How Do You Define Success?

Two of my favorite successes.

For some people, success equals money. For others, it’s fame. Maybe scoring an agent. Or a book contract. Good reviews. A New York Times bestseller. Your book optioned for a film.

But what if you don’t have those things? What if your attempts at finding an agent fell flat? Or you got reviews that cut to the bone? Or your book flamed out after selling only a handful of copies?

I’d argue, after having been a writer for 20-some-odd years, that success is being happy with what you’re doing. It’s waking up and putting your behind in a chair and writing. It’s trusting the story and yourself to tell it. It’s being so immersed in your work that you utterly lose track of time. It’s doing something you love and watching the disjointed scenes and jotted notes become a book. It’s seeing your vision all the way through.

Success is also not giving up when the money, the fame, or the traditional publishing route doesn’t pan out. Sure, I would’ve loved to have a self-supporting career and accolades and a lot of help getting my work out into the world. But because that didn’t materialize, does that mean I failed? I write every day. I take my time, no pressure & no deadlines, and let the story unfold. I let the characters grow. I am happy. So, for me, the answer is no.

Success, for me, has been finding a small but loyal following of readers. I get emails & letters from people who told me that my novel changed them in some way, made them cry, spurred them to work things out with a family member. Every once in a while, I get told I’ve made someone’s short list of favorite authors. I often get requests to see my new work.

Success, too, is seeing my oldest son win first place for a book he wrote. Success is seeing my youngest son turning into a book lover also. Success is connecting with other people through whatever means you can; in my case, that just happens to be writing.

What about you? How do you define success? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.

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26 thoughts on “How Do You Define Success?”

  1. Thank you, Shelli, for sharing your insight to success. Deciding to fulfill my desire to write in mid-life conjures up demons of insecurity that have been locked away for a long time. I picked up ‘The Frugal Editor’ this week and thought, O my God, I’m back in English 101! I began to doubt myself wondering if I did this or that in my book for the whole world to see. But, (BTW, we should never begin a sentence with ‘But’) then I remind myself that only a miniscule part of the whole world may or may not read my book. I remind myself of why I was so compelled to write the story and how it could change a reader’s life. Stepping into an untapped well of creativity can be frightening, addictive, overwhelming, and most of all, fun. People often tell me that I have many amazing accomplishments under my belt. There is a part of me that wants to take one more step out of the box, to add one more notch to my belt of life, which is to write.

    1. Hi Alle. I love this ~ “There is a part of me that wants to take one more step out of the box, to add one more notch to my belt of life, which is to write.” That sentence reminded me of a song by Garth Brooks called, “Standing Outside the Fire.” It’s all about living your life so you feel the most alive. I agree that stepping out of your comfort zone can be completely frightening, but it’s only scary while you’re walking through it. Once you’re on the other side of it (and you will get to the other side!), you’ll have another accomplishment to add to your list & the fear will be a little bit less the next time. 🙂

  2. Good morning and great question this morning!

    How do I define success? Hmm…

    I went to an Ozzy Osbourne book signing last night which was an overwhelming success for him, but most people weren’t there because of his book, but because of his other talent. Hey he’s Ozzy.

    For me I would like to see my first novel published and to know what it feels like to have a book signing. I can’t see one like Ozzy’s, but would still like to have one knowing that people are reading my book and would actually like it signed.

    As for being rich, I believe it’s overrated. Some people say you can never have enough money, but I’m happy with my bills being paid and having food on the table,having a loving family, and friends.

    So success for me would be to achieve my goals, whatever they may be, even if my only goal is to get my kitchen floor scrubbed. Success is what you want and what you make it.

    1. Hi Karen. I agree that a book signing is fantastic. It’s always great to interact with your readers. You can have those as an indie, too. I’ve done several at bookstores/book fairs. I love this ~ “I’m happy with my bills being paid and having food on the table, having a loving family, and friends.” Me, too. And this made me smile ~ “So success for me would be to achieve my goals . . . even if my only goal is to get my kitchen floor scrubbed.” I’ve had those days, too, where I set the bar low & achieved it so I could feel great.

  3. Success lays inside of one’s own perception of themselves, not the outward acceptance of others, no? Perhaps that’s life’s ultimate lesson: Accepting who we are or changing ourselves until we can and do. Great post. Great question.

