Two things inspired me to write a post on failure— or should say success? The first one was a post over at Unleash The Flying Monkeys Failure is Not an Option; It’s a Necessity, where Leah dismisses the notion that “we must succeed or else,” and the other arrived in the form of a little inspirational note in my inbox which read:
“The standard of success in life isn’t the things. It isn’t the money or the stuff — it is absolutely the amount of joy you feel.”
I happen to agree with Leah in that failure is not the end of the world, nor is success a necessity for happiness. Her idea that many of us put ourselves under far too much pressure was spot on. We don’t want to end up sucking all the joy out of our lives which is exactly what can happen when we strive to reach certain goals and deadlines.
While Leah’s opinion is that failure isn’t the end of the world–which it isn’t– my little email message seemed to be saying that we should take a look at what success means. That got me thinking.
So, how does a writer measure success?
Some might say, that’s easy—publication is what all writers strive for, their way of measuring success, or perhaps the size of the advance they receive (not to mention royalty money, and possibly any awards that might come their way.)
I’m reminded of a post I wrote last November, So What’s it really about? that came about after a conversation with my daughter where I told her I didn’t want this experience of having a book published to be all about sales and money. I wanted to enjoy each precious moment, savour each pleasant memory along the way.
A writer’s life is filled with highs and lows. There is both disappointment and elation along the way. We feel disappointment when we receive yet another rejection and elation over some small bit of praise for our work.
But hopefully, as we create our stories we are doing it for the pure joy of it, and not for some measure of success that comes in the form of money or fame or awards. Hopefully, we are wrapped up in each word and syllable, sentence and paragraph that we put down on paper. Hopefully, as each day brings us further to an ending, we love the story we’re creating just as much at the end as we did in the very beginning. If there is no joy, no sense of fun, are we truly successful when and if that story is finally published?
How then, as writers, do we fail?
I thought about this question for a moment and the first thing that popped into my mind was quitting. For me, failure would come in the form of quitting. And then I wondered why would a writer quit? Failure to be published might be the answer. But if we quit, how can be sure that publication is not awaiting us further down the road? Lots of things to ponder.
We are often encouraged to set goals for ourselves and this can be helpful. It can motivate us to keep going or even serve as the catalyst to get us started. But what if we set a goal such as: I want to be published by a certain date and that date comes and goes. Are we then a failure for not reaching our goal by this self-imposed deadline?
I have occasionally set writing goals to help motivate myself, and only rarely do I set a deadline. Don’t get me wrong, for some writers deadlines are a way of life especially when an editor is waiting for you to get back to them with rewrites and all that other fun stuff. Missing such deadlines would not be wise. Earlier this year, I set a goal of having a first draft for another novel completed by the end of the summer. Guess what? Didn’t happen. Little did I know when I set this goal that I would become very busy with some revisions on a completely different story. Did I feel like a failure then for missing my deadline? Not for a moment. I felt like a complete success for bringing my revisions to a place where I am totally happy and confident with the story I was revising.
Sometimes we have to accept the fact that we don’t have control over everything. Sometimes we want to go in one direction while the Universe is guiding us someplace else. Sometimes we think we are ready when in fact we aren’t. But if we quit working at it I can guarantee this readiness will never find us, and yes we probably will feel like a failure.
So that’s lots to digest for one day. Thanks for making me think, Leah, and for inspiring me to write this very long-winded post…
As a writer what do you feel if your measure of success? Do you agree with the statement that “ The standard of success in life isn’t the things. It isn’t the money or the stuff — it is absolutely the amount of joy you feel?”