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May 28, 2019

Stop and Smell the Sense of Accomplishment

Overhead view of smiling girl on grass with arms spread out with text: Celebrate Your Accomplishments!

At certain points in our life, we get lots of encouragement and feedback to create a sense of accomplishment. At other points, we have to create that sense ourselves.

This time of year, we’re surrounded by reminders that some have been able to check things off on the to-do list of life. Millions of students are graduating this spring in a celebration of completing one step and preparing for the next. Whether they’re graduating from kindergarten, high school, or college, those students are able to definitively consider one stage of their life done.

Everything is about moving forward (whether they want to or not). So the sense of completion for the previous stage is obvious.

But outside of graduation or retirement milestones, we often don’t have as many points that force us to put one stage behind us and focus on the future. Those milestones also force us to stop and recognize the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing something, so without those points, we can forget to give ourselves credit.

It’s important to feel a sense of accomplishment, however. Without it, our life as an adult can feel like an endless slog. So let’s take a look at some of the ways we can “graduate” from one stage of our writing life to the next. *smile*

Why Do We Need to Recognize Our Accomplishments?

As we talked about last year, our writing career doesn’t usually have a point where we can say we’re done, we’ve reached our goal, and we’re packing everything away. If we don’t think of writing as a journey, we might not feel successful until we’ve reached a destination.

Do we ever let ourselves celebrate? Or do we just tell ourselves we're not “there” yet? Click To TweetBut what would that destination be? Is it when we’ve finished a book? Gotten an agent? A publisher? Published a book? Published 5 books? Hit a list? Seen a story of ours read “in the wild”? Have fans begging for more?

The goalposts can keep moving further away. I know all too well how focusing on the next goal and the next can prevent us from enjoying the here and now. It can be hard to celebrate milestones and accomplishments along the way if we’re constantly telling ourselves we’re not “there” yet.

That’s why it’s so important to consciously remind ourselves to enjoy the journey occasionally. Stopping to recognize milestones and things to celebrate can help prevent us from focusing on a non-existent destination for our career.

Events We Could Celebrate in Our Writing Career

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. We could celebrate when…

We Finish a First Draft of a Book

As newbie writers, the first thing that usually gives us a sense of accomplishment is finishing a draft of a story. This step often makes us feel like a real writer.

How can we feel like we've “graduated” to the next level of our skills? Click To TweetWe’ve taken a story idea from our head and turned it into something others can read. That’s huge and definitely worthy of celebrating, but some of us don’t take the time to recognize the sense of accomplishment with that milestone. *raises hand* Instead we might think only of all the work left to go on our story, everything we need to fix or revise.

While that’s understandable, we still “birthed” something from nothing, and that should make us proud. Especially with the first time we finish a story, that’s a graduation point along our career, where we graduate from writer to storyteller.

We Publish a Book

The other most obvious milestone is publishing a book. The first time we cross this threshold, we graduate to officially being an author.

Not only have we written a book, but we’ve improved it enough to make it publishable and enjoyable to readers. We’ve successfully turned our story idea into something final and permanent.

That sense of calling our story “done” before we publish helps us recognize the accomplishment. We’re no longer thinking of the future edits we need to make, as we did during the draft milestone.

However, we might instead focus our forward attention on marketing, promotion, or selling our story. In other words, even once we publish, we often have a hard time truly saying goodbye to a story, but that shouldn’t stop us from stopping and celebrating the achievement anyway. *smile*

Other Milestones to Recognize

There are a lot of other achievements we can celebrate other than just those two. And each one provides a “graduation” point that we could recognize along the path of our career.

