What is success for a writer? (With reflections from Tim Parks on the ambition of aspiring writers)

I found this excerpt from the “Writing to Win” essay thought-provoking:

Every year, I teach creative writing to just a couple of students. These are people in their mid-twenties in a British post-graduate course who come to me in Italy as part of an exchange program. The prospect of publication, the urgent need, as they see it, to publish as soon as possible, colors everything they do. Often they will drop an interesting line of exploration, something they have been working on, because they feel compelled to produce something that looks more “publishable,” which is to say, commercial. It will be hard for those who have never suffered this obsession to appreciate how all-conditioning and all-consuming it can be. These ambitious young people set deadlines for themselves. When the deadlines aren’t met their self-esteem plummets; a growing bitterness with the crassness of modern culture and the mercenary nature, as they perceive it, of publishers and editors barely disguises a crushing sense of personal failure.

Some days I itch to be published, to have something I can point to as proof that some publication has nodded and found my work worthy of publicizing to all their readers, under their own banner.

Most days, though, I am grateful I don’t feel that overwhelming pressure. I am glad that I write the stories that matter most to me right now, even if I don’t put my legal name on them. It is enough to tell the stories and to know they are reaching their audience, that they’re moving readers, that they will exist on accessible platforms for the foreseeable future.

And, of course, I have time on my side. I still feel young, and I know of successful writers who got their start much later in life. I don’t mind relying on my day job in the meantime to pay the bills and attain my short-term desires.

I realized this happy (if also morbid) truth some months ago: if my life were to end tomorrow, I would not have any regrets for what I’ve chosen to write up until now. Only regret that I didn’t have time to write more of it.

So much has been written about how elusive authorial success is, on every level: getting published, earning enough to pay the bills, building name recognition on a wider and wider scale.

I am so glad that I don’t rely on any of those goals to rate my own personal success as a writer. I would be miserable if I did.

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