What Does Success Mean For You?

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 Now, 20 years later, here I am in that very place, having written a novel that is as of yet unpublished.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.

“If only…”

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.


30 thoughts on “What Does Success Mean For You?

  1. Nice blog. My father, a graphic artist, wrote 9 novels that were never published. I grew up with the clackity clack of typewriter keys in his office next to my bedroom. Years he brooded over not being published. He’d gotten many agents: Scott Meredith and others that branched off from that major agency. He’d re-write, tell everyone where the book was shopped to now. We all held our breath for him, my sister (a secretary) sat diligently and was paid handsomely to re-type manuscripts. We’d dream of his fame. Dad told everyone about his books. Years went on. People brought up the unpublished novels, “How’s it going Mike?” Dad sulked. Agents left and moved on. He constantly read Writers Digest, re-mailing and now emailing manuscripts. No answer. Finally, he self-published with Xlibris and bought a bunch of books and gave them away and placed it on the shelf between Atlas Shrugged and The Call of the Wild in his den. It was the proudest I’d ever seen him.
    Now, as his child, a writer, sometimes when I sit down to write fiction, all I see and feel is the lifetime of the contrast of ego and pain that my father endured.
    It’s like “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there does it make a sound?”
    What makes a writer a writer?

    Happy writing.

    • Thanks for sharing that story, Mary Ellen. There are many different ways to define success in writing, one of which can be making the decision and putting out the effort to self-publish, as your father discovered. He was indeed a writer and his words are there to prove it.

  2. Such a good post! I’ve been published in a very small way and still feel like I’ve somehow missed the boat! For many years I’ve told myself that publication isn’t necessary for me to feel successful as a writer. And that is partly true, for I would continue to write regardless of publication or not–writers do that don’t you think? BUT there is that validation factor and being published is it. Even the way others view us a writer is based on that. If you’re not published, what kind of writer are you?? LOL

  3. Can relate to all the comments. After sixteen years of numerous revisions and rejections, I finally found a publisher for my first novel. A small traditional press took me on and I am still so thankful. There were so many times when I wanted to give up. We writers need to stick together and give each other HOPE and ENCOURAGEMENT. Thanks to Dina for letting us have a voice here. :)

    • Kathleen, I’m so happy for your success! When Diana Gabaldon was asked what piece of advice she would offer aspiring authors she said perseverance was the only way to success. You’re proof that she’s right — persisting paid off. And I agree that the encouragement within the writing community is awesome. It helps keep us going over all those bumps in the road.

  4. Thanks for a wonderful post, Carol. I must have missed you yesterday. I came over to see what you were doing as a guest and found another wonderful blog.

    I was asked that question by my advisor in college thirty years ago. My answer was, no. Part of me feels the same way now. The opportunity to write came to me three times in my life. For whatever reason I had not the wit or will the first two times. I adjusted, used the skill for something to buy “bread” and had a life. I am now blessed with early retirement, grown children and time.

    We often walk in each other’s minds. Today, Friday I posted on my blog about the dreaded query. This is what I wrote (yes, I still feel the same way about being published).

    “When any industry is glutted with an inordinate number of “newbies,” be it real estate, manufacturing or writing, the last one in might be the first one out. How will the publishing community cut off the unwanted fat from its collective bottom? Writers by the thousands have already begun to answer this question by deciding to self-publish.

    What are you doing to get published and how long are you willing to wait before you give up and go to Plan B? Or think about this quote from a podcast by Catherine Ryan Hyde …

    “What would you do if there was no Plan B?
    No Plan B is the best motivator.”

    fOIS In The City …”

    I truly believe that for me the answer is more complex than a yes or a no. I will publish in as many ways as I can and Iwill not abandon the query, the quest for an agent and a main stream publisher. While I seek this, I will also seek indie publishers for some of my work and I have already planned a series of novellas I will publish as e-books only.

    Dina, thanks for hosting Carol and presenting a very thoughtful conundrum for us as writers. :)

    • On January 3rd at Careann’s Musings I mentioned a plaque Keli Gwyn gave me: “Life is all about how you handle Plan B,” and asked, “When life throws a monkey wrench into your Plan A, how do you develop a Plan B?” Finding diverse ways to use your writing ability is smart, Florence, and it sounds like you’re doing that. Good for you!

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment! I’ve been thinking about what you wrote about Plan B. Interesting… I’m wondering if I have one. I guess I do in that I would like to teach some day. My hope is that I will be able to do Plan A + B. :)

  5. Wonderful thoughts and I enjoyed reading what everyone thought of success. I guess for me success is in the process and journey and the people I meet along the way, the information I learn and the joy I get by being blessed to even be able to try.

  6. I don’t think success is only one thing. It’s like asking a chef whether a successful meal is one you cook for yourself, or a dinner party you throw for others. The truth is: if you cook something and it tastes good; it’s one kind of success. If you feed others, that’s another kind.

    Writing something that feels like what I meant to say is one kind of success.

    Having others read my work, and having them respond to it and feel that they’ve gotten something from it, is another kind of success.

    I’ve been blessed to enjoy both kinds. Each has its rewards and challenges, it’s rewards and regrets.

  7. While writing is part of me, it takes a subordinate place to any duty that God sets in my path along the way. I think if I make an idol out of my writing, it’s bound to become a colossal failure, even it it looks like success. Blessings to you, Carol…

  8. What a wonderful post, Carol. I am not sure what to add, except I was Mary Ellen’s dad; at best I know exactly how he felt. Twenty-three years after I began writing novels, I published my novel so I could smell the paper and prove to myself that I wasn’t delusional. One thing led to another and here I am, two and a half years later with two contracts: a book due out in May, and an e-book due for release at the end of the year. How do I feel about my success? I can sum it up in one statement: I have a new grand-baby due in September, and if I had to give up all these wonderful writing accolades to ensure that our new baby is healthy and happy, I would in a second.

    Most of my life I’ve been convinced that I am a writer first and foremost. That’s who I am and I can do nothing to stop it. But since publishing I’ve learned something else equally valuable. Yes, I am a writer because that’s who I am, but it will never replace my family, my friends, or my greatest blessings.

    Carol, thank you for such an inspiring friendship.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Joylene. I like how your initial decision was right for you at the time, and a different kind of result this time around will be just as sweet.

      Congratulations on the coming addition to the family (the baby, I mean… altho’ the book in May will be pretty wonderful, too). :)

  9. “Success is finding his intended path for me.” — yes! that’s it exactly. His plans for us are always good, designed to give us “a future and a hope” (from Jeremiah somewhere…). :)

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