back into one you've left, but so long as there is the desire to push forward and create, you never get to "it".

    Even if you die at the pinnacle of your personal success, someone else can surpass that level, and though that might be their own "it", once they get there, they'll realize they haven't reached the end of anything.

    That's why records continue to be broken – there's always an exceptional someone out there who will blow through them.

    Besides that, "it" is completely subjective. Is "it" monetary success? Is "it" winning a Pulitzer? Is "it" writing the definitive novel of a generation? Is "it landing on the high school reading list of every public school nationwide (or perhaps their banned list)?

    I hope Sherry Lewis will forgive me for this:

    This is the goal that never ends. Yes it goes on and on my friends.
    Some people starting seeking it – thought hey knew what it was.
    And they'll continue seeking it forever just because…

    This is the goal that never ends…

  28. Seabrooke

    You can watch the whole JK Rowling and Oprah interview here:

    Rowling makes a few comments to what it's been like dealing with her success. One, she compares her sudden fame to "like being a Beatle", except that there were four Beatles to lean on each other, and she only had herself, so it was really stressful. Two, that having come from a life of poverty, even though she's the world's richest author she still worries about money.

    And three, she says that in the first book, Dumbledore says the happiest man in the world would look into the mirror and see only himself… and she feels she's pretty close.

    Everyone will have stresses, of course, and future goals and aspirations, but they're not bad things as long as you can be happy with where you currently are, at the same time.

    Personally, I would never want Rowling's career. All the baggage that goes along with having all that money and fame… no thanks. I'd rather make enough to live comfortably, to be able to make a career out of it. Sure, there'll be worries about whether the next book will sell, etc. But I'd prefer that to being stalked by paparazzi.

  29. Amy

    I'll admit, there are times when I've thought something along the lines of "Golly, they've got it good." and then wondered why I thought that…

    I've long since realized that I will be content even if none of my work gets published. I am but a writer and a writer I shall remain regardless of what comes of my work. And I will be content in this.

  30. Yat-Yee

    No longer having a goal is a sad place to be. When I got my black belt in TKD recently, I was on cloud nine, but somewhere at the back of my mind, I knew I'd have to find a new goal.

    I do envy the authors who have made it, but I don't assume they are content with what they've achieved. Anyone who have achieved any kind of success has a drive and need to work. Take away a worthwhile reason for their drive, and they won't know what to do with themselves.

  31. Emily White

    It seems to me that stress would rise as success rises. People who achieve Rowling, King, Meyer status are EXPECTED to continually perform at their utter best. In fact, they are expected to surpass their best with each new work. I would imagine that would be horribly stressful.

    Can you imagine if King produced a work that was just plain awful? I mean so awful that even his most devout fans would have to admit his talent might have peaked. I would imagine it would be as devastating and career damaging as when Michael Jordan decided he wanted to play baseball.

  32. Martin Kozicki

    For me, there's a big difference between feeling satisfied in achieving a goal, and feeling universally satisfied. As long as I'm breathing, I'll always believe the latter is impossible. But I accomplish the former every day.

  33. T. Anne

    I guess most writers are passionate almost to a fault and the drive to succeed is so powerful I can only assume it's impossible to turn off like a light switch. I can see where the highlight of their fame can feel surreal and perhaps something they cannot embrace all together. Each book produce by such authors only lasts so long on the book lists, then the world waits to see what happens next. Contentment in the literary world seems to be ephemeral like everything else.

    (Nathan, the post on my blog today is concerning a certain author who wrote a certain book that we agreed to disagree on. Just saying 😉

  34. Melissa

    Great post.

    "Someday, when I'm famous . . ." is the name of my blog. Of course I meant it as a joke, but it's fun to pretend what could happen if I were ever to become a famous author. Usually it runs along the lines of, "Someday, when I'm famous, I'll live in a house with more than one bathroom." Yeah – I dream big.

    But yikes! I would *not* want to be Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer. Success isn't all good. Just give me an agent, a publisher, a decent following, and time to write each day. I'd prefer NOT to have the negative fame.

  35. wise and over 50

    Spoken like a true aspirant still on the nether side of 50 and still climbing the hill of life.

    Ah, to be so young again …

  36. Juliette

    Very true. It's also worth remembering that poor Stephanie Meyer is absolutely hated by a lot of people and there is some really nasty stuff levelled at her. I'm sure her riches more than make up for this but still, that's not nice. All three of those authors have some strong critics out there, and I bet even after all that success – and even bearing in mind you're never going to please everybody – knowing some people hate your stuff that much can't be pleasant.

