Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Do Your Thing (An IWSG Post)

Hey, everyone! It's the first Tuesday of the month, and tomorrow's an American holiday, so that means it's time for another action-packed installment of the Insecure Writers Support Group!

(For more information or a complete list of participants, please click on the above link...)

I totally spaced on last month's installment. This blog has really become a ghost town filled with nothing but dust and tumbleweed. Oops. I shall henceforth attempt to do better...but will probably end up disappearing after this post until next month. Which is never the intention, but just kind of the way things have been going this year.

Anyway...This month's awesome co-hosts are: Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne.

This month's (optional) question asks, "What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?"

Which I found to be an interesting question, so I am going to ramble at length about it now. Let's see where we end up, shall we?

So, okay. I think, when my writing first started to transition from hobby to career, I was very concerned with what an author was supposed to do. There were certain hoops that I thought an aspiring author-type person was supposed to jump through that would lead to becoming an actual author-type person, rather than an aspiring one.

(Aside: though I am using it here, I am not a huge fan of qualifying 'author' or 'writer' with adjectives such as 'aspiring'. If you write, you are a writer. If you write, you are an author. You may not be published, or have a book on a best sellers list somewhere, but you can and should still call yourself an author. End aside.)

And this is not me saying that there isn't merit to following such a path and jumping through those hoops or whatever. There are a great many authors who have found success in that traditional way, and I salute them. I firmly believe that everyone should choose the path that is right for them. What I am saying is that at any point in time in my life when I attempt to do what I am supposed to do, it more often than not leads to me really struggling to do that thing.

Take college, for example. I went to college right after high school because that's what I was supposed to do. I attempted to major in music and English because that's what I was supposed to do, and it took me six years to earn a four-year degree because I didn't have a clue who I was or what I wanted to do. I was trying to cram myself into a mold in which I just didn't fit. For that reason, my first three years of college were, quite simply, a disaster. I would have been better served had I taken some time off after high school to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with my life and what exactly I wanted to get out of my college education.

Now, back to writing.

So yeah. When I started, I feel like I was too focused on what I thought I was supposed to do. And that's changed. These days, I'm more about doing what won't make me miserable. I want to write stories that make me happy (or as happy as I ever am with anything I ever write...). I want to please myself. If other people happen to like my books, then that's okay. If they hate my books, that's okay, too.

To each their own.

Last year (or possibly two years ago), I gave a talk at a public library. One of the questions I received afterward was about my level of success—was I successful?—and I had to consider it for a moment. In terms of number of books sold, I am not successful. I will likely never be able to support myself on my writing alone. In terms of number of readers, I am not successful. You can count my readers on two hands. Possibly even one. I am not on any best sellers lists. I am not on any lists anywhere. I am not anything that would traditionally be counted as successful.

But is that how I view success?

Truth is, it's not.

Authors are all different. We have different goals; we have different measures of success—and that's fantastic. If your goal is to sell 1,000,000 copies of your novel, that's awesome. If your goal is to sell the rights to your novel to a major movie studio, that's awesome. If your goal is to simply write your memoir to pass down to your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, that's awesome. I applaud you.

Yes, my career would be better served if I was more invested in sales rankings and marketing and all of that. But I'm not. That has never really been my goal—and probably never will be my goal—because it makes me miserable, and as has been previously stated, I strive to make myself as not miserable as possible as much as possible.

My goal with Effigy was to make one person (preferably someone not related to me) stay up all night to read my story because that's what I love most about reading. That moment when a book grabs me and renders me incapable of doing anything else? I freaking love that feeling, and I wanted to affect a reader the way that some books, some authors, have affected me.

And not to be braggy or anything, but I achieved that goal. Twice, actually. Twice, readers (neither of which were related to me in any way, shape, or form) contacted me to tell me that they had stayed up all night to read my story because they just couldn't bring themselves to put it down.

Which felt great. Well, in the moment it was utterly terrifying because interacting with humans is something at which I do not excel, but afterward, in the privacy of my own home, it felt great. I achieved what I set out to do.

Everything else is gravy.

So I guess the point is that we should never allow anyone to define success for us. We can only do that for ourselves. As my good friend, Tina Fey, says, "Do your thing and don't care if they like it."

I feel as though I've gotten away from the original question and point of this post (or as much as of a point as any of my posts ever have...) which I know never, ever happens on this blog. I probably could have just said that I want to write the books I want to write, and left it at that.

Once a rambler, always a rambler, I guess. 

Anyway, that's my opinion. We welcome yours.

Thanks for stopping by today. If you're celebrating tomorrow, please do so responsibly. It's all fun and games until someone loses a finger in a fireworks accident.


  1. If we're miserable doing it, we won't do it.
    I wanted one book, so everything after that has been gravy to me as well.

  2. Writing is far too time-consuming to spend the bulk of it miserable, so creating stories that make you happy is easily the best goal to have. And that's awesome how you've had readers reach out to you like that--can only imagine how amazing it feels to know someone loves your work that much!

