How do You Measure Success as a Writer?

Photo by M.A.D.

At first glance, it seems an easy question to ponder, however, the more I think about it, the deeper it goes, especially, if you have been writing for many years. Expectations change with time, experience, and age. The young writer is full of dreams and “youthful expectations,” while a more mature writer has navigated the murky waters and has defined and redefined the path to success, or even what success means now, in comparison to what it meant when the writer wrote/published the first book.

Success is a personal measure, however in contrast, it is measured by others, and labeled. For a writer, success might be measured by income generated by the books, other related sales, or by the number of books written. For other writers, recognition, fame, or the validation of a name is very important. Comments, reviews, engagements … all of this might spell success for a writer if that was in the “personal definition” of success the writer had in mind. For other writers, money, fame, numbers … are not as important, and this group writes for the love of it. Their dreams are not crushed by external factors. However, as humans we need a certain degree of recognition, whether that is from our inner circle or external, a spouse, a friend, or a reader that happened to give of his/her time, and left a review, or a comment. Even as children we yelled, ” Look Daddy, look at me.” We might not want the fame, but we want the recognition. The socio-economic background of a writer also has an influence in the type of goals and expectations. Life experiences, self-esteem, all of it, are elements of influence when defining success, whether as a writer or any other career.

It is when the personal measure of success collides with the external measure of success that there is conflict, that is, if the writer’s expectations are in line with the external measure of success. A writer who hasn’t sold many books might view the work as failure because the definition of success included sales, income, number of readers, reviews …. At the same time, the outside world would not consider the same writer a successful writer. However, if the same writer manages to write a best seller the next year, for example, both “personal measure” and “external measure” are at peace, and so is the writer. It doesn’t matter if that same writer had already ten or twenty books under his/her belt. Going a step further, those books might have found new life now, new readers, and might be included (or not) in the vault of success by default.

Mind games, circumstantial, true desire? How do you measure your success as a writer? What has more weight for you, internal or external factors?