  37. Marsha Sigman

    If you started a cult, I would totally follow you…wait, is that what's happening?

    Awesome post!

  38. T. Anne

    Oh Nathan, I heart you. And yes, when people love those books it makes things a lot less bizarre and a lot more interesting at the same time. I guess whether or not the emperor is wearing new clothes is in the eye of the beholder. Some readers see the beautiful garments, and some people are shocked at how flaccid and doughy he looks in his birthday suit. I'm going to give the emperor's other books a try. I heard he wore garments to be admired there too.

  39. Cathi

    You actually can catch up to the speed of light, you just cannot surpass it.

  40. Kristi Helvig

    I think this blog demonstrates that Nathan already is a cult leader. I completely agree and follow the 'it's the journey, not the destination' line of thinking. I've felt happy and fortunate while pursuing various dreams over the years. Each time I attain a dream goal, I choose another because if I'm not stretching myself and growing, I feel stagnant. Great post!

  41. Jenny Woolf

    Interesting. I used to interview high achievers in all kinds of fields – sporting, artistic, business, creative. And one quality the very top people shared was that they never rested on their laurels.

  42. Ted Fox

    I'm not really an Oprah fan, but that interview with Rowling was pretty great. In addition to her talking about the pressure she felt, I really loved it when she said something to the effect of: "I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself, but the one thing I knew I could do was tell a story." That's a writer.

  43. David

    No matter how much success these writers achieve, they're always going to carry some insecurity, some deficit. King complains that no one ever asks him about "the language," and in many circles he'll never be given the respect he deserves. Same for Rowling. Some look at her success and say "so what, she's just a kids' author." No one's ever going to be loved, admired, and respected in every circle (except Nathan of course).

    "Making it" really is an illusion. You have to define it for yourself and be prepared to redefine it constantly. Today "making it" is making my 2000 words. Next month "making it" is finishing a novel in 4 weeks.

    The one immutable law of the universe is change, and that means changing what each of us means by "making it" word by word, day by day, book by book.

  44. Maggie

    I think she means pressure as in, "The next HP book better be awesome or the mobs will kill me." I don't think she means pressure as in, "Will I sell another book? Will I be able to pay the rent?"

    I'm sure she has aspirations in life. I think we all have those until we die, but as far as the book publishing industry goes, I'd say she's definitely made it.

    When you think of all the people who try for years and still don't sell a book, or sell a book but it goes by largely unnoticed, it's hard to think of these caliber of writers, like Rowling and King, as not having "made it". At least professionally, they have.

    Maybe their personal lives are a mess or maybe they have a host of other problems, but if you're strictly talking publishing, I think it's safe to say they're good.

  45. Theresa Milstein

    This reminds me of the "30 Rock" episode. Liz Lemon considers quitting her job when she meets a bunch of women in her building who spend days taking yoga and getting pedicures. After a few days of bliss, LIz discovers the women beat one another up to feel alive again.

    We must always strive to feel alive. Coasting is stagnating.


    Great post, Nathan, and one that has universal application regardless of one's vocation. The verb "striving," can be dangerous, because it is very close to "chasing," as though we're a hampster trying to get to the end of our wheel. Contentment, on the other hand, gets a bad rap… as though it means complacent or apathetic. But I believe contentment can take on a broader, richer meaning, because the ultimate contentment–at the end of a day's work or the completion of a book or other project–is inherently coupled with a desire to reach that state again.

  47. David

    I've known many people who've "made it" in various industries (mostly show biz though), and I've got to say that several who made it to the top of their field continued to carry with them those same neurotic securities that drove them to achieve that success in the first place. THE most successful are sometimes THE most messed up.

  48. Kay Elam

    I learned a long time ago no matter how great (or how badly) I'm doing there's ALWAYS someone who's doing better and ALWAYS someone who's doing worse. Wishing I could be in his/her shoes (the better, not the worse) is a waste of my time when I could be working on being the best I can be. When I achieve MY best and feel good about myself…I've found my personal success.

  49. Kay Elam

    I learned a long time ago no matter how great (or how badly) I'm doing there's ALWAYS someone who's doing better and ALWAYS someone who's doing worse. Wishing I could be in his/her shoes (the better, not the worse) is a waste of my time when I could be working on being the best I can be. When I achieve MY best and feel good about myself…I've found my personal success.

