Crafting Success: Seven Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Favorite Writing Tips and Techniques

Crafting Success: Seven Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Favorite Writing Tips and Techniques

by Martina Boone

When I’m doing a panel with other authors or doing a blog, radio, or TV interview, I’m often asked whether a story begins with character, plot, or setting. The truth is, every book is different for me, and most of the time, it’s a small grain of inspiration combined with a lot of agonizing work. I’m always looking for ways to make that easier, which is why I include so many “tips” posts for both AdventuresInYAPublishing.com and the 1st5PagesWritingWorkshop.com.

Because I know I’m not alone in searching for insight, Sandra Held, Sarah Glenn Marsh, and I have asked the finalists in our recent Red Light, Green Light WIP contest at Adventures to give us their favorite writing tips and techniques.

Interested in test-driving the opening and pitch for your own WIP? The next agent-judged Red Light, Green Light contest opens for entries on 4/7/16.

Seven Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Favorite Writing Tips and Techniques

Joan Albright: The characters rule all. I can control what happens TO them, but trying to force the plot around characters which aren’t behaving never results in a satisfying scene. Instead I write the plot to the characters, letting them show me the path. This of course requires that I know the characters. Sometimes the entire first draft of a novel is about discovering who these people are and what motivates them.

Don’t be afraid to write out a long and complicated backstory for each character – but also don’t feel obligated to lay this backstory out in your novel. Like the pipes and wires behind your painted walls, those things need to be there, but it’s better if they do their job invisibly.

Laurine Bruder: I’m a sucker for fairy tales, princesses, friendships, family stories, and fantasy. It’s my bread and butter and what I grew up with. I love a richly drawn world with characters that struggle against all the odds, who cling to each other because they’re the only ones who can understand the situation, and who succeed, or not, but they do so together. In my manuscript, my two leading ladies have been described as old war buddies and that resonates with me because it implies a relationship that’s gone through hell and still come out strong. Just thinking about it now is inspiring me to write! Speaking of inspiration, I find it everywhere: music, movies, books, watching people in their everyday lives, it’s amazing where the smallest spark of inspiration can come from.

Holly Campbell: The setting is so important to the story. I try to make the setting another character. I don’t like writing about places I’ve never been–it feels like a lie. If the story doesn’t feel right in a setting I’m familiar with, or I can’t adequately research a place, I will sometimes just make it up (it’s fiction, right?). For example, my novel Foreshadowed is set in my hometown, but my other novel Without Curtains is set in a fictional farm town. In both books, the setting plays a huge part in the story.

Dan Lollis: I need a t-shirt that reads “I’d rather be drafting.” I usually cheat and do a good but of revision during drafting…I don’t subscribe to the theory that all first drafts are garbage. Maybe my finished first draft is actually a first-and-a-half draft. Then I do usually do several rounds of read-throughs where I make changes and ask myself questions. Then I ask my writing partner or a critique partner(s) or beta reader(s) to mercilessly tear into it. Their advice is often the most helpful, but it can be difficult to know what to change and what to keep. Time away from a manuscript to draft something new can be helpful. I prefer to obsess over…er…work on one manuscript at a time.

Patti Nielson: For me there’s nothing more discouraging then sitting in front of your computer screen and being unable to think of anything to write. I’ll often try to power through but sometimes even that won’t work. Lots of times I leave the word document and wander into the world of social media, but I find that never helps. Usually it leaves me feeling worse. What helps me the most is going for a walk alone. I try to find an isolated area so I can talk to myself without anyone thinking I’m crazy and work through some of the problems I’ve having on my manuscript. Invariably, I come back refreshed and energized. Last week I went for a walk and came back with three titles for a series I’m working on, which might not seem like much, but it’s a big deal for me.

Ellie Sullivan: I really love using the three-act structure to map out major plot points, and then pantsing my way from one major point to the next. It keeps me from veering too far off onto useless tangents and keeps me focused on the core of the story, but also allows some flexibility. When I’m done I put it away for a couple days, and then I’ll return to read it through. Before that readthrough, I’ll probably already have a list of things I think are problematic, and as I read, I’ll add more (probably much more) to that list! My first drafts are absolutely terrible, and usually I’ll have to scrap and rewrite about half the content for the second draft.

