What is success in writing? How do you know when your writing is “good enough”?
When Van Gogh finished a painting, he would put down his brush and refuse to touch the painting again, lest he mess it up with his well-intentioned revising. That’s because the temptation is always there to constantly edit, revise, and nitpick our work.
While I get what Van Gogh was getting at with his technique of “letting it be”, I don’t think I could pronounce my writing finished with that much finality. Maybe it’s easier if you’re Van Gogh, because your work is so much better to begin with, but regardless, I’ll never fully close the door on a piece. Because finality implies success. Usually. Sometimes I give up. But success isn’t a stock concept for me. Success, at least in writing, is not a race with a concrete finish line and a trophy to measure it.
So when is enough enough? How do you measure success in such a subjective craft?
Success for me is when I meet my goals for a particular piece of writing. Success is when I feel that in reading my writing, I am closer to the writer I want to be. Success is when others read my work and give positive feedback.
There’s a personal aspect to it, where I must think my writing is good, I must read through it and find very few flaws, I must enjoy reading it and check off goals in my head. And there’s an external factor as well. Shallow as it may seem, if someone (God forbid it be my professor) tells me my piece is bad, I’ll tend to agree much more readily with them than myself. Positive (and negative) feedback is key in order for me to evaluate my success. Because, getting back to my reflection on Audience, I primarily write for the reader. So success, on some level, is socially transferred.
My definition probably is not perfect, but then again success itself doesn’t entail perfection. And because my vision of who I want to be as a writer will change, and I will change, and my writing will change with me, so too will my standard for success.