20 February 2015
Guest post: How author Nancy Christie defines success as a writer
For one thing, defining success implies that there is a yardstick out there against which you can measure your own achievement. But whose yardstick is it: the reading public, reviewers, your own?
And what are the tick marks on that yardstick: number of sales, amount of income or royalties, size of fan base or following, number of pages written or writing projects completed, regardless of published status?
So what does make me feel successful as a writer—specifically as a fiction writer? What measuring stick do I use?
The first is a strictly personal one. I feel successful when I finish a piece of fiction and I am pleased with how it turned out. And several weeks later, when I reread and still feel good about it, then I really feel successful!
I have quite a number of stories (“Reel Life” is one that comes to mind) that have been rejected numerous times and yet I am still pleased with them and will continue to submit them as I find new markets. Why? Not because I am stubborn and can’t take “no” for an answer (okay, maybe that is part of the reason!) but because I believe they are good, that I have written them to the best of my ability and that they are ready to go out into the cold cruel world.
(And, by the way, rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the piece is no good. I have had stories rejected by a slew of markets and then, when they are finally accepted, get quite a bit of praise from readers and reviewers!)
The second measure of success is, of course, when a story is accepted—when an editor decides to give it space in a publication or on the website. There are so many wonderful writers out there that the playing field is incredibly crowded, so getting a story accepted is a significant achievement indeed!
The next measure of success follows closely after the second: when I receive positive comments from readers and reviewers that prove that I did it right, that they got what I was trying to say because I wrote it in such a way that it was clear to them.
And of course, no talk about my idea of success would be complete without mentioning my fiction collection, Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories. I mean—not one or two but 18 stories out there for people to read them! In physical form! A book I can actually autograph! How cool is that?
(Never mind that it took a really, really, really long time for this to happen! It happened—that’s what matters!)
But to get back to defining success, the tricky thing is that you can’t talk about success without thinking about failure—what makes you feel like a failure, what type of failures you are afraid of experiencing, how you can avoid being a failure.
And what is failure, anyway? Not being published—or not writing at all? Getting bad reviews or not submitting because you are afraid of what reviewers might say? Is there an objective guideline for success in writing or is it purely subjective—what you think about your work, what your readers think about your work, what reviewers think about your work?
And how much power do you give the idea of failure—or for that matter, success—when it comes to your writing?
In an NPR interview, Donald Hall said, “I write as good as I can, and don’t try to turn that into some home for a future that I could never know.” And that’s the way I look at writing: to do the best I can and not think about what it can bring me in terms of accolades or sales. I don’t mean I’m not trying to get published or build a readership base, but only that those aren’t my primary goals.
My driving purpose in writing fiction is to explore ideas, relationships, transitions, to look at things right-side-up and upside-down, to figure out what is bothering me or scaring me or bringing me joy by putting characters in the position where they can blaze the trail ahead of me into that vast unknown and help answer my own questions.
And when I can follow them to that mysterious destination, then I have been successful.
Nancy Christie is the author of the fiction collection, Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories (Pixel Hall Press), whose stories have also appeared in literary publications such as Wild Violet, EWR: Short Stories, Hypertext, Fiction365, Red Fez, Full of Crow and The Chaffin Journal. She’s currently working on several book projects, including a novel and a book for writers.
Christie is the founder of “Celebrate Short Fiction” Day and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Short Fiction Writers Guild (SFWG). Connect with her through her website at www.NancyChristie.com or via Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Twitter (@NChristie_OH).