My youngest son will be celebrating his eighth birthday at the end of August. For the last several weeks, he’s been getting impatient for that big occasion.
One day a couple of weeks ago, he asked, “Mom, how many days are there until my birthday?”
Knowing how excited children get at the thought of receiving presents and cake and a special meal, I indulged my little guy. We pulled out the calendar and counted off the days.
I wasn’t too surprised when I got the same question a couple of hours later, especially when I noticed the Lego magazines strewn across the floor. But after about the third or fourth time my son asked, “How long until my birthday?” I knew he needed a lesson on patience.
So, I scooted next to him on the couch, wrapped my arm around him, and said, “Honey, I know you’re really excited about your birthday, but if you keep thinking about it and wishing it were already here, then you’ll miss out on enjoying the rest of the summer.”
I reminded him that while his birthday would be fun, it also signified the closing of summer and the beginning of the next school year. I urged him not to become so anxious for the future that he forgot to savor the delightful, carefree days of summer.
Sometimes we as writers get so focused on the future—what we’d like to see happen next in our writing careers—that we miss the enjoyment of being right where we’re at. We look ahead and we think we’ll be happier if only we get an agent, or if only we have a book contract, or if only we make a bestseller list, or if only we make triple figures.
We fantasize about the satisfaction we’ll finally have once we reach that next point in our careers. But in the process of looking forward, we sometimes forget to truly enjoy the present. And we forget that once we do reach a milestone, we’ll be satisfied for a day or two. But once the newness wears off, a different set of responsibilities will stretch endlessly before us (much like my son celebrating his birthday but then starting school not long after).
I urge all of us (myself included) to not wish away the present because we get so focused on what we hope will come in the future. And I add an extra caution for newer writers. With the ease of self-publishing, it’s all too tempting to rush the process of publication, to think that getting your first book out there will make you happy.
I like what author Bob Mayer said in a recent article, “If I were an unpublished author, would I self-publish?” As a former best-selling author for traditional publishers, he’s now been self e-publishing for the past two years and doing very well at it, selling over 1,100 ebooks a day.
I really respect Bob’s balanced approach. Here’s what he said: “The problem right now is too many writers are putting their first manuscript up and spending 75% of their time trying to promote as they try to write their second book. The focus isn’t on the writing, it’s on the selling.”
He goes on to suggest waiting until completing three books before taking the next steps forward, focusing first on learning the craft of writing before jumping into publication and promotion.
In other words, we don’t need to rush the process. We don’t need to race forward, getting ahead of ourselves, and fostering discontent for where we’re at.
After all, what’s the rush? Why do we need to be in such a hurry to reach that next point in our careers? When we focus too much on what we’re missing, the discontentment often clouds the simple joys and pleasures that come from the creative process of writing. And we lose out on the satisfaction of each step of our unique journey.
The big birthday celebration will happen . . . eventually. And with enough patience and hard work, so will those big career moments.
In the meantime, we can’t forget to savor the present.
What about you? Have you ever tried to rush your writing career? Or are you learning to savor the journey?