From the archives- Defining Success

Like Bret, I went for a post from the week where we talked about defining our own success.  As I reread it, it was exactly the thing I needed to here. 

Defining success is a work in progress for me.  Most days, success means opening the manuscript and writing something.  Writing is what I love.  It's why I do this at all.  It's the characters and problem-solving and magic that occasionally appears on the page that keeps me coming back.  And, most days, that''s enough.

But there are those other days when I find it almost impossible not to define success by other people's standards.  Writing for publication is an odd hybrid of intimate self-exploration and public exhibitionism.  It opens you up to opportunities for awards, money, accolades.  It opens you up for criticism, rejection and personal attacks.  

Once you send that first query letter, submit that first manuscript, or sell that first copy of your book, you are exposing yourself to someone else's definition of success.  It's a dangerous thing.  That agent who asked for a revision sits over your shoulder as you sweat through every word, wondering if you're making things better- or worse.  Readers who loved the first book will beg you not to ruin the story by doing something that very closely mirrors the plot to book 2.  Your agent will send you a "can we talk" email shortly after you turned in a draft manuscript to your editor.  A reviewer will call your book an utter mess.  A royalty statement will tell you whether you have "earned" your advance.

Don't get me wrong, bringing other people into the equation is one of the greatest joys of writing for publication.  Finding people who connect with your work is incredible.  A reader may say it's the best book they've ever read.  Another one may tell you how they cried at the ending.  And that moment when an agent tells you they love your work? It's worth every rejection that came before.  "The call" is everything you imagined it would be.  An editor who is as invested in your story as you are is truly a gift.  Seeing your book on the shelf in a store is surreal.  

But, the voices out there, good, bad, and ugly, have one thing in common.  They're LOUD.  If you listen too closely, the cacophony will drown out your own voice and cripple your ability to write. You'll lose touch with your story and characters.  Worse, you'll lose touch with you. 

If you define success by things outside your control, you are setting yourself up for failure.  Writing success shouldn't be measured by whether you have an agent or a book deal or a huge advance or a movie deal or an award or a starred review or a million ads on Goodreads or a major marketing campaign or a giant print run or a hundred weeks on the bestseller list. Those things are wonderful, and should be celebrated, but they are milestones that have everything to do with other people and very little to do with you.  They are a reaction to your work.  They are not your work.  They are not you.

This week, success for me is getting another thousand words into a manuscript that is kicking my ass.  It's finding my way through the story, learning my characters' secrets and overcoming my own writing fears.

Success is getting the words on the page and then assembling them into something that I love.  And when that happens?  It's more than enough.

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