Cassidy Taylor: I am not a very detailed plotter. I do like to have a few key scenes in mind before I start, specifically the opening scene, the inciting incident, the “darkest hour,” the climax, and the final scene.

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Starting That Novel: #Subtips for the New Writer

As a part of my #subtips feature on Twitter, I’m going to start doing some quick blog posts about those same tips and topics.

Writing is a complex field with tons of variables and questions and distractions, and sometimes it helps to just ask questions and get answers. Have questions about querying, submissions, or anything else? Drop them in the comments, and I’ll reply, or possibly even do a #subtips round on Twitter or a blog post about the issue.
Common questions about getting that novel done:
Q: Do I have to have a title before I start writing?
Nope. My manuscripts sometimes have a title before they have a first page, and others I’m still struggling with titles for even after they’ve been drafted and revised. Titles often change during the publication process anyway, so I wouldn’t get hung up on finding the perfect title. I’d just start writing, and it may come to you as you write. Lots of authors find their title while writing out those gorgeous lines. Don’t sweat it.
Q: Do I have to have a thorough outline before I start writing?
Nope. Some authors have to have one, and some find it drains the inspiration from the creative process. I’d say you definitely need a firm idea of what the story is about– what’s the main character’s problem? Figure that out, develop it, find out what stands in the way of him/her solving that problem. Basically, know the big events that have to happen. If you don’t like outlines, that’s okay. Just be sure you have a solid concept in place so you aren’t writing enormous tangents or piles of words with no goal. That can be discouraging and actually damage your chances of finishing the story.If you have a clear conflict in mind for your characters and you know what’s keeping them from solving the conflict, that’s a great place to start. I use a method that works great for me: I get to know the conflict and the characters, then I start writing, treating my outline like I’m driving in the dark; I only need to see as far ahead as my headlights will show me. Each step shows me a little bit more of what’s ahead, and that’s enough for the first draft! Just make sure each scene contribute to the main character’s goal/problem.

Q: Is it a good idea to let family and friends read my manuscript? 
In the early stages, I say no– for similar reasons that it’s not a good idea to let your friends and family name your children. They won’t want what you want for the book, and if you don’t take their advice, they may be upset, and quite frankly, you probably love them too much. The opinions of family and friends usually mean so much to us that it can make filtering their feedback difficult, and it also puts you in the awkward position of having disagreements with them over what’s best for the story and potentially doing exactly what they said was a terrible idea. On the other hand, well-meaning but inaccurate advice can set us off on the wrong path. I’d look for feedback from people who are good writers, because they usually have a more solid idea of what to critique and it can be easier to evaluate their advice.

Lots of us are plenty strong enough to not let relationships cloud what’s best for the book, but even when that’s the case, it’s hard to deal with. Save yourself the angst, and have them read, if you must, once it’s done and you’re no longer accepting feedback. Chances are, they’ll tell you they love it and it’s perfect, anyway. 🙂

Q: How long should my novel be?
The first thing to know is that writers almost always measure book length in words, not pages. How many words fit on a page can vary so much that it’s just not an accurate measure. Most word processors track the word count of your document for you, so check (probably at the bottom) for how many words you have.  How long your book should be depends on the category and genre. Here’s a pretty solid breakdown from Writer’s Digest. Keep in mind a standard page is about 250-300 words.

Q: What if I screw it up by writing the wrong thing?
You will write the wrong thing. Trust me. Don’t be afraid of it! Here’s the thing: you’re smart, motivated, and creative. Anything you can write, you can un-write. So much of writing is rewriting that I like to think of it as a puzzle. I’ve got all these pieces, I found the corners, and now I’m shifting them around to see what fits where. That’s what drafting is all about. Don’t pressure yourself too much to know everything before starting to write pages.

