Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What is Success?

So one of the cool things happening here in moose land is every night, we ask one question and everyone answers it. Things like, "What things do you love to see in a book?" or "What are you strengths and weaknesses as a writer?" It has been edge-of-your seat interesting (no sarcasm here; I truly find it fascinating to see what people are saying.)



Last night, the question was: "How do you define success?" As in: at what level do you need to be at to feel that you're successful?

Everyone here at the retreat are at different stages. Some of the answers were ones I could see in myself, past, present, and/or future: to make a living from writing, to be published, to see a book on the shelf, to get a meaningful piece of fan mail, to be able to make a lifelong career as a writer. Some were amazingly touching and beautiful and revealing. We laughed, we cried, and I made inappropriate jokes (as usual).

I was one of the last to go. Originally, my answer was to "write words that make me happy." There are a few projects--Across the Universe being one (and AtU Book 2 not being one)--that have been, literally, joy to write. Working on a book that is more torture than joy makes me miss that.

But there is also joy in completing the terror, and there's happiness in hard work, so that's not entirely my full answer.

I almost said I wanted to have more of the same: this has been an amazing year, one I wouldn't mind repeating a la Groundhog Day, but that seems...limiting to want to have the same thing, even if it's wonderful.

In the end, I said this: I spent ten years writing, but not feeling proud of being a writer. I hate now that I let lack of publication negatively define me, but there you have it. So, this is how I will define my success: that I spend at least ten more years in which I can proudly call myself a writer.

What about you? How do you define success for yourself?

28 comments:

Simon C. Larter said...

Success is being invited to retreats at moose lodges. I've said this for years. Okay, only a few days. Minutes. Oh, okay, just that one time.

Also, publication is kind of cool, too, even in non-paying short fiction markets.

:)

Corey Schwartz said...

You know, for me.. in some ways, the third contract did the trick. One PB deal could be a fluke, even two (six years apart!) But the third one made me feel like "Wow, I did it. I am a writer." It's no longer a hobby...it's a profession!

Elizabeth said...

That's a good question, and not only do different people look at it differently, but I can think of several answers for myself, some that apply now, others that applied in the past.

I think it's easier to define what success isn't. Success isn't a million twitter/blog followers or having a "cool" agent or a huge book deal. Those things are the gravy, not the meat.

What makes me feel successful (even on days when I don't feel particularly successful) is to learn something new every day: about writing, about myself as a writer, about the book I'm writing.

Obviously, there are always going to be goals you set for yourself--finishing the book, editing the book, writing another book, getting an agent, a book deal, an award, a slot on the NYT list, and on and on and on. But those are just goals. Checkpoints, really. Success is what happens behind all of that on a day-to-day basis.

Misha said...

Ditto.

Publishing is one thing, but I write because I love it.
:-D

Domey Malasarn said...

For me right now, success is being able to write a story that isn't too heavily influenced by others. I'm in a phase where I'm writing for myself without worrying about where the story will go afterwards, and it's very satisfying. I'm thinking this is just one step in the journey.

Lindsay said...

The ultimate success would be to be able to live off of my writing. However, if that never happens, I will still feel like a success when I have my finished manuscript in my hands. I guess, in the end, that is the ultimate prize.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ah. I LOVE that idea of success - time spent in pride of your work. Lovely. :)

Stephanie said...

For me, success comes in different levels...and what I define as that top level, when I reach it, may not be the top level anymore. Right now, success step one for me was getting my first novel published by a small press- mainly digital. Did that, so the next step is sell lots of copies of that book...then I will feel more successful. After that I want to snag an agent, and sell to a big publisher, and see my books in the store.

So while I do feel semi-successful now, I know it's not the definition of super successful that I want someday!

Lynsey Newton said...

Are you kidding? I'd DEFINITELY call you successful and more than that, you may have been writing for ten years but you've also been honing your skills and making you writing better. THAT'S why Across the Universe is freaking awesome!!!

