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?
3 thoughts on “How Do You Define Writing Success”
Well said, Finn. I’ve nothing to add because I agree with what you said. I will say though, one of my favorite things is reading about all of your successes.
I think you could sum up your article by saying success is something truly creative people never attain – in their own mind.