I need to lose twenty pounds. So what does that have to do with writing? Both writing and weight loss are centered on a BIG GOAL, that bestseller that lands a million-dollar contract and the slim figure of youth, respectively. I’ve read enough articles on weight loss to know that if I just focus the BIG GOAL, I will become discouraged every time I step on the scale. I need to take my eyes off that twenty-pound loss and start celebrating smaller achievements like number of times per week I’ve exercised or that my jeans are looser than they used to be. Likewise, waiting around for that million-dollar contract will just leave you crying on your keyboard. There must be some other way to measure success in writing…
Amount of time spent writing each week. Think back to the time you first decided to become serious about writing. For me, it was when I bought my first Writer’s Market. It is cause for a congratulatory slap on the back if the number of hours a week you are putting into your writing has increased from that starting point date. If it seems like who’ve been trying to be a writer since you were in diapers, make today your starting point and set goals to increase the hours you put in at that keyboard. Writing is a lot like exercise. It may be torture, but if you make a habit of it, you miss it when you don’t do it.
Pieces out on the market. Keep track of when and where you send your writing out and when it comes back. As soon as something bounces back from an editor, find another market for it and send it out. Regardless of whether the pieces are rejected or accepted, the increasing number of manuscripts you have out on the market is an indication that you are moving in the right direction toward your goal.
Manuscripts completed. When I first started writing, I had tons of first pages or first paragraphs of stories, but very few that were completed. The inability to finish projects is a characteristic of a beginning writer.
The more stories you have been able to write “the end” on, even if they are not suitable for submitting to magazines, is another way to measure success in writing. Also, look at the length of manuscripts you are writing. When I started writing, I never thought I had the discipline to write a book. Now I have completed three books, and two of them are ready to market. The book that will probably never be marketed because it’s so bad was a good warm up for the other two books.
Rejections accumulated. Rejection is good in this business. That pile of rejection letters is an indication that you are that much closer to success. Think of it this way: the possibility of being rejected is also the possibility for acceptance. An editor will never knock on your door and say, “I used my psychic powers to ascertain that you have a story hidden in your drawer that we would like to publish.” The more you send out, the more likely you are to become published. Save all your rejections; they are evidence of your hard work. Set goals for the number of rejections you want to receive each year. And when you reach that goal, celebrate.
Save the personalized rejections (the ones where an editor puts handwritten or personal comments about your piece in the rejection letter) in a special pile. They are cause for extra celebration. If you set goals for the number of rejections you want to get, eventually you will receive more personalized rejections than form letters and ultimately, your number of acceptances will increase.
The real success. With both weight loss and writing, people are always looking for shortcuts, some magic something that will make them instantly successful: eating one kind of food all day or a software program advertising that it will practically do the writing for you. The truth is there is no easy way to lose weight or write. Both require daily dedication, discipline and patience. Whether it’s a journal entry or an article that an editor has asked you to write, no words in writing are ever wasted. Everything in your computer files will help you become a master at your craft.
Success in writing can be measured in many different ways. Maybe that big contract will never happen. However, while you strive toward that BIG GOAL, a wonderful thing transpires: you stop focusing on money and publication and learn to love the process of sitting in front of a blank screen creating new worlds and ideas. You will find your passion and pursue it. That’s the real success.
Now, about those twenty pounds. They still sit serenely around my hips and stomach—but I did go for a thirty-minute walk three times this week.