Legos are a good comparison, too. They can be taken apart and shifted around to fit a different way if I discover my creation isn’t looking like I want it to, or the structure isn’t holding up. It may be painful at first, but you’ll learn from it, and you know your characters and plot better now than you did before. This one is going to be better because of it. Trust yourself– if you made something good once, you can do it again, so if you need to rework something, that’s okay. You can take it down and make something else good, too. Trust yourself to find a good thing in all those building blocks and make it take shape. Reshape as you go. Jump and and do it. And redo it. Good writing is rewriting!
Q: How much revising should I plan on doing?
Well, I like to compare drafting and revising to raising a child. You put months into planning, developing, and writing that book, and when you finish drafting it, you have a brand new book baby! Congratulations. It’s a huge moment. But just like you’re not done when you’ve successfully created a brand-new person, you’re not done with that book yet. You have to shape that child and spend 18 years teaching him or her how to be a successful, happy adult (who are we kidding? We need our parents long after that), and you have to shape, focus, and polish your manuscript. It’s a book now, but it needs a lot more love before it’s ready for the world. Now, hopefully, this won’t take 18 years, but it usually does take several thorough rounds of revisions with beta readers and critique partners to really make the book live up to its potential. And that’s before agent revisions and editor revisions. However: here’s the great part. All this work can be so much fun. Just like parenting, there are parts we hate and parts that make us cry and parts we wish we didn’t have to do. But it’s worth it.
Do you like this blog series? Submit your questions for the next one!

Revisions, #Subtips, and Tumblr

Happy Tuesday, readers! I’m back from my week in Colorado to visit my brand-new nephew (born 6 weeks early!) and help my sister out a bit. He’s great, she’s great, and it was so great to have some time with family.

I’m back to writing and editing now, and I have a few fun things for you today.

First, I posted a guide to handling revisions for Pen and Muse’s summer school, where I discuss everything from receiving an editorial letter to turning that advice into specific action items, and from writing your own editorial letter to handling opposite feedback from critique partners: A Guide to Handling Revisions

Second, I recently had several people ask me to storyify some of my #subtips. I’ve put up a few on pacing, character development, writing romance, and gender roles, so in case that’s of interest to you, here they are! #Subtips on Storify

Third, Jamie Adams interviewed me about the best and worst writing advice I’ve ever received, the hardest scene for me to write in HOW WE FALL, my favorite scene (oh my), and my life phrase, in which I quote Kingsley Shacklebolt. Interview with Kate Brauning

Finally, I’m on tumblr! I’ve been figuring out how I want to use it, and since this blog is so writer/publishing-focused, I wanted something more reader-focused. So, if you want awesome content for readers who might not necessarily be writers, follow me there! Here’s what the content looks like:

Music Mondays: Most writers love music, and I’m no exception. Mondays I post a music video that has inspired me or my work. It’s often something from my WIP playlist or one of those life songs that you feel like all your friends need to know.

Ted Talk Tuesday: Tuesdays I post a Ted Talk about creativity, intelligence, literacy, efficiency, or anything else related to life as a creative. They’re fun, challenging short videos from experts in their field and a great way to challenge yourself and learn something valuable.

Wednesday Word Love: I post awesome quotes from writers or their books, news stories about awesome things writers are doing, and awesome new cover reveals and releases. Basically, anything awesome. 🙂

Thursday Thought: On Thursdays I try to post either something I’ve been thinking myself, or something thought-provoking I’ve found elsewhere, usually about books or creativity or literacy or social justice issues.

Fangirl Friday: Posts on Fridays cover anything I’m fangirling over– Game of Thrones wedding cakes, Harry Potter GIFs, YA books-turned-int0-movies that I want to see, etc.

Weekend Reads: Either Saturday or Sunday, I tell you what I’m reading that week, and if I think you should read it too!

So, yeah, if any of that sounds fun to you, feel free to follow me on tumblr!

Thanks so much for reading, guys!

4 Essentials for Making Your Prose Sharp

Writers spend a lot of time on their concepts. We put a lot of effort into making it unique, avoiding cliché ringing alarm or dream scenes, and giving it high stakes and relatable characters. Those things are great and absolutely, give those things your attention. But there’s another element that deserves more attention than it gets. A writer who masters this always gets my attention in the slush pile.

This element is an art form by itself. It’s often overlooked or not given the attention it deserves. It can make even an average story concept fresh and impacting. Any guesses what it is?

