Every journey starts with a single step. Every published book, novel, short story or poem begins with a single word. This week, I finally finished the first draft of my novel. It isn’t the first novel I’ve ever written, but it is the hardest and, so far, the one I’m most proud of.
I know that finishing my draft is just the beginning, and that now the really hard work starts. There is the editing and re-drafting, the search for an agent, the hope that one day it may be published. But finishing the first draft still feels pretty damn good.
As writers, I think we know that the process from idea to print is a long one. We’re in it for the long haul. But that doesn’t mean that the smaller successes along the way don’t matter. There are a lot of hurdles along the way to becoming a published writer, but there are a lot of milestones too–times when we should stop, take stock and most importantly, celebrate.
These milestones are different for everyone, but in most cases they can adapt to fit. These are my favorite moments along the writing journey where I believe you should stop and give yourself a pat on the back.
1. The first 10,000 words.
If you’re writing a novel or novella, this constitutes a sizeable chunk of the work you have to do. Plus, it proves that the little nagging idea that you couldn’t get out of your head was really worth listening to all along.
2. The first time someone says, “Can I read it?”
Whether they’re asking to see some of your work in progress, or asking if you have any previous work published for them to see, someone asking to read your writing is a big deal. Especially if that someone isn’t an immediate family member. To be a writer, you need readers.
3. The first draft.
Like it is for me this week, finishing the first draft is an amazing moment for most writers. The culmination of months or years of work, of sweating at a desk, at turning down invitations because you really had to sit and write that scene. It makes it worth the while, and it’s no small achievement. Writing a book takes commitment.
4. The query letter.
If you get as far as drafting your query to the agent or publisher, this is something to be proud of. Whatever happens next, whether you get a yes or a no, you sent your writing out in to the world. Good for you.
5. The moment when you get back up again.
We all have stumbles. We’ve all been rejected for work that we believe in. But when you shake yourself out and sit back down and start to write something else, or when you send that same story back out because you just know that there’s a home for it somewhere-–that, my friends, is when you should reward yourself most.
Writing can be hard. Most of us do it because we love it. And most our frustrations come from doing what we love around something else that pays the bills. But when we persevere, and when we succeed, then we deserve to celebrate.
So, if you’ll excuse me, my completed first draft and I are going out for a well-deserved celebration.
Helen Dring is a fiction writer from Liverpool, England. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing and is currently writing her first novel. She likes fairy tales, ghost stories and modern history.