You cannot force success. Ideas take time to grow and mature, no matter much mental effort we throw at them.
For a perfect example of this idea look no further than Victorian novelist Amelia E. Barr. Although born in England, in 1853 her husband declared bankruptcy and the family move to Galveston, Texas. Even this fresh start held the seeds of even more misfortune. Only fourteen years later her husband and three sons all died of yellow fever. Left to survive with her three remaining children, all daughters, Barr moved to New York where she embarked on a writing career.
Sounds simple, right? Yet even after the move, it took her seventeen years to start up a career as a novelist. In her own words, she lays out a longer course:
“It was after at least forty-five years of conscious labor that I reached the object of my hope. Many a time my head failed me, my hands failed me, my feet failed me, but, thank God, my heart never failed me.”
This struggle for success can be felt by any writer or artists. We all yearn for the quick triumph. Yet Mrs. Barr warns us not to rush too quickly. She lays out Nine Rules for Success, four of which lean on the adage of patience.
“One of the great secrets of success is ‘pegging away.’ No disappointment must discourage, and a run back must often be allowed, in order to take a longer leap forward.”
The notion of “pegging away” at your work for months or years may not feel like a worthwhile endeavor in the age of Instagram and TikTok. Except that often the correct way forward lies in our ability to take a step back to reevaluate.
Many artists advise to “strike when the iron is hot”. But Barr flips this around, quoting Oliver Cromwell: “Make the iron hot by striking it.” Instead of waiting around for the perfect opportunity, you make the opportunity through hard work.
One of the best “rules” Mrs. Barr offers is a swipe at mediocrity:
“Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration. For genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly.”
This rings so true in my ears. People who rush through a manuscript often produces a subpar work, leaving them to grouse about how people don’t recognize their brilliance. Whereas true genius comes from taking your time to do your art right.
By far, my favorite adage deals with luck. A fatal mistake many of us fall into is to equate success with luck. But Barr paints a much more pecuniary portrait of Lady Fortune.
“Fortune sells her wares; she never gives them. In some form or other, we pay for her favors; or we go empty away.”
I love the image of a marketplace for ideas and artistic notions. Lady Luck sets up her stall and will only barter with those of use who pay in time. The longer your work, the more currency you have.
Don’t fret about the time you’re putting in to your current project. Keep pegging away. Remember, you want to get it done right.