I've been speaking to a lot of writers lately. People who have written books and are hoping to find agents and editors and publishers who love their work and are willing to turn their words into physical objects that can be found on shelves in stores and libraries around the world.
Throughout all of these conversations, something has become abundantly clear to me:
People are not kind to themselves. Writers and non-writers alike.
It might be true that you can't find an agent to represent you. Or perhaps you've found an agent, but you still can't find a publisher willing to buy your book. Maybe your spouse doesn't love the book. Perhaps your mother refuses to read it. Maybe your father thinks you're wasting your time.
But here's the thing:
You wrote a book. You did the thing that millions of Americans claim that they will do someday but only a tiny fraction ever do.
You've joined the tiny fraction. You wrote a book. Celebrate, damn it.
Early this week, I suggested to a group of unpublished writers that they throw themselves a party upon the completion of their first book. Lots of music and cake. Balloons, even. I also suggested that they hang a banner at the party that reads:
I WROTE A BOOK. I'M BETTER THAN ALL OF YOU.
Perhaps the banner is excessive, but I'm serious about the party. When engaged in a monumental task - writing a book, earning a college degree, raising a child, building a house, planning a wedding, climbing the career ladder - I believe in celebrating every step of the way. Positive reinforcement is important. If we wait to celebrate the final product, we may never get there.
Honor the process. Acknowledge the struggle. Celebrate each significant step along the way. Even if you fail to achieve your goal, the struggle is valuable. Essential. Life altering. Honor it.
That celebration can come in the form of a party (which I support wholeheartedly) or a dinner in a fine restaurant or a weekend in Vermont or even a night of wild sex.
If you're like me, it can also come in the form of positive self-talk:
The ability to look in the mirror and see someone who has accomplished something difficult and unexpected and unforeseen or uncommon and feel damn good about it.
That "I wrote a book. I'm better than all of you" banner hangs over my proverbial head every day. It's a fact I reminded myself about constantly. It hangs right beside the banners that read:
- You put yourself through college while working 60 hours a week and starting a business
- You married Elysha.
- You paid for your honeymoon through poker winnings.
- Your closet is clean and organized.
- You went from homelessness and jail to college graduate, teacher, and author.
- Your in-laws love you.
- You're an elementary school teacher. You change lives every day.
- Your children are kind. They love to read. They laugh all the time. They love you.
- You haven't missed a day of flossing in more than a decade.
- You've won 32 Moth StorySLAMs and four GrandSLAMs.
- You haven't ruined any of Elysha's sweaters in nearly five years.
- You're still teaching despite the efforts of a small group of despicable cowards who tried to end your career ten years ago.
- You've published four books and have four more on the way.
- Your cat loves you most.
- You teach public speaking and storytelling all over the country.
- You didn't make anyone cry today.
You have banners, too. Accomplishments worthy of celebrations or ice cream sundaes or wild sex. So often we fail to celebrate our achievements or the steps along the way. We discount our own success. We wait until a project is complete before daring to pat ourselves on the back.
I'm not suggesting that you remind everyone everyday of the banners that hang over your head, but I'm suggesting that you remind yourself everyday.
You'll rarely find me standing on a stage speaking about my own personal accomplishments. If given the choice, I'd prefer to tell you about my failures. My most despicable moments. My tiny acts of cruelty.
But in my mind, I'm constantly reminding myself of my accomplishments, great and small, particularly when the road becomes steep and bumpy. When deadlines loom large. When I'm feeling stupid or weak or incompetent.
Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.