Let’s be honest. I founded this article series on the belief that I could incite a populist movement to bring enlightenment and success to the downtrodden masses of starting writers, combined with a dash of charming Marxist rhetoric. Debatable as the likelihoods of that hope are, if you are a follower of the revolution, then we’ll all find ourselves at this point.
Define success however you like: a print publication; the first time you hear “Hey, that was pretty good”; a large blog following; or the completed novel you’ve been pounding away at for months. The reason we hold these dreams as such far off, climactic culminations is because we understand there’s going to be a good deal of work between now and that day, whenever it may come. We’re all going to have to deal with a lot of blood, sweat, and a few tears in our future. But with that struggle will come small victories, sign posts that say we’re growing closer to that high-vaulted goal.
Savoring the Small Victories
Anyone can (and should) learn this skill. Even if you’ve already hit the big time, a published novel, unless you plan on retiring and pursuing nothing ever again, there’ll be many more projects in your future. And for us at the bottom, my fellow revolutionaries and writers, we’re just beginning the long path to victory. By taking a moment to pat ourselves on the back every now and again, we can make the journey that much easier on ourselves, and that much more meaningful.
Let me pause here and say, this is nothing new. We’ve heard the idea since we were kids: “Count your blessings”, “Appreciate what you have”, etc. But we as writers can tend to view our odds of success as even lower than most, and while it’s good to have perspective, we tend to discount anything that isn’t in the “big leagues.”
Recently, I’ve been reminded of this wisdom. My poem, “The Artist’s Paradox”, was accepted into my university’s literary magazine, Gardy Loo. I was thrilled to read the email, and thought this was a sign that even more successes were imminent. Already, I had stopped savoring my small victory and fixed my eyes on the larger prize: the Aestas Short Story Contest I’d entered. But if I had had more appreciation for the organization that had appreciated and published my work, it would have lessened the sting when my short story didn’t make it to the final round.
The judges complimented the writing style and plot in the rejection email, so I can’t fault them. It just didn’t work out. In hindsight, when reading the names of the winning short stories, which all came off as deep and emotional works, I should have known an action narrative about a U-boat crew trapped in Loch Ness might not have fit in quite as well in the volume.
The point is, if I had valued the smaller publication’s acceptance more, than I would’ve felt like I was moving forward, instead of thinking the entire thing was a setback. Truth is, everyone has to start somewhere. Wherever you are, allow yourself a moment to look back and appreciate how far you’ve come. Ambition is good in many senses. Ambition drives us forward, but it often clouds our judgment by only pushing us to focus on what’s ahead. No matter how far we’ve climbed, if we only keep looking up, the peak still appears leering and dominant in our eyes. But if we take a moment to look how far we’ve come, the mountain won’t seem nearly as tall.
And now, after I read through the literary magazine, I can only say that I’m amazed by the level of artistic and literary skill my fellow students have. The professionalism of the design blows my mind every time I look at it. And to be the final poem in the magazine, to be the final thought that the reader is left with, it’s an enthralling thought. With the wisdom of this article made clear once more, I know it is an honor to be included among such powerful pieces.
So take a moment, and pat yourself on the back. No matter how “small” the achievement might seem, it’s worthy of taking a moment to appreciate. Allow yourself to take a breath, and then go back to clawing your way up the slope. Savoring the milestones will make the journey feel that much more fulfilling when you look back from the peak.