Monday, May 19, 2008

How do you define success, redux.

Maven Carrie Ryan Last week, Maven Erica had a fantastic post asking the question, "How do you define success?" The gist of the post was that we can't and shouldn't define our own success by anyone else's. This really got me thinking and while I'm not sure I've come to any conclusions or have any grand statements on the matter, I thought I'd share :)

One of the things that's difficult about writing is that there's always a goal out there in the distance, always another rung on the ladder or another bar to hurtle over. Suddenly it's not just "write the book" it's "write the book, revise the book, research agents, query, get requests, get representation, sell, sell for more, get tours, make lists, sell again, sell more books..." Every time you reach one milestone, another appears in the distance and rarely do we stop and say "great job on climbing that hurdle" and instead we take off full speed to the next.

I think it can be too easy to fail to recognize your own accomplishments in this business. I think it's too easy to think "when I get an agent, then I'll know I've succeeded" and then once you get the agent shift that goal to "when I sell, then I'll know I've succeeded" without recognizing the success you've already had. This is one reason I feel it's so important to find that feeling of success within yourself rather than needing outside validation. That's why ultimately you have to write for yourself and your own love of it rather than to reach these external milestones.

Another issue with defining success in writing is that everyone succeeds in such different ways. In most other professions there's a defined-ish path to success. For example, being a lawyer my path is laid out: I toil as an associate for however many years billing X number of hours and collecting Y% of my hours billed and then I'll make income partner whereupon I'll work however many more years building a suitable book of business until I make equity partner. I can look at those around me who have succeeded and copy their paths and there's a good chance that I can follow in their footsteps.

There's no way to do this in writing. You can take 10 different highly successful authors and trace the steps they took to get to where they are and even if you could copy those steps, there's no guarantee you'd end up in the same spot. Just because Author A becomes a NYT bestseller after being lead title from B House doesn't mean that you're guaranteed to become a NYT bestseller if only you can be lead title from B House the next year.

I think that's why success has to be a deeply personal question for everyone. I love to look at other author successes as motivation. I love hearing about the success and reading about how the author got there (especially because there are so many paths). But in the end, I think it does come back to enjoying what you do and being happy with where you are.

6 comments:

Erica Ridley said...

I think it's too easy to think "when I get an agent, then I'll know I've succeeded" and then once you get the agent shift that goal to "when I sell, then I'll know I've succeeded" without recognizing the success you've already had.

Great post, Carrie! And so true. I remember thinking, "If only I could final in a contest, then I'll know I've succeeded." and then once I did succeed, that goal instantly changed to *win* a contest, followed by get agent requests, followed by sign with an agent, followed by sell for millions at auction...

Maybe we should make bulleted lists of our accomplishments and tape them to our computer monitors, so that every time we think about our new, seemingly impossible goal, we can glance at a long list of other one-time seemingly impossible goals that we achieved with a healthy dose of perseverance.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Here, here. Great post, Carrie. I couldn't agree more.

Celeste Gleason said...

A really excellent point :)

lacey kaye said...

So.been.there.

Great post! I might just print out that list...

Darcy Burke said...

Everyone takes whatever path they need/want to "success." It's the whole journey, not the destination thing. Mr. Burke is an attorney and he only toiled as an associate for a year before hanging up his shingle. He's been in private practice ever since. Definitely not the path he/we planned, but here we are!

Great, great post!

Jackie Barbosa said...

it's too easy to think "when I get an agent, then I'll know I've succeeded" and then once you get the agent shift that goal to "when I sell, then I'll know I've succeeded" without recognizing the success you've already had.

I know Erica already quoted this passage, but I'm doing it again because it really struck a chord with me. I'm very aware of the "moving bar" effect these days. It's so much that I don't appreciate what I have achieved as that there's always something more to achieve.

I'm not entirely sure that's a bad thing, though. If we ever reached a stage in any endeavor where we had no goals left to accomplish, no challenged left to be conquered, why would we bother to continue?

It is important, though, to take pleasure in each success along the way.

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