Thursday, September 04, 2014

What Makes a Writer Successful?

How does a writer spell “success”?

Over the years I’ve learned that there’s always somebody ready, willing and able to define “success” for a writer.  

For some, success means making bestseller lists and/or having several books or novellas out at a time or signing a big deal with one of the Major Publishers. Writers with this sort of success as their primary goal pay attention to what's selling and what's not, and then write books designed to have the broadest popular appeal. They’re proud of the obvious rewards earned by their hard work and focus.

On the other end of the scale are what I'd call the "artistic purists." They would never, ever consider writing anything other than "a work of the heart." If it sells only 200 copies, that's okay, because those are very discerning, intelligent readers. Such writers absolutely resist any commercial consideration when it comes to their work. They are artists, and proud of it.

The "artistic purists" condemn commercial writers as money-grubbing hacks; to the purists, they are failures. The commercial writers believe the artists are simply excusing their failure to make it big. 

However, shouldn’t we, as writers who aim to create individual, unique characters, be among the first to realize that there is not, nor should there be, only one yardstick to measure success?  

All authors are unique, with their own goals and motivations, bred in the bone and the product of years.  Maybe the writer who craves making bestseller lists was belittled and teased during her school days. Maybe she never felt quite good enough. Making that list will be one sure-fire way to prove that she is, to everybody. Or maybe another author grew up poor and won't feel secure without a large bank account. Maybe the artistic writer saw a friend or relative stuck in a dead-end job where there was monetary success, but the person was creatively stifled and bitter. Or did somebody impress upon him that what is popular cannot also be well written, good or valid? 

We simply don’t know another author's backstory, so who are we to define “success” for them?

Each author, and each author alone, should decide what his or her definition of success as a writer is -- whether it's making a list, making lots of money, writing only "books of the heart" or something in between.  To do otherwise can be stressful and ultimately, self-defeating. Haven't we got enough to contend with in this business without that?

No comments: