Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How do you define success? An answer from author Theresa Milstein

Please give a warm welcome to Theresa Milstein whose short story "Allured" is included in the YA Anthology called Fangtales.  You can find Theresa at her blog located here. I for one am so thankful that I met Theresa through blogging. She is an accomplished, intelligent, and spiritual woman. I would encourage you to get to know her as well through correspondence and through her writing. In reading her guest post on my blog today, I was reminded of his holiness, the Dalai Lama and a very spiritual story.

On October 1st, I attended a program for writers, illustrators, and educators.  It was called Overcoming Challenges.  Authors Jacqueline Davies, Kathryn Lasky, and Lois Lowry were in attendance.  Illustrator Bill Thompson was also on the panel.  All four of them have received awards.  Jacqueline Davies won a Massachusetts Book Award Honor.  Kathryn Lasky won a Newbery Honor.  Lois Lowry won two Newbery Medals.  Bill Thompson won awards and was up for a Caldecott. 

When they were asked, “How do you define success?” I listened. 

Not too long ago, I wondered how I’d define success.  I wrote a post about it called “Making It”
Author Theresa Milstein on the left and author Jacqueline Davies on the right.

Jacqueline Davies answered this in three bullet points:

1)     Write what she wanted to write
2)     Have a lot of readers
3)     Earn a living as a writer

She’s recently accomplished her three goals.

Kathryn Lasky said she feels successful because, “Everyday I get up and re-invent the world.”

Lois Lowry said she feels the word is subjective, like trying to obtain perfection.  “Satisfaction is more important.” 
Theresa Milstein and Lois Lowry
Bill Thompson had the most poignant answer.  He thought winning a Caldecott Medal would be his measure of success.  When his book was being considered, he thought he’d reach his goal.

He’s also a teacher.

A student stood up in his classroom.  She collapsed.  Face-forward onto concrete.  He checked her.  She was breathing, so he didn’t start CPR.  He didn’t want to move her in case she’d injured her spine.  He had someone call for help.  Then she stopped breathing.  He performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. 

Bill visited her in the hospital.  She was in a coma.  She had a husband of six months.  He prayed that he didn’t care about the award.  He’d rather have her live. 

Eventually she woke up.

He didn’t receive the award.

He’s learned not to focus on worldly praise.  He loves that he can do what he loves to do.

He’s still a teacher.  If someone called him in the middle of the night and asked him what he is, he’d say, “Illustrator.” 

All of the writers who haven’t been published, what would they say if they received that call in the middle of the night?

I’ve had two short stories published.  I clearly don’t make my living as a writer.  My time is divided between so many different jobs: mother, instructional aide, wannabe teacher, student, and writer.  What would I say?  Would I feel like a fraud to respond, “I’m a writer,” because I don’t make my living from it?

I think about my stories almost all the time.
I will still write when my children grow up.
I’ll still be typing tales when I retire from teaching.
Am I defined by a paycheck or a role or a passion?

When that call comes, I hope I’m brave enough to answer, “Writer.”



  1. What a thought provoking post, from the quote at the beginning to Theresa's words. If I got that call in the middle of the night, honestly? I don't know what my answer would be.

    Off topic, good to see a picture of you, Michael, on Michelle's blog today :-)

  2. Michael, thank you very much for hosting me. With your added quotes and visuals, my post looks much fancier. I saw the Dalai Lama quote yesterday, and was thinking of how to incorporate it into a post. Now I don't have to!

    I'm glad I met you through blogging. You've given me insight about a number of publishing issues. Your blog is one of my favorites.

    Thanks for your support.

  3. Great post, accompanied by some interesting quotes as well.

    I honestly wouldn't have an answer to that phone call. I hope mine will be 'writer' some day, though.

  4. What a story about Bill! Sometimes things just need to be put into perspective. We DO have to live in the present and be thankful for what we have. Great post, Theresa. And nice to meet you, Michael.

