Recently in our 7:00 a.m. writing group, our prompt was to define what success as a writer meant to us. This was also a prompt we used in our Imposter Syndrome presentation at the Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference. It’s tough to define success for me, but here goes. 

Defining success as a writer has different levels for me, I guess. Success means being happy at what I’m doing. It means having people reading my work and enjoying it. It means being published often enough that I don’t feel my joints go stiff in between publications. It means placing in some contests along the way. It means producing work for which I can be proud, work that showcases my talents and abilities. It means being able to share what I’ve learned along the way with other writers in a positive, constructive way. It means being a good literary citizen, that is, giving back in some way to the literary community, through time and/or resources to people, projects and organizations needing assistance in some way (like serving on boards, being a reader for people’s work when they need a fresh set of eyes, donating things to silent auctions when I’m able, etc.). Being a successful writer means feeling fulfilled because this is what I get to do every day and making enough money from that that I get to claim a little income from it on my taxes at the end of the year (that’s only a $600 threshold, but it takes me the whole year to reach that mark most years). 

So, according to all my own personal criteria, I should feel like a successful writer. Yet, I sometimes come away feeling defeated. Sometimes I get discouraged because my successes don’t measure up this year to what they have in the past. Sometimes I feel like I should be able to get my current projects finished and find a publisher to make them a published reality instead of the collections of stories and essays and poems that are floating around in my head, living unorganized in notebooks, and scattered about on my desk. Sometimes I allow doubt to creep in when I have too many projects I’m trying to juggle, and nothing seems to get done in a timely manner. Or when I see deadlines, I want to submit new materials to, but I know I should be editing and revising more in order to fulfill my obligations to a project like my short story collection. Sometimes I expect too much of myself too quickly. I’ve been working on my short story collection since last September and expected it to be finished this month. That’s eight months. As Denton Loving reminded me, “No one starts and finishes a project like that in just eight months.” But I fully expected myself to do it. Because I thought I was more ready than I was. Because I thought I was better prepared than I was. Because I think I’m Wonder Woman and can take on everything, all at once, and do it all well. I’m learning, especially as I accept the fact that I’m no longer in my twenties, thirties, or even forties, it just doesn’t work that way for me, anymore. I need to learn to factor in the aging process to my definitions of success and truly embrace the full effects of who I am and my capacities. Taking 1-2 years to complete a project is not shameful. It’s normal. It’s okay for me to be normal.

Overall, I do believe I’m a successful writer. I have the support and encouragement of my best friend (Russ), and of a host of other friends, writers and non-writers alike. I have two teachers in my cheerleading camp who have been encouraging me since high school and their unwavering love and support means everything to me. All of this reminds me that I’ve been a successful writer for years, even though I’ve not always embraced the successful part of it and set unattainable goals when I was younger. At least I had goals and kept shooting. Another important part of success for me – keep seeking, keep striving, keep finding, and never yield. (Adapted from my senior class motto in high school. Wise words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, indeed.)