Photo: Laura Chouette on Unsplash
It won’t take long for any new writer to come into contact with the coveted term of ‘successful’. There is this set standard and it feels like we’re all grasping toward it: becoming a successful writer. There is an underlying pressure of fear that if a writer does not become ‘successful’, then they have failed. They will never be able to support themselves and now, they’ve wasted all this time on their silly projects when they could’ve been focusing on something else.
But, this line of thinking, for lack of a better word, sucks. First off, the term ‘successful’ is ridiculously ambiguous. What defines success to one person may be extremely different to another. Is a successful writer someone who has had their work published? Is it a New York Times Bestselling author? Is it the author of a book series that’s being made into a movie? With so many variables, the only way to decide if you have become a successful writer is to make your own terms.
Beyond the lack of consensus behind the term, ‘successful’, this idea can create a huge mental obstacle for many young writers. For most, the concept of success is something they do not believe they can reach. Whether they doubt their talent, their skills, or their love for writing entirely, any kind of questioning can stunt your creativity. And, in the most extreme cases, make people give up on writing entirely. Secondly, there is also the possibility of exasperating the burnout that writes face on a normal basis. While it may be a common issue, the amount of time spent feeling ‘burnt out’ only increases when reaching for success. A lot of writers will push themselves too far too fast, sacrificing their mental health just to get their daily word-count in. There are plenty of other harmful repercussions when it comes to perpetuating the myth of the successful writer, but none of them are worth clinging to this idea.
So, in lieu of reaching for this undefined idea of success, writers should try setting success on their own terms.
Regardless of how small or insignificant your successes may seem at first, any progress and any goal is worthy of achievement and recognition. Creating writing goals for yourself is a great way to keep yourself motivated. By breaking the long-term process of writing into smaller, more manageable goals, finishing your project will seem significantly less daunting. Also, it prevents you from comparing yourself to others. You can’t exactly judge your writing based on another writer’s piece when you both have completely different goals and expectations for your work. It keeps you laser-focused on your own achievements and what you need to get done to satisfy yourself.
Beyond that, writing can be a stressful process. Writers have to be prepared to experience some disappointments in the form of rejection and criticism. One way to offset this, however, is to preserve your optimism by allowing yourself to recognize when you have done a good job. Often, writers will meet a deadline or finish their novel with the mindset of, ‘now that I’m done with that, it’s on to the next goal’, without giving themselves time for enjoyment. But at the same time, a single bad review or minor misstep will have writers feeling dejected for a few days. By forcing yourself to acknowledge and celebrate the small wins in your writing life, you are setting a better mindset and practicing self-love.
If you’re still struggling with breaking your writing goals down into bite-sized bits, here are some suggestions offered by Rowan University’s Writing Arts students and staff.
“How do you measure your success as a writer?”