  50. J. T. Shea

    Love the photo! 'Just a walk in the park, you said. You forgot to mention it's a NATIONAL park, and this part is tilted at nearly ninety degrees!'

    But seriously, Nathan, you're right. It's not enough that I achieve a level of success that is unsurpassed, boundless happiness and contentment, and true satisfaction. EVERYONE ELSE MUST FAIL!

    Just as well we can't travel as fast as light. Think of the jetlag THAT would produce.

    What do people do when they've made it? They start making another one.

  51. Kathleen

    I am willing to role the dice on making it and not being content. It beats not making it and not being content.

  52. J. T. Shea

    Kathleen is right. Money may not buy you happiness, but it can get you a better class of misery.

  53. Kristin Laughtin

    Even those who have made it to the top have to worry about falling (or being pushed). There's enormous pressure to duplicate past success, and when your past success was phenomenal, any shortcomings in your later efforts will just be magnified.

    It's best to learn to be content with what you have while still striving for something greater; that way, you (hopefully) grow but aren't disappointed with what you have been able to achieve.

  54. Marilyn Peake

    Interesting Blog post. I agree with the basic sentiment, that you should strive to be happy wherever you are in your writing career. And there are so many ways to be happy as a writer today. For many, being an indie or self-published author can be glorious because, even though no real money might be made, it’s possible to belong to the wonderful online world of writers. And, in the case of Paul Harding, his indie-published novel TINKERS won the Pulitzer Prize (Pulitzer Prize!) in Fiction, and that’s a glorious thing. Really, in today’s electronic world, all things are possible in the world of writing.

    On the other hand, I feel for writers and everyone else who’s out of work, homeless, seriously ill, or at a point in their lives in which they are unable to work toward making their dreams come true because hardships have made that too difficult to even consider. Physical health and having enough money to get by definitely allow people to achieve a degree of contentment that keeps real despair at bay.

    I also think there are people for whom the simple joys of daily life are enough and, given good physical health and a dependable income, probably achieve contentment much more easily than writers or other artists do. Artists tend to suffer through a great deal of existential despair.

  55. Bane of Anubis

    We all just need to find our wormholes (i.e., devices that allow us to travel faster than light 😉

  56. Jen P

    As Hilary Mantel said of winning the Man Booker, "it has to be seen as an event in your career rather than an event in your writing, your writing life goes on."

    I think of happiness as the waves on the ocean. They change direction, height, frequency and is unreliable. But contentment is deeper, underlying, like the steady swell of transatlantic currents which isn't much affected by weather.

    Whilst I agree that the temptation of thinking someone else has made it may corrode your own self esteem and cause you to think of "true satisfaction always being perennially elusive", I am not sure how much of a link there is with achievement. There is a lot to be said for being happy with being and not with doing. Happiness comes from what and who we are, not from what we do. Yes, we may feel elation or pride or contentedness through achievement, but as you say, because (virtually) every achievement can be surpassed your goalposts are constantly moving and everyone's expectations and measures of achievement are different. Being happy for me, is an appreciation of life as it is, in the moment. I look forward to things, and I look back on much, including achievements, with anticipation or recollection of happiness, but a state of contentment cannot be pursued through achievement, in my opinion.

    "Who wants to be perfectly contented?" I think everyone does. People who are intrinsically unhappy don't want to be. Being content in oneself, doesn't have to mean you are complacent or lazy. There can be plenty of excitement in looking ahead to new challenges and chasing new dreams, but my core level of contentment will not be affected by their achievement.

  57. Linda Gray

    I went to Bouchercon last week in San Francisco. It was fabulous, and HUGE. 1,400 people there, including over 350 published authors in mystery/suspense/thriller/noir. Those published authors were working hard, doing panels and presentations and encouraging apprentice writers. I think even the greats–David Baldacci, Lee Child, Laurie King, Denise Mina and so many others– were buoyed by digging in and being part of the writing tribe, the one that is always striving for great writing.

  58. Stephen Prosapio

    Great blog post. I was just considering this recently. Spooky too about Rowling because I was thinking — "What *does* she do next??"

    A few weeks back I signed my first contract with a very small (but real) publishing house. My mind's first reaction was "there must be something wrong here" my second was "yeah but I'm going to have to work that much harder to make the book a success" and I stopped myself before my third negative thought. I realized precisely what you wrote: there will always be something else. So I took the time to just sit back and ENJOY what was happening.

    Key to happiness isn't getting what you want, it's wanting what you have.

