One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to define her success by some future marker. The successful writer isn’t the Hugo Award winner, the New York Times Bestseller, or even the name on a spine at Barnes & Noble. The successful writer is the one who writes. Did you write today?
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about, “turning pro”. Many amateur writers approach the page casually. When a writer has a vision of success that is some future marker they approach writing as an amateur.
If you feel like you have to “be published” to be successful, your concentration isn’t on the writing, it’s on the need and desire to be published. You don’t want to be a writer, you want to be published. What happens when you reach this marker of success? Your first book is published, now what? You’re successful? The end? What about the second book? Will there be a second book? Perhaps a successful fiction writer is really the person who writes more than one book. Perhaps a successful fiction writer is prolific. The marker of success moves as you reach milestones and you never have the opportunity to enjoy a sense of accomplishment.
Perhaps your idea of success is the understanding and acknowledgment of a reader. This validation is valuable, but it’s not real success. If your sense of success is dependent on the compliments and praise of readers your sense of failure is equally dependent. Most writers receive far more rejection then they do approval. If your sense of success is founded on the opinion of others you’re on a swift road to failure. A bad review will destroy your motivation. Fear of rejection will paralyze you; it is one of the most powerful causes of writer’s block. You must “[seed] your professional consciousness in a place other than [your] personal ego”1.
It’s important to have goals and markers as we build our writing career. When we first pick up our pens we commit to a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a page. We build on our milestones; a scene, a chapter, a book. Our goals grow with our writing and they give us a strong sense of destination and destiny. But, these markers and achievements do not equate success. Success cannot be measured on future accomplishments. Success is in what you do right now.
Examine your personal motivations as a writer. Why are you really doing this?
Now, look again, look deeper, because your surface reasons aren’t your real reasons at all. The ONLY real reason any of us follow this career path is because, “we love to write”. If you don’t, get out now.
Every one of us has the right to choose which career we venture into and, unlike the basic “day job” where you show up, clock on, and get paid, writing requires a commitment that will not be sustained by any drive other than love. Writing is a passion and the rewards of that writing are secondary.
In knowing that we choose to write for love our success comes from the act and not achievement.
Each time you begin writing, you are successful. If you wrote today, you are a successful writer. (Ok, so in some parts of the world it’s early morning so we will allow you time before work to relax but did you write yesterday? If you did, you’re a successful writer.)
If you’re truly passionate about being a successful fiction writer and you haven’t written today, stop reading, fire up your word processor, and write, right now!
Did you write today? Congratulations! I hope you took a moment to bask in the sense of accomplishment within your success. Now, how do you feel?