I am a writer. I must frequently remind myself, and others, of this fact. Because the truth is that in order to be considered a writer by the rest of the world, all success is measured by what is published, and where it can be found.
I understand why. As a child, I used to dream of lining the front window of the neighborhood bookstore with books of all shapes, colors, and titles, my name splashed across each cover as readers flocked through the door, anxious to make sure they owned a copy of my latest release.
But only a few reach this level of success. You know who they are. Everyone does, for that matter. J.K. Rowling, Nicholas Sparks, and Jodi Picoult have reached what I consider the highest level of success, because people will read their next book simply because of who wrote it. They are the Garth Brooks and Taylor Swifts of the publishing world. Superstardom at its finest, but without the mosh pits and screams.
It dawned on me the other day, as I carefully scribbled my goals out for what will become the year 2011, that I must measure my success differently. Bookstores are closing each and every day, with the power and flexibility of e-books ricocheting around the world. So even my vision of walls of colorful, hard-backed books screaming my name to the public is slipping from my grasp with each new tweak of technology.
As I look ahead to the following year, in an effort to determine how to measure success, I must ask, and answer, the following questions for myself:
1) Why do I write?
This is simple. Because for me, writing is the same as breathing. I will explode if I stop doing it. Yet, writing is not something that I do. It is what I am, both when no one else is looking and when everyone else is looking. When I stop feeling the constant drumbeat of my stories, I will know it is time to stop.
2) What do I hope to accomplish?
I would love to be published, establish a relationship with readers, and then meet their needs in a way that helps them better understand themselves long after the book is closed. I would much rather change a life than fill an afternoon with the enjoyment of a great story, but maybe the ability to fill an afternoon is what the world needs most right now. Maybe that’s what brings readers back for more.
But what if there is no such thing as fame and fortune? What I’ve come to realize is that the process of writing is more important than the end result. I write what is on my heart on any particular day, and even if I do not yet have agents and publishers clamoring for my next finished project, I must continue to write. I’m sure that was true for all the famous writers, long before they were famous. They kept writing, kept improving, and never gave up.
3) How will I know when I’ve accomplished my goals?
My goals continue to change as I chase down new opportunities. Someone once advised me to find whatever needs to be written and write that. I am learning to do just that, to channel my talents to meet a specific need. And the greatest part is that my writing muscles are strengthened when each new goal is accomplished, and as a result, my goals change with each accomplishment.
So, for me, success is now a moving target. I met most of my goals for 2010, but also accomplished many that were not even on my list. They just came as a result of writing every single day, of taking new chances, and of going where my stories lead me. I sense that even Stephen King may have started in this same way, back in the day.
A hundred years from now, I want to be known as a writer who kept writing, kept improving and never gave up. There is no guarantee that this will bring me fame or fortune, but it may be the most rewarding measure of success yet. This strategy seemed to work well for Nicholas Sparks, right?