Photo by Ruby Montalvo publshed on rubymontalov.com

It’s the in-between stuff that can kick your butt

Starting a project is hard. Finishing is hard. But it’s the in-between stuff that can kick your butt. That’s what I’m going through right now as I’m writing the sequel to my first novel, A Song for Jessica.

But the struggle to get to “The End” isn’t unique to writing.

Think of a remodeling project.

I love those home improvement commercials that start by showing the outdated, dull room, then the guy/woman/couple decide it’s time for a change.

Next scene, they’re at the store picking out their new products for the remodel. The guy/woman/couple smile, the sales clerk smiles (they actually find someone to help them!).

Next scene, the remodel happens. They tape a door frame and stir the paint. Simple and clean.

And then the very next scene, the work’s all done! The guy/woman/couple straighten a picture they’ve just hung on the wall as a finishing touch.

Now they stand back and admire their work. It’s beautiful and perfect.

If only it were that easy.

What they don’t show is the back and forth “disussion” about design, colors, materials, and cost. “Discussion” about the best way to do it, the unexpected kinks in the plan, then what to have for dinner because there’s dust and/or paint everywhere, and that goes on for days or weeks and maybe the project is never totally finished.

The struggle is real.

Getting to “The End” of a project can be exhausting and frustrating, but it’s do-able.

It helps to:

  • Be patient. Expect your project to take time and effort. You have to want it bad enough to believe the time and effort will be worth it in the end. (Remember the remodeling scenario.)
  • Pace yourself. If it’s a long road to the finish, slow and steady is more likely to get you there, especially if it feels like the work is an unpleasant grind. I was working on revisions to a first draft I finished months before and every time I worked on it I wanted to give it up, just abandon the project. But one page at a time, that’s the only way to do it. Slow progress is still progress, right?
  • Be open to getting help if you can. It’s hard to trust another person with a project that’s your baby, but the right person can make a big difference in the end result. Another set of eyes, an extra hand can be the boost you need.
  • Set up an accountability partner who can give you a gentle push to the end. It’s like having someone cheering you on to the finish line.
  • Set a schedule–break down what needs to be done and pace it out to an end date. For me, it’s a way to help visualize the end of the project. But be flexible. Remember, stuff happens and some days you’ll be more productive than others.

If you’re struggling to get the “The End” of a project, you’re not alone. It’s not easy.

But don’t let that stop you from getting started, whatever it is you want to do.

For more tips on Why it’s so hard to finish what you start and what you can do about it, click here.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

Changing paths and dreaming dreams

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com
Quote by C.S.Lewis Photo by Ruby Montalvo


It’s funny to reflect on how you got where you are, the choices you made and paths you chose to get you to the exact moment you’re in.

And the memories are mental snapshots of those pivotal moments. That’s how it works for me.

It’s tempting to say sometimes, “If only I would’ve done _________________ (fill in the blank), then _______________ (fill in the blank) woudn’t have happened and I’d be ______________. (fill in the blank).”

But there’s no going back. You can only go forward.

And sometimes you have to change paths

When I first decided to retire early from public education, I set out to share what I’d learned about good nutrition and exercise through my menopausal experience. My goal was to help women stay strong and healthy as they age.

That’s when I started blogging.

In the process of writing and talking to people about health and nutrition, I realized they often knew how to stay healthy and lose weight, but they struggled doing it. They needed encouragement and motivation.

That’s where Mindset Monday came in.

I liked talking about nutrition and exercise, just like I liked teaching and being a librarian, but then my goals changed.

One day I decided to listen to something that had been gnawing at me for a while.

I’d taken this early retirement, why don’t I do the one thing I know I’ve always wanted to do… write a book? “If not now, when?” I asked myself.

So I changed paths again and started writing. Even though I had no clue what I was getting into when I started, I finished my 1st draft of my 1st novel on March 15, 2017. After lots of self-doubt, tears, and multiple revisions, I published on May 31, 2018.

Through it all I kept blogging, writing Mindset Monday almost every week. I decided to focus on the encouraging messages I needed to hear…You can do it. Keep going. You have to start somewhere. Strive for progress not perfection. 

