Finnian Burnett


How do you define success? I was talking with a writing coach recently and she asked me this question. I kind of brainstormed it and said I’d be happy if I were making a decent living from my writing and writing workshops. She asked me how much money I need to be making from these things to feel I’m successful and friends, I had no idea. And then, when she pressed me for details, I realized that I didn’t want to tie my idea of success to a flat financial rate. In fact, though money is important to survival in a capitalist society, I don’t have a need to be wealthy. If I was wealthy, I would take care of my friends, pay of the debts and mortgages of my family, and offer stipends to writers and other artists so they can create without worrying about how they’re going to buy groceries next week.

So, if success isn’t financial or it’s only partly financial, how do I define success? Being well-known? Being asked to speak or present? Winning major awards? Touching someone so deeply with my writing they feel a need to write to me and tell me about it? When I can say no to non-paid gigs because I don’t need the exposure more than I need to be financially acknowledged for my work?

All of those. But I’ve done all of those, in some ways. I’m well-known in certain small writing circles. I’m regularly approached to give writing workshops. I’ve judged several flash fiction and short story contest. I’ve won a couple major awards. I’ve touched a few people enough that they have written to me, approach me, tagged me in social media posts to tell me about it. I rarely submit to non-paying markets anymore and I generally only give free workshops if it’s for a charity.

I’m not a Margaret Atwood or a Neil Gaiman or a Kazuo Ishiguro. I probably don’t spring to mind when librarians are asked for their favorite storytellers.

But I write great stories (sometimes) and I’ve written a few books, and the rack of anthologies containing a story with my name on it is piling up behind me.

Then why don’t I feel like a writing success? And does money have to be tied to success or can it be a separate thing? Like, I want to make a livable wage on my writing and writing workshops and I want to feel successful at moving people with my work.

Perhaps success isn’t a set thing. You’re not a writing success when you reach such and such goal because to stay feeling like a success, you want to reach the next goal. I think I’m my own Peppermint Patty, holding the football for myself and every time I get close to kicking it, I lift it at the last minute. You’ll be a success when you get shortlisted for a Bath Flash Fiction Award, Past Finn said, and then it happened and Future Perfect Finn says, “You’ll be a success when you finish this novel, when you get an agent, when Anson Mount tells you he liked your Captain Pike story.”

Perhaps then, my idea of writing success isn’t about achieving this year’s goals but about reaching one goal and then making another one. Or, even more importantly, perhaps success is being happy with my work, enjoying the process, and remembering that the writing life is full of ups and downs and that success is a nebulous state of being and one that can’t reasonably be defined with absolute certainty.

For now, maybe instead of focusing on either success of finances, I’m going to focus on my writing goals. And dear friends, I have a few. Don’t we all?

What does writing success look like to you?

How do you decide which writing conference to go to? I’m so excited to get to spend time at three conferences this summer/fall.

In July, I’m going to the Golden Crown Literary Society conference in Denver. There, I’ll be teaching a class, sitting on a panel, maybe doing an author reading from my forthcoming novella-in-flash, The Price of Cookies.

In August, I’ll be presenting at the one-day conference for Off Topic Publishing. This conference is going to be online as well as live, so check it out if you’re interested.

The conference rolls into a writers’ retreat which will be a welcome rest after travelling to Denver, spending a few weeks at home catching up, and then travelling to Banff for the Off Topic Conference. I’m hoping to spend some time working on one of my WIPs – after a long dry spell, I’m suddenly inundated with ideas and have three different WIPs on the go. Ugh. When it rains, it pours.

I’ll also be going to the Wine Country Writer’s Festival in September, but I don’t think I’ll be presenting anything there which makes it – maybe not a good career choice for someone with a new collection out – but a weekend away with a lot of writers. I think it will be fun. And my wife and I are already looking forward to the California rolls at Koya restaurant – something we don’t get where we live.

It also means getting to see my new friend, author Andrew Buckley, who writes the most deliciously wonderful twisted fairy tales. Meeting him was a high point of last year’s Wine Country festival. Check out his work here.

