Editorial Note: Check out the end of today’s post for some information about a promotion I’ve put together with the lovely ladies at Duolit! If you’ve been waiting for the Holiday Fairy to deliver you a free comprehensive editing package, now’s your chance!
As writers, we spend a lot of time examining everything that can go wrong. In the annuls of this blog alone, we’ve explored beginner’s angst, a fear of success, and creative tension. There’s insight about building a stronger narrative, and enough writing advice for any indie author. It can be tough to be a committed writer, and I want to be here to support you through the rough spots. But there’s another side to the coin that doesn’t get examined very closely: what exactly are you supposed to do when things go right?
It’s inevitable–eventually you will work through the rough days, plot out your book, and finish your first draft. You will also finish your second draft. And your third. You will have a cover designed that you love or you’ll successfully query an agent. Someone will say yes. Maybe several thousand someones will say yes. You might not hit the New York Times Bestseller list on your first release, but, if you work hard enough, there will eventually be cause to celebrate.
When something good happens, don’t downplay the event. We work really, really hard to create, and it’s really easy, especially in our culture, to develop a tendency to shrug off our achievements. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you take out a highway billboard after you finish your first draft, but part of creating a successful writing practice (and part of being an emotionally healthy human being) is allowing yourself to feel pride and satisfaction when you finish a project. Especially when that project is as monumental as writing a book.
Let me be clear–this isn’t about setting up a bunch of external rewards to keep you motivated. Although you could promise yourself a manicure or a new set of rims when you achieve your benchmarks, most of us are compelled to write for reasons that are internal, which significantly reduces the efficacy of these so-called rewards. If expressing the deepest recesses of your soul doesn’t motivate you to write, chances are a sushi dinner isn’t going to help much either.
Instead of cobbling together a carrot on a stick, I would recommend simply allowing yourself to acknowledge that you’ve done something awesome. For some people, this can be as simple as saying, “Hell yes, I did what I said I was going to do.” Some of my clients have a special libation–say, a victory scotch–that they enjoy after major milestones in their publishing career. Others may enjoy a lovely dinner out with a close friend or a night in with no distractions.
Ultimately, it’s not really about what you’re doing to acknowledge your victory; it’s more about allowing yourself to develop a habit of feeling proud about your work. There are a lot of people who set out to do big things, but not everyone who sets out arrives at their destination. Sure, it’s important to have a well-crafted book, and it’s important to have a tight plot and a lack of grammatical errors, and you can certainly worry about those things. But completing a book–or, sometimes, completing a scene or a chapter–is also a huge achievement, and you deserve to feel good about what you’ve done.
If we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge the work we’ve done–and if we don’t allow ourselves to be thrilled with that work–it’s much harder to keep ourselves focused and motivated on our ultimate goal. If you put yourself down or fail to acknowledge the stellar job you’ve done, there’s not going to be much to look forward to. If you can’t feel good about yourself after a chapter or a draft or a publication, you won’t magically feel the stirrings of victory after your millionth sale.
Developing esteem for ourselves and pride in our achievements is just as important as developing self-discipline and commitment and motivation. We are generally very, very focused on developing strategies to drive our achievement, but it’s a lot harder to develop strategies to feel good about ourselves when we get there. There is never going to be a magic number or a magic achievement that will compel you to acknowledge your awesomeness because it’s impossible to validate ourselves externally. There will always be another milestone or another person who is doing just a little bit better than you.
Instead, we have to practice internal validation and personal satisfaction. And you don’t need to have self-published a book or be picked up by Simon & Schuster in order to feel good about yourself. If you can’t take pride in your small achievements, it’s going to be just as much of a struggle to feel great about yourself down the road. So start small. Start now. Acknowledge the work you do. Acknowledge the distance you’ve already come. And allow yourself a pat on the back for the hard work.
And, maybe, if this kind of thing is up your alley, a toast to your victory might be a nice touch. I hear the 1998 vintage is particularly nice. 😉
P.S. If you’re interested in self-publishing or indie publishing, I have a guest post about overwhelm and developmental editing up at Duolit. As a super secret bonus, at the end of the post there’s some added incentive (read: discount!) for those of you who might be interested in getting some editing started before the end of the year. And, finally, if you’re a recent NaNoWriMo success (or have a completed manuscript) and you’re looking for some help with the next step, I’m giving away a free comprehensive edit in celebration of your victory, so be sure to check it out!