I’ve heard from many people about how they needed that boost my blogpost gave them and that’s perfect. That’s the best outcome I could hope for.

But now, my writing goals have changed.

Maybe because now I know I can write a novel, I want to keep writing novels. I want to write short stories and maybe even a screenplay.

And I have a lot of works in progress.

After a lot of learning and missteps, I’m in the process of recording the Audiobook version of A Song for Jessica. I hope to publish by the end of this year.

I have 2 manuscripts (1st drafts) I’m revising. One is the sequel to A Song for Jessica, working title is Allie 2 (I know…creative title) which I hope to publish early 2019, and the other is a project turned out to be a YA, urban fantasy novel that I started November 2017 for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’m not sure if or when I’ll publish.

I’ve had the extreme good fortune to have 3 Book Signing Events so far and I hope to do more soon. I love talking to people about reading and books and it’s a huge thrill to introduce my work to “strangers”.


I’ve discovered that I’m a real Book Nerd. When I was at Barnes and Noble this past weekend it took tremendous self-control to stay at my table instead of browsing the shelves and peeking at book jackets. Hats off to my husband for keeping me in check!


Looking forward

All that to say … this will be my final installment of Mindset Monday.

I’ll continue blogging about what I’m doing, what I’m learning, and share encouraging messages, but it may not be every week and it won’t be as Mindset Monday. The website may take on a new look and shape. It’s always a Work In Progress.

And I’ll send a newsletter update once or twice a month instead of once a week, so if you haven’t already done so, sign up now for email updates and get my ebook, A Year of Mindset Monday, free while it’s still available.

Thanks for all your support and encouragement and for taking the time to read. If it weren’t for you reading my work I really would be just talking to myself : )

Until next time… wishing you courage, strength, and happiness.

~ Ruby

photo by rubymontalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

The uncertainty of life and preparing for the inevitable

I’m trying something new and including an audio version of the post here:


Life is so uncertain. I know this, but don’t always remember.

When I heard the shocking news of the sudden passing of a healthy, well-loved man in the prime of his life, I immediately thought of his family and friends and the shock and grief they must be feeling at losing him so unexpectedly.

And it reminded me of an important truth:

There’s no guarantee of another day, of another year.

I, too, will die one day. Hopefully later than sooner, but who knows?

Preparing for the inevitable.

Years ago my dad was diagnosed with bone cancer. At the time, I was a single mom doing my best to manage a household and raise two young children while working full-time. Those days were physically and emotionally taxing.

I lived next door to The Murray’s, a retired couple and would chat with Mr. Murray about the weather, the kids, and the goings-on in the neighborhood.

One day I was in the front yard talking to Mr. Murray and somehow and for some reason I told him that my dad had just been diagnosed with bone cancer.

Mr. Murray listened and said, “Well, prepare yourself.”

His response surprised me and got my attention. My dad and I had issues (I’ve written about some of them here), but I always thought my dad was one of those people who would always survive. He’d survived seizures and comas and I thought he’d survive this too. I wasn’t ready.

I’d lost my 27 year-old sister two years before. Though she was ill, her death was sudden and unexpected. I had not been prepared to lose her, to live with the fact that when I said good-bye to her on a cold, clear Christmas night in 1994 that that would be the last time I saw her alive.

But this was different. My dad had bone cancer. This would inevitably kill him. And I was not prepared.

I took Mr. Murray’s advice to heart and mentally and emotionally prepared myself for my dad’s death. It made a big difference in our relationship.

Life and death.

None of this is meant to be morbid or depressing. Really!

I don’t obsess about death, but I am cognizant of the one thing I know for sure: I will die. Some day.

Hopefully not for a long time. If I live to life expectancy, I figure I have about 25 years left.

I consider that ample time to prepare myself. (As it gets closer I may change my mind about how prepared I can be for my own death.)

But for me all this talk about death is not really about death. It’s about life. Time in this life is a finite resource.

It makes me think of my life and what I’ve done and what I still want to do.

I don’t want to obsess about the ticking clock, but I do want to keep it in mind so I remember I’m on a deadline.

