We’ve been trained to think of success in terms of wealth.
But is it really?
My 8th grader took a class called Financial Literacy this past school year, and the very first assignment was to answer the question, “What is wealth?” On the surface, the natural response is, “Wealth is having a lot of money.”And that is what I first told the kid. But then, I realized that is a very superficial definition of wealth. Wealth doesn’t have to be about money. It can be so much more than that, and really, it should be viewed as more than that.
This is true in all areas of life. A person who has a chronic illness might say real wealth is having good health. A parent who loses a child would probably say real wealth is not losing a child. A person who needs a wheelchair once told me, “I’d give anything to be able to get up and walk on my own two legs.” So really, what is wealth?
I propose that wealth is different depending on who you talk to. Since I deal with writing, I’m going to apply this topic to defining real wealth as a writer.
I’ve written books to market with the goal being making money, and I obtained it. I’ve written books to appease my critics, and I obtained it. I submitted two books to an indie ebook award competition and won first place for one book and second place for another book. I feel like King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He spent all this time seeking fulfillment on things like pleasure and work, and in the end, he came to the conclusion that it was all vanity and grasping for the wind. All of the stuff I’ve done over the years has been just like that. I look at it all, and I find no real lasting fulfillment in any of it.
There’s only one thing I’ve found fulfillment in, and it’s writing the story I want to write. It’s pursuing what is in my heart.
So, as a writer, what is real success? Is it not to be fulfilled? Isn’t it the ability to look back on what you’ve written and say to yourself, “I’m glad I wrote that book”?
Sales swing up and down. Pleasing the critic only lasts for a short time because you might not be able to please them again. The thrill of hitting a sales ranking at a retailer or getting an award quickly wears off. You’re left wondering, “Can I do this again? Have I fizzled out?” These things are all temporary forms of happiness. They are temporary forms of success. And no matter what heights you reach, there will always be someone who does better than you. Someone will write a better book. Someone will sell better. Someone will get a better award. Someone will please your critic more than you. Eventually, it will happen, if it hasn’t already.
And then what? Will you quit writing because you were unable to keep up the version of success you have formed in your mind?
A lot of writers do that. They give up. They throw in the towel. They move on to something else. They figure it’s better to stop than to invest in stories that will truly make them wealthy. They have lost sight of the fact that real wealth isn’t about money or another person’s opinion.
Real wealth, real success, as a writer comes when YOU are happy with your book.
If you can speak passionately about your own stories, then you are a writing success. These are your stories. They don’t belong to someone else. As writers, we often fall into the trap of focusing on things we can’t control. We can’t control who reads the book, who likes the book, or how well the book sells. And pursuing those items outside of our control leads to frustration. Frustration leads to anger, which leads to resentment, and then ends up in depression. Pursuing factors outside of your control will kill your enthusiasm. It will destroy your passion. How do I know this? Because I’ve been through it. I spent two years in that crazy cycle of pursuing things that were outside of my control. It almost killed my ability to ever write again.
If you give yourself completely to your story, you will be blessed in ways that override the external rewards. Joy comes from within, not from without. No one can make you happy. You have to do it for yourself. As a writer, the only thing you have complete control over is your story. At the end of the day, if no one else cares about your story but you love it, that story was worth writing.
I’ve written almost 80 romances (I’m almost at 100 books if we count other genres), and I have never once regretted writing a book that was written for passion. I go back to reread those books once in a while, and I’m glad I wrote them. That is when you know you’ve succeeded. And if someone else happens to pick up your books and also enjoy them, that is just icing on an already delicious cake.
So I encourage you to redefine the truth worth of your stories. Think beyond the temporary satisfaction of the moment. Think long term. Think of what you want to have on your bookshelf years from now. The money isn’t always going to be there. (No book stays at the top forever. Sooner or later, even the best selling books come down from the charts.) But that story will always remain. It’s permanent. If you wrote stories that truly satisfy you, then, in my opinion, you are a wealthy writer.