What is Success?

When I first started writing, and knew that I was new and had a lot to learn, I felt like a success if I could just finish a short story and have all the parts in the right place with no big  problems.  If the story came together well enough, I’d read The Gila Queen to see if it might fit anywhere.  (The Gila Queen’s a marketing newsletter that I subscribed to.  It’s still available online, but I haven’t looked at it for a long time.  If you’d like to:      https://hellnotes.com/gila-queens-guide-to-markets-166/   )

I really enjoyed The Gila Queen, because it listed small magazines that were looking for short stories and paid in copies, as well as established publications that paid cash for each word.  If I found something that looked like a good fit, I’d mail (yes, snail mail) my story off and hope for the best.  If the editor wanted it, I felt like a success.  Now, mind you, success might mean that I received two free copies of the mag with my work in it.  I didn’t care.  Someone wanted my work.  Sometimes, success meant that a respected editor took the time to write a thoughtful rejection about why my work didn’t fit their magazine.  To me, that meant my writing was good enough to warrant a bit of their time.  And I was grateful.

Another reason I liked Gila Queen was because editors looking for stories for anthologies would list what they were looking for or the theme for that edition.  And often, those themes gave me ideas to try.  And sometimes, those ideas came together in a story that the editor took.  Eventually, those small sells led to bigger sells to bigger magazines, and after that, I got brave enough to try to write a book.

My first stab at a novel only stretched to 20,000 words–what some might consider failure.  I considered it success, because I’d never written anything that long before, and I’d learned a lot from the experience.  My second “novel” came in at 40,000 words and a tiny press in Baltimore bought it to print as newspapers for passengers to buy at airports to read on their flights.  Success.  Of course, no one ever heard of Gourmet Killings, but the editor liked it and passengers bought it.  Good enough for me.

These days, I still measure success with a slide rule.  For my Jazzi series, I look at numbers–rankings and sells.  But for Muddy River, I’m letting the series build slowly, so if my numbers are tolerable and I hear a good review, hey–success.

Why am I going on about this?  It’s a fluke, really.  John Tesh just happened to be on the radio when I was listening to it to pass time.  And what waa he talking about?  Success.  His message?  People say, “I’ll be happy when I’m successful.”  But success is hardly ever exactly what they thought it would be.  Or it comes at a higher price or more work than they anticipated.  He believed that the cause and effect should be reversed, that “happiness brings success, not vice versa.”  Because we  measure it differently.  We count one success at a time and are happy when we reach the next one.

I’m not saying disappointment doesn’t flatten me sometimes.  We all get frustrated and mumble about quitting, giving up, it’s too hard.  I felt like I was beating my head against the author wall when I wrote romance after romance that couldn’t get any traction.  But when that happens, it’s time to stop and rethink, to try something else.  And sometimes, we have to realize that we’re aiming for an impossible goal.  A near miracle.  We’re setting our goals and dreams too high.

That’s what Ilona Andrews’ blog was about today.  Sometimes, we’re simply unrealistic. http://www.ilona-andrews.com/on-writers-self-validation-of/ We don’t reach the pinnacle of success, so we consider ourselves failures.  Instead of embracing what we’ve done right or well, we look at where we’ve fallen short.  I’m not saying to quit trying.  We should always do our best.  We have to give ourselves the best chance we can to reach our goals.  But when we don’t, it just means that that particular effort didn’t work.  So we have to try something else and try again.

Keep hitting those keys, and happy writing!

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “What is Success?

  1. lynnefisher

    I’ve been on a similar journey and reached pretty much the same conclusions, Judi. Happiness is process, doing your best and enjoying the work. It takes a while for this to settle into truth, but practicing this mindset gets you there eventually!

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  2. Mae Clair

    An absolutely fantastic post, Judi. Years ago I never would have thought I’d achieve what I already have, yet I’m still trying to climb the ladder higher. It’s so important to realize how far we’ve come, the milestones we’ve achieved and embrace them. I’m happy to be doing what I love, and that’s the success I want to take to heart every day!

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