Monday, November 12, 2012

Success Anyone?

There are many ways to measure success as a writer. It's NaNoWriMo throughout November, and for many a writer success will be measured by word count. Those who hit (or even surpass) the 50,000 word goal will know they have met with success.

For some, it's finishing that first draft.
Others view success as signing with an agent. Or signing publishing contract. Doesn't becoming a published author (which is the correct term for a writer who has published a book length work. Only published book writers are authors. Funny, huh?) mean success? I guess it does.

The funny thing about the world of publishing is that the very moment a writer clears one hurdle she will immediately be confronted by another, larger hurdle. Even multi-published authors face them. It's tempting to believe that with a few books under your belt, you're going to be able to keep writing and keep being published. That could happen, but more often than not, a writer will end up with two books published and then they fade from public eye. Low sales figures on two books is enough to kill a promising writer's career.

I know many writers who say they aren't writing for publication, that they just want to see if they can finish a book. I'm always a bit relived when I hear them say this. Relived for them. The world of publishing is difficult to break into, and it's even harder to remain. 

Unless we're certain of our goals, and are able to hold fast to them regardless of our fortunes, this business will crush us. 

Writers are tender souls. We tip-toe through the rooms of life trying not to disturb anything so that we might observe the world as it is and then write it all down in story form. We love art for the sake of art.
And deep down inside—in that place we dare not think too much about and certainly don't show to others—we very much believe we can become, if not fabulously famous, at least steady with enough published books to our name that we can create small waves of excitement in the right crowd. But that's not why we write. Heavens no. Absolutely not. 
Not really.
Maybe a little.

David Budbill

I want to be
so I can be
about being

What good is my
when I am
in this

Are you writing for the bliss of art alone? Or does some part of you reach for publication, maybe even becoming a known name? How do you measure your success? 


Susie Finkbeiner said...

When I started this NaNoWriMo, my goal wasn't the word count (although that's a good motivator and scale). I just wanted to get this novel out of me. It's lived in my head for far too long. These characters needed their lives to become. Their voices have been asking for life for almost 2 years. It was time.

I love writing. I've done it for free for so long that I suppose, without the hope of publication, I would still peck away. I'm fairly realistic about the fickle and changing publishing world. But I feel that I would be a failure if I quit writing just because of the possibility of obscurity.

I measure success in each page I write. The way the characters correct me as I go. The tears that come and surprise me as I write a difficult scene. The way the tragedy of the story can turn around to be hopeful. Publishing is a good measure. But I'm more interested in readers. All I need to have readers is my old blog/printer full of paper, a few stories, and kind friends who will look over what I've written.

I heard Anne Schmidt speak a month ago (her husband is Gary Schmidt, YA author). She used a quote from "Chariots of Fire", changing one word, to describe success. "When I write, I feel God's pleasure." Ah. Yes. THAT is success.

Kathleen Popa said...

Oddly enough, I'm perfectly comfortable with obscurity. And I love hearing from my readers - especially the ones who like me. Maybe if I write another book, I'll be able to sort myself out.

Patti Hill said...

This is such an important question to ask, Bonnie, and you asked it beautifully. Love the poem!

I write to wrestle with things that are driving me made; and I write to connect with other wrestlers. I would hate to be the only wrestler on the mat. Can I have some more reasons to write? Sorry, can't hear you so I'll continue. Let's see, I write for the pure delight of creating, even when the words must be excised from the furthest regions of my mind. And I write because when I don't I'm miserable.

Katy, I'm all in favor of you sorting yourself out. A book from you would be a gift to all of us.

Samantha Bennett said...

Haha, I love the honesty of this post! "We tip-toe through the rooms of life trying not to disturb anything so that we might observe the world as it is and then write it all down in story form." Beautiful! In answer to your question, yes, I do believe that some part of me wants to become a known name. I want that validation, that recognition, because for so much of my life, I've paired recognition with love. How do I measure success? I'd say it's writing a story that connects down deep with someone. They're different having read it. Love this post mucho!

Cherry Odelberg said...

Oh, I knew you were my soul mate - you said it so well!
I am disappointed the poem was not another of your own writing.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Ah, Patti, "I write because when I don't, I feel miserable."
One of the spiritual indicators of whether we are being exactly what we are meant to be, is it not?

Bonnie Grove said...

Susie: I can't relate to Anne Schmidt's paraphrase from Chariots. I suppose I should tell everyone I do--it sounds so romantic and fabulous. But I'm not sure I've experienced anything like that. I do recall he gave up running for the mission field. Perhaps the chance to produce art is fleeting? Do you think that is what she meant? Probably not.

Katy: Another book from you. Yes please. It's been too long since I've cradled your words in my hands.

Patti: I love your answer, in part because I'm picturing you as a wrestler--tiny woman with big muscles. Yeah, that sounds right.

Bonnie Grove said...

Samantha: Paired recognition with love. Ouch. Nice one. Always love hearing from you.

Cherry: Thanks!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I should have unpacked what Anne said a little better. She mentioned that it was akin to feeling that we're serving God well with our work. That we're glorifying Him.

Does that make more sense?

Camille Eide said...

