Sometimes, in order to be able to continue moving forward, we have to look backward.
Not in the sort of over-your-shoulder, counting-the-regrets sense, but rather in a "look how far I've come" sense. And there's a big difference between the two.
When the journey is long and the outcome is ultimately not in our hands, it's easy to get stuck in the sameness of This Isn't Moving. That, of course, can affect our creativity, our attitude, and even our self-perception. Let's face it--working hard for many years without a tangible reward can often feel like idiocy at its finest.
And nobody wants to be an idiot.
So I sometimes make myself look back at my journey. I still remember--vividly--the night I changed my mind about never being able to write a novel. (My self-published book is a collection of anecdotal essays, so I had dubbed myself an "essayist" and claimed I could never write a novel.) I was reading a book with such an insipid, passive protagonist that I found myself thinking, "I could write a better story than this." So the next day, I started.
Just like that.
Of course, that First Novel sucked (like they all do).
Here is proof of the suckage:
The pantry opened on the right into a large kitchen, which sat directly behind the King’s Hall. Several cooks and servants were cowering there, hearing the frightening sounds from within the hall and not knowing what to do. As Nestar entered the kitchen, dressed as he was in chain mail and the Crest of Delthe, the servants cowered further. It dawned on Nestar that his Delthian armor afforded him a high rank in Nelgareth’s mounted army, and this fact might aid in his escape from the castle.
“What is the way out?” Nestar demanded.
“Through the courtyard to the stables, sir,” answered a rather stout woman, and she pointed a tremulous finger toward a door that was situated between the two large, stone ovens on either side of the outside wall.
“Get out quickly,” Nestar said breathlessly, as he ran, sword still drawn, toward the door. “There is great evil here.” In the doorway, he turned to face the frightened servants with real tenderness in his heart. “Your king is dead,” he said. “Save your lives while you can.”
(Now you know how much I love you, right? I wouldn't share that schlock with just anyone!)
Anyway. That was 2006. NINE YEARS AGO. That's a lot of waves on the shore, yes? And my writing has become something I feel good about. Something about which I can say with certainty, that, yes, I do write well. Well enough, in fact, that an editor who read my most recent submission (and who, I think, would have liked to buy it, but her house wasn't behind it), wrote the following in her rejection letter:
I think Em's voice, as well as the character development, make this a stand-out in the genre--I particularly liked the inclusion of Kess's character, and (Authoress) does a masterful job balancing these literary elements with lots of action (and TWISTS!).
I've got the above quote printed out and hanging on the small bulletin board above my desk. On really hard days, I can't look at it, because it feels too meaningless (as in, WHO CARES WHAT SHE THOUGHT; NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS!), but on most days, I read it and think, "Yes. I can do this writing thing. I'm going to KEEP DOING this writing thing."
So, when you hit a rut, and you feel like you've been doing this writing thing forever, look back. Read your first, wobbly scribblings. Recall the highlights (your first request for a full manuscript; the first time you made a critique partner cry; the day you signed with your agent). Then, after you've regained your perspective, LOOK FORWARD AGAIN. Because that's the direction we've all got to face if we're going to meet the finish line.
Okay, then! Have a fabulous weekend, and thanks for sharing this journey!