Measuring Success as a Writer or Artist: A Basic Guide to Happiness
In America, sometimes we confuse “success” with monetary wealth. We think people who make more money are more successful and even happier.
I have always said, There are many ways to be rich, money is just one of them.
Money seems to be the easiest way to measure success for many people, but it’s not accurate. Freelance writer, Kristin Wong wrote, Money is a tool, not an ideal. Money is a tool we can use to buy things we need or want, but having more of it than another person doesn’t mean someone is successful, perhaps it just means they are better at hoarding.
As writers and artists, we need to shift our belief that money = success. We’re creative people and we need to look more creativity at success. For me, the best thing money buys is freedom — freedom to make your own decisions. But frugality can buy that too. As living more simply can. Or being your own boss. Or not believing you have to live like other people. If we believe money = success than we have given our happiness and our success to a number. Which brings me to my next guideline:
Never define your self-worth by a number.
As poets, writers, and artists, we must not measure success in numbers — the number of poems published, the number of books written, how much money we make, the amount in our bank account, or even the number of items on our creative resume.
Success is greater than that.
Success as a writer or artist is creating something from nothing. It’s adding a little beauty to the world or being part of a larger conversation. Sometimes success is beginning a project. Sometimes it’s finishing. Sometimes success is losing track of the hours you spent revising a poem or teaching someone else how to paint.
The key to unhappiness is to compare yourself to others.
Poets, writers, and artists make their own paths in the world and each path is unique. We have to look at our lives and goals, then carve our own path from our unique inner vision of the life we want to live. Unlike other careers or professions, there is no single way to arrive as a writer or artist. We become one by doing. And just as in making our own paths as creative people in the world, we have to determine what is important to us.
In my life, I value time. I would much rather make less money and be able to create my own schedule — in life and work. I want to choose the hours I work, what I do, and who I do it for. Eventually, I may be rewarded in dollars for my investment in myself, or I may not. But I’m choosing. The views of our own success should be determined by things we can control and our own actions. It should be considered a success to wake up and write a poem. It should be considered a success to send your short story to a magazine. It should be considered a success to share your artwork online.
Emily Dickinson never saw the success of her poems nor did Vincent van Gogh in regards to his paintings. But now they are viewed as geniuses in their field, their work is collected and they are admired by many.
Most of us will never know the “value” of our work on others’ lives, nor how what we have made may have affected others. We write, we paint; we put our work out in the world hoping it finds someone who falls in love with it. Many times, we never know what our work means to anyone. We never know who holds the book in their lap or who saw our painting hanging in a coffeeshop and was moved by it.
Creating art is a hopeful, optimistic act.
As writers and artists, success may feel like the images you see at a 3D movie — it’s out in front of you, but it never seems you can grasp it. One reason is that our idea of “success” is always changing. When a writer first starts out, success is publishing a poem or story, then two poems or stories, then a book, and it continues. The problem with this is we are allowing our happiness to be controlled by others and based on an outcome and not an action.
How do I define my success? For me, success is living the life of a writer, editor, and an artist in the world. It’s being kind and open. It’s trying new things in life and in my work. It’s not judging others or believing I’m better than anyone or that anyone is better than I am. Success is being part of the literary conversation and not being distracted by the parts of life that don’t add to my art. Success is writing a poem. Success is arriving to the blank page unsure if I have anything to say.
Success is the trust that what we’re creating matters and will have some positive impact on the world — maybe in ways we will never see or know. Success is believing this act of creating is what we should be doing. Trust that.
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Kelli Russell Agodon: www.agodon.com www.twosylviaspress.com
Originally published at ofkells.blogspot.com on August 10, 2015.