The View from the Summit…
I have a friend who enjoys mountain climbing. I don’t know why. Me, I get dizzy climbing on a chair to get the big pot from the top shelf in my kitchen. I’d rather watch old ’70’s TV shows and listen to Herman’s Hermits. Different strokes and so forth.
Anyway, my friend says that when you go scaling mountains you must focus on the climb immediately before you. The time for oohing over the scenery is when you reach the top, or at least a place where you can stop and make camp. To some degree, this is true of writing. Well, except for the cold, the acrophobia, and the risk of plunging to a terrifying death.
Tracking the milestones was a fairly simple matter when I first started out. I had some basic goals and they were probably similar to yours: To write a short story and have it published… To write and finish a novel… Then to have the novel published. Then… Well, there’s always a ‘then…’ just like there’s always another mountain. It’s human nature never to be satisfied; always to seek the higher ground.
In mountain climbing it’s probably easy enough to estimate your progress. I mean, you look up and you can see the summit so many hundreds of feet above you. Likewise, you can look down and see how far you’ve come. In writing, well, I don’t know about you, but I needed to be reminded.
What got me thinking about this now, you ask, and not in late-December like a normal person? Well, I’ll tell you.
I happened to pass a couple of milestones this week, both of them on Friday and within a few hours of each other. Sometimes you need not just one, but two rocks to land on your head, you know what I mean? You probably don’t. You’re probably one of those people who sends out newsletters and party hats when you achieve something fabulous. Good for you.
I need rocks.
Rock Number One.
Well, the first rock that hit my head was that I received my author’s copies of the new book, Sherlock Holmes and the Other Woman. It’s very hard to convey how it feels to see something that was just an idea, then a series of notes, followed by a set of pixels, transformed into an actual physical object. After months of mental energy, you finally have it in your hand: your book, your BOOK!
I wasn’t expecting it so soon; it’s not being released until November. Maybe the surprise added to my sense of joy.
What I found astonishing was just how thrilled I was to receive it. If you’d asked me a month ago, I probably would have said, Oh yes, I’m very excited. Which I was. But since it was my second novel, I didn’t expect that heady euphoria I felt when I opened the parcel and saw my copies nuzzling in brown paper, I was just as delighted as I was the first time.
In hindsight, I think it probably never gets ho-hum. I bet even now Stephen King can’t wait to open the parcel containing his latest novel. Only his is probably delivered by liveried footmen wearing white gloves.
Rock Number Two.
Thrilled as I was to receive my new treasure, I didn’t have much time to ooh and ah over it. It arrived just a few hours before the deadline for the Bruntwood Prize (for playwrights) and I was in full dramatic… uh, I mean dramatist mode.
Yes, friends, after working on it for more years than I can remember, I finally finished my play.
The last few hours were fraught. No time now to move scenes about or add another character. If I was to meet the deadline I had to STOP TINKERING!
As the deadline approached, I began to have anxiety dreams about the thing. I woke up in the middle of the night to add new jokes, make notes about how to resolve some of the storytelling aspects, and cut swathes of dialogue. Angst isn’t the word!
There was no time to stop, not even to do my happy-happy-joy-joy dance when my book arrived. This was DEFCON Three and I had to forge ahead. This is where you separate the the adults from the kiddies; the professionals from the amateurs. No time for distractions. The part of me that’s wearing a tinfoil hat and rocking in the corner, will just have to keep rocking for now. The play’s the thing!
Where was I?
Sorry, I’m still a bit traumatised.
Anyway, I did it. After years of writing, researching, rewriting and boring the pants off my friends about it, I wrote that splendid word Curtain and sent my finished play (what bliss!) on its merry way.
By the time I was finished my brain hurt. I was so exhausted, I couldn’t even write an e-mail. It took a couple of days of meditation, red wine, and chocolate to restore my equilibrium. Since this project has been part of my life for several years — years, I tell you! — I’m still coming to terms with completing it. I’m not even thinking about what happens next. What if they hate it? What if they love it? What if it wins?
OK, I may have given some fleeting thought to what happens next.
Once the brain started (mostly) working again, I started to think about what an extraordinary year it has been since last June. So I made camp and checked out the view.
Brace yourselves, I’m about to crow for a few sentences. I’ll tell you when I’m done.
Over the past twelve months, I’ve:
Had my first novel accepted, published, sit on top of Amazon’s bestseller list for Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and receive a healthy number of five-star reviews.
Written a second novel, had it accepted, and can look forward to its publication later this year.
Completed a 7000-word short story that has been accepted for a new Sherlock Holmes anthology. (More about that closer to the October release date.)
Finally had a short story published in an Irish magazine.
Finished a play that has been part of my life for more than a decade.
Still with me?
For me, these were significant accomplishments. All of them. Being published in an Irish magazine might seem like small potatoes compared with selling a novel, but it’s been a goal for several years and I finally met it. Woo-hoo!
But in case you’re thinking that’s me done, let me assure you I have many more goals left to work towards. I want to publish a book of short stories. To write a prize-winning, critically-acclaimed literary novel. To see my play produced. To break into some of the more prestigious short story markets.
In a previous blog, I talked about how important it is to celebrate achievement. We do it for our children. We make a fuss over them when they win the spelling bee, or master 13-times tables (do children still learn times-tables?) We decorate their rooms with ‘Way to Go!’ posters and ‘You’re Number One!’ banners. So why don’t we do that for ourselves?
Patting ourselves on the back when we’ve met a goal is important. But so, too, is stepping back from the ledge and looking out at the view every now and then and seeing how far we’ve come.
If you’ve been writing, even if it’s just for a few months, even if you haven’t published yet, but if you’ve been working consistently on your craft, I bet when you look back you’ll see progress. You no longer make the same mistakes you did a few months ago. Your vocabulary is richer, your characters more well-rounded. Well done! Just imagine how strong your work will be in another six months. A year. A decade.
So stop. Breathe. Admire the view. Then move on. As with mountaineers, writers always have more summits to reach.
And when you need a pick-me-up there’s always Herman’s Hermits.