So am I a writer? (Part Two – the question of success)

writingmagcard0001Back in August 2011, I asked the question, ‘So am I a writer?’ here. That was when nobody – nobody at all – was reading my blog. I had scrawled the first (catastrophically rough as it now turns out) 45,000 words of my first ever first draft and written 3 unremarkable short stories, one of which has, astonishingly, been published.

Today, I have produced the completed manuscript of my first novel – that’s 97,000 words give or take – and I have the firm intention to get it out there one way or another.

In the intervening months whilst writing, editing and doggedly refining Singled Out, I’ve continued to earn my living as a business copywriter and marketer.  I deliver blog posts for my clients (for which I am paid); I deliver short promotional vignettes for my clients (for which I am paid); and I deliver a slew of output around sales propositions, products, thought leadership and product/service promotion (for which… yes… you got it). So I will, thank you very much, define myself, however cautiously, as ‘a writer’.   I write, therefore I am… a writer.

Moving on from this, today, a fellow blogger Eli Glasman at his fascinating blog here, gave me pause for thought on defining success or failure as a writer.  It gave me cause to reflect on whether I am – or ever will be – a successful writer.

Here were my thoughts on the matter, commenting on Eli’s blog:

What makes you or I a successful writer? Is it enough simply to write until something – anything – is complete? Must one produce multiple stories, or a novel, or more than one novel? Is it enough that your friends and family love what you write? Is it sufficient to self-publish? Or to be published by an independent? Or do you need the credibility of a mainstream publisher? Do you need sales in the several thousands to consider yourself successful? Do you need an occasional royalty cheque, payment for the odd short story? Is it enough to earn something – anything – from your writing? Or a proportion of your income – one-third, half perhaps? Do you need to be able to live on your writing income? Do you need to be an in-demand speaker at literary events? Would you have to have a place on the bestseller lists? Or a prize – Booker, Costa perhaps? Where does it end?

If you’re one of my writerly blog followers, have you ever considered what would make you classify yourself as a successful writer?  It’s a wholly subjective question.  And the inevitable follow-on question is this: If one isn’t – perhaps by one’s own definition – successful, does that mean one is an unsuccessful or even, heaven forfend, a failed writer?

I don’t believe so.  I might be successful on one level as my freelance work, which is largely writing, supports me.  On another level – in the field of fiction – I can’t own the word successfulYET.

I’m going to brand that perspective on the matter ‘success-in-waiting’.

10 thoughts on “So am I a writer? (Part Two – the question of success)

  1. If the measure of financial support is used as the definition of success in writing, the list of notable failures is impressive. Think of Thoreau, in his own lifetime, or just about any true poet.
    On the other hand, paid writer and hack often go hand-in-hand, too.
    And then there’s the host of skilled journeymen writing in fields other than literature, typically with little or no recognition yet perhaps the most successful of all in terms of living balanced and meaningful lives.

    1. Success in life is often assessed on the basis of finances – wealth, salary, size of house, number of toys etc. But it’s a crude measure, especially ill suited to the arts, I agree.

  2. I think you can legitimately call yourself ‘a writer’ as you earn your living from writing.

    I don’t get too hung up on this definition one way or the other though, as some of the blogggers I’ve read seem to. I don’t mind if someone wants to call themselves ‘a writer’ even if they’ve never earned anything from it.

    Personally I wouldn’t use the term for myself, even though I’m working on my first novel – not until I was either traditionally published or had some degree of success self-publishing. At the moment, I would say I’m ‘an aspiring writer’.

    Perhaps what is most important is self-identification – if describing oneself as ‘a writer’ gives someone confidence or helps them establish a good work routine, then who am I to criticise?

    I hope I would refrain from using the term ‘failed/unsuccessful writer’ to describe anyone. It’s pretty mean-spirited. I prefer ‘unpublished writer’, as it’s less value-laden.

    1. ‘Aspiring writer’ works and is certainly logical since we tend to defer to agents and publishers to impart credibility. Labels such as writer, painter, musician are freely awarded to people who are paid for their work. But if you’re not paid, the assumption is that you’re either aspiring (to be paid for your writing) or simply writing for pleasure/hobby. In which case, are you allowed to say “I’m a writer” or would you feel more comfortable saying “I do a bit of writing”…?

  3. I love that you mention this is relative. Success and failure are dependent on the perspective of the individual. I’ll never forget when a friend of mine came in second place and said she was the “first loser.” For me, I will be successful if I am one of or all of the above: accepted by an agent, published (any means), and able to quit my job or go part time.

    1. You’re right – it’s all a question of personal perspective. How does each individual define success? And that would change too – like moving your own goalposts. At first, success for me was simply getting to the end of a novel-length story. I didn’t know I could achieve this and produce something that people might enjoy reading – but now I do. So my success goalposts have moved. I tend to agree with your definitions – that’s about how I feel too!

  4. I think you can only be a failed writer if you want to write and do not. I say “I write” and “I run” instead of “I’m a writer” or “I’m a runner” because I feel that I’m not as good at either of those things as I want to be, and crucially because I don’t do them often enough – according to my personal yardstick I’m not yet successful. I don’t think financial reasons can be the only threshold, because as others have said, so many wonderful writers never made any money while they were alive and also plenty of people make their living writing utter dross…

    1. I like your choice of words very much. “I write” rather than “I’m a writer”. Whilst the two are theoretically the same thing, in people’s minds, they are not. I think when you say “I’m a writer”, that most people assume that’s your profession, rather than your hobby, or the profession to which you aspire. Great point, and thanks for sharing it.

  5. In reading the comments I come to realize my writings of the past 60 years has been important to me and for me in the measuring of the degree of satisfaction i derive from it. I have been published, paid, awarded with items, great reviews and many nice words. The money is always good, the feelings great and even fun. However I have never had to rely on my writing for income. Now retired and doing just fine financially that is no concern for me. I just write because I get tired of hearing myself talk. Perhaps so do many others. I don’t really care, I enjoy it and have fun with it. If I needed the money I would be much thinner then I am now.

    1. You’re a fortunate man indeed, to be able to enjoy a comfortable retirement, where you can write for the pure pleasure, and where there is no burden on you to seek financial return on your efforts. I began writing for the pure pleasure, but always there is that dream or imagining, that I might one day be able to earn a portion of my income from fiction. But that’s less about the money and more about gaining the endorsement/feelgood that being published, and people paying to read your words, can bring, far more than it is about the money. Besides, I’d have a long way to go before I see a positive financial return on my investment on all those courses, writing holidays, mentoring sessions and how-to books!

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