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. 🙂