We all are, even if we don’t want to think about it.

“Someday” never comes

Read Waiting for “someday” puts dreams out of reach

So if there’s some idea burned in your soul or some passion you hope to pursue someday, there’s no time like the present to get on it.

Right now is all any of us have. Life is uncertain and nothing is guaranteed.

Get over yourself, your fear, your insecurities, your excuses. It can be scary to venture out and do something you’ve never done. But don’t wait for the perfect time when you’re 100% ready.

There’s no time like now to move in the direction of your dreams.


photo courtesy of pixabay published on rubymontalvo.com

How to ignore naysayers and other well-meaning people

Are you up to the challenge of ignoring naysayers and other well-meaning people?

Here’s the scenario. You’re finally ready to face your fears and move in the direction of your dreams. It’s time. No more screwing around. You have a plan and a goal and you know there’ll be challenges, but you’re ready.

You’re so excited that you tell a friend (or relative or teacher) about your goals and dreams. And with just one discouraging word or look or question from them, you walk away full of doubt.

When you decide to follow your dreams there will be challenges, maybe the most difficult is ignoring people who mean well but who really just seem like they’re trying to keep you with all the other crabs in the bucket. (The story goes that several crabs in a bucket keep them all in because if one of them tries to get out, the others will pull him back in.)

But crabs will be crabs.

Be ready for people to be honest without any sugarcoating when they tell you what they don’t understand or see in your vision. “How much will that cost? How can you do that? Is that going to work?” they might say.

And the truth is you don’t really know how it’s going to work. You don’t have all the answers, but you’re determined to figure it out. They may say, “I’m just being honest,” when they tell you they don’t think you should do it without realizing it’s not just what they say but how they say it that can be the most discouraging.

When you’re not 100% sure of yourself and your abilities it’s hard to ignore even the slightest opposition.

But that person who bashed your dreams may be oblivious to his or her power and may not have meant to discourage you. It may not be personal. It’s not that they dislike you and they might even feel like they’re giving you “tough love.”

They mean well and are just trying to give it to you straight. (I know I’ve been that well-meaning parent and I cringe thinking about how “honest” I was.)

So how do you get past it? What can you do to make sure you don’t give up on your dreams because someone says you can’t do it?

Here are a few things to consider to get you past the naysayers and other well-meaning people (Including yourself!).

Have courage. You may know the story of the young Joan of Arc who was ready to lead a revolution and said, “I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” You may not feel that level of courage and commitment, but you have to be able to have courage to press on when others say you can’t or shouldn’t. 

Take heart. You’re not alone. Every successful person who’s done what you want to do has faced the same type of challenges and doubt. Seek out people who have overcome the kinds of challenges you’re facing. Their insights may help you.

Remember the seed was planted in you. I truly believe that the thing you want to do, your goal or aspiration, is not “of you.” It’s a spiritual thing that calls you to take action toward it. You may end up someplace totally unexpected that would have never happened if you hadn’t taken that first step. You may not even be able to explain why you want to do it. Somehow that makes it easier to ignore people who say you can’t do it. 

Show up and work. One of the things about following your dream is that it takes a lot of work. It’s easy to say what you’re going to do and a whole different thing to do it. Track your progress so when it seems like you’re getting nowhere and the naysayers were right, you can look at how far you’ve come even if you still have a long way to go.

Don’t expect people to be as excited as you are. There may be nothing worse than sharing the thrill of a victory (even a small one) and getting no response. Not even crickets. Or worse, instead of no response they say something negative. Don’t let it get you down. You know what you’ve done and what you’ve learned from it. Sometimes that has to be enough.

Don’t overthink it. Your work won’t be for everyone. Don’t waste your energy trying to bring people around to believing in your dream. They may not understand what you’re trying to do. It’s okay. Stay focused, set your goals, and work one day at a time.

Stay strong while you’re moving in the direction of your dreams. Be prepared to ignore people who say you can’t or shouldn’t. They may love you and mean well, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them decide your path.

Read more about overcoming obstacles, read What are you waiting for?

