My Oxford Compact dictionary defines progress as forward movement, advance, development, improvement and almost everyone seeks it in many areas of life. Despite the straightforward definition, it can be hard to define if you’ve achieved progress. Not everything can be measured… Even when it can be, progress can genuinely be slow. What matters overall is that there is some!
As for success, the dictionary defines it as accomplishment of aim, favourable outcome, attainment of wealth/fame etc.
Measuring Progress and Success
How would you define, for example, success in love? I’d say being happily married for a long time would count there. I know I’d be considered very old fashioned in that view. I can also think of instances where people did attain wealth and fame but it certainly didn’t make them happier. It didn’t do much for Midas now, did it?
Also accomplishment of aim, well what happens if you discover the aim wasn’t as good as you thought it was going to be? If your aim was to sell 5,000 books but you only sold 4,500, would that be a failure? Not in my book it wouldn’t be!!
Progress in science is easier to measure. You can see the developments in medicine and technology for example. I’m using some of the latter to write this post and put it online after all. I love the development of the Hubble Telescope. The images obtained as a result of that are simply amazing. There again, we have managed to use science to develop weapons which could wipe out this planet. Hmm… not that clever.
Progress and Success for Writers
With writers, success and progress can be even harder to define. Is it being published? Is it having several books out? Is it having a movie option taken out on your pride and joy? Hmm… (most of us would have to pass on the last one!).
Publication is a great goal to aim for but a writer needs to work out if they do just want to be published the once or for this to be a regular occurrence. I know when I was starting out, the thought of being published at all was it. I couldn’t see beyond that but I think it reasonable that you wouldn’t until you had some experience under your belt here.
I write standard length short stories (1500 words +) as well as flash fiction and naturally I hope to see more of both in anthologies and online magazines. I would also like to see some competition success (though I’ve been commended for some). I want to see continual progress here.
I have a “wish” list of where I’d like to see stories shortlisted (and wins would be even better!). I’ve been shortlisted in some places but there are others where I would still like to achieve that so I keep trying. The challenge of it is enjoyable too (and it needs to be. You need to love what you’re doing to keep going). Yet since I started writing, I’ve had work in 12 different books, including my own flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again. I’m very happy to call that progress!
The One Book Writer
The problem with saying progress or success is defined as having several books out is that it totally overlooks those wonderful writers who only had one major thing they wanted to share with the world and whose work is still fondly remembered today. It would also overlook those who had written more books but for whom they are still remembered today for one outstanding work. For my money this would include:-
Anna Sewell – Black Beauty.
Fabulous book and I loved the London Weekend Television adaptation of it too shown via Southern TV. Remember that (and Southern)? In Anna’s case, illness overtook her not long after the publication of this groundbreaking novel. It was ahead of its time with its theme of animal welfare.
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein.
Mary did write other works but this is easily the one she’s best remembered for and it asks such a pertinent question I feel – who is the monster here?
Then there’s Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Oscar Wilde (The Portrait of Dorian Gray), J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind) and so many more. Do see the link to the Goodreads page which lists over 100 writers who only had the one novel published. There are some big names here.
I strongly suspect it is a case for most writers of always wondering if you could do better. My view is to strive, enjoy the writing journey, and accept that some of the things I’d like to achieve I’ve either done or will still do. It is a question of time, persistence, and not letting setbacks get in your way.
Developing a thick skin here is invaluable! There will be things I’ll inevitably either not get around to doing or where I simply don’t succeed but isn’t that true for so much in life?
So progress then can be a question of deciding what you would like to try to achieve and giving it your best shot. As long as you do give it your best shot, then there’s nothing to reproach yourself for. Success can be a question of accepting Plan A didn’t work out but Plan B has and that’s fine.
For writers, I don’t think there ever can be a one size fits all here. There are writers still aiming to be published at all. There are writers who are published but who would like to try out new forms of writing and be published there too. Both are fine things to aim for.
Not Resting on your Laurels
I think the important thing is not to rest on your laurels. You need to keep developing and improving. I look back at some of my very early stories and can see now how I would write them in a way that would make them better but you can only do what you can at the time you write them. Those stories represent the stage I was at then. It is true you learn by writing, finding out what works, what doesn’t, learning from your rejections and building on that. It takes time too but as long as you seek to make progress and improve on what you do, that progress will come. It doesn’t matter if it is slow.
The other important thing to remember is there is no such thing as a perfect first draft. Shakespeare didn’t write one. Neither did Dickens. Neither am I going to do so! What I will do is polish my work and get it to as high a standard as possible to give it as good a chance as possible “out there”. Ultimately, it is what any writer needs to do.
Progress for Humanity
As for progress in humanity as a whole, my wish list here would be for a lot more kindness and the removal of violence from this world. Am I a dreamer here? Yes, sadly. I wish it wasn’t a dream though. If it was attained, it really would be progress and a success well worth celebrating, wouldn’t it?
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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