After three years and approximately 108,000 words, I have a very very rough draft of my first novel done. It will likely take another two+ years and much re-work, editing, adding, subtracting, and re-writing to get it even close to a point where it would be appropriate for any other eyes to read it. But I have the skeleton – or rather, a messy collection of bones – done. The base work is complete. And before I dive right back in to start the next phase of hard work to make something of it, I’m taking a moment.
When we are small children, every accomplishment, no matter how trivial, is cause for celebration. Our first steps are greeted with cheers and hurray’s. The first time we feed ourselves, the first time we put on our own clothes, the first time we scribble with a crayon, the first time we go potty (not in our pants), deserves a prideful “look what I did” moment. I remember years ago, standing in the shallow waters of the lake we grew up near, calling over and over “Mom! Mom! Look! Mom! Watch me! Mom!” so I could show her that for 3 seconds I was brave enough to put my face in the water. From there I moved on to putting my whole body into the water, then doing really bad, unbalanced handstands in the water. Each time I called out to mom with that “look at what I can do” pride.
As we get older we still have accomplishments to be proud and happy about, but they are generally in recognition of bigger milestones and achievements. Graduations, marriages, births, divorces, major promotions, running a marathon (for those crazies of you who do that) – all well-deserved reasons to celebrate.
But what of the small things? What happened to recognizing all of those minor “yay” moments? As we get older and busier, our “smaller” accomplishments become assumed. We put more pressure on ourselves and actually are more apt to beat ourselves up for not reaching goals rather than taking a moment to feel any pride in the ones we do meet. What about the moments when we complete a complex report for work, or come under budget or beat a deadline? What about the days when we’ve run all over the place to chauffer the kids, gotten the groceries, taken the pet to the Vet, nursed a child’s skinned knee, and still managed to get three loads of wash done and make dinner? What about when we lose five pounds, even if we have 20 more to go? Or we tried a new recipe that came out well? What if we finally make ourselves go to an appointment we’ve been putting off? For that matter, what about going for an annual mammogram? Sure, we’ve moved beyond the “look at me” need, and often would rather not have that kind of attention. We don’t seek pats on the back and “woo hoo’s” from others simply for using enough coupons to get $20 off our grocery bill. But think about yourself as that little girl, who has managed to put her shoes on her feet all by herself (even if they are on the wrong feet), and that feeling when she stops and just looks at her feet, beaming with a smile and a sense of pride and accomplishment, remembering all those times she had tried before and now finally did it. THOSE are the moments we are missing.
All we need to do is push the pause button, even if for just a quick moment in time, sit back, take a breath, and be proud of ourselves for our accomplishments, even if they seem small. I urge us all to find something in every day, or every week, that we can use as our reason for a small “yay” moment.
As I look at the pages and pages of words in front of me, I know it is like putting my shoes on the wrong feet, or like I’ve got 30 more pounds to lose, or like I still have to frost a huge and messy cake, or figure out where all the bones of the skeleton connect… I’ve got a long way to go until I’ve accomplished even a second draft. And, typical of all real women, my instinct is to dive right back in, to not accept that I’ve come any distance yet, to keep plugging away immediately. And I will, I’ll get neck deep in it. But I’ve decided to take just a moment and think about how I got this far. I will think about all the times I thought about stopping, because it was just “too hard” to find time to write in my busy life. Or to throw it away after re-reading a section that is awful or disjointed. Or to give up because there are already so many other authors and great books out there, how could I ever compete? Then I will also think about how I’ve created characters with whom I’ve grown personally and emotionally attached, and actually think about them even when I’m not writing. I will think about how even if this goes nowhere, doesn’t get any better, and never sees the light of day, it has still provided me with an escape, and the joy (and sometimes torture!) of writing. It has taught me that yes, there IS a way to find time to do what you want to do. And I’ve set an example for my son about commitment, about extra hours even when one is tired, to follow a passion and have a goal. Just for those few moments, I will hit the pause button. I will breathe. I will allow myself the chance to feel that pride I felt when I stuck my face in the water while mom watched (even if she wasn’t watching and I thought she was). For just a moment, I’ll say to myself: “Look what I did.”
Then I’ll sit up and get back at it.