“Have I Arrived?” Defining Your Expectations as a Writer

I recently went to a fabulous wedding. It was held at a vineyard in California wine country and everyone was dressed to the nines. I was able to interact with many acquaintances I rarely see.

“You’ve published a book!” A friend’s mother cried, hugging me with enthusiasm.

“Self-published,” I felt obligated to mention.

“Yes, but you always wanted to be a writer, and now your dream has come true! You have arrived!”

As she ran off to be photographed next to the bride, I let her gracious words marinate in my head for a while. Have I arrived? Not by my system of measurement. In many instances, a writing career is something that can take a lifetime to establish. So, how do authors know when they have ‘arrived?’

On the outset of any undertaking, it is important to determine what success looks like. Writers can only benefit from defining their own expectations of success. Does success mean self-publishing a book on Amazon for friends and family to enjoy? Does it mean filling a need or service in the community? Does it mean a lucrative career and multiple bestsellers that are optioned for film?

Plane red carpet

If you aspire to have your work read by as many people as possible, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a popular writer. However, if you only recognize success as a big time book deal and an over-sized cardboard novelty check, you may never reach your ultimate goal. The writing journey is a long one, with many milestones on the path to success. Reaching a milestone goal might be cause for celebration. How about celebrating the first time a stranger approaches you and asks about your writing? Why not celebrate your first book review that goes online? Maybe one of your milestone goals is selling three hundred books and you celebrate by going out for sushi. There are people who have sold three million books and it doesn’t feel like enough to them. That’s the difference between people who walk the earth happy and those who are vaguely dissatisfied and unfulfilled. They never established the finish line, so all they can see is what they have yet to accomplish, not what they have already accomplished.

If your goal is to be the best writer in America, that’s not possible to quantify, and trying to measure your success will only frustrate you. Whatever your endgame, the point is to determine the location of the finish line and create goals and expectations for building your writing career. It’s important to be honest with yourself about where you want to end up. If you can clearly define and articulate where you want to go, you have a much better chance of getting the help you need to reach your destination.

Emily Bronte only wrote one book in her life, but it was Wuthering Heights. She did not live to see the widespread acclaim for her book, but we can all agree that she was an exceptionally successful writer. Many writers wait for their audience to decide if they have arrived. They are waiting for a stamp of approval from the world, a bestseller list placement, their parents, friends, or maybe their high school creative writing teacher. At the end of the day, though, only the writers themselves can determine if their goals have been met and they have finally arrived.

Do you think that success as a writer is about the destination or the journey?

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6 thoughts on ““Have I Arrived?” Defining Your Expectations as a Writer

  1. Much of society tells us that we are not ‘actual’ writers until the big publishing houses are beating a path to our inkwells. Yet, much of what is published isn’t nearly as well-written as the books left on the table. You have made such a good point. Decide for yourself and go after your own dream!

    • There are so many talented writers out there that just need some encouragement. Besides, we don’t need everyone to like our work, just a segment of the population. Thanks, Renee, for your comment.

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  3. I’m concerned that my relatives will treat me as a failure if I don’t get published via traditional route. This obviously is unhelpful and ramps up the pressure for me. Any advice?

    • It’s understandable to feel that way, but perceptions are changing with surprising speed. Has anyone actually indicated potential disappointment? Because just the opposite might be true – they might be extremely impressed with your initiative and drive. Publishing a book is a lot of work, no matter how you slice it. Writers spend a great deal of time worrying about what others are going to think. You won’t win them all and don’t need to win them all.

      Here’s a quote that sums it up better than I can:

      “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”― Andy Warhol

  4. Kimberly, you raise an important point. Writing careers can hang up on the hope of a permission that never comes.

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