Welcome and Merry Christmas, readers, to this quite delayed Being a Better Writer post! First of all, it must be said, I’m sorry for the delays. I try to avoid letting these happen, but with the Christmas rush being what it has been … I’m fighting to get a lot of things done.
That said, this will also be the last BaBW piece until the new year. That’s right, I’ll be taking the next two weeks off for Christmas. A small Christmas vacation for myself (and a chance to finalize those last few chapters of Jungle when I’m not at my part-time).
Apology accepted? Good! Now, let’s talk about today’s topic. I’ll be up front with this one: It’s not from the Topic List. Nor was it something I’d thought of until I realized it was likely going to be the last post of the year, and maybe giving things a bit of a theme wouldn’t be a bad idea.
So rather than talking about how to invoke emotion with your characters, or how to pace a fight scene, or set up a armory of Chekov’s Guns, I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about acknowledging your own accomplishments.
Good time of the year for it, no? Like I said, year’s end …
There was a webcomic special I read once (
I actually tried to find it for this post, but didn’t have much luck A reader found it for us!), about accomplishment. It showed the author climbing a mountain, fully laden in cartoonish hiking gear and working their way further and further up to the peak. Eventually, after much struggle, they reached the peak, planted their flag, and cheered.
Only to pause and look around them, face falling as they took in all the other, larger mountains with other explorer’s flags at the top. Then with a sigh, they start down the side of the mountain to the point where it intersects one of the other, higher peaks, and start climbing again.
Really, it doesn’t matter your profession or hobby, you’ve probably felt something like that before. It’s easy to look around us at the mountains we’ve not climbed—or maybe never will get the chance to—and from our perspective, suddenly feel that our mountain is very, very small indeed.
Which … Okay, there is some truth there. We should never feel like we’ve reached our limit with writing. Even as a hobbyist, there should be some goal we’re working toward, be it perfecting our craft, striving for a consistent output, or attempting to finish a story we’ve always wanted to tell.
At the same time, however, even as we look to the mountains others have climbed as a reference for perhaps where we want to be, we need to keep in mind the proper frame of reference for where we were. We need to remember to look back, down to the base of our own “mountain,” and remember how much work it took us to get there.
In other words, we need to look back on our own efforts and have some admiration and acknowledgement of them. Was your goal to write a thousand words a day? When you finally reach that goal, don’t flip around and focus solely on those who are already writing more than a thousand words a day. Look back at where you started, and how long it took you to get to where you are, and feel accomplished! Look at what you’ve done, what you’ve created, learned, etc, along your path to the top of that mountain you made for yourself. And then, when you look at the mountains around you still that you want to climb, don’t look at it from the perspective of “those peaks are so much higher than mine.” Look at it from an angle of “Wow, look how much closer those are after I’ve come so far!”
Now, there is an element of humility to this, as well as wisdom. There are those who reach the top of their own mountain and never stop building it up to be the unassailable Everest that only they have ever climbed. And there will also be those who, no matter the size of the mountain, will always be looking upwards and forgetting all the struggle and accomplishment so far.
Don’t be either of those people. Recognize the mountains you still want to climb, sure. But take pride in those that you have climbed. Look back on what you’ve done and see how far you’ve come, how much you’ve done.
Even then, if at first it looks like less than expected, check it from different angles. For instance, this year I’ve gotten less writing done than any prior year since I hit my stride. Which has been a bit disheartening … until I recall that not only am I working more hours than ever, I’m also finishing up a draft of what is easily the longest story I’ve ever written (and given what I’ve written, that’s saying something). When I put it in perspective, it’s actually something I can be proud of. Worked a lot of hours, suffered a horrible knee injury, and am sitting at 425,000 words with the draft for Jungle (there’s a reason it’s this long, but I won’t spoil it).
Okay, I’ll stop there. Perhaps pulling my own experiences to talk about acknowledging your own successes wasn’t the best idea, since I didn’t want to move into bragging by any stretch of the imagination.
Regardless, I’m pretty please with what I’ve accomplished, and every time I start being annoyed with myself for missing some mountaintops this year, I have to remind myself to look back at all the climbing I’ve done along the way, and the stuff I have accomplished … which was quite a bit.
So, as we reach the end of another year … or even another month, or another set of goals, don’t forget to look back and acknowledge everything that you have done to get to that point. Even if you missed some stuff, or the mountain you climbed still feels small compared to what’s out there. There may be something bigger, but … there always will be. So take joy in what you have done. Look back on the mountain tops and even the hill tops that you’ve conquered, and feel good about conquering them. Feel accomplished! Feel proud! Even if your flag is planted along several hundred others, you’ve still planted that flag there with them!
Don’t downplay your accomplishments. They might not be the work of a master, but they’re your work, the product of your blood, sweat, and tears. And you’ve spent time on them.
We’re writers. Sometimes its easy to walk by a bestseller in a bookstore, or someone excitedly talking about a book, and be tempted to ask “Why am I not there? How far do I have to go?”
And these can be valid questions. But they should never stop us from also asking ourselves how much we’ve done so far, and how far we’ve come.
Acknowledge what you accomplish. It’s yours.
Now go out and keep accomplishing. And have a great holiday season!
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3 thoughts on “Being a Better Writer: Acknowledging Our Accomplishments”
You might be thinking of the webcomic Dan & Mab’s Furry Adventure: http://dmfa.katbox.net/comic/233-always-a-bigger-mountain/
That’s it! I did a quick archive search, but wasn’t having luck finding it. I’ll edit it into the post later. Thanks!
I was chewing on this just this morning! I read somewhere (it was probably Sol Stein, but I wouldn’t trust MY brain) that between the people who will never be able to write well, and the geniuses at the very top writing level who seem to be born with the special talent, the vast middle consists of a place where you can raise your level of writing by sheer applied work and intelligence, from wherever you start, to just below the genius level.
You will naver move yourself INTO the top level, but it is a narrow one, and you can get pretty darn close – by work and perseverance. Close enough so it almost doesn’t matter. And that really is good enough.
I find most people write what they are, and what they like to read. If they are cozy readers, they’re not going to ever write PD James-type mysteries – but they can usually write much better cozies.
I listened carefully to what I am, and decided I’m very comfortable, after 20 years, with knowing where I am, and I am writing that kind of novel as close to perfectly – for what I’m aiming at – as I may get. Oh, I’ll pick up craft and types of stories and more characters, but I’m not going to have huge improvements.
We all level off unless we work at craft, and eventually we all level off at out almost-best.
It took a lot of the pressure I’ve been applying to myself to aim higher – because I realized, after i thought a lot, that the higher I was aiming at was both out of my reach, and not something I want. Huh. Especially that last bit. I don’t even know why I wanted it.
There’s nothing mystical about it, just graduation from basics into the higher, almost decorative levels of craft.
Writing is going to be a lot more fun. High standards are good. Impossible standards are not. And especially if they are other people’s standards, and don’t even apply.