Living in the here and now is fine and dandy, but I’ll save that for another incarnation.
In this here and now, I work toward goals rather than "going with the flow."
But when will I know I’ve succeeded as an author?
Will it be when I can buy two Hummers that run on bio-diesel? Or, when millions of fans buy my books? Does it have to do with quality? Quantity? Ego inflation?
Is there a hierarchy of success?
I decided to make a list of benchmarks, actual measurements, against which I could gauge growth or slippage. The items fell into three nifty categories.
THE PATH TO PUBLICATION
1. Deciding to call myself a "writer"
2. Finishing my first story
3. Letting other people (beyond friends & family) read it
4. Starting a novel
5. Finishing the novel
6. Finding an agent
7. Getting published
Sherri Burr, an author of five law books, has this to say, "Initially, I thought it was great when I read stories to my critique group and they said it was ‘great.’ Whoopie doo! It doesn’t matter how many people think you’re great until the work sees the light of day by being published."
I tend to agree with her. To me, the validation comes when a piece is vetted by others and they invest in my work as well.
Even more though, success means that I can make a living at my chosen profession. This might be too important to me, an obsession. With what I’ve learned since thinking about success these last few days, I wonder if I’m styming myself by putting too much weight on #16.
Here’s the second area on my list.
THE BRASS TACKS
8. Cashing that first advance
9. Seeing my books in stores
10. Being recognized by store clerks
11. Getting the first royalty check
12. Receiving positive reader feedback (fan mail, happy comments at signings and bookclubs)
13. Meeting a stranger in the airport who is reading my book
14. Receiving award nominations
15. Finding an agent who is truly a good fit
16. Earning more money than I’ve spent on marketing (i.e. earning a living)
In her response to my query, multipublished novelist Jane Lindskold refers to most of the above successes but cautions that the pleasure they elicit "doesn’t linger too long."
I trust her perspective and experience. Hence the final section on my ladder of success.
THE DEEPER JOYS
17. Creating exactly the reader reaction I desire
18. Changing people’s perspectives
19. Positively affecting people through my writing
20. Always having new projects, new areas to explore
Gerald M. Weinberg, an internationally recognized software and organizational effectiveness expert, author of a book on writing and, now, a novelist, says, "I feel successful if my writing has made a positive difference in someone’s life."
Jane Lindskold also chimes in at this level. "There have been two areas in which, for me, the sense of success never dims. One is when someone reads one of my stories and responds just as I had hoped . . . .
"The other success is when someone tells me my story or novel has made them see some aspect of the world, personal or otherwise, a bit differently, that reading what I wrote expanded his or her horizons. Again, that sense that my story was successful in showing a new world to someone is heady and wonderful."
In reflecting on the success question this weekend, I’ve realized that a ladder is a good metaphor for looking at this aspect in our professional life. We climb up and down the rungs, sometimes getting stuck at a particular place for a moment, sometimes getting blisters . . .
No rung of this ladder is inherently better, more worthwhile or noble, than the other.
Still, the exercise of defining professional success fulfilled a need. I don’t feel quite so bound by that second level as I had before venturing into this thought-process.
I’d love to hear your perspectives, too. Perhaps we can come up with something that will be instructive, even useful, for writers at all stages of their careers.
May all of you be blessed with rest and heath this Labor Day.
cheers . . .