Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Success

What Is #Success for a #Writer?

What Is #Success for a #Writer? I’ve considered this question before—check out these posts on various aspects of “success” (after scrolling down one of the pages, click on the “Older posts” link…)

Now to add to those considerations with an article by author, editor, writing coach, writing workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne, entitled, What Is Writing Success?

As usual, I’ll share some excerpts and urge you to read the full article…

First, the “usual” expectations:

“All of us writers know what writing success is: A call from the big agent, a sale to the big publisher, a big big advance, big-promoted publication, big sales figures, big royalties, movie rights, sitcom rights, audio book rights, serialization rights, spinoffs, foreign translations, talk show appearances, multiple awards, weeks and weeks on the Times bestseller list, and even getting asked for an autograph at the supermarket.”

Then, a bit of the truth:

“Many writers (and others) who attain fame react less than positively when they become successful in these terms. After the first thrilling flush, as Internet headlines and tabloids attest, the newly famous often turn to alcohol, drugs, food, uncontrollable spending, mansion collecting, or relentless sexual conquests. A few even commit suicide.”

Noelle then talks about what she experienced after one of her books did better than usual:

“I felt special and important, reveling in all the busyness and attention. But after a while, an inexplicable itchiness seeped in, like a creeping rash. I ate too much, slept too long, and snapped at everyone within mouthshot.”

“This response, I’ve since learned, is common to many writers who reach a longed-for goal. In a letter to a beginning writer, the novelist and short story writer B. J. Chute speaks of the ‘so-called rewards of success’:

“‘Curiously enough, when they do come, you may find that they are not as rewarding as you thought they would be. You may find yourself eager only to get on with the next ivory-tower job.’ (Outside the Ivory Tower: A Letter to a Young Writer, The Writer, January 1983, p. 12).”

And, even though I’m now going to excerpt her summation, I still urge you to go read the full article:

“Let us see each of our writing achievements as another turn upward on our evolving spiral of creative discovery and mastery. This is how we’ll become better and happier writers. We won’t yield to the temptations of externals alone and will probably be surprised when they appear. But mostly, we’ll know with calm certainty, even joy, that true writing success is our writing itself.”


Care to share Your thoughts and feelings about writing “success” in the Comments?
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Failure . . .

First, be warned that I’m a true believer in the slipperiness of language use, for mere mortals…

Next, I want to look into what “Success” means.

I’ve delved into what it might mean in a number of contexts in the past…

Let’s look again.

Definition: “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

Word history: “1530s, ‘result, outcome’, from Latin successus ‘an advance, a coming up; a good result, happy outcome’, [to] ‘come after’. Meaning ‘accomplishment of desired end’ (good success) first recorded 1580s.”

Now, Failure.

Definition: “A falling short or cessation.”

Word history: “1640s, failer, ‘a failing, deficiency’, also ‘act of failing’, from Anglo-French failer, Old French falir ‘be lacking; not succeed'”

I think I may have just proved that grabbing one definition of a word and glancing at its history of use doesn’t quite give us what we might need

Certainly, most folks have enough occurrences of both success and failure in their lives to define it for themselves

However, looking at a few accomplished writers’ explanations of “Failure” could throw much light on what “Success” could mean…

There’s an article in The Guardian called Falling Short: Seven Writers Reflect on Failure.

I normally pull a few excerpts from articles to encourage you to read the whole thing; but, the end of this one had a link that led to an imposing form to fill out for “reuse” of the “content”…

There is such a thing as “fair use“; but… well… these days… and, I’m in the U.S. but the article is in an English publication… — So, I’ll give links to the writers involved (in case you need to evaluate your desire for their explanations of success and failure) and hope some of you take the link to the article in The Guardian

Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Anne Enright, Howard Jacobson, Will Self, and Lionel Shriver.

If you do go to Falling Short: Seven Writers Reflect on Failure, I’d love it if you’d share in the Comments which author(s) drew you there…

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Productivity vs Satisfaction ~ or ~ Success vs Peace of Mind

There are so many folks (perhaps more than ever) attempting to fulfill the old maxim, Everyone Has A Novel In Them.

Self-Publishing has revolutionized more lives than half a dozen more prosaic social advances

But is the revolutionized life worth living?

Isn’t it true that a writer must be published to be a Real Writer or “Author”?

Isn’t it true that a self-published writer must work to be noticed on as many social media venues as possible?

