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January 8, 2013
While discussing goals with several writer friends, I found myself becoming depressed. We were analyzing how 2012 had gone. Each person shared their goals for the past year and how they had succeeded or failed.
Until I heard the other reports, I had been happy with most of my year. While I hadn’t yet completed a couple of novels I’d started, I had written a couple of proposals, and one of them got the “nod” from an editor. (Proposals take me a while, with their sample chapters and market plans.) A revision for a book I sold in 2011, which I expected to take about two weeks, took the last three months of 2012 to complete instead.
Check the Numbers
Here’s where the depression part came in. Several friends said something like this: “In 2012 I wrote a six-book series for X Publisher, plus three books in another ongoing series for Publisher Y.”
After hearing that, I didn’t want to share that my completed projects were so meager. And yet, I had put in more writing hours this year than in many years (and I’m not counting the blogging or critique letters for private critiques.) Was I getting slower? Was I burning out? I didn’t feel like it, but I sure wasn’t producing books at the speed these other writers had.
For me—and for many of you—it’s all in the numbers.
Then I remembered something. Several years ago I had what looked like my most productive year. I wrote three books in a series for an educational publisher, then two mysteries for a different educational publisher. A five-book year!
But the whole truth was that the three books were all written in a week and totaled only about 750 words each. The mysteries were early chapter books that were less than 2,000 words each. That’s only about 6,000 words altogether! And it was less than two months’ writing time. Still, I could truthfully say I wrote and sold five books that year.
In 2012, though, I wrote two proposals. One got nixed fairly early, and one got the go-ahead. I’ve been working on that novel, and each revision has changed it substantially. It will still take months to finish it. And the revision I did this fall and just turned in (for the book sold in 2011) grew into a longer book when I added the additional material my editor wanted. (It’s a much better book now.) But the numbers? The “revision” included major changes to the 36,000 words I had written, plus an additional 21,000 words of original material. This 57,000-word revision took me much longer—and was more challenging—than the five books I wrote several years ago.
Am I knocking educational writing or short books? NO! Not in the slightest. The value of the writing is NOT in the length. I’m just suggesting that you ask about the numbers. Before your writer’s ego shrinks any further when someone talks about their multiple book successes, ask them how long the books were. (While there are a few full-time writers who produce long books several times per year, they are few and far between.)
Part of the Writing Life
And if you like to write long books, get used to this. It will happen throughout your career. I generally sell one or two books per year, depending on length. But except for that one year, I don’t write short material other than this blog.
Writers aren’t telling you they wrote and sold six books last year to put you down or make you feel small. They are telling the truth. (It wasn’t until someone commented to me that I must not have seen my family that whole year that I realized the misperception on their part.) But if it makes your writer’s self-esteem take a plunge, ask (nicely) how long the books were. Add up the numbers. (Some middle-grade novels are 50,000 words, but many middle-grade series books are 15,000 words or less.) You may realize that despite appearances, you’ve written much more than that last year. So don’t compare apples and oranges.
Better Yet, Don’t Compare At All
We were each given stories and material to write, either fiction or nonfiction. We each have a unique voice and a unique “take” on the world. No one else can write your stories—or my stories. And if the stories you are given to write are longer or take more thought, your “production” quotas will look lower to others. Find a way to be okay with this, or it will plague you throughout your career.
I hope your 2012 was a successful writing year, but be careful how you measure success.
Just curious: how will you measure success in 2013? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
August 14, 2012
What exactly do we mean by “work” when we ask that?
Now? Today? This Year?
It usually means one of three things:
- We may be talking about our work right now. Right this minute, the writing is going well–or it’s dragging or we’re blocked.
- We may be talking about our creative work on any given day. We decide the writing is going well if we meet our goals for the day. (e.g. to write 1,000 words, or to revise the story ending, or to research a character’s occuption) It doesn’t matter what the size of the goal is. But as long as we meet whatever goal we set for ourselves, it’s a successful writing day.
- We may be talking about how our writing is going in general. It covers a length of time, like, “How has your writing gone over the summer?” Or “How is your writing career going?”