Prose. Whole books exist on the art of mastering prose. Agent Noah Lukeman wrote The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, which is a whole book on just the first page pages of your manuscript, and a big chunk of it deals with prose. Techniques for creating poetic prose with stark imagery and fluid meter exist, of course, and definitely study up on those if you haven’t. Backloading, front-loading, revolving length, consonance, etc., can be really great ways to add suspense and punch to your writing.

There are, however, four simple things you can do to kick the quality of your prose up a notch. These things will help smooth out your writing and help you avoid those issues that so often plague slush pile pages.

1) Lack of contractions. This happens most often in SF/F/paranormal writing. More formal phrasing is often the first route writers take when they want to make an angel/vampire/elf/immortal of any kind sound as if he or she is from another culture. This idea might have worked for the first few who did it, and it still might work if done extraordinarily well, but it’s such a common device now that it isn’t fresh anymore. Plus, and here’s the kicker, it makes the writing stilted. Even if your character is from another culture,  it doesn’t work. Try saying the lines out loud yourself; if it sounds weird to you, it will to your readers, too. Overly formal writing, especially lack of contractions, pulls me out of the story and makes it that much harder to catch my attention. People think and speak with contractions 99% of the time, so not having them just doesn’t sound natural. If you want to make the voice more formal, find another way to do it.

2) Modifier overload. Adjectives and adverbs are like arms and legs. You probably need one or two, and sometimes they can really help, but more isn’t always better. Modifiers stand out in a sentence; be choosy. An author friend of mine told me her agent says she gets ten adverbs per novel. That’s how choosy you should be. Now, if you’re that choosy, maybe you can do more than ten. The point is, I wonder how many writers are actually aware of how many they’re using. If using words is going to be your career, you have to be aware. Here’s a quick trick to check how you’re doing with modifiers: Take just your first page and highlight how many adverbs and adjectives are on that page. I normally see 15+ modifiers on the first page—way more than a handful per chapter. Of course, the solution is to delete the modifier and use stronger nouns and verbs- “wailed” instead of “cried loudly”, or “hurtle” instead of “run quickly.” I like to keep in mind the principle of “detail that matters.” If it doesn’t matter that the flowers are pink, don’t tell me. They’ll show up as a color in my imagination even if you don’t supply one. But if the tangle of the stems and the withered leaves matter as insight about the protagonist, then by all means, use it. Just be aware, and be intentional.

3) Common phrasing. This is a little more abstract of a concept, but it’s easy to identify in a manuscript. When I read about bright sunny days, fear creeping over someone, half-smiles turning up a corner of someone’s mouth, etc., I get bored because I’ve seen all these things too many times. Cliches are definitely a part of common phrasing, but it’s more just ordinary words being used in an unimaginative way. When I read, I want to see a new perspective on something. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is an excellent example of breaking away from the ordinary in showing the main character’s thoughts. Not everyone should go so far as to strike out portions of the text, but I do at least want to think, “hey, this writer sees that man’s shoes a little differently than most people would” or “I’d never thought of describing a street like that.” Language that shows unique thought is almost always gripping. In your characters and your concepts, you want to show us something new, and do that with your wording, too. Give us something new.

4) Word clutter. Modifier overload can be a big part of cluttered prose, but there are a few other elements involved, too. Empty words, words that hardly carry any meaning at all, should be avoided: there, are, is, was, were, it, etc. “There are” or “it was” are particularly common and limp beginnings to a sentence. “That” is another big offender. Empty words clunk along, dragging down the prose and drawing far too much attention to themselves. Use ctrl-F to find these words and uproot them. I once searched for “that” in my first manuscript, and found over 800 uses- about 3 per page. I deleted over half of them. Wordcount-wise, that’s more roughly 2 pages of nothing but the word “that.”

A final thing to watch out for is simply being wordy. Conciseness is at the heart of good prose- packing the meaning into your words. Don’t use a phrase when a word or two mean the same. I don’t mean turn your manuscript into a bullet-pointed list of nouns and verbs, and by all means, use the words necessary. But do be concise, and cut every word you don’t genuinely need.

With prose, less is often more. Be fresh, be concise, be intentional. A well-placed adjective or a neatly-turned phrase can make a sentence stand out, but piling on pretty words creates inflated language and purple prose that readers skim. Starkness and simplicity can make your prose gorgeous, so give them a chance.

