Celebrate Your Success

Celebrate Your Success

The life of a writer is not for the faint of heart. Every profession has its up and downs but, I think, those related to artistic professions are particularly poignant. I’ve never met another writer who didn’t question if they should give up. I’ve never met another writer that claimed with absolute confidence their work was brilliant and they never doubted. I don’t know yet if those doubts ever fade; I’m starting to think they won’t.

Everything I’ve learned about writing, I’ve learned by trial and error. There’s been a lot of muddling involved. Maybe there’s a faster, easier way to learn the craft, but I’m starting to doubt that too. So often I read that writing is learned by writing. You have to make all the mistakes, write all the horrible masterpieces it takes ten years to laugh at, and cry over all the rejection letters before the lessons sink in.

And just as often, I’ve read the key to success is to keep trying. Each new attempt offers a chance, however slim, this will be the one. But no matter how you grow as a writer, it can become progressively harder to take that leap of faith, especially when the road to success includes a lot of heartbreak.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in the four years I’ve been writing full time. I’ve written five books (probably six by the time this goes live). I’ve self-published two of those books. I’ve also sent queries for two of them, which was a huge step beyond my comfort zone. Sometime next year, I’ll be querying again. Each major project marked off my to-do list has brought great lessons and growth along with them. I know I’m a better writer than I was when I started. I feel more confident about my next round of queries, even if I know I still have a lot to learn.

But those lessons don’t quiet the doubts. They’re hard to escape and impossible to ignore. Every time I finish a major project, I experience a strange disconnect; I know I should be happy. I’ve just finished writing or editing a novel! I’ve just released my first book into the wild! I should be the happiest person in the world. I should be celebrating!

Shortly after releasing my first book I descended into depression. Not sleeping had a lot to do with it, but there were creative factors that contributed. I wanted to be happier, I knew I should have been, but I felt like a colossal failure. I had several surreal conversations with family and friends who gushed about how happy I must be to be publishing my first book. I smiled, nodded and agreed. Oh yes, it’s so exciting. But I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t excited. I was stressed. I felt I wasn’t selling enough copies, worried the book was total garbage, and found myself mired in doubts about my latest project.

I have since read that one of the most difficult realities of writing (and many other creative pursuits) is that we often experience our greatest lows on the heels of our greatest highs. For example, we finish writing a book; hurray we think, this was a big project and I got all the way through it! And then we read it. And we hate it.

Why does this happen? Because in the amount of time it took us to write that book, be it three months or five years, we’ve become a better writer. We’ve learned the craft by participating in it. At the end of a book, we know how to do the story better than we did at the beginning. More than that, because we’re better overall at the craft, we recognize all the mistakes we made when we started. And we start to wonder what we were thinking.

I guess this is why all first drafts are bad. Trouble is, once you finish editing a project, you might come to a similar conclusion. Because after editing an entire book, you’re a better writer than you were at the start, and the cycle starts all over.

I haven’t entirely figured out how to deal with my demons of doubt. I think they will always have voices somewhere in the back of my mind. I wonder if the greatest writers of our generation feel the same. But I’m trying to revel in those achievements when they happen. I celebrate reaching the end of a book. Yes, it’s going to need more work. Sure, I’m going to notice a lot of things I could do better. But these are marks that I’ve grown. I’ve succeeded. And, as so many people have pointed out, finishing a book is a big deal. Self-publishing a book is a big deal (even if only a few people buy it). Lots of people give up before they make it this far.

If you’re a writer struggling right now with your work, try to fight the lows by lingering in the highs. Celebrate your achievements. Celebrate your growth. Because these are the things that are going to carry you to success, even if it takes a long time.

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