Monday, 2 December 2013

Celebrate your writing

Thousands of NaNoWriMo writers have just slumped over their laptops, exhausted and triumphant after a month-long novel-writing sprint. (And whether or not you "won", you should feel triumphant if you wrote significantly more than usual.) It's time for all NaNoWriMo writers to celebrate and for all writers to remember the value of celebrating. So here's why celebrating matters and some ideas of what to do, and then on Wednesday the wonders of how to make a book thing out of your freshly finished writing.

Celebrating matters

We promise ourselves the moment of celebration, luring ourselves onwards with those sunlit uplands, and then when the time comes to celebrate, we often don't. There are lots of adult things that need to be done and celebrating, well, it doesn't really matter, does it, not the way that housework and jobs do... Actually, it matters hugely. You promise yourself that celebration while you're working because you know that it matters. It motivates you to keep going when you get stuck. If you renege on that promise, then the next time you try to motivate yourself with promised sunlit uplands, it won't work so well. The little you inside will be muttering, "Well, yes, she says we get cake tomorrow, but we don't, do we? Harrumph!" Each time you cancel the promised celebration, your future self loses even more faith. Each time you celebrate, future-self trusts you more.

Celebrating our achievements also replenishes our energy. In Your Best Year Yet, Jinny Ditzler explains it with this image:

(Yes, that's my yellow felt-tip. I write in books. But only non-fiction.)

If you swing straight from Complete/Finish to Create/Decide/Start without taking the time to acknowledge and praise what you've done, you soon find yourself getting despondent. You start burning out. You start to wonder what you're doing all this for. You put all this energy in and... for what? The same thing happens if we make Acknowledgement and Praise someone else's job. It's easy to wait for other people to do that, because after all, you're not supposed to blow your own trumpet, be self-congratulatory, etc. You might wait for friends to applaud. For agents and publishers to say yes. For reviewers to say wow. That seems logical, right? But it's not. Acknowledging and praising what you've done is where you renew your creative energy. If you wait for other people's applause, you're making your creative energy dependent on other people. You need that energy, so don't wait. Celebrate.

Don't wait too long, either. I celebrate a novel when I've finished writing it, not when I've finished editing. The book needs a rest before I fine-tooth-comb it in the edit and I need to rejoice in what I've done.

Time to celebrate

When I finished my first novel, I expected to feel fantastic. I thought the glow of finishing would light up the whole world. To my astonishment, I felt completely flat. I had been writing, and now I wasn't. It was done. That was it. My partner and housemates were all working that evening, so I went out for pizza on my own. What a mournful, desolate little "celebration" that was. All we need to add is a paper hat and a woeful squeaker for me to blow. Alone. In the dark. And the rain. I felt miserable and I felt stupid. But I didn't know I'd feel flat and I didn't know I'd need other people to help me celebrate.

Since then, I've planned my celebrations. As I approach the end of a novel or novella, I put my friends on party stand-by. The moment I finish, I get them round for drinks, a barbecue, a meal. For one novella, I used its world as a theme to decorate the living room and plan the meal around; I played them the music I'd listened to in writing it. When an Australian friend introduced me to red champagne (really red, not rosé) that became the Official Novel Drink. (Short stories get cava.) I fill up my friends' glasses with glorious red champagne and, thus bribed, they're forced to listen to me read bits out. (General agreement is that I get about half an hour of centre-stage max but that every toast, every time the glasses are refilled, should be to the book.) Because I love cooking, hosting a meal is ideal, for me. It also helps me unwind from the high-octane excitement of those final chapters. Plus, as I'm essentially telling people to come over and cheer me, it's good to give them a meal! Other friends of mine celebrate differently. One books herself an afternoon in a spa. Another buys herself new matching stationery as a prize. However you celebrate, make sure it's something you genuinely enjoy, however frivolous; banish any hint of Worthy or Probably-Useful-Anyway. No socks-for-Christmas rewards, here: real rewards.

Let me know how you celebrate a finished piece of writing and how you're planning to celebrate. And on Wednesday, I'll tell you how to make a book thing so you don't have to wait for years before you're allowed to hold the lovely thing you've written.

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