  59. Tara Maya

    There was some study which I'm too lazy to look up to cite properly, but I believe it was in the field of the "study of happiness" which looked at how happy people said they were a year after something horrible, like losing their legs. Turns out: about as happy as they were before losing their legs. Same with a "happy" event, such as winning the lottery. People tend to return to their baseline levels of happiness.

  60. Mira

    When J.K. Rowling was working on the last book of her series, I remember wondering how anyone could possibly survive that pressure! I so admire her for writing with the whole weight of the world's eyes on her. I can't think of any other author who has had to deal with that kind of public pressure. Personally, I would have cracked. I suck at pressure.

    In terms of never being content, what you say is very wise, and I believe a Great Truth, Nathan. In fact, there's a whole religion based on the reality that desire never ends – Buddhism. Personally, though, I don't agree with the Buddhist conclusion that desire is therefore the root of suffering, and one should detach from desire, and the world, to rise above it(although I greatly admire Buddhism and agree with many of the teachings, just not that one). I think it is in the striving and the journey where the real gold lies.

    I believe there is a reason humans were created to constantly yearn and strive, and never quite arrive for more than a few moments.

    It's our fate – tragic, comic, always noble, and perhaps divine – that there is always another mountain.

    (Not that resting isn't important too. Rest is good. Resting between steps.)

    But, anyway, don't take my word for it. As proof, I submit to you this very wise song. I remember I deleted it the last post, and I'll post it here again because it fits just as well. Sung by Ms. Miley Cirus, written by Jesse Alexander and Jon Mabe:

    "There's always gonna be another mountain
    I'm always gonna wanna make it move
    Always gonna be a uphill battle
    Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose

    Ain't about how fast I get there
    Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
    It's the climb"

  61. Kristy

    I absolutely agree that it is human nature to keep striving.

  62. Maureen

    Nathan – Wonderful blog. First time I've had to comment. As I read your words I thought of my favorite passage from John Nichols in "On The Mesa."

    He wrote, "We are touched my magic wands. For just a fraction of our day life is perfect, and we are absolutely happy and in harmony with the earth. The feeling passes much too quickly. But the memory-and the anticipation of other miracles-sustains us in the battle indefinitely."

  63. wendy

    I saw that interview with Oprah and J.K. It was very interesting and confirmed my opinion that it's all about perception and beliefs. J.K. said that she found it difficult to believe in herself, but she always believed in her writing ability and the future success of the first Harry Potter book. I feel her relationships would be more challenging for her than her work, despite the pressure, as her confidence doesn't lie in this area.
    Oprah, on the other hand, came across as a force of nature. When I checked her past accomplishments, what she'd achieved by the age of twenty one was incredible.

  64. Hollie Sessoms

    This is universally true. It’s the basis of economics—there are unlimited wants and limited means. Thank God! How boring would it be to have nothing to look forward to, nothing to make you try harder?

  65. Marilyn Peake

    Forgot to mention that I loved your mentioning speed of light theories! My favorite part of doing research for my sci fi novel was reading physicists’ theories about the possibility of time travel as related to speed of light. As the velocity of an object approaches speed of light, time slows down. Turns out that scientists have noted that even astronauts traveling in the space shuttle – which moves incredibly fast, but nowhere near the speed of light – moved forward in time by a few nanoseconds. Time distortion occurred for those astronauts – only by about 0.001 percent, but enough to prove Einstein’s theories correct. Also, scientists were surprised to discover that inside the Bose Einstein condensate, light slows down and stops, and now some physicists are thinking that this discovery could possibly lead to the development of a time travel machine. Pretty weird and fascinating stuff. Hope I didn’t wander too much off-topic. It is very cool that you included a mention of speed of light in your Blog post today.

    Talk about reaching for a huge goal – physicists who are actually developing and testing theories related to possible time travel are fascinating to read. They are incredible dreamers, and their books are filled with inspiration.

  66. Mira

    Oh, I also like your underlying point (I think) about envying a hyper-successful author. They've acheived something, but it is transitory, and has to do with their journey, not ours.

    It's not like they've achieved the end-all and be-all of existence. They are still struggling like the rest of us. So jealous – although very hard to escape…is probably abit misplaced. Much better to concentrate on our own journeys.

    Great post, great discussion. Thank you.

  67. Michelle @ The True Book Addict

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I think all of us who write secretly hope (I know we do) that we will end up like King or Rowling. At this point in my life, I'm so far from contentment, it isn't even funny. But I keep striving and like you said, it's the striving that keeps us going.

