How Do You Measure Success?

Today’s word of the day, from Wordsmith.org, reminds me of the strong community of writers and artists I’ve discovered (online and off):
esprit de corps: noun. A spirit of solidarity; a sense of pride, devotion, and honor among the members of a group.

It’s been just under a year and a half since I decided to take my writing seriously. I began my journey with a simple credo: one little step at a time. But, it didn’t take long to imagine time was my enemy. Back in August, I blogged about reigning in my panic that success must happen soon, or else…or else I’ll panic. Recently, the shared experiences of two writers and one artist led me back to that moment in August, and I heard again the quiet suggestion to relax and breathe.

The other day, I read Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Writer’s Guide to Twitter. I’m new at tweeting – my stomach is still doing flip-flops over the whole idea – so I studied Debbie’s guide, her clear-cut do’s and don’t’s for Twittering. I zoomed in on her advice not to obsess about the number of people who follow me on Twitter.

Of course, I thought, I can’t obsess about followers; my account is brand spanking new!
(my Twitter handle is bbetty, in case you’re wondering, but I’m not obsessing [nervous laughter]).

Then I considered the number of times I check my WordPress stats in a day. Maybe I don’t need to tell you how often I check them. Maybe you’re a status-hound too.

Anyway, Debbie Ohi’s point struck home for me: it isn’t about the number of people who read my words, but about the quality of those readers. And, even if my blog stats seem low, I’ve met and connected with some great writers since I started Writing Under Pressure.

Later in the same day, I heard a quote from the documentary movie about Bob Dylan, “No Direction Home.” The man who spoke the proverb was a painter, though I can’t remember his name. I focused on the words, which were even more important for me than the person who said them. Talking about the early 1960’s, he said:

Back then, artistic success was not dollar-driven.

No one expected to make millions; they just wanted to create.

Any amount of pay for my writing would revive my wallet and lift my spirits, but I’m not hoping to match my meager retirement fund with monies earned from my stories. With the publishing industry in flux, it’s hard to know what to expect or hope for as an emerging writer. Still, while my eyes don’t reflect dollar signs, they do shine for that small “c” encased in a circle. Too often, I am print-driven. Anxious that my time as a writer is limited, I imagine my words in print are the only signs of success.

Finally, I read Linda Cassidy’s post, Wrapping Up November, where she writes about finding an early draft of her novel and recognizing all the progress she’s made since that draft. And, all three moments fell together in my repeat epiphany.

I haven’t published a portfolio’s worth of short stories. My novel is in the first trimester. But, I recognize that in the time I’ve spent honing my craft, to the best of my abilities, I have come a long way. Thank you, Linda, for that reminder.

Writing is a craft, like any other craft. Rushing through the learning process yields a product with little substance, or at least a funny shape. When I first learned to crochet, I made two frightening articles: a long purple scarf and an afghan. The scarf would have fit well in a Dr. Seuss story with its variegated purple colors and edges like waves (I couldn’t keep count of my stitches). The afghan was an even better example of rushing errors. Initially, my stitches were tight and taut and forced. Towards the end, I relaxed. And, so did the afghan. I finished the last row, wove in all the ends of yarn, and spread my mini-opus out onto the living room floor to reveal a perfectly shaped trapezoid.

Slow down. Artistic success doesn’t have to be dollar-driven or print-driven or stats-driven. Make note of progress as success, even if it is small.

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3 responses to “How Do You Measure Success?

  1. Thanks for a laugh today … nervous laughter around Twitter (I’ll look for you, but haven’t “Twittered” in two months!) … obsessing over blog stats. 😉

    It all sounds so familiar.

    I’m glad you’re back to the “small steps” approach. As the fable says, “slow and steady…”

  2. “Slow and Steady.” I need a bigger border around my laptop to paste all the quotes and words of inspiration I want to remember on a daily basis!

  3. Pingback: Review of AnNoWriMo: Week Five « Shadows in Mind

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