Don’t Sweat It: We Each Need to Find our own Definition of Success

If sucess for you doesn’t look like success for me, don’t sweat it.
Photo by Andres Ayrton on

If I write about something here on my blog, such as writing work-for-hire, but it isn’t what you want to do? Don’t sweat it.

The reality is that there is no one way to succeed as a writer. You can write popular fiction and be a success. You can publish one poem and be a success. You can self-publish a book of short stories and be a success.

Success doesn’t look the same to each of us. I have a friend who self-publishes self-help and works the speakers circut. Her specialty? The Working Woman’s Survival Show and businesses.

I have another friend who self publishes sweet romances while her mysteries are through a small press. She and her brother self publish young adult mysteries together. She also writes for the school and education market. These books are work-for-hire meaning that she sells all rights.

Other writers write essays and creative nonfiction for literary journals. These journals don’t demand all rights but very few of them pay.

But all of these writers are successful. Why? Because there is no one way to be a successful writer. Each of these writers has different goals. If you want to publish essays in literary journals, you have to accept that literary journals seldom pay. If you want your writing in the hands of school children, you can sell your manuscript to an educational pubilsher. Or you can write for a packager like I do. Yes, it means I sell all rights but I’ve got 30 books in school libraries around the US. That’s one of my goals.

To meet your own goals, do these three things.

  1. Think about what success looks like to you. I love writing nonfiction. Work-for-hire for the school and library market is a great fit for me. I have friends who only want to write picture books or novels. Getting them published is their dream.
  2. Read up on the type of writing you want to do. Where are people publishing poetry? Essays? Creative nonfiction? Find out what the publishing conventions are. Learn what accepted practice is NOW, not ten years ago.
  3. Once you’ve learned about this, consider what is acceptable to you. It might make the difference between traditional publishing and self publishing. You may not care if you publish. You just want to finish that manuscript! Whatever. They’re your goals.

Once you know what your goal is and what success looks like to you, you are on your way to find your own path to writing success. If your path isn’t the same as mine, don’t sweat it! We each have our own definition of success.


5 Questions to Help Determine Your Writing Path

Select your writing path.
Photo by James Wheeler on

If you are a writer who reads blogs and articles and WRITES, my guess is that you want to achieve something. But, and this is super important, what looks like success to you may not look like succees to me.

This reality came home to me when I went to my first big, multi-day writers conference. I was happy with what I had achieved. Sure, there was more I still wanted to do, but I had reached some pretty impressive goals. I was a magazine writer and a newsletter writer. I had dozens and dozens of sales, but I learned at this conference that for many of my fellow writers, this meant nothing.

I didn’t have a book. Fortunately, I’ve always been remarkably strong willed. I didn’t need to argue with these people because I knew that I was following my path.

So, and this shouldn’t surprise you coming from me, you need to determine the steps in your own writing path. Here are five questions you need to ask yourself.


Why do you write? Maybe you write because you have a story you need to tell. Maybe you are writing the book that you wanted as a young reader. Maybe you want your children to see themselves in the characters of books. Each of us will have a different answer and it is an answer that may change over time.

What do you write?

You might be a picture book writer or a novelist. Maybe poems, essays or nonfiction articles are your passion. Some writers want to become known in one area. Others want to write many different things. What do you want?

What do you want to achieve?

This is different than what do you want to write because it has to do with writing goals. Maybe your goal is “to finish X manuscript.” Maybe you want to write 12 poems or 4 picture books. Maybe you’ve roughed out several manuscripts and want to polish your favorite.

What says “success”?

How will you know that you’ve achieved success? Maybe you need to hold your book in your hand. Maybe, more than anything, you want to have stories under submission. Maybe you want a social media following. Again, only you can answer this question.

What can you do to achieve it?

Once you have some idea what the markers for success are, consider the things that you can do to achieve them. Possible steps including writing regularly, attending conferences, finding a critique group, or putting together a website. You have to know what success looks like to get there but once you know, you can begin to identify your own writing path.


Writing Success: Getting Out of Your Own Way

At one point, I’d never crocheted an owl.

Last weekend, I was talking to a friend about craft. This wasn’t about writing, although we both write, but crafting, specifically crochet.  Because of arthritis in her hands, she has had to give up embroidery and beading also proved impossible.  She can’t hold the needle long enough to get anything done.

“Could you crochet?  Some of the hooks have some pretty hefty grips.”

“I can’t.”

“Have you tried?”

“I can’t.”

“Even with one of the larger hooks?”

“I don’t know how.”

As my teen would say – face palm.  There is a really big difference between don’t know how and can’t.

At one point, I didn’t know how to write readers theatre.  Or lesson plans.  Or how tos.  But when my editors asked me to do it, I said yes and then figured out what I needed to do. Truth be told, I think this is how I’m wired given that I took a radio apart when I was about three.  No, I didn’t break it.  I took it apart to make it work better.  (My father secured the case with a handful of heavy-duty rubber bands.)

Learning how to write something new is do-able.  I currently have a library book on comic writing.  I’ve marked a podcast on fantasy writing.  There’s also a book on my desk on voice.

That said, there are some things I can’t do.  Toddler level picture books are a mystery to me.  Even 90% of the ones that win awards just leave me going —

I just don’t click with these kinds of books.

That is a viable excuse for not writing something.  It you don’t like that type of book, don’t write that type of book even if it is a huge money-maker.  If, on the other hand, you don’t know how?  Read some examples of that type of book.  Check out the how-to books, the blogs and the pod casts.  Play around.

You may find something that you love.