Success Is a Four-Letter Word #IWSG

I have a few many tons of posts about success. Fear of success. Lack of success. What is success. Blah, blah. But, the common theme running through these narratives is that I do not believe in a generic, blanket definition of success. I think the word (along with “should” and “balance”) needs to be banned. Alas, it is here to stay. And I will whine about it once more. You’re welcome.

Success is so freakin’ personal. It means something different to everyone.

So when someone says they’re happy to have a never-in-a-million-years-will-this-be-a-best-seller book…maybe, instead of saying, “You can’t think that!” Or “Everyone wants to have a best-selling book!” Or “You’re just saying that because you know it won’t sell.” Maybe just…I don’t know…be nice and believe them.

Some writers want ALL OF THE THINGS. A traditionally published book, a NYT best-selling book, a movie based on their series. Cool. Some want enough to pay the bills and quit their day job. Excellent goal, especially if you hate your day job and your boss is a jackass. Some just want to write. And that’s great, too.

Success is getting into Oxford University, making your first million, being cast as the NEXT BIG THING in some future Marvel movie. It’s also learning to tie your shoe, figuring out your cell phone, losing 5 lbs, catching a baseball. Success is dropping your kid off on his first day of school without crying.

For me, it’s complicated. I have dreams and goals and whatnot but I also have realistic expectations and the knowledge that, whether people believe me or not, I write for me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Because it’s true.

I suppose, in the simplest terms, I define success (as a writer) by the quality of my books. Success is writing, editing, and publishing something I can be proud of.

How do you define success as a writer?  Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

IWSG Question of the Month

September Prompt β€“ How do you define success as a writer?

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IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

This post is part of IWSG , a monthly blog hop/prompt started by Alex J Cavanaugh. 

50 thoughts on “Success Is a Four-Letter Word #IWSG

  1. Hi Sarah, I thiynk about this a lot and you know, being a blockbuster author carries a lot of stress with it. For me, I define success by my level of happiness and satisfaction. I want to write and publish a book, and think I will, but the success factor for me will be more internal. Great topic.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well said, Sarah. For me, success was finally, finally, finally (at the age of 69) writing and publishing a book, after being told since I was in high school it was a stupid dream that would never come true. I wrote it. I published it. And I’ve SOLD actual copies of it! And garnered some lovely reviews. In short: I. Did. It. And no matter what else happens to me before I shuffle off this mortal coil, I’ll carry that accomplishment with me every single day, and feel happy.

    Of course, getting rich from it (or from any of the next six novels I’ve since written) would be the icing on the cake, you understand. 😁 But totally not necessary in order for me to feel like a success in realizing my lifelong dream.

    Great post! πŸ˜ŠπŸ’—

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The one I will always remember is putting our youngest (now 29 years old, was about 8 at the time) on a bus to go to summer camp for the first time. While waiting for the bus to pull out, I had to go hide behind the bushes because I was indeed a blubbering mess.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. You’re right, success can mean so many different things. I’ve been working on re-defining it for myself, but I suppose just being proud of what I’ve done really is one measure of it. So thank you for that! πŸ™‚

    My kid will graduate from high school in May. OMG, I know I’ll cry like crazy. LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thoughtful post, Sarah. I don’t balk at the word “success” but I refuse to accept any definition of it outside my own. I do change my mind about what success means to me, as you say it is personal and complicated. As someone who is preparing to launch a “successful” career as a creative writing teacher and coach, I’ve spend years crafting my vision of success as an author (hint — it looks a lot like making a living, living my purpose, and publishing the stories I want to put out in the world). My dreams weave in and out of that vision. Home is in there somewhere. Community has always been a part of the vision, but now, I’m focusing on 30 writers who want to be part of a coaching cohort to define and manage success on their terms with guidance and productive feedback. Many who don’t want success still want some sort of connectivity through their writing. And that’s why Carrot Ranch is open to all writers. Thanks for proving space to think through the idea of success.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true. Society’s definition of success cannot be more important than our own. And it definitely does change with us as we change. As J.D. said, success is “ever-evolving”. πŸ™‚

