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How Long Does it Take to be a Successful Writer?

Updated on July 14, 2014

We Start with a Trick Question

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.

Vince Lombardi

The trick question is, of course, the title of this article.

Before we can answer the question we need to know what “successful” means to you.

And therein lies the rub, eh?

If I’m going to write this article, though, I need a definition to work with, so allow me to choose a definition that may or may not apply to you:

“Being a successful writer means selling a reasonable number of books so that you gain a significant financial advantage.”

Again, that may not be your definition. You might find success by simply writing a book. You might find success by simply having a blog, and I say HOORAH for you and keep up the good work. If, however, you have thoughts of one day being a writer who consistently sells books, then this article just might interest you.

Choose the path that you want to take
Choose the path that you want to take | Source

I Have a Two Part Answer for You

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers,” argues that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to master a skill. You may or may not agree, but I happen to think he is right on in that assessment.

Since good writing is definitely a skill, let’s see what that 10,000 hour figure means in terms of a writing career.

If you were to write four hours per day, five days per week, you would write eighty hours per month. Now divide 10,000 hours by 80 and we find that it will take you 125 months, or about ten years, to reach your goal of being a skilled writer.

Maybe you are a real go-getter, and you write eight hours per day, five days per week…then you should be a skilled writer in five years. Fantastic!

Is this an exaggeration?

I think not!

History is littered with great writers who took at least that long to finally perfect their craft and start experiencing some success. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, John D. MacDonald, all spent years pounding out words without any acclaim or popularity.

Let me put it another way: I can take a fifteen year old and teach them how to outline a story, and within a few months of dedicated writing they can crank out a 100,000 word book….but will it be finely crafted? No!

To be a good writer one must have a mastery of vocabulary. One must understand rhythm and flow. One must develop voice and understand plotting, and also understand how the proper use of setting and characterization can enhance a story. A fifteen year old cannot do those things, and neither can you, unless you put in the time.

So there you have part one of the answer. Let’s move on to part two, namely the actual selling of books and reaching some financial freedom from your writing.

Sit your butt down and write
Sit your butt down and write | Source

And Now for the Tough Part

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.

Bruce Lee

According to the latest figures, there are approximately 2.7 million new titles published worldwide each year. In the United States alone there are 800 new books published each day.

Now, that may seem like a lot, but….for every book published, there are hundreds rejected….and…of those 2.7 million published, many are self-published and languish in the literary junk heap unread.

So, writers have their work cut out for them. Simply “mastering” the craft of writing does not guarantee financial success.

Are you discouraged yet?

Well don’t be.

Just be realistic.

If you are basing success on finding a certain amount of financial freedom through writing, then you may never achieve that success.

Awareness of the truth is so important, don’t you think?

You will find it much easier to make money as a freelance writer. I make a comfortable living as a freelancer, and you can too.

But finding financial freedom by writing books?

Repeat after me….crapshoot!

There are thousands of very good writers who died poor.

There are thousands of other very good writers who found financial success after they died.

Repeat after me….crapshoot!

I do not write this to discourage you. I write this to wake you up to reality.

If you are writing to make money then you have already built your future on the top of a sink hole.

Try This Approach Instead

I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.

George S. Patton

This might sound radical, but I ask you to just consider it for a moment.

How about writing for no other reason than for the love of writing?

I have this theory. Please allow me to share it with you.

I believe that people who follow their passions will always be successful.

The reverse also has some validity: those who do not follow their passions will always feel cheated in some way, and incomplete.

I happen to also believe that all writers are successful simply because they are members of a very select group of people in this world, people who, through their words, inform, educate, entertain and soothe the reading public.

You see, it’s all about perspective.

Sure, there are things you can do to improve your chances of making a living as a writer. You’ve heard them before, but briefly…..

Improve your writing. Take online courses. Join a peer group. Work on voice and flow, characterization and plotting. Writing is a craft and we begin as novices and work our way up the ladder to journeyman and possibly expert craftsman. It takes work and it takes determination.

Diversify your efforts. Make passive income on sites like HubPages. Submit articles to magazines. Write books and publish them as ebooks.

Build your platform (portfolio) so that people take you seriously when you say you are a writer.

But above all, improve your craft…..

Take a course in marketing and learn how to sell yourself.

So much to do….so many things to learn….

And then pray to the gods for success
And then pray to the gods for success | Source

So the Answer to the Question Is….

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.

Booker T. Washington

It takes as long as it takes.

I have had people write to me and ask me what they are doing wrong, that they only have ten followers and they don’t know what to do….this after three months as a writer.

What should they do?

Write!

It took Steinbeck seven years to find some fame.

How determined are you?

