One of the hardest things about writing as a career, for me, is the lack of tangible progress. I mean, you can write 1,000 words in a day, but what does that really mean? What if you end up having to scrap 800 of those words during revisions? Do they still count as progress?
(I would argue yes, but that’s a tangential discussion.)
In writing fiction, the concrete steps of progress, for me, are to finish a manuscript, secure an agent, and get a book deal. But each of those steps can take months, if not years. I am not the type of person that naturally self-motivates for long stretches like that. I’m the type of person that loves daily to-do lists because I can cross off every little thing (fold laundry, email Ana, eat chocolate, meet friends at B&N) and tell myself I’ve been productive that day.
So how the heck have I managed to stick with this for… 2.5 years, if you start counting when I quit my job to pursue author-dom, or 15 years, if you start counting when I first realized/decided this was my dream?
Good question. Sometimes I’m not really sure, haha. But I suppose that my answers would include blind faith in myself; lack of anything else I’d rather do; and enough encouragement (both personal and professional in nature) to propel me past the many rejections. Even so, it’s hard to stay patient. I long for the future, when I will be a famous and prolific writer galavanting about the country on book tours, writing full-time in my beautiful luxury home, and swimming in a pool of money because I don’t know what else to do with it.
(Note: If you think this is really how writers live, you obviously don’t know any.)
As I said in my last post, I am definitely learning to appreciate the present, to enjoy the journey rather than obsess about the destination. But at the same time, I am trying to figure out how to motivate myself through the next 25 words, 25 days, 25 rejections, 25 books.
To that end, I recently created a spreadsheet called Milestones & Celebrations. Basically it catalogues X and Y for the statement “When I achieve X, I will do/get Y.” I know that sounds a lot like bribery, but I think it’s subtly different. Y is always something I couldn’t easily get now. For example, “When I finish editing this chapter, I can eat a bowl of ice cream” is bribery, but “When I get a book deal, I will vacation in the Australian outback” is celebration.
(Note: this is also different from “If I don’t achieve X, I won’t do/get Y.” That’s more of a… threat? punishment?)
I don’t know why, but thinking about it like this, thinking about the things I want and at what point I would deserve them, helps motivate me in a way that bribing or threatening myself doesn’t. Do any of you do this? If so, what are your milestones (they don’t have to be writing-related) and what are your celebrations? Since we’re sharing, here are mine:
– Agent: Verizon iPhone
– Book deal: website redesign, Herman Miller chair
Of course I plan to add more milestones and celebrations as I continue through my career, but those seem pretty lofty for right now…