What does success look like?

What does success look like? Image

THE END can be the most satisfying words a novelist types. Yet completing a writing project is one of the most difficult things to do. My survey found that not only was finishing one of the main difficulties it was also the most popular measure of success.

Getting started and keeping going

Many writers are motivated to write having “that inner desire to do it” or “a really good idea that just needs to be written” which leads to “personal satisfaction”. One person said “The motivation almost always comes from within rather than from external sources.” However, many people found that they responded well to external stimulus such as reading, watching plays, films and TV, seeing visual art and live performance, and being part of a writing group. Unsurprisingly money can be a helpful motivator.

“The thing that makes me write when I don’t want to is that it can earn me money.”

When asked to select from a list writers found encouragement to be a useful source of inspiration, with many responding well to positive affirmations and stories of other writer’s success. This might explain why so many of us find it valuable to be part of a writers’ group. One respondent said of their writers’ circle: “every couple of weeks a group of us meet and talk about a lot of things, not only writing – but knowing we’re all writers, the conversation invariably turns to writing.”

“I seem to be totally self-motivated”

Other external support such as working with a writing or critique partner, or having a mentor, kept people going. This could be a formal arrangement, for example “Scheduled feedback from a mentor,” or “feedback from other writer friends.”

Tips to get started

Writers who responded to the survey shared lots of useful tips to get started, including:

• Pomodoro technique

• Keeping a drawer of ideas to randomly select

• Writing prompts

• Random searches on Wikipedia

• Writing advice books

• Nanowrimo

• Twitter

There are lots of writers prompts available online. I can always rely on Mslexia to get me started, for example try their online workshops by MJ Hyland.


Achieving success

After the achievement of finishing a project, other measures of success included subjective evaluation such as liking the work or thinking it was good, followed by getting published, getting feedback from peers and once again meeting an external deadline. For professional writers being commissioned and “satisfying the person who commissioned it!” helps. So does feedback from readers, award commendations, selling to a publisher, getting good reviews. One writer said they “check my rating on Amazon so I can see what my sales are compared to other writers I admire.”

“I get the best feedback in terms of measuring success from my readers and through people leaving messages on my website, via Twitter or Facebook.”

Just keep writing

What keeps people writing can be very personal, though I’ve found that we share many sources of inspiration and motivation. The original idea for this survey came from the wish to explore writers’ practice – and it was no surprise that 85% wanted to write more frequently. I think that developing a practice that works for you is key and this in itself can be a source of inspiration. As Gretchen Rubin says: “Creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, and one of the easiest ways to encourage that fertile froth is to keep your mind engaged with your project. When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.”


Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.