Seeking Veronica Roth-dom
Q: What advice would you offer to young aspiring writers, who long to live a success story like your own?
Veronica Roth: One piece of advice I have is: Want something else more than success. Success is a lovely thing, but your desire to say something, your worth, and your identity shouldn’t rely on it, because it’s not guaranteed and it’s not permanent and it’s not sufficient. So work hard, fall in love with the writing—the characters, the story, the words, the themes—and make sure that you are who you are regardless of your life circumstances. That way, when the good things come, they don’t warp you, and when the bad things hit you, you don’t fall apart.
A few months ago, I stumbled upon this amazing quote by Veronica Roth, best-selling author of the wildly popular Divergent series. As a dystopian author, when I think success, it’s hard not to think Veronica Roth. And I’ve been thinking success a lot lately, wondering what makes a successful writer.
Are you successful if you write a novel? Or if a publisher agrees to print it?
Are you successful if a few people like what you’ve written? Or if you have 100 five star reviews on Amazon? 1,000? 10,000?
Are you successful if someone (even one person) shells out money for your book? Or if you sell enough copies to warrant a coveted spot on a bestseller list? Or if you win an award?
All my life I’ve been driven by a quest for success—that seemingly elusive feeling I have accomplished something. That quest motivated me to leave a small town in Texas to attend Duke University; to obtain a doctoral degree; and to become a board certified forensic psychologist. For a long time, it seemed I had discovered a trusty roadmap for my quest. The more effort I put forth, the harder I worked at something, the quicker the path to success seemed to unfold. I was well on my way.
Then, I wrote Legacy, the first book in my own dystopian series. And, suddenly, there was a giant boulder, an insurmountable brick wall, a total roadblock in my quest for success.
Though I had dreamed of being an author, I never imagined what would come afterward: the search for a publisher, the marketing, the selling, the reviews, the self-inflicted pressure to write more books, the complete and utter anonymity of my book in a vast sea of millions more just like it. I didn’t feel unsuccessful, per se. After all, writing a novel was my dream. Wasn’t it? But, I did feel completely ineffectual. My best efforts, my hardest work, seemingly went unrewarded.
I wish I could say this quote from Ms. Roth was an epiphany—that every day I feel successful just to have achieved a long-held dream; just to have readers purchase my book and enjoy it; just to have the chance to do something (write!) I love and believe I’m meant to do; just to know my words have resonated with one person. But, the truth is a part of me is still seeking Veronica Roth-dom. I still struggle.
And I think that’s exactly what Ms. Roth had in mind. It’s a lesson I continue to learn. Success is not the point of the quest. If it is, you’ll always be left unsatisfied, perpetually wanting more. Even if you’re Veronica Roth. The quest is the point, the journey. Take it from one who knows.