Criteria for Successful Work
“To feel as if they are measuring up,” says Eric Maisel in Fearless Creating, “artists must meet their own standards in each regard.”
So, how do we decide how the writing is going? How do we measure success in these three areas?
It’s personal. And it’s totally up to you.
- Is your writing going well right now? That depends on what makes a successful writing experience for you. Is it flowing? Are you having fun? Are you producing at least 500 words every thirty minutes? Choose your own criteria for success.
- Did your writing go well today? Did you meet your quota of words or pages by the end of the day? Did you have fun? Did you persevere despite interruptions? Choose your own criteria for a successful writing day.
- How is your work going in general? Are you getting better (deeper characters, snappier dialogue, whatever) with each book? Are you getting bigger advances? Are you winning awards? Choose your own criteria for a successful writing career.
Bear in mind that you can be UNsuccessful right now, or have an UNsuccessful day, but overall have a successful career. There can be any combination. Sometimes my writing is going well right now (I’m having fun, and the words are flowing), but later I get interrupted and don’t meet my daily goal, so I don’t feel I had a successful day.
I’d be interested to know how you judge your work in these three areas. How’s YOUR writing going?
March 14, 2012
Not my “want to.” Just my drive.
For thirty years I’ve set goals, worked hard toward meeting them (some called me ”driven”), achieved most of them, then set more.
I happily set one-year goals, five-year goals, and ten-year goals.
Goals that Once Spelled Success
- Graduate from the Institute’s course. Check.
- Sell first article. Check.
- Sell first short stories. Check.
- Repeat many times. Check.
- Sell first novel. Check.
- Sell more novels. Check.
- Get agent. Check. Fire agent. Check.
- Sell first series. Check.
- Sell many series. Check.
They were busy whirlwind years, with writing, raising children, and teaching. But somewhere around Book #35 or so, I found myself losing the drive. Or so I thought.
I still loved writing and didn’t want to quit. But enjoying the writing and having a balanced life (e.g. more time to sleep and be with grandkids) meant more to me than the next contract, the next conference, or jumping on the next social networking band wagon.
Changing Times, Changing Goals
But last week, in a romance writers magazine that was given to me, I read an article by Barbara Wallace called “Defining Success.” Many definitions were as expected: get published, be represented by an agent, win an award, get fan letters. I almost stopped reading, thinking, “Same old, same old.” But then!
I read some definitions of success written by women who had been writing quite a while, most of them published many times. Here’s what their current “definitions of success” were:
- Jackie Braun: Now, more than 25 books later, my definition has changed again. I see success as achieving and maintaining a happy balance between writing books and spending time with my family.
- Judith Arnold: Today, with my mortgage paid off and no more college tuitions to cover, I define success as writing the books of my heart. I define it as ignoring the commercial pressures and focusing on the stories I feel compelled to share.
- Donna Alward: If I never wrote again, I’d survive and I’d do something else. But if something happened to my family, I’d be destroyed. Figuring that out was really liberating and helped me rediscover the joy of writing.
- Pam Nowak: I feel good about what I have done. If I never sell again, I’ll know what I achieved, and I’ll feel good about having done so.
It helped me to see how their goals had also changed over the years. I could really identify.
Coming Full Circle
Actually my goals now aren’t so very different than when I started writing when my kids were babies. Back then, I worried about how to write without neglecting anyone. In my first interview, the reporter came to my farmhouse to photograph me with the four kids piled on my lap. I still recall her last question: “How do you choose between your children and your writing?”
It was a great question, and it solidified my priorities for the next thirty years. I told the writer, “I don’t choose. The kids come first. The writing comes after them. If I can’t do a good job at both, I’ll quit writing.”
Some Things Don’t Change
I feel the same way today, although it’s about grandchildren now instead of children. They also grow up very fast! And they won’t always love coming to Nana’s house more than anything else they do.
Does that change my goals? Without a doubt. Will it mean less money? Probably. But like the other ladies in that article, success today (for me) means having a happy balance between writing and family–and writing the stories closest to my heart, despite the current market trends.
