At the end of 2017, my wife and I decided to come up with one goal that we would ask God to help us accomplish in 2018. My goal was to publish one book. Now, it looks as if I’ll have four books out in 2018, plus a little ebook! This isn’t just an example of how our requests are often too small; it also brings up an important question: what does it mean to be “successful” as a writer? I say this because I don’t think I considered myself a truly successful writer until I had published a book. I had published dozens of articles and essays, but there was something definitive about publishing a book.
For most people, publication is a key factor in what makes a writer successful. If you can publish a lot of your work and reach a broad audience, then you’re considered successful. Profit is another key factor. If you can generate an income for yourself, then you’re a successful writer. Conversely, if you haven’t published a book and can’t generate your own income, then you’re less than successful. But isn’t there more to measuring a writer’s success?
You see, the big problem with using factors such as publication and profit to evaluate the success of a writer is this: most people whom I would call writers haven’t done these things. Sure, there are many writers who have. But there are a whole lot more who haven’t. And yet I wouldn’t classify the latter as “unsuccessful.” I might say that their calling is not their career. But that’s far from being unsuccessful. We need a deeper set of criteria for determining a writer’s success.
Here’s one thought: what if a writer was labeled as successful based on the perspectives that he or she has changed. “Has your writing altered someone’s view of the world?” If you can answer “yes,” then you’re a successful writer. You have succeeded in doing one of the most important things that the craft of writing was made to do: alter, add to, or enhance a reader’s perspective. Successful writing changes a person’s view of the world, which then leads to change in that reader’s community and perhaps even in the broader culture. In contrast, poor writing fails to change anyone’s perspective. It has no fundamental or lasting effect on the reader, and so it has no lasting effect on anyone else.
If your writing isn’t changing the way people see the world, then no matter how many books you publish, no matter how many copies you sell, you’re unsuccessful. You have not used the craft to do what it was made to do. The good news is that there are countless successful writers out there in the world, quietly working at this very hour, setting change in motion and waiting to be discovered by thoughtful readers.