“Real writers don’t write for recognition. They don’t do it for fame, accolades, or notoriety. They do it because they cannot not write.”Jeff Goins, The Writer’s Manifesto
Success can mean many things. For you, it might mean achieving the validation of having your work published or broadcast or exhibited. Selling your work. Moving or affecting or influencing people in a particular way. Winning a prize. Receiving positive reviews. Making a full-time living from your creative work. Creating a body of work you are proud of.
Yet, many of these goals can be in conflict.
A photographer might win a prestigious prize. But they probably won’t also sell thousands of prints of their work at IKEA and end up on the wall of every living room on the planet.
A musician might make a very popular album. But they’ll probably also be accused of selling out from music critics.
An author might gain a sense of validation from a publishing contract. But they probably won’t earn anywhere near as high a percentage of royalties as those who decide to go it alone.
So it’s important to define your priorities.
Ask yourself these questions about success (adapted from Joanna Penn):
- What is your definition of success? For the project you’re working on right now (or are about to start), and for your creative life?
- How will you track and measure your success?
- What do you want to do with your success? What is the point of your creative work?
Are any of your goals in conflict?
If so, which goals are healthier – for you and your work?
What freedom do you need to let go of those less healthy goals and pursue the ones that matter to you?
“This need to be heard, for validation and ultimately, love, will never go away. It’s part of what drives us… We have to learn to harness that need in a way that sustains us rather than destroys us.”Joanna Penn
‘Success’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
“I was feeling the pressure to write my fiction faster and leaner, to publish more often, to write genre series. To make money, money, money—even though I didn’t really need more.”K.M. Weiland
There are many reasons we create that don’t make us happy. Greed. Because success is like a drug, and once you’ve found some, we’re not satisfied. For validation. Out of competition with others.
But according to K.M. Weiland, there are many happy reasons for us to create:
- Because you feel compelled to explore yourself and the world around you.
- Because you’re willing to be honest with whatever answers your questions may find.
- Because in the act of creation, you are adding something to the world rather than just taking.
- Because this is who you and what you were meant to bring to this life.
None of this is to suggest that you shouldn’t aim high. Rather, you should aim high, but in the right direction. Choose the definition(s) of success that best suit your true goals, and shoot for the stars.
“That is an artist’s mission: to go beyond one’s limits. An artist who desires very little and achieves it has failed in life.”Paulo Coelho, The Spy