Saturday, May 15, 2010

Defining Success

One day a writer asked me, “What does it feel like to be a successful author?”

I answered, “I’ll let you know when I’m a success.”

The writer quirked an eyebrow. “Um, you’re kidding right?”

I said, “No. I’m not kidding. I’m a small blip on a big radar. I have lots to accomplish.” I shrugged.

With a bit of impatience, the writer said, “Well, from where I’m sitting you’re a success. I mean, I’m still looking for a home for my manuscript. I don’t have a book on my shelf with my name on it, much less two, and much less another on the way. How can you sit there and be so jaded already? Don’t you remember how you felt when your first book was about to be published? Heck, don’t you remember how you felt before you found a home for your book?”

I blinked. Oh dear. Had I become jaded already? I went home and thought about it. I thought about what the writer said: “Don’t you remember how you felt when/before your first book was published?”

I do remember. I remember how I felt before my first essay, poem, short story was published, and then how I (briefly) felt when one was. I remember when I asked myself, “When can I call myself a writer?” and all the angst and conditions I put on myself then. I’m still placing conditions on myself. “When this happens, I’ll be . . .” For as soon as the first poem/essay/short story/book was published, I thought, "But I now need to . . ."

In the publishing business, like some other businesses, there is always the Next Thing. There is always the looking forward; the What Comes Next. And when do we enjoy what we’ve accomplished? Do we? Are we? Shouldn’t we? Can’t we at some point celebrate and feel good about ourselves and give ourselves a little pat on the back before we move on?

I was speaking to a writer's group a few days ago. A woman said she'd just had some poetry published and we all clapped and congratulated her. I said, "Isn't this exciting?" She nodded, but there was that look. I knew that look. A bit later I said, "I remember when my first story was published. I was so happy, for about five minutes, then it was . . . Yes, but now I must . . ." and the woman, and several other writers laughed, all nodding their heads . . . "Yes, but now I must . . ."

How does one define success? By whose standards? Their own? Or some outside source?

Does pride and happiness in your accomplishments make one a success? Do one’s family and friends’ pride and happiness make it? Does seeing the fruits of one’s labor, one’s discipline, one’s hard tenacious work make one a success? Or does one wait for outside acclaim to define their level of success, and doesn't that set up slippery slopes and traps and endless endless endless endlessness?

I just turned my head to my bookshelf. The place where about two years ago GMR and I had placed a fake book with a fake title with my name on it—reserving the space for my first novel. I stared at that fake book many a day, wondering, wishing, and most of all, working my arse off to see it come true. And now, there are two books there with titles and my name on them—real published books. And I don’t feel as if I’m a success? My family and friends are happy for me; proud of me. And I don’t feel as if I’m a success? From where I was sitting the days of staring at that fake book, imaging where I am now would have felt like success. I am not suggesting we all can do the clichéd “rest on our laurels” thing; however, there is something to be said about taking a moment to stop and recognize the fruition of a job well done. There is something to be said about being happy with what you have right at this very moment, right now, right here, right in front of you.

How do you define another’s success? How do you define or measure your own? Do you think striving for bigger and better and larger and more motivates us, or creates an atmosphere of "nothing is ever enough; there is always someone who is richer, thinner, prettier, handsomer, successfuller, publisheder, prizeder, honoreder, revereder . . .so how can I get an ER"



Jessica Nelson said...

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is about Contentment and Godliness being great gain.
I want to be content right now, with what He's given me, and thankful.
That's not to say we can't desire more and push for more, but like you said, I think it's important to have that inner contentment, a thankfulness for our life at this very moment.

I'm excited to have a book on the shelf someday. I'm also excited that I have four manuscripts done! I'm excited that I have three synopses written. *grin* There's always something to be thankful for. Success, for me, is not an outward thing.
I hope you don't become jaded. You don't seem that way to me. :-) But I also hope you hold close those "firsts" and remember how wonderful they were.

Have a great weekend!

Stacy Post said...

Kat! You're so right. Our posts are related today. :) Thank you for sharing your journey. And yes, we must celebrate each and every step! :)

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

There are several, who today, seem to be writing to a common theme. Your post made me think of David Whyte's poem Enough:

These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now."

I think I will make the word 'enough' my mantra for the weekend - okay the week - well alright - the rest of my life.

Patience Renzulli said...

PLEASE, please savor your successes! Otherwise you're somehow cheating those of us who are still in the 'someday' phase.


Judith Mercado said...

Congratulations, both on your success in achieving publication and your success in acknowledging the present moment and not holding yourself hostage to some additional measure of success. Acknowledging the fullness of my present moment is my daily lesson too.

Linda said...

Thanks for stopping by the Velvet Room, Kat. I've missed you of late! I think success has a lot to do with being content where we are and with what we have. Of course that doesn't stop us from trying to be the best we can be at whatever we choose to do.

Warm hugs

Barry said...

I wonder if Stephen King goes through this, sitting in his library every shelf filled only with his own published works?

Likely he does.

Sharla said...

Awesome post Kat!! Love hearing your thought processes.

Janna Qualman said...

Kat, this post is wonderful. I think we do need to pull ourselves out of what we're doing, and pay mind to what we've already done.

Still, we also need to focus on our goals, strive to be better.

Where's the happy medium?

I love that you put a fake book on your shelf. I may just do that, name and all.

Analisa said...

I define another persons success when I look at their faces as they speak about their accomplishment. It can be as time committed as getting a degree. It can be as lovely as spending the day cooking a good meal. When I see that look of satisfaction with themselves knowing they did what they wanted. I know I am looking at a successful person.

I think often we worry about being prideful or stuck up. You should take joy in being a success. It takes committment and work to do it. Twice you have gotten novels published. It's what you wanted and set out to do and it makes you happy. Don't be totally caught up on what you need to do next. Isn't that what stopped Harper Lee?

Karen said...

Kathryn, I seem to measure others success different than my own. Like, I need to do more to get approved. Yet, with my faith, I'm secure and set. Very thought provoking post. Thanks

Stephanie Faris said...

I don't even define success by whether someone is published or not. Success as a writer is writing every day...putting words to paper. If that makes you happy, does it really matter if one is a bestseller?

I hate to quote Miley Cyrus...but maybe it's all about the climb! That song is actually kind of deep in that sense.

Doreen said...

I think it is good to always be on the move for more, to do more, learn more, etc. It is what keeps me feeling alive and useful. I don't want to be stagnant.

But I also like the feeling of contentment. you can have both you know.

I wouldn't say I am successful or ever will be, in the being famous sense. but I am successful at life, cancer survivor, two major back surgeries, living life single, but I keep on going. God has helped me with all of that!!

Titus said...

Hurrah! It's letting me post again.

Literary success for me is writing the perfect piece, and I am judge, jury and frequently executioner. Published or not, I don't know if that day will ever come...

Deb Shucka said...

Isn't success being fully in whatever gifts exist in every moment?