Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Do you Want to be Rich or do You Want to be Happy?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

Confession time.

When I’m not busy being a control enthusiast, I tend to be a little suspicious of things. Well, not just a little, I guess. A lot.

So when my debut novel, While the Savage Sleeps, went to number one on Amazon, I thought something had to be wrong, that it was a mistake, that there was a ghost in the machine, that…well, something. I mean, passing up Nora Roberts and Stephen King didn’t just seem surreal—it seemed damned near impossible.

The truth was, it did all of those things, and in addition to that, the book remained on the bestsellers list for the year that followed, at which point I knew the machine wasn’t broken.

But something else was.

Because once the euphoria dissipated, I began to panic. It suddenly dawned on me that I needed to write another book, and fast. Not only that, but I needed to write a damned good book, one that was better than the first. After all, my readers were waiting, and I was scared they’d compare my next novel to the first. There were also the sales to consider. Could I keep the momentum going while I worked on the next one? Could I hold on to my readers? Would they forget about me? Being an author with only one book to my name, these seemed like valid concerns.

It appeared my dawning had blossomed into a full-blown obsess-fest, and it wasn’t the least bit pretty. I spent the next year second-guessing myself into a frenzy. Nothing I wrote seemed good enough, and it always came back to one central theme: that I was turning out crap, that the first book was better, that my success was a flash in the pan, a one-time fluke. The readers were anxiously awaiting my next book, and there I was, losing self confidence and beating myself to a pulp.

Then, a revelation—well, not really that, more of a self-initiated kick in the pants—and a question: Do you want to be rich, or do you want to be happy?

I realized I’d become so caught up in the success of my first book that in that process, I allowed my reality to become drastically skewed. My priorities got all mixed up.

See, here’s the thing: I don’t write just to make sales. It's not about the money. I write because I have to. I mean I really have to. For me, writing is like breathing, and life without it wouldn’t be life at all—it would be something less than. It’s all about the journey I begin each time I look at that fresh, blank page.

I'd somehow forgotten that.

Don’t get me wrong. I love sharing my work with the world, love connecting with my readers—and putting food on the table and gas in my tank are definitely priorities. But that's about survival, not about why I write. I write because it’s an essential part of who I am, because there’s this raging fire inside me that I can’t put out. I think if you follow your fire, your passion, then the rest will fall into place naturally. That’s what happened with my first book. There were no expectations at the time, just me and my words, and that, I believe, is why the novel found its own success. Because my passion came out through my words.

Once I got on track, I felt an enormous shift within me. The words began to flow, andsurprisemy second novel was born, one that I know is better than my first.

So tell me, gentle readers: What about you? Money? Happiness? Or a little bit of both?

23 comments:

  1. Fantastic post, Drew. I know I've already said it many times, but I'll say it again. Congrats on your success!

    Me? I'll take happiness any day. Of course I want the bills paid and food on the table. A little extra is always nice, too. But happiness and peace of mind is something that cannot be bought. Trust me I tried. It's just not worth giving that up for a big bank account.

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  2. Agreed, Nissie. As they say, there are some things money can't buy, and happiness is one of them. Peace of mind comes first on my list. The Maserati falls somewhere below that ;)

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  3. Lol. The Maserati is way down on my list. Goes back to the peace of mind thing. It's bad enough when my Chevy gets dented. ;)

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  4. Great post, Drew! I'm sure a lot of other bestselling authors get into the angst of whether they can live up to the last novel - you're not alone! I'm glad you finally found your solution - "I think if you follow your fire, your passion, then the rest will fall into place naturally." Great revelation, and so well said!

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  5. Oh boy, I could write volumes on this subject. But I've come to the same place. I write the stories I feel passionately about and hope that I sell enough to pay the bills. So far, so good. And I'm quite happy with that. Thanks for reminding me not to obsess.

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  6. Ask me again when I finally get one book out there. I now have three fulls in the locked drawer, another that needs self-editing before its ready to be read by anyone else, and the new ms I'm going to begin working in earnest on today.

