Guest Post: Shirley Reva Vernick on Defining Success

By Shirley Reva Vernick

Funny how we writers shoot ourselves in the foot. I’m talking about the merciless way we pressure ourselves to be successful.

Actually, I’m talking about the way we define success, and how that definition can cripple our creativity.

“Sell more copies!” we command ourselves. “Boost that rank!”

How can the creative juices flow on our next project when we’re so worried about the numbers on our current publication?

Clearly, sales figures are important for those of us who are trying to make a living. But obsessing about our stats can trigger productivity-quashing anxiety.

I think we need to expand our definition of success in a way that stimulates a more fertile mindset. A mindset where we give ourselves the freedom, the personal permission, to write from the heart and feel good about it, bestseller list or not.

Here is my new definition of personal success. Aside from the sales reports, I am succeeding if:

  • I’m enjoying my work—writing with enthusiasm and honing my craft. 
  • My teenaged daughters are seeing me working hard in pursuit of my goals. 
  • I’m getting positive reviews. 
  • People are visiting my website and Facebook author page. 
  • I’m receiving speaking invitations.

A word about the first point—enjoying my work. I know the old adage “do what you love and success will follow” can sound Pollyannaish, but it has worked for me.

Take my first book, The Blood Lie, a YA novel based on a real anti-Semitic hate crime that happened in the 1920s. When I first got the idea for the book, some people in my circle tried to warn me off. “Historical Jewish-America—it’s too narrow a subject of interest,” they advised. “No one will buy it.” I, however, saw a broader theme, one with immediate contemporary relevance: intolerance. The book was published and went on to win several awards, including the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon a World Book Award.

My second book, Remember Dippy (Cinco Puntos Press, May 2013), is also a story from the heart. In this novel, 12-year-old Johnny is dreading summer vacation because he has to help out with his autistic cousin, Remember.

Remember is fanatical about Twinkies. He’s awkward. He watches the weather channel for fun. So Johnny is sure the summer is going to be a bust. But when some jewels go missing…and the local jock gets stuck in the lake during a storm…and a lonely new girl comes to town…things get more exciting than either boy could have imagined.

The story was inspired by the people in my life (some of whom are relatives) who have cognitively-based behavioral differences. I felt I had to write this story, and I think the book’s writing reflects that commitment.

Moving on to the point about positive book reviews. Does this mean that any less-than-stellar review constitutes a failure? No! This is a lesson I’m still learning. I have to remind myself that, no matter the inherent value of my work, there are going to be people who don’t love it and rave about it.

Just as there are professors who never give A’s, just as there are people who like us but don’t want to be our best friend, there are going to be reviewers who criticize. That’s just life.

Shirley’s window view

I encourage every writer to develop a kinder, gentler definition of success. The way I see it, if we’re going to do the hard work of writing, and if our sales figures are never going to be as high as we’d fantasized, we should do whatever we can to keep ourselves motivated, productive and sane.

Twinkles, the muse
Jiffy, the distraction

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Shirley Reva Vernick on Defining Success

  1. Really loved this post, Shirley. Your books sound wonderful. I laughed at the description of REMEMBER DIPPY – great concept, great title!

  2. Hey, Shirley! Great post and great to see you on here. I love both your books and think you are a success–but I also agree with the sentiment. I for one always struggle with this concept.

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