Thursday, February 4, 2010

Three Things No One Ever Told Me About Success

Here it is, a guest blog, brought to you by author, blogger, and 500-er (is that a word? it is now!) Miriam S. Forster.

Like a lot of you, when I decided to get serious about writing, I started dreaming. Publication, awards, recognition, success.

But success is a tricky beast, as difficult to catch and hold as vapor. And there are three things about it that I didn’t know.

1. Success takes time

Writing is such a personal thing. Especially when you’re first starting out, everything you write feels so true and deep and precious. You want to argue when people point out weak points, want to believe that this thing you’ve poured your soul into is wonderful.

But the fact is, writing, like any other art, requires practice. You probably won’t play a concerto your first month of piano lessons, and most people can’t draw a portrait the first time they pick up a pen. It takes time. In fact, studies show that you have to put 10,000 hours of work into an art or discipline before you achieve mastery.

But patience and time are not the only things that success requires.

2. Success requires a day-by-day commitment

By time and practice I don’t mean rewriting your first book over and over and over. You have to write something new. New words on a regular basis are the best way of improving as a writer. You can always take what you learn and apply it to your older work.

One thing I learned when I started blogging was the importance of consistency. You can’t build a good blog without posting regularly. Exercise is the same way; a long exercise session once a week is not as effective as smaller ones throughout the week.

Perhaps you work better in long stretches. That’s okay, everyone is different. But whatever you do, keep it consistent.

It’s hard to be persistent though, when you feel you aren’t getting anywhere. And that’s where my biggest lesson came in.

3. Success is something only you can define

Here’s the thing about success. It’s always the place you want to get to next, always the step right past where you are. The unpublished writer wants to be published. The small-press author wants to be published by a bigger house. The unagented writer wants an agent, the agented writer wants a book deal. Most writers would love to write full-time and still be able to pay bills. There’s always something more to want.

What does that mean? It means that if you measure your success as a writer by those things, you will always fall short. Goals are good, don’t get me wrong. But you have to be able to appreciate your achievements for what they are without getting discouraged.

This is the most important thing I’ve learned about success. To quote the immortal John Candy in Cool Runnings, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it.”

Have you learned anything lately about writing and success?


mjdike said...

Great reminder! I am one of those writers that fantasized about success in such a way I couldn't even BEGIN to write. What if I worked for hours and years and it still wasn't good enough? I've got kids, bills, what if I "wasted" all that time just to be rejected?

One day it just came to me. Does it matter that I get published? Is that how I am going to define my personal success? Today, success for me is defined as writing my heart out until I have a novel draft I feel is ready to send out for review. Getting to that next step in the process is my success. No Pulitzer. No Oprah Winfrey book club...just climbing to the top of that mountain and telling the world "I did it." What comes after will be another day, and another chance to redefine success. My own success.

Without that fear of forecasted failure, and the personal challenge to myself (not those browsing the shelves at the bookstore who will grab my novel and scream 'this is what the world's been waiting for!') I've been able to write and write and write. Wish me luck!

Miriam S. Forster said...

Good luck, mj!

I think worrying about "wasted" time is one of the hardest things to struggle with. Sometimes it feels we're just writing into a void. There's little or no money in it, it takes us away from our families at times and keeps us from doing other things.

And when we pile up rejection after rejection, we start to wonder if all that effort and sacrifice has been wasted.

It hasn't. Just being able to finish a novel, to get to the top of the mountain, as you say, is an accomplishment worth celebrating!

Joanne said...

I agree with you, in that success should be measured in each small step, not the ultimate goal. Each chapter finished, or manuscript finished, is a success. A batch of query letters sent is a success, because of how it speaks of what came before them. Celebrate or acknowledge each accomplishment along the way, not just the final goal. Because I read earlier that happy endings aren't really that, endings. They're actually new beginnings, with more room for success.

Megan Justice said...

Writing is a learning process, from learning the discipline to sit down and write, to learning how to edit, to learning to send out query letters, to learning how to react when those responses land in the mailbox. Anything done within that process will make the next time you do it that much easier, and that much better, because you learned from the last time it was done.

Miriam S. Forster said...

Megan and Joanne, I can't really think of anything to add to that! :)

spuckler said...

Awesome post. Thanks for the insight.

I think i'm like MJ myself. :)

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Hi Miriam,

You've already inspired me to write one blog post, and there's a paragraph in here that might do it again. Thanks, Simon.

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