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

What are you waiting for?

Have you ever wanted to do something, but haven’t done it because it’s just never been the right time?

So that “something” becomes one of those gnawing passions that doesn’t go away, that thing you feel like you should be doing, but for some reason, you’re not; something you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t.

Maybe it’s running a marathon, getting your degree, starting a charity or foundation, starting a blog, writing poetry, painting, doing yoga, learning to juggle, performing as a clown, or traveling the world.

If someone were to ask you, “Why do you want to do that?” you may have a hard time answering.

There may not be a clear or straightforward explanation for wanting to do this thing you want to do. All you know is that somewhere along the way a seed was planted in your soul that made you think, “I want to do that.”

But “Life got in the way,” as they say.

When we say “Life got in the way,” it makes it seem as if there’s a straight path to something ahead and along the way you live life, maybe get married, have kids, buy a house, etc.

We wait to:

  • have kids grow up
  • have more money
  • pay off the car
  • lose weight
  • get a better job
  • get a promotion
  • have more time
  • get more training
  • be more mentally prepared
  • have better conditions

But “Life” goes on. And all those moving parts and people in your life sometimes move and act in ways you don’t expect, further delaying your chance to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Even in the unlikely scenario that “Life” goes exactly as you’d expected and the day finally comes when you can finally do what you’ve always wanted to do, will you be ready? Will you be okay with starting at the beginning? Or will you feel like it’s too late for you now?

What are you waiting for?

Don’t wait for condiitons to be perfect and don’t expect it all to go smoothly. When you take on your dream you will encounter struggles, some external, many internal.

As I’ve been out promoting my book I’ve met people who say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

My response to them: Do it. Now. You absolutely can. Start writing.

Obstacles in your path

I used to get cranky because something always came up that stopped me from what I wanted to do, but I hadn’t realized that my biggest obstacles were the ones that came from me: fear, Resistance, lack of confidence (to name a few).

There will always be obstacles in your path.

The question is: will you step over them, go around them, ask for help in getting past them, or will you let them block your way? Will you continue to use those “reasons” for keeping you from doing that thing you’ve always wanted to do?

Stop waiting. You can figure it out. It’s okay if it’s not perfect (in fact, it almost certainly won’t be!) but you have to start somewhere. (Read my blogpost Strive for progress not perfection for more on this point.)

Some tips to get you started:

  • Set small, incremental goals. Little by little adds up to a lot.
  • Have a cheerleader. You’ll need someone who can give you a pep talk when you’re doubting you can or should be doing what you’re doing. Even online groups or social media groups can help you through the rough patches.
  • Ignore the people who say you can’t. Or that you’re crazy or stupid or irresponsible for doing what you’re doing. You may actually agree with them on some level, but don’t let that stop you.
  • Life is a composite of what you do and how you spend your time. Keep your priorties in order even when you’re working toward fulfilling your dreams.
  • Fill as many “time leaks” as possible. It’s like when you’re trying to reduce your water or electricity usage, some sound advice is to repair all leaks. What are your “time leaks”? A little occasional mindless down-time isn’t a big deal, but pay attention and don’t let yourself get sucked into a “time waister vortex” so what you intended to last 10 minutes turns out to be two hours you’ll never get back. No bueno.
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. 

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Stop waiting to do whatever it is you’ve “always wanted to do”. Get started now to make your dreams a reality. The world is waiting.

Think it’s too late for you? Check out this awesome woman who got around the obstacles in her way to finally do what she’s always wanted to do:

Why One Woman Decided To Become A Doctor At Age 59

photo by ruby montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

It’s important to be good to others, but don’t forget to be good to yourself too

Be good to yourself. It’s a simple concept. It means treat yourself with love, consideration, and kindness. Be understanding and forgiving towards yourself.

The concept is simple, but not always easy.

What does it mean?

“Good people” are kind, supportive, considerate, and generous. They help us feel positive about ourselves and about life.

They’re like a warm blanket on a cold night or a bowl of chicken soup to ease a scratchy throat. 

But sometimes it feels more natural to be good to a stranger than to ourselves.