Like you said, success means different things to different people. And it depends on what people want to achieve on an individual basis. I want to write a book, sell it and have it be read and loved by many :)

lotusgirl said...

For my perception of future success I would fell it if I were published (traditionally) and people were entertained (and maybe challenged a little bit) by my writing.

Right now, though, I feel success when I complete goals I set for myself and when I craft beautifully wrought passages.

Martinelli Gold said...

Success is...enjoying homemade food at the end of the day. Ultra success is when you have good company to share it.

Guess that's not very writing-oriented, but it's the first thing I thought of, and I do think it applies to authors too.

Tyhitia Green said...

It's kinda hard for me to say. I think it will change as I move forward. Right now, I'd say getting an agent and a book deal. :-D

Anita Saxena said...

Success is when you achieve incremental goals that will lead to your ultimate goal. I'm still working on the baby goals right now.

Jeigh said...

Success to me, as a newbie on the long writerly trail, is that my second draft is better than my first, and my third is better than my second, etc. etc. etc. And that I can see the improvement and point out why it's improved.

Cheree said...

That's a hard question. The ultimate success would be living off my writing, but I would still feel successful if I continue writing and finishing the projects that I've started.

Stéphanie said...

Success.
Live a day without hating myself so much I want to disappear. It is a success to accept who you are. =)
A lot of hard work and study. Even if my brain aches.
And if in the end I enter med-school for real, I wonder if I will feel succesful. I guess I will be relieved.
My comment is bitter.
Tchuss!

writergal24 said...

I agree that success comes in different levels. First, there's the success of writing a page, then an entire novel, and enjoying it too.
On the other level, there is the level of success that includes getting published... and being invited to retreats.

Elissa J. Hoole said...

ah, what a wonderful definition of success! I just hope that I will continue to feel excited by writing--my own and others in my genre. I hope to be challenged and then meet those challenges, finding out that I'm learning and growing along the way. Sometimes it feels like success is most easily recognized when you look back on it, so in some ways, I think success for me would be taking stock of where I am and how far I've come, instead of wishing always and dreaming of how I could have more, be more...

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I'm just trying to imagine this rich, rich environment you ladies are in. Soak it in and store it away for those regular (and hard) writing days ahead.
xo

The Words Crafter said...

Wow, everyone has great answers and viewpoints. Right now, for me, it's simply seeing it through to the end. Finishing what I've started. Then I feel as if I've accomplished something.....

Conda V. Douglas said...

Success is living life in the moment, especially when you're having great moments!

Shari said...

Success for me as a writer means actually putting words down on a page, even if it's crap. Awesome words are a bonus.

Natalie Aguirre said...

For me success is improving as a writer and writing as much as I can with working and having a family. I really want to define success by the things I can control, not the things I really have no control over.

LeishaMaw said...

Very interesting question. For me the answer changes as the days change. Some days it's to just write even a handful of words. Others it's to own the world. But mostly it's to write honest words, ones that speak both to me and to the reader. If I can do that the rest will hopefully fall into palce. :)

jmartinlibrary said...

Beth, *we* are proud of you, too. Your story is so inspiring, and you have managed to keep smiling through everything.

Cheers!

Nahno McLein said...

Change, that's the key to success.
I was successful writing my first book - proud.
I was successful getting something published - proud.
I was successful getting good feedback- proud.

But, now I want to make a living from writing, getting a book published and if that works, I will surely want to be read by more people. I think until then I will always change what success is for me. It's the little things at first that build up.
Nahno ∗ McLein

Emy Shin said...

Success is every time I write something I'm proud of.

That doesn't mean I won't scramble for joy if I ever reach publication, but more important, for me, is writing books, I'm genuinely proud of and don't think I can do better.

Christina Farley said...

At the SCBWI conference in Miami, Erin Murphy had great advice about this. In fact she talked alot about it in my intensive and at the agent panel. She said measure success by your happiness. She also said to never compare yourself to others. I thought those were little gems of advice.