As I was wrapping up the Story Camp Women’s Writing Retreat, prepping for the arrival of the Fiction Among Friends writers in the next retreat, and hustling to complete my blog post for this week, my friend author Rhett DeVane shared the following with me. Though I hadn’t told her my intended post’s focus, the perspective she offers here about success as an author is the perfect prelude to mine, which will come to you next time. ~ Gina
What is Success?
By Rhett DeVane
On the way to my annual writers’ retreat, an epiphany slipped through the sunroof and gonged me so hard I nearly veered off the highway. The topic? Success, and whether, after twenty-plus, earnest years in the writing and publishing business, I consider myself a success.
Then a segue-thought muscled past the Frank Sinatra tune blaring from my car’s sound system: success is akin to physical beauty. It’s often a false judgment, a fleeting endorsement of what society values at that nanosecond, and, like beauty, not something to cement in the center of my writing life.
I’ve never been considered beautiful. On occasion, I clean up well; I don’t scare small children and animals, or stop five-day clocks. Instead, I rely on personality and a warped sense of humor. Those traits, I developed with guidance from my Southern, story-telling, practical-gag-playing family.
While my grandma rested in her coffin, on view for the world, her loving relatives clumped in one corner, sharing tales about the time she did this or that, and laughing as if we didn’t have good sense. If at least one person hadn’t fired stink-eye disapproval in our direction, we would’ve failed. Thing is, if Grandma could’ve sat up, wiped off the flesh-tone shellac and spoken, she would have—and her story would top all of ours put together.
Like my family, I hold humor and a pleasant outlook above society’s notion of physical beauty. So, why should I put others’ images of success ahead of my own definition?
Over the years of conferences, critique groups, and online forums, I’ve noted how writers tend to measure success by numbers, Amazon ratings, or top agents and huge publishers. Is that truly why I write? No. The joy of seeing my thoughts meld into story, to watch characters learn and grow, to make some sense of humanity, and to lend levity and light: good enough reasons.
The instant a book leaves the safety of my computer, it must survive on its own. It may not be a classic beauty, but I’ve cleaned it up, given it every ounce of my hardscrabble knowledge, and wished it Godspeed. I have been successful at my work.
A nasty trap waits for all writers: the longing for success. The moment I set sights on someone else’s target, time spent on my laptop becomes a chore. The muses pack up and head to another author who welcomes them without boundaries.
Writer’s block thrives when I get in my own way.
A friend once asked my mother about her three children—how they “turned out.” I’ll always treasure her reply. “My kids are successful. They have homes, jobs, and none of them ended up in prison.” You can’t say she didn’t set a high bar. She did her best, cleaned me up, and sent me into the world.
My mama said I was a success. There you go.
How I define personal success is up to me.
Why do you write and do you have some measure of achievement or accomplishment that you use as your barometer for success? How do you define success as an author—not someone else’s definition or terms, but your own? Share your comments below.
Rhett DeVane is the author of the “Hooch” series based on her hometown of Chattahoochee, Florida; the seventh book in the series, Parade of Horribles was released in 2017. Rhett also writes middle-grade fantasy (the “Tales from The Emerald Mountains” series), picture books, and the occasional short story and flash fiction.