There’s been a lot of talk around the kidlitosphere lately about keeping your dream alive when all around you, as in this business of writing, seems to be working against you.
Some people are afraid to post their success stories because they don’t want to make other people feel bad. (Which brings to mind that great Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”)
Some people are afraid to whine about anything, especially after having sold a book or two or more because they are afraid that people won’t think they are grateful for the success they have already achieved. (I would probably put myself in the second category.)
Some writers attribute their success to everything from having a cat sleep on a manuscript, always mailing manuscripts from the same post office and kissing the envelope before you drop it in the big blue box. Sometimes it is the act of getting an agent, finding the right agent, attending the right conference, having a great critique group, not listening to their critique group, writing every day, writing in many genres, writing only one thing, writing teachers and classes and degrees designed solely around writing for children, supportive spouses, understanding children and pets who love us even after we’ve been rejected.
Some days for some writers, being a success means getting a contract, finally seeing a book on the shelves in the bookstores with their name on it. Other days, for the same writer, it might mean being able to write ten pages on a new novel that isn’t even under contract. (Hmm. I’m in the second category here as well. I’m beginning to sense a trend.)
And for all the many ways of achieving success there is a different definition of success for that writer at that particular time in their writing life.
But being a success is evolutionary process, not a final destination. It is good to remember this. Not easy, but good.
And it is a uniquely individual process. Success for a young writer, say in their 20s or 30s might be different for a writer in their 50s or 60s. I am a different writer now than I was in my 20s. And my version or perhaps vision of success has changed over the years. In some ways I am more realistic, which is actually rather sad because I thought I looked good with those stars in my eyes and the rose-colored glasses. In other ways I still remain a Pollyanna, true to the idea that a good story will find a home, that hard work will be rewarded, and that while nice folks might not always finish first, they will always finish.
So I challenge you to think about what success means to you. Spend a little time today to actually write it out, the whole vision of what being a success would mean to you. How do you define it? How would you recognize it? What does it mean, to you, to be a success? Not in how you measure up to anyone else in or out of the business. It doesn’t matter if your younger sister/older brother/best friend is suddenly the most powerful person ever at her ad agency and they wonder why you persist in playing around with this writing thing. It doesn’t matter if your mother/father/next door neighbor has bought and sold more companies than you can remember and has their picture on the cover of some fancy business magazine. It doesn’t matter.
I’ll say it again, slowly so you can hear me.
What does matter is that you have a dream. You have a dream and you are doing something, anything in any way that you can to pursue. If you get up in the morning and you remember your dream of being a writer and at the end of the day you’ve done just one thing in pursuit of that dream, well that qualifies as success to me.
No, it doesn’t replace seeing your book on the shelves at a bookstore. It doesn’t change the fact that it was great aunt Martha who called to tell you about her bunions instead of your agent calling to tell you your book has just sold. It doesn’t make it any easier to give your kid money for the book fair knowing your book isn’t going to be there, may never be there.
But it’s a start. A word after a word after a word is tremendous power.
And you can’t sell what you never write.
Your 3rd pp kind of applies to me, too. The thing is, people assume because you’ve published a book, you’re special. You have it made. You have no room to whine. And I do try not to whine–but I’ve run into some absolutely hideous obstacles. Not only can I NOT whine, but there are people out there who’ll realize WHO I am whining about. Locked post or not, I generally keep my mouth shut. It’s difficult not to vent.
I am torn between raising my goals and lowering my expectations.
“So I challenge you to think about what success means to you.”
Sometimes I think success for me is just having the time to even THINK about writing….having the time to actually sit down and write out a paragraph is like….wow…triple whammy!
Thanks for the perspective…..
I so hear you – just time to think is often a luxury for me too.
you can always vent to me, ms. grape.
That I do know! 😀
venting, no matter what stage of the game you are at, is ALWAYS a necessity. =)
Ain’t that the truth!
I know just what you mean and you’re right, locked posts don’t cut it. That’s what friends are for. Feel free to email vent to me at anytime. I am careful about what I say online because you know, this is a small world. But we are in a crazy business and we need to be able to let loose to someone else who understands that making a sale or even a few sales, doesn’t solve the problem. It just creates different ones.