  • Our First Complete Story Idea:
    Some writers start off writing fan fiction, where they don’t have to come up with all the same types of character development details of original fiction writers. This distinction helps point out that when we get a complete story idea—plot and characters—is a step along the path of being an author.
  • Overcoming Our First Storytelling Issue:
    It’s normal to get stuck when we draft a new story. We might not know where the plot should go next, or we might struggle to complete a character’s arc. Many aspiring authors would give up at that point, with some figuring they simply weren’t cut out to be an author. So when we figure out a way to get unstuck, we’ve proven that we’re capable of improving our ideas, which is necessary for our career.
  • We Complete an Edit on a Story:
    We’ve probably all heard the saying that writing is 90% rewriting. The percentage itself isn’t important, but the idea that we need to be able to edit and improve our writing is true. So the first time we complete a full edit on a story, we’ve taken an important step in being more than just a writer who drafts.
  • We Make Progress on Our Learning Curve:
    The learning curve to be an author is huge, much larger than we realize. We often have to learn hundreds of new craft skills and writing techniques, at the story, scene, and sentence levels. Each new skill we learn is an accomplishment that can’t be taken away from us. Rather than focusing on how far we still have to go, we can think about how far we’ve come.
  • We Don’t Give Up Despite Slow Progress:
    It’s easy to be frustrated by slow progress, whether that’s with our learning curve, our writing word count, or our sales figures. Those who come to the career with get-rich-quick schemes fueling their goals often quit. However, the rest of us who learn the lesson that slow progress is better than no progress, those of us who don’t give up or quit…we’ve avoided failure, and that’s something to celebrate.
  • We Figure Out Our Goals and/or Measures of Success:
    Some people who never feel a sense of accomplishment run into the problem because they’ve never thought about what their goals are, or what measurements they’re using to determine their level of success. Like I’ve said about the value of writing our business plan, knowing what we’re aiming for can help us reach that point. In other words, accomplishing this step “graduates” us to being more of a professional writer, thinking about our writing as a career.
  • We Feel Validated in Some Way:
    Writers often struggle to feel validated because our career can be so solitary and filled with self-doubt. So every type of validation we encounter is something to celebrate. That validation could come in the form of getting an agent or publisher, winning contests, receiving a letter from a reader, reaching certain sales figures, getting good reviews (or a certain number of reviews). Each type of validation is a milestone that we hadn’t reached before.
  • We Finish and/or Publish a Second (or Third, Fourth, etc.) Story:
    We often hear about one-hit wonders from the music world, and writers can worry about that problem as well. “Maybe that first story we were successful with was just a fluke” and so on. Being successful with our writing the second, third, fourth, or whatever time can call for celebration each time, as we once again reach one of the above milestones.

Of course in addition to all those, we can add in accomplishments for post-publication, such as our sales numbers, number of reviews, seeing readers excited on social media, etc. However, those are often more out of our control and this post was already long enough. *grin*

My point is that even if we never become a bestseller, we still have plenty to celebrate. Our goals and to-do lists shouldn’t exist just to make us feel guilty or like we haven’t reached a point where we’ve earned a celebration yet. Instead, we should take the time occasionally to stop and give ourselves credit for whatever we did accomplish. *smile*

Do you think the idea of “graduation” can help us feel like we’ve completed and accomplished something? Do you struggle to feel a sense of accomplishment with writing? Is part of that struggle due to not taking the time to recognize milestones you pass? Could thinking of these milestones as “graduation” points in your career help with a sense of completion or accomplishment? Can you think of other graduation-type milestones to add to the list?

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Mike

Yes, some kind of celebration is a necessity for writers, who have to endure many rejections until one of their mss finds a little love in the slush pile. When a publication day (finally!) rolls around, or when I receive an acceptance email, I’ll play “White Hot,” Tom Cochrane’s tribute to the poet Rimbaud. Ah, the memories …

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Mike, just my twopence worth – publish independently on Kindle. Worth it. And get on with writing the next books. Those publishers are just holding you back from getting on with your life, and they are never going to give you back those years.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Thanks, Jami. Amid the self-centred writer goals, we could add: posting our first 50 or 100 reviews of other books on Goodreads or Amazon. Help other authors and you will be helped. Review writing is actually a valuable training as it forces you to sum up a book and your thoughts in a succint, comprehensible manner. Write one a day before you get stuck in to your own writing, and I can pretty much guarantee you won’t feel any writer’s block.

Sieran

I love that idea, Clare! Nowadays I review everything I read, including textbooks, lol. Writing these reviews helps me think more deeply about what I appreciated or didn’t appreciate in the stories or books.

Sieran

Yes, savoring our successes is something that many people forget to do. In fact, I feel that some people only count “big” things as successes, e.g. winning a medal, being accepted by an agent or a hot-shot publisher, becoming a bestseller, etc. So it was good to see you list some other smaller, but still laudable achievement milestones, such as finishing a draft. (If you finish a book or even a short story, you are already far ahead of most aspiring writers, lol. But it’s not about comparing ourselves to others and wanting to be the very best, like the Pokemon motto, right? Not that you can’t aspire to be the best, but we can still have a happy and enriching writing career even without being at the top of our field.) The milestone I resonate most with right now, is getting to a new level on the learning curve. I love learning for the sake of learning, so it is always very exciting to see improvements in my skills and knowledge! Recently, instead of ploughing forward in a mad chase for speed and productivity, I’ve changed my ways and became more focused on learning. I know that my main weakness is setting description, especially for indoor places, so I’ve been doing writing exercises to practice this skill, and I’m rereading some books to closely observe how authors handle their descriptions. I’m happy to say that I’ve made some progress on my weakness already, and I’m proud of myself for…  — Read More »

Kassandra Lamb

Love this post, Jami!! Yes, we need to stop and experience that sense of success and accomplishment, because it isn’t quite so obvious for us authors as other milestones in life. Last week I released my 24th story. Yesterday, it received its first “verified purchase” review and it was a five-star doozie!

I really felt that sense of accomplishment much more than I have in recent years. It felt wonderful!!

Colonialist

Celebrate, yes, but don’t stop! . . .
Well, maybe a brief break!

Click to grab Stone-Cold Heart now!