In the Netflix movie The Incredible Jessica James, the lead character (played by Jessica Williams) asks Tony-award winning playwright Sarah Jones when she knew she had made it. And Jones responds that she doesn't know she's made it, and success is about what it (playwriting) means to her (James).
James says she loves writing plays and Jones responds with something like: Then you are doing it, you are already in it, and that's all there is.
It's the same for any writer who wonders if he or she is a real writer. You are already doing it, so you don't need to wonder. This is all there is. Of course there will be moments of triumph. Sometimes it's an award or other recognition. But what you are doing now - the research, or maybe writing the (near) perfect sentence. Or it might be discovering a great coffee shop in which to write, and feel so good about it that it makes you believe you can write anything. That moment of joy is what it feels like to be a successful writer.
Or maybe it's getting your office organized, or finding the perfect software to write your novel, or even reading books by your favorite author in the hope that some of his or her ability to write will rub off on you. Other ways of realizing success is about finding your people. Maybe you join a local chapter of the state writer's guild. And maybe it's not a great fit, but within that group you find three or four writers who form the best critique group you've ever had, and you hate to miss those meetings because those people know what it means to be a writer, and you feel the same way when you are with them.
This is what brings joy to writers. Of course we want to succeed, but we are already succeeding, and loving these moments because that's when we feel most like who we are. These moments are when we are the best definition of ourselves as writers.
So maybe you will never have a book on the New York Times Best Seller List, or a Pulitzer, or be known to the masses as a great writer. But that's OK, because you are a writer anyway, and that's all there is, but it's all good.
Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Charles and St. Louis Community Colleges. Her short story titled Shirley and the Apricot Tree will be published this fall in Kansas City Voices.