  3. YES! - "My goal with Effigy was to make one person (preferably someone not related to me) stay up all night to read my story because that's what I love most about reading. That moment when a book grabs me and renders me incapable of doing anything else? I freaking love that feeling, and I wanted to affect a reader the way that some books, some authors, have affected me." :)

    Also, I bet you achieved that way more than you know. Remember, not every reader writes reviews or contacts an author.

  4. Seconded. The BEST part of writing is hearing from readers who did stay up all night and can't wait for more. =)

  5. I loved your rambling! And I agree with everything you said. I almost quit writing completely because I felt like a failure at all the marketing and other things we're supposed to do. But then when I got to give a talk about writing I realized I've had so many great experience like that thanks to my books that those experiences are more than I could have ever asked for. So that's success and I'm so grateful for it.
    For the record your college experience sounds a great deal like mine! I spent way too many years not having a clue and just doing what I thought I was supposed to do.
    Happy 4th!

  6. I have a belief that you should strive to be happy in your life. If you're not, start figuring out how to fix it. It might be scary, but in the end worth it.

  7. I'm glad you've found your focus. :) Sometimes, it takes a while, but eventually we learn it's better to do what we want, not what we think is expected.

    Yeah, I took a year off after high school to figure out what I wanted to do, otherwise I would've run off to New York to pursue acting. I recall one lady whose son was my age had asked me my plans, and once I told her, she looked at me and said, "Well, I'm sure your parents are disappointed about that." The nerve of her! I might have been defensive when I said, "My parents fully support my decision."

  8. Everyone's goal should be their own. We'll make ourselves miserable chasing someone else's goal.

  9. I suppose I met that goal, too. If I could be said to have a nemesis, he was the first one to admit that he couldn't put "House" down after he got to about the halfway point. I mean, when your greatest enemy can't not admit that, it's pretty great.

  10. I like your answer. Those stay up all night readers who bother to let you know make the day.

  11. I really like your answer! I like writing so much that I just hope someone enjoys my work. But, I also want to keep on writing and producing work, so . . . that's just part of who I am.

    BTW - I thought I had read Effigy a while ago, but I just read it a few weeks ago and it was awesome! I definitely burned dinner and stayed up later because I couldn't put it down. (tip- do not cook and read)

  12. I love your definition of success and am working hard to define success on my own terms, too. It all goes back to thinking about why I write in the first place. @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  13. I feel you about college. I didn't even do it quite the typical way and ended up going for 5.5 years to get my degree. Some things are better if you take your time to figure out what you want, and our journey is our journey, not someone else's. :)

  14. Staying up all night to finish a book is THE BEST THING about reading. I don't care how tired I am the next day, if a book is good enough to keep me up all night reading it. It must be even better to learn that something you created had that effect on someone.

  15. At least you're still coming back! So many good bloggers have just disappeared.

    Make someone stay up all night to finish... what a great goal.

  16. What an excellent goal. I need to find more books that keep me up late, not to mention maybe writing one as well...

  17. First of all, awesome use of a Tina Fey self-five!

    Second, hurray for those up all night readers. That’s truly a compliment!

    Third, as Tina Fey would say, end of list. :)

  18. Let's hear it for the six-year bachelor's degree! (I have one of those, too.) Going in, I knew it was going to take me six years. (It's kinda the norm for the state college system here.) The important thing is that we did actually graduate :-)

    I see you have a book cover for the new one on the sidebar. Great image. Book cover means book soon, right? (If not, no worries. It'll get done when it's time.)

  19. I have no physical book to hold in my hands yet, but I do still call myself a writer. Thank you for the post. I enjoyed the message and agree wholeheartedly with it. "Success" is defined by the individual, not by the collective. That said, I am curious what those hoops you referenced looked like. What was it you thought you had to do to become a "successful" author? I'm glad you forged your own path and found satisfaction in doing so. Happy writing to you.

  20. Someone else too told me the same thing, that whether we are published or not we should call ourselves authors :)

  21. Wow, impressive post. Enjoyed reading. Success is defined my each person, great point. Finding happiness in what you do is everything, right? Happy IWSG!

  22. As long as you write, you're a writer. If you just talk about writing and never put any words onto paper, then you're an aspiring writer... Success has many different definitions, doesn't it? And every time you reach a milestone, the goalposts move that little way ahead...

  23. I read Effigy and am in awe of your wonderful storytelling and crazy world-building skillz. So yes, you did achieve what you set out to do.
    I'm not even a reader of high fantasy. I didn't even know that I was reading "high fantasy" LOL

    As for the writer/author debate... for a long time I called myself a writer-in-the-making.
    But you're so right when you say that as long as we write, then we are writers. Period.
    I love this post, MJ!

  24. If that's the definition of success, then I am NOT successful. LOL I don't really know what my own personal definition of success is...maybe when I reach a couple of goals I will feel successful. :)