There is a wealth of conferences in British Columbia and next year, I’m going to have to look into other great ones like Word on the Lake and When Words Collide.

I love it when I can combine the research I’ve been doing for my capstone with my one true love – creative writing. In April, I get to teach a two-hour workshop on Power and Positionality: Writing Our Bodies, Ourselves.

In this workshop, I’ll be diving into the ways society strips our power to tell our own stories about our bodies, how other people use their perceptions about our bodies to tell their own stories about us, and how we can take that power back by writing our own narratives. We’ll dive into body trauma, the joy of physicality, and how to access your own body’s positionality to dig deep into those stories that need to be told.

If you’re interested, registration is open now and there are several free spaces open. Please only use these if you need them because they are designed to allow access to the course for low-income people.

See below or click here to register.

I’m excited to be presenting again this weekend – a Zoom workshop on writing queer characters. We’ll be doing some generative writing, talking about who is “allowed” to write what, and sharing insights. I want to make this as interactive as possible, but I don’t want anyone to feel compelled to share. It will be a safer space. If you’re interested in upping your queer character game and do some generative writing as well, please come check it out. Time is 11 AM CST/9 AM PST on Saturday, February 18th.

“Queer is a huge spectrum and with changing language around gender identity and orientation, there are so many avenues to explore when it comes to writing queer characters. In this workshop, queer trans author Finnian Burnett will explore the divide between own voices and inclusive writing. Part generative writing and part instruction, this workshop will give writers the tools and techniques they need to write characters outside of their own lived experiences. This workshop is appropriate for any writer of any experience level. Sharing will be encouraged, but not required.”

I’ve long said that comparison is a form of self-harm. We are all on our own journeys and comparing ourselves to others can lead to heartache, especially when we don’t take into account that we have no idea of all the back story that led to where they are now.

When I win a contest and someone says, “You’re so lucky” or “I wish I could win a contest,” I want to remind them that they have no idea the path I took to get to that win or how many rejections it took to get there.

And I’m usually pretty good at avoiding comparison myself. Not always. Sometimes, I read a brilliant piece of fiction like Space Dew or Elevator Pitch for a Dystopian Young Adult Book and I have those brief flashes of “Ugh! I’m never going to tell stories as impactful as that.” But I remind myself that I *have* written impactful stories and that my work is my own, not someone else’s and I usually am okay after a few moments.

But lately, I’ve noticed a trend in myself to compare myself to past Finn. Facebook memories is awful for this, but also my own submissions spreadsheet, or notifications from Submittable. Last year’s Finn submitted 27 stories in January and had already received several acceptances. Last year’s Finn was on a shortlist already by January 10th. Last year’s Finn was chosen as a finalist in the monthly microfiction contest by Globe Soup and went on to win first prize with their story, “Things I Couldn’t Say.”

Last year’s Finn was a powerhouse.

This year’s Finn hasn’t written one coherent story in a month, has barely managed to eke out a couple submissions and is watching the deadlines on their spreadsheet whiz by with a resigned maybe next year.

Last year’s Finn was a week ahead of almost every deadline, and had a cache of awesome stories to bank in case of unexpected contests.

This year’s Finn has a deadline today that is probably not going to happen.

It can be disheartening.


Just as I always remind people not to compare themselves to others, I also have to remember not to compare myself to past me. Things in my life were different last year. This year, I’m in my final year of my capstone. I’ve had some chronic health issues. I’m in a manageable, but impactful phase of my depression.

Life is not the same from day to day, let alone from year to year. And just as sometimes the creative writing has to go underground to sprout, so does everything that comes along with it.

The writing community will still be there when I finally emerge. The friends I’ve made, the publications I like to appear in. They’ll be there. Or, if not, new ones will.

I wonder if the biggest gift we can give ourselves is compassion. Maybe my goal for this year is to be a little more compassionate to Present Finn. After all, we can’t help what Past Finn did. We’re not them anymore.