What About You?
How do you measure writing success? Depending on where you are in the process, your answers will differ. There is no “right” answer either, so don’t let anyone else define success for you.
Do spend some time thinking about this. Your answer today may well change in a few years, and that’s to be expected. But you’ll be a happier writer once you figure out what success means to YOU.
September 28, 2011
“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality…Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
~~Ralph Waldo Emersonson
Where do you get this enthusiasm? It comes from having passion for your writing.
How does a writer act who is passionate about his writing? He can’t wait to get up in the morning and get started. He is eager and energetic. This comes from loving what you do, and doing what you were born to do or feel called to do. Feeling this passion for your writing keeps you going. Quitting is no longer an option. When you’re passionate about your writing, perseverance is a given.
This brings us to two main questions:
- How do you develop passion for the most important areas of your life?
- How do you maintain that passion during the inevitable tough times?
First: Find It
Are you doing what you really want to do in your writing career? Are you doing it at least part of the time? (I know that for most of my writing life, it was half and half. Half the time I was writing what I really wanted to write–fiction usually–whether it sold or not. The other half of my writing time went to work-for-hire projects, teaching, speaking or whatever brought guaranteed income.) Ask yourself: Am I truly doing what I want to do?
If you’re not skilled enough to do the work you’d love to do, make time to educate yourself so you are. While maintaining your current job (either outside the home and/or raising children), do whatever it takes to prepare for your dream writing jobs. It’s very difficult to create passion for doing something you don’t want to do or a job you are “settling for” because you don’t feel skilled enough to do what you’d really love to do.
Do whatever you need to do to overcome those lying voices in your head that say you’ll never be good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not whatever enough. Read inspirational books, read author biographies about how they got started and grew as writers, and say “no” to whatever is eating the time you need to study and read and write.
Second: Maintain It
Passion for your writing makes your days fly by (in a good way!). It helps you get more done in less time. That being true, it deserves whatever time you need to keep your writing passion alive. If your passion for writing dies, then writing just becomes another drudge job.
So how can you maintain passion and enthusiasm every day? First–and maybe most obvious–is to spend more time actually doing what you love to do. What is your pet writing project, the one that may never sell but you love it? Spend more time each day working on it. Even if it’s only an extra fifteen minutes or half an hour, it will remind you why you love to write.
Another key to maintaining passion for all your work is to reconnect with the purpose underlying everything you do. For example, I don’t enjoy running until it’s over and I’m in the shower. But I run my miles in the morning because the weight-bearing exercise is critical to staying “recovered” from my osteoporosis, which means my bones stay strong, which means I can still upright at the computer (hopefully) for decades to come and still have energy at the end of the day for my grandkids.
The same goes for giving up sugar finally four months ago. For a gal whose blood type is Hershey’s, that was a big deal for me. But more and more, sugar was making me sick and sluggish and sleepy. It was affecting my work–both the output and how I felt during work time. I don’t miss the sweets now, but during the first thirty days I might have mugged you for your candy bar.
What does that have to do with writing? It’s about maintaining passion. I don’t feel passionate about anything–including writing–if I don’t feel well. And by getting in touch with the “why” underlying the things I don’t like to do, it is a lot easier to get enthusiastic about it.
Tricks of the Trade
I know I’m not alone in trying to find and maintain passion for my writing. Please share some tips for how YOU maintain your writing enthusiasm in these fluctuating times!
June 27, 2011
You made it! This is the stage where you look around and can hardly believe it. You’re finally living your writing dream!
You have dreamed of this day for months–or decades. If you started down the road to success right after college when you didn’t have a family to support or attend to, you could well have cut the learning curve short. If you started when you had a young family (like I did), the stages probably took longer (since there are only so many hours in the day). If you began the journey while raising a family and handling a full-time day job, it might have taken ten years to reach this spot.
It doesn’t matter how long it took. You’re here–so celebrate and enjoy it! Before you set new and bigger goals, pause long enough to savor where you are.
