Monday, September 14, 2015

How Do You Define Success?

By Niki Turner

Last month our newly established ACFW chapter on the Western Slope had the privilege of hearing from ACFW national board member Allen Arnold. He presented a one-day seminar titled "Finding Your Creative Connection."

Of the many, many things he said that have been rattling around in my heart during the last three weeks, transforming the way I approach my writing journey with God (instead of "for" or "about" God... those prepositions are tricky!), I keep coming back to the following question:

How do I define success for myself as a writer?

As many of my writer friends head off to the ACFW national conference this week, and many others (speaking for myself) are at home wishing we were at conference but can't be this year for financial, or familial, or work-related reasons, this seems like a good question to consider.

According to Arnold, we need to know the answer to this question, and know it early in our writing journeys, because,

"The enemy loves to keep changing the definition of success so it never quite arrives."

I started writing with a goal toward publishing as a teenager. I received my first rejection letter before I graduated from high school. (I don't have it... but my aunt, my first beta reader, saved the typewritten manuscript I'd submitted and sent it back to me a few years ago. I'm so glad that publisher said 'no.') After a lengthy writing hiatus wherein I raised and homeschooled four kids and my husband and I planted and pastored a church, I started writing fiction again. I signed my first official contract last spring. And I thought I'd be satisfied. But suddenly it wasn't enough that I was an officially published author...
I found myself telling people "it's just a novella" or "it's just an ebook," and quietly fretting over Amazon rankings, marketing, reviews, and so forth.

Hey! Wait a minute! That dream of being an author didn't have a list of contingencies back in the day. What happened?

My definition of success had changed, very subtly, without my consent or awareness.

I should have recognized the trap right away. When we were young Christians, getting into "full-time ministry" was the definition of success. Then it was pastoring a church. Then it was the size of the church. The constant striving for "the next thing" left us frequently frustrated, anxious, restless, and questioning the call of God and His purpose for our lives. Our definition of success was tied up in a lot of unspoken expectations, not what God said about us individually and what we were doing.

So what's the solution? According to Arnold, we need to distill our personal definition of success down to six or seven words, anchored in our identity as children of God, and in our day-to-day interaction and relationship with our Creator. We need to let God tell us who we are, tell us our story, our brand, our identity as writers... not the industry, not fellow writers, not our Amazon author ranking or the number of reviews we have on Goodreads.

I don't think God wants us to spend our lives striving for the next thing any more than we want to spend all our time with our children while they strive and strain and wish they were 18 and moving out of the house.

I think He wants to spend time with us experiencing life. Experiencing writing. Experiencing His love, creating with Him... not just for Him, not just about Him, but with Him. 

The more I chew on this idea, the more I realize this concept needs to be applied to every area of life. What's my definition of success as a mother? As a grandmother? As a wife? As a Christian? As a woman? Where am I striving? Anxious? Restless? Dissatisfied? Confused about my identity as a child of God?
Is that because I don't have my own, God-given definition pinned down and the enemy of my soul is moving that line, keeping me in a constant state of subtle discontent, always chasing the next goal or the next event or the next big thing?

How about you? How do you define success? 
Have you ever caught yourself striving instead of abiding? 

Niki Turner
Sadie's Gift (2014) - Available on Amazon and Nook and as part of the Christmas Traditions Collection.
The Skiing Suitor (2015) - Available on Amazon Forget-Me-Not Romances

Santiago Sol (2015) - Releases in October, Pelican Book Ventures


  1. Awesome thoughts!!! And I love Allen's teaching. He has really blessed and refocused me as well.

    At some point my definition of success shifted to making a living with my writing. But even then, is $20,000 a living, or do a mean like a middle class income of $50,000 or.... that could go on and on.

    So now I am trying to differentiate those two goals. I want to write and have books out there, which I am accomplishing. I also want to earn at least $20,000 a year to help support my family, which could come from any combination of my writing and other part-time jobs, which currently include editing, conference teaching, and being the part-time administrator at my church. I'm not sure if I'll quite make that goal this year, but I think that over the next few years I will be there.

  2. Differentiating those two goals is wise, I think. I'd like to keep writing and let the income grow organically until I'm making more from writing than I am from my "day job." That reduces the pressure and stress, and keeps me from getting frantic.

  3. This post is so true. It seems being successful is a moving target, a line we can never attain. I am not a published writer, but I am enjoying the writing with Him. When I look back at something I've written, I know it came from Him. If it never gets published I know this writing journey has drawn me closer to Him. As a freelance editor, I couldn't have gotten this far without His help. The contacts, friends I've made, work I've gotten to do, has His hand all over it. Thanks for a great post and a reminder to let God.


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