The Best Measure of Your Writing Success

How do you measure success in your writing career? That’s easy. If you write fulltime you measure success in dollars & cents but if you’re writing part time, like the other 90% of us, you have a different measure of success.

Many of us have a tendency to compare ourselves to the writers we like most or read most. Big mistake. If you are reading them regularly they are undoubtedly members of an exclusive club called, what else, “bestsellers.” Nothing wrong with comparing yourself to them but you set the bar too high and reality is at a much lower altitude.

This is an easy trap to fall into. It happened to me. It started subtly at first. I started reading Nicholas Sparks’ debut novel, The Notebook. Then, Message in a Bottle, followed by A Walk to Remember, A Bend in the Road, and so on until I read 14 of his 17 books. I became so familiar with his writing style that I thought, “This isn’t so hard. I can do this.” So I tried it.

Our differences quickly emerged. He wrote complex love stories and artistically weaved multiple subplots throughout the story. My first novel, honestly, was rather linear, moving from point A to B simplistically and minus the captivating subplots save for one. His characters were strategically flawed, vulnerable, and unpredictable. Mine were a little too predictable, stiff, and like most first novels, were like cardboard cutouts. Naturally, he got a million dollar advance on his first novel. I’m still waiting for mine. Most of his books are bestsellers and have been adapted for the silver screen. Mine? Let’s just say I need to find more time to crank out more work. My lone advantage over Sparks? Editors still write to me. He no longer gets rejection letters.

So, how should part time writers measure their writing success? Simple. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. That includes both the rich and famous and that girl in Apartment 7B. Instead, compare yourself to, well, you. How far have you come on that novel? More importantly, how far has your writing come as a result of finishing that novel? Haven’t written a novel? OK, how far have you come since you started writing? Are you better? Significantly better? Smarter? Have you learned the ropes in the publishing business? How much do you know now that you wish you knew just a year ago? Are you making progress?

Read an old piece of work. Does it make you cringe because you could do so much better now? That says something about how far you’ve come as a writer. Admittedly, these are small steps but if they are moving you forward they are moving in the right direction.

Use yourself as the best measuring device of your writing success. Now, some may disagree with me and say agents and editors are the best measure of your writing success. And while that could be true, if you are not happy with your progress, your work may never get that far.


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The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.

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Published in: on June 6, 2012 at 8:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The part about reading old work made me laugh. I still have a piece I wrote for a final project in ninth grade. For a long time, it was the most expansive thing I’d written. Nowadays, I can’t even look at it without tasting bile.

  2. Thank you. I needed that encouragement today.

    • Cynthia,

      Thanks for stopping by again. We all need encouragement everyday don’t we? I remember an old saying that speaks to this: “Words of encouragement, skillfully administered, is the oldest therapy known to man.” Back at you. Thank you for your encouragement.

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