We tend to beat ourselves up, focus on our weaknesses, and criticize ourselves when we’re less than perfect. 

How can we lift ourselves up instead of putting ourselves down?

Be kind. Especially through difficult times, small acts of kindness go a long way. Take a few minutes out of a busy day to meditate, listen to uplifting music, or go for a walk.

Smile. Let your smile be your signature look. It can change your disposition and open your heart to self-love.

Be grateful. There’s an old saying that goes, “I cried that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” It doesn’t change your situation, but it may help you see it in a more positive light.

Forgive. Forgiveness is a powerful gift. It can take time to “get over” mistakes and imperfections, but it starts with a choice to forgive yourself.

Every day is a chance to be better than you were yesterday, to do better than you did yesterday. Make it a point to treat yourself with love, kindness, and compassion. Be good to yourself the same way you strive to be good to those you love.

Watering day and other excuses for not getting to work

Watering day and other excuses for not getting to work

Have you ever had a project that you want to do and know you need to do, but for some reason you avoid doing it? Maybe it’s really important and you’re afraid you’ll mess it up, or you’re not 100% confident you know what you’re doing so you avoid it completely.

This is my account of one of those days written as it happened.

Today is Thursday.

The time is now 11:40 AM and I have not written a single word of my work in progress.

It’s getting late. I need to sit down and write my daily 1000 – 1500 words (first draft of new book, a sequel to A Song for Jessica). I can usually get it done in about an hour and a half, two at the most. Most days I’m done by 11 am.

But today I’ve felt distracted.

Usually, the idea of sitting down to write a scene or develop a character gets me out of bed in the morning. Seriously, I know how lucky I am that I get to to do this.

Today, instead of jumping out of bed ready to write, I lied in bed feeling sleepy until I remembered it’s my watering day (San Antonio Stage 1 water restrictions). I haven’t been very consistent about watering the grass and my yard’s looking downright dusty, so I had to get up.

Once I got the sprinkler and water height just right, I set the timer to remind me to move it to the next spot.

Put a load of laundry to wash.

Walked my dogs.

Moved the sprinkler.

Sat and stared at my blank computer screen.

Water my potted vegetable plants that aren’t doing so well.

Moved the clothes.

Talked to my daughter on the phone for at least 20 mins.

Moved the sprinkler.

Wrote a few words, then deleted them.

Got on Social media, checked emails, read some articles on book marketing, made coffee, ate watermelon.

Folded clothes.

Turned the water off and put the sprinkler away.

Sat and stared at my blank computer screen.

This is really not like me.

It’s like I’m avoiding sitting down to write as if I don’t want to do something I usually love. What’s wrong with me?

Because I’m an analytical person, it makes me wonder why I’m not doing what I know I need to do. I can think about that for another 30 minutes or hour, which will solve nothing.

So instead of writing my work in progress (my 2nd novel), which is my priority because I want to publish in December, I’m writing this blogpost about avoiding my work.

This avoidance doesn’t feel quite like procrastination. I’ve often …

(oh, hold on. Someone’s at the door.)

Okay, I’m just getting back to my desk. My niece stopped by to drop something off and we ended up talking for about 40 minutes. But that’s okay!

Focused conversation with a grown niece or nephew is a rare and special occurrence.

So, yes. It’s now nearly 12:30 and still not a word of my story written today.

I have a blogpost drafted. That’s something.

My yard’s watered. That’s something. A load of laundry’s done. That’s something. I talked to my daughter and she had a very productive day. That’s something. I got to visit with my niece. That’s something.

Those are all good and important things.

But I have work to do.

It doesn’t matter why I’m avoiding it or what I’m doing instead. What matters most, in this case, is that I’ve committed to tell a story. So tell it.

Okay. I’m ready.

Just do it.

When I finally settle in and get it done, I exceed my 1500 word goal. The scene is done and will need extensive editing, of course. But I can’t edit what’s not there, so writing the far from perfect first draft is a necessary step.

And I realized something interesting as I wrote.

The scene needed an important pivotal point in the plot that I wasn’t sure how I was going to work through. It made me wonder if that’s what I had been avoiding all morning.

