How To Be The Most Successful Writer Possible

Why choosing a new definition of success could make all the difference.

Adam Cairns
4 min readJul 22, 2019

When you read back what you’ve written, do you ever hear a voice in your head? If you’re worried this might lead a group of white-coated docs to your door… relax. Not those kinds of voices… I’m talking about The Narrator.

The Narrator

I think we’ve all got one. It’s the voice that tells you you’re looking rough this morning. Or that the sun’s out and you should be outside enjoying the fresh air, not sat here at your desk obsessing about characters that don’t even exist.

Listen, mine says, spend more time dealing with your responsibilities instead of daydreaming about the cocaine trade (the subject of my current WIP).

I think of The Narrator of my life as a guy sitting somewhere behind my eyes. He describes everything back to me the way he sees it.

The trouble is, with what I write… my guy’s way too negative. In fact, he’s a nightmare.

Snarky. Ungenerous. Unkind.

Criticism Stings, But Self Criticism Poisons

Not everything you write works — that’s inevitable, but I’m someone who’s often struggled to complete various writing projects. Recently, I challenged myself to work out why. It’s hard peeling back the layers of excuses — but when I did I discovered my Narrator smugly sitting there stroking a fluffy, white cat.

I’ve been expecting you, he said.

When writing, my Narrator wins far too often. The guy’s slick and knows how to push my buttons. He’s always watching, understands how I work, what I think and feel — knows my vulnerabilities.

He’s good at temptation, showing me all the other ways I could spend my time which he claims are sooo much more useful.

So I thought: What do I do with this chump when I’m at work?

It’s a good question, because as a CEO (the day job) I don’t have the luxury of whining it’s not fair or giving in at the first sign of trouble. In fact, when I catch my CEO self hesitating at the door marked self-pity I have a stock response — a mantra I use that pulls me out of a slide into despair.

This is what I say: Don’t be a victim.

I find saying this to myself shifts my attitude. Maybe I can’t control what comes my way, but I can always choose how to react. It’s empowering to think like this.

What would happen I thought, if I started to deploy the same tough-minded attitude to writing?

Make Your Definition of Success One You Can Achieve

I transferred my work mindset — the CEO — into my writing mode to see what happens. Immediately I recognised there are two ways to toughen up, be more consistent and get more work written

The first of these is a change to my definition of success.

My New Definition of Success

Honestly, if you’d asked before me what success looks like as a writer, I’d be vague. I’d mutter something about getting published and then change the subject.

The CEO in me knows that that’s not a SMART goal — you know — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. It’s also daft, because success as a writer arrives in small increments.

The daily addition to your work in progress. The plot hole that gets untangled. The character who suddenly sparks into life. You know what I mean.

So instead of mumbling get published, I set two myself two new goals.

  1. Write every day, even if it’s only one word.
  2. Each week I must write a minimum of 3000 words.

I know I can do both most weeks. It means that every week I tick them off, I can call myself a successful writer — because it’s my definition of success.

Eventually, if I add one week onto another, I will complete my book. Then I can set some new SMART goals.

Don’t Be A Victim

Here’s the second way I’ve toughened up. I’ve decided I will not be a victim.

Next time something happens that throws my writing off — I’ll hear what my Narrator says. But I don’t have to do what he says.

I know from my work experience, people will have a go at me. Not everything I do at work’s popular — it comes with the terrain. You build self-belief and toughen up or you get hurt. Simple as.

That’s how I will approach writing from now on. Not deaf to constructive criticism — that’s foolish.

Just less vulnerable to unkindness, whether self inflicted or from someone else.

I’ll decide how to react to whatever’s happened or what’s being said about me. Not the guy behind my eyes. If he’s telling me something isn’t working, I’ll tell him — so what?

Then I’ll keep going.

Another barrier to progress is feeling too busy. I wrote about tackling this problem here.

Do you have a Narrator behind your eyes? What do you when you get down on yourself or your writing?

Leave a comment below.

Originally published at on July 22, 2019.



Adam Cairns

Exploring the intersection between good organisation and creativity |Blog | Digital Garden |