That quote is oft-attributed to Churchill, but like many things on the internet, that’s not entirely true. Nonetheless, the sentiment is valid—“success” is not the final destination.
As writers, we all have different ideas of what will make us feel successful. For many novelists, being traditionally published by one of the Big Five is the holy grail, the ultimate aspiration, the defining moment that they feel will validate their status as an Author. For some, being able to throw off the chains of a “day job” would be the mark of success.
It would be disingenuous of me to claim that those dreams hold no appeal. But are they my target, my final destination? Can I feel successful as a writer if I never achieve those milestones that are, admittedly, a product of capitalism and have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual value of my art?
I say Yes! It’s all about why you’re writing. I write because I want to tell stories that make people feel. Whenever someone reads my words, whether in an online lit mag, a local print magazine, here on my blog, on Instagram or Twitter, or in the wonderful writing community that is Writers’ HQ, that’s a small success. Every time a line in one of my stories resonates with someone, every time someone drops a kind word or a retweet or even just taps that like button, the small successes keep on piling up. They move me forward, they keep me writing, but they’re not the final destination.
And why not? Because there are always going to be those times when I feel like I’m sending my words out into the void. Days, weeks, and sometimes months can go by without any external validation, any indication that my stories are hitting home. If I accepted that as evidence that I am unsuccessful as a writer, I would have stopped writing long ago.
I started pondering this topic as part of a challenge on Instagram. It was fascinating to scroll through all the different #AuthorAugust22 posts from writers all explaining their personal definition of success. Several surprised me.
This was a unique hallmark of success that really spoke to me. To have someone love your work so much that it prompts them to be creative—what a feeling that would be!
Following through. That really fits with my idea of success. I’m a chronic procrastinator, and my novel often seems a project so daunting that I get overwhelmed and wonder if I will ever follow it through to its completion. Finishing it would feel like a huge success.
Having people connect with my story and constantly growing as a writer—what a success that would be! That meshes well with my own conclusion: For me, to really be successful as a writer means to continue. There are so many happy milestones that can be reached, but none of them mark the end of the journey.
So write for yourself. Write for the love of words and stories. Write to process your feelings, to entertain, to leave a legacy. Write for any reason but what capitalism calls success, and see if, as a by-product, something you can call success will find you along the way.