But an idea developed as I worked, something I hadn’t planned. The scene may change, but it’s a starting point and that’s what I needed.

So, it’s nearly 3 PM and my work is done for the day. It wasn’t pretty, and it felt a little painful today, but it’s done.

That makes me smile.

It’s a good reminder:

A day when you’ve done your work, even when it was hard and even when you could have left it for tomorrow, is a good day.

Little by little, a little becomes a lot. ~ Tanzanian proverb
Photo by ruby montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

When leaving well enough alone is a good thing

It can be hard knowing when to leave well enough alone and even harder doing it.

It’s like having a tiny pimple on your nose, so small it’s almost unnoticeable. You ask people, “Do you see it?” and they have to squint and change angles until they see it. That’s how small it is.

But you know it’s there and it’s bugging the heck out of you that it’s there, so you start messing with it.

And it gets worse. Until the tiny blemish starts to ooze and it’s red and you ask your friend and she sees it right away without squinting.

The challenge

It can be challenging to know when to stop, and even more challenging to actually leave it alone.

“It’s all about finding the right note at the right place and knowing when to leave well enough alone. And that’s a lifelong quest.” ~ David Sanborn, musician

It’s true of music, but also of relationships, work, and life.

I wonder if Michelangelo struggled leaving his Statue of David alone or did he think, “It’s good, but I can make it better.”

When we’re determined to keep tweaking to make something that’s already pretty good even better, we run the risk of making it worse in a couple of ways.

First, we can have the whole thing collapse. Or, as in the case of the pimple, explode.

Second, we miss out on enjoying anything else because we’re obsessing about making this thing perfect.

Third, we can’t appreciate the amazingness and beauty of what we have when we’re focused on its flaws.

David Sanborn says, “knowing when to leave well enough alone” is a “lifelong quest.” I never thought about it that way, but I see what he means.

Especially if you have a tendency to fixate on things and get obsessed with an issue. It’s hard to let it go.

Getting away from it for a while can help. Get your mind off of it, look at something else, do something else. Go for a walk or run an errand. Start a new project.

The problem or flaw may not look as serious when you look at it again.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

Life, confusions, and clarity. It’s simple, but not easy.

You live out the confusions until they become clear. ~ Anaïs Nin

Have you ever found yourself in an unfamiliar role, like being a new mom or at a new job, and you realize you don’t know what you’re doing?

Like you find yourself thinking, “I don’t know what to do,” at least once a day.

Or maybe you think/say the sister statement, “I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

Okay, you’re confused. You’re unsure about what to do, but you still have to do it.

Confusion isn’t the end game

Doing something new is scary and can be confusing, but you live out the confusions until they become clear. You keep working, forge ahead, keep hanging on to the people you love, keep doing the work you love, and know in your heart that at the end of the day if you’ve done your best, if you’ve been kind and loving, and done your work with joy in your heart, it will all work out okay.

That’s what it’s about, I think.

The long haul

When my kids were young and especially through the teenage years, I was often confused. I would have moments where I felt like a horrible mom, wasn’t sure I was doing the right things for them, or had made mistakes and should have done more for them.

But life demands moving forward. Parenthood demands moving forward and doing your best even if it’s not clear what “the best” is.

It may make you want to throw your hands up and say, “I’m done!”, but don’t give up. Keep going. “Live out the confusions until they become clear.”

It’s okay to be in the learning stage

I’ve said to myself at least a hundred times in the past year of writing and publishing my first novel, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And yet, I’m doing it.

If I wouldn’t have worked through the confusion and been okay with making mistakes, I wouldn’t have gotten very far.

I had to:

  • ask a lot of questions
  • learn all I could
  • make the best decision I could with what I knew at the time
  • overcome my fear of taking action
  • be okay with making mistakes
  • learn from my mistakes

It’s been a long and winding road, but I’ve learned so much and the whole process is becoming more clear to me now.

If you’re at a point of confusion and uncertainty, don’t despair. Keep moving forward. Learn all you can and strive for progress, not perfection.

Live and love the best you can and clarity will be your reward.

