October 03

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Pondering the One Hit Wonder

We all know the One Hit Wonder, right? It’s a term typically used to describe a recording artist known for only one hit song. Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby, Eddie Murphy – Party All the Time, Eiffel 65 – Blue (I hate myself a little for even thinking of that song), Macy Gray – I Try, James Blunt – You’re Beautiful…you get the idea. An artist has a wildly popular song, and nothing he/she releases afterward measures up.

One Hit Wonders exist in the literary world too. Margaret Mitchell – Gone With the Wind, Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird, Ralph Ellison – The Invisible Man. Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights.

As incredible a feeling as it must be to create something that becomes a huge phenomenon, it has to be completely terrifying to have to follow-up that kind of success. You’re not just competing in a normal market anymore–you’re competing against yourself. When JK Rowling released Casual Vacancy, she wasn’t just any author releasing her first adult book. This is the woman who created Harry Potter. Her name on that cover automatically raised expectations and put readers in a certain mindset.

How on earth do you deal with that kind of pressure?

The thing is, you never know what’s going to strike a chord with your audience. Let’s face it–talent and/or skill doesn’t always have much to do with what makes something a success. While Ice Ice Baby is still a great song (yes it is shut up no you shut up), does anyone actually think Aqua’s Barbie Girl was good? Critics panned E.L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy because of weak writing, yet those books made their way to the top of bestseller lists all over the world. Her writing, I’m sure, will continue to improve with every book she writes. But will she ever achieve that kind of commercial success again? Who knows?

This has the potential to sound a little depressing. “Improve all you want! Practice, practice, practice! Work super hard, but remember it still might not make you a success because in some cases there’s simply no explanation for why the world goes wild for a certain song, book, movie, person, idea, etc! BUT KEEP WORKING HARD LOL.”

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But before we all throw in the towel, let’s consider one very important word in the previous sentence.

Success.

How do you define success? One Hit Wonders prove that coming up with one super popular song or book doesn’t guarantee a long-lasting career, and that just because something is super popular doesn’t mean it’s going to be critically acclaimed. You can’t judge the worth of your book by its commercial success. You can control the product, but your audience’s reception to it is a wild card.

You have no control over what happens to your book after you finish it.

You give that story everything you’ve got, you send it out into the world, and then–this is the most important part–you start writing something else. That’s how you get better and better. You don’t need to wait around for the world to tell you whether or not your book is good. You know it’s good. You wouldn’t have put it out there if it wasn’t.

In the end, the only opinion you can rely on is your own. Keep writing. Keep working. Keep creating. There are stories that would never be told, songs that would never be heard, and movies that would never be seen, if we all succumbed to the pressure of trying to be the Next Big Thing.

As long as you keep giving your work everything you’ve got and apply everything you learn along the way, you’re going to get better. Every book, every song–whatever you create–will be better than the last.

Trust yourself. Create things you can be proud of. If you can do that, regardless of whether or not it makes you a household name, I consider you a success. You’re doing something you love for no other reason than because you believe in your ability to do it. You’re a rock star. Let’s be friends.