Years ago, in the early 1990s, a colleague of mine asked me whether I thought a novel was any less successful if it were written but never published. I remember thinking at the time, “Uh, yeah. Duh.” Now, 20 years later, here I am in that very place, having written a novel that is as of yet unpublished. I am older, and presumably wiser, and my answer to that question is the same. Duh. Although there’s no denying that there is tremendous achievement in finishing Baby Grand, I know I would ultimately feel disappointed, and unsuccessful, if the book never saw the light of day — as much as I enjoyed writing it. In today’s guest blog, Carol J. Garvin discusses “success” and what it means to her.
How many times have we muttered that? So many things would be better if only certain obstacles could be removed. Aspiring authors long to finish manuscripts, find agents, and gain publishing contracts. If only we could put these things behind us, the pressure would be off, and life as a published author would be so much easier.
Except, from what I’ve heard, it won’t be. I don’t have an agent or a contract yet, but those who do have told me after the initial sigh of relief comes a big gulp of apprehension. Now there’s marketing and promotion and more writing, this time under deadline, accompanied by a worry the second book either won’t be as good as the first, or won’t sell at all.
Still, publication is considered the benchmark of success for most writers. Commenting on Pat Bertram’s blog about success, one person said, “Personally, I define success as being published. In magazines, if not with a publisher. I would like to also make a living at it, but that would just be icing on the cake.” In a recent post, debut author and co-founder of the Novel Journey blog Gina Holmes said, “Being published definitely doesn’t validate my life, but I’d say it feels like validation as a writer.”
But what if we write and are never published? Does that make us failures? Is failing in our pursuit of realistic goals a sign that we’re on the wrong track? How much is your self-esteem related to getting a publishing contract? How would it affect you if your work is never accepted for publication? I know, I know… that’s a lot to think about.
I like what Shari Green says. Reacting to a plaque inscribed with, “If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.” She suggests that if our self-esteem is threatened by unachieved goals, then maybe “the problem is how much stock we put in the achieving – or not achieving – of those goals.”
She goes on to say, “I’m trying to measure my success in joy: am I loving playing with words and creating stories the way I once did, before I hopped on the publishing roller-coaster? Yeah, actually I am. So woohoo! I’m successful, LOL. Have I met all my goals, writing-wise and otherwise? Uh, no. But I’m okay with that. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure.”
Multi-published author Mary DeMuth offers something else to think about: “Being published is terrific, mind you, but it doesn’t bring happiness or validation. Instead, it adds more stress to your life…. Sure it feels great to hold my book in my hands. It’s lovely when I get a good review. But it’s the hand of God on my life that brings me ultimate validation.”
What motivates you? What’s at stake? And the ultimate question here: Does success really matter?
My answer is only one opinion, but it’s the one that’s important to me. My hope is for publication, but the world won’t stop turning if it doesn’t happen. I’ll be disappointed, but I won’t whine, “Why, Lord?” I’ll ask, “If this isn’t your will for me, Lord, please show me where I strayed, because you gave me this love of words, and I need to know how you want me to use it.” Success is finding his intended path for me. And yes, that really does matter.
What does success mean for you?
Carol J. Garvin is a freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada. Her blog, Careann’s Musings, offers her mental meanderings on life and writing.