Thursday, January 3, 2013

What does it mean to be a successful writer?

by Stephanie Morrill

With all the normal January buzz about goals and resolutions going on, I find that this is a time of year that I have to remind myself what success is for me. If I don't, I wind up too influenced by outside sources, and I get easily discouraged.

What do I mean by outside sources? Let me use a non-writing example. Perusing Pottery Barn Kids can be fun, same as dreaming of book tours and bestsellers lists can be fun, but if I do it for too long, I start thinking crazy things like, "My 5-year-old daughter NEEDS that canopy bed. Her room is so uncoordinated! What kind of mother am I?"

Writing can be that way too. I see other authors' cool writing stuff (book deals and signings) and I start feeling like to be successful, I too need that cool writing stuff. My writing stuff isn't nearly as cool. What kind of a writer am I?

But if I've learned anything about writing journeys, it's that they're all different, and they're meant to be that way. And the only way that I can consider myself a successful writer is if I'm being faithful to my calling and to my path. Which may or may not look successful to others.

My Aunt Penny loved to write. She respected her craft enough to keep these well-used books in her bedroom:

After my aunt passed away at age 59, my uncle was kind enough to let me have these for my office.
And yet she never even tried to get something published. It wasn't about that to her, but in my eyes, she's still a successful writer.

Maybe you don't want to be published. Maybe like my aunt. you write for you or for your family. Don't let others tell you you're less of a writer for that.

If you do want to be published, one of these days you'll likely have to answer the question, "Do I want to write the stories of my heart, or do I want to write something that will be easier to sell and market?" And often you can find a way to compromise the two, but it's an issue that presses on many of the working writers I know.

Even after you're published, you'll struggle with what success is. Because not only will there always be more that you could do (another round of revisions, another school visit, another Tweet about your new release) there will always be another writer is doing more. (What's really aggravating is when you're promoting twice as hard as they are, but yet they're selling twice the amount of books.)

When you define success for yourself, rather than letting others pin their version of success on you, you become a much healthier writer. You still might fall into compare-and-compete moments, but they'll be just that - moments. And then you can put your blinders back on and focus on your writing path.

This year, as you make goals and dream dreams, remember you don't need this to be a successful writer:

A Fancy Office

Or this:

Signing my first book contract

All you need is to be true to your unique journey. That is what makes you successful.

What are the unique parts of your journey? Is it a genre? A theme? A desire to publish?


  1. When I finish my book I am going to self publish it on Amazon, one of my friends dad did this and he has had lots of success with it. That is if I actually get a book done.

  2. Wow! That's a great post, and definitely really important to remember. My goal for my writing is to use it to help others. To help them see things differently, or to inspire them, or change something in them to be different than it was before they read what I've written. And what I need to remember is that I don't need to be published to achieve that goal. :)

    Woah, I've never written that out before...I'm going to put that somewhere else where I can see it :D

  3. This is something I've given a lot of thought (and occasionally tears) to over the years. I always knew what I wanted--a big contract with a lot of zeroes, instant fame, that sort of thing. But my path included a small press that earned me some hurtful comments over the years (that's not "really" published, it doesn't count for this, you're not eligible for that...) before I eventually got contracts with the bigger houses (though they didn't have a lot of zeroes, LOL).

    It wasn't an easy path, especially when my small press books were selling only dozens while my friends were celebrating major-house contracts. But you know, looking back I can see that this is the path I needed to be on. And oh, it is sweet-but-odd to now hear my agent talking UP my small press experience to my big-house team! And them agreeing that it's been a huge benefit!

    Dreams and goals are definitely awesome. But coming to grips with YOUR path, YOUR career, YOUR journey is definitely one of the most important steps you can take.

  4. Wow, thanks for such a great post! I'll be honest. I struggle with not feeling sucessful in just about anything I do. Can't go to college? Outcast. Can't write because of sickness? Failure. It's a serious pit I've dug, and one I'm struggling to get out of.

    I admit, it took me a while to realize that my definition of success and achievement aren't the same as everyone else's. I may not be able to go to college, but I can make a difference at home. I may not be able to write all the time, but it makes the times I can write all the more fulfilling, and even if the story never sees print, it whispers encouragement to friends and family. It spurs them on. It creates a ripple like a pebble tossed into water. And to be the one to start the ripple? That is true success!

    1. *APPLAUSE*

    2. From Amo Libros:
      *APPLAUSE*!!! You go, girl!!

  5. I just keep telling myself that if God wants me published, it will happen. I have no doubt that he knows what he is doing. He opens doors when he wants to and he makes things happen in his time. I do my best, but it all comes down to him.

