Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Real Achievement

A bit of an eye-opener today: an e-friend of mine wrote to say that I should be congratulated, that a 76,000-word, complete novel is a real achievement.  Funny that I'd never, not once, thought of it that way.  I've always been so hellbent on being published that the actual completion of the manuscript wasn't a big deal to me.  I'd felt, and still do to an extent, that if I didn't get the novel published, I (and it) was a failure.  Period.  The completion of it was nothing special--though I'd been through a bit of hell to finish it--and the only purpose of its existence was to see it published.

I now see that this was a bad attitude to have toward the art of writing, as well as towards the business in general.  First novels don't sell, usually.  Unless you're J.D. Salinger, or Harper Lee, or maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald, your first completed manuscript won't ever see the light of day.  More importantly, most aspiring writers don't ever finish their first novel-length manuscript.  They say they're writing, and they call themselves writers, but they're not writing, and most of these writers never complete anything.

I did.  I not only finished what is called a publishable manuscript (even by the agents who've rejected it), but I also wrote a lot more stuff and eventually sold a story to a print magazine.  These are achievements--not only the published stuff, but the completed stuff.  Novels, stories, poems, essays, etc.  Everything a writer finishes is an achievement, and as long as I continue to see it that way, I will finish more pieces, and perhaps sell more.  If I only think of my writing as a success if I sell it, than most of the time I will feel like a failure--which I had, especially during an eight-year hiatus from writing at all.  (For some reason, I found myself saying that to a roomful of professors and writers, all of whom expressed their condolences to me, and who told me to continue writing, that I was too good to stop for any reason.)

So I say all of this not only for myself, but for every writer who reads this blog.  Do not think of your writing solely as potentially published pieces; if you do, and if they don't sell, you'll fall victim to despair like I did.  Look at your writing as potentially living and breathing pieces; this way, once you've completed them (and I do mean fully complete, not just a "rough draft" complete), you'll feel as if you've given life to something that had never existed before.  You'll feel a sense of accomplishment.  This way, also, you won't be waiting around for that piece to sell; you'll feel successful and write (and complete) something else.


  1. I agree! I'm forever amazed by people finishing novels. I would love to write one, but feel paralyzed by the potential size of the project. One of these days...

    Congrats though, I ditto the e-friend, you need to give yourself a pat on the back, and an icy beer :)

  2. I would agree with you on some days. On this one, I feel that the mental focus shouldn't be on the novels already written, but the ones yet not. I worry that too much self-congratulations will lower an already-lowered intensity to write, produce and publish--and I can't afford that!!!

  3. I totally agree. Completing a novel is an enormous achievement, one that many people have on their 'bucket list'. While publishing is awesome, we have to celebrate all the accomplishments along the way.

  4. I suppose that it is an achievement, but I fear that if you just sit on that and accept it, nothing else will happen. I appreciate the compliments here, though; I hope I don't sound like I don't. But I won't be satisfied until I reach the next level--publication.