Success vs Excellence

An ongoing frustration for me has always been the divide between my most popular stories and my favorite stories and my best stories.  RocKaiju has surpassed Rhest for the Wicked as my best-selling book, which itself beat out Ghee.  And Ghee outsold the entire Crossworld Saga combined.

RocKaiju is, currently, my most successful book and it may be the centerpiece of my literary legacy.  If that proves to be the case, I will be extremely satisfied and very happy.  Sam and RocKaiju are wonderful characters, and I enjoyed their story greatly.  But RocKaiju is not my favorite story, nor is it (in my opinion) my best story.

While I love all my stories, and often equally but in different ways, Neo-Romance will forever hold a special place in my heart.  It stands out in my mind and while with some thought I might say otherwise, when people ask me for my favorite, it is often the first one that jumps to mind.  When I think bout salvaging serials and stories from the past, finding a way to release Neo-Romance is one of the first hurdles I will look to clear.  But while Neo-Romance may be my favorite, it is not my best.

To this day, I think my singular best work is Epi.  One of the last serials I wrote before closing down shop in 2009, Epi was the story of a revolution group in medical underground.  Running to the anonymity of South America, Epi followed their efforts to formulate, test, and produce a revolutionary new drug that would transform the landscape of healthcare.  From top to bottom, I think it stands as my best work.

Best.  Favorite.  Most successful.  Three titles for three often-interchangeable designations.

I bring this up because another series of mine – Music as Life – just went live with its fourth installment on Friday.  It deals with precisely this issue.  What is best may not be a favorite, and neither of which may be successful.  It seems rote to draw attention to the distinction between these matters, but it is so common that it often goes overlooked.

A favorite quote of mine is by the strength coach Dan John: “Do not mistake success in your field with mastery of your craft”.  Excellence and success are two different objectives.  Success as an author often comes in one of two forms: awards and sales numbers.  Excellence is a much harder value to quantify.  How do you quantify good storytelling?  How do you put a numerical value on the enjoyment or emotional gut punch of a tale?

These two goals can overlap, but they can also be opposing forces.  One path to excellence is to completely throw the pursuit of it aside.  If you spend hours agonizing over every sentence, you’ll never produce a manuscript.  Sometimes, the way to get to excellence is to just type.  Just type a hundred words, a thousand words, a million words.  Somewhere along the way, you’re so busy creating, you forget to worry about the quality of what you are creating.  And somehow, by not worrying about excellence, excellence begins to manifest, begins to take shape, begins to blossom.

We want success and excellence to be tied together, but the world is full of examples to the contrary.  Most bestsellers’ lists have at least a few titles of truly dubious quality.  Meanwhile, fanfiction sites are full of some of the most beautiful prose ever written (along with a lot of awful).  Success and excellence are related, but like any relation, what connects them may be what also distinguishes them.

And none of this touches on our favorites.  That mercurial designation, as influenced by mood and atmosphere as the quality of the work, a favorite is often less about the work in isolation and more about our relationship to it.  Our favorites are often born not by us and the work but by the context in which the work came into our lives.  Whether it’s a movie seen at a formative period of our youth or a song playing during a pivotal moment in our lives, what makes something our favorite is formed as much beyond the work as what makes up the work.

All just words.  Good words.  Important words.  But still just words.  What matters is the art, the story, the tale.  What matters is the audience, the creator, and their relationship.

Sometimes I feel like I’ll burst if I don’t get my stories out and share them.  Other days, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to withdraw from the world and keep my stories close, cradled to me like the last heat in a cold universe.  But share them I will, for share them I must.  They are too beautiful not to be shared.

They’re my favorites, after all.

Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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