Target Practice

How can you know you’re successful, if you haven’t defined ‘success’?

Fun-Size Challenge Entrance

Stephen King didn’t become “Stephen King” overnight. He did it step by step, and at each step he refused to quit, for some reason.

Often we are tempted to quit because we aren’t seeing the results we thought we would, fast enough (“I thought I’d have an agent by now”, “I thought I’d be published by now”, “I thought I’d be able to leave my day-job, by now.”)

Some of the end goals you have for your writing, today, might be true and reasonable and motivating for you.

But consider that some of them are rooted in other people’s expectations. And usually in the expectations of people who are not writers and have a very sketchy picture of how the words ‘writer’ and ‘success’ can fit together.

There are so many different ways to ‘be a writer’ – and to be successful as a writer – that it’s vital for each of us to define what ‘being a writer’ looks like for us, for now, and to be willing to revise that at each stage.

Before you can build a writing practice, or even successfully write a story, it’s helpful to figure out what ‘success’ looks like for you, for now….so that you know if you’re hitting the target.

Today’s task is to define success for yourself.

Grab your notebook and let’s go through this exercise together.

Set a timer for 3 minutes and move to the next question after each. Keep going even when you think you can’t answer the next question.

Write down your current biggest, most outlandish wish for your writing life and what does your life look like when you achieve it?

(feel free to think about money, fame, impact on others, and what your daily life would look like in that Best of All Possible Worlds). Go nuts with this.

E.g. create a fictional world that has a series of best-selling novels, a movie franchise and a line of tie-in action figures. I go to movie premieres in borrowed diamonds. My family compound is nestled by the woods at the bottom of a mountain, on a river that leads to the sea, but is also conveniently located for big city cultural events. I write in the mornings and spend afternoons walking the hills with my favorite humans, then do some more writing in the evenings before sleeping soundly and breakfasting on eggs from my free-range chickens (that someone else looks after). Fans write to me and tell me I changed their lives for the better.

What is a smaller success than this, that might lead to your Best of All possible Worlds goal? And what does your life look like?

e.g. Write the first book in my story world, putting all my current craft skills into play, and learning a few more along the way. Have trusted first-readers who give me excellent feedback, and are clamoring to be on my ‘street team’ and help promote it when the book comes out.  My life is pretty hectic, doing everything I had to do before, and deal with publishing and promoting a book, but I’m learning a ton and I have a team of great people around me. It’s exhilarating, and a little exhausting.

What is a smaller success than this? And what does your life look like?

E.g. write some and complete some short stories set in my fictional world, to help me build the craft skills I need to build compelling characters and hold the reader enthralled all the way through. I’m spending a significant amount of my free time on my writing, mostly writing, but also taking classes from writers/teachers I admire and leveling up my skills. I don’t spend as much time on Twitter, doomscrolling or watching dumb TV anymore. My other creative hobbies are being neglected, but I had to pick a lane. I chose writing and I can feel myself making progress. It’s quietly satisfying.

What is a smaller goal than that? And what does your life look like?

E.g. write a single story and complete it. It is hard for me to give myself permission to take time for myself, consistently, but I’ve noticed that when I stopped asking for permission and simply gave it to myself, it wasn’t that big a deal to anyone else. When I have done my writing, I am tired but  somehow refreshed and relaxed. I am definitely more fun to be with after I’ve played with my imaginary friends. The people I live with are starting to notice, and even occasionally say,  ‘do you want some writing time?’ I have decided not to be insulted by that!

What does a smaller success than that look like? And how is your day?

E.g. I brainstormed an idea for at least part of a new story, and I put it somewhere I will be sure to find it again. It’s a step in the right direction and something I can work on tomorrow, or next time I need a story idea. I didn’t write 2000 words of deathless prose, but I showed up for my writing and played in a serious way. The rest of my day goes great. Somehow decisions seem easier, my day job is less annoying, and I’m able to give some energy to other people when they need me…without resenting it!

What does a smaller success than that look like? And how is your day?

E.g. I captured three story sparks. It didn’t seem like ‘writing’, but it unleashed my creativity and made the mundane stuff I had to do today a little more fun. Running errands and folding laundry is a lot more fun when I keep imagining backstories for everything from the supermarket cashier to the towels! Someone told me I made them smile because I looked like I was having a good day. 


(You can stop your timer now!)

My final question

Do you need to reach that Best of All Possible World goals before you can feel successful? Can you build a writing practice that improves your life and the lives of people around you, with a few tiny, starter goals?

Tomorrow I’m going to give you one more, really fun exercise to do, to get you jazzed for writing, before we start work on the One Story you’re going to write this month, .

Leave a comment: what was the tiniest step you came up with? How would it feel if you could have a little of the feeling that evoked, every day? Would it lead to bigger and better things?

4 thoughts on “Target Practice”

  1. The tiniest step I came up with is ignoring the housework. Which I think I can get behind. It seems like whenever it is time to write, the dishes are suddenly extremely important even though I hate dishes. So really… I am going to pick up some paper plates for this week. 😉 There. I’m going to improve my writing by purchasing some paper plates. Totally connected.

    1. I heartily approve of ignoring the housework. I trained my kids to load the dishwasher as soon as possible (and did not ever buy expensive crockery!)

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