How do you define success as a writer?

What does it mean, to be a writer? Does it mean getting awards? Does it mean being published? In important literary magazines like The New Yorker or The Paris Review?

No. There is a difference between being a writer and being a published author. There is no such thing as an aspiring writer though. It is a bit like saying that you are an aspiring human.

You write, therefore you are a writer.  

And while wanting to be seen is a human need, wanting to be published is not the best reason to write. As Charles Bukowksi put it, “don’t be consumed with self-love”.

Each of us defines success under his or her own terms. There are writers out there who have been writing for years but not showing their writing to anyone but their close friends, and they are happy like this. They write for the pleasure of writing, not for becoming famous.

Our main task as writers can be easily summed up to “you sit at a writing machine and bleed” (Ernest Hemingway). Which to me, at the end of the day, comes down to only two things:

  • be honest;
  • work on your craft.

…and perhaps not expecting everything from our writing at once. “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners (…) All of us who do creative work, we go into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years we make stuff. It’s just not as good. It’s trying to be…good. It has potential. But your taste is still killer.” (Ira Glass)

Even experienced writers have to keep writing on their craft, because there is always this gap, between the level of skill that we currently have as writers, and the place where we want to get to with our work. Otherwise we’d just keep writing within our comfort zone, using the same narrative structures, the same topics, telling the same “old” stories as before.

So keep writing and telling your truth, the only way you know how. And do not worry too much about being original. Maybe everything has been said before, but not in your voice. Find your voice, your multitude of voices, all the shades and shadows and rainbows and laughter that you are, explore them all, with honesty and courage, and own them.

You started writing because you love to write. Keep loving it and showing up to meet yourself and the world on the page. Tell the truth the best way you can and keep working on new ways to tell it.

That’s all.

“The act of writing turns out to be its best reward” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life). The real key to success is you. 

P.S. This NaNoWriMo, I am writing poetry. I am tentatively calling my project “November Poems”. You can read a free sample here.

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