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Defining Success In Writing

So I sorta borrowed this topic from Rachelle Gardner’s post awhile ago regarding defining success as a writer. I thought about it and realized that success can be one of those ever elusive moving targets you never seem to reach, if you let it.  

For example, in the very beginning you might define success as actually writing an entire novel (what is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of writing). There is a sweet taste of victory when you type The End that very first time. At this point, you have already succeeded, because the vast majority of people who want to write a book never finish it.

Then you think, hmmm, this is good. So you polish up that query, send it out, and *GASP* get requests for the full. SUCCESS. You jump up and down, scream and dance and generally freak out. (And then have a moment of pure terror when you think your book is a huge hunk of crap, bemoan the fact you ever thought it was good enough, and convince yourself that the agent is going to use it to line her cat’s litterbox.)

But then…agent wants to schedule a call. To talk about YOUR book. Holy crap. You practice your phone voice, call everyone you know and tell them not to call you on that particular day and time, do your hair and put on make-up and sit eagerly by the phone to wait. Then it rings, your heart stops and for a split second, you’re afraid you’re going to throw up all over the new shoes you bought to celebrate. After blanking out, referring to the sweaty piece of notebook paper where you wrote down the questions to be sure to ask, you hear the magic words. “I’d love to represent you and your book.” SUC-CESS! 

Then more angst, because after you tweak a few things, your new fab agent sends you a list of editors she thinks will be perfect and suddenly, real life editors are going to read your book! You enter the merry-go-round of being on submission (or the Seventh Circle of Hell as we fondly call it). Then one day, maybe a week, maybe a month, maybe even a year later, your agent calls and tells you that you have editor interest. Which soon turns to an offer! Holy crap talk about SUCCESS! Your book is going to be published! A dream come true.

Once the excitement dies down though, you realize it sold in a 2 book deal, but you don't have the 2nd book even in your head as a concept yet. What if you can't do it again? What if you end up like some VH-1 One Hit Wonder? What if it sucks? You start, you stop, you realize it's a lot harder to write a book you already know a lot of people are going to be looking at closer from the get-go. But you do it. You make it through and your editor loves it. MORE SUCCESS.

Then after many many months, your book is on the book shelves. In stores! On the NY Times Bestseller list! MORE SUCCESS THAN YOU COULD HAVE IMAGINED! Book 2 comes out, it's even bigger. Everyone loves you. They stand in line just to get your autograph. You're a STAR. They make a movie out of your book and it's bigger than sparkly vampires. And you want more, more I say! When you accept your Noble Peace Prize, you laugh at the people who told you you'd never make it. Next to the word success in the dictionary is your picture. MEGA SUCCESS BABY.  

Okay, so most of this post is a slight exaggeration and a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it's to illustrate that no matter how you might define success, there is always something more. Something bigger you can want. The thing about success is that it's different for everyone. You need to define your own measure of success, whether it's simply typing The End or buying a tropical island with your vast fortune. And your dreams of success can change with each reached milestone too. Maybe you want more, maybe you want less. It's the one thing, the only thing that we, as writers, can control in this crazy industry.

So right at this exact moment in time, what would you say your biggest writing success has been? What are you infinitely proud of accomplishing today and want to tell the world about? :) 
Lee Bross

Lee lives her happily ever after on the coast of Maine where she has written Tangled Webs, her historical YA debut, and fantasy YA books Fates and Chaos under pen name Lanie Bross. She also writes contemporary books for New Adult under the name L.E. Bross, debuting with Right Where You Are.

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  1. I definitely try to live the little successes. Like starting chapter four yesterday. Success! I made it to chapter four. Otherwise I think you end up getting depressed about all the things you don't have yet (an agent) and will probably never have (a tropical island).

  2. Getting a manuscript I'm passionate about strong enough to query I think.

  3. I'll measure success when I start experimenting in other entertainment media that I have no business in. You know, like when actors release a music album?

    If you ever see me with a rap album, you'll know I've checked my success box.

  4. When I set out to write a book, my end goal was to finish a manuscript that I was proud of. I've done that, which is SO awesome. I actually have no problem with the idea of never being published - I certainly would like to be published, to see my book on a shelf, to make a little money off my hard work - but it's not necessary. The manuscript is enough. Not for some people, though. I have friends and family and acquaintances (not close ones, mind you) who look at me like a double-headed dragon when I explain to them that I'll be happy regardless of whether I'm published. They kinda of tsk-tsk and say what a shame it'll be if all my hard work goes without pay. That's all that matters to them is the money. There's no explaining to them that some things are more important than money, so I don't even try. :P

  5. I'm taking little steps. The first success? Finishing the draft. The next success? Getting the first major rewrite out of the way.

  6. This is so true.

    Currently, my biggest success was writing a query--actually, two queries!--that I'm proud of. Never thought that'd happen. And another one is actually persevering through the tough times, through the times where I didn't want to write at all but still did because I needed to. Otherwise, how would I finish the book?

    What I want to accomplish right now is to finish another book that already has a decently written query. I'll really celebrate when that happens.

  7. My successes are small, like as in, I got the layout done! Woo-hoo! Or like WriterGirl said, you get another chapter done! Yay! I totally agree with the "The End" is one of the most hardest parts in writing. Mostly because I, um, haven't done it yet. But I can only anticipate.

  8. They're all successes. The first time you finish a story. The 10th time you revise it. Your baby's fist proud trip to the publisher in it's new brown envelope. That first communication telling you they want it. The first contract (and all the contracts to come.) The first sight of the cover. Right now I am ready to query an agent about my first adult novel. Getting that query out the door will be a major success. Enjoy the journey!


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Item Reviewed: Defining Success In Writing Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lee Bross