I read a tweet this morning from someone who described herself as a successful author, then went on to say she had never sold any of her writing. Why did she consider herself successful? Because she met all her self-imposed goals.
It’s a valid criterion, and I admire her confidence. I wish I shared it. I’ve sold a lot of my work over the years, including three novels, but if you asked me if I considered myself a successful author, I’d pause before replying. To be fair, I’d probably end by saying yes, but the answer wouldn’t be automatic.
We all have our own benchmarks by which we measure success. For some, it’s publication. For others, it’s the Big Sale. Many of my friends use less tangible yardsticks: completion of a piece of work, maintaining a specific wordcount over a period of time, speaking at some festival or other, and so on. The thing is, though, these yardsticks change. They change year to year, but they can also change day to day. Why? Because it’s a cold, hard world for writers, and if we’re to survive in it we have to be kind to ourselves.
That’s being a bit harsh. Obviously writers have to be tough. We face criticism, rejection, piracy, cynicism and who knows what else on a daily basis. This is no profession for wet-nosed kitties. So why make it tougher on ourselves by adding self-imposed failure?
If today you decide success is completion of a short story, then that’s your call. If tomorrow, it’s getting a paragraph finished, or even a sentence, well, that’s your call. Flexibility is what keeps us strong, ask any willow tree.
Yes, we have to be strong, and we have to be focused, but it serves no purpose if we set huge goals for ourselves that we constantly fail to meet. Of course, we won’t get anywhere if our goals are so timid that they fail to drive us forward, and don’t impel us to achieve anything of substance. But goals and success, while they overlap, aren’t exactly the same thing.
A goal is an objective. It is, by its nature, a predetermined standard. The writer can set big goals or small on her journey. She’ll reach some, miss others, but she hasn’t really failed unless she gives up. Success, though, that’s something else.
For some people–most people?–success is about the money earned. If you have X amount of cash in hand you are successful. But as The Beatles told us, Money Can’t Buy Me Love, so is that an accurate measurement?
Other people measure success in terms of their accomplishments. As I said at the outset, for the author, this translates to work sold or completed. But if you are just starting out, or if you haven’t yet completed a project, that doesn’t make you a failure. If you just finished a page of writing, it puts you ahead of the person who didn’t even try. It puts you ahead of yourself, if you didn’t try yesterday. That’s a success, isn’t it?
Yes, some days we are feeling particularly vulnerable. Maybe real life intruded and we didn’t accomplish everything we set out to do, but we should still celebrate the things we did achieve. It’s OK to redefine success from time to time.
Success is a movable feast.
I was particularly amused by another tweet I saw a week or two ago. A writer said: One friend just won a major award. Another just got signed by a big agent. Another just sold her book. I just had a bagel. Yay, me!
Let’s hear it for the bagels!