What is Success for a Writer?

Last night I watched a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I couldn’t help but mourn this incredible actor yet again. He had the uncanny ability to breathe life into the smallest of roles as if by magic. The reality, however, is that Hoffman worked very, very hard.

Because actors are artists, too, we writers can learn from our thespian friends. Even though Hoffman died so tragically and far too young, I am forever grateful for his shrewd words. “Success isn’t what makes you happy. It really isn’t. Success is doing what makes you happy and doing good work and hopefully having a fruitful life. If I’ve felt like I’ve done good work, that makes me happy.”

The beloved poet Maya Angelou had similar thoughts. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Let these wise words guide you in your work. While it’s wonderful to be published and even win a prize in a contest, these are ephemeral moments at best. A life devoted to words offers many smaller and more enduring rewards. Such as nudging an exciting new word into your writing vocabulary. Getting over that pesky little hump in your current project. Savoring the words of another writer, you know what I mean, the book waiting for you on your nightstand.

Yesterday a fellow writer, much more talented than me, followed me back on Twitter. Bliss indeed. That didn’t just make my day, it made my year. And 2022 is still young….

The list goes on and on. So let me ask you, writer friends. What made you happy today?

Inspiration from Flannery

I’m sorry for the long hiatus from the blogosphere but it’s been a busy few months with a lot of change! First, the publication of Born Again, Dead Again, has been put on hiatus. My previous publisher has decided to scale back the number of novels they release next year, and unfortunately, my second book was one of those casualties.

However, in my typical glass-half full approach, I decided retreat into the best refuge known to writers — the refuge of the mind. After a busy year filled with marketing and promoting Naked and Hungry, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to focus solely on my writing and the joys that the act itself brings to my life. With the help of a wonderful group of Pittsboro writer friends, I’m rediscovering my love of short stories, which, ironically, is what led me to write a novel in the first place. I’ve also enrolled in a class taught by celebrated local author Ruth Moose and am having a blast.

In between penning new stories, I’ve also embarked on an independent study of the works and philosophy of Flannery O’Connor, one of the icons of Southern literature. She is also the author of “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” one of the greatest short works ever penned.

Yesterday, I came across a great quote from her. Drawing upon the wisdom of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain, she writes that “fiction writing is something in which the whole personality takes part — the conscious as well as the unconscious mind. Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted in the whole personality.”

I discovered this gem last night when trying to explain to my son where writers find their inspiration. As for me, my ideas come from real life but they only sprout into stories once that idea has lain semi-dormant in the unconscious mind. I say semi-dormant because as I discovered in Imagine, the right hemisphere is never really dormant. The habit of writing is also important, as Lehrer would certainly concur, because true creativity occurs at the end of hard work.

So what’s next for me? In between my writing pursuits, I’m planning a journey to Andalusia in Milledgeville, Ga., Flannery’s homesite in the not-so-distant future. l’ll also be speaking at the N.C. Writers’ Network Fall Conference on November 3 in Cary on a more practical topic, writing for the internet. In the meantime, because many of you write, I welcome your thoughts on the joys of the writing life.