If you clicked-through those last two links and read some of the posts, you know those two questions were in the Heavy Ironic form—though the way I worded them was probably a tip-off for some folks

So, am I saying that a writer should mostly write and not be overly concerned with Getting Published?

And, am I also saying that a writer with a book should not be overly concerned with Social Media?


If the writer is causing themselves psychological damage by over-attention to being published and/or playing with social media, then, yes, I’m saying they should probably write more before attempting publishing and write even more before playing the social media game

Being Productive so you can attain Success too often leads Satisfaction very far from Peace of Mind.

There’s a special video on the past post, Balancing The Writer’s Life, that would be good therapy if you happen to be a writer who’s all stressed out over publishing and the chaos of social media

And, perhaps, I should add, to make my point have some clarity, that there are many writers who Should get published and Should use social media

I suppose I could grossly overgeneralize my point by saying, It’s not what you do but how you do it.

I’ll go a bit further by sharing an idea from Maria Popova’s blog when she quotes Annie Dillard from the book The Writing Life:

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?”

Care to help clarify what I’ve been saying with Your ideas in a Comment? :-)
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How Do You Measure Success?

Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

There are a lot of famous quotes about success and many say it comes through failure—reminds me that being content is better than chasing happiness while escaping sadness

In a previous post called, “Success” Is Vastly Over-Rated, I said: “Who made it seem success wasn’t merely the next stage, from which further action becomes possible, but rather a pinnacle of achievement that leaves all other contenders breathless on the sides of the conquered mountain?” So, who did that? Businesspeople? Fundamentalist religious folk? Football coaches?”

Joel Friedlander has a recent post called, Notes from a Self-Publishing “Success Story”, about Heather M. David‘s experiences—easily judged by the SuccessPreneurs as relative “failure”.

My experience since May, when I self-published Notes from An Alien, is similarly judgeable; yet………

Over 240 people have my book and, even though those were all free copies, I have a solid beginning on a growing email list of folks with interest when I publish the two follow-up books.

Two libraries have purchased the book.

I’ve been facilitating a discussion group on Book Island in Second Life (over 35 two-hour sessions so far) that features issues raised in the book.

Two of my dearest friends, because they appreciate the work I’ve been doing, have bought me a new computer, which will make all the effort still necessary to reach yet more success oh, so much easier :-)

And, most importantly, I’ve written and published a book that is the core of my life’s work, begun 23 years ago and extending toward my last breath

How do You measure success?
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“Success” Is Vastly Over-Rated

We’re made to believe we have to succeed or die. We’re made to feel not reaching the top is failure.

We’re driven toward actions that induce impossible decisions and our fuel is stress.

Well maybe not all of us

In 1906, William James said to H.G. Wells: “The moral flabbiness born of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That—with the squalid interpretation put on the word success—is our national disease.”

Seems like the only thing that’s changed since then is the disease is nearly International.

It never ceases to amaze me how words are taken from their natal environs and prostituted for ill-gain and nefarious purpose.

If you check the root meanings of the word success, you find ideas like: result, outcome, an advance, succession, happy outcome, which all come from a deeper root meaning: to come after

Who twisted the word to nearly eliminate the happy part? Who made it seem success wasn’t merely the next stage, from which further action becomes possible, but a pinnacle of achievement that leaves all other contenders breathless on the sides of the conquered mountain?

My father was a perfectionist. I suffered greatly from trying to be like my father.

Yet, in all justice, even though I’ve finally caught on and taught myself how to enjoy rolling hills rather than challenging breathless heights, I have gained great respect for making sure my ass is covered—learned how to baffle the fates into giving me what I want without surrendering all that I am.

The worst thing about attempting perfectionistic success is that when I fell on my face in the mud stirred up by my relentless provocations, I’d injured those closest to me

At times, I entertain myself with the nightmare imaginings of the tortured inner lives of those folk who were lucky enough to attain some materialistic mountaintop.

Repeated failure has finally made me humble enough to, very possibly, finish off my remaining years on this planet with one well-attained and widely helpful project—spreading the word about the inevitability of Global Peace

Let me close this rather high-flying post with an excerpt from Andrea J. Wenger’s blog that reveals the valley of rolling hills I’m now wandering with gratitude and patience:

“…when the doubts of my life feel overwhelming, I retreat to the one place where I always feel sure. The one place where struggle is the best teacher and failure the source of deep insight. The one place where I can get it right the fourteenth time instead of the first, and no one will ever know the difference.

“I write.”
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