Warning! The Dark Side of Success
Let yourself enjoy what you’ve worked so hard to attain. It’s been a long and sometimes difficult road. Don’t allow anyone or anything to interfere with the pleasure of what you’ve achieved.
Sometimes success takes you by surprise, and your successful career becomes overwhelming and distressing. My children were babies, toddlers and preschoolers when my books were first published. I was unprepared for the school invitations, I was scared to death when newspapers wanted interviews and photos, and I didn’t like traveling (driving in snow) and being away from my family for days at a time. At the time, it never occurred to me that I could say “no.” The whole thing spun out of control until I got too sick to continue. Keep success manageable! You’re the only one who can do that.
Success attracts more of everything, so be prepared and think some of the issues through ahead of time. Yes, you’ll have more money, which is immensely helpful. But you’ll also have more business expenses, more calls, more e-mail, and more requests for your time (guest blog posts, interviews, Skype chats with book clubs or school groups, reviews). If you’re not careful about limiting what you say “yes” to, you’ll find yourself longing for the days when you just wrote and no one knew about you!
Never think that you must accept everything success brings simply because it has been offered. Decide ahead of time how much of your day or week you’re willing to give to these things, and then stick to it (for the sake of your family, your health and your sanity.)
When success hits and you wonder how to fit everything in, you may want to read a few good time management books, especially those written for writers. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel!
Your friends may change a bit after you are successful too. True friends (writers and non-writers both) will be happy for you, but there are some who will be jealous. If they don’t adjust their attitude, they may drop out of your life.
On the other hand, success as a writer will give you opportunities to meet other successful writers. Some of them will become lifelong friends, those truly kindred souls who speak your language and are as happy about your sales as they are about their own. Treasure these friendships.
Be grateful for your success. Not everyone in this country who would like to be a writer will survive all five stages of success. So be grateful that you have the ability and the freedom to do this. I sure am! I can’t imagine doing anything else.
June 24, 2011
Okay, you prepared (Stage One). You explored your options (Stage Two). You got started (Stage Three). Now you’re ready for Stage Four of “The Five Stages of Success”, where you survive and thrive.
You might have had a very fast start. That would be the writer who published the first thing he submitted, or his first novel was a Newbery Honor Book. These overnight successes are at the extreme end of the bell curve.
The other extreme end of the “survival and growth” stage is where you find the most dedicated, determined writers. They sell articles about “how I made my first sale on my 239th submission” or they sell a book they’ve been working on diligently for twenty years.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. This stage is the most challenging, partly because it’s usually the longest. There is a lot to learn about the writing business, and improving one’s writing craft simply takes time. If you know that and truly understand it, you will enjoy this stage of your success so much more.
It shouldn’t be rushed through. Try to resist society’s “instant gratification” message when it comes to your writing. More and more, I’m receiving emails from new writers saying, “I haven’t had a response in two months from a publisher. I shouldn’t have to wait to be published!” And I think, Why not?
Writers for centuries have had to wait and practice and revise before being published. And thank goodness they did! Even writers like Jane Austen didn’t write early drafts that were very good. So don’t get in a rush. All you will accomplish by that attitude is getting material self-published that is way less than your best is going to be. Nearly everyone I hear from who did this regrets it later.
Growth is Fun
So where’s the success in this stage if it takes such a long time?
I believe there are dozens and dozens of mini-successes spread throughout this stage. They include things like:
- finishing your first book
- attending a conference
- making a new writing friend
- small sales and large sales–celebrate each one!
- being asked to speak to kids or librarians
- the years your income taxes reflect “black” instead of “red”
- good reviews
- book signings (whether you sell many books or not)
- autographing books for your friends and family
- and so many more!
During this “surviving and growing” stage it’s easy to get fixated on all the things you can’t do yet. Don’t forget to notice–and celebrate–that you ARE making it! You are growing. You are getting there, step by step.
If I could do one thing over in my writing life and make one change, this would be it: Celebrate everything!
