The image shows a yellow badge reading "I am a successful writer" and a letter, which reads: "To Matt! My friend Adam sent me this badge years ago, before I was ever published. I stuck it on my notice-board. I did not feel like a 'successful writer' at all but it was nice to think that at least one person did! It also made me think about what it meant to be 'successful' at all. So now I pass it on to you! Best writing wishes! Shirley x"

What This Letter Taught Me About Being a ‘Successful Writer’ in 2020

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It’s a question on every writer’s lips (or fingertips): “Am I a successful writer?”

What does it even mean to be successful? Do you have to have your novel published by one of the big publishing houses? A small publishing house? Self-published? A single printed copy in the hands of your grandmother?

If we were to measure success by any of these standards, then I’m far from successful. In May 2019, I wrote falling into the same old blogging trap: apologising for not blogging in a blog, then a six-month gap before blogging again.

Oh, hey, look: it’s been eight months!

2019 Retrospective

2019 was, in a non-blog way, pretty eventful. I did draft an entry around August that I never finished, and it’s still my intention to do so. Here’s what happened, though:

  • I started schema therapy, a discipline involving elements of, among others, cognitive behavioral therapy, gestalt therapy, and psychoanalytic object relations theory. I’m still in the early psychoeducation stages, but a lot of interesting stuff is coming to light.
  • One of the things coming to light? Maladaptive coping techniques. Oh man, do I have a bunch of them! A big one, though, is gaming. If you know me, you know I love gaming — I always have — but therein lies the problem. Growing up as an only child and a bullied kid, video games were my escape from the big bad world. This never changed. Now, with gaming addiction being taken seriously, there’s a good chance I have it. This isn’t the entry to discuss it, but what’s important here is the realisation I take the easy way out (by gaming) instead of doing anything else productive such as writing, reading, and so on.
  • I applied for Arts Council NI funding to work on The Shadows At Sunrise. I didn’t get it, but the wonderful people at the Arts Council told me exactly why, and how wonderfully close I was. This was disappointing, of course, but it lit a fire under me.

What is a successful writer, anyway?

And it’s this fire that brings us full-circle, back to what it means to be a successful writer. Therapy is partly responsible for helping me acknowledge the ridiculous standards to which I hold myself and the reasons for them. Also, my self-hatred and the negative voice that is summoned the very second something doesn’t go right for me.

As 2020 begins, I’m feeling hopeful I can tackle some long-standing demons and crack the eggs that need to be cracked. Friends are here for me, too. One friend, in particular, deserves a mention here: Shirley-Anne McMillan.

Shirley-Anne is a local writer of YA fiction who helped guide me in my application for Arts Council funding. After I didn’t get it, and she saw my initial disappointment, she asked for my address because she had a little surprise to send me. This was the surprise: a badge, and a letter.

The image shows a yellow badge reading "I am a successful writer" and a letter, which reads: "To Matt! My friend Adam sent me this badge years ago, before I was ever published. I stuck it on my notice-board. I did not feel like a 'successful writer' at all but it was nice to think that at least one person did! It also made me think about what it meant to be 'successful' at all. So now I pass it on to you! Best writing wishes! Shirley x"

The letter reads: “To Matt! My friend Adam sent me this badge years ago, before I was ever published. I stuck it on my notice-board. I did not feel like a ‘successful writer’ at all but it was nice to think that at least one person did! It also made me think about what it meant to be ‘successful’ at all. So now I pass it on to you! Best writing wishes! Shirley x”

I feel so honoured to be gifted this little heirloom, if you will. Shirley-Anne McMillan is now a published author of four novels, including the recent “Every Sparrow Falling.” Maybe this won’t bring me luck, or somehow summon the muses to my side, but I’ll absolutely look at it whenever I doubt what I’ve done.

I have completed the first draft of a novel. I have stuck by it through grief, depression and low self-esteem. I have continued to dream of publication, even when I’ve barely been able to lift the pen or open a word processor. Does this make me a successful writer? At least one person seems to think so. Maybe it’s time I think so, too.

Thank you, Shirley, for believing in me. It really does mean more than you know.

Until next time — hopefully not so long — thanks for reading. Be well.

Matt

Follow Shirley-Anne McMillan on her blog, and find her books on Amazon.

What do you think it means to be a “successful writer?” I’d love it if you let me know in the comments below.

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