As promised, here is the second part to my thought-provoking reading this week: all about how to define success as a writer.
I am fortunate to receive e-newsletters from Cathy Yardley (whose book ‘Rock your Revisions‘ I was waxing lyrical about in an earlier post). In this month’s e-news she posed a question that made me stop and really think about my writing. This question was, “What’s standing in the way of your writing success?”
But this was followed up by another consideration that almost flummoxed me.
“What exactly does ‘successful’ mean?”
The interesting thing here is that success can mean many different things to many different people. Whilst some writers consider that just sharing their work with others is a success, there are others who believe that success only comes with being paid for your words, or even being published. Even the publishable route stands for further scrutiny in the guise of success, as one group see success only in the realms of being recognised by a traditional publishing house and having physical copies of their novel, whereas another is quite happy self-publishing their work and basking the glory of that success.
I don’t really know why I have a compulsion to write. I suspect it has something to do with wanting recognition. I want to be remembered somehow and writing is the only legacy I feel comfortable leaving behind.
What does writing success mean to me? How will I know when I have succeeded in this goal?
Well, in one sense I feel I have already succeeded. I am a writer. I am no longer that ‘aspiring‘ writer I once longed to be that could not exist because I only ever intended to write (see yesterday’s post for more on that). I have written so much in the last couple of years – more so than ever before I think. I have two draft novels that total around 200,000 written words, along with numerous short stories and hundreds of blog posts.
I write: that in itself is one form of success.
But, what next?
I want to see my writing published. In part, some of this can be addressed in the fact I ‘publish’ my own blog. But, what I really mean here is that I want the recognition to be provided by an outside force that will validate the writing I have produced. I want my short fiction to be published by someone else.
Does it matter if I am paid for this goal? Not really, not at this stage, not to me. It might in the future, once I have succeeded in the element of my goal to be published and recognised as a writer ‘out there’ in the world. Perhaps that will be the next marker of success: for someone to pay me for my efforts.
Then, maybe, I might set my sights higher and assume that success is wrapped up in the publishing of a novel, instead of short stories. After that (assuming I get this far) it might be write a novel that is recognised as a ‘top’ seller in it’s genre, or has pride of place in a bookshop, or reaches the top ten in Amazon…
I suppose what I’m attempting to demonstrate is that the idea of what success is can change depending on your circumstances. However, what is important is that you never forget to mark the moment when you achieve your goal of being successful, no matter how quickly you might move the goalposts.
Don’t forget to celebrate each success as you reach it. And, if you immediately define success as the highest possible standard that any writer can set – reaching the NYT bestseller list, or out-selling Harry Potter, or being able to quit your job and live a life of luxury from your one amazing novel – remind yourself that there are smaller successes on the way to the ‘big one’. Revel in these, because not everyone reaches them. Not everyone is successful, in our terms or their own.
Make sure that you allow yourself the option of realistically obtaining success and you will probably find out that you have already missed some of the more successful moments of your journey. Don’t take them for granted. One success can lead to another.
Often, the only thing standing in the way of our writing success is ourselves. Be that because we want to be a writer and don’t write, or because our expectations of success are so overwhelmingly huge that we constantly feel unsuccessful in comparison. But if you set goals that are realistic and that you can succeed in then it all builds up until, one day, that success that you thought might never be yours is suddenly right around the corner. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t dream big – by all means, dream HUGE – but when it comes to success, we need to realise the steps we take everyday form parts of the whole: take a look at the Success Circle to demonstrate this (image above). Each one of these things is a success in itself, because it is one step further than someone else managed and one step more than you’ve made before.
Allow yourself the chance to be successful and celebrate those times when you are.
That is how success should be measured.