I have been a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers for 27 years. Recently at our weekly meeting, a member who has endured several bumps and challenges in her year-long journey shared this story.
Her husband asked if she planned to attend the group meeting the next morning. She said, yes, she did. He said, “It takes a lot of your time, doesn’t it?” She thought about the diligence required for the food and exercise journaling as well as preparation of wholesome, nutritious meals, and responded, “Yes. Yes, it does.” To which he said, “It’s been an entire year. I’m not really seeing much of a difference.”
We gasped, cried out with indignation, and offered to knock out his front teeth, amongst other things. But she was steady in her response and her belief in herself. “I told him—‘Look at you. You joined Weight Watchers with me, lost 45 pounds, quit going to meetings, and proceeded to gain 75 pounds. Imagine where I’d be if I had given up!’”
Her story struck a chord with me from a writing standpoint. (It was more like a slap across the face, actually.) This week as I prepared to attend the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, an event that marks my tenth year on the writing journey, a little voice inside my head whispered, “I’m not really seeing much of a difference here.” Another conference. Another year that came and went without a publishing contract.
To the outside world, by traditional measures of success, there have been no visible changes to my writing experience. I’m still the woman without a ‘real job.’ I have no steady income. People aren’t lining up to get my autograph. Yet every year I remain optimistic and think, “This is my year.” But every year so far has not been my year. When you hope and dream for recognition of your effort, it’s easy to start thinking that you’re wasting your time.
I applaud my Weight Watcher friend who shouts to the world, “Hey! Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that change isn’t happening!” I have decided that I, too, will adopt her stubbornness and choose to evaluate my progress on a different scale. In doing so, I realize there are a great many steps I’ve made toward success. My characters, plot, dialogue, and settings are far more refined and polished than they were ten years ago. I am consistently blogging and offering thoughts and advice to colleagues in the writing world. I have developed a handful of presentations and taught a workshop at a regional writing conference. I designed and posted a new website. I have completed three full-length novels which included numerous drafts each. And even more importantly, I’ve made lifelong friends along the way.
So, no. I haven’t achieved success by the traditional measures. Yet.
But we do not have to accept that a publishing contract is the only thing that defines our success. We must celebrate the development of the writer, not just the final product.
One of my favorite quotes is from Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief. “It’s much easier, she realized, to be on the verge of something than to actually be it. This would still take time.”
Those words ring true for the artist. Because imagine where we’d be if we had given up.