Is it okay to be a selfish writer?

Someone asked whether it was the allure of wealth or fame that compelled their fellow writers. Of course, I had my own thoughts on this.

If you look at it from an external perspective — through the lens of the imaginary reader, often not anything like the real reader — it quickly becomes a series of no-win scenarios that would make even the head of John Nash spin.

So you’re writing for yourself? How vein. Are you writing to entertain? How presumptuous. What, you write to be famous? You are such an egotist. Or, are you writing in the hope that you become wealthy? How selfish.

Personally, I don’t concern myself with what people think in so far as what my reasons for writing might be. In truth, I write for all of the aforementioned reasons. But if, as a writer, you are bothered what other people think, be humble and write for respect, though I suspect that might limit your imagination.

You can’t please everyone, but it’s often easier to please yourself.

So you’re an author. And?

Just in case anyone was wondering why their talents aren’t attracting the successes they imagined. It’s a topic I’ve often considered myself, and I had a theory, which in the last few years I’ve managed to validate.

In essence, success — be it financial, commercial, or fame, or a rich mixture of the three combined — relies on three things:

  1. an array of influential family, friends, and colleagues;
  2. extreme good fortune, or at least the ability to act upon fortuitousness moments, and;
  3. talent.

No, talent alone really isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid. How do I know this? I’m a business owner of some thirteen years, and I have a propensity to observe. What successes I’ve had are wrought from many years of hard work, mostly not in the glare but the shadow of friends and fortune.

And if I were to have presented the aforementioned three ingredients proportionally, the third would be visualised as some tiny speck, while first and second would have planetary proportions.

Ah, the one-hit-wonder

Consider the endless succession of one-hit-wonders in art, literature, and business. Clearly they had little talent, or they would have enjoyed more than one hit, surely? But since they’re no longer around, we can assume — with some degree of latitude —that they didn’t have the necessary talent to ride the initial wave and keep their success going.

The amount of times I’ve read some autobiographical comment by some previously lionised entrepreneur, singer, writer — whatever or whoever — discussing their ascension to success, only for them to just drop in the fact that some relative or friend or colleague happened to mention what they were doing to someone of an unparalleled and unrivalled connection to the very thing that would thrust them forward like a rocket sled.

Know thyself!

Most of the time, these people don’t even realise the deeply serendipitous nature of their success, or how that without both friends and / or chance, they would be toiling away to this day, just like the rest of us.

Talent take-away

So what can we learn from this?

  1. Firstly, don’t allow the reality of your predicament to undermine your faith.
  2. Surround yourself with influential people and be useful to them in some way without being sycophant.
  3. Adopt a mercenary attitude towards chance and be both predatory and opportunistic.

Anything else and you really are leaving your fortunes (such that they are) to chance.

Darwinism versus the persistence of ignorance

Darwinism, both as an idea and as a mechanism, has been used as an excuse for no end of atrocities — from Hitler, to Pol Pot, and to Stalin.

Justifying hate

Almost anything can be used as an excuse and as a means to inflict harm upon others, like the Christian Bible, for instance. Do we see people protesting against the sale and distribution of religious texts in the same way as Christians — and particularly Conservative Christians do — in the southern states of the United States of America? No, we don’t.

Or what of the Qur’an, or the Torah? Again, silence. Yet religion is the original weapon of mass destruction, one responsible for unparalleled cruelty and destruction, visiting death not just on mere people, but on entire cultures and civilisations, which have been swept from the face of the Earth.

So clearly, what we see is not knowledge itself as being harmful, but what people choose to do with it.

If he were alive, you could ask Robert Oppenheimer for his thoughts on the potential of hydrogen atom, and how it was harnessed to unleash unimaginable devastation upon the Japanese. Specifically, we could ask Oppenheimer what he thought of his part in the harnessing of this element, yes?

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
― J. Robert Oppenheimer

Knowledge is potential, not power unto itself

The internet is another much maligned entity, which is essentially a repository for knowledge of many kinds.

“The internet is a reflection of our society and that mirror is going to be reflecting what we see. If we do not like what we see in that mirror the problem is not to fix the mirror, we have to fix society.”
― Vint Cerf

Substitute the internet for almost anything, like Facebook, and again you find something that contains various things of varying edifying quality, and many things some — or most —people would describe as challenging or troubling. But what you’re seeing is only ever a reflection of society itself.

Yes, there are blueprints for bombs on the internet, but that blueprint is nothing but bits of data without the want of someone to harm someone else.

Belief — and by extension religion itself — does not require anything so stoic and solid as proof or evidence, and relies entirely on fear, uncertainty and doubt. Darwinism — or any other theory of science — does not require such an ephemeral thing as belief to exist, only the persistence of human enquiry and the willingness to learn.

Every author is an island

I’m quite fortunate, in that I’m also a graphic designer and a web developer, and I have a very good (if somewhat technical) copyeditor and proofreader.

And if we were to use an island analogy I read earlier, I’d encourage people to rely as much as is practicably possible on their own skills, to continue their toil in isolation (which is good practice for those times when you have almost no choice), and channel your inner autodidact.

I’m a firm believer in self reliance, because you cannot trust that you’ll have the support you need, when you need it most. I’ve learned this lesson at some considerable cost.

On those occasions where you need to broaden your skills, don’t roam too far, and instead build your own archipelago of suppliers and partners.

I say this not just as an author, but as a business owner since 1999.