This is the final installment of posts on how authors define success. If you’ve missed previous posts, be sure to begin here. I hope if you are a fellow writer, these words have nudged you to find your own workable, sustainable definition of success. If you feel inspired, I’d love for you to share your definition in the comments below.
There are many facets to success, but I think at this point the easiest way to sum up how I feel about it is am I happy what I’m doing? If the answer is yes and I’m not looking for the exit, I’d say I’m pretty successful and am doing what I’m meant to be doing.
As someone who hasn’t sold another book YET, it might be easy for me to think of myself as unsuccessful. But I don’t. I see myself in a state of possibility. And I feel successful there, because I’m happy with all the things I’m doing to be a better writer. The process has become the place I enjoy the most. And when I feel good about who I am and what I’m doing, my potential gathers momentum, making me excited to see who I’ll become and what I will bring to the table.
I’d like to be noble and say success as a writer is simply about doing what you love and loving what you do, with no outside factors taken into account. Critics? Meh. Sales numbers? Who cares? This is art, by golly. It’s unquantifiable. But if I’m being honest with myself, I do to some degree base my success on what other people think of my work and how well it sells. This is my career. I want to do well and I didn’t write my books just for myself. Writing is about communicating and connecting to someone other than yourself, so outside opinion does matter to some extent. So I strive to create the very best for both myself and my audience and I feel successful when I’ve pleased both. I also really like it when my work can pay the bills.
My definition of success can be fluid, depending on the day, the hour, or simply the angle at which I look at my fairly brief second career as a published author. My books don’t sell hugely, but I never thought I would even be published and I’m about to have my fourth traditionally-published novel from a major house be released. When I step back and simply look at it for what it is — four titles on the shelves of libraries and bookstores around the country — that is, indeed, success. I could even back up to three books, or two books or one, in that regard. But most days my definition of success goes a step further, to knowing there’s a reader who has lost her or himself inside my story (“couldn’t put it down”) or better yet, the reader who has learned something about the world from one of my books, gained empathy or understanding greater than she/he had, or simply seen her or himself inside one of my stories and felt an iota less lonely or alone. And some days — the days my twitter feed is full of tweets about NYT bestseller lists, YMA (Youth Media Awards) and movie deals — my definition of success can shift so far away it’s totally out of reach.
When readers connect to the heart and soul of my story, I have succeeded as an artist.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. It’s a hard one for me, mostly because it changes from day to day, and for all those years when I hadn’t sold a second book, I had some seriously disarranged notions on the subject.
Mostly I think those years taught me that a certain powerful flavor of success is maintaining that particular brand of faith that kept me writing in those years before I had a contract at all. It’s easy to feel successful when you have a book coming out. It’s a lot harder when you feel like nothing is happening and you have to keep creating every day when nothing might come of it.
That’s how success looks to me today. When you can find it in yourself to keep blowing that little ember deep down inside you, the one that keeps you putting words on the page when there’s no earthly reason but the making of them.
Success is making something beautiful when there’s no one to see it but you.