  68. Susan Kaye Quinn

    People don't realize how difficult success can be – sometimes even more stressful than failure. After all, we can always blame that on someone else.

    Success brings expectations, and that is often the hardest thing to deal with. That being said, people who are successful at being successful – I want to be one of them. 🙂

  69. maine character

    Striving is the drama of life, but often what we treasure most are the things we already have.

    Sebastian Junger put it this way:

    If you haven’t crossed over, you think the people that are well known have got something you want. And then when you get over there, you realize the things that give you pleasure are still all back there on the other side.

  70. Gail Shepherd

    I've just finished reading about some of Rowling's plagiarism suits, and I'd think that having to constantly fend off grasping/greedy/delusional lawsuits would take at least a bit of the shine off world fame and fortune. Everybody has their crosses to bear.

  71. Donna Hole

    I think the next novel idea is always just around the bend, waiting for an Author to chase it down.

    I imagine once the high of accomplishment – after each successful completion – lasts only so long before a new project is needed to fill the void.

    I hope someday I get to test that theory . .


  72. Anonymous

    Love your blog–great post

    This kind of reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    "We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about." –Charles Kingsley
    Melissa D

  73. Old Salt

    Let me share a secret with you. After you've lived an exciting life, been around the world two or three times, and are satisfied that you don't really have anything left to prove, it wouldn't take a lot to become truly contented…and there's a lot to be said for contented. Getting just one piece published would just put the icing on the cake. Ambition's for the young. Great post.

  74. Debbie Haughland Chan

    We create our own happiness. Contentment and happiness can be attained whether the world inhales our every word or spits it out with distaste. Thanks for the reminder.

  75. Elie

    I feel perfectly contented when writing.

  76. Draven Ames

    Thank you for the good post again Nathan. Hearing about Rowling feeling that way is amazing. There will always be more for us to do, no matter how far we make it. I think it is true for most people.

    In meeting a lot of authors, I've noticed that none of them have a lack of things to do. We have so many stories in our head, it would be impossible to write them all. There is no end to our imagination. If all of the world is a dream, then our dreams may be a world; what are books, but dreams?

    Thank you for another wonderful read.

    Draven Ames

  77. Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

    Excellent post. In my journalist work I have met several celebrities and what always struck me, no matter what their field of fame, is that they are just people too. They have their everyday worries and cares – theirs may be different that ours but they have them just the same.

    Thinking that those who have reached a higher pinnacle of success than the common folk are happier is giving into that old "grass is alwsays greener on the other side of the fence" philosophy or falling for the notion that money can buy happiness when, of course, it cannot.

  78. Ermo

    Is it wrong that I feel like I've "made it" by being referenced in Nathan's blog?

    In another life, I covered sports. One thing I noticed about all successful athletes is that there was no greater pressure than the pressure they put on themselves. It worked for and against them, helping them achieve their goals but leaving them unsatisfied that they weren't the greatest ever (or some other nonsense). Still, like many have said, what's life without goals?

  79. Mary Aalgaard

    Great words of inspiration, Nathan! It gives meaning to the unsettled feeling that we get. It means we still have so much more to do on this Earth. The race is not over – keep on running!!

  80. Ishta Mercurio

    I like what jewel fern said about striking a balance. you don't want a life without goals, without something to strive for. But a life in which you are always striving and never accomplishing is equally empty.

    I think the pressure of living up to an expectation of maintaining a level of greatness that one has achieved pretty early in one's career must be very daunting.

  81. Peter Dudley

    Who wants to be perfectly contented? Where's the excitement in that? There will always be something great to chase around the bend.

    Trust me. This is not a sentiment to share with your wife.

  82. RK

    Writers like Stephen King and Jay Lake impress me because they keep writing no matter what life throws at them. King is going blind and Lake is battling cancer.

    They refuse to be content with what they've done, but keep thinking about, working on, what could be next.

  83. Teri Bernstein

    King says in his memoir/essay On Writing that he writes 2000 words per day, 6-7 days per week. He may have "made it" but his daily approach is "chop wood, carry water." Writing is what he does. "Being a writer" is not what he does. IMO.

  84. PJ Lincoln

    I think it kind of comes under the category of, "I'll be happy when…"

    I thought like that for a long time in many areas of my life. I'll be happy when I have a cool girlfriend. I'll be happy when I make xxxx amount of money. I'll be happy when I have big muscles and a six pack of abs.

    The only problem with that kind of thinking, is that you miss out on the great things that life has to offer each and every day. It's a no-win, self-defeating mentality.

