attitude is everything

A week or two ago there was a thread on Scribophile by a writer expressing his frustration at the difficulty of making a living at writing. We (several members of scrib) all talked about the reasons we write, and what success means to us. I think the consensus was we’d all still write even if it made us no money, but making lots of money is by far the ideal and most hoped-for outcome.

One topic that came up was the difference between writing for commercial success and writing as Art. Of course, those goals are not mutually exclusive, but often writers approach a project with one or the other as a primary purpose. We talked about what makes something satisfying, as work. Is it the art? The financial reward? Or maybe the critical acclaim? I think we all have our own reasons for writing, but I assume for most of us satisfaction is probably a combination of all of those things.

Then today I read a blog post by another author who was lamenting his lack of sales, and I thought about this “success” thing again. And I decided, attitude is everything. Success is what you decide it is: Selling a certain number of books? Having a high star-average on reviews? Writing a book you are proud of? Having a dedicated fan base? Making a specific amount of money? Enjoying your time at the keyboard? Winning an award? Making friends and being a part of a community? Reaching a particular spot on the bestseller list?

There is no reason we have to let anyone else dictate what “success” means for us, and no reason we can’t change our definition of it as we evolve as writers and as people. I think it is all about having a positive attitude. Finding things to be proud of, and happy about. Having a positive attitude is the way I get through life. I have become pretty good at finding the bright side of almost anything.

Here is an unflattering but perfect example: my story about body acceptance. So I have had two C-sections (I don’t advise that, btw) and as a result, I have a permanent paunch. (It might also have to do with my guacamole obsession, I’m not denying that, but the C-sections definitely had a negative effect on my abdominal structure.) So one day I was naked, just out of the shower, looking at myself in the mirror and (as you might imagine) I was feeling kind of down about my body. But I really looked at myself. At my boobs, all saggy after breastfeeding two babies, and my belly, all flabby…. and I cracked up. My body looked like a caricature of a face, with nipple-eyes and a belly button nose and my C-section scar with the paunch in a sad old crescent smiling at me in the mirror. I laughed and laughed. And now, when I feel bad about my body I remember that it might not be perfect, but it is strong, and it works, and if nothing else it is good for a laugh in the mirror when I’m naked.

In a similar way, I think we can all find something about our writing that is positive, some way in which we have achieved success as authors. Maybe it isn’t a definition of success that anyone else will understand, just like my extremely un-sexy belly-face is not going to make anyone laugh but me. But that’s okay.

In case you still want to compare yourself to other authors, this is a fun post for ranking yourself. 🙂

6 thoughts on “attitude is everything

  1. Three C-sections over here, and I don’t recommend that either!
    But seriously, I don’t think writers (or most artists) know what they want. I think most of us are shouting at the sky, without any hope of being heard. And I think only a few us are aware of it.
    Sure I’d love to make piles of cash, but I’d be happy with a few dedicated fans to be perfectly honest.

  2. Great post. (I always enjoy your posts.) Money’s awesome because it brings freedom—maybe it’s the freedom to write full time and not stress over bills, or maybe it’s just the freedom to treat yourself to a caramel ribbon crunch Frappuccino (not that I have a weakness or anything). Either way, I won’t turn it down. But success for me is finishing what I started, and doing it better this time than the last time—then doing it all over again, even better! (Hopefully.) It’s staying on track, and getting back on track when I drift, instead of letting that drift get out of control. It’s connecting with people who have the same crazy drive, and connecting with people who are thankful we have that crazy drive. It’s learning and growing and still finding joy in doing it. Every day I choose to spend time writing is a success in my book, every email I get from someone who liked what I did is a success, every night I crawl into bed with thoughts of what I’m going to work on the next day (and the next and the next) is a success. Yes, I’d like recognition and reviews and awards and sales, but if I make those my goals, I’m afraid I’ll never get enough recognition, reviews, awards, and sales, and the joy of simply writing will be lost in the drive to acquire More Numbers of Things. I may even come to resent writing in that case. Whereas, if I get my satisfaction through doing and learning and improving, knowing that I’ll never reach the limit of those things is part of what the joy is made of.

    • Thanks 🙂
      You are right: doing this for money, or recognition, is a slippery slope. How much is enough? There will always be someone doing “better” than each of us. If we keep comparing ourselves to those few writers perched on the tip of the pyramid, we won’t ever be happy. I’m happy enough to keep writing, like you, day by day. I do feel a pride at the improvement I see in my work, and I am excited to keep improving.
      The best thing about measuring success with your own internal yardstick is that you get to decide what success means. Versus using the external criteria of money/fame/awards, where someone else (or some corporation that does author rankings) is in control of what is required to reach “good enough” or “better” or “best”.
      In the original thread I was talking about, one of the ideas that came up was the “nobility” of working for the sake of art, without any monetary reward. And someone said they couldn’t do that- they couldn’t live off their spouse’s wages, or government subsidy, spend their days happily making art, and still hold their heads up. Because to them, success meant being able to financially support their family. I understood, but I pointed out that the people who do that aren’t “lazy”, they ARE working, just at a job that does not pay them with money.
      I think to be happy and satisfied working in the arts, we can’t forget the “joy of simply writing” that you mentioned. The value of the art for its own sake has to be part of our mindset, or we will too easily quit making art.

  3. 3 kids no C-Sections but my body has scars and it’s not perfect but I love my babies and it’s worth it. They make me feel beautiful. As for rating ones success, it is all about attitude. Validation by other authors ans creating a fan base, however, help dramatically. We all need it and crave it. We want to know our art is loved. We might be shy when hearing praises about our work but at the same time we are tickled over it. Some people see sales going up and think success. Others see ten well written reviews declaring it outstanding and brilliant as success. It’s sad when amazing writers aren’t recognized how they should but it’s a dog eat dog world out there and if you don’t do it for you, for your own fulfillment than how can you do it for others. Write if it makes you happy, stop when in no longer does.

    • True, there has to be a balance. If we don’t do this primarily for ourselves, then we won’t last long, and probably we won’t produce work we are proud of. But without some external validation, it’s hard to keep going.

      And I feel the same way as you, my body might never be the same as it was pre-baby, but it’s a price I happily pay for my kids. They are what I am most proud of in my life ❤

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