Target Practice

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

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?

What Should You Write, Today?

It’s a new year, full of promise…too much promise, perhaps?

A new year can feel like that beautiful notebook someone gave you as a gift: full of potential, unspoiled…too good to mess up with your messy handwriting and half-baked ideas.

(Be honest: How many beautiful blank books do you have on your shelves just waiting for the day when you have a project worthy of their quality?)

The Curse Of Perfectionism

After all the hoopla of New Year and the endless year-end review/goal setting articles flooding the web, the new year can arrive with stakes that feel ridiculously high.

So, if you’re having trouble deciding what to write this week you’re not alone. Many of us struggle with that urge to get things right. First time. This time.

But…the truth is, creativity isn’t about getting things right. It’s about making new things, which usually involves a bit of mess-making.

In Praise of the Mess

Continue reading “What Should You Write, Today?”

Are You An Overly-Emotional Creative?

I saw a tweet this week, asking ‘am I overly-emotional because I’m a writer, or a writer because I’m overly-emotional?” I have some thoughts…


This tweet, from author AD Graves, got me thinking (shared with permission) 

A link to this episode:

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Selling Yourself, Selling Your Work

You have to talk about yourself and your work. I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. The good news? If you can give yourself permission, you CAN learn to do this.


3 Day Challenge

Write Your Author Bio & Story Summary Essentials Guide

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What if writing was inevitable?

Does writing have to be a struggle? What if your writing felt inevitable? What impact would that have on your life?

Changing Seasons image
Change is inevitable. Why not writing?

If not, you could find yourself, two weeks from now having written nothing,  unsure of what you want to be writing, struggling to find your rhythm again.

I have mindset change to make you joyfully productive. Read on…

Use Your Powerful Imagination

Imagine, instead, that you had a plan for the first two weeks of October. What would that look like?

Continue reading “What if writing was inevitable?”

When To Abandon A Short Story

Hand holding a full black plastic trash bag

I gave up on a story today.

It wasn’t a horribly-written story. In fact, it had amused me and a couple of other people who’d read it. My critique group had given me stunningly insightful feedback on what I needed to do to take it from ‘promising’ to ‘good’.

But instead, I put it away and will probably never look at it again.

How Do You Know When It’s Time To Give Up On A Story?

This is a question that comes up surprisingly often among writers.

Wouldn’t you think we’d KNOW if a story was worth working on, or whether it should be consigned to the darkest recesses of our cloud drives, never to be accessed again?

Continue reading “When To Abandon A Short Story”

Writers: Burn Your Business Cards

‘Creative’ is not a noun…Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title, not the work.”

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

I read Chapter 3 of Kleon’s latest book this morning and it stopped me in my tracks.

Not because I didn’t know and understand what he said.

I have, after all, made a name for myself as the person who entices writers to actually write during May & September every year.

But because it made me wonder: am I actually doing the verb?

diary writing

What Do You Do All Day?

Continue reading “Writers: Burn Your Business Cards”