Why We Need to Celebrate All Our Writing Milestones – Even the Small Ones
By A.H. Reaume
A few years ago, I got an offer to purchase a small personal finance blog that I ran. The buyer agreed to the amount that I asked for – only there was a catch. They would give me a third of the money up front and the rest in equal payments over the next year.
“Let’s go celebrate the sale of your site,” a friend suggested. But I didn’t want to. What if they stopped paying me halfway through the year?
“Maybe I should wait until the year’s up and I have all the money before I celebrate?” I suggested to my friend.
But the more I thought about waiting, the more I realized that it would likely mean not celebrating at all. A year from now, I would probably reason that it would be silly to celebrate – since I’d actually sold the site a whole year before. Waiting meant letting the occasion go by without celebrating at all.
What would it mean to miss an opportunity to celebrate? I wondered.
I’d started my blog as a way to bring in additional income while I was supporting my ex-partner who was suicidal for over three years. During that time, I’d come home every night from work, unsure of what I would find. Had my partner killed himself while I was gone? I held my breath whenever I fit my key in the lock.
The sale of my website closed exactly three months after my ex and I broke up and six months after he stopped wanting to kill himself. That period felt like one of rebirth. I was learning again what it was like to live in a world where I wasn’t constantly terrified that the person I loved most could die any minute. I felt free in a way that I forgot I could feel.
I started wearing fancy dresses after our break-up -- which had been mutual and amicable. When friends asked me why, I’d tell them, “Every day someone I love isn’t dying is a day to celebrate.” The dresses were a tangible reminder of that. I was determined to live by the lessons that the pain of watching someone I loved struggle for so long had taught me. Life was short and often filled with pain and loss – and I wanted to ensure I noticed and appreciated all the opportunities for everyday joy.
But there I was with my first significant moment to celebrate and I was screwing it up by letting fear convince me I shouldn’t.
I called my friend. “Let’s go out,” I said.
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Celebrate Every Damn Writing Success
When it comes to writing, it’s hard to know what to celebrate, when to celebrate it, and what it means to celebrate. I’ve been talking to a lot of writers recently about how they celebrate their writing successes and milestones.
Some celebrate the completion of their first drafts but not their revision drafts. Others hold off celebrating anything -- sure that if they do the other shoe will drop and something bad will happen. Some worry that celebrating a novel before it’s officially sold to a publisher seems presumptuous – since it might never get published anyways. Still more empathetically worry that celebrating their own success will make others who struggle to reach writing milestones feel bad.
When it comes to writing books, celebrating is complicated by the fact that there is no one clear finish line to celebrate. After all, you have to finish a first draft, finish about a dozen more revised drafts, send the book to your beta readers, finish another round of revisions, seek out an agent or send it to your existing agent, make the revisions your agent suggests, find a publisher, finish multiple rounds of revisions and copyedits from your publisher, and finally launch your book – usually a year or two after the publisher bought it and many years after you started working on it. If you’re lucky, you might be longlisted or shortlisted for a prize at some point in the year after your book is published and if you’re really lucky you might even win one.
So, when should you celebrate? I believe you should celebrate --at every single damn point in the process. In fact, I think you should find small ways to celebrate hitting your daily writing goals or drafting a poem. Why? Celebrating helps you stay motivated. It also makes writing a lot more fun.
In my side hustle as a personal finance writer, I often write articles telling people how to stay motivated to pay off their debt. Writing is a lot like debt repayment. For many, it’s a long, seemingly unending process that is sometimes painful and which involves a lot of hard work and sacrifices (luck and privilege play a role too). In my debt repayment articles, I advise people to plan ways to celebrate financial milestones like paying off a credit card or a student loan in full. If you can remind yourself of the progress you’re making and appreciate your hard work—you’re more likely to keep doing that hard work. Celebrating your accomplishments doesn’t just honour your effort – it helps sustain you for the road ahead.
And the road ahead is likely going to be just as hard as the road you just came down. In fact, it might even be harder. Maybe you’ll realize your first draft is deeply flawed. Or maybe your editor will want to make significant structural changes after you’ve already sold your book. Maybe you won’t make the shortlist for the award you were longlisted for. Or maybe something will happen in your personal life that will keep you from being able to do any work at all.
