What is Success for a Writer?

Last night I watched a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I couldn’t help but mourn this incredible actor yet again. He had the uncanny ability to breathe life into the smallest of roles as if by magic. The reality, however, is that Hoffman worked very, very hard.

Because actors are artists, too, we writers can learn from our thespian friends. Even though Hoffman died so tragically and far too young, I am forever grateful for his shrewd words. “Success isn’t what makes you happy. It really isn’t. Success is doing what makes you happy and doing good work and hopefully having a fruitful life. If I’ve felt like I’ve done good work, that makes me happy.”

The beloved poet Maya Angelou had similar thoughts. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Let these wise words guide you in your work. While it’s wonderful to be published and even win a prize in a contest, these are ephemeral moments at best. A life devoted to words offers many smaller and more enduring rewards. Such as nudging an exciting new word into your writing vocabulary. Getting over that pesky little hump in your current project. Savoring the words of another writer, you know what I mean, the book waiting for you on your nightstand.

Yesterday a fellow writer, much more talented than me, followed me back on Twitter. Bliss indeed. That didn’t just make my day, it made my year. And 2022 is still young….

The list goes on and on. So let me ask you, writer friends. What made you happy today?


6 thoughts on “What is Success for a Writer?

  1. Your wonderful post reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” where she writes, “What you produce is not necessarily always sacred…what IS sacred is the time you spend working on the project….The more lightly you can pass that time, the brighter your existence becomes.” While meeting a submission deadline the other day, I worked for hours on end, but I was not tearing my hair out. That’s not to say I won’t ever have a frustrating session ever again, but feeling the deadline’s urgency and letting it push me forward without feeling like my world was going to end was a milestone for me. That’s a happy sensation!

    1. I completely concur with Gilbert. Thank you for such a wise addition to this otherwise rambling blog post! And yes, to your point, it can be maddening, all this work to submit and meet the deadlines we set for ourselves. However, the kerfuffle of it all is momentum all the same. And any momentum is a good thing!

  2. I think defining success as a writer is no different from defining success for our lives in general. For me, I find a day successful if I did the most I could (or close to the most) when I rest my head on my pillow for the day. Your post has served as a great reminder for me to keep the prize in sight. Anyway, thanks for this!

    1. You are absolutely right — a day when we know we’ve done all we can is very successful indeed! In fact, it’s more than enough. Thank you very much for chiming in!

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