We all write for our own reasons, but most of those reasons boil down to two things:
1) We love it.
2) We want to be successful.
But that last is a bit of a stinker, mostly because it’s ridiculously difficult to achieve. And, if you do achieve it, how do you know you’ve achieved it? This is an important question for any writer to consider, if only because feelings of failure tend to dog most us, no matter how much or little we’ve achieved on a quantifiable scale.
Writers often struggle with feelings of failure
A while back I received a negative review from a reader. Ouch. But no big deal, right? It’s just one opinion. Shrug it off and move on. I am adamant about allowing readers the right to their opinions. If I have the right to dislike certain books I read, certainly my readers have the right to just as arbitrarily dislike anything I write, for any reason they choose. The logical side of my brain believes this wholeheartedly. But, emotionally, a bad review is always a sock in the gut.
It doesn’t make sense, really. Who cares if a few strangers don’t like what I write? Particularly since it would seem more strangers than not actually do like it. And yet I—and thousands of other authors—still fight feelings of (you guessed it!) failure every time someone doesn’t think our books are the best thing since Gutenberg.
Are these feelings justifiable? Should we pay attention to what others think? Should we let bad reviews outweigh good reviews in our own estimation of our success?
These are all valid questions. But let’s start with an even more basic one.
How do you determine what makes a writer successful?
- Are you a success if you sell millions of copies, get multiple movie deals, and become a household name?
- Are you a success if you get all of the above, but your average rating on Amazon is barely three stars and hundreds of readers say your writing stinks?
- Are you a success if you sell only a couple hundred copies, but everyone who reads it says they love it?
- Are you a success if you make enough money to write for a living?
- What about if you never make enough to quit your day job?
- What if you never make a dime?
- Are you success if your rating on Amazon is 4.5 stars?
- Are you a failure if it’s 2.5?
- Are you a success if your book never garners commercial success, but your family and friends genuinely love it?
- Are you a success if a thousand readers love the book and a thousand hate it?
- Are you a failure if the writing isn’t perfect, but readers still enjoy it?
- Are you a success if the writing is brilliant and readers hate it?
- Are you a success if you’re a commercial failure during your lifetime, but your books become bestselling classics after your death?
- What if you wrote the world’s most brilliant book but no one ever read it? Success—or failure?
Ultimately, there is no “right” answer to any of these questions. Most of us would agree that the standard estimation of writing “success” is popular acclaim and lots of money. But that definition leaves a lot of writers out in the cold. Are we really failing to measure up if we don’t hit the big time? Or what if we do hit the big time by that definition, only to have our writing largely dissed (think: Stephanie Myers)?
What is your definition of writing success?
As you can see, “success” is a pretty wobbly notion. And so is failure when it comes right down to it. Their definitions aren’t going to be the same for every writer. Maybe I’m satisfied with that technically brilliant book that no one is going to read. Maybe you’re satisfied with the knowledge that only a couple hundred readers loved what you wrote.
And I say, Why shouldn’t we be?
If an author is brilliant enough to write a technically perfect book, that’s awesome. And the awesomeness of it is hardly going to change based on what happens to the book after it’s written.
If an author writes something that never makes him any money, but which brings a few hours of joy to a couple hundred (or a couple dozen!) readers, that’s pretty darn awesome too.
If we’re ever going to find happiness as writers, we have to understand what success means to each of us as individuals.
1. Figure out why you’re writing.
2. Figure out what you’re trying to achieve.
3. And if you reach that point, don’t let anyone (and certainly not one little ol’ negative review) tell you you’re less than what you should be.
Not everyone is going to think you’re a success no matter how much you accomplish. If you try to gain the love and respect of every reader out there, you are going to fail. What matters is meeting your goals, loving your own stories, and appreciating every milestone along the way. There is no greater success than that, no matter where you are in your writing journey.
Photo courtesy of K.M. Weiland.
Originally published on Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors
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