Those of us who stand at the bottom of their climb to literary success may be surprised to learn that established writers continue to face rejection once they’ve made it to the top. Having produced 4 novels, George Orwell found it nearly impossible to publish Animal Farm, for example. Norman Mailer heard applause for The Naked and the Dead, but was forced to leave Reinhart for Putnam to get The Deer Park into print.
The lesson gleaned from these two writers and others who shared their fate is that winning can pose more challenges rather than fewer ones. I don’t speak from my literary achievements, of course. But I have won a few political races and know that each time the votes were counted, my thoughts drifted to the next election. Writers are no different, I suspect. With one literary achievement behind them, the need to repeat the success looms large. Pressure mounts as readers’ expectation grow. Personal privacy evaporates and with it sincerity because a person of prominence must struggle to uphold an image that is largely manufactured. Life becomes a round of self promotion with little time to dream or create.
I think Mailer warns his readers about the effects of success through one of his characters in The Deer Park, a jaded filmmaker. Speaking of his life he says:
I have lost the final desire of the artist, the desire which tells us that when all else is lost, when love is lost and adventure, pride itself and pity, there still remains the world we may create, more real to us, more real to others, than the mummery of what happens, passes and is gone. (“Day and Nights in Desert D’or,” by David Thomson, The New Republic, June 2014, pg. 74.)