      *apologies for the late reply


  6. Success is an ever evolving concept though for me, it means earning enough to do more of what I love. I am one of those who doesn’t love his job and grit my teeth every time someone says if you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life. I have worked a LOT of days in my life and plenty of days that count for more than one. I want the means to do more creative things and branch out further. This means videogames, movies, animated features, multimedia projects. I want to create things that will stick with people for years and in the end, I think it all responds to that need to do something that matters or to just matter. So here’s to pursuing and evolving along with our concept of success.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An ever-evolving concept, success. I love that! Eff society’s definition. You’re right, even within our own minds, we change what success means constantly to fit with our lives. You are, for sure, a Jack-of-all-trades. I admire all the projects you do.


  7. Success is a word in a dictionary where everyone inserts their own definition. And then berates themselves because their definition doesn’t match someone else’s. I am so over that.

    Also, totally agree with you. WTF is this “balance” of which some speak? Unless they mean a glass of white wine in one hand, and red in the other, do not speak to me of this. 🀣

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As I said above, Sarah, this is not something I’ve ever thought about. I just do things and send them out, either in my day job, or in my writing or even with my artwork. I get them to the point that I like them or am happy with them. If I’m not happy with a day job activity and can’t change it, it can grate on me a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, everyone has his or her own idea of success but there seems to be a universal idea of what “successful” looks like. Getting things to the point where you are happy with them sounds successful to me. πŸ™‚

      *apologies for the late reply

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You should focus on balance, Sarah. (Hehe. I couldn’t resist.)
    Oh, for me, it’s just having a good day. On a scale of 1 to 10, that’s a 7 or above. If most days are 7+, that would be a successful life. Sometimes writing fits into that equation, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m getting better at knowing the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Har har. (That really is a good one, I’ll admit.) Ah, the success of having a good day. This is my favorite definition so far. πŸ₯° And I’m so glad you didn’t say a “10” is success. I’m with you on the “7”.

      Me recently: “On a scale of 1 to 10, I give this day an F.”

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Success as a writer? Probably being able to write and make a living from it would tick that box completely. But, just knowing I’m being read will do and, when someone reads my books, that they got something from it – even if it was just a few hours of escapism. From that point of view – although the numbers are low – I think I’ve succeeded.
    As for success more broadly, one of the most successful people I ever met was my grandfather. He owned very little (not even the house he lived in), he never travelled, and his daily life was probably fairly routine. But he was content. And that’s more than enough, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You know me, and so you’re probably well aware of my obsession with self-improvement and optimization (diet/exercise/writing/art). I constantly search for input that I might be able to apply and through doing so become a better Loni. Success to me (beyond finishing my damn series) is improvement.

    I recall someone once telling me “if you don’t plan on selling your books, what’s the point of getting feedback?” I mean, I can see where they’re coming from–if I’m writing for me, why should I care what other people think? But at the same time, it completely baffled me. Just because I write for me, doesn’t mean I don’t want to try to improve and be the best darn Loni I can be.

    I am definitely one of those with an odd definition of success who has been made to feel inadequate for not aiming higher. Oh well. At least I’m improving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Improvement is success. I love that. πŸ™‚ To be the best we can be. No way in hell is that an odd definition of success. If you aim higher, you’ll miss your target. Here’s to learning, growing, and improving ourselves.


  12. This is where I like the quote ‘We should judge ourselves from the seeds we’ve sown and not the harvest we’ve reaped.’

    As a writer, this is the only reliable yardstick I can measure myself by, because while I have reached a few writing milestones, it’s pretty hard to nail down what success is if we keep our eyes on the horizon. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a fantastic quote. Also, the eyes on the horizon. We can’t always be looking up and ahead, right? Sometimes we need to look down and see where we are now and what we’ve accomplished already.


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