Tag Archives: setting goals

How do you define Success?

Success. Everyone wants it. But what is it, really? I’m also curious to know if different countries define success differently based on their cultures. That curiosity arises from American society’s fixation on financial success as the only kind of success that counts. Writers need to figure out that writing for money can be a huge mistake, but it’s hard to ignore that it takes money to live, to pay the bills, obtain food, shelter, clothing. I’ve written about success before at this blog. In that post, I explored the idea of “commercial success.” Now I want to explore the notion of “success,” that is, success unencumbered by money.

Athletes can define success in two ways: when they win a competition, and when they attain their goals whether in training or in performance. Writers can learn from the example of athletes. Success is in how you define it, in other words, not how society defines it. Society will always define success in financial terms. For writers this means in sales. So let’s forget that and return to the athletes.

Photo by William Warby


Writers competing with other writers — do writers really do this? From my own experience and my voracious reading, I have a tendency to compare my writing to that of another writer’s. But I’m not thinking in terms of competition. I’m thinking in terms of noting what the other writer does well, doesn’t do well, and how I can learn from it. Competition exists, however, with writing contests. Every time you submit a story, a poem, a novel to a contest, your submission is in competition with all the other submissions. Do you submit writing to a lot of contests? I haven’t done this much in the past. Winning or placing well in a writing contest looks very good on your publication credits. Sometimes winning brings extremely favorable publicity, a bump in sales, or attention from agents and/or publishers. But is winning a competition success?

If you define it as success, then for you, it is. Maybe just entering a competition could be the success.

Attaining Goals

I set goals all the time — to do lists for housework chores, shopping lists, to do lists for business chores, setting a number of repetitions for an exercise (like sit-ups, for example) and setting a goal total to work toward.

In writing, wonderful possibilities exist for setting goals and then celebrating success by achieving them. For example, a daily word count. I used to do this when I was writing fulltime. My daily word count goal was 1000 words, or about 5 pages, double-spaced. When I reached my goal, I could either celebrate by stopping work for the day, or continue writing. My choice. But the success was there in writing those 1000 words.

I’ve set goals like this throughout my writing life. I set a goal to finish a short story by a certain date. I set a goal to start a short story on a particular day. I’ve set a goal to get off my butt and find a good editor when I began the production process to publish Perceval’s Secret. During the month of November, there’s a quite well-known activity called National Novel Writing Month when writers set the goal to write a novel first draft by November 30 (or December 1, if you want the entire day of November 30). If I were to participate, I’d be overwhelmed thinking about the entire month, so I’d probably break it down into a daily word count goal. Completing the month with a finished first draft is definitely success achieved!

Nowadays, my goals tend to be a bit different, so my definition of success is, too. If I manage to carve out 2 or 3 hours on a weekend to write fiction, or work on Perceval’s Shadow, I consider that a success. At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to finish the first revision by December 31. For a long time, it didn’t look like I’d come even close to achieving that goal. As time went on, I began to think in terms of chapters — my goal was to finish 17 chapters by December 31, then 15 chapters. Now it’s 12 chapters, or half the novel. I have 3 months to finish the revision of 12 chapters. So far, I’ve done 3 chapters. I am so slow!

Success According to You

Everyday, each of us has the opportunity to enjoy success, or even many successes. It depends on how we define success and if we’re willing to truly claim each success achieved.

Think about it. What will you do?


What is Success?


This question is a lot harder to answer than it looks.  Answers will vary from individual to individual, culture to culture.  In American culture, we tend to define success in terms of the acquisition of money, influence, power and fame.  No one doubts that Bill Gates is successful.  Or Oprah Winfrey.  “The American Dream” has given Americans a goal to work toward for generations and it promises success.  But for writers (artists, in general, also), defining success becomes a mighty wrestle between belief and reality, culture and the personal.

Start with defining a specific goal.  What are the actions needed to achieve that goal?  Each completed action represents success — you finished something! — and a step closer to the goal.  Once you’ve achieved your goal, you’re a success.  This is a very basic definition of success — achieving a goal — and a template.  We do this everyday in one form or another, so we can claim, at the end of the day, that we are a success or have achieved success.

But there’s more.  If we step back and look at the landscape of our lives, we can see that in each area there is the possibility for long-term goals as well as short-term.  Want to get married?  Retire at 55?  Maintain good health and physical fitness?  Graduate from college?  Become CEO of a company?  We can choose, then, to define our success in a different way than the culture does.  Or not.  If consumerism or materialism are not your thing, if you have no desire to make headlines with your personal life or have Bill Clinton’s cell phone number, then success must mean something different to you.  It’s important to find out what it means if you haven’t already.

Statistically (I’m guessing here, but it’s probably a good guess), writers have less of a chance to become blockbuster millionaires than winning the lottery.  And yet, for some novice writers, that is the goal — write a blockbuster and earn millions from it.  The writers who have achieved that goal probably (I’d guess again) didn’t set it as their goal.  They probably just wanted to write good, entertaining stories to be published, read, and enjoyed.

This past week, I was talking with a friend about success.  She had encouraged me years ago to define success for myself as it relates to all the areas of my life.  It helped me to identify goals that I hadn’t even thought of before.  For writing, she suggested that I focus more on short-term goals rather than long-term.  Fame’s siren song doesn’t call to me and I’m not interested in acquiring billions of dollars.  But I was interested in finishing a story, a novel, a screenplay.

However, I realized this week that I would like to write a blockbuster novel.  Why?  So I’d know that people were reading and enjoying the story I’d written.  That’s what success is to me.  I expressed it in an equation: publication + sales = success.  My friend challenged my notion of success — was it about the money (sales)?  Not really.  It’s about the recognition and appreciation.  If people buy my first novel and love it, they’re more likely to buy subsequent novels I write.  I’d love to hear from readers, too.  As a writer, I’m a storyteller, an entertainer, in search of an audience.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t want to earn a good living from my writing.  It would be nice not to worry anymore about how to pay the bills.

So, what is your definition of success as a writer?