Dollars versus Dreams: When Writers get Hung Up on “Measuring Success”

Dreams have no shape, they are whispers on the wind that tickle your senses and tease your mind. Full of possibilities, dreams are so easy because they don’t speak to the work required to achieve them. They’re ghosts and mirages that are just out of reach, easier to grasp because they seem to come from that part of you that creates. That part of you that still believes fairies are real and the boogeyman does exist. It’s not quite the same well that you draw your creativity from but close enough.

Your family and friends know “you” and the roles you play; they can’t get inside your head but they know you for who you are right now, right this minute. Your bank account knows your financial situation, because the dollars and cents add up telling you whether or not you’re really “making it” as a writer. Only you know how your dollars match your dreams; the two are not mutually exclusive because you understand that money is a means to an end.

But you’re stubborn, and you have a dream of selling lots of books and earning beaucoup dollars. Have you planned to get their with your long-term goals?

Long-term goals are two parts planning, a healthy dose of discipline, a sprinkling of wishes and a lot of flexibility. But those longer-term goals don’t come without achieving the balance between responsibility and creativity: you have to think outside the box and sometimes, you have to forget what money you have to do it.

We get hung up on how much money we’re worth because sales is one way we can measure our success. In most cases, success doesn’t always come from what you make. If you’re confused about that then I’d recommend reading novelist Holly Lisle‘s website, Ten Reasons to Keep your Day Job and Pubrants, a literary agent’s blog. Seriously. (Or, if you’re into gaming, read my reflections of a gaming industry freelancer post).

When we do get hung up on sales or benchmarking what we’re doing against somebody else, chances are we’re gonna get pretty depressed. We’ll throw planning out the window, bash our keyboards, and say we’re just going to give it all up and “be like everybody else.” Be normal.

Right. Like being normal worked for any dreamer.

Toss all that self-deprecating b.s. out the window and really, the reason why we’re not happy is because we believe we failed. Either we didn’t sell enough copies against an imaginary benchmark we created or we settled for three cents a word instead of four. Honestly? Did we ever once stop to think we set that bar too high or our definition of success doesn’t match the reality of what we accomplished?

Sure we have; we’ve launched into self-analysis and mind-numbing research into our writing habits, its quality and our career. We’ve asked ourselves what we could have done differently. We cling to the should haves, could haves, would haves.

Bullshit. Guess what? Money is not a tangible thing and the last time I checked, it’s only one component of success. The dollar is a piece of paper we’ve assigned a value to that gets us more things. Some things we need; some we don’t. Do we really need a fancy car? The world’s most expensive purse?

In order to balance dollars and dreams to measure your success, ask yourself what you want versus what you need from your writing. Sounds simple enough, but it’s really not because there are so many intangible things that you can’t pay money for. Your relationships, your ability to write and your health are just three things that are essential to any writer that we can’t put a price tag on–but take for granted all the time.

If you have something (or someone) that allows you to write when you need to, when you want to, on your terms? Then you have a lot more than most people because you have time to put your heart into what you love to do. That, my fellow writers, is a rare and special gift because every time you break out your notepad and pen, every time you open your computer, you’re living your dream. The rest is just in the details and how you manage them.

Thanks for listening to this post. It comes on the heels of a bit of personal drama and a realization of all the things I’m grateful for. It also comes from the cockles of my ink-filled heart because I can’t tell you how many times I hear writers whine about how they didn’t make it or they’re not successful enough. Don’t. Write. Plan. Dream. And don’t forget to count your lucky stars because we writers are a rare breed; we love it, we hate it, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy scribing!

One Response to Dollars versus Dreams: When Writers get Hung Up on “Measuring Success”

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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