Success and G.K. Chesterton

“A man who thinks much about success must be the drowsiest sentimentalist; for he must be always looking back. If he only likes victory he must always come late for the battle. For the man of action there is nothing but idealism.”

“Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”

“I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”

Ingenious quotes, are they not? Each were taken from G.K. Chesterton: a man of wit and wiles and wonderful, wonderful writing.

Would you not agree with what he said in the first quote? A man who focuses on success as a goal must always be looking back, right? He must compare himself (or herself) to the man he was before, so that he may eventually succeed in becoming the man he wants to be. I think there is a lesson for us here, dear readers: success in and of itself should not be our goal, especially as writers. What do you think most ordinary people would say if we asked them what the writer’s greatest honor and goal is? They’d  probably answer, “publication: the greatest honor for a writer is to get published. But think of this! What if, instead of focusing on a goal that strives toward something so petty and worldly and outwardly satisfying as success, and instead focused on the inward goal and satisfaction of excellence? What if we strove to be the best that we can be instead of just good enough for the world to like us?                                                                   …Food for thought.

This is where the second quote comes in, and the last sentence contains his point: no one really, truly believes in themselves – not if they’re being really honest with themselves. To be human is to doubt, isn’t it? And, when it comes down to it, whom do we doubt more than ourselves?  Hence, Chesterton’s point: anyone who claims to truly believe in themselves – more than Napoleon and Cesar! (who, may I point out, were also human) – really must be insane.

And the moral of the story? Quote number three: listen to advice, but don’t always take it. Have confidence in yourself, but don’t go too far with it, else you’ll end up being careless and irresponsible, and you’ll make a mistake. Don’t always expect gold from the gold-miners. They may know what gold looks like, but you probably would too, even if you’d never seen it before – gold is unique, and so is every piece of writing, no matter who its author is. My point? Don’t let other people’s definitions, stereotypes and opinions get in your way. Don’t let others tell you what success is and what it isn’t, because if there is one truth that gets over-stated but understood, it’s that we humans are diverse and different.

Sometimes readers don’t know what good literature is – just ask Shakespeare!

Sometimes you have to break the rules and conventions in order to start something new – just ask any woman writer before the year 1920, and many after that time too!

In summary: define your own success.  Pursue excellence, not celebrity.  Write what you want, how you want to, and allow yourself to bask in the warmth of creativity.

Thanks for reading my ramblings :3

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5 thoughts on “Success and G.K. Chesterton

  1. jweinert12 says:

    Ah, Chesterton. He’s quite the quipster, isn’t he?
    I’ve heard it said that the ones who are the most sure of themselves are the worst writers. Of course, I suspect that this may be true of many things in life. If you aren’t absolutely confident that you’re a genius, you might be a little more likely to edit.

  2. Stevie McAllister says:

    “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”

    I would say this lesson can be learned in terms of craft, but not in terms of experience. There are many time when not following someone’s advice can hurt you more than help.

    But in terms of writing, finding yourself, I agree. Great writing tends to happens when the writer follows his/her individual instinct rather than caving and relying on someone else’s advice.

    • InkSplashes says:

      Yes, I’d agree with you there. With experience, when you get advice it’s most often from someone with more experience than you in that area, so you’d do well to listen to them. With writing, the same might be true for technique, but not style.

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