There’s this coffee mug I often use that has the phrase “The road to success is under construction” transcribed on it in bold type. I appreciate this transcription because it reminds me to keep thinking of writing as a journey, not a destination. Yeah, it’s a hokey phrase. But nevertheless, it forces me to continually ask myself, “When will you feel ‘successful’ as a writer?” And the answer is always: “today, as long as you write something.” Read on to see why that should always be your answer to that same question too.
Writing as a journey
I’ve been a writer practically my whole life. I was around six or so when I typed out my first short story about a princess with a mean father king who wanted to befriend the dragons underneath her castle, on my grandmother’s typewriter.
I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. But it wasn’t until a year or so ago, however, that it dawned on me that I had never really written anything I truly wanted to write. At least, not since I was a small child. I always wrote for grades, for projects, for work, for clients… but never anything I was so excited to write that it intimidated the crap out of me. Until now.
About a month ago I announced that I started working on my first novel. And while I had a pretty rocky start, things are going a lot better now.
In the beginning, I was trying to get the logistics for my writing perfect. And reach a set of specific goals every day. All while writing thousands of words of flawless, literay prose that would help influence and mold humanity for the better, of course.
Luckily it only took a couple weeks for that illusion to evaporate. And now I can laugh at my formerly delusional self.
Soon enough, as I started to write what I truly wanted to write, I started to realize that that’s all that mattered: the act of writing itself. Not if I had written 1000 words. Not if I was getting paid or praised for it immediately. Just the process of writing.
I realized that I had never truly succumbed to the journey writing takes you on and how marvelous and liberating it is. I was always preoccupied with grades and degrees and employers’ and clients’ expectations before. But now, I get to explore as I write and really enjoy the ride to see where it leads me.
What do you think success looks like for a writer?
Do you think a writer is successful when he or she has been published by one of the major publications that keep hoovering up all the smaller indie publishers? When he or she wins a Pulitzer? When he or she has sold one million copies of a book he or she has written? Or maybe five million?
It’s time to start difining what success looks like for writers differently, especially in the twenty-first century, when what a handful of remote privileged judges and publishers think doesn’t hold the weight it once did.
Writing doesn’t and won’t ever have one fixed destination or definition for every writer. That’s what makes it beautiful and powerful. There is no such thing as “success” for a writer, other than the success that the journey of writing alone can bring. And there never will be.
What happens to the writer who wins a Pulitzer? If he or she stops writing after receiving a Pulitzer, he or she stops being a writer, no? At least, he or she stops being a writer if he or she stops writing. Because, being a writer entails writing. That is it. There is no final destination point. It continues.
Essentially, as long as I write every day, I consider myself successful. Because I remain on my writing journey, which I hope doesn’t ever have a fixed destination or end. Even if I get published by a major publisher, sell millions of books, and win prestigious awards, I will still only be a successful writer if I continue writing. With no final destination in mind.
This is why I love that mug with the phrase “The road to success is under construction” transcribed on it. It reminds me to keep working. The work won’t ever end. But I can still keep building things with my words. And that’s something worth being proud of today. I don’t need to wait for anything else to happen to feel successful. I just need to keep writing.
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