What does being a successful writer mean?

6-bwThere’s a Bill Watterson comic strip that I love. It illustrates the story of his moving from a lucrative job in advertising, to pursuing the possibly less lucrative work of comics. Of course, it worked out for him. But even if it hadn’t, I get the impression that he would still think it was a good change. It ends like this:

“To invent your own life’s meaning isn’t easy but it’s still allowed and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

It’s easy to look at other writers’ success and covet. Lord knows I do it. But it detracts from the hard work of actually writing. Kate DiCamillo recently said “it’s easier to do the work than it is not to do the work.” If you’ve ever beat yourself up for wasting time when you could have been pursuing your dream, you know exactly what she means. And of course, there’s her success.

But Watterson and DiCamillo’s success is removed from me. I don’t know them. What’s harder is when I click around my computer and see writer friends and acquaintances publishing things, appearing on the New York Times bestseller list, winning awards and accolades, even illustrating covers for classics, and I wonder when it will be my turn.

It came by email yesterday from Emily Parliman and Elise Howard at Algonquin. Emily wrote to tell me that my manuscript was final and to ask my opinion on changing two small things, neither of which required me to go back to the manuscript. I returned my suggestions, and then got a note from Elise which included this:

“It’s always great to work with an author who takes care down to the last word.”

Sure, I want the book to sell well. I want readers to love it. But being validated for my hard work? That’s a huge success.

2 thoughts on “What does being a successful writer mean?

  1. debatterman says:

    I struggle with the very same things you do . . . and there’s a vicarious gratification in knowing there are editors who take the time to remind you of your own deep commitment to putting out the best work possible. I’m so happy for you, Tracey.

  2. Tracey says:

    Thanks Deb, and I have to say, I’ve been fortunate to work with editors who are very forthcoming with praise when it’s due, so validation may happen more often than not.

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