Putting yourself out there is scary in any case, but it’s especially terrifying when it’s something you truly love. It was hard to tell my husband, my family, and even my close friends that I wrote a book and actually wanted to publish it. I still haven’t told some of my close friends, and I haven’t let most people read it yet. I mean no offense toward them by this – just the opposite. There’s almost something less scary about giving your work to a stranger to evaluate. If Bob Jones on the Internet doesn’t like what I wrote, who cares? But if my mom or my best friends think this is complete crap, what does that say about the work and about me, as a writer and a person? I think there is something in the back of my head that says if I fail as being a writer, it’s a strike against me as a person.
The first step toward changing this mindset is to redefine what failure and success are to us. If we think that failure is failing to become a bestselling novelist, well–we’re probably going to fail. Writing to get rich and famous probably isn’t going to work, just based on the odds. If success only comes with a publishing deal at Big 5 company, again–maybe that won’t happen.
Of course, we should all strive to be the best at what we do. But when I went to law school, I didn’t define “successful” as going to Yale Law School, getting a Supreme Court clerkship, and then someday becoming the Attorney General. I couldn’t do that, because I would have been setting myself up to fail. I defined success based on my own terms and my own interests. I’m in the exact job that inspired me to go to law school, so I think that’s a slice of success.
So, why do we, as writers, let commercial success be a guiding post about whether we’re good or bad? Maybe I’ll never have a publishing deal. Maybe I’ll self-publish all of my work. Maybe my mom won’t like it. But here’s how I’m going to define success: I can finish an entire project (done!), clean that project as well as I can (pending!), and hold a printed copy of that book in my hands (soon!). I want to adjust my lifestyle so that I’m making time every day to write a little bit, and I want people–even if they’re people I know–to read my ideas and evaluate them.
Success doesn’t have to writing the next great American novel. Success can be as little as one person reading and enjoying your work.