Monday, December 12, 2011

Defining Success

Okay, so for me, this is one of the hardest things to do. The measure of success almost doesn't exist. Every goal is different and every person will look at it in a different colored light.

And so this simply becomes another area where I struggle. Like, what's good? What's successful? Does more blog followers = more success? Is it based on how many books you sell? How many people are subscribed to your newsletter?

I used to think all these things mattered, and in many ways they still do. The difference is how I'm looking at them now. Before, I'd seriously burn with jealousy if someone had more blog followers than I did. Now, I don't even look at that widget. As of writing this post, I could not tell you how many I have.

I'm not sure what's shifted for me. Perspective, maybe?

I do know that I wish there were more statistical data--something concrete and factual--I could examine that would tell me what these numbers mean. Like if I knew 25% of my blog's followers A) came and read every day or B) bought my book, then I could see myself caring more.

Instead, I'm not looking at twitter followers or likers on my Facebook page as the definitions of my success. Not anymore.

Now, I'm looking at the words on the page. Are they good? Did I get enough of them in? How can I make them better?

I'm looking at how many pages I edited. Did I choose the right word? Do I need another scene with Jag? How much backstory do I need here?

I'm thinking about new things for new books. Could that work? How can I make a character for this world?

And then there's all the real life success to consider and evaluate and continually try harder to achieve. Let's not forget that as we're writers, we're also people. Most of us with families and jobs and responsibilities. Those successes--and the striving for success--shouldn't be overlooked.

Publishing is a numbers game. I'm not oblivious to that. I'm just choosing to focus on different numbers as the measure of my success.

At what point do you feel successful? How do you measure success?

51 comments:

Komal said...

I measure my success by how much I can push myself. Did I write enough today? Could I have written a bit more?

Those are the ways I measure my success, quite similar to yours actually.

Wendy Chen said...

I feel successful when I've accomplished a goal, no matter what it is. Personally, I find it too overwhelming to think of 'success' on large-scale terms!

This is a nice post-I guess I should also stop paying attention to all those numbers. xD

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Knowing I had books out there that others could enjoy felt like success to me. Although I felt more successful when I became a professional speaker. The people I inform and motivate at my talks mean more than book sales now.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Those are important things to focus on. And I agree, for most of us, we have other jobs as well as family. It's important to focus on those accomplishments as well.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Success now is being able to share the success of others.

Jen Daiker said...

I used to worry about the same things but recently came into my own understanding of success. My happiness.

I stopped worrying about what I was doing to impress others and chose to impress myself instead. In doing so I know I've gained more interest.

Todays blog topic?? Ryan Gosling and all his hotness. Nope... not writing related, why? Because not every day do I have to teach someone something... sometimes I just want to do me, and today, it's working.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My idea of success is meeting the little goals. Things I have control over. In order words, my to-do list. :D

Heather Sunseri said...

Such the good post. I think it's a sign of writer maturity to realize the things that matter to you and the things you must let go of in order to be successful in your own eyes. And I think these things are different writer to writer.

Laura Pauling said...

It's easy to get caught up in the numbers game esp. with blog followers. But I think we're all realizing, and I see more of it every month, that it's our writing that counts the most. :)

Christine Fonseca said...

I agree with you and your perspective completely! I think that the strive to improve writing is the most important thing. Some of the most successful authors I know do NOT blog, or have a newsletter, or or or...
Great post

Anita Saxena said...

I measure my success by achieving small goals that build to my ultimate goal.

E. Arroyo said...

I measure my success through the small steps I've made to accomplish my goals. I'm not at the numbers game yet.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think your perspective has to shift if you still want to keep doing the work. There's just too many "numbers" out there that can demand your attention and get you distracted from the real stuff: writing.

David P. King said...

Giving myself small tastes of success encourages me, be it a short story or a chapter. Little by little, giving your all, every day. Excellent post, Elana! :)

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

This post makes me smile because you are 100% right, and I hope a lot of writers read this and note how important the right numbers are in the long run. :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

You can only worry about what you can change. That's what I'm trying to keep in mind as I figure out what my goals are for next year. If you have no control over something, it can't be a goal.

Krista said...

