Another month has come and gone, and it’s time for the March IWSG post. Today, I’ll try to answer the question:
How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/finish a story?
I supposed the answer depends in part on how you define writing achievements, or goals for that matter.
Head over to their blogs and check out what they have to say on this topic. And, if you’re curious about IWSG, click the picture to the left to jump over to their page and see what they’re all about. You won’t be sorry, I promise.
Okay, back to the question at hand.
Writing a Novel is Like Climbing Mount Everest
A lot of folks look at Everest and wonder why anyone in their right mind would ever be tempted to try climbing it. Others can understand the desire but say up front that there’s no way they’re ever going to do it. Then there are the people ambitious enough to try. Aspiring novelists are like those people.
We look at that summit, and we think, “Yeah, I can probably do that.” Then, amazingly, some of us do. Most of us, however, aren’t ever going to see the vista from the top.
Jason Reynolds (a professor at Lesley University and my graduating thesis reader), had a very frank conversation with some of us in the Writing for Young People program about the publishing industry and writing “success.” He didn’t mince words. According to Jason, the secret to “making it” as a novelist is to just keep writing. He’d written something like six books before penning one that took off and did well, financially. Today, he’s a big name in YA, but only partly because he’s a phenomenal writer. 90% of it, according to him, is that he didn’t let the fatigue of the uphill climb beat him.
High altitude climbers trekking up the face of Everest get to the top one step at a time. Writers get to the end of their novels one word/sentence/paragraph/page at a time.
We can learn a few lessons from those crazy mountaineers. Specifically: give ourselves a chance to pause and celebrate mid-trek writing achievements.
Every novel has milestones that you should celebrate!
I’m in the middle of my fourth attempt to finish a book. Behind me lie three partially completed stories. One was a just-for-fun summer project back in my twenties. One is interesting but an unfinished structural mess. The most recent attempt sits waiting for me to come back to it. I got distracted from it by by my thesis mentor, Chris Lynch. It’s a long story. If you want to read about what happened, you can check out my prior post here.
It has taken me a long time to realize that with each failed attempt, I go into the next project better conditioned and more likely to succeed. I’m like the optimistic but completely untrained tourist who decides it’d be fun to climb Everest. First time, I don’t get much past base camp before my body gives out on me. The second time, I make it to Camp 1 in the Valley of Silence (which should totally be the title for one of my future best-sellers (I did say I was an optimist, remember)), but blisters send me packing. Third time, I reach Camp 2 at 21,000 feet, hang around for a week to acclimate and then… HAPE sets in and I abandon the climb.
In this ridiculous analogy, I guess I’m also made of money, because it costs about $35,000 to $45,000 per attempt to scale Everest.
Everest climbers always take a week or so to hang out at the various camps as they push for the summit. They rest, hydrate, stockpile calories, let their bodies adjust to the thin air, and they enjoy the views. I think writers should do this too.
Every step is an accomplishment!
Did you write every day for a solid week? Awesome. Give yourself a pat on the back, crack open a beer (or a high end ginger ale in my case), take a moment to breathe, then push ahead.
Did you write all the way up to the end of the first act? That’s base camp 2, as far as I’m concerned. Take care of yourself in this moment. Crack another beer (or soda), relax and enjoy where you are in the process. Mull over the best path forward. Do something fun. You’ve come a long way, but things are about to get very difficult.
Have you just experienced a brilliant epiphany about your book’s finale, and now the route through the dreaded middle third of your story is clearly visible? My friend, well done. You’re sitting at 24,000 feet, the South Col, about to embark upon the big push to the summit. Take stock of your oxygen reserves. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (maybe not with beer, though), and smile with the knowledge that so many of us shall never get to where you currently are.
If you do successfully summit that manuscript, be sure to photodocument the moment, because whether or not your story ever lands on an indie bookshelf in hardback, you’ve accomplished something truly spectacular.
None of these points are actual end points to the novel writing process. A book isn’t finished until it’s bound and on the shelf, and even then some authors would argue it’s still not done. However, embedded within a book are countless writing achievements, each of which merits acknowledgement and celebration.
In my Everest analogy, I’ve just reached the South Col of the Mountain. For the first time ever, the summit is in sight, the weather looks good, and I think I’m finally conditioned up enough in my skills to get to the top of this thing.
How do you celebrate your writing achievements? Do you hold off until you type “The End,” or do you find spots along the way to stop, rest, and reflect on your intermediary successes?