Absolutely! And same here–email me ANY time. 🙂
what a GREAT post, susan.
focusing on the process rather than a ‘goal’ is huge. because it’s never over. you write a book. okay, now you have to get an agent. now you have to find an editor. now you have to revise and revise and again revise. book 2? have you started? marketing plan? are you on it? earning back and royalties and (insert music now…) but i think you get the point. it doesn’t end when you sell your book, it’s really just the beginning of the adventure. so for me, success is being part of the process, really enjoying it–not just the writing but the other people you meet, the community behind it, the amazing collaboration between agent/editor etc. etc. and really supporting other people. i support my friends who have 4 book, half-million dollar deals as much as i support my friends who haven’t sold a book. i don’t get into the jealous game. we are all in this boat together. i say “yay” when they’re happy, and “i’m sorry” when they are sad. it’s all a process, like you said, an individual process and everyone’s is unique.
success, for me, is realizing I am right where I’m supposed to be in this journey, just trying to hang on tight and commit to the wild ride…
You sound like a very well-adjusted person. Wish I could say I was always in that place but I’m not. That’s what I wrote the post, to remind me that I am where I supposed to be right now.
Well, it’s probably the 10th month pregnancy hormones talking…it gives me an aire of confidence. =D
Check with me next month.
No. Seriously, that is the philosophy I have most of the time. It’s what works. If I start stressing about the future or the past, I can’t get anything accomplished. I truly believe in the whole meant to be, right place at right time bit.
After that baby comes we so have to get together in person.
That’d be great…we’ll just stay away from breakfast/burger places. =D
I’m inspired by you all!
Many days I think about the need for those people that inspire others.
Some ones book or CD or art exhibit notes may say “Even though “so-and-so” never had a book published or only had one national CD released, this person’s hard work and daily determination to do what he loved while managing all the other tasks at hand inspired me….”
I could be quite OK w/ being that person who inspires. As I said, you all do that for me!
Re: I’m inspired by you all!
That’s a good point, Slatts. I can’t remember the exact quote but I think it was Phyllis whitney who said something like if you can’t light the fire you can still be a candle. Very bad paraphase but you get the idea.
I’ve only been seriously trying to publish since 2004, but I’ve already noticed major changes in my definition of success. In 2004 I wanted solely to be able to make a living writing fiction…now, four years on, I’m finding it increasingly important that I write whatever I want to write. Lately this has meant fewer sales–I don’t know if that’s because I’m still researching the markets, or I’m not as good a writer of the other stuff, or both, or neither or something else. But it’s also meant greater satisfaction.
Isn’t it interesting how little time it took for you to revise your definition? And still you write. The change in definition didn’t kill your desire to write.
I think it is wonderful that reached the point of writing what you want to write in just a few years. It took me closer to 20 to figure that out and I don’t want to think about where I might be had I learned that lesson sooner. LOL
As for the fewer sales, perhaps you are at a time of great learning and the sales will follow.
I can’t add a thing, so I’ll just say BRAVA!
To everything you beautifully and wisely said.
Oh thank you.
I’ve thought a lot about success over the years, and it mostly has to do with being happy. Happy with the people around me, with the activities I’m engaged in, with my life as it is. My other goals have changed over time, but that one aspect, just plain liking what I’m doing, stays the same. And once I gave up caring so much about what other people think of me and what I’m doing, it was ever so much better.
Good for you!
Giving up what other people think is so important and yet, so hard to do. I know I’m not there yet. Sigh.
“…word after word after word…”
That’s what I’m trying to focus on. Everything else seems impossibly far off right now.
Lady, you have so much power, you haven’t even begun to tap into it yet. Watch out, world, that’s all I can say. Watch out.
Thanks. Love that icon. Makes me think of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
A word after a word after a word…
This is a lovely reminder of what’s what, Susan. Thanks…
I think it’s important to celebrate our own and other’s successes. And I keep hearing that the most important quality successful writers have is persistence.
There are writers I know who haven’t had their big break yet, about whom I am always thinking, “It’s just a matter of time for her. She’s got the goods.”
I have a little note in my office that says, “It’s all about the writing.” In many ways, the writing is its own reward, is more important than all the external trimmings. Yes, I want to be published, because I want people to read what I write, but I would keep writing anyway. Strangely, the more I have taken this attitude, the more I have had success in the worldly sense. But there are just so many highs and lows, so many unexpected delights and disappointments, that I can’t let myself get thrown around by them. I’ll stay here in the center with my writing, and keep working hard, and let the chips fall where they may.
Thanks for your message!
Persistence, yes, I totally agree. I have told many students that it is not always the most talented writer who gets published, it is the one who doesn’t give up.
You have always come across as a well-grounded person. I admire that. I let myself get thrown around by way too many things so it is always easier to try to help someone else not do the same thing than it is to change my own thinking.
But I am trying. Trying to remember to take joy. To remember what it is like before I ever sold a single word.
Your words are sustenance, Susan. Thank you.
You’re very kind. Thank you.
Great post and thanks so much for writing it!
You’re very welcome. And thank you.
Thanks for the inspiring post!
You’re very welcome!