#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Your personalized definition of success

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2 Hi folks! Today I’m once again participating in the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a blog hop for writers who want to learn from each other and build a community. In the past few months I’ve focused mostly on the community-building aspect of the writing life, discussing things like Twitter chats and beta readers. Last month I switched gears to focus on the internal side of writing with an article about evening pages. Today I’m going to focus in on one of the most important aspects of a writer’s mental health: our personal definitions of success.

This article is an updated version of a post I wrote in 2012, near the beginning of my blogging journey. You can still read the original article!

Fall is here and if you’re anything like me that means you’re already looking back on the year to see where you’ve failed (I mean be successful… Totally optimistic today). But without your own personalized definition of success it’s impossible to be certain how well you’ve done in 2017. So today I’d like to walk you through the process of creating that definition.

What I mean by YOUR personalized definition of success

Your personalized definition of success is exactly what it sounds like: a definition of success tailored to YOUR needs and desires. It can be a single broad sentence or a full page with many details. What matters is that it’s 100% yours. It’s not rooted in what anyone else wants, or what society says you SHOULD want.

Why is your personalized definition of success so important?

We’ve all heard cautionary tales about the misery that can be found by aiming at someone else’s definition of success, whether you’re trying to please your parents, your lovers, or society in general. We all know people who stick with day jobs they hate purely for financial security.

The worst part is that these people aren’t happy, but they rarely know how to fix it. They have no personalized definition of success, no direction. And they don’t take the time to create that direction. This ensures their continued misery.

Chasing somebody else’s definition of success doesn’t make them happy, and it won’t make you happy either. You need to define success for yourself. Once you’ve created that definition, you need to go after it with everything you have–and not let anyone derail you from your goals.

Your definition of success is the key to long term happiness. Without one you’ll likely wake up at the end of your life and wonder where it all went. And when you’re on your deathbed you want to be thinking about your adventures, not your failures, right?

How to create your personalized definition of success

If you’re here you probably already have some idea of what success looks for you. You want to make a living from your words (or other creative endeavors).

But there are hundreds of ways to make a living writing. There’s freelance writing, ghostwriting, novel writing, TV writing, games writing–and those are just the options that immediately came to mind. Within each of those types of writing there are dozens of subcategories. Freelance writing, for example, can mean copywriting for businesses or writing articles for magazines or even academic papers (although there are some ethical issues with that last one). Games writing can refer to tabletop RPGs and board games (like this one I’m being featured in), indie computer games, or massive console games.

There are as many different routes to success as there are writers seeking it. Each one has different goal posts along the way. The only way to know what goal posts to hit is to have a specific, personalized definition of success.

Today I’m going to share three writing exercises you can use to create that definition. Ideally these should be done at least one day apart.

Exercise One: Set a timer for 10 minutes and free write until the timer goes off, answering the question “What does success look like for me”.

Exercise Two: Set a timer for 10 minutes. Free write, answering the question “What does my ideal work day look like”, until the timer goes off.

Exercise Three: Go through your answers from the previous two exercises. Make a list of anything that got into both answers. These are the things that truly matter to you–that’s why they stick in your head across multiple days.

Once you’re sure that everything truly important is on the list, turn that list into a sentence, beginning with “Success for me is…”. Now you have your own personalized definition of success!

What next?

Now that you’ve got a personalized definition of success, the next step is to evaluate how close you are to that definition and how you can get there. I’ll be walking you through this process over the next few weeks, so when 2018 rolls around you’ll know exactly what needs to go on your New Years’ goal list.

Do you have a personalized definition of success? Did you create one using these exercises? Let me know all about it in the comments section below!

26 thoughts on “#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Your personalized definition of success

  • Great exercises! This is so important, because it’s true, we shouldn’t as authors all be chasing the same dream if that dream isn’t important to us. And there are so many types of publishing to choose from. And hey, I know authors who write only for themselves, maybe a family member or two. All dreams are valid. Thanks for sharing!

  • dlgunn

    Thank you! I’ve been doing a lot of work around self care lately and I think this is one of the first essential steps – how do you know what self care is if you don’t actually know what you want out of life?

  • Great post! I need to look again at my definition of success, as at the moment I’m not sure which direction I should take with my writing.