  5. Wow, what a great post. I'm still working on being able to say, "I'm a writer," without feeling like an impostor--it was one of my goals for the year. I'm getting there, and this post helps! Also--thanks for bringing me to Michael's blog!

  6. Lovely post. We're so fortunate that we're able to pursue our dreams. I like to focus on that.

  7. This is an excellent post, Theresa. I love the answers everyone gave.

  8. Loved Michael's quote of the Dalai Lama. And I love the answers the authors gave about defining success.

    I love your answer best and am going to follow it too in defining my own success. Thanks.

  9. Great post! Thanks for hosting Theresa Michael.

    If I got the call, I would have to say writer. But then I'd have to say Mommy. How about Mommy-writer?

  10. Now that puts things in perspective, doesn't it? Thanks for having Theresa, Mike!

  11. Sarah: Thanks!

    Theresa: Great minds think alike. What can I say?

    Lee: You're definitely a writer if not one smart kid.

    Samantha: The post is all Theresa. I just spiced it up with some pics.

    Sarah: I'm working on that too. I haven't added a title after my name like "author" or anything because it doesn't feel right.

    Deborah: I agree. Right now my dream is to lose weight. So that's getting a focus for a few months.

    Miranda: Yeah, Theresa went to a very profound conference. I never would have expected this kind of wisdom at a writer's mash-up.

    Natalie: I actually have been wanting to use that Dalai Lama thing for a little while. It seemed like the perfect situation.

    Anne: Both mommy and writer are excellent answers in my opinion so mommy-writer is acceptable.

  12. Hi Michael and Theresa!

    Great post. Success is so different for all of us and no path is the same for any writer. It's important to take a good look at one's goals and desires so that we can be happy with the success that we achieve.

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thank you for your insight.

  14. I just found your blog through Moody Writing and I found this post to be quite beautiful. Thanks!

    I had a similar experience as the teacher, Bill Thompson.

  15. What a great post! There's nothing like such an event to trumpet out what's really important.

    And love what you say at the end. Passion vs. earn a living. Didn't realize how limited my mind was.

  16. Thank you Michael for hosting the ever so fabulous Theresa Miltstein!

    She writes most thoughtfully and with such emotion. Personally, I call myself a dreamer or an eternal optimist - I like being these!!

    Take care

  17. Well done Theresa and Michael. I appreciate you sharing Bill's story as well. Success is certainly something that is redefined from time to time--often for the better.

  18. Great post! Thank you so much Michael and Theresa!

  19. I love hearing different people ideas of success. It's always so interesting. :)

  20. I relate well to Jacqueline Davies goals.

  21. wonderful post Theresa, and I think its something writers have to sit back, think about and decide for themselves at some stage -
    love the imaginary world link:) Might steal it!

    Success for me will be still having fun with my writing in the years to come, it has to be fun, even when its tough I need a sense of mystery and play.And of course my stories published, please, beautifully:)

  22. Wonderful post and I love the quote from the Dalai Lama.

  23. What an inspiring post, Theresa, that really has us thinking about what matters regarding our passion and our identity. For me, as a writer, my idea of success is to be able to move forward with my work, in some way.

  24. Excellent post. I don't mind not thinking of myself as a writer, although recently I actually started thinking of myself as a blogger. But most often, when I'm asked what I am, or what I do, I say "husband," and then "father."

  25. Lois Lowry?

    That's awesome, Theresa. She wrote one of the three books that got me writing. I'd love to meet her.

    Thanks for hosting, Michael! :)

  26. Loved this post. Thank you both. I had a job interview today and I wouldn't mind taking it. I can be a store manager and a writer.

  27. I loved Lois Lowry's books on Anastasia when I was younger. I also love that quote about the imaginary world. I think that's what writers do; that is, we try to make our imaginary worlds become real through our writing. I think success is finding something that you love and being able to have time for it, because otherwise it's like something is missing.

