What does it mean to be a successful writer?

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Jealousy is not an attractive emotion. Being jealous makes you look small and petty. It makes you feel small too. But I have to admit I felt a tinge of jealousy recently when I read about Eleanor Catton winning the Man Booker Prize. At 28 she is the youngest winner ever of the prize. Perhaps because I have a birthday coming up soon (and because I can’t believe its been nearly a year since my last birthday) I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am in my life and where I’d like to be. Of course, writing has figured a lot in all this cogitating.

When I was younger I always told people I wanted to be a published writer. Somewhere along the lines I stopped saying that and for a while now I’ve been happy just to be writing. It’s enough that I write regularly on my blog and that I’m working on a few larger projects. I love it when my blog posts get read and commented on. People are reading my work and that’s what matters.

This was bought home to me the other week when I attended a poetry reading. The poet reading was Éireann Lorsung. I knew about her through Twitter but had never read any of her poetry. I was blown away as I stood there in a brightly lit, packed out room watching this tiny, softly spoken person radiate with passion and feeling. I felt and saw everything she spoke. And as I stood there it occurred to me – what of a Man Booker Prize? This is what matters. This group of people, in this room, in this tiny corner of the world; captivated by poetry.

Of course I wouldn’t scoff at a Man Booker, or any literary prize for that matter. I haven’t read The Luminaries, but I’m sure it is deserving of that award. I wonder, though, what it really means to be a successful writer. Perhaps in the end it is about creating a space in which people can catch their breath and see the mundaneness of life in all its glory. In which people are given a glimpse of something – dare I say – beautiful. It is about people in a room, keeping out the cold. It is about moments of poetry and poetic moments. Perhaps success is not measured in prizes or even in being published. But I suppose those things keep us on our toes.

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