It’s my great pleasure today to have as my guest blogger crime author and weapons expert Ben Sobieck, whose post focuses on defining success as a writer. As you can see, he’s giving away a copy of his guide for writers on weaponry. Something we writers could all use!
I think the subject of what constitutes successful writing is of paramount importance. Being a successful writer may not be the same for you as it is for someone else. Further, it’s a thought-provoking subject. One that anyone who’s considering a career in writing should contemplate.
In any case, and without further ado, here’s Ben Sobieck’s thoughts on that!
Defining Success as a Writer is the Key to Finding It
by Benjamin Sobieck
Who gets to define your success as a writer? What are the benchmarks for “making it?” If you’re relying on someone else to set the terms for you, you’re going to fail. Here’s why.
Like a lot of writers growing up when bookstores were still ubiquitous and well stocked, I dreamt of one day walking into a Barnes & Noble and seeing my name on a book. To my kid-brain, I imagined life would change immediately upon such a title gracing the shelves like the Breath of Life itself, calling forth the world of writerly milk and honey. Fame. Fortune. Groupies. A fashionable drug addiction. The whole works.
The reality check never cleared the bank on this fantasy, and it continued to hold a powerful allure through my upbringing. Every book I read and enjoyed was the one I should’ve written. Every movie based on a book was something I should’ve played a part in. Every bestseller couldn’t compare to the one in my head. And it all started with getting something onto the shelves of Barnes & Noble, or whichever bookstore I found myself in at the time. Narcissistic? Maybe. Delusional? Probably. Achievable? I was convinced it was, because when you grow up an only child who throws the curve off for every English class you’ve ever taken, you get to thinking there’s something to it.
Fast forward to 2015. After years of playing the writing game, up to and including financing a minor in creative writing, the bookstore dream walked out of my head and onto the bookshelf. After a three-year journey, Writer’s Digest published my book, “The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction.” I went to every Barnes & Noble in the area to document that triumphant moment, even taking the time to sign each book (with approval from management, of course).
You know what’s coming next, right? My life felt exactly the way it did before I walked into that Barnes & Noble. No magical thunderclap from the heavens. No shiny halo above my head that lets everyone see I’m a “real” writer. Sure, it was thrilling for a few minutes, but I left to continue with the rest of my day, one that had nothing to do with whether my book rested on those shelves. Honestly, it felt a little anti-climatic.
You might be thinking things are different for more established writers. To some degree that’s true. But I’m willing to bet some of the big names feel the same way. There’s always a next step. The finish line is forever dangling like a carrot six inches away.
I tell you this not to discourage you from putting effort into chasing that Barnes & Noble-esque dream. It’s actually the opposite, because if you don’t set a bar for success on your own terms, you’re always going to feel the way I did walking out of those Barnes & Noble stores: a little letdown despite the achievement. Set the bar and celebrate accordingly, because no one is going to tell you you “made it,” no matter how many times you walk into a bookstore and find your name on the shelves (or not). Your writing demands no less of you than your full appreciation. After all, you wrote the damn thing.
If you think I’m too wet behind the ears to come to this conclusion, know that I’m neck-deep in this game. I work full-time for a large non-fiction publisher. Our magazines, books, digital content and TV shows are in markets all over the country and across the globe. I’ve worked with many of these titles and logged a good share of bylines, as well as outright launched a magazine that appeared on newsstands coast to coast. Having a career in this industry, touching the areas of publishing I have, must be considered “making it,” right?
You can probably guess the answer.
In terms of a proper career, yes, I “made it” in this industry, and I enjoy and am thankful for what I do. But as a writer? I’m still not sure.
In a way, this self-doubt is beneficial. It maintains forward momentum. This is the blessing and the curse of driven people with dreams, like writers. They’re never satisfied.
That means that if you ever want a shot at feeling happy about your writing efforts, whatever form they might take, you need to set the bar of success yourself. Don’t rely on Barnes & Noble bookshelves, Amazon rankings, adapted movies and the like to determine your mood for you. It’s up to you and you alone to decide whether your achievements as a writer make you miserable or happy.
I hope you choose the latter.
P.S. I’m giving away a copy of my book, “The Writer’s Guide to Weapons.” To enter, send an e-mail to ben [dot] sobieck [at] gmail [dot] com with “Giveaway” in the subject line before Feb. 28, 2016. I’ll draw one e-mail at random for the winner. Good luck!
Benjamin Sobieck is the author of “The Writer’s Guide to Weapons,” published by Writer’s Digest Books, as well as several crime and thriller books. He writes about firearms and knives in fiction on his blog, CrimeFictionBook.com. He lives in Minnesota.