I measure my success in writing on two points. 1. Finishing - which is hard for me. 2. Quality. I am sure that will shift soon. But for now I am enjoying the simplicity :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I suck at math. I left numbers in the dust a long time ago. Can't calculate to save my life.
~ Wendy

Melanie Fowler said...

I think that the more work you put into it the more successful you feel.

It's like making cookies. You can follow a recipe sure and make yummy cookies, but if you know what tricks to do and have learned from trial and error to improve the recipe. You will have delicious mouthwatering cookies that are so good you eat a whole dozen. That's success... and maybe a tummy ache.

Angela Brown said...

I've learned to see success on a scale.

I've stopped trying to go with the "If I have XYZ then I can be happy" version of success. That path leads to the inabilty to appreciate the wonderment and greatness of the here and now.

With each step and each goal accomplished, I am successful.

Leigh Ann said...

Oh, gosh. I'll go nuts at this point if I don't think of success incrementally.

I have a goal, and that's to be published. That in itself is a pretty amorphous goal. Though I'm not against self-pubbing, for now I'm trying to go traditional.

So, I've done the first steps to that - finish and polish a manuscript. Query. But the step after that...not so much.

So right now, success = finding the right agent.

After that...well, you know the rest. ;)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think the only way I can do it is by how happy i am with my life right now. Otherwise, there's always something else to make it depend on: agent? Book deal? Book sales? Followers? And on and on and on.

Lydia Kang said...

Well said, Elana. I need reminding sometimes that it's about the writing, first and foremost. The other stuff is icing.

Martha Ramirez said...

I measure my own success by how I accomplish my goals.

There's lots of things I don't have control over--lots of things we all don't have control over such as becoming the next NY best selling author.

But we do have control over in trying our very best and sometimes that is all that we can do.

Great post, Elana. These are good reminders. Thank you!

Cynthia Lee said...

Couldn't agree more with your post. It's always about writing first, the book comes first.

All the rest is supplemental.

virg_nelson said...

I wrote a blog very similar to this today but mine was supposed to be about authors that inspire me...

And I have realized that my inspiration used to be based on the idea that writing a book made you into a rockstar... the fame, the money, etc.

Now my idea of an inspiring author is one who does the work. I am inspired by meeting my personal goals. Besting myself in the race.

The things that used to be the markers of success to me... Aren't.

Oh, and by the way, you are inspiring to me. #justsayin

LM Preston said...

Success is a personal journey - for me, just to finish a story and have other people enjoy it - now that's my success.

Heather said...

I think that's brilliant. It should be about the words on the page, how they make you feel, how much you love them. You are wise beyond your years my dear.

Krispy said...

I think success is definitely what you make of it, and I think focusing on the words is more personally satisfying than other numbers for success. So I think you've got a healthy outlook on all of this.

Matthew MacNish said...

There are people who have more followers than you? Not many.

Joy D. Fanning said...

Loved this post. :)

I have been going through a stressful time right now, not feeling very successful overall. I decided that feeling sorry for myself was stupid, and set some goals. Achieving those goals, to me is proof that I can be successful. You have to get your focus on what's important. As writers, its the words on the page that everything comes down too. Doesn't matter how many blog followers you have if your book isn't great.

Sounds like you are headed in a wonderful direction!!

Ann Best said...

I am exactly where you are right now, Elana, with all of this.

I no longer look at my widget follower icon either. I AM grateful that before I died I got a book published that I feel very good about. But even if I hadn't....How well I take care of my disabled daughter and my relationship with my other children and grandchildren are the most important things for me now. To be able to keep writing is just the icing on the cake, and if that had to go...well, in the eternal scheme of things....

You've stated everything I've been thinking about lately. And I think where you're heading is awesome!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

Peggy Eddleman said...

A 4th grade teacher I work with read my book to her class toward the end of the school year last year. I was outside at recess with those same kids, and two came up to me and told me about the game they had been playing. The game was my book! And they were the main characters! At that moment, I thought, If this book never goes anywhere, I will still consider myself a success based on the fact that those kids liked my book enough to play it as a game. That was the cake. Everything beyond that is icing.

Patti said...

I think how you measure success changes once you reach that goal. Once you get there, you focus on something else.

Janet Johnson said...