    I applied it to writing, too. I'll only be happy when I'm published by a traditional publisher. I'll only be happy when I get critical acclaim as a writer. I'll only be happy if I can peck out 1,000 words per day.

    The funny thing is, writing wise, when I removed all of those restrictions and expectations, writing became fun again. I actually wanted to do it and didn't feel disappointed or overwhlemed.

  85. Tess Cox

    There is an ancient scripture that says "…but I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content."

    This blog was an important reminder to me.

    While being constantly drawn toward the Porch Light of "getting published" like a bug on a Summer's night, I must also avoid the "zapper" of unrealistic expectations that would leave me lying dead and underfoot on the porch as others fly by me on their way upward.

    I must find balance between my inward and outward journeys in order to maintain my sanity! (and a stable day job…..) I must find my sweet spot where writing is for the joy of it, and not for it to feed me!

    thanks, Nathan. And I enjoyed the guest posts last week. Saved some of them, too!

  86. Roxane B. Salonen

    Excellent post, Nathan. I haven't been by in a while but a friend pointed me to you today, and boy am I glad she did. Wise words indeed!

  87. Perry

    I think yearning for some higher goal (my fingers keep typing gaol – hmm what does that mean about me?) keeps successful people sharp.

    How often have you read the latest book from a 'made it' artist and wondered why they are just phoning it in.

    No one is guaranteed that next book – maybe King and Rowling level authors get the next book, but if it's not great, they don't get another.

    What I think is, if I get into the 'made it column' I would be considering retiring at the top, or finding a way to keep my ego hungry.

    Thanks for the post

  88. lotusgirl

    Before success the pressure is applied by yourself and after it's applied by everyone else. Just a thought.

  89. Steppe

    Reality verses Illusion.
    The Wave verses The Point.

    That's why the art and business of writing can never be separated. Even the unpublished writer has to be clever enough to pay the rent and buy groceries.
    I never met a rock star movie star or writer that wasn't struggling through that particular day I met them; whether fretting over the creative process or protecting their ability to engage in it by securing their economic priorities.

    I pursue the Great American Novel.
    I may never actually catch up to it similar to the beam of light allegory but the chase is a good and engaging kick that keeps me focused on thinking feeling growing and learning ever more precise ways of stating and achieving life portraits in words and thought-scapes.

    "Some of us pursue perfection and virtue and if we're lucky, we catch up to it. But happiness can't be pursued. It either comes to your or it don't. You can always say, if only this and if only that, but if only is a state of mind that we get into when we feel deprived."

    Jack Fate – Masked and Anonymous 2003

  90. Steppe

    Cool. My new icon showed up.
    That's a Blobfish. Not a Starfish or a Tuna.

  91. pamala owldreamer

    I hope to write a great book someday. What aspiring writer does not? I wrote my first novel five years ago.I'm still learning the mechanics and rules of writing. of course I think my novels are interesting. Good?maybe. Great?possibly. I'm too close to tell.maybe if you have to ask,you aren't. I love to write and weave a story and I guess when all is said and done,that is what counts the most. However,I would be a liar if I said I didn't want to be as good or even better than Roberts,King,Poe,Rowling.Bottom line is A writer is judged by how many books they sell.They don't have to be a literary genius to write a bestseller or a technically perfect writer.But,they have to tell a damn good story. I will keep butt in chair,keep learning, and maybe someday Nathan will be commenting on my bestseller.

  92. Sierra Gardner

    I personally think it would be a little terrifying to be so successful – EVERYONE will notice if you mess up or write something sub-standard. As for being perfectly happy having 'made it,' I think writing is a bit like falling in love. It's tempting to think that the perfect person is going to 'fix' everything and make us happy. But it never works that way. If you can't be happy as an obscure, unpublished writer chances are that fame and success aren't going to change anything.

  93. kea

    I recently read that we need to remember that our leaders, idols and great writers are just people. When we make them more than that we are taking away the possibility that we could ever achieve their success.

  94. Idem

    Yup, you're right about the speed of light (I'm a physicist). As long as you are in an inertial (nonaccelerating) reference frame, you will always measure the same speed of light as anyone else in an inertial reference frame. Nice analogy!

  95. Douglas Adams

    Its the journey not the destination that brings happiness.

  96. Meghan Ward

    This post reminds me of the book Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Todd Gilbert. What you THINK will make you happy often is not what WILL make you happy, so we end up striving for the wrong things, including book publication!


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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