    1. Hi Maureen. I agree. I think the worst thing you can do to yourself is judge yourself or your success based on the opinions of others. What a great way to sum up one of life’s (perhaps the ultimate) lessons.

  4. An excellent article.

    What is success? Very much depends on whether you are talking about *personal* success or professional success – they are not often the same.

    To me personal success is anything that gives me any sense of accomplishment, including simple forward momentum.

    Professional success, on the other hand, is something else entirely, and right now I don’t have a good answer for what I’d consider professional success because my definition is subject to change as I become more familiar with the business.

    1. Hi Richard. I love this ~ “personal success is anything that gives me any sense of accomplishment, including simple forward momentum.” Professional success is tricky, especially as a novel writer, which is why I wrote the post. I think most people equate professional success with money. But I’ve also known people who made a bundle of money & were unsatisfied in their careers ~ so there’s that to consider, too.

  5. Shelli I love what you’ve written above. You’re right, ‘success’ can be defined in such a variety of ways and it’s up to us to measure it.
    For me, having been writing for almost 5 years whilst also maintaining full-time job, success so far is simply about being able to maintain these 2 demands; being able to write a section/finish a chapter each night/week. On a bigger scale, success is my ability to have 6 complete novels (albeit still on its 2nd or 3rd draft), ready for me to ‘sell’ out there in whatever means/whichever route (still deciding). It’s baby steps, but everything in life is…

    1. Hi Maria. Having done the full-time job & writing afterward, I tip my hat to you. I know that’s a resounding success to be able to pull that off. Congrats on 6 complete books ~ that’s undoubtedly a success, too. I love this ~ “It’s baby steps, but everything in life is.” Amen to that. 🙂

  6. That’s a great way to look at things. I think as writers, we all grow up with the notion that the only definition of success is a Big 6 publishing deal, fame, and fortune. That almost never happens for anyone, and who knows if those people are happy with the way things turned out. If you define success by having readers who are moved by your book, you’ll be much happier in the long run. Thanks for reminding us of that 🙂

    1. Hi Alana. Amen to your whole comment. I especially love this ~ “who knows if those people are happy with the way things turned out.” You’re right; the assumption is that they must be thrilled. But what if they aren’t? What if they’ve got deadlines and sales numbers to meet and massive amounts of pressure/stress? I’ll take being happy over that. 🙂

  7. Love the question, and for me the answer is “loving what I’m doing”. Rather Joseph Campbell-like: Follow your BLISS. Then there’s the old saw: do what you love and the money will follow. Yeah, whatever! But the first is the most important to ME.

  8. This is perfect timing for me! Just this morning I saw a story about Cindy Crawford, who is only a couple of years older than me, and all that she’s accomplished so far. But then I remembered that I’m happy doing what I do, and I’m happy with my family, and that’s what life is all about.

    1. Hi Julie! I’m so glad this post showed up when you needed it. 🙂 I completely agree that as long as you’re happy, that’s what life is all about. Cheers!

  9. Shelli, excellent post. Very wise. Being happy with how we spend our days is the best type of success. I’m happy with helping people in my psychology career, and I’ll try to remember that wisdom regarding my writing career.

    1. Hi Jennifer! *waves* Thanks for the compliment. I love this because it’s absolutely true: “Being happy with how we spend our days is the best type of success.” That, IMO, applies to writing (being happy with what you’re working on), too. 🙂

  10. I used to think success was getting published. But now, success is finishing the novel I started writing in 1998 – and having people respond positively to the first draft; writing a series of short stories, sending one to a professional editor and her telling me I have no reason to be insecure about my writing; being encouraged enough to write in an unusual genre (romance) and like the story enough to consider submitting it for a contest. Yeah. That’s pretty successful.

    1. Hi Mary! *waves* I love this: “success is finishing the novel I started writing in 1998.” I have one I started 5 years ago & that’s how I’m looking at it, too. Success will be finishing it. 🙂 Congrats on all your success!

  11. I define being successful as telling a whole story. One that has a beginning, middle and end. I spent so many years starting but not finishing things; a complete story is quite an accomplishment.
    I like to picture a life in which I am able to support myself (match my current pay–not too difficult) by writing. I know better than to hold my breath. Telling a complete story is enough.

    1. Hi Honey! *waves* That’s a great definition of success, especially because it’s easy as a writer to start projects and never finish them. Think positive, darlin, you’re capable of matching your current pay if you set your mind to it. 🙂

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