Celebrating the small stuff

It feels a little funny to be writing about milestones and celebrations before my book comes out. It almost sounds like the kind of article I’d write 30 years from now, when I’ve got a shelf full of bestsellers, a trophy case jammed with awards, and a desk built to look like my celebrated novels. What’s that last thing, you ask? I’m sorry, has no one shown you what Danielle Steele’s writing desk looks like???

How do the kids say it? #goals

But if we wait until we’re at this stage of our careers to celebrate, we’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities for fun and, more importantly, for gratitude.

I’m going to be honest: there is precious little to celebrate as a writer. I’m sorry to rub dirt on whatever shiny plastic dream you had of writers sitting in some impeccable Pinterest-worthy office, typing out neat little sentences before sitting down to an interview with Vanity Fair. I mean, I’m still hopeful that someday that’ll be my life. But right now I’m ridiculously behind on revisions for my second novel (for which I still need to procure an agent – fun!), I have a to-do list that seems to sprout new heads like a Hydra every time I look at it, and every week brings more and more rejections into my inbox.

In 2020 I got 86 rejections – that’s like 1 every 4 days.

I have a short story on submission right now that’s been turned down about 40 times thus far, as well as a chapbook that’s gotten a few “close but no cigar” responses to various contests.

A lot of my daily writing life is about mitigating disappointment, insecurity, and professional jealousy, while trying to wring some coherent thoughts out of my tired brain.    

So it’s exactly because it’s so easy to fall into a pit of despair that I realized, if I was going to keep writing in the long term, I was going to have to reward myself for all the milestones along the way, whether big or small.

What constitutes a milestone? It can be anything. So I finished revising a chapter of my novel? Hooray, I get a donut! So I sold a pitch to a magazine? Way to go – I get a milkshake! I finally published a short story? I get a bottle of the finest $12 champagne Trader Joe’s has available. (And yes, I realize that all my rewards are food or alcohol – I am a simple woman, okay?)

If you’re starting out writing I strongly suggest you introduce a similar system of rewards. They don’t have to be big or expensive, but they should be something that’s out of your ordinary routine so that they feel special. Because finishing a draft of a short story is special. Getting up to write a 5 in the morning before your kids wake up is significant. Plenty of time in our lives is a slog: a dull and unrewarding cycle of work, chores, bills. In order for writing to not feel like just another thing you need to get done, why not make it special, and celebrate every occasion you possibly can?

And to go back to something I mentioned earlier, it’s also important to celebrate these little milestones because the celebration itself is an act of gratitude. Giving yourself permission to write is a small miracle. Having an hour to write is a small miracle. Having words on your tongue and at your finger tips is a small miracle. And by rejoicing in these little wonders, we’re giving thanks for them, and showing that we’re not ignorant of the magic at work inside us and around us.

You don’t need to break into song, but just appreciate it, ok?

So as soon as Dry January is finished, pop open a bottle of sparkling beverage and toast yourself, alright? You deserve it!

Author: Elizabeth Gonzalez James

Before becoming a writer Elizabeth was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer. Her stories and essays have appeared in Ploughshares Blog, The Idaho Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. Her debut novel, MONA AT SEA, was a finalist in the 2019 SFWP Literary Awards judged by Carmen Maria Machado, and is forthcoming, Summer 2021, from Santa Fe Writers Project. Originally from South Texas, Elizabeth now lives with her family in Oakland, California.