Success in writing is hard to define. There are many processes and steps along the way that can mark progress, but what about success? Where can we afford, along the never-ending road, to take a step back and celebrate? Where are the milestones– once a rough draft is completed, once a book is sold or published?
If you’re committed to any sort of a career as a writer, then you know that success can feel temporary. Once one book is published, readers expect another on the way. Success takes the form of the ever-dangling carrot. This may be a good thing in some ways– too much success can lead to overconfidence and procrastination. However, for the most part, it only serves to balance a mountain on our heads.
Rather than attempting to reach for best-selling novelist right off the bat, we institute smaller goals. We still may have that same grandiose goal in mind, but we also know that’s the end game. For now, every score on the board deserves acknowledgement, some more than others. How that system works is up to you. This culture pushes certain standards and bars to meet, and sometimes it helps to pay attention to those, but in the end the writer– you–is in control.
Say I feel successful when I complete a project, any at all. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how apprehensive I am to open it up to criticism. We can’t let fears, even ones grounded in reality, faze us if we think we’ve achieved success. All that comes later, but for now we’re in the hurricane’s eye. For me, at least, I could work on my projects for years and still not be fully satisfied with them. There comes a point where you simply have to box up your creation and send it out to the world before it has you for breakfast. You have to say that you’ve done the best you can, at your current level of understanding.
This can be painful. I know that I’ve held poems and short stories in “limbo”, so to speak, until I can learn how to make them better. Sometimes, this can be helpful. If there’s no deadlines, you can, indeed, spend ten years perfecting that one draft that you’re sure will dominate the market. But this isn’t the best strategy. We have to learn how to accept our shortcomings for when the time comes. And overcoming these mental blocks and starting to think in more positive ways can be just as successful in the long run as completing tangible stories.
In terms of a writing career, the long-term goals, definitions of success can vary wildly. Once again, this all depends on what you want. As long as you’re aware of the work you need to put in, become the next Hemingway.
I prefer to have big dreams but small goals. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to change the world. We just have to realize that it may take years, even decades– and that it might not happen in the way that we expect. Only then can we be truly satisfied with our progress, and consider ourselves successful. Because if we’re mindful of our goals and taking steps to reach them, sometimes that’s all the success we need.