Milestones & celebrations

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…

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15 Comments

  1. I don’t do anything quite like that. No spreadsheets LOL. But I do keep myself on the path to completing things by not letting myself start new things that I’d like to start. This is not just limited to writing. For instance, I’ve been wanting to paint lately, but I won’t let myself do that until I finish a certain home renovation project. As far as writing goes, I generally won’t let myself start something new if there is something unfinished.

    I think you know how I feel about getting an agent or getting a book deal. So much of it is out of your control that I would never set rewards for it. Although I have thought that if I got a book deal, I might buy this sailboat I’ve got my eye on… (you think that’s a good idea, right? LOL)

  2. I think that’s a great way of looking at it. Positive reinforcement rather than the negative. :) Terribly tempting to make a long wishlist of stuff though hmm… some kind of e-reader would be a nice carrot at the end of the stick… or an ergonomic keyboard…

  3. Sonja-
    I was about to get all uppity, about how these are CELEBRATIONS, not REWARDS, and that’s why they can be for MILESTONES (which are not always in our control), instead of GOALS (which should be). But then I realized I used “rewards” in a lot of places that I meant “celebrations,” so it’s my fault for not being consistent.

    Anyway, I think it’s perfectly fine to celebrate things that are out of your control (like winning the lottery). The whole point is to motivate myself to achieve the goals/steps that could possibly lead up to those milestones. Like I said, it’s a really subtle difference, but it’s there.

    T.S.-
    Yeah, haha, all my celebratory things are practical. For some reason that’s what gets me excited!

  4. Les

    Hey, bribery works…

  5. Haha, for some people. Honestly, telling myself I can have a bowl of ice cream after 500 words does. not. work. I just go to the freezer and get myself the whole quart and say “Eff that.”

    You know, maybe this whole celebration idea would have worked better if my celebrations weren’t so selfish. Let’s change “Herman Miller chair” to “Girls Night Out” and “website redesign” to “fancy dinner with parents.” :P

  6. Spreadsheets rule. Lists are great too. My problem is I have too many creative interests. If I had the guts like you to quit my job and write full time, then I MIGHT just have the time to tackle all my endeavors. That whole mortgage thing gets in the way, though.

    I always thought it would be great if science could get us all to live to be 200. Then I’d just take one creative pursuit at a time instead of trying to cram them all into my 20s and 30s.

  7. Jon

    Supposedly my writers group is planning a big party to celebrate our accomplishments this year–it’s sort of an incentive to finish projects. We’ll see if this pans out, but I’m excited!

  8. Trisha

    What about those authors who work full time, raise a family, are working on their third degree, earn a Nobel Peace prize and publish their first best selling book? Just saying….

  9. Mike-
    (Note: I actually do work 35 hrs a week, it’s just at a different job — a non-career job. And I’m allowed to write a bit at work!)

    I wouldn’t want to be 200, BUT I totally hear you on needing more time. Some people are better able to juggle all their pursuits — I was not one of those people, so I made the tough call to pick one and really go after it. Props to you for juggling them all!

    Jon-
    Sounds like fun!

    Trisha-
    Oh yeah, LOL, AAALLLL those authors.

  10. Great idea, but knowing you, I have a feeling that website redesign will come with our without a book deal :P

  11. Haha, shhh. I’ve resisted for quite a while now! I mean, I kinda like this design still, but when I have a book deal, I’ll need to be able to showcase things a little differently.

  12. Love that you have created a spreadsheet to track the Milestones and Celebrations. For me – I create lists to help motivate myself plus I have my family pushing me to “just get it done already, we want to read it” :) And I celebrate when I get a whole chapter written, when my son actually gets his school to do list completely checked off for the week and when I have followed through with reading my poetry in a public forum.In short I celebrate the little things because thinking of the big things right now overwhelms me too much.

  13. Hehe, guess we’re the opposite. But whatever works, right? We each gotta do what we each gotta do!

  14. Love this post and think I might do something similar with my photography. I think we all just get too caught up in the destination and how slow things seem to be progressing. In a “need it now” world, when things don’t happen for us as quickly as everything else happens in our life, we tend to become discouraged and disheartened. I’m impressed you’ve discovered a solution for this!

  15. Haha, I don’t know about a solution, but a … positive outlook. :)

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