  6. Questions like this have been on my mind a lot the last few months. What you want out of it directly affects the work put into it.
    I like to think I want a career however I don't have much control over that which is frustrating. I've been feeling in best off doing everything I can to build a strong foundation in craft, knowing how long it takes for me to comfortably write and revise a book, as well as how much Im willing to put into social media and marketing.
    For a long time all I wanted to do was go to a conferance this year and suddenly last week I had this thought of maybe its not time. It upset me but I've been working through it and am still contemplating whether or not it's right for me at the moment. I may be better off writing as i much as I can and enter contests to get feedback as a barometer of if I'm improving as a writer and then look to conferences. I'm still working on it idea

  7. I always think I'd love to have a career in writing - but I know that's not something I can necessarily control. Instead, I'll do the best I can, and see where it takes me.
    For now, at this point in my life and my writing, I just remind myself of the successes I have had. Sure, I haven't got an agent or a published book or a dozen competition wins. But I've finished a first draft and I'm now editing it, and a couple of years ago that looked impossible.
    So maybe what looks impossible now won't be, in another few years.
    And at the moment, achieving as much as I have so far is my idea of success.

  8. God's will is most important and I go to Him daily. My dream--I hope it His too!--consists of a novel I have been working on for over five years, spawned after a death in the family--and one day I hope to inspire and encourage others with its message. Hope can blossom in the darkest places and this I know from personal trials. Someday I pray the tears of others may be dried by His hand, through the words He leads me to pen.

    1. From Amo Libros:
      "Amen!" Amo said fervently, because in Amo's heart, Amo prayed the same thing, or very nearly.

  9. Oh wow. Needed to read this post. I've hit problems with my manuscript, with a few suggestions that my story isn't going to sell well,, at all. Then the questions come: do I rewrite? Do I abandon ship? (Which is an incredibly hard thought because this is story is mine to tell.) Do I query anyway? It's very hard for me to remember my journey is my own and it's going to be different from everyone else's.

    1. from Amo Libros:
      My advice (however much or little it may be worth) is first and foremost to pray. What God wants to happen will happen, often against all odds. If you feel this is something He wants you to continue with, you will know, and things will work out. If not, then you will know, and you can move on to something else.
      Along with this, remember: even if this doesn't work out, it hasn't been a waste. I'm sure you've learned loads, and it may provide something for future stories that you never thought it would.
      Good luck!

  10. I went through a phase last year where I looked at successful authors and was like "I want what they have." Which was basically an adoring fanbase. It took reading a good book again to remind me that what I really write for, is to take my readers on a journey they'll enjoy, and to give them the best reading experience possible. Soooo, while my goal for the year is to progress far enough in my book to get it to betas, I'm not blinded like I was last year by the idea of being a bestselling author--instead, I'm just making my goal for this year to commit to ONE book-not what feels like twenty-and commit to it well.

  11. From Amo Libros:
    There are so many different aspects to my goals, some of which shift but what I'd really like to do is write the sort of children's/YA book that will be on the shelf for decades to come. Not wildly popular, but kind of always there. The kind of story that parents pass on to children, and people hold close to their hearts, the way I do with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Perhaps a little book that reminds people that there's is still love and joy in the world, and things worth smiling about.
    But I have to finish one first.

  12. This is very convenient; my family has been telling me that I should get published, but I know that my book needs a lot of work. Of course, their opinions are probably colored more than they'd admit to me. I'd like to get published, but I know no isn't the time--I'm barely on my second draft. My goal is to make my stories as good as they can be, publish tme online, and keep writing. Sometimes I feel disheartened by how good others' writing is, but then I remind myself that if I keep going, someday I could make it to that level too. Thanks so much for the post!

  13. From Amo Libros:
    Thank you, Miss Stephanie, for this post! I have bookmarked it in my "writing" file and may print it. I have a feeling that I am going to find this a God-send someday! Thank you so very much!!

  14. Thank you, Stephanie! This is a great reminder to me at the start of this year when I have so many high hopes for my 2013 writing. I needed this. :]

  15. We need to remember that in something like writing, we all started off in the same place - from nothing. People think "oh, look at *famous writer*, I'll never make it like he/she did. What's the point?" but the fact is that said *famous writer* most likely didn't ever think in their wildest dreams that they would become so well-known. So don't give up! You never know... :)

    1. That's good to remember! Thanks for sharing :)

  16. Woah. I came back this morning to look at the comments like I tend to do...and I am just amazed. There are so many people's...well, parts of their hearts right here. It's really special to read this. :)

    That's one of the reasons I love GTW so much. I can see what it's like for other writers, and it helps me keep going and keep learning. So...thanks so much for GTW. I know I've said it before, but I think I should just say it again today. :)

  17. I was so relieved to see everyone's comments yesterday! I felt rather nervous when I clicked "publish" on that post, so it was comforting to see that many of you found it very relevant to your situation.