The question you should be asking yourself, the one that is vitally important in this business, is….are you willing to do whatever it takes to succeed?

If not, then re-think your career choice.

Writing is not for wimps.

Writing is not for the lazy.

And writing is not for the unenlightened.

Writing is for winners.

And if you are a writer, then you are already successful.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 2 years ago from New York, New York

      That last line was absolutely perfect and will say I do believe that if we write just because we love it, then we are indeed successful. Seriously, I will admit I have my days and moments, but something keeps bringing me back and I would say it was true and pure love to be able to put my voice to words here even in my own small space in the internet that keeps me going each and every day. Thank you for that reminder always, Bill. Happy Monday now!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      thank you billy for these helpful tips and for helping us all spread our tiny writing wings so that we cane fly :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Dang, I was successful yesterday and now I have to work on it again today. I certainly hope it never ends ;-)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You said it all perfectly, Janine. If you don't love writing, sooner or later it just becomes a job, and that is a sad thing. Thank you as always and Happy Monday to you as well my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey, Frank, thanks for visiting this sunny Monday. Spread those wings, buddy, and have a great flight.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, it's the show that never ends, so strap in and enjoy the ride my friend. Thank you.

    • Lastheart profile image

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 2 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      The same happens in every other artistic field. I think that those of us that want to live by our creations, be it in any field should read this. Thanks Bill...I am a bit stuck and this helps...it really helps.

    • profile image

      dragonflycolor 2 years ago

      I don't smoke but I can stick it to the man! LOL. I like to read old and classic novels because it reminds me that those authors wrote because they had a story to tell and share...they loved to write...you can tell by how they write. It's refreshing!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 2 years ago from Arizona

      I think success is a word that has totally different meaning for individuals. Success can be just being satisfied with your work whether writing, art etc. Sometimes I feel really successful when I turn out a painting to my liking. I have succeeded in that.

      However, success for most is often monetary. How much money are you bringing in with your craft. Another barometer is the demand for your work....

      ANyway as always you have a great bent on what you write.

    • profile image

      suzettenaples 2 years ago

      As long as it takes to write. Writing success does not happen overnight and writing is one of the most difficult of professions. It's hard and lonely but the most rewarding. Great advice and well said.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, I hope you get unstuck very soon my friend. Do what you love to do and you will never fail. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mari, stick it to the man...LOL Love it, and your point about loving to write is the key. This is just a job if the love is not there, and I know you love it. Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, if I wrote simply to make money, then I would consider this a job. I want it to be a love affair instead. :) It's always nice having you here. Happy Monday my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Suzette. I'd writer more in response, but I'm working on my 10,000 hour mark. :)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I've heard it said that success is "Doing what you love and getting paid for it". Well Bill, when I was younger that would have been to be a professional sportsman of some sort...maybe tennis...now if I could get paid to watch sport I'd be happy. Maybe I should try to get a job as a sports writer...lol. Good hub Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      John, that was my first dream, to be a sports writer....talk about taking a detour. LOL You are much too talented to be a sports writer, John. :)

    • Pamela Bush profile image

      howtopam 2 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Hi Bill;

      I certainly agree that it takes 10,000 hours to be considered even close to mastery in any craft. But though a person spends the time without a uniqueness of character, a culmination of the right combination of specific attributes, the individual may become very adept but never reach mastery.

      When I managed tradespeople, I was promoted to management at age 28 after I had put in my 10,000 hours, other managers often asked me to evaluate certain worker of a craft and give my opinion. I could tell after a short assessment of a worker whether or not they exhibited the required potential to excel in the craft. Many workers, I am sorry to have to say, displayed character that lacked the correct recipe for success and my evaluation of them was forecasted to be mediocre or average or even above average at best. But in a few worker I identified that special combination of attributes and of them in my assessment of them I did reply - "This craftsperson will excel and reach the level of mastery they just need TEN more years of experience."

      Pamela

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 2 years ago

      Write on and remember "Gone With the Wind" was rejected over and over again!!! Up and awesome, billy.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Writing, as anything else in life, takes practice. Lots of practice. With each milestone you achieve, it's time to set a new goal and keep climbing.

      I agree - online courses and peer groups are a tremendous help. You gain knowledge, have a support group to bounce ideas off of and can get unbiased critiques from members who don't know you very well.

      I like the advice given by Suzie Townsend to keep forging ahead on your first draft and not to edit as you go. The may never come if you edit as you go.

      BTW, I recently reached that surprise side plot in Resurrecting Tobias. It was definitely an "oh, shit!" moment.....

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Pamela, a great observation and I thank you for it. True, there are some who will never reach mastery....even after years of effort...and that's where the love of writing comes in. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      And breakfastpop, I love that it was rejected. :) There is hope for us all.

