What Makes for a Successful Writer?


I was sitting and chatting with a bunch of writers one day and one of the group asked, “What makes for a successful writer?” People started to bubble up with definitions and dropping names on both sides of the question.

I raised my hand. “How do you define success?”

The silence was like what happens when someone belches during the quietest moment at a fancy dinner.

The question of success for each of is: How do you know when you’ve done it? In my public child welfare career, we would come up with great plans for programs and we could generate amazing statistics that showed success. But the challenge we often faced was the question: How do you explain the success to Joe Six-pack? How do you show the public and the political power holders it was a success at a level they would understand?

Is success programmed into our DNA?

Or is success for a writer a whimsical gift distributed apparently without rhyme or
reason by the fairy god-agent-publisher?

I think the desire for success is part of our DNA, put there by God as part of his purpose for us. Because, if it depends on a gift from someone other than God, we might as well click our heels and wish for the best.

I admit I struggled with this question of what makes for a successful writer, especially when my first book was not followed by subsequent successes. Frustration built until I wanted to quit.

Then I realized success, at its core, is doing what God called me to do with my full commitment and determination for as long as he calls me to do it.

Believe me, he and I have had several discussions about this. Well, ‘discussion’ may not be the correct word. A discussion implies two or more people talking. My discussions with him were more like me complaining about how unfair the writing life is. I would throw in some griping and begging. In my spirit, I would see him sitting, a benevolent and loving smile on his face as he patiently waited for me to finish my rant.

Then he would ask, “What did I call you to do?”

“Write and help other writers.”

“Are you doing that?”


“Then you’re a success in my eyes.”

A “Yeah, but…” formed on my lips, but died unspoken.

My definition of success was different than his. Mine was based on material evidence like contracts and sales and all the hoopla of being a best-selling author.

His is based on obedience and faith and trust.

How do you define success?


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