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How do writers define success? This writer changed his mind - quickly - when a friend's mother died suddenly.
What do you picture when you dream about your book’s success? Do you envision readers stopping you in the grocery store with stars in their eyes? Getting on Oprah? Seeing your book in the front window of your local Borders?
Or maybe you dream of your book riding at the top of the NY Times bestseller’s list for months at a time? How about dining with Dean Koontz and his dog, Trixie? Of course, this repast would be followed by a glowing, personal endorsement of your works by Trixie, and if you’re lucky, maybe Mr. Koontz himself.
Am I close?
Are you being honest?
Over the years I’ve pictured several of these dazzling dreams happening to me. Including a multi-million dollar movie deal in which Harrison Ford plays Gus LeGarde. And of course, the world would fall in love with the LeGarde family and beg for more each year.
I imagined quitting my engineering job, staying home to write, making enough money to pay down the debt and take care of long needed repairs, like the twenty-six windows that shake and rattle every time the wind blows.
I envisioned copies of my books in everyone’s home library. Worldwide, mind you. Not just in the States.
Lots of dreams. Big dreams. And all revolved around the traditional definition of success.
Recognition. Adulation. Confirmation that my work is valued. And enough money to take care of a small country.
A few weeks ago something happened that changed all that.
Judy, one of my lunchtime walking partners, had been canceling walks and working through lunch to make extra time to care for her elderly mother. We all admired her, watching as she shopped for her mom, took her to numerous doctors’ appointments, and tended to her increasing needs with fortitude and devotion. She was one of five siblings, but took the bulk of the responsibility on her shoulders.
The cancellations increased in frequency, and it seemed we’d never see our friend on the walking trails again. We worried when her mother was admitted to the hospital. Up and down, her progress seemed to change like the December wind that skittered across the parking lots at work.
Judy was absent a few days, then a few more. Something felt wrong.
Then came the dreaded email. The subject line always seems to say the same thing. “Sad News.” Judy’s mom had passed away, released from her earthly bonds and finally free to float among the angels.
When Judy returned to work a week later, she shared stories about her mother’s final days. One of them surprised me greatly, and fundamentally changed my definition of success.
Judy read to her mother during her final stay in the hospital. For hours on end. She happened to have my second book, Upstaged, handy and began to read to her during her responsive times. Sometimes her mother would just lie there with her eyes closed, and Judy didn’t know if she was listening. Frequently, she’d ask, “Do you want me to continue reading, Mom?” Her mother would respond. A nod or a short word.
A nurse perched behind Judy and became involved in the story, too. So Judy would continue reading aloud, giving comfort to her mother and providing a little armchair escapism to her nurse. Solace came from the tentative loving voice of her daughter, close and warm. And she was reading my words.
It floored me.
In a flash, I realized if one woman could be comforted on her deathbed by my books – I’d already reached the definitive pinnacle of success.
You’ll never know how your stories will affect the world. Not until it happens. So keep writing and imagine the best. Not the money, not the fame, not the ability to quit that day job. Imagine affecting one solitary soul in their final moments on this earth, and you’ll have pictured… the ultimate reward.