Success means something different to every writer. For some it might mean earning a million dollars, being on the NY Times Best Seller List, or simply being published for the first time. Others may define it as getting a favorable review from the snarky gals over at Smart Bitches,Trashy Books, having more than five people unrelated to you attend your book-signing, or just being able to buy soft, name-brand toilet paper on a regular basis.

For me, success means having at least fifteen people (who don’t know me) purchase and read my book. Even better would be if they were to like it. That’s it. Modest, no?

It satisfies the Validation aspect of success for me: that a completely objective third party can find my work enjoyable –work I’ve spent enormous amounts of time and energy on; work that has finally come to fruition, and been recognized in a fiercely competitive business.

I always smirk when the average person mentions they’d like to write a book. Go ahead and try it, I think to myself, feeling slightly superior. They think it’ll be a piece of cake. Until they sit there, in front of a blank screen and actually have to string words together that make sense. Kinda like the romance reader who foolishly believes she can easily write what she’s been reading all these years. Structure, characterization, motive, plot, tension, a beginning, middle and end? “But it looked so EASY.”

Money was never my motivator. If it were, I’d have become an investor or married rich. Doing a job solely for the money always left me feeling like one of those sad ponies at the fair, going round and round in circles. Talk about an utterly void existence. Yet when I was doing theater in New York and getting paid nothing, I was the happiest I’d ever been.

What other profession is one willing to do for zero money in return? That is the definition of a true artist. Yet the payoff one gets is usually worth more emotionally, mentally and physically than all the earnings of Jay-Z and Beyoncé put together.

I recently posted an announcement on Facebook of being offered a contract for my first novel. My stepmother called me immediately. “It’s so great when we, as parents see our children succeed!” she said.

What about all the years when I didn’t succeed? I wanted to ask. I was treated like a leper. When the blaring insinuation was that all I was doing was sitting on my unmotivated, “wasting my college education,” “expecting things to be handed to me” ass? Ah, yes – where was the love then?

Simple – there was no love, because I hadn’t SUCCEEDED at anything. See, in some families, if children don’t succeed at what the parents determine is “success worthy,” then it reflects poorly on said parents. Like they must have done a crappy job at raising their kids if they haven’t grown up to amount to anything.

I remember when I worked retail and all my father kept telling me was “It’s not like your job is hard. A monkey could work retail, for God’s sake.”

I wouldn’t care if, when he grows up, my son wanted to be a doctor or a mechanic; made a million a year or minimum wage. Sure, the amount of his salary will ultimately affect the quality of the nursing home he’ll stick me in when I’m old, but it certainly won’t make me love or approve of him any less.

I wish some parents would learn the obvious: That by giving their children unwavering and unconditional love and support in their choices – whatever they may be – it allows them to succeed a helluva lot more effectively than when they have other people’s expectations shoved down their throats.

What is your definition of success?

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jeff7salter
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 16:01:02

    Mainly I want to respond to “…when the average person mentions they’d like to write a book”. I don’t know if I actually smirk, but I certainly laugh inside. I can’t tell you how many people have said that to me when they learn — often indirectly — that I’ve been writing ‘full-time’ for nearly 5.5 years.
    Then let me say that in my three ‘careers’ — journalism, military, and librarianship — I was usually paid diddly-squat. Some of those jobs were very rewarding and others were just agony. I’ve never had the luxury of being paid Big-Bucks for showing up … though I know people with jobs like that.
    Finally, let me say — with tremendous gratitude — that my parents were nearly always very encouraging of any creative endeavor that I expressed interest in. And neither of them ever criticized my career/job choices. Over the years I’ve heard so many horror stories about critical parents that I conclude I was born under some special star to have had such supportive parents.


  2. Dr. Katharine Pope
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 16:44:12

    This is my point exactly! Writing means nothing to my family because, as they say, “You’re already a dentist – what do you need to write for?” Uh, my sanity. It’s what I love, it’s what I want; just because I’m not published yet doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. Tell people to eff off.

    BTW – I’m buying your book when it becomes available, and I know I’ll enjoy it.


    • Tiffany N. York
      Jan 16, 2012 @ 19:22:21

      Yay, you’ll be one of my 15! It’s so strange to me how some people think you should only do ONE thing with your life. Look at folks who have a career and yet still volunteer, or make jewelry, or bake cakes for parties, not to mention singers who go on to act, or vice versa. And what about all the people who literally change careers in the middle of their lives. There are no rules for how to live your life.


  3. magic mint
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 18:29:30

    Success is when you no longer write to be famous and rich, and when you write for the readers.


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