    • profile image

      midget38 2 years ago

      Good advice...diversification is the key!!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, oh shit moments are wonderful, aren't they? Kind of reflects like in that way. :) Thanks for your thoughts dear friend, and happy writing this week.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 2 years ago from Reno NV

      It takes a lifetime.... Whew. Jamie

    • wayne barrett profile image

      Wayne Barrett 2 years ago from Clearwater Florida

      Great advice Bill. It takes a lot of patience, as it does with most things. Like my Grandpa told me when I was a little boy, by the time you catch a fish, you will be an expert at putting a worm on a hook.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 2 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      There are some lucky ones out there though, Bill. There are a few who get it right the first time like Laura McHugh whose first book Weight of Blood) was in a bidding war, and she's got a hefty contract for her second book which she is now writing. She only spent one year working in her spare time as a wife and mother. Of course it wasn't as though she never wrote or read anything before. She has her Masters in Library Arts.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      I ticked 'funny' because there is no 'humorous' choice here, but there you go. Apart from that, this is a hard-hitting, balanced view of the truth. I love the way you lay out each angle on success.

      I marvel constantly that you manage to be so supportive and inspirational at the same time as presenting the bare, cruel truth in no uncertain terms. That takes craft and talent.

      I'm sitting here listening to the Beatles (the older stuff) and that inspires me too!

      Hope you have a great week, bill.

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Michelle and I happen to agree with you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes, Jamie, but not a day beyond that. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Love it, Wayne, and truer words were never given a child. Thanks buddy.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Donna, to my way of thinking, she put in her 10,000 hours...but yes, there are exceptions to every rule. Thanks for mentioning her.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I loved the older stuff too....pre-1966....nice to know I'm not alone.

      It's the teacher in me, Ann, and I know you understand that...support and hit on the head, all at the same time. :)

      Have a wonderful week my friend, and thank you.

      bill

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Support and hit on the head - I love it! Thanks for the extra smile this evening, bill. Ann

    • manthy profile image

      Mark 2 years ago from Alabama,USA

      Great Hub -- I believe that each person has a different perspective of success, many great writers simply write for fun or as a way to express themselves.

      It all boils down to what each individual feels is success.

      I know a guy who wrote a book and it sold 200k copies and he felt like a failure.. sad but true.

      Regards - Manthy

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Ann...and thank you...enjoy your evening my friend.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Manthy, you make excellent points...I wish I could sell 200K and taste that kind of failure. LOL Thanks for your thoughts.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      I think that for me, it will take as long as I take to settle down to the task, plus the time to follow through. I can always find an excuse to delay (not good) but it's always bugging me and I'm approaching my do-it-now peak. You have been very helpful and motivating all this time. You're as practical as can be, and I want to be a winner!

    • Be Like Water profile image

      Dattaraj 2 years ago

      Hey, Billybuc, I absolutely loved this article. It's incredible how you managed to provide so much useful information in such a short article. I have read some 300 page book on writing that are filled with lots of theory but fail to provide useful knowledge and methods that a novice can use. Seems like the author didn't put in his soul, or may be didn't even try. You are a good teacher.

      About Gladwell's 10,000 hours practice theory; I think in case of writing, those 10,000 hours of practice will also include hours spend in thinking and reading, so yes -- one will have to write a lot in order develop mastery in writing, but thinking is also a skill he must learn.

      I liked the quote by Washington -- going to write it down.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I filled my pipe but didn't light it. Hee.. just the thought of that addiction still scares me. I learned a lot today, it takes time to be good at anything. Another helpful hub. Thank you for all you do..

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dora, I want you to be a winner in your mind too. If I have helped you then I am happy. Best wishes to you my friend and thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Be Like Water, best wishes to you on your journey, and thank you for the kind words. If I can every be of any help, feel free to reach out and ask for it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      For God's sake, Ruby, don't light that sucker. LOL Thanks dear friend. You are a gem.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      I agree with Be Like Water on the 10,000 hours theory. Although I have to admit that counting those hours would be quite an accomplishment in itself. :)

      I think one of the things that writers also have a hard time with is quantifying their success and progress. In today's online obsessed world, paying attention to web traffic, sales stats and the like are definitely required to measure where one is on the writing path. And those numbers could be quite low in the beginning which will discourage many. Looking for steady progress. As we both know, there is no overnight success. It's more like success over years of overnights.

      And a good followup question to your headline one is: What does success for this writer look like? It's different for everyone.

      Good stuff as always. Have a successful week ahead!