  28. Michael - thank you for hosting Theresa!

    Theresa - what an honest, thoughtful and thought-provoking post :)

  29. If I could earn enough to cover my expenses, that would be success. :) Then I can keep going.

    Great post. Lots of nuggets to chew on. All success on the anthology, Theresa.

  30. Wonderful post. I guess I define success as freedom. And if I got that call in the middle of the night? I'd probably screen it... I don't have time for being pigeon-holed; I'm too busy doing what I love, and my first love is and always will be writing.

  31. I doubt I'd answer author.
    Success to me is making a difference to others.

  32. This is wonderful. And yes, people matter more than anything else.

  33. I will check Miss Milstein's blog. Thanks for introducing her.
    It is so true that getting your thoughts on paper is very hard. Sometimes my words betray my thoughts and I used to think that this was an old timer's thing. I guess it can happen to any one of us.
    Also what the Dalai Lama said is so true. I see tha happening with a lot of us. Hope we get to understand life before it ends.

  34. Being an author is a dream but raising healthy happy children would be my goal. I take being a mother extremely seriously.

  35. Good stuff, Theresa. I think my definition of success as it pertains to writing is like a moving goal post, but ultimately what I want to achieve as a writer is not money or fame but to know that my work is being read.

    In general though, I'd like to be someone who makes a difference in other people's lives. I see a few special people around me who make it their business to take care of others. That, to me, is also success.

  36. Insightful post about obtaining success. I think success is also being able to be happy everyday with who you are and what you do.

    Look at you in those pictures with those famous authors! I want to be in a picture with Tad Williams. Maybe someday.

  37. Great post, Theresa. I'm fascinated by how writers define success - I like Jacqueline's answer. For me, the goalpost keeps moving! :)

  38. Great post - thanks Theresa and Michael! Such an interesting question... If I had to answer the middle of the night question, it would be pretty close race between writer and mother and I'm not sure which would win - but maybe they both can :) Success, to me, is defined by being satisfied with what you're doing. A writer doesn't have to be published to be a writer. A person who is published isn't necessarily happy on all levels. So if you're happy in your life and feel good about what you're doing in your writing - that's success to me.

  39. "Kathryn Lasky said she feels successful because, “Everyday I get up and re-invent the world.”" =s awesome and true. Great post!

  40. I was just happily reading along, enjoying the first two answers and then WHOA! I pray I never have to do CPR on someone til the ambulance arrives... first, I'm not sure I remember CPR that well. How horrifying!

    but this is a great post. Thanks, T~ :o)

  41. Great post! I adore Theresa. :)

    I used to be shy about saying I'm a writer, but now I say it with confidence. (kind of...)

  42. Some days I wonder if I'm up for that challenge. It's so much easier to be a reader eh? Of course, the steady progression toward a goal is 90% of the joy.

    Appreciated the words of encouragement.

  43. Good post. Much food for thought, thanks! :)

  44. Wow! This was powerful and inspirational, Theresa. Thank you so much for sharing and for making me think. Hope you have a great weekend!

  45. What a wonderful, inspiring story. It definitely gives you something to think about doesn't it? I'm still not brave enough to answer "writer" out loud, only in my head, and on my blog, I guess.

  46. Great post. I'm always interested to read about what writers consider successful.

  47. One's success can be many things to different people: How we see ourselves, how our family and friends see us, how society sees us, and so on. And personal success comes on many levels and with different meanings. It's probably best to keep trying to attain new successes rather than bask in one's previous success. If we are truly successful, others will remind us.

    Tossing It Out

  48. I love that quote from the Dalai Lama. It's spot on. Also, I like Lois Lowry's comment about "satisfaction."

  49. Thanks for everyone who commented. I'll be sure to finish visiting all of your blogs soon.

    Thank you again for hosting me, Michael.

  50. Thanks for asking that question of all those authors, Theresa! I like Lois Lowry's reply :-)