The progress on my current novel has been significantly delayed three times. First for three years while I was caregiving for my ex-partner, then when I got a disabling head injury that I’ve been slowly recovering from over the last two years, and finally when my grandfather died this last February and I suddenly had to deal with intense grief – and it’s physical impacts on my disabled body.
What I’ve learned from all the trauma and loss I’ve experienced in the last six years is that there is no avoiding things in life that can potentially take your writing progress from you. Challenges will come when you least expect them. And you might spend days or months or years -- or the rest of your life – dealing with them. You can’t control that. You can’t prevent it. But you can celebrate now. You can revel in every little ounce and bit of your writing success. Especially if that success has been hard won because you’ve been struggling -- or because you’re a marginalized writer and you have to negotiate oppression or precarity or inconsistent health.
Because though we wish each other writing success and happiness as though they’re steady states that we might all someday achieve -- they’re not. Our lives are seesaws. Fortune’s wheel is constantly shifting. You have to hold the good things close so that you can more easily get through the bad things when they come. So put on a fancy outfit. Go out for dinner. Treat yourself to ice cream. Get another tattoo. Tell your friends what you accomplished. Tell yourself how proud you are of your work. Heck, you can even hike to the top of a mountain with a bottle of champagne and drunkenly shout to the world that you’re a literary god who is bound for the bestseller lists (okay, maybe don’t do that – but only because I don’t want you to trip on the way down). Do whatever it is you need to do to mark the occasion.
I recently celebrated finishing a draft of my novel and sending it off to my beta readers. It is the first draft that I am completely happy with. It feels finished to me – like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. That doesn’t mean I’m actually done. More likely than not, my beta readers will point out all sorts of ways my manuscript can be better and I’ll have a lot more work to do.
But I wasn’t sure if I would ever get my manuscript to this point because I struggled to edit it after my head injury. In the days leading up to finishing and sending out my novel, I would suddenly start crying as I was walking to work or waiting at the checkout line in the supermarket. I had done it. I had actually fucking done it. I couldn’t really believe it because for so long I had thought it was impossible.
It was important for me to mark that occasion – that moment where the impossible became suddenly possible. So, I took my friend Maddy, who helped me finish the book, out to a fancy dinner and got all dressed up. It was one of the most beautiful evenings I’ve ever spent. Thanks, in part, to that evening, I’m ready now to start the next stage of this novel writing marathon.
Will some people think I was presumptuous or premature in celebrating? I’m sure they will. But what’s so wrong with celebrating and celebrating often? And why shouldn’t we goad each other on to celebrate each small and big success?
What I found so beautiful about the Raptors winning the NBA championship was how it brought people together who didn’t otherwise know each other and might not have a lot in common. For the duration of the playoffs, strangers cheered together. They celebrated together. They felt like it was their victory too.
I’m not a sports fan, but there is something beautiful about that kind of celebration. There is so precious little of it in our lives. This is partly because we don’t often give ourselves permission to celebrate our own successes and milestones and because we don’t get wrapped up in the successes of our friends in quite that way. Many of us don’t feel we have social permission to celebrate our own accomplishments and our fears about our personal lack of progress might get in the way of feeling joy at our friends’ success.
I used to worry about my own lack of progress when others succeeded. But now, I’m often the first person to encourage friends to celebrate or ask if I can do something to help them celebrate. Too often, they tell me about having complicated feelings about reveling in their success.
So, I will say it for everyone who needs to hear this: It is okay to rejoice in your success. You have the right to feel proud of yourself for your big or small writing accomplishments. In fact, it’s important you do. It will make you a better writer. More importantly, it will make being a writer feel better. And it will bring you happiness. It is these moments of joy which, strung together, make our writing lives feel less Sisyphean. And while celebrating won’t change the fact that we’ll still have to get up tomorrow and face a blank page or a manuscript in need of edits, it might mean we’ll be more likely to do it joyfully and with deeper satisfaction.
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
A.H. Reaume is a Vancouver-based fiction writer who reads too much and is currently in too many book clubs (four in total). Reaume has a background in feminist activism and an M.A. in Canadian Literature from UBC. She's been published in the Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, USAToday.com, and Time.com and is currently trying to finish her first novel.