On Twitter today — and everyday — there was some chatter and scuffle about Some Authors’ Careers and Some Authors’ Fame and whether they had deserved it. Some folks invariably said the chatter and scuffle was jealousy. Some others invariably said not everything is jealousy.
Here’s what I think: having a writing career is like driving a race car.
I’m not really a grand race car driver, mostly because I’ve discovered that I don’t really care about winning against anyone but myself, which turns out to be not the point of organized sports. But I have been in race cars, and on race tracks, and have spent many hours doing classwork at over 70 mph. Enough to know that a writing career is a lot like driving a race car.
One of the things they teach you in every single form of car racing is to keep your eyes up. Up. Upper than that. Upper than even that. Don’t look at the dash, because then you won’t see what’s happening on the road. Don’t look at the road right in front of you, because you won’t see that the turn you’re going into links into another turn and you could set yourself up for both. Put your eyes up as far as you can see down the road, and look there. Only when you see the absolute farthest point can you start to calculate the best way of getting there.
(this is great advice to use when you’re driving normally, by the way)
A writing career is like that. Use your peripheral vision to look at the things that are coming at you day to day, but never forget that every decision should contribute that farthest-away-point you want to get to. Never forget that every tiny success and failure is just a steer or counter steer toward the real point of the thing.
And here’s the other thing they tell you about keeping your eyes up: don’t fixate on the person in front of you. If there’s another driver just in front of you, the tendency is to stare at their bumper and then take the turn just like they do. But guess what? Then the absolute best scenario is that you will take the turn just like they do. So if they’re taking it wrong, you’ll take it wrong too. If there’s a better way, a faster way, a cooler way, a way that involves painting a giant knife on the side of your car and listening to Finnish rap very loudly, you’ll never know.
Eyes up, drivers, they say: look past the car in front of you. All you need to do is to note them well enough that you can pass them when you find a better way to take the turn.
Don’t fixate, writers. Eyes up, writers. I don’t care if x or y is doing a or b. What does that have to do with me? I have my eyes on where I want to go, and no one else matters.
The race is Maggie vs. Maggie. Who are you competing with?