Instant Success or Long Labor?

I’m taking this down more as a reminder to myself than to any of you—

To steel himself and to bring before his eyes the jeopardy to which an artist is exposed when he betrays his art for the sake of transient success, he depicted as a warning to himself a writer who failed to stand firm and, having once succumbed to temptation, was unable to regain his footing…[a group of poor young students] scorn ephemeral success for the sake of the future achievement to which they have consecrated themselves…but instead of remaining loyal to the noble intellectual integrity to which they are sworn he gives way to the temptation of trying to impress the hereditary nobility…while he does succeed in making a name for himself as one of the innumerable bubbles in the literary morass of the day, he is in reality sinking lower and lower all the time…[Lost Illusions] is a summons to hold aloof from impatience and greed, to remain strong and to draw ever greater strength from the renewal of resistance.

Stefan Zweig, Balzac.

I think that motley of ellipsis-linked quotes could serve as a warning to any kind of artist who works for the material benefits rather than the satisfaction of creating beauty. This biography is not just the story of a man, but it’s also a treatise on creation, and the advice given here flies in the face of everything you’ll learn from ephemeral creative writing teachers—publish! publish! publish! at any cost, and at once! Don’t bother reading the classics, don’t bother honing your craft—tasks which must be done by yourself, and not in silly little workshops—read and imitate only what’s popular and successful (evidently vampires and murderers are selling quite well)—take no account of the future, take no account of entertaining the readers of next year, or next century. Follow the fads to attain the meaningless emptiness of material success; don’t dare consecrate yourself to the religion of art.

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4 thoughts on “Instant Success or Long Labor?

  1. sandysays1 says:

    I love your post. I like to remember that the Lords of Letters (the structure-most educators, agents, and publishers) are same ones that took 9 years to realize Harry Potter was a literary bomb-shell, then screamed its praises after it was published by an “accident.” It’s a good example of why the publishing is on the brink of self-destruction.

  2. hiddenconnections says:

    Thank you very much! It also serves as a source of solace to those of us who are forever dwelling within that 9 year period of pre-Harrypotterness.

  3. 47whitebuffalo says:

    So, why have I never read any Harry Potters? Oh, I recall, because there were/are BETTER books to read and to write. It’s very odd watching grown people go bonkers in a bookstore for a supposed ‘children’s book’. For a few years of doing what I considered ‘research’ in a large chain store, I was amazed at all the hoopla and insane ‘gotta have’ behaviour of adults for the strangest books because people were/are hungry for good books. Apparently they just don’t know how to go about finding ‘good’ books so they rely on yep, you nailed it, MARKETING ploys. Also discovered that if they got hold of ‘better’ books—well, some addictions grow very quickly…so there’s hope—but not necessarily from the book suppliers.

  4. SilverSeason says:

    Certainly in Lost Illusions Balzac portrays the young artist who leaves his art to make money and a journalist and to aspire to join aristocratic society. At the same time, he makes it very clear how much it costs to maintain ideals and how weighted the publishing culture is against the idealist.

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