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Redefining Success As A Writer


As December wanes, we're encouraged (and maybe even pressured) to check in with ourselves. Many of us are beginning to look back on our 2023 experiences; I'll be following suit with my own reflections in next week's post.


While we're celebrating our victories, we cannot help but assess our losses. And with that, our sense of accomplishment can be marred by a peculiar feeling that we should have done more. An air of guilt or disappointment in ourselves because even if we did check off some of the resolutions we set back in January, we didn't tick off everything.


I think this is emphasized by the focus on looking to the future. Thinking about what's next. Setting our resolutions for the new year. Taking accountability and seeking out ways to better ourselves.


You've no doubt seen the annual onslaught of advertisements from gyms promoting major discounts for new memberships rolling out. My feelings towards that matter are a tangent for another time...


We go into any given year with a list of good intentions and may not get it all done by December 31.


And once we realize we haven't done it all, it might feel harder to recognize our accomplishments for what they truly are.


Part of the problem stems from the expectations and aspirations laid out by social media and pop culture. The commonly held perception of writerly success pertains to publishing a bestseller and receiving various accolades. Going viral on BookTok and Bookstagram. Your work getting the silver screen treatment with a film adaptation. Making it big.


I spent a solid month stressing over achieving my ideal writerly wardrobe, envisioning something between a Dark Academia aesthetic and Cottagecore with a hearty dash of what I would call Regency-bounding. This was especially prevalent in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo because I planned on attending some local write-ins and felt like I needed to "look the part" of a writer. As though I had an image to maintain when all I needed to do was show up to these events and write.


And deep down, I knew this all the while.


Nevertheless, we're prompted to show off the best of ourselves and our triumphs because that is the bulk of what we see.


For writers, this can include hitting a certain word count, finishing a draft, announcing agent representation, a book deal sprinkled with keywords hinting at the nature of the acquisition, revealing a book cover, sharing five-star reviews, or showing off a gorgeous new writing space.

Meanwhile, our mistakes and mishaps are frequently relegated to the side and we don't always hear about the trial and error that went into an achievement or how much effort it really took to get there. The messy desks in the corner of the laundry room or curling up on the couch with a near-antique of a laptop. The half-filled notebooks. The writer's block. The infinitum of documents labeled "Final Draft." The imposter syndrome. The eraser shavings and the marked-up manuscripts. The passes and rejections from agents. The bad reviews. The midnights, the cups of coffee in those five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.


Writers often concern themselves with metrics laid by industry standards. Word counts and sales needed to earn out in order to receive royalties. Deadlines. Some writers also pay attention to their social media following or how many views they get on their content.


But some things cannot be measured by a number. At least, not in the same sense.


At the beginning of the year, you might decide that you want to improve your scene descriptions. But there's no numerical quantifier for that the way there is for saying you want to write three hundred words per day or reach three thousand followers on Instagram by the end of September. It's based more on feeling and observation. You just sort of know you're getting better at writing scene descriptions, whereas you can see you had 1,091 Instagram followers yesterday and 1,093 today.


Simply put, some goals are personal and centered around your journey as a writer and cannot be tracked in an Excel spreadsheet. That's where trusting the process truly comes into play.


And because they're based on your individual journey, those goals cannot be compared fairly to someone else's.


It's true that we all have twenty-four hours in a day, but those twenty-four hours look don't look the same for everyone.


Let's say Mary's twenty-four hours involve a thirty-minute commute to her full-time job, childcare, household chores, not to mention tending to basic human needs like food and sleep, leaving her with maybe two hours to write. Meanwhile, Cheryl, who doesn't have kids of her own might have four free hours she can dedicate to writing on a weeknight and can spend all of her Saturday working on her WIP.


Even though Mary and Cheryl both have twenty-four hours in a day, their circumstances mean they have to use those twenty-four hours differently.


In goal-related posts, you'll always see me advocate for adjusting your goals as necessary because life finds a way to get in the way. That's because there are things you cannot prepare for. Maybe you're making decent progress but unexpected changes at the day job interfere with how often you're able to work on your WIP. You might have an injury or illness that makes it challenging to write. Or you're simply an adult with responsibilities that have to come first.


Things happen. And it's okay to give yourself a heaping spoonful of grace when life happens and your writing has to take a backseat.


That brings me to the heart of this particular article: redefining success as a writer. Changing its meaning as it relates to you.


Despite how many of us will emphasize the point that we are not good at math, writers are in a business of numbers. Books need to hit a word count. A good-sized following on social media isn't necessary, but it can be helpful for networking and promotional purposes. And of course, there's the matter of sales and profit.


But writing is about more than numbers. It's plotting. Research. Discovery. Editing. Connecting with the community. Feedback. Growth and continuing to evolve as a creative soul. Having the courage to put yourself out there. Those things you cannot quantify but simply feel.


And above all else, a love for storytelling.


There are things you simply cannot count up, but that doesn't mean that they do not count at all.

Consider all you have accomplished within the parameters of your life. Writing can be hard in general. And when you have to squeeze it into everything else, it becomes even harder.


Remember what I said earlier in this post about making it big as a writer? Well, what if we permitted ourselves to make it small sometimes? To honor the smaller milestones and not succumb to external pressures.


You might not have completed your 50,000-word NaNoWriMo goal, but you did participate in the challenge and managed to write a little every day. Maybe you didn't hit 3,000 followers on Instagram or only sent queries to five agents instead of fifty, but you might have made some lovely internet friends and braved the query trenches. Those are still valid accomplishments worthy of celebrating.


Just as it's important to set our goals in a way that makes them easier to incorporate into our day-to-day lives, we also need to evaluate our successes in a way that accounts for everything that came up—or even got in the way.


The writer's journey is seldom a straightforward path. A writer's success may not fit into a checklist.


As we're turning these final few pages of 2023 and preparing to enter a new chapter, we may feel like we haven't done enough when we revisit the goals we set twelve months ago.


Until next time, I'll leave you with a little advice I'm trying to abide by:


To thy own self, be kind.


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