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 2 years ago

      I'm one of those people who write because I love to write. I make no money from HP nor do I want to because I can't stand advertising for things that are out of my control and I know nothing about. I write my books because I love creating the characters and the plots. I don't make a lot of money and maybe I never will. Although making a living by writing novels would be great, I'll consider myself successful because I know the people who've read my books liked them and are always ready for the next.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sheila, God bless you. That's what I love to hear my friend. Right on!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Heidi, I love the point you made about today's online obsessed world...it is a strange world we writers live in, and I'm sure that i like it...but it is what it is, and we better learn how to navigate the waves. :) I always appreciate your thoughts my friend. Have a magnificent week.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      I too believe in the 10,000 hr rule--mastery takes time--success can be measured in so many ways really--so I guess it depends on the measurement tools being used--but mastery--well that is a different ball of wax I think--just my 2 cents

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Useful, real world advise. Thanks again, for sharing! ;-)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Audrey, your two cents is worth a great deal, and obviously I agree with what you said. Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bill. I always appreciate you stopping by.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Kay Badder 2 years ago from USA

      This makes me think of Thoreau and how he never found monetary success until he died. Following your passion is the only way to work.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I love what I do and in time I know I can get better as usual you have great tips for all writers.

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      rdsparrowriter 2 years ago

      Beautiful inspiring encouraging words of Bill :) Thank you for sharing :) I write simply because I love to do so. I don't know whether I'll be famous or not, but I delight in the ability to make one smile through my writing :)

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 2 years ago from Indonesia

      I can only say thank you, thank you and thank you for the lessons about how to become a successful writer you've taught me and I learn much and get a lot of motivation from them.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Barbara, Thoreau is a perfect example....what a genius that man was...about 100 years ahead of his time.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      DDE, if you love it then you are already successful. Carry on my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      rdsparrowriter, you need no other reason to write. Enjoy yourself and this journey my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      agusfanani, it really is my pleasure, but thank you for the kind words.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting.

      It seems to me that being a success or being a successful writer or whatever does not exist as an absolute condition. Success is relative to intent. I intend to finish the first draft of a novel. I finish the first draft. Success! I intend to work on improving the novel until it is the best it can be. After many drafts the unanimous opinion of beta readers is that it is the best it can be. Success! I intend to find a publisher. A publisher of high repute accepts and publishes the novel. Success! I intend to get started on a new novel. I write the logline and an initial synopsis. Success! I intend to have a big turnout at a reading of my published novel in a bookshop. There is standing room only, and I sell many copies. Success! Almost immediately an achievement happening now becomes an achievement that happened in the past. "My poem won the Boondocks County Best Sonnet of 1988 Award." To ask am I successful yet is to chase a chimera. To ask what do I intend to achieve next is to take another step (or a misstep) on a never-ending while life lasts journey of failed and successful efforts. Why keep on that journey? It keeps life interesting.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Exactly the reason for this article, Brian. I already am a success....I am a writer, and an accomplished one, and I am improving...I've already met most of my goals and still going strong.

      Life is good my friend. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing more of your wisdom as a writer with us, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, vkwok. Thank you.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 2 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and awesome. I hear you Bill. Just lighted up my pipe. I do see a difference as I continue to make my way through the world of writing. What I did way back when shows me how much improvement there has been up to today. I am glad about that. Doing my best and getting my writing out there. Hope you are having a great day. Passing this on.

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for sharing this with us Bill. You have told us what the reality is in becoming a successful writer. Have a good day, sending you smiles.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rasma, it's good to see you stop by. Always nice to have you in my neighborhood. Improvement comes slowly, but it does comes. Carry on my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dahlia, so nice to see you. Thank you for the visit.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      We each define success differently, but I hope writers persevere whatever their dreams may be. I believe in not only the 10,000hour role but the gift of critical feedback that is well-intended. In the end, that is what will differentiate the experts from those who simply do the same thing over and over again.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Flourish, I agree with you completely. We must be able to take critical feedback in order to improve at our craft. Thank you!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins. It's as simple as that.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, there is nothing for me to add. Wisdom in simplicity right there.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 2 years ago from California

      Have just found the writing course I started a couple of years ago. I am taking it on a trip. Thanks for your encouragement.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good for you tirelesstraveler, and best wishes on your trip. Thank you!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      This is interesting Bill. I find that my definition of success changes often. When I first started writing here I thought that I was successful when I hit about 1000 views. Now it's different and will probably change the longer I write. Maybe the difference is that writing the things I do is more of a hobby than anything else.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, truthfully, I don't know how to answer my own question. I don't know when I'll be successful, or what my definition of success is....when I figure that out, maybe i can enjoy it when it happens. :)

    • Molly Layton profile image

      Molly Layton 23 months ago from Alberta

      This is so inspiring! Thank you for posting.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Molly. Thank you for reading on this Sunday.

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