    My biggest fear is that nothing . . . ever . . . will be good enough. So right now, "rich" has nothing to do with my psyche. But . . . I am sooooo happy to be doing what I do.

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  7. Yes Drew, great reminder. I put my first book out there in early May and sales have been less than brisk shall we say. But I wrote something from my heart and personal experiences. The story mattered to me and the accomplishment of having started and finished something (let me emphasize: and finished something!) is in many ways payment enough. I'd like to have the big bucks - that important financial validation - but maybe I need to build my skills as a storyteller first. Maybe I need to fine tune my passion...maybe I need another Almond Joy...maybe... Whatever. Great Post, Drew!

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  8. As a writer, I can totally relate to your article. Of course I've never found the success you have, but I know the idea of writing because of a need inside. If I did it for the money alone, I wouldn't even be able to keep my Internet on. LOL

    As one of your biggest fans, I'm not worried about your next book being better or worse than the last, I'm just excited to read another of your stories. You are a story teller. And as a friend, I can tell you that you don't have to worry about losing any of your fan base. They (we) love you--the writer, you--the human, you--the guy who always takes time to talk to those who want to just say hi.

    Don't worry about all the rest, just tell your stories your way and as you said, the rest will fall into place naturally.

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  9. Great post Drew happiness and peace of mind is always first. I think you can be assured your fans will be there anxiously awaiting the next and the next and so on book.
    Candy

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  10. Nissie, Christine, and Candy: Awe... you guys....I'm having a V-8 moment. I should have called you all while I was in the midst of torturing my soul and doubting myself :)

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  11. Excellent post, Drew. I know exactly what you mean. I also write fiction and nonfiction because I love writing! It’s not about money at all. Just a few minutes ago, I finished looking over my POD proof copy of my first published book, that was writing 24 years ago and published in 1990. Although it has been available all these years, it warms my heart to see it in print at this time completely under my control, with my new cover, not because it will make me money, but because it will continue to inspire and touch people deeply as it has done since August, 1990. That is what writing is all about: entertaining, informing, inspiring others, and sharing. And heck, doing the same for ourselves!--a meeting of the minds--and as you said, following “your fire, your passion.” As Joseph Campbell often said, “Follow your bliss!” That is what makes one happy!

    And, I know your second book is very good! After all, how can it not be? You’re a great writer, and full of fire and passion, and love for what you do! And with a little love left over for all those animals! LOL

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  12. Thanks for the vote of confidence Linda--It means a lot coming from you. Caleb and the gang thank you, too ;)

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  13. Pat--passion is what drives us during times when the gratification is slow to come. We do it because we love it. Stick with it and rewards will come.

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  14. You have passion at the tip of your pen. Just keep writing and you'll do fine.

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  15. I don't know. For me the two are not mutually exclusive,lol!

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  16. Drew,
    I recall reading an interview with Amy Tan, author of the best-selling Joy Luck Club, some years ago when she was writing her second book. She feared she could not live up to the success and expectation of her first book. And obviously, her fear was unfounded. :-)

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  17. Linda--That kind of fear can sometimes be a good thing. It drives some of us to keep improving our work. A healthy manifestation, if you will. Of course, as I clearly demonstrated here, taking it too far and traveling to Crazy Town, would be the unhealthy variety ;)

    P.I. I suppose the ideal situation would be to have both and be able to balance them successfully. Easier said than done.

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  18. I knew when I met you on the bus to Taos that I liked you, Drew. But I didn't really know why. After reading your most recent post, I now know. And, BTW, I couldn't agree with you more.

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  19. Right back at you, Judith. it's mutual :)

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  20. I can't wait to read the passion in your second book, Drew. I know it will be every bit as good as the first, if not better.

    This is a very important post. I hope new and aspiring writers get to read this everywhere. Because it starts in your heart and builds to the passion necessary to create a book your readers want to read.

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  21. Thanks Cynthia. I can't wait for you to read it, and you make a great point. It does does build, and if the author can't feel the passion, how can he or she expect the readers to?

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  22. Like you, I want to be able to breathe.

    Nice post.

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