What measures a successful writer? The number of publications? The quality of the journals that accept their work? What if someone writes one great piece and abandons all other projects? Is your room wallpapered with rejection letters?
When I was in high school we had a project in social studies class where we had to create our family tree. My family is very small and most of the older relatives had passed on. We were required to go back three generations for the assignment. I could only go back two because there was no one else alive to give me information about my ancestry. (This was on the cusp of when Google was founded.)
I had two options:
- I could tell the truth and submit an “incomplete” project.
- I could fictionalize my family history.
I told the truth and got my first F ever on an assignment. When I told the teacher that my grandparents couldn’t tell me any further history about our family, he took a sip of his coffee, nodded and walked away.
Several years ago I was a salaried worker in a non-writing position. At a dinner party someone asked me what I did for a living. I told him I worked in marketing, but was starting to get into writing again. Our conversation then went like this:
“Who are some of your favorite authors?” He asked.
“Harper Lee–” I started to respond.
He held up his beer and looked at me like a parent whose child just walked through the house after stepping in dog poop. “You know, she only wrote one book.”
He sipped his beer again, nodded and walked away.
Some people say that in order to call yourself a writer you need to write every day, and in order to be an artist you need to work toward creating something every day. For artists, even if all they can muster is one line on a sketch pad, that’s it. You’ve done your artistic duty. You’ve made your ritualistic offering to the universe.
Your writing doesn’t have to fit someone else’s idea in regards to frequency, quantity or genre–but it has to be true. Be authentic. From my time organizing Triangle Writers, I often come across aspiring authors who give up on their work because of outside interference even more minor than what I encountered above. They fear judgment. They allow people who don’t really know what they’re talking about to influence their life’s passion.
The simple answer to all of this is that a failed writer is one who does not write.
So write. (Naked.)