#IWSG: Defining Writing Success

This entry is part 1 of 16 in the series Insecure Writer's Support Group

On the first Wednesday of every month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (open to anyone and full of great resources and information for writers) post their answers to a monthly prompt on their blogs.

Authors benefit from getting an insightful prompt for generating more blog content, and ISWG links all respondents, which is a way for writers to discover each other. Pretty neat!

September 1 question – How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

I think the most succinct way of defining writing success to me is: Successfully sustaining the craft of using imaginative worlds to explore aspects of the human condition that I find interesting, with people who want to engage with these ideas. That’s pretty abstract, so I’ll try and break down in more concrete terms what that statement does and does not mean to me.

Success includes:

  • The independence to write what I want, when I want — without the pressure of arbitrary deadlines or obligations
  • The independence to not have to promote myself all the time (via social media, publicity events, etc)
  • Publishing quality work in a form that makes it easily accessible and distributable to those interested in it
  • Income on published work that offsets the up front costs of creating it (such as paying for freelance editing, commissioning a book cover, etc)
  • Having a “small but mighty” cadre of dedicated readers of my work, who regularly find it valuable, entertaining, and thought-provoking
  • Feedback and engagement from family, friends, and fans that help me explore the issues I write about

Success does not include:

  • Being famous
  • Making a lot of money from writing
  • Book tours
  • NY Times Bestseller lists
  • Movie deals
  • Interviews
  • Having a lot of followers
  • Anything else related to the “celebrity side” of being an author

An interesting personal discovery that occurred to me while writing the above: I think my definition of success helps explain why I don’t really consider traditional publishing an attractive option vs self-publishing. Traditional publishing offers the potential for a lot of the definitions of success I don’t really care for, while trading away two of the most important aspects of success that I do care about: the independence aspects. Not to mention, the increased uncertainty (endless querying, waiting, random rejections, etc) and long wait times (as the publisher moves through the machine of steps in their production process) that come with traditional publishing don’t seem remotely worth it.

This exercise has also made me grateful that I can afford to say I don’t need to pay my bills with writing. I have a day job that I really enjoy. It would be great to break even so that the craft is sustainable, and hey, maybe I’ll be a writer when I retire — but it’s nice to be able to say I can choose not to do something!

Looking forward to next month’s IWSG prompt…

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  1. In my younger years, I considered being famous, for anything, as a success. I’m wiser now and realized that being famous takes away freedoms I would not want to surrender.

    Nice to meet you!

  2. Love this! I ran the deadlines and madness rat race with a small publishing house for years.

    I have worked relying on my writing to pay the bills. I made a decent living but it took so many hours and I got burned out and began resenting the craft.

    Like you, I love the flexibility of writing around my day job now. My goal is to love writing again. Slowly, but surely, I am getting there.

    • “My goal is to love writing again”–yes. I’ve gone through too many periods lately when writing felt like a chore. I hope we both find the magic.

  3. Your definition of success really resonates with me. I used to dream of having deadlines, because it meant someone wanted to publish my work. Once I got the deadlines, they became so burdensome, took so much out of me, that I began to hate what I was doing. Doing this for the right reasons makes all the difference.

    • Thanks very much Morgan! Welcome to IWSG. I am pretty new myself. I missed a couple months around the holidays and got booted from the list, but I’m back on and going to try to keep it up!

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