Measuring Success: Changing Times, Changing Goals

Before reading a great article last week, I secretly feared I had lost my drive to write.

Not my “want to.” Just my drive.

For thirty years I’ve set goals, worked hard toward meeting them (some called me “driven”), achieved most of them, then set more.

I happily set one-year goals, five-year goals, and ten-year goals.

Goals that Once Spelled Success

  • Graduate from the Institute’s course. Check.
  • Sell first article. Check.
  • Sell first short stories. Check.
  • Repeat many times. Check.
  • Sell first novel. Check.
  • Sell more novels. Check.
  • Get agent. Check. Fire agent. Check.
  • Sell first series. Check.
  • Sell many series. Check.

They were busy whirlwind years, with writing, raising children, and teaching. But somewhere around Book #35 or so, I found myself losing the drive. Or so I thought.

I still loved writing and didn’t want to quit. But enjoying the writing and having a balanced life (e.g. more time to sleep and be with grandkids) meant more to me than the next contract, the next conference, or jumping on the next social networking band wagon.

Changing Times, Changing Goals

But last week, in a romance writers magazine that was given to me, I read an article by Barbara Wallace called “Defining Success.” Many of the definitions were as expected: get published, be represented by an agent, win an award, get fan letters. I almost stopped reading, thinking, “Same old, same old.” But then!

I read some definitions of success written by women who had been writing quite a while, most of them published many times. Here’s what their current “definitions of success” were:

  • Jackie Braun: Now, more than 25 books later, my definition has changed again. I see success as achieving and maintaining a happy balance between writing books and spending time with my family.
  • Judith Arnold: Today, with my mortgage paid off and no more college tuitions to cover, I define success as writing the books of my heart. I define it as ignoring the commercial pressures and focusing on the stories I feel compelled to share.
  • Donna Alward: If I never wrote again, I’d survive and I’d do something else. But if something happened to my family, I’d be destroyed. Figuring that out was really liberating and helped me rediscover the joy of writing.
  • Pam Nowak: I feel good about what I have done. If I never sell again, I’ll know what I achieved, and I’ll feel good about having done so.

It helped me to see how their goals had also changed over the years. I could really identify.

Coming Full Circle

Actually my goals now aren’t so very different than when I started writing when my kids were babies. Back then, I worried about how to write without neglecting anyone. In my first interview, the reporter came to my farmhouse to photograph me with the four kids piled on my lap. I still recall her last question: “How do you choose between your children and your writing?”

It was a great question, and it solidified my priorities for the next thirty years. I told the writer, “I don’t choose. The kids come first. The writing comes after them. If I can’t do a good job at both, I’ll quit writing.”

Some Things Don’t Change

I feel the same way today, although it’s about grandchildren now instead of children. They also grow up very fast! And they won’t always love coming to Nana’s house more than anything else they do.

Does that change my goals? Without a doubt. Will it mean less money? Probably. But like the other ladies in that article, success today (for me) means having a happy balance between writing and family–and writing the stories closest to my heart, despite the current market trends.

What About You?

How do you measure writing success? Depending on where you are in the process, your answers will differ. There is no “right” answer either, so don’t let anyone else define success for you.

Do spend some time thinking about this. Your answer today may well change in a few years, and that’s to be expected. But you’ll be a happier writer once you figure out what success means to YOU.

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