One of the things I love most about being an author is the opportunity to read books from people I personally know. I have read fabulous books by authors whom readers have yet to discover, and despite efforts with marketing, despite amazing blurbs from bestselling authors, despite an enviable collection of awards, they have yet to make their name known.
And I have witnessed some of these authors give up.
That’s the most heartbreaking thing. They did the hard, time-consuming work of developing their craft. They learned the business of writing. They made the necessary connections. They. Did. The. Work.
But…it can be hard to keep writing, when book after book gets rejection after rejection, or you just aren’t seeing the sales you hoped to see. That dream of recreating one of your books on a private island like your very own Harry Potter world? It keeps sailing off into the horizon while you’re stuck paddling after it with one oar.
Recently, my husband made me listen to a Joe Rogan podcast. Dave Chappelle was his guest and I, not being super familiar with either comedian, didn’t expect to get much out of the episode.
Then they mentioned The Anonymous Road.
The Anonymous Road
It always amazes me how closely different types of creatives’ journeys follow each other. If you were to put an author, a comedian, a painter, a potter, a singer, and an actor in the same room, we’d find common ground in under ten minutes.
So I really should not have been surprised to find myself intensely engaged in Rogan and Chappelle’s conversation.
The anonymous road–brought up in Rogan’s podcast episode #1647–is that time in which an artist, be they comedian, author, or singer, performs to an empty room. Rogan and Chappelle mentioned ten to fifteen years of walking this road.
Ten to fifteen years. For two incredibly successful and well-known creatives.
And they said this road was essential to their success.
Without this road, they wouldn’t have had the freedom to discover who they were as an artist. This road allowed them to develop their craft in a safe space. The road allowed them to fail, start over, fail again, start over again.
For those artists who leaped over the anonymous road into instant fame, many of them lacked the depth or tenacity to survive as lifelong comedians or artists.
Depth comes after time. Tenacity comes after testing. Success comes after perseverance.
It can be hard, especially after the worldwide disruption that has taken place this past year, to keep up with creative pursuits. Some days, I only write a sentence and a half before I’m called away to take care of all the other. I have to constantly remind myself that this is an extraordinary time in every sense of the word, and that it is okay to take a rest stop on the side of the anonymous road.
With that in mind, I find encouragement in these stories. I hope you do as well.
The Journey to Success
Carmen Herrera is 103 years old, and has been a minimalist abstract artist since the 1950s. However she wasn’t ‘discovered’ until 2014, some sixty years after beginning her career. Today, her art is installed in collections around the world.
Diana Galbadon started out as a comic book writer in the late 1970s, before transitioning to an educational career, then eventually back to writing. OUTLANDER was published in 1991, and won the RITA that same year for best romance novel. However it took another twenty-three years for the book to hit the New York Times Bestseller list, the same year the Outlander TV series premiered in the US.
Morgan Freeman began acting at nine years old, landing his first role in a school play. However, he didn’t land his breakout role until forty-one years later in “Street Smart” in 1987. It took another seventeen years for Freeman to win his first Academy Award for “Million Dollar Baby,” in 2004.
Lizzo, rapper, singer, songwriter, and classically-trained flutist, began her musical career in 2005 while in high school. However, she didn’t see commercial success until 2016, eleven years after making the commitment to a creative life.
Your Anonymous Road
There is no set time for how long this road is. Maybe you’ll see instant success but have to journey the road afterward. Maybe you’ve been on this road without even realizing it. Most likely, you’ve stomped your feet on the road, kicked and screamed at it, and/or thrown a few rocks.
Challenge yourself to instead thank the road. Its purpose has been well documented from artists across a wide variety of creative genres and is essential. This is the time of deepening. Savor these years and recognize them for what they are. You’re in the womb of creativity, and are still developing all the amazing parts that make up your artist voice.
N.K. Jemisin says in her Masterclass series that one of the best pieces of writing advice she received was “Persist.” She goes on to say that, “if you continue to work on your craft and continue to improve and continue to submit, you will eventually break through. I’ve found this to be true.”
Persist, people. And in the meantime, love the anonymous journey.
P.S.: N.K Jemisin worked a full-time position as a career counselor for twenty years as she developed her author career. Her writing goals during that time? “I had very modest writing goals on work days—like 100 words, or 250, no more. I was perfectly OK with doing nothing but editing a previous chapter on those days, too.” Now she’s the only author to have won the Hugo award three times in a row, as well as the first to win the Hugo for all three novels in a trilogy.