What does an accomplished writer look like? Does it mean being published? Does it mean sending submissions day and night, or dealing with the many rejections that seem to multiply like rabbits in my inbox while I sleep? Or, simply, does it mean I write material that I think people will enjoy, and even, perhaps, learn from?
For me, it means all of those things.
Eight years ago, I submitted essays to every magazine that I could find. I had a bit of luck getting published, felt accomplished, but rarely successful. For me, success hung on one thing, and one thing only, the mighty dollar sign.
Seven years ago, my biggest fan, my mother, died suddenly in my arms, after a brief illness. After that, not only did my submissions stop, my writing stopped. I could manage, after some time, a few essays here and there, to Chicken Soup for the Soul, but overall, I had given up.
Two years ago, in the middle of the night, I was jolted awake by the voice of someone I never knew, had not really heard of much, and someone I had never met. In the dead of the night, this voice came to me telling me a story that I couldn’t write fast enough. After a few months, I had a manuscript about the Bohemian Grove, a place I had never heard of, told to me by the ghost of Hunter Thompson. Weird right?
I know some writers believe in the muse, and others don’t, but I am here to tell you, the muse is real. The manuscript is mostly jibberish, but I wrote 55,000 words about events I couldn’t have known, and I could hear Hunter’s voice, echoing and chattering in my head, for over a year. Whether or not, Tambo Man, ever sells (it probably won’t) we may never know, but writing, just the simple act of hitting the keys on my keyboard, made me feel like a writer again. The money no longer mattered, at least not at that moment. What did matter was that I had written an entire novel, and for the first time in several years, I felt accomplished.
Soon after, with a tiny bit of confidence from my strange, midnight novel, I began writing again. The next year I started my MFA at Bay Path University, and with much inspiration from my professor, Sister Karol Jackowski, I began writing poetry, something I had never tried. Each prompt I read, or had friends give me, led to poems galore! I began submitting fast and furious, and waited by computer with the hopes of a "yes." (It had been so long since I had submitted, the electronic submission manager, fees, and electronic rejections were all new to me.)
I waited, and waited, and then waited some more. I waited so long that I no longer felt butterflies in my stomach when I opened Gmail. Many months went by, and then one day it came. Door Is A Jar Literary Magazine said yes to five of my poems! Soon, emails came flowing in, mostly rejections, but not all.
These days, I feel accomplished because my portfolio has grown, and have had a bit of luck getting published, but still, I struggle with a nagging feeling that I am not successful.
I want to feel that success is not a matter of money, it is the act of writing itself that makes us a success, but still, my mind believes otherwise. I will feel successful when a book I write sells. For me, that is where I draw the line between accomplished, published, and successful. It isn’t the revenue that book may or may not generate, but the act of an agent saying yes, we think your words will garner an audience. We believe in you.