I write in hopes of hearing one relieved soul stand up and say, "Yes!" Even better: "Someone knows" and best: "There is hope!"

Patti Hill said...

oops! I wrestle with things that drive me MAD, not madE. Good grief.

Bonnie Grove said...

Susie: I understood that--I just wonder if there's more behind it. I suspect it isn't so clear cut for many of us. But it's a good thought to keep in mind on dark days. Thanks!

Camille: I think every writer would agree with your idea.

Jennifer Major said...

From the age of about 9, or maybe earlier, I told myself stories to cope with a world that had no time for a shy, fatherless, impoverished little kid who had no talent or spark.
I entertain myself through all kinds of dark moments where light was the last thing I knew would come.
Once my mom had married again, life became much more of a garden and less of a dungeon. I had a huge cherry tree to sit in and birds to entertain. But I still made up stories. I have ever since.

Fast forward to 26th, 2011, I realized I could actually put things down and entertain other people. My crit partners and beta readers have enjoyed my work.
Oh, and that little girl who thought she had no talent to give?
She sings a mean soprano, bakes like Martha Stwerat wishes she could and tells a pretty good story.

I write for those who need to escape, because thoughts and wishes for escape were all I had to keep me going for a while.
I would love to honestly say "I write for the Lord". But truly, I write for me and I hope He blesses it and gives someone else a chance to fly away.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Bonnie, I love your posts.

Why do I write . . . ? I've thought about it before, but I can't settle on an answer. Not one I particularly feel in my soul, anyway. The only one I can think of is, "It's my blood." Words are blood to me, and spilling them out onto the paper for others to read my insides . . . yeah, sometimes freaky, sometimes nauseating with exposure, but I love it. I LOVE it. I can't help but put myself out there! Wherever "there" is.

God's given me a gift I can't deny, and I love using it. Like Patti, I go crazy if I don't write. I must. It's my blood.

Jennifer Major said...

Whoops! DECEMBER 26th...and yes, I could have spelled Martha's name right, but I was uhh, going for the Gaelic spelling...

Bonnie Grove said...

Jennifer: I think in story, too. It's the only way I've found the world makes sense. I can't tie this to anything particular about my upbringing (well, I can but that could take weeks), there's just something inside of me, a flashing light or a big red button that gets pushed whenever story comes around.
I clearly recall sitting in class when I was in grade 5 and the teacher is talking on and on, then, suddenly, she switches to telling a story. I literally sat up straight in my desk, and I thought, "Oh good. Now she's going to make sense."
Love Martha's Gaelic name. She should have it embroidered on pillows.

S.F.: Thank you.
I agree, it's hazy stuff knit so closely to self-identity, yet with the urge to fling this stuff afar, as widely as possible. This, likely, is why Hemingway drank.

Megan Sayer said...

Here's a funny thing:
Once upon a time I absolutely wrote to be famous and known and published and brilliant and all the rest of those things. Then something happened, a big thing, a personal thing, a thing that left me so gobsmackedly astonished that I sat before God for a long time in silence and in prayer and I said to him "I'll do anything, anything at all, but what is it that you want me to do with my life?" and then I had this vision of this friend of mine, someone I knew a little but not that well, and God said "I want you to love her". And that was it. Weirdest vocation ever if you ask me.
That was years ago, and I'm still unpacking what it really means. I quit writing for five years after that though, because the idea of writing for fame and glory, or even for publication, had nothing to do with that vision or that call.
Now I write because I love God, and because I love people, and because my way of doing that is to scrape my heart into story and offer it to them as a gift. I don't really care if I never get published traditionally (although it would be amazing), or if I never make any money from it, but I will continue to write stories, because...because it's what I know how to do, and because that's the best way I know to do that thing that God has called me for.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Megan: Whoa. That's exactly how I feel, published traditionally or not.

Man, I love this blog! We're all in this together, guys!

Megan Sayer said...


Cherry Odelberg said...

Now THAT'S the kind of conversation I have been hungry for. 19 comments and everyone of them something I could identify with, something that touched me down deep and expressed better than I can how it feels.
Samantha's, "I want that validation, that recognition, because for so much of my life, I've paired recognition with love," is painfully honest.

Some of us were raised with such rigidity that it came as a surprise to know that, "I feel (God's) pleasure," was an indicator of being in the center of God's will - not an indicator of forbidden sin. Success is to feel God's pleasure in what I do.

Can I have the validation AND Katy's obscurity, please?

Bonnie Grove said...

Megan: There's something soul sucking about becoming published--sorry folks if that's hard to hear--you move from the unfenced fields of your imagination to the barn of deadlines, and the expectation to quickly write a second book that is much like the first one, only different. There are plenty of exceptions to this, of course, but it happens often enough to be the lament of many newly published authors. That's another reason why the majority of writers don't make it past a second novel--they can't successfully marry the business needs of publication to their creative needs. It's not a marriage made in heaven and most writers don't make it.

S.F. I love this blog, too. You said it perfectly--we're all in this together. There are no experts or divas or smarty-pants. This blog is about exploring the wisdom of all of us together.

Cherry: Glad you're feeling heartened! Validation is most often found in obscurity. That's the funny thing about it, so, yes, you can have both!