It’s a long road I took to publishing my own book, and being comfortable with calling myself a writer. A longer road than I would advise most other folk to take. But the good thing about taking the scenic route is I’ve made sure by now of what I want, and what I’m prepared to accept in and from this writing life.
You can have dreams, but not unrealistic expectations. You can work hard, but not feel entitled to reward. You can feel pride, and not have it distort who you are.
I am a writer. Whether or not success as others measure it comes my way, that fact, for me, cannot be contested. I’ve always been a writer, I just used to whisper it in life, shout it in my reveries. I used to enjoy the imaginings of success so much that I did little to actually achieve them. It was easier to imagine, than to do. Living in cloud cuckoo land, I think that’s called.
Now, I don’t really want success in the way I once did. I don’t want fame. I don’t crave fantastic wealth. I do not want ego massage and the adulation of others: that least of all. Once, so wrapped in my insecurities as I was, I wanted that the most: the magic mirror of external validation. I needed the mirror on the wall to tell me how talented I was, because I felt that only other people could reassure me and remove my doubts, and that if other people loved what I wrote, well then I would truly be as talented as they said I was.
What a horrible trap to fall into, living for the opinions of other people. What then happens if the mirror changes its tune? If you are only as good as the regard in which you are held, how can you not help but become a creature who chases positive regard? What does that do to the things you produce in order to garner favourable attention? Nothing good, I’d wager.
I’m glad success did not happen to me when it was all I craved.
So what is success for me now? Living, writing, being content. Each reader is a success. Each and every one. I hope to find an audience, but I know I’m not entitled to one. I have to work for it, one reader at a time. Success is writing a book, finishing it, going through the process, being satisfied, perhaps even proud of what I have created, and then setting it free into the world, in the hope that readers will find it. Of course I’ll try to help it reach an audience, but there are no guarantees in a bookish world overflowing with new releases, all desperate for attention.
Now I know there may be some who might wonder if this is the triumph of lowered expectations. How can I expect to reach my goals if I am not reaching for the stars? Should I not visualise something more powerful than just one reader at a time? I don’t really have a pithy answer for that. I’m reaching as hard as I can as a writer, to better myself in my art, but as a person I do not yearn for the trappings of success, only to do the best I can in my writing. That is the difference for me now.
Success is having stories to tell, and a voice to tell them. Success is waking up and knowing I have a plan, and a purpose. Success is an Iggy Pop song that always makes me smile. Success is being here, now, and saying hello and goodbye to you again, as always.
5 thoughts on “The Writing Life: Definitions of Success”
“Success is having stories to tell, and a voice to tell them” — this. Otherwise, why bother?
Sounds like you’re firmly on the road to true and hard won success in your writing life! Working hard with enjoyment yet without the desire for reward is a good sign. Keep doing what you’re doing!
It will be ironic if you end up fending off the trappings of worldly success you once so strongly craved!
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I posted much the same. If I had just one reader that enjoyed my story, to me that is all the success I need