13 February 2015

My definition of success as a writer

Since deciding to make writing a much bigger part of my life two and a half years ago, a few of my poems, short stories and creative nonfiction pieces have been published. I'm currently working on a collection of short speculative fiction stories and two books of poetry, which I haven't yet decided whether to self-publish or query. In addition, I've self-published three novellas and a collection of short stories under my pseudonym, with another novel and a few short stories on the way in the first half of 2015.

But getting my work out there isn't enough for me. For me, success as a writer is about money, influence, and growth.

I want to make money off my writing. Not because money equals success, but because making money off my writing is essential to the lifestyle I want to lead. Let me explain.

I love to write. Writing is important to me. It's important to my mental health because it helps me think more clearly, face hard truths, accept myself, remember what's important, express my worldview, exercise my brain and have fun. It's also important because writing can be a vehicle for social change. It's a way of pointing out what's working and what's not working our societies, a way of challenging conventions and prejudices, of offering alternatives. It's important to connect with people through my writing, to make people feel - something, anything - in a culture where the dominant norms encourage us to act like robots and zombies. It's important to reach people who have experiences similar to mine so they know they're not alone.

I love writing, it's important to me, and I want to spend a lot of my time and energy doing it. But the only way I can do that is if I win the lottery...or make money off my writing.

How much money, exactly? $25,000 a year is my goal. That sounded like a lot until I did the math. If I self-publish two books a year at $2.99 each at a 70% royalty rate, then I need to sell about 12,500 books a year. Or: I need 6,250 people to buy each book. Only 6,250 people in a world of 7 billion! Suddenly it sounds very achievable.

Huge caveat: I only want to make money off my writing if I can write whatever I want. My goal, then, is to find the 6,250 people on the planet who are into my brand of weirdness and are willing to buy each book as it comes out. Surely that isn't too much to ask?

This is where I run the risk of sounding like an egomaniac, but it goes back to the writing-as-a-vehicle-for-social-change thing and the connecting-with-others thing. I believe there are some aspects of our culture that are really damaging to people and our planet, but many of us don't realize it. Or we do realize it but are afraid we're crazy for feeling that way. Or we realize it and know we're not crazy but feel helpless to change anything. Maybe if we were aware, knew we weren't alone and had some ideas about what we could do differently, we could change things. Maybe.

Even if I made $25K a year off my writing, it wouldn't be success for me if what I was writing didn't make a difference. But if something I write inspires someone to follow their heart and/or make the world a better place, that would be the ultimate pay-off.

How does one measure influence? Maybe it's about receiving emails from readers who tell me that something I wrote was important to them. Maybe it's about someone making a difference in the world and acknowledging that one of the things that inspired them was something I wrote. Maybe it's about becoming required college reading. ;*)

An integral part of feeling successful is continuing to experiment, to challenge myself to try new things (some of which will fail), and never to stagnate either in subject or style.

Even if I make money off writing what I want and manage to influence people, I won't consider myself a success as a writer if I stop growing.

Will my definition of success change over time?
Probably. Once I've made $25K a year off my writing, what's to keep me from going for $50K a year?

On the other hand, if in ten years I still haven't made $25K off my writing, maybe I'll abandon that goal and accept that I can't give writing as much time and energy as I'd like. And if the influence thing turns out to be too ambitious, maybe I'll try to content myself with continuing to grow.

But I'm years away from giving up on any part of my definition. In the meantime, I'll continue to strive for making money off of writing what I want, making a difference in people's lives, and avoiding stagnation.

Write. Read. Learn. Dream.

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