Can success be as daunting as failure?

Dear Literary Ladies,
Sometimes I wonder what I’m more afraid of—failure, or success? In its own way, the prospect of success seems daunting. And I know I’m not alone. Did any of you find the idea of actually succeeding as scary and incomprehensible as I do?

I never expected any sort of success with [To Kill a] Mockingbird. I didn't expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.

—Harper Lee, from a 1964 interview


Melissa Marsh September 3, 2009 at 8:05 AM  

I dearly wish Harper Lee would have written more. I love To Kill a Mockingbird.

Nava Atlas September 3, 2009 at 8:14 AM  

I do, too. It's one of my favorite novels, so unpretentious and pitch-perfect. I love the movie, too, but not as much as the book.

Eileen Williams September 5, 2009 at 8:13 AM  

Writing is so very personal. It's frightening to put oneself out there in words that appear in print or cyberspace for all the world to see. I think that's why most writers fear success and failure in equal measure. The entire process is concurrently exquisite pleasure and unremitting agony.

Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 11:38 PM  

I just happened upon this site while looking for recipes and you women are so courageous and energetic, I love this site because it speaks to me personally. I am always beginning over and over to write. I am busy with a 3yr. young granddaughter and boy oh boy, going back to school and looking for work is so time consuming, I hope I can find inspiration to past beginning and move on to part of my memoirs. Boy, do I appreciate this site and I will check it out some more, by the way, I love the recipes and stories about our fresh foods and versatile way of cooking. Thank you Nava.

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Wouldn't you love to get advice from  classic women authors on writing and the writer's life? Here I fancifully pose the questions, and the Literary Ladies answer in their own words.

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