I believe that.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

What’s your definition of success?

Let’s say you’ve been working on a project. It’s been a long road, but you’ve kept your head down and kept gutting it out, moving forward. You’re primary goal is to make progress and you’re doing that, but…

Have you asked yourself this question: What does success look like?

What happens when the work is done? Maybe it’s a garden or a plan to be debt-free. How does that work into your plan for long-term success?

But wait…

I was talking to my son about the publication of my first novel on May 31. It’s a big win for me. I thought, “Yep. That’s success for me.” (See The finish line and other wondrous moments)

Then he asked, “What’s your goal? How many books do you want to sell?”

I was like a deer in headlights.

Hmm. I hadn’t actually thought about it.

Do X number of books sold equal success for me? I didn’t think so, but if that doesn’t what does?

It got me thinking: How do I measure success?

One story of success

You may have heard of Stephen King, author of horror/suspense books, many of which have been made into movies, like It and The Dark Tower. Well last week, he posted a short story on Instagram in advance of his new book, The Outsider. In 4 days he had 63,760 likes and 1,448 comments.

Whoa. I don’t know much about marketing and such, but I’d say he’s a successful guy and that was a successful post.

Even though I’m not a fan of his fiction, I love his book On Writing. It’s part memoir, part writing lesson and I recommend it even if you aren’t interested in writing.

A little bit of what he covers in the book: He’s

  • been writing since he was a kid
  • written and published dozens of books
  • been married since right out of college
  • a recovering alcoholic
  • was a high school English teacher when he sold his breakout novel, Carrie. He says of that time, “If I ever came close to despairing about my future as a writer, it was then.”

And here’s something else about Stephen King:

  • Legend has it that he writes every day. Still. Every day. His birthday. Christmas.
  • He’s a generous guy. The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation helps writers and various organizations in their home state of Maine.
  • You’d never know he’s wealthy by looking at him. He looks like a regular guy, doing appearances in a t-shirt and jeans.

So, sure, his is the far-out, wildest dreams kind of vision of success even he couldn’t have dreamed of.

It doesn’t happen for everyone.

A different story

When I was in Italy, my daughter and I took a trip to Nove, a town known for ceramics and home of the famous La Ceramica VBC.

I was looking for pottery, the hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind stuff. We wandered into a dusty, unpolished ceramics shop that looked promising. The owner’s name was Giovanni and he spoke English. He had the kind of pottery I was looking for.

It turns out Giovanni is an artist. His work is beautiful, but it was hard to tell because it was lost in a mix of other styles he said most people looked for.

Ceramic bowl. Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

Unfortunately, health and money problems have made it difficult for him to stay in business. When I asked if he sold his work online, he waved off the idea and shook his head, like it was out of the question.

Giovanni’s work is extraordinary, but no one knows about it. He’s a gifted artist, but not a good businessman.

Ceramic bowl. Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

My takeaways from these contrasting stories of success:

Adapt, but don’t quit. Work through the rough periods.

Stephen King has had his struggles, including alcoholism and suffering life-threatening injuries when he was hit by a speeding van. He kept going.

Even if Giovanni closes his shop, I hope he figures out a way to keep going. There may be a better way.

Find your style, then focus on that.

Early on, Stephen King had to ignore people, including teachers, who told him he was wasting his talent writing his brand of horror/suspense.

Giovanni had what I was looking for and I thought the other more commercial stuff distracted from his amazing work.

Be authentic.

It’s exhausting trying to fit some one else’s mold of who you are and what you should be doing. No, there’s only one Stephen King and I’m not him. And there’s only one me and he’s not me, and there’s only one you and we’re not…. You get the idea.

But the question remains: How do you define success?

You may have heard the phrase: “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

As you can see from these contrasting stories of success, it’s not that simple.

We each have to decide for ourselves and it’s an important question, even though there’s no easy answer.

What’s my definition of success?

  • Keep writing and publishing.
  • Find my audience.
  • Be authentic and honest.
  • Keep things in perspective. My work is important, but it’s meant to support life, not the other way around. (Insight by Stephen King)