Edith, blissfully on a writing retreat at a convent getaway in Pennsylvania!
Maybe I should have made this post the first one in the month, but let’s riff on how we define success, for ourselves and our characters. What does it mean to succeed? Is it okay to set the bar real low simply to say you hopped over it? When do we aim high?
Barb: I do both–big goals, and then breaking the tasks I must achieve to reach those goals down into bitty chunks that I can accomplish in a defined amount of time. I need that sense of forward momentum and achievement to keep from getting discouraged. When I ran a software company I always said, “Goals should leave you green around the gills, but not actively puking.” Meaning goals should cause you to reach and grow, but if they are so high they are unreachable, you’ll give up.
Sherry: I have a half written blog about defining success. It’s different in our culture and often a success is defined by money instead of accomplishments. Of course almost every author wants to be a New York Times bestselling author, but really writing and finishing a book is a huge accomplishment. I think we should all celebrate the little things we do and not worry so much about the big ones.
Edith: For my characters, succeeding means surviving whatever menaces lie along the road to solving the mystery, and restoring harmony to their community in the end. For myself, it’s the same, if you define “menaces” as getting over the roadblocks of writing the middle of the book, an over-long to-do list, and the physical perils of sitting too much. Restoring harmony would be that lovely feeling of sending in a polished book I’m happy with.
Jessie: I tend to be a bit like Barb. I set big goals at the beginning of each year and then break them down to monthly, weekly and daily actions so I would say I set goals that are both audacious and easy. My sleuths, Beryl and Edwina are measuring success by figuring out how to move through a world so changed by The Great War. They may be making up some new rules for themselves as they go along but that is part of how they would define winning.
Liz: My tendency is to get really wrapped up in the “big” ideas of success, and I’ve been trying to take the same approach as Sherry – to celebrate everything instead of rushing to the next thing or feeling like whatever I just did isn’t good enough. Success really is how we define it, and I think it’s important not to let the outside world define it for us. I’m trying to remember all the ways I’m successful in every day life as well as writing and all the other things I’m doing, too.
Readers: How do you define success for yourself?
I really like Liz’s comment, “Success really is how we define it, and I think it’s important not to let the outside world define it for us.” I often thought people had a skewed idea of what success is. My Dad always told us kids back in the 50’s that “Can’t never accomplished anything. It does not belong in our vocabulary” Mom would say can’t is a quitters word. I remember being upset. I was trying to do something or other & it wasn’t working out. I was moping around. My Dad asked what the deal was, don’t exactly remember now, I had tried to do something or other and it didn’t work out my Dad said “What have you learned from this? Why did you fail?” We discussed it and he pointed out it didn’t work out for this and this. He stressed. Actually you DID NOT FAIL. I said but it didn’t work! He said YOU TRIED. Things might not always work out the way you want. But the only failure is to NOT TRY because CAN’T never accomplishes anything. And at least now you know what you can and cannot do. So now that you know what you can’t do. Go figure out what you can do. One way didn’t work. Maybe another way will. I’d often thought success is not a bank account or a job title, success is waking up in the morning and looking forward to that day, success is putting your head on your pillow at night and being proud of how you lived that day, success is choosing a path or a partner or a job or a hobby that makes you smile and it makes you laugh. Success is living a life with compassion and joy and genuine wonder and giving that compassion, joy and wonder back to others. Remember Vince Lombardi? He said, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary “
You were lucky in the parent department!
I love to write. I don’t agonize over sales trends or number of books sold, and I’ve weathered the collapse of more than one publisher’s line–I simply want to keep putting words on a page. So my standard of success is to sell enough books that people want to read so that I can keep doing it.
I like that, Sheila!
That’s exactly how I feel, Sheila. I have no desire to make the Times or any other list. For me, success is selling enough copies of the current book to convince the publisher to buy the next one and having the next one be a book I want to write.
You seem to be doing fine in that department, Kathy!
I love free’s attitude. At the end of the day I want to know I tried my best at something even if I failed. I want to feel good about myself. I want to be comfortable in my own skin because I know that whatever I did, even if I failed, was legal, ethical and moral. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes, but we can all succeed. We just need to define success in a rational and achievable manner.
Count me in the “breaking big goals into small pieces” camp. For example, I’ll celebrate getting my words in, or typing “the end” on a story (I did that today). I’m getting my WWII novel ready for submission, so success will be editing X number of chapters a day (I haven’t decided). And of course hitting the deadlines on my publication schedule is a success.
Since he’s a cop, success for Jim Duncan looks like getting home safely after a shift. For Sally Castle, it’s being able to say “I did my job and I did it well” at the end of a day.
Manageable chunks are key!
Wonderful perspectives, ladies. As I’ve gotten older, my definition of success has changed and I now tend to look as success in a similar way that Liz does. As an author, I consider every page I write a small success. As someone who has lived with depression for years, sometimes making it through the day is a huge success. As a father, I consider the fact that my two sons are kind and compassionate young men a success. As a husband, being happily married for 28 years is a pretty darn big success. And some days, I consider the fact that I slept through the night without the cat waking me up a success. lol Regardless, I’ll take the successes, both the big ones as well as the little ones.
I like that approach, JC.
When I was younger, success was having a dollar leftover after paying all the bills. That meant that I had succeeded for the month in how I had been taught and show – be responsible and pay you debts. Now success to me is having planned enough, sacrificed enough and worked hard enough to be able to successfully live in retirement – being able to still pay the bills, having some leftover where we can go and do without counting pennies to do so and to be able to travel to see the wonders we have always dreamed about. Success doesn’t come with out planning, sticking it our through the rough times never letting your eyes off the end goal, and lots of hard work. No one ever said success was going to be easy. A lot of times we take success in the little goals which is great as long as those little successes keep you on the path to your ultimate goal. In fact, it’s easier to achieve the end result with little rewards, pats on the back and saying to yourself “Yeah, one step closer. This is going to work out.”
2clowns at arkansas dot net
Congratulations on having reached that comfortable state, Kay.
I think I define success by how much fun I’m having. Makes me sound shallow, doesn’t it? While I feel satisfaction at the end of a day of work where I got a lot accomplished or by finishing a blog post, I also look at it as am I still enjoying this? If not, I’ll move on to something I am enjoying.
Fun is important!
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