    Congratulations on being featured in a board game, it looks awesome! Games and TV writing is something I’d love to get involved in 🙂

  • I can relate to the idea of not having a measure of success. Mine was to get a degree … but it was years after graduation before I realised I’d never recalibrated my measure of success.

    I suspect this is actually a good exercise to complete every year or so. Thanks for the prompt.

    • dlgunn

      I think a lot of people do that – their whole life builds up to college, and when it’s over, the question is what now?

      I’ve definitely had to revisit my definition of success recently as I’ve been offered some opportunities that are great, but do mean delaying the work I originally planned to do in the next year or so.

  • Great post, and I will definitely be doing the exercises you’ve set. In the past I’ve often fell into the trap of comparing myself to others, and even though I’m better about it now, it gets under my skin occasionally. Having a personal definition of success will help me keep my head on straight when this happens. 🙂 Great post! Thanks!

    • dlgunn

      I’m so glad you found this useful, and I hope the exercises are helpful! And a personal definition of success is definitely one of the top ways to beat comparisonitis 🙂

  • I love these exercises! We’re 10 minute buddies this month. 😀

    Success for me changes every time I set new goals, because I try to keep them realistic enough to reach. Right now, success means receiving (mostly) positive feedback and making progress on new WIPs while querying.

    Congratulations on the Tiny Dungeon win!!

    • dlgunn

      Awesome! This brings up a point I should have mentioned – there’s a difference between success on a daily basis and overall success, and it’s really good to create personalized definitions for both.

    • dlgunn

      Thanks! I try to provide the kick in the ass I know we all need 🙂 And celebrating the little things is one of the most important parts of being a writer, because the big things take SO LONG.

  • What a fun exercise. As a coach and a writer, I believe it’s very important for us to understand what success means to each of us. I wish I’d written this post 🙂 You did a great job in spelling out the importance of people finding their own successes. I do hate for people to ask me “How are your books doing?” That means if my books aren’t selling, I’m not successful. In my mind, as long as my books are written, people like them and they are published, I’m successful. The question of how my books are doing pulls me right down to the doldrums!

  • Love this post! It took me a while to figure out what would make me happy, and finally decided to take a leap of faith when I was certain what I wanted. I prepared for it, but I love writing, and it genuinely makes me so happy! Everyone deserves to be happy. Great exercise!

    • dlgunn

      Definitely! I’ll probably write a separate article about the importance of celebrating small milestones – maybe for next month’s blog hop!

  • Here’s the question that helped me. What do you want your obituary to say about you? Were you generous? What did you do that was important? Since then life seems pretty simple. 🙂

    • dlgunn

      That’s a great question! I took a series of workshops a couple years ago that asked us to write our own eulogies, and it was a fascinating exercise both for the writing technique and the self reflection.

  • I think having a personal definition of success helped me get back on my writing track. I wrote out my 1 year goals, then three year goals and finally a five year goal plan last January. Lovely post. Thank you.

    • dlgunn

      Awesome! I also have a five year goal plan, but I still reevaluate it every year – and I would suggest you do the same.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Congratulations on your feature in Tiny Dungeons. I will definitely tell my board gaming friends to check it out.
    This is a great article that everyone (writer or no) should take a look at. Defining success for yourself is so important and the exercises you provide are great. Thanks!

  • I definitely agree that it’s easy to get swept up in other people’s definitions of success, and I think there’s a very real pattern of rooting one’s own concept of success in unrealistic outcomes. Of course, many of us secretly dream of being the next Rowling, King, or Sanderson, but that’s more about fame than success, and it’s far too focused on the world’s response, rather than our own journey of discovery and growth.
    In many ways I feel one of the most challenging aspects of the path of a writer is how much self-management is required, and how we frequently need to aim for the stars, but also celebrate the smaller successes that we achieve along the way.

    • dlgunn

      Rooting one’s own concept of success in unrealistic outcomes? That’s pretty much my middle name 😛 I’ve actually started creating multiple goal lists – one for my ACTUAL goals and one for my DREAM goals – because I perennially overestimate how much I’ll be able to do with my limited energy/time. I keep wanting to be one of those Type A personalities that Does All The Things Quickly but I’m just not.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • You are so right. Success is personal. These are great exercises to do to find your own personal success understanding. And they are important to do. Many congratulations on your Tiny Dungeons feature. All the best to you!

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