Fulfillment Vs. Success: 5 Tips for Achieving Your Dreams From the La Jolla Writers Conference

1. You have to really want it and never give up.

That was the message of the 16th Annual La Jolla Writers Conference (LJWC), where I spent the day on Saturday. Not only am I now filled with inspiration and motivation to keep going, but I also took pages and pages of notes on practical tips to make my book better and advance my writing career.

The main lessons I learned though are applicable to and important for everyone, not just writers.


Andrew Peterson, author of the bestselling Nathan McBride series, was one of the keynotes at the event. During his lunchtime conversation with Grace Doyle, his editor at Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer, he shared that he wrote 5 novels before writing the one that got published.

When he wrote his first Nathan McBride book, he gave it to an editor friend for advice. The editor said he loved the character but the book just didn’t work, and he asked him if he would write another one (from scratch) featuring Nathan McBride.

“How badly do I want this?”

That’s what Peterson kept asking himself, and he encouraged us all to do the same.

“You have to really, really want it.”

So he wrote a completely new book, and it sold 2 million copies (digital and print combined). Five others have followed since then.

Lissa Price shared a similar story in her query workshop later in the afternoon. She told us to just keep it at. It was the third manuscript she wrote that got her a 2-book deal from Random House, which become the bestselling YA books Starters and Enders.

2. Seek out help.

But it wasn’t just toiling away on his own, Peterson said to Doyle. “I also sought out help.” That is a consistent message from anyone who has gone after their dreams and succeeded.

For writers, he said that begins with finding other writers to get feedback from, getting advice from editors, and attending conferences like the LJWC for guidance throughout your career.

3. The First Draft Is Usually Bad. That’s OK. 

One of my favorite lectures of the day was Books Aren’t Written, They’re Rewritten by Martha Lawrence. She began with the premise of Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft.” You have to assume that your first attempt won’t be great, and then you have to make it what you want it to be.

I feel like that goes for anything in life. We need to be OK with our first try at something being just that, a first try, and keep polishing and editing and trying again until we are proud of what we’ve done.

(Lawrence gave us a 6-step strategy to edit the “shitty first draft.” It was really an excellent lecture, and for the writers out there, you can buy audio recordings of all the lectures from the La Jolla Writer’s Conference).

4. Fulfillment Is Not the Same Thing As Success

The highlight of the event, which was the perfect end to an inspiring day, was Deeanne Gist’s uplifting keynote speech at dinner.


She began with a quote from Tony Robinson:

“Success and achievement without fulfillment is failure.” 

She shared her own journey of discovering what success means to her, and what success does not mean: It doesn’t mean chasing status on lists, more social media followers, and it certainly doesn’t mean comparing herself with other authors.

“Success is subjective,” she said.

Right now, for her, success means writing the best possible book that she can write. And to do that, it’s all about working on her craft.

“Fulfillment comes from writing a complete book. Typing THE END, and knowing I did my best.”


5. Learn Your Craft

She used the analogy of Michael Jordan. He can be the best player ever, but if he doesn’t learn the rules, he doesn’t get to play basketball.

“And the same goes for you, and for me,” she said.

When she first began her journey as a writer, it took her three years to write the first book that got published because she was so intent on perfecting her craft. (And to echo what Peterson and Price said earlier in the day about persistence, she finished that book in 1997, and it sold in 2004. Again, you have to really, really want it.)

Some of the things she did to work on her craft, and encourages writers to do, is to attend conferences like LJWC, find critique groups that work for you, listen to podcasts, read how-to books, books in your genre, join writers groups, go to talks and lectures… and, of course:

“The most important thing you can do to improve your craft is to write.”

She ended her inspiring speech with a call for us all to reflect on what success really means to us. “Tying your self-worth to achievement is risky business,” she said.


A Working Life: New Q&A Series

Work Life Balance Michelle Chahine Sinno Mornings With Minjay


I started this blog last summer as I was contemplating the challenge of work-life balance. I wanted to push myself not to get lost in “the haze,” the feeling that days and weeks go by as you go to and from work, rushing everywhere, and you just don’t know how all the time slipped away. I know a lot of people experience this phenomenon. I also knew back then that that the only way to fight it was to make the “life” part as mandatory as the “work” part. We have to show up to our jobs and meet commitments. So, I wanted to make commitments to myself: take time to eat well, cook, enjoy my home, enjoy walks with my dog, stay connected to family and friends, travel, read, and do other things that made my life fulfilling and complete.

That’s what balance means to me. It’s not about lofty, ethereal (usually unattainable) goals. It’s not about doing or having it all. It’s about making sure there’s more to life than work and career goals. It’s about making sure I start my day with a slow dog walk, end it with slow food, or a fun project like organizing my photographs, or a good book or movie, or a nice night out with my husband… It’s about taking the time to plan ahead: plan fun things for the weekends, plan trips to see friends.

And I found that by taking time to make time, I really did have more time.

It also allowed me to hone in on my own passion and purpose in my daily work, and act accordingly. The “work” part of “work-life balance” is just as important to me. It’s about using my days in a meaningful way, working towards bigger goals, doing cool and creative things that make a difference.

As I began to be conscious about experimenting with work-life balance, I also began to notice that we’re all going through similar small daily struggles to figure out the same things: how to live a passionate, creative life doing great work, while also being about more than that. How to be there for family, our communities and ourselves. There are so many people in the Los Angeles area, where I live, that have careers I admire from a distance–usually from across a screen (Twitter, Instagram, etc.). I wanted to get to know them, learn what “work-life balance” means to them, and make this blog about more than my own experiments. I want to make this a place to learn from others too.

For some reason, success is often associated with fame and wealth, but I find there are so many “real” people, who aren’t on covers of magazines, that are doing cool things that inspire me, and I’m on a mission to find them in my city, and other cities, and have a cup of coffee with them as often as possible (some of the Q&A’s will be done via email if geography, or LA highways, get in the way).


I hope this Q&A series resonates with lots of people. Stay tuned for the first post next Wednesday, and every Wednesday after that.

I also hope you’ll share your own thoughts in the comments section below. Now tell me, what does “work-life balance” mean to you?