People talk a lot about becoming a successful writer – and what habits/products/lessons you should invest in to become one, too. How do you measure success, though? Is it finishing a book, getting famous, supporting yourself as a writer, or something else? You can only succeed when you know what you want. Many of your greatest goals probably aren’t things you’ve stopped to consider.
What You Accomplish
These are the easiest goals to identify. Accomplishments appear as word counts met, hours worked, and final products in hand. They are measurable. It’s great fun to hit one of these goals, because they’re easy to explain to others. They’re also easy to share with others.
That said, it’s the feeling of having accomplished something that is your true success. You hit your word count goal. After months of editing, your first book looks great. No one can take these accomplishments away from you, and each measurable accomplish is a stepping stone to the next.
How You Feel
You’re really only successful when you feel successful. It sounds campy, but it’s true. Writing is an intensely emotional experience. It’s hard! You put a lot into it! You may even be one of those unfortunate souls who empathizes with every nasty thing you put your characters through (they ARE all your children, after all). Emotional payoff needs to be part of the cycle.
If you work through a complex emotion, deal with your own trauma, or simply savor that sense of accomplishment we discussed earlier, then a great deal of your success is about how you feel. Don’t underestimate this reward from your writing. It’s the most lasting reward you’ll enjoy, and the only one you’re really guaranteed.
How You Make Readers Feel
As I’ve said many times before, writing is communication. You need to have some kind of answer to what you throw out into the void. Discovering how your work makes your readers feel helps close the circle and complete the cycle so you can move on and write the next story.
Manipulating readers’ emotions is no easy feat, and it’s definitely a sign of success, no matter how big your audience is. This plays into building a readership community, too, where you have more direct access to your fans and get to hear what delighted, horrified, or blew them away in your story. That in and of itself is a huge success!
What You Express
Sometimes, the most important part of writing is just putting your ideas into print. If you ache to share insights you’ve learned via a story, share an amazing revelation you had as a kid, or simply throw in your two cents of political commentary, expressing yourself is success. This kind of success takes a lot of practice, though, and it may be one of the later rewards of a lifetime of writing, so don’t let early satisfaction blunt your drive.
Define success by your own standards. Ask not only what quantifiable goals you want to meet, but what you want to feel, share, and develop. The only way to succeed, of course, is to keep writing.