what does success even look like?

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I took the summer off, almost entirely, from any of the familiar measures of writing productivity.

I fought this break early on. (I’m often really hard on myself.) But then I embraced it. As we say in my home state of Maine, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” So, much like the weather (especially the weather *these* days!), my POV on what success means to me in my writing life fluctuates WILDLY.

Here’s my best guess at what happened.

I got close to finishing my Gertie poetry manuscript and had a crisis of confidence. Instead of despairing — ok, I despaired a bit (wherever I go there I am LOL) — I went with it and reflected on priorities, asking questions like

  • Why do I want to finish this manuscript?
  • What do I want from the writing life?
  • What does success look like for me?
  • Does it matter how many times you pause and start over?
  • Are those separate attempts or part of one long life’s work? (and does it matter? who’s counting?)

I weighed the answers against everything going on — most notably summer vibes and tectonic shifts in parenting — and decided that writing wasn’t currently at the top of the list. It was freeing!

I’ve continued to dabble, taking myself on a DIY writing retreat and tackling a low-stress daily challenge from Sarah Freligh this month. However, I let go of the “musts” and “shoulds” and stopped obsessing over finishing the damn book.

So what did I do instead? EVERYTHING.

I got back on the bike. Literally. It’s quite a feat because I have some (irrational) fears about the whole thing. I haven’t ridden a ton but feel good that it’s back in my wheelhouse. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that bad pun.)

After a year or two “off,” my husband and I got back out on the trails. So far, we’ve done two, multi-night backpacking trips in the Adirondacks.

I leaned into a new found interest in keeping houseplants alive and growing herbs. I’m trying to be patient with myself as I learn what works for each little baby.

We got out of the house a little more than we had been (due to the pandemic, winter, etc.) and enjoyed local treats.

I turned 50 (gasp!), helped all three boys launch brand new chapters and life adventures and continued to settle into the new (to me) place. After 10 years solo, I’m adjusting to living with a partner again. This month marks the 1-year point, and I’m really starting to dig it and fall in love with this cute little house.

I took up painting again. With the help of a regular Zoom class, I’m currently in the “make a mess” and “see what you discover” phase (including incorporating collage), and I think I could do just that forever. (And maybe that’s informative to my poetry practice, too.) These aren’t done, and I’m excited to see where they go next.

I also apparently lost my mind and started posting (instead of just lurking) on TikTok. I’m actually having lots of fun being so silly. I’m focused on poetry and writing stuff there, so if you’re on the platform, check it out and follow!

And here are a few pics from the DIY writing retreat I did in June. I still haven’t harvested material from what I wrote there. That’s part of what I’ll work on starting in September.

The result of this summer of (self) love? I’m looking forward to diving back into the manuscript and seeing where it goes. I’m grateful for the time I took to reflect on the “success measures” I actually value and hope to be more mindful of them.

The only solid commitments I’ve made for fall are keeping up with my painting class and meeting with Jill Crammond a couple times a month to write.

Oh! And the to-do list includes this: Paint the garage mural! Stay tuned.


  1. I like this phrasing. Maybe it works for you. “is my life not poem enough?” So much for too much self criticism. What you write looks good to me. Actually it’s also your face. Happy for you Carolee.

  2. Love the process and outcomes that evolve in freedom. I need to ask your questions of my own writing and life. Always love the woman behind your pen. Thank you.

  3. I enjoyed reading about your summer of self love. It’s cool to hear about all the things you’ve done and I’m inspired to look for an art Zoom like you mention. Scary, though, because I can barely draw a stick figure. I do love collage, though. Have a great week!

    1. it’s possible it’s just a convenient reframing. revisionist history, or something. but no matter what it’s called, i’m trying to learn to be more gentle with myself.

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