Never Rest Upon Your Laurels

Oops… it apears I sat on them.

Versions of this saying have existed for eons. I found the following article informative and entertaining.

In this post, we’re going to discuss the modern variant, which originated in the nineteenth century. It was during that time period this saying developed a negative connotation; indicating a person has become lazy and is resting upon their past achievements.

How pervasive is the problem? To be honest, I don’t know that there are any verifiable statistics. But I would be willing to hazard a guess, we’ve all been guilty of it at some point in our lives. Why? With that one word we ask a question which is not so easy to answer. (Or is it?)

Let’s just start with laziness. Many creatures, including humans, are perfectly content to expel as little energy as possible, provided their basic needs are met. At the earliest points of our history, laziness was a rare luxury. The person of both lazy mind and body didn’t survive very long. I would be willing to bet they were the least popular person in the tribe. Unless they were that rare person of lazy body and busy mind.

With one act of courage, say scaring off those pesky lions with a stick from the evening campfire, they could then brag about their value to the community and demand to be made king or queen. Viola! Instead of being cursed for not pulling their weight, everyone else suddenly found themselves waiting on this individual. Was the monarch then resting on their laurels? Maybe to a point. In order to maintain the new, cushy lifestyle, they had to continue convincing the other tribe members, it was in their best interest to keep supporting the ruler. Enter lies and propaganda into the human experience.

Since I’m a writer, I’m going to pick on writers for this post. There was one romance novelist who began her career a few years before I was born and was still writing during the 1970s and 80s, when I grew up. I read a “few” of her books because a friend and I could buy paperbacks by the paper bag, or box, at a used book store for less than five dollars. Some of her books lurked in every bag. She mostly wrote Regency era stories and pretty much used the same characters for each book. An older, and usually jaded, dark-haired hero with an ingenue blonde heroine fallen on hard times; who tended to be a victim of hero-worship. Though in my humble opinion those nasty rakes hardly deserved it. Only one heroine’s name still sticks with me. Not because I liked the name, but because it made me giggle. When this author first started writing, those characters might have been ground-breaking. After novel number five, I would say she was resting on her laurels for the remaining one-hundred.

That can be an issue when you’re constantly cranking out stories in the same genre, all in the name of trying to make a living. From what I’ve seen, that mentality is still alive and well. Is it bad? Eh. That’s a matter of opinion. Some people like what we here in the States call “same poop, different day.” (Substitute poop for a slightly less palatable word.) This author’s books were often the last ones my friend and I dug out of a bag; when we didn’t feel like doing homework, or were really bored, they filled an hour or two.

Like any creative, writers always have a choice when they move on to their next project. You can write one-of, or a series. Series books are popular with both authors and readers. For writers who have invested a great deal of time in world building during book one, writing a series pays off with the later books because the heavy lifting is already done; not to mention they create return business. Readers who become invested in that world not only want further glimpses of characters to which they are already attached; if you’ve done your job properly, they’re curious to know more about those intriguing individuals lurking in the wings.

As with anything, there are pitfalls. The author must be careful not to jar their fans out of that world in subsequent books. On the other hand, you don’t want them to be exact carbon copies of each other either. Especially when it comes to character development, including antagonists. Series books can go in a few directions. They either start a bit weak and improve with successive books; start strong and only get better with each book; or begin strong and go on a downhill slide afterward. The last one can be a career killer for an author, if they don’t quickly redeem themselves with their next work. Human memory, being a rather finite and fickle beast, will only ever remember that last thing you produced. And with a plethora of too many choices, most folks aren’t very forgiving if you let them down even once.

During my lifetime as a creative, I have rarely made more than one of any projects. Except for several pairs of adult onesies a few years ago. (Don’t judge me. They were gifts for my daughters and their friends.) It’s not just because I have a rule about resting on my laurels. Been there, done that is built into my psyche. I get bored without the occasional challenge. Writing a series is an interesting endeavor for me. Not because I don’t have enough material for more than one book, but because I discovered I had too much for one book. Knowing how to distribute all of it in a manner which makes sense can get tricky. Especially, when you have characters who share a substantial bit of backstory. Such is the case with Isobelle, the heroine in Heart of a Star, and Persephone (Percy to her friends), the heroine in my WIP, The Pearl Diver’s Song.

Since I waited more than twenty years to return to novel writing, I could have taken the approach I had a lot of lost time to recover. I did initially feel I should be producing books more frequently. But that’s not in my MO at the moment. Instead, it seemed like I would be cheating myself if I didn’t keep pushing to make the final product the best it could be. Hopefully, that outlook will carry me through the remainder of books in my series Fate’s Champions.

“Slow” movements seem to be a popular concept these days. If it’s so great for food, why not writing? Meeting word count challenges seem to be a popular way for writers to measure their productivity. Getting to the point where you can write a few thousand a day is a useful tool, but it shouldn’t be a means of cranking out mass quantities, unless you’re a Conehead. Instead, use that productivity as a tool for improving your craft. Masterpieces take time to create, and they require being objective about your work. Granted, what makes a piece of art a masterpiece is always determined by those who view it, not those who create it. But such a designation is rarely given to something which has little effort behind it, and doesn’t challenge the viewer in some manner.

If you want to create works with staying power, start by not getting too attached to every word which flows from your fingertips. Writing with a certain amount of speed should be seen as the price paid for then slowing down and stepping back to take a critical look at your work. Start by asking yourself, “If I was buying this, is it worth my time and money?” Those answering “yes” every single time aren’t exactly being honest with themselves, or they haven’t spent enough time with the work of those who keep pushing themselves to do better.

Humans have an amazing capacity to learn and grow throughout their lifetimes. Despite all the distractions, and never-ending list of things we think must be done; the only things really keeping us from earning new laurels, or any laurels at all, are fear of failure when we attempt something difficult, and laziness.

Quote of the Week

Do you really want to write the book which becomes the last one left in a paper bag?

Kristal DeJong

Interested in getting pre-release and WIP glimpses of my books? Please visit my Patreon page.

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