Pat yourself on the back if no one else does. Reward yourself for each little success. We certainly go on and on about our rejections. Let’s go on and on about the successful steps we make!
June 20, 2011
Getting Ready for the Journey
This stage comes with a warning. Many people try to either bypass this stage altogether or rush through it. It’s understandable. We’re excited about our goals, and we just want to get on with it! And that’s what most people do: jump in with both feet with little thought about preparation.
Research shows that if you skip this phase, more than likely you’ll hit a brick wall somewhere and be forced to fall back and regroup. At that point, you’ll realize you got ahead of yourself and need more preparation. It’s easier–and less discouraging–if you take time to do the prep work first.
What Kind of Preparation?
Getting ready for a successful writing career can require preparation in several areas: improved grammar skills, learning about the publishing industry, learning marketing basics, or (like me) taking a writing course that covered it all.
Another kind of preparation may be financial. Unless you’re independently wealthy or your family doesn’t require your income, you may need to prepare financially for the writing career you want. It may mean clearing up debt–the last thing you need as a freelance writer is credit card payments. Or your financial preparation may be saving enough money to quit your day job. (There are many books available on this topic if you need specific help there.)
Take Your Time
Try not to get so frustrated during the preparation stage of success that you skip it or rush it. Take all the time you need to prepare so that you don’t have to do a lot of backtracking later.
By the way, the amount of preparation time you need will be individual to you. I took a writing course, read lots of books and magazines, studied market guides, and (over the years) bought and studied dozens of writing books. I have a writing friend, though, who grew up with a mother who taught children’s literature at the university level. My friend started writing without any formal preparation at all, and to this day she’s never read a how-to writing book (and she has seven critically acclaimed books to her credit).
The moral? Only you know how much preparation you need. And you may not know until you spread your writing wings a bit and try to get published. You might find a few gaps in your knowledge and need to go back and fill those in. That’s fine–nearly all of us have to do that. You can successfully fill in those gaps.
Success Along the Way
Remember to celebrate each step you complete along the way. Celebrate finishing that class. Celebrate finishing that book you chose to study. Celebrate attending your first writing conference.
And ENJOY the preparation phase. Feel the excitement and anticipation, and let it carry you along to “Stage Three: Start-Up” on Wednesday.
June 17, 2011
If success is a journey, where are you along this continuum? As we go through the five stages of success–and learn to celebrate each stage–you’ll see each milestone for what it is: a huge victory.
As I mentioned in “The Five Stages of Success,” my first step along the way was taking the correspondence writing class from the Institute while my three kids were infants and toddlers. Choosing to throw myself into this endeavor was a successful leap of faith for me. (And my husband, as it took exactly half our food budget to pay for it!) But all success has a price, even if it entails making your own bread and homemade yogurt for a year.
If I knew I wanted to write, where did the exploration come in? In two phases actually.
In Phase One, I hadn’t known I wanted to write. I had tried four other home-based businesses before the writing course. Through those experiences, I found out I did NOT like selling vitamins or make-up, stuffing envelopes, or day care. I was successful in weeding out those careers. Until I took the writing course, I had no idea how much I would love it–a love that has lasted thirty years so far.
Phase Two of the exploration phase dealt with deciding what exactly I wanted to write. I had no idea, and the process of deciding can’t be forced or hurried. You have to take time to explore and mentally try on and investigate the many writing possibilities open to you. And when you hit your niche, you’ll know it.
Analyzing Your Explorations
I sold fiction and nonfiction to magazines, experimenting with shorter material. For two years I wrote for ages preschool through adults. The easiest to sell was middle-grade and adult nonfiction–and that was a consideration. But my highest satisfaction came from writing middle-grade fiction. [That's where I settled, and (for the most part), that's what I wrote in the coming years--but that's a different stage.]
The “Exploration Stage” of success can be such a fun time! I found it exciting. If you want more guidance or direction for this phase, you might try Finding Your Perfect Work by Paul and Sarah Edwards or Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy.
Stay tuned for “Stage Two: Preparation” on Monday!
