Google the word ‘success’ and you’ll get at least three definitions. (Why am I not surprised there at least three?) The one I like best is: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. I think this definition fits me well although I would leave out the word accomplishment.
Why would I leave out what many would consider the key word? Let me tell you a story:
For a long time I thought my definition of writing success would a well published detective novel with a gritty but pretty and sexy mature woman heroine. Time passed and I noticed my heroine was getting more and more mature, and maybe not quite so pretty.
I also realized that no matter how I played with my major plot device — a bomb attached to a sailboat that was set to go off when the boat crossed X longitude — I was not finding a reason why anyone would actually put such a device on a sailboat. (Yes, you’re welcome to the bomb idea if you can use it. If you do, gift me with a copy of your book please.) I tried motives like insurance scams, adultery, revenge, fiddled with intrigue and spies, even talked with a diver or two to figure out how the boat would be rescued, etc. Over and over again I found myself either bored almost to tears with my own book, which didn’t bode well, or trapped in a plot hole or block I couldn’t figure my way out of.
Meanwhile I’d written a couple of my own books, including Powerfully Recovered, a Confirmed 12 Stepper Challenges the Movement which you can still get on Amazon. (Yes, that’s an affiliate link.) I’d headed up a team that wrote two or three third party software books and begun a ghostwriting business that resulted in six or seven more books published by trade publishers. I also got paid for writing book proposals and became a recognized blogger about writing early on.
All of which is to say I was and still am a successful writer. My agent confirmed it when I told him I wanted to be in the top five percent of writers. His immediate response was ‘you’re already there!’
One day I asked myself a different question, something like ‘what’s really getting in your way of finishing this damn detective book? That’s when I discovered I didn’t want to write a detective novel, I wanted to have written one.
When I realized that I was relieved. I’d been putting a subtle pressure on myself with internal messages like ‘you’re not a success until you write the detective novel’ etc. Yet I was by many definitions a success. I simply needed to recognize what I’d done and congratulate myself for being successful.
After all, what I call success is totally up to me, just as what you call success is totally up to you. So think again, how are you defining success as a writer? Is that definition supporting you? If it is, great, but if it isn’t, consider changing it, perhaps to some newly discovered truth about you.
Every now and again I think with nostalgia of my gritty heroine who, it seems, will never grace the pages of a detective novel. As time has passed I realize that in many ways I’ve become the woman I was describing. I’ve done a ton of sailing and hope to do more — no bombs, but one shipwreck. I’ve raised three kids and have four grand kids. I’m not twenty anymore so I’ve redefined my definitions of pretty, and of sexy too as a matter of fact. I have more fun than I remember having back in the day when I took myself so very seriously.
I continue to work for self knowledge and for this and that in my life. Sure there are things and relationships I’d like to have. Some of them will arrive if I let them, the others will pass on when I do. It no longer matters quite the way it did when I was younger. A major truth for me today is the fact that I wouldn’t trade places with any one of any gender or age, career, bank account, relationship status or anything else.
I’d say that constitutes success, at least for me.
Write well and often,