How to Achieve Phenomenal Success as a Writer, Poet and Translator

Success in life may be appraised in any number of ways, not all of which are of equal importance or weight in any given person’s estimation. Here in the U. S. of A. we are most often inclined to think of or measure success in terms of fortune or fame. Thus someone like Khloe Kardashian or Donald Trump stands out as a paragon of success (as Donald is sure to remind you, loudly and often).

But then there is the personal realm — that one somehow manages to be blessed with a successful personal life — a happy home, a loving family, and/or close friends who are a source of succor and strength. Surely that is an equally important realm of achievement (which usually requires a similar mix of luck and hard work to attain), even though such personal success is not readily susceptible to quantification or measurement, in a way comparable to one’s klout score or right to be included on the Forbes’ list of richest Americans.

If I had to choose one or the other, I would much prefer to be successful in the personal realm — and would gladly settle for a middling fortune in tandem with that, as opposed to vice versa. I suspect push come to shove many others would make the same choice. Yet most fortunate of all are those of us who find themselves equally blessed in both realms, such as my old friend Greg F. who has enjoyed outsized success in his business affairs while also enjoying a happy and nurturing family life.

I too have enjoyed success in multiple realms — first and foremost I have my wife and children and extended family and friends to thank for a personal life that is rich in reward. But in the last decade or so, along with this success in the personal realm, I have also been equally fortunate to enjoy sustained success in my creative life, as a writer, poet and translator.

Now as I said at the outset success may be assessed in a number of ways, and as I have come to understand it, these ways are largely independent of one another. Thus, success in the personal or creative realm can be achieved without regard to the level of one’s attainments in terms of fortune or fame. So it is that I have come to consider myself a successful writer and poet without ever having had a single one of my poems or books accepted for publication or reviewed by a critic. In fact, not long after I started writing seriously I decided to concentrate primarily on my writing and enjoy the rewards it brings to me, as opposed to worrying unduly about achieving recognition or acclaim. The work always comes first is the mantra I’ve tried to live by, at least for the last decade or so.

Art, in this way of thinking, is a form of spiritual practice, an approach to life. This is an essential part of what it means to be creative. I might never have discovered this fundamental truth if not for my wife, who is a painter. She is the first artist I ever had a chance to know and observe close up. If not for that opportunity I may never have taken the plunge as a writer myself.

It may sound strange to suggest that I learned how to write from my wife who is a painter but that’s the rub of it. Actually I don’t think this is such an uncommon experience — learning about art through a close personal relationship. It’s tremendously informative to observe an artist up close in order to understand the process and commitment that are integral to any artistic pursuit. It’s much harder to impart such knowledge or understanding in the classroom, given the formal constraints of the typical student teacher relationship. But day after day, week after week and year after year, watching my wife in her studio, seeing her think things out in front of her easel, I gradually learned what it means to be absorbed in a creative pursuit — the combination of struggle and surrender to the task in hand.

I want to stress that the artistic practice I am describing, and that I have worked to develop on my own part, is very different from the attitude cultivated by many artists who pursue their art and view it as an exalted calling. I don’t really intend to put creative work on a pedestal above other forms of human endeavor. What makes an artistic practice worthwhile, as I see it, is what transpires in the making of it, just as much if not more so than the object or whatever it is that is ultimately made. This attitude or approach to an artistic practice is also distinguishable from those who pursue art for art’s sake, since it is not driven by the hope to advance any particular esthetic principle or ideal so much as it is motivated by a spiritual goal, that is simply to find meaning for oneself through the ongoing process of looking at and responding to the natural world. By these lights, a successful creative life is primarily determined in terms of the extent to which it helps an artist achieve a better understanding or appreciation of life. And it is by that measure I consider my creative life to have been a resounding success — warts, bad poems and all.

This same level of creative success is attainable by each and every one of us upon taking up a creative pursuit in a committed way. It has little or nothing to do with seeking recognition from others for your work. He or she is most successful to whom success matters least — this has been an indisputable truism ever since it was uttered by Lao Tzu more than two millennia ago. It’s not about being invited to appear on the Charlie Rose Show or making the bestseller list or getting a glowing review in The New York Times. It is none of those things and yet it nonetheless can be transformative in terms of bringing meaning and a sense of fulfillment to your life. It’s all about the practice, or praxis as the Marxists used to say back in the day, sharpening your insights through the lens of experience — when you get right down to it, there’s just as much method to art as there is in science, although the focus of the inquiry is certainly directed towards a radically different terrain. To borrow and generalize upon the words of another poet: so much depends upon the wheelbarrow — in rain or sunshine!

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