How do we measure success?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

A friend of mine told me about a recent conversation she had with her husband which struck a cord with me. She is a published writer with a couple of books under her belt and, like me, she has young preschoolers. After spending a number of weeks in final editing mode, she had to work a couple of weekends straight leaving her husband in charge of the kids. He wasn’t, she told me, all that impressed about doing so and when she confronted him he said that while he was happy to help out he just hoped “she would be successful after all her hard work” (NB. The manuscript she was working on was not under contract). “Hmm…” she said, “But I thought I already was ‘successful’ – so far my books have been published!” Then she realized her mistake…what her husband was talking about, what for him was the true measure of success, was financial. He meant “let’s hope you finally make some money this time!”

When she pressed him further he basically said that he justified her staying home to write while he was the primary bread-winner on the basis that she was really a ‘stay at home mum.’ In other words, at least she was doing something useful – namely raising their children- while she tiddled around writing her novels. Okay, okay, I admit maybe I’m overreacting a bit:) but this started me wondering – if their roles had been reversed would the same be true? Would a women who was the primary breadwinner in the family supporting an author husband think the same way?

Given that a career in fiction writing rarely leads to financial success, how should we measure success for a writer? How should the financially supportive spouse view their ‘other half’s’ career? Is it merely a hobby until it earns real money?

Don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful to be financially supported so I can pursue my writing career – but like my friend I am also a ‘stay at home mum’ – my deadlines certainly get dropped if the boys get sick and, like every other working parent, I have to balance the demands of career and family – but does my writing qualify as a career or am I, like my friend, a financial drain until the writing can pay its way?

I’m throwing the debate wide open as my friend’s predicament certainly resonated with me, probably just as it would have in Virginia Woolf’s time when she argued for not only a room of one’s own but also income to support it. So how do other writers reconcile this issue? What do those who are the bread winners think?