End of the Year Review: Success

Last week I talked about productivity, and why word count isn’t always the best way for a writer to measure productive writing time. Moving forward is the best way for me to think of productivity. Sometimes that translates to word count. Sometimes it doesn’t.

This past week was more or less a “doesn’t”.

Don’t get me wrong. I wrote over 10,000 words in four days and not all of them were bad. But I’ve been working most of the week, and keeping up is like trying to juggle a lot of raw eggs. Sometimes I drop one or more of them. This week, I dropped the attitude one. I was so grouchy and irritated with everything! However, the ensuing grumpiness as I tried to work, keep up with the house, make sure my children were not educated by wolves, were fed, clothed, and happy, kept up with my drafting, character work, and reading, I did have some time to reflect on success in writing.

Like productivity, I think writers can define success in ways that are less than helpful. At one point or another, many writers fall into the trap of thinking in terms of “if/whens”.

If/when I finish my first draft, I will be successful. If/when I get an agent, I will be successful. If/when I get published, I will be successful. Personally, I find the “if/when” game self-defeating.

Bottom line, none of those things are necessarily achievable. First drafts—well, some stories take about three drafts to get them to the story they were meant to be. (And don’t start on me about all stories being perfect if you plot them first. I know that’s a fallacy.) Getting an agent is largely a gamble of getting a good story in front of the right person at the right time. Publishing means finding a place that wants your story which means they have to see the market for it. Do I really want to tie my idea of success to variables outside my influence? I might want all those things to come true, and work hard to make them come true, but realistically, most of the if/whens are out of my control.

Some years ago, I decided that I was a writer. I write stories because they are mine to tell, and because I like telling them. Because I like telling stories, I want to tell as many as I can as well as I can. Success is getting better at what I do, one story at a time.

I can control that. I can influence that. I can study my craft. I can practice by writing as much as I can, getting feedback, and then rewriting, revising, and even shelving a story that simply isn’t holding up because of a concept flaw or too many plot improbabilities. I can rewrite whole stories multiple times until they say exactly what I want it to say. Every day becomes one more stepping stone on a road to a successful year.

Changing the definition of success to reflect improvement rather than achievement is also an excellent tonic for impostor syndrome, too. So what if I don’t sell a book as fast as one of my writing friends? So what if I don’t get an agent with my first book? So what if I have to rewrite my debut twenty-five times? So what if I have to shelve a book because it just isn’t strong enough to hold up to the intense process of writing-revising-rewriting-revising-revising again? So what if I can’t sell that short story? None of those things reflect failure. They are simply situations. How I react to them is up to me. They don’t change my success.

I would challenge any writer struggling with a defeated outlook this year to give up the if/when game if that’s holding you back. Change your view to look at yourself and how you have grown as a writer over the last year. See if that isn’t a better way to both give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back and challenge yourself to go further in the next year. After all—this kind of success you own!

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