As writers, we are often posed with questions about the legitimacy of our self-assigned titles such as, “When is it okay to call yourself a writer?” I personally think this line of questioning is nonsense. If you want to call yourself a writer, call yourself a writer. You put words on paper, you’re writing. If anything, I think the more pertinent question is, “How do you define success in your writing career?”
There are varying definitions of what people would call a successful writing career. I know there are those who say getting an agent is the mark of a successful writer. But then who is more successful? The agented writer who sells 30 copies of his book or the unagented self-published scribe who has a rabid following of 30,000 fans? And I’m not trying to bring the self-publishing vs legacy publishing debate into this post. I think that is a topic for another day (one that seems to change every day as both sides evolve). I know there are also those in literary fiction circles who will argue that readership numbers are irrelevant in accessing the success of a writer, reasoning that only schlock gets read by the masses while the true classics go unread, but again, a conversation for another day.
I’m not setting out to challenge any one individual’s personal definition of success. I believe that if you set goals for yourself and accomplish them, then you are a success in your own right. It doesn’t matter how trivial your accomplishments may be, if you met your expectations and extracted a fulfilling and meaningful experience in the process, who is to tell you that you’re not a success?
My personal definition of success would be to sustain myself financially as a full-time writer. It wouldn’t matter to me if it were under a pen name with no personal accolades or notable recognition. However, if I fail to reach the level of success I’ve set for myself, I don’t believe that it will diminish the fact that I loved writing every word, however terrible or ill received they may have been. I would happily write a dozen novels, even if I knew they would end up in bargain bins and only skimmed over by people on my Christmas card.
I hate to attach financial terms to my definition of success. I’m not driven by money. I’m not after wild success, solid gold yachts or in-house chocolate fountains. Rather, financial stability is necessary in this case because it would allow me the freedom to write full-time, go to matinees whenever I want, spend time with those I care about and wear sweatpants at least five days out of the week with minimal judgements issued against me. And that’s what I’m really after.
So, what is your personal definition of success as a writer? Have you met the goals that you’ve set for yourself? If so, has it been everything you hoped for? Do you introduce yourself as an aspiring writer instead of a writer if your work is unpublished? Do you think you would you stop writing today if you knew that you would never reach any sort of financial or critical success? What really keeps you writing?