The Measure of Success, Part 3

As Galen (I think) asked in Babylon 5, “What do you want?”

I’ve always had trouble answering that question because my mind bubbles over with possibilities.  I joke that I’m like the mule that starves to death between two bales of hay.

But in order to set goals, you must know what you want, or what you want most, anyway.  Remember the old aphorism:  If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?

Do you want to make a lot of money with your writing?

Do you just want to hold a book of yours in your hands?

Do you want the ego boost that comes from having “made the cut” in New York?

Do you prefer knowing that you did it all (writing, formatting, design, promotion) yourself?

Keep in mind that none of these options exclude any of the others over the course of a long career.  I’m currently still submitting to both NY and small presses while studying self-publishing.

How do you define success? What are you willing to give up to get it?

I’ve been advised to dream big, since a big dream is more motivating than a small one.  By inclination I’m a realist — a realist with an imagination.  A pure realist would look at the statistical chances of making much money writing and get a job at Walmart. (That only matters if you measure success by how much money you make — but that’s the American way.)

But like anyone who strives in a competitive arena, whether it’s acting, writing, or professional sports) I believe I can be one of the few.  Yes, I like writing for itself.  It’s challenging in a way few things are.  But I want recognition, too.

And so I keep at it.  Am I delusional?  Maybe.  But then so is everyone else with a dream of succeeding in a difficult field — until they do.  And until then, we still have the dream.

What does the road to success look like?  My road won’t necessarily have the same scenery as yours, but that’s okay.  Whether it’s wide or narrow, has trees along the side or cactus, is traveled by bus or bicycle, it doesn’t matter as long as you have some idea of where you’re going. (A career GPS would be helpful, though.)

And don’t worry if you find the road is under construction and you have to take a detour.  It just makes the trip more interesting.

6 Comments

Filed under Life, writing

6 responses to “The Measure of Success, Part 3

  1. And maybe not surprisingly after the rest of this discussion, I find none of the things I measure success by on that list. 🙂

    I want to write the stories I most want to tell. And then I want those stories to be read.

    Everything else is just a way of making those two things happen.

    • Yes, wanting to have one’s stories read should have been on the list! 🙂 But if that was all of our motivation, we’d just post them on our web sites for free.

      Ideally, we want lots of people to read them, and if they show us how much they like them by spending money for them, or writing rave reviews about them, that’s even better.

  2. But if that was all of our motivation, we’d just post them on our web sites for free.

    Well, no, we wouldn’t. 🙂

    Posting a story to a web site has one of the same problems self-publishing does: I can post it, but the odds are not all that many people will know to come.

    Because unless I have an existing niche audience, I still lack a professional publisher’s distribution network, so not many people who don’t already have some connection to me are likely to find out about my site. And without professional editing and design, those who come are less likely to want to stay.

    Putting stories on one’s own web site for fun is a fine thing–I’ve done it–but doing so as a publishing model has the same problem self-publishing has: lack of distribution, and the assumption that if I simply put my work out there, readers will magically come to read it.

    So wanting to be read really is most of my motivation. Even getting paid is just a way of buy me more time to write them, and also of giving my publisher an investment in working to reach those readers. And even reviews (rave or otherwise) are evidence that readers have been reached, and that some of them are connecting with the story.

    Wanting to write what I want to write, and then to have what I write read (by, yes, as many readers as possible–that’s what wanting to be read generally means) isn’t just on the list for some of us. It is the list, and everything else is in support of that.

    • Why do you think we, as writers, want as many readers as possible? What underlies that desire to have others experience our vision?

      • Well, I think it’s partly because we’re introverts who want to be heard. 🙂

        But I think the desire to be heard, and the desire to tell stories, are just both fundamental human desires that have been present pretty much all through history. And being human and all, we instinctively want a part in that, too.

      • There’s also an element of wanting to give back, for all the stories I’ve read and loved.

        And of wanting to join in the larger conversation that telling those stories is part of.

        And a desire to reach out and touch other human lives.

        All sorts of things …

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