The following article is the first in a five-part series of articles by Jennifer Haupt. In this installment, she discusses how to maintain your writing motivation by rethinking what “success” means as a writer.
I’ll never forget the first time I thought my novel was finished, after three years of hard work. My agent (at the time) sent it out to 35 editors, who all rejected it. “Well, I guess that’s the end of the road,” she agent said. “Time to start your next novel.” That was the first of several times I had to redefine success—or bury my WIP.
Many writers define success as publication, just like I did, even before writing the first draft of chapter one. It’s easy to do. But rushing your manuscript out the door can be a costly mistake.
“I can tell from the first few pages if a story hasn’t been well thought out and put together,” says Michelle Halket, publisher of Central Avenue Publishing. “If it’s an author I haven’t worked with yet, the manuscript goes in the trash pile immediately.”
Create Milestones of Success
I had to learn to create milestones of success—short-term and long-term. This has made me a better writer, as well as helped with my stamina during the 11 years it took to complete my first novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills.
“Finishing a book is a mammoth undertaking,” says Karyn Marcus, senior editor, Simon & Schuster. “The best way to stay on track is to subdivide the work into smaller units. “Your first goal might be getting a rough plot together. A coherent plot with a beginning, middle and end, with a setting and a climax is a huge achievement.”
I designated four phases of the WIP process: Finishing that first rough draft, completing my outline of pivotal events for the entire novel (draft #5), and getting feedback (from an agent and/or other trusted readers) and then polishing a final draft, and finally—finally!—finding a path to publication.
Your milestones may be different and that’s perfectly fine—whatever keeps you moving, keeps you writing.
Take Time to Celebrate
As much as it’s important to try and enjoy the daily process of writing it’s also important to do a victory dance when we real our milestones.
“There are dozens of milestones along the path to publication; a perpetual party,” says Rosemary Ahern, an independent book editor with years of experience at Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Other Press. “When the friend you’ve given your first draft to reads it and says ‘I don’t get it’ and you don’t burn the manuscript and immediately give up writing. When you send out your first query letter to an agent. When you push through radio silence from agents and actually achieve human contact and a bat’s squeak of encouragement. The list goes on and on.”
Make Success a Moving Target
“Writing a book is about playing the long game,” Marcus says. “So take it step by step, and see each advancement as the success it is.”
Even though I cycled through some of my WIP processes more than once, it’s the only way I could stay the course for 11 years and complete my first novel. Luckily, my perseverance paid off: In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills was published on April 1, 2018. Now, I’m in the process of completing the first draft of my second novel—and a bottle of champagne is chilling in the fridge!