Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Shameful Secret - Why I Don't Really Celebrate Writing Milestones

This week the bordello is sharing how we celebrate writing milestones - how, when, what, with whom?

I'm a little surprised to find this topic is bit fraught for me.

In fact, I feel like I'm kind of emo on this issue, so I hope you'll all bear with me while I try to explain how I feel.

I used to have a crit partner who would ask me how I was celebrating this or that writing milestone. Usually the question would take me by surprise, because it wouldn't have occurred to me to celebrate. She and her husband would typically go out to dinner, for her various celebrations.

Not that I don't love to go out to dinner - hell, I live in the city with the most five-star restaurants per capita in the US - but there's a few reasons that doesn't appeal to me:
  1. Going out to dinner is expensive.
  2. Restaurant food isn't good for us, in general, and blows the calorie budget I follow carefully for many reasons important to me.
  3. We use going out to dinner to celebrate other events, too, like holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
  4. I've become a bit wary of using food as a treat.
So, yes, I know this list sounds unfun, but weight and health-related issues have become more important as I near that mid-life milestone. I'm more and more careful of my health - keeping the body fat and blood pressure down. Part of that is uncoupling the idea that unhealthy food is an emotional reward.

There's that then. Also, I have a lot of writing milestones. I don't mean that in a braggy way. We all do, if you count them up:
  1. Hitting daily word count. 
  2. Getting a scene/chapter/section to work.
  3. Finishing a draft.
  4. Completing a revision - can be multiple recurrences.
  5. Finishing developmental edits
  6. Finishing line edits
  7. Finishing copy edits
  8. Getting the cover
  9. First review
  10. Great review - can be multiple recurrences
  11. Release day
  12. Getting an award - can be multiple recurrences
  13. Making a sale
  14. Getting an agent
  15. Achieving some other form of recognition
Probably we could think up more. I've been really lucky to have a lot happen for me in the last couple of years, which means multiple iterations of all these things. Am I going to deviate from healthy eating every time?

No, no, no.

Okay, Jeffe, I hear you saying - you don't have to go out to dinner to celebrate. And you're right! I don't. Still that part of me that does couple food with emotional reward then goes to cupcakes or expensive wine or the like.

Also, there's this.

My deep, dark secret.

In the end, I find most of these "celebrations" ultimately unsatisfying. I tend to come away unfulfilled. And I think this is why.

Writers talk a lot about the loneliness of the job and the many long hours we spend alone with our worlds and characters, and then often years of rejection before we ever get any kind of positive feedback. That's just how the job works. It's one of the few professions where you have to work for no one for a long time, before you can convince someone to "give you the job."

Worse, even the most loving and supportive spouses, family and friends rarely get what it's like. They can say devastating things with the best of intentions. Things like "maybe you should try writing a more popular book." Or "if you haven't succeeded in a year, you should probably just give it up, instead of putting yourself through this suffering for no reason." (I know a woman whose husband said that.)

In order to make it through this, we learn to rely on ourselves. It's a survival skill.

When we complete a draft? INTERNAL BOOGIE FOR A SOLID 24 HOURS. There are few better feelings that I've encountered in my life. That rush of finishing is out of this world. And, when you run to even that loving, supportive spouse (the one who might have once implied that you weren't good at finishing things - I mean, look at the dishes) and tell them that you FUCKING FINISHED IT! They smile and say, "that's great - good for you!"

No, no, no.

This is not "good for you" material. This is shower-me-with-confetti-I-want-a-goddam-ticker-tape-parade moment.

But, like the person who scales the unclimbable peak, really we stand there alone - admiring that view that drove us to get there, savoring what we overcame to make that effort and do it. It's a moment of sheer joy in ourselves.

Maybe that's how it has to be.

The photo at the top is me at a beach bar in Puerto Rico. I was in San Juan for the day job and it happened to be release day for Sapphire. That felt like a bigger-than-usual milestone for me because it was my first Carina Press book, which was a step I'd laid out for myself in my overall goals. I went swimming in the ocean (one of my very favorite things), sat at the beach bar (love them ALL) and treated myself to a celebratory drink. The bartender, upon a bit of conversation, offered to take my picture.

I like having it. I look happy in a way that reflects how I feel inside at those moments.

However, if we don't count the bartender, it's notable that I was alone for this little celebration. Which works for me.

The thing is, once we get good at that being enough - and believe me, it's a necessary acquired skill - then anything else becomes superfluous. Even disappointing, if we expect more than that.

So, all of those 15+ milestones I reeled off above? I absolutely celebrate all of them. I give myself a pat on the back and take a moment to enjoy the view and the bubbling exhilaration of having scaled that particular peak.

Then I get back to work.

Which is its own reward, too.


  1. Was that the trip where the cabbie serenaded you with ABBA songs? I remember how happy you sounded in all your tweets!

  2. I tend not to celebrate at almost any point in the process of writing a book, from concept to seeing it on a bookstore shelf. It think it's because writing is like a high-hurdle race that never ends ... there's always another hurdles just a few steps further down the line. Celebrating the last hurdle seems pointless when there's another bigger one just ahead. I appreciate the non-writers who find this odd and who encourage me to celebrate every little thing, but I never have and likely never will. Oh, maybe a couple drinks at the Pulitzer banquet, but short of that, probably not gonna happen.

    1. Funny that you see it the same way, Ron! Yeah - maybe a really BIG prize. :D

  3. As you "near that mid-life milestone"? How long are you planning on living?

    Sorry. I'm newer to this empty nest thing than you, and it has made me feel a little bit past mid-life already. Not that I'm not enjoying it. I totally am. But I feel like the first half is in the books, as they say.

    1. I'd like to be one of those ladies who lives to be 110, still writing books and drinking wine every day!