June 15, 2011
Do you feel like a successful writer? Or are you waiting to pass some big milestone before you can feel successful? (e.g. sell a story, win a contest, finish a novel, get an agent)
Is success (in your thinking) saved for after you’ve reached your next goal?
No Finish Lines
If so, let’s re-define success.
Success, according to many experts, is a process. It is not a finish line you cross. There are milestones along the way. Haven’t you found that to be true? You set one goal and eventually are successful at achieving it. But what do we do almost immediately? We set a new goal and decide we will be successful at some point in the future when we attain that goal.
Is it any wonder we never feel successful? (Oddly enough, though, we see other writers as successful–even writers less published than we are!)
Success, to be realistic, needs to be measured in a different way. Each step–each of the five stages–along the way in your writing career needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.
My own writing career started with taking the writing course offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. I poured myself into that course, set aside study time daily during naptimes, and graduated in ten months. After thirty rejections, I sold three of my assignments, and two years later, my first middle-grade novel to Atheneum. My seventh novel won a children’s choice award. I’ve gone on to write four series, some fiction and some nonfiction.
At what point did I consider myself successful? Truthfully, a big part of me still thinks of success as being “out there” somewhere. I look at other writers who have MFAs and high powered agents, and think, Now THOSE are successful writers!
Looking back, though, I would say that success happened at various milestones–and the first milestone was signing up for the writing course and taking my dream seriously. I think I was successful each time I got a rejection slip and decided to not give up. I think there were more successes than just the “public” ones we usually acknowledge: the sales, the awards, getting that agent.
The Five Stages
According to experts Paul and Sarah Edwards in Secrets of Self-Employment (Working from Home), there are five stages of success. Each is a milestone in itself. In order for the writing journey to be fun and rewarding, you really need to celebrate each victory–each success–along the way.
During the next five days, we’ll be talking about the five stages of success: Exploration, Preparation, Start-Up, Survival & Growth, and Bull’s-Eye.
Let’s re-think our definitions of success. Don’t focus just on the end result. Focus on being successful in the stage where you are right now. You’ll enjoy the process so much more this way!
[Next blog post on Friday is Stage One: Exploration]
May 4, 2011
Are you climbing the writer’s ladder of success, but beginning to suspect that your ladder is leaning against the wrong building?
I’d been wondering for nearly a year. I reviewed my goals for the year and saw that I was moving fairly steadily toward each one. Mostly that made me happy.
But two goals I’m moving toward make me uneasy. I realized I really didn’t want to reach those goals. They were things “the experts” said I needed to do to be a successful writer, but they appeal to me less and less, the closer I get to the goals.
Your Goals? Or Someone Else’s?
“What’s your ‘approximately perfect life’ look like? Have you made a list of the things you’d like to have or to achieve or to be that would make your life the one you want?…Nothing happens unless you take action. But you can’t take any meaningful action until you define your direction. And you’ll never have direction until you know what your ‘approximately perfect life’ would look like.”
How do you even know the kind of life/writing life you would like to have? (And by writing life, I mean to include family and other goals you have. The whole enchilada.)
There are a number of ways (books and websites) to help you define what YOUR perfect life would include. Randy recommended an online free website that he faithfully uses called Simpleology. The creator of that site promises that:
Within minutes of setting up your account, you will:
- See your day with instant clarity
- Focus instantly on what´s important
- Dump the rest (liberation is a click away)
- Clear your brain of clutter and distraction
Let’s Get Personal
What’s important to you? What would spell success for you in the writing life? Have you written down your goals? Look at each one closely. Are they truly your goals and desires? Or are they goals–like several of mine–that were dictated by others but, in your heart, you know they don’t fit who you are?
Today I have a very long walk planned to think about these issues. I suspect, that when I get home, I’ll be doing some restructuring of my goals. My life is too busy and fragmented, and something’s got to go. Why not start with those things that really don’t spell writing success to me?
If you’re willing to share, leave a comment below. Does your own goal list need simplifying? Mine does. I’d love to know which goals you’re going to keep–and which ones you’re going to let go.Newer Posts »