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How Do You Measure Your Success?
by John M Prophet
How do you measure your success? Is it in the number of books or articles you get published? Is it the dollar amount of royalties you receive? Is it achieving a particular goal, like creating the great American novel, seeing your name on the New York Times Best Seller List, being seen as the main guru for all writers, or is it just seeing your work in print with your name on it?
For all of my checkered career life, I read mostly job-related books and never took the time to write anything other than business letters. I never thought of moving into the realm of creative writing. In fact, from high school to age 60 creative writing was the very last thing on my mind. It is hard to imagine now, how an urge to write creatively could have lain dormant for so many years.
In 1993, through some serendipitous event, mostly from being unemployed, and for reasons I still donít understand, I ran across an ad for The Institute for Childrenís Literature. I wrote to them and enrolled in the course. I was age 60. It was at a horrendous time when I was moving about, looking for work, taking exams for Certified Financial Planner (I had my stock broker license), and making ends meet. I found the ICL course incredibly stimulating, particularly having what little spark of creativity I had at the time, encouraged by my mentor, Mary Haynes.
I never in my wildest dreams envisioned subjecting my writing to a single person, let alone the public. In the course, I learned the structure of writing, point of view, beginning, middle and end; creating believable characters, the whole gamut of writing. I was as raw a recruit as could be.
Along the way, I picked up and adhered to several tidbits of philosophy. Each one provided and still provides me with the basis on which I judge my success:
1. I learned in seminars about teaching children with serious emotional problems that an important stage in the learning process is coping with feelings of incompetence. To attain a skill one must first deal with being incompetent until a certain level of mastery is gained. How true that was when as a raw recruit in ICL. I could barely live with myself.
2. In teaching children in Headstart and dealing with parents Iím OK, Youíre OK was the key reference book. I learned that in dealing with adults in any situation care must be taken to stay in the adult, not react from the child within me. Mary Haynes and I related as adults. I learned not to feel put down just because she critiqued my work. And today, I know I am successful at doing that no matter what arises in my writing.
3. Along that same line, I read "Be the Person You Were Meant To Be" but, out of that I learned that relationships with children are best developed when they are treated now as the persons they are expected to be. If I want the boy to be a gentleman, I treat him that way, with respect and honor. The carryover to that is in the Foreword to my second book and reflects my thinking and purpose in using teens as my main characters.
4. "As A Man Thinketh," by James Allen is an essay that has been my bible throughout my adult life. When he speaks about my condition now as being the result of thinking long ago, it reminds me constantly that positive thinking now brings positive results down the road. While I am not perfect, I am happy with the level I have achieved in this.
5. From flying in the Navy, I learned from top pilots that when an emergency occurs, the first response is hands off everything until the nature of the emergency is determined. Sometimes reactions are reflex from training, so a response may seem immediate. But, in management, or in accepting rejections, I have learned not to react immediately. Instead of putting myself down, which would probably be the first reaction, I give it some time.
6.In Pensacola Florida, I was thrown into a teaching situation, a Masters degree program, with the top ten pilots in the training command, graduates of the top universities in the country. As expected, they were far beyond my reach in technological knowledge, however, I found that they were incredibly inept at writing research papers. By adapting to their needs, I was able to give them a methodology for presenting research material. I did not have to grade on content, only on presentation.
7. In the absence of a serious mentor, I formed my own organization chart with my own mentors for each area of my life, e.g. spiritual, financial, and more. Such names as Andrew Carnegie, James Allen and others formed my organization of mentors. I read about them and adapted the best of their thinking to my own situation.
From that experience, and armed with my mentors I began writing my first book, originally titled Scandalous Coverups, later changed to Mystery at Salt Marsh Bridge. I started in 1994 and finished it after six years of struggle.
Through another serendipitous event, I discovered iuniverse.com. At age 67, I had no vision at all of being published mainstream. Even if accepted, the process takes two years or more. I didnít think Iíd live that long. The struggle to prepare my book (and my head) for publication was another creative process entirely. Editing was a gruesome task. I didnít even want anyone touching my work. But, warts and all, I sent it in.
Mystery at Salt Marsh Bridge, A Casey Miller Mystery for young adults was published in March, 2001. The process of marketing my book is yet another, different creative process and a completely different learning problem. Between March, 2001 and December, 2001, a period of eight months, I completed my second book, Body in the Salt Marsh, another young adult, Casey Miller Mystery. Both books are 65,000 words in length. In my mind, book two is considerably better than book one. My web site at www.authorsden.com/johnprophet is testimony to the newspaper coverage and reviews Iíve received.
In coping with the demands in your life, trying to achieve a balance, trying to perfect the craft of writing, or trying to be all things to all people, one needs, I think, a basic philosophy to fall back on.
How do I measure my success? Just seeing Mystery at Salt Marsh Bridge in print was like having a new baby in the house. I couldnít keep my eyes off it. Now, Iím retired and little by little Iím composing articles for childrenís books, writing book three, and in some small way trying to give back and share some of the wisdom Iíve gained along the way. Somebody was right. The journey is more rewarding than the outcome.
John Prophet holds a Masters degree in Special Education from Boston University. His professional experience in the field of education covers a wide variety of age groups in a variety of settings from Headstart to public school, to psychiatric clinic to college level. He retired as a Commander in the Naval Reserve. He has published two books, Mystery at Salt Marsh Bridge in 2001, and most recently, Body in the Salt Marsh in 2002, both are Casey Miller Mysteries, both young adult. John is retired, married, living on Cape Cod.