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:~: Monday, December 18, 2006 :~:

How Do You Measure Success?

My husband recently asked me why I wasn't writing. He's right, I haven't been, but I didn't realize I'd slacked off so much that he'd noticed. I could have given any number of reasons for my lack of creativity as of late - holidays, kids being home, busy time of year - but none would have been the real answer. The real reason I haven't been writing is stress, anxiety and worry about things I have no control over. We chatted for awhile about my writing, and being the supportive DH he is, he basically told me to get my butt back in gear, that stressing over things out of my control is anti-productive. And he's right. I know he's right, but sometimes it takes someone else to reinforce the things I instinctively know to get me back to work.

The whole discussion didn't simply jumpstart my writing (which I'm just now starting to get back into), but it made me think about how I view my success and failures in this business. The last few months, I've measured my success as a writer by the inevitable sale of my book. I didn't get an offer a week after it had been out? Failure. A month and still no offer? Bigger failure. It's weighed on me, affected my progress on my current wip, affected my overall thinking. But the more I step back and look at it, is the sale of this book really anything I can control? The answer, unfortunately, is no.

I read somewhere that 35% of this publishing business is perserverence, 35% is talent, and 30% is luck. When you take into account the only thing you can really control is the writing, that leaves a lot of room for failure in the whole I sold, therefore I am a success mentality. So how do you define success? Is it static, or does it change?

When I first started writing, I defined success by whether or not I finished a manuscript. I did it. I was successful. Then my success morphed into not only finishing something, but finishing something someone else loved. I mean, I loved it, or else I wouldn't have written it, but in order to be a successful writer, someone else had to read it and love it. And that too happened. Again, I was successful. Once I knew I could write a book worth reading, my definition of success again changed until a success for me was not only finding someone to love it, but finding an agent to love it. That idea of success lasted a long time for me, it had its ups and downs, but it too also happened. I felt successful, even though I'd never seen my words in print. Just knowing another professional believed in me was a success that I'd never experienced before. And that lasted all of a month, until my book was sent out to publishers. For the last two months though, my success has hinged on the sale of this book. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that's not such a healthy idea.

What can I control? The writing, the dedication, the perserverence. Can I control if someone else loves it and wants to buy it? No. All I can do is write the best book I can at the time I'm writing it. And I know I did that. In that respect, I am successful. Am I a failure because a sale hasn't happened when I wanted it to happen? Am I a failure simply because I haven't sold yet? The answer is no.

I know a lot of writers who get down when things don't happen in the time frame they establish. When the frustration over rejections weighs heavily on them. I've been there. As writers, we all have goals we're working toward - whether that's publication or not. But because you haven't reached your goal doesn't mean you're a failure. It simply means it's not your time yet.

We're coming up on the end of the year, when a lot of us take stock in what we've accomplished over the last twelve months. When you look at the list of things you've done, focus on the positive, the successes you've had, not on what you haven't done or achieved yet. Your definition of success will morph as you grow in this business. It's inevitable and important for your career. Try to enjoy each success along the way and celebrate what you have done rather than what you have not.


Blogger wavybrains said...

GREAT post Eli. And so true. The only thing we can control is the writing AND the trying--if you never put your stuff out there, none of your goals can come true. You did that part--you put your stuff out there. You'll continue to do that part. So, yes, it boils down to the writing.

For me, I've tried to break success into little goals--each manuscript, each query, each contest, each rejection, etc--but with each goal comes the possibility of rejection. Try to think of it as a diet plateau--it wasn't wrong to have the goal--you just need more time or a different approach. But, if you toss in the towel, you'll never know how good the results would have been if you held onto your goal and kept doing your program. Now, sometimes goals need to be modified (i.e. I want to be 101 pounds becomes I want to be a size 10 then a size 8 then a size 6 with really buff arms and I want to be a NYT bestseller in six months becomes I want to sell. I want this many good reviews. I want to make this list. I want to sell again.) But, even when you modify a goal, you can't beat yourself up for having the goal in the first place.

It's also good to have multiple goals--yes you want to sell this book, but you also want to finish MS # 6 and X. I want to find an agent for my YA, but my main goal right now is finishing my WIP. Then editing it. Then starting #4. I still have the agent goal--but I'm not making it my only focus right now.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Great way to think, Wavy. And the diet analogy is so accurate.

I'm not a huge this-is-my-list-of-goals maker. I have overall goals as far as writing goes - things I want to have happen, but I don't put a time frame on them. Yes, I want to sell, yes I want to sell again, yes I want to make such-and-such list, but I'm not puttin ga deadline on myself to reach each of those goals. I think it's important to remember that just because you haven't reached a goal yet, doesn't mean you're a failure. The two - goals and success are not the same thing.

7:23 PM  
Blogger MaryF said...

I've been having the same issues, Elisabeth. Not so much the time frame, but all that time with my hopes up, only to have them dashed and dashed and dashed. I finally stopped thinking about THAT end of it and tried to remember why I'm doing this in the first place, because I love it. Nanowrimo REALLY helped me with that. It wasn't easy to change that mindset, though.

4:07 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Good thing to remember, Mary. We write because we love it. Not simply because we want a paycheck. If that were the ultimate goal, there are a lot of easier ways to go about getting money.

I'm glad Nano jumpstarted your writing and love of writing again.

9:28 AM  

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