One of the most important things litigation taught me was learning to define my win condition. As writers, we’re hard on ourselves. Here’s a short list of the ways I’ve heard writers describe why they are failures.

  • I didn’t write every day.
  • I didn’t make my word count.
  • I haven’t written a novel.
  • I haven’t sold any stories to Famous Publication.
  • I don’t have a agent.
  • I have only form rejections.
  • I can’t sell my novel.
  • My writing is awful.

The list goes on and on. We’re experts at telling ourselves how terrible we are. Some of it comes from measuring ourselves against some other person we think is amazing (and very likely she thinks the same terrible things about herself), or against some mysterious standard we believe we have to meet.

All nonsense. Writing is hard, and often feels overwhelming. To every writer.

win conditions

I recommend that instead of buying into impossible standards and tropes and measures of success, decide for yourself what success is. What do you think you – with your family, your work, your entire life situation – what can you reasonably accomplish? Define your win.

Be careful not to confuse a goal with a win condition. You might have a goal of publishing three stories in Famous Publication, or getting an agent for Novel X. These are great goals, but you have no control over them. You don’t control editor of Famous Publication’s choices, or awesome Agent’s decision. That might be something you’re hoping to achieve, but it’s not your win condition.

A win condition is something you control. It should be reasonable. Like, maybe writing one scene a week. Or maybe 300 words every two days. Or having a half-hour a day to write, and the word count doesn’t matter. (This is how I wrote my first unsold novel, a year of a half-hour a day) It should be something you’re certain you can do. If it goes well, and you think that was easy, then change it to something a little more challenging. 350 words! Two scenes! You’re amazing!

If you don’t make it, so what? It’s your win condition. Change the parameters. Maybe you missed your win because work was horrible. So this week’s win was really about not strangling your boss. Still a win! Plus, no pesky jail time. Double win!

The truth is day jobs, family, friends – all these things require time, and they deserve our attention. So be kind to yourself, and do the reasonable thing. Accept that sometimes nothing goes well. That is the definition of life: Things don’t work out as planned

As much as you can, try not to compare yourself to anyone else’s writing progress. There will always be people both further ahead and further behind. Wish all of them well, then buckle down to managing your own win conditions, no matter what they might be.