How to Appropriately Judge Success

This is one of the hardest problems anybody faces, because no matter how successful you are there's always a next step. It's literally never ending. That's why some of the most successful people are also the most miserable. First it's how to finish a script, then how to get representation, followed by how to get another to read/buy your damn thing, then how do you make the thing... into infinity.

Let me start by showing you the levels of career success:

  1. FINISH ONE SCRIPT. Just doing that is a HUGE accomplishment.
  2. NOT SUCKING COMPLETELY. See yesterday's post for more on this.
  3. HAVING A CATALOG OF SCRIPTS YOU AREN'T EMBARRASSED TO SHOW PEOPLE. This is at least 2-3 scripts. Because anybody who reads your stuff and likes it will immediately ask what else you've got to make sure you're not a one trick pony.
  4. GAINING REPRESENTATION. Manager, Agent, Lawyer, Drunk Homeless Man screaming your praises, whatever. Having one person like your stuff enough to stake their reputation on showing it to people is a huge step.
  5. OPTIONING A PROJECT. Optioning is basically allowing somebody to shop your project around without paying you a lot -- or anything at all in most cases.
  6. SIGNING A PURCHASE/PUBLISHING AGREEMENT. Not having something produced or published, just the agreement. These deals often never lead to anything if my career is any indication.
  7. HAVING A PROJECT PRODUCED/PUBLISHED. Bam DOOZLE! It happened. Your thing is out in the mainsteam. You would think this is the end result, right? WRONG!
  8. HAVING YOUR PROJECT BE SUCCESSFUL. Actually having your project be successful HAS to be the end result, right? Oh how little you know.
  9. BEING HIRED FOR ANOTHER PROJECT. 
  10. REPEAT STEP 5-9 OVER AND OVER. FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. 
So no matter where you are on this list, no writer ever feels successful. I'll bet even J.K. Rowling feels like a hack some days. Like when A Casual Vacancy was critically panned, she must've felt like a huge failure. Even though she could dry her eyes with thousand dollar bills, it still sucks. It hits everybody.
Just for reference, I fall right in that stage 6/7 category. And it's really, really hard to get into that category. I have a few small publishers that like my stuff and will publish me assuming my stuff is good. They'll look at whatever I have to say, and that's great! But it's not as good as being at step, 8, or 9, or 10. I don't have Random House knocking down my door or anything like that, but it's a great place to be.
And even though VERY FEW people get to step six, I often still feel like a failure because I'm further along.
And here's the funny thing, when I was at step one I though everything would be perfect if I just got to step two, and @ step three I just KNEW that if I could get to step four my life would be cake. And @ step four I was SURE that by step six I would be on EASY STREET.
Guess what? Never going to happen. You will never be happy until you appreciate how far you've come. And to that end, here are some tips to help you appreciate how far you've come.
  • Realize that very few people in the world ever get to where you are. Even if people you know are more successful, so many, many people failed and couldn't even get to step one that by you even getting there you should throw yourself a party. And every step you are above step one means even LESS people got there.
  • Don't judge yourself by your peers. That's NBA Syndrome. They are bitter @ making 800k a year because they can't afford two Bentleys, but that's only because everybody around them is making more than they are. It happens in every industry. If you're any good at your job, you should have people that are better than you which keep pushing you forward and people worse you're trying to pull up to your level.
  • Remember that no matter where you are on that path people are envious of your success. People, even if you're at number one, are jealous and impressed you could finish that script. Just don't let it go to your head. Remember, you probably still suck right now.
  • Take stock of where you were at this exact date last year. I do this all the time. Every day seems like a slog, but if you put it into perspective in 1-5 year increments it's very easy to see how far you've progressed. And if you haven't progressed, GET ON THAT!!!!
  • Make a plan for where you are going in the next year, but only expect to accomplish 33% of your goals. And even though it's corny to say batting 33% will get you in the hall of fame in baseball, you can bet life is way harder than baseball. So if you hit 33% in life, you're doing incredible.
  • Set realistic goals. Please don't say you're going to publish two books in a year if you've never even written one before. Even somebody like me who's been at this a long time would be hard pressed to publish two books in a year. Every year my goals become more realistic and my life gets happier because of it. Every year I write a three part resolution. PART ONE is looking at my last year's resolutions and how I did, PART TWO is looking at what I did right, and PART THREE is what I intend to accomplish this year. THIS YEAR, write two books, finally publish something in WIDE print run release, set up stuff to be published in 2015, and attend a con as an exhibitor. That's it. Very realistic.
There's lots more ways, but those are some of the biggest. As always, the first step to being happy is admitting you suck and working to improve every day to suck slightly less.
Happy Writing!