I think this is such a hard question to answer! But for me, as long as I keep trying, that is success. Numbers are numbers and they don't mean as much as we tend to think they do. But still, I'm not quite where you are yet. :)

Kelly Polark said...

I'll feel like a successful mom when I see my kids as productive, kind adults.
I'll feel like I'm a successful author, when I finally publish a book. (whatever way it happens) But maybe my thoughts on this will change.
I have felt success in teaching because you see growth in every individual and that is so rewarding.

Carrie Butler said...

What a healthy mindset, Elana! I guess I don't have a definition of success, because I'm not really acquainted with it. *grins* Someday, maybe.

M. Dunham said...

It sounds like you're focusing on the right things for personal success, by the things you can control in your words/pages and not what we're unable to control.

Myself, for my successes - I make a list of things I want to focus on every year. I put at least one goal for my health, spiritual, mental, professional, and a personal goal. And then I focus on getting those done every year. IT's a good thing, and I can track my progress on bettering myself, in a balanced way.

L.T. Elliot said...

I don't care about numbers or stats. You've always been a success to me. You're a good person who gives back, who does their best, who never gives up. THAT'S successful.

Botanist said...

So spooky! I just posted something about my writing targets a few minutes ago and now I find this.

Success is so tricky, and I think it has to be personal. I commented elsewhere recently that all the widely-held measures of success would dismiss 99.99% of the human population as failures. And that can't be right.

Jemi Fraser said...

It's a tough one. I actually try hard not to think about success and failure too often. Instead I try to focus on the next step - whatever it happens to be at the moment. :)

June G said...

I think real success comes when you just don't care WHAT people think. I believe it's when you're comfortable and happy that you did your best in whatever you endeavor to do. It's when you're at peace with yourself and you're not stressing out.

Do I have that? Sometimes, but I'm working on making it last a lot longer! :-)

Claire Dawn said...

I wonder what it is about this job that makes it so difficult to define success.

Lots of professions define success as just existing in them. No one compares accountants or college professors.

Yet somehow, there's no universal definition of success for writers. On the one hand, I suppose that means we can keep pushing ourselves. But on the other hadn we can drive ourselves crazy not being enough.

Catherine Stine said...

Nice post. In my last freshman lit class today, one of my students came up to me, beaming. He said that reading The Stranger changed him, and that Meursault was now somewhat his existential guru. The fact that I have been able to ignite a student is highly gratifying! That's a success. I feel the same about a reader who comes away from my novel, saying it inspired him or her. About ten years ago, I walked away from a painting career when I was at a really good place, in order to write. It was torture. But I was getting way too obsessed about reviews and sales. I learned much from that. Enjoy the various successes, yet the core heart one is the thrill of writing a really transforming tale that a reader can relate to.

Alice said...

I wrote a similar post not long ago on my blog after my son played his championship football game and his team lost by one touchdown. He was really bummed about it, but I asked him if it meant they were losers or not successful because they won most of their games that season and made it to the championship and only lost by one touchdown. I consider that a pretty big success.

Lynda R Young said...

It's funny how when we started blogging it was about the numbers. Now that we've gained the success we initailly strived for, we've moved on to other goals and discovered what really matters. It's always been about our writing first, we just didn't realise it before.

Julie Hedlund said...

I'm not sure I believe there IS a definition to success because it's always such a moving target. For me, it's more, "Do I feel I'm moving forward, making progress? Do I feel good about it? Do I feel I'm doing all I can do right now in this moment."

If the answer to those questions is 'yes' then I guess I'm okay.

Great question!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

It's so easy to get caught up in the official signs of success, but so much of real success is internal, as you are discovering. It's an important breakthrough and one we're constantly revising. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. :)

Mina Burrows said...

Great post. I think the smaller stuff like followers/fans etc.. comes from while you're shoot'n for the pie in the sky, it's nice to enjoy the lower hanging fruit. Any little bit helps so that you feel like you're accomplishing something, right?

Stacy Henrie said...

Great post! I think success for me is not quitting. If you're doing something - working for something - then you are in a sense being successful.

Mindy said...

I say, "Screw success."
Focus on goals. Make a list and cross the mofos off when you achieve them.
Confucius say, "You have achieved success when you no long give a rat's ass about it."

Seriously. He said that.

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