Whenever I watch the Olympics, I’m struck by the contrasting reactions of the athletes. While everyone is thrilled to win the gold, the responses to the lesser medals are often strikingly different. One athlete appears disappointed to win “only” a silver medal, while another is ecstatic at the prospect of claiming a bronze. Still others seem delighted simply to have competed in the Olympics, whether they win a medal or not. Clearly, success means something different to each of these athletes.
I sometimes wonder what it would take for me to feel truly successful as a writer. At first, my whole ambition was to see my book in print, and I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing my first book, of holding it in my hands and flipping the pages to see my own words printed inside. But almost immediately, that wasn’t enough. Would I ever have a second book in print? A third? Would I ever attract the attention of the major reviewers? What about foreign language editions? Fan mail?
I’ve accomplished all those things, and yet still something seems to be missing. So, what would it take for me to feel successful? The New York Times Bestseller List? If so, I’m afraid I’m doomed to failure. I don’t write the type of book that makes the list, and don’t really
want to. What about money? If I got a six-figure contract, would I be satisfied? Again, I’d better not hold my breath. I don’t write the type of books for which there is that sort of market. But that’s okay; I made a conscious decision to write the kind of books I like to read, and I don’t regret that decision. While income from writing is nice (okay, it’s very nice!), it’s not like I have to make a living that way. I’m fortunate enough to have a loving and supportive husband with a good income. And a good thing, too: I can’t think of anything more muse-killing than the pressure that would come with knowing I must make a big sale!
Where, then, can I turn to feel good about what I’ve accomplished? I remember my own words while watching the Olympics. “Hmmph!” I remarked to my husband and son, “if she doesn’t want that bronze medal, I’m sure there are plenty of gymnasts (or swimmers, or volleyball players, or pole vaulters) who would be happy to change places with her!” Likewise, there are plenty of writers who are where I once was, wanting desperately to see their names in print. They would be happy to be where I am now. There are other things, too, little things that make me realize it’s possible to have an impact without ever hitting the New York Times Bestseller List: the chance encounter with a young adult writer (two, in fact) who says she was inspired to write after reading my Bantam Sweet Dreams title Wrong-Way Romance as a teenager; the terminal cancer patient who was given a copy of The Cobra and the Lily, and told all her hospital visitors how much she enjoyed the story.
I may never be famous, but my stories are being read and, in at least a few cases, have made a difference in readers’ lives.
Maybe that’s success enough for any writer.