Friday, April 25, 2014

How Do You Measure Success?

Have you done what you set out to do? No, really. Have you?

If what you set out to do was to top the NYT bestseller list for six months, chances are, you've failed. If it was to have your brilliant work optioned AND green-lighted for a major motion picture, well... Short-listed for the Pulitzer? No? Please step out of the arena.

Bob Dylan once wrote, "She knows there's no success like failure, and that failure's no success at all."

In each case above, with a few rare exceptions, the goal, the expectation, almost guarantees failure. So back up, friend.

If you're a writer, didn't you set out to write? Didn't you begin by learning basics of the craft? Did you do that? Sure you did. Can you write a decent sentence? Build a character arc? A story arc? Did you get all that under your belt? Uh huh. That's a success.

Did you actually complete the short story you started? Success.

Did you revise it and hone it and make it better? Yay for you. Yes. Another success.

Did you show it to someone other than your mother/wife/husband/dog? A crit partner? A beta reader? Yeah, now you're humming along. That's brave. That's success.

Did you write another? Major success. It's probably better than the last one, too, isn't it? Check.

Did you set out to write a novel and actually begin it? Did you outline the whole thing? Or grab what felt like a good idea and jump off the cliff with it? Doesn't matter how you began, only that you did begin. Did you? That's huge.

What's even more huge? Finding your way all the way down the road you set in front of yourself. Getting to the end. It never happens without detours, unexpected twists, roadblocks, delays, traffic jams, and, thankfully, stretches of sweet, clear speeding along. But did you get to the end? High five. Champagne.

Of course, since you're a writer, you know it isn't finished. It needs revision, editing, and that will, no doubt, require several passes. But you did it, didn't you? It may not be perfect. I don't think any artist ever believes her work is perfect. Perfect is for the gods. But did you expose it to other eyes, consider critiques, and revise? And revise again, until it felt good to you? And then get brave enough to let it go?

Every day we have successes, but instead of enjoying them and wallowing a moment in the warm light of gratification, we look ahead at bigger things, often things we may never attain, other people's ideas of success, ridiculous expectations, and we miss the fact that we are doing something we love, bit by bit, line by line, character by character, story by story.

Are you a writer, and are you writing? Are you doing something that (when you're not gnashing teeth) makes you happy, deep inside? Do you know what courage that takes and how fortunate you are to be creating worlds and people to fill them?

Sure, it would feel great to have your novel optioned. Land a three-book deal. The Pullitzer. Hell, why not the Nobel? But, on the slight off-chance that those don't happen...

Look at what you have done, what you have accomplished. What you are accomplishing every day. Every well-crafted paragraph, chapter, story.

I'd call all those successes. Wouldn't you?

So lift a glass! Celebrate all your successes.

Of course, I may be crazy, but isn't that part of the job description?

(Originally written for a Speculative Fiction blog on AgentQueryConnect, revised.)

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