How To Tell If Your Manuscript Is YA

Being able to accurately categorize your writing as middle grade, young adult, new adult, or adult is an important part of writing for your audience and preparing to query. Sometimes writers assume because a novel has a main character who is a teen,  the story is YA, but that isn’t always the case, and it’s not really the character’s age that’s the main determining factor.

For a while, I thought my first novel was YA, and I discovered it wasn’t. It had several YA elements, but it was a much closer match to adult fiction. So how do you tell, really, if you are writing YA?

Here are some examples of works that muddy the waters:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss- the main character is an adult, telling us the story of how he got to where he is now, but he starts his story when he is a young child, and we spend a good chunk of the story with a MG-aged main character. By the time the story ends, he’s several years older and into the YA age range, and even in a school setting. In the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, he moves from a young adult to an adult. Room and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close have children as the main characters, but they’re adult fiction.

The Harry Potter series is one of the most well-known examples of category confusion. The series is shelved in the children’s section because the first few books are MG. But Harry grows up, and so does the series. So, is the series middle grade, young adult, or adult?

Whether a manuscript is MG, YA, NA, or adult isn’t defined primarily by the main character’s age, although certain experiences, settings, and plots lend themselves to characters of a certain age group. People debate the finer points of what belongs in which category, but basically, it boils down to perspective.

Perspective is chiefly what makes a story young adult fiction. The lens through which the main character sees the world is what gives YA its distinctive flavor. The characters frequently tackle adult issues, but when they do, it’s for the first time. Of course, YA contains all the grit and emotion and truth of adult fiction, but the characters confront those things without the experience and often without the resources of adults. These first-time encounters with the adult world leaves a deep impression on us, and it’s a major part of why adults and teens connect with young adult fiction. We’ve all been there.

A great source on the topic is agent Kristin Nelson, of Nelson Literary Agency. Her video blog here discusses the difference between MG and YA fiction.

Of course, these first-time encounters with adult experiences tend to be among teens. Teens tend to go to high school, they tend to date other teens, and they tend to have parents and homework–sometimes even a magic wand and a dragon or two. Many other category tendencies exist, such as the use of first person, having school as a major setting, and frustrations with parents and gaining independence. But what ties all these things together, what makes YA fiction YA, is the perspective of the characters.

To me, this perspective of facing the adult issues for the first time is what makes YA unique, and it’s why I love it. Half the YA-buying readership is adults, and that’s probably a big reason for it. We read it and write it because we need to keep the teen side of ourselves sharp.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle says:

“Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike. And to be able to be childlike involves memory; we must never forget any part of ourselves. As of this writing I am sixty-one years in chronology. But I am not an isolated, chronological numerical statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and…and….and… If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.”

It’s not about being a certain age. It’s about what it means to be that age. The perspective. It’s what draws us to it and it’s a major part of what defines the category. YA keeps that part of our lives, that unique perspective on the world, awake and healthy.

Are You Letting Rejection Make You A Better Writer?

I just posted last week about handling success as a writer, so this week I’m talking about the other side of the coin: rejection.

When I taught high school English, I tried to keep in mind that negative comments have about seven times as much power as a positive comment. As an editor, I try to give my clients “critique sandwich”- one positive comment on either side of a negative one. People simply feel negative things more intensely- and take them more personally- than they do positive things.

This is especially true of querying and being on submission. It’s hard, discouraging work, with more ups and downs than most people can imagine. We feel rejection intensely. Someone said no, and it’s hard to hear- even though we know agents can only take on projects they love, think they can sell, and are willing to risk their income on. All the reasons aside, someone still said no. Some days I handle it better than others. We can tell ourselves all sorts of things about how many famous authors had X number of rejections, how long it usually takes to get an agent/publishing deal, and how many factors affect those decisions- but those rejections pile up. Even when it’s not a huge pile, it can feel like one.

What rejection feels like is actually really important. For a long time, it felt like no one was interested in the story I poured my blood and love into, it felt like “the call” would never happen, and it felt like I’d trying forever without results.

BUT.

Remember those are just feelings. They are a normal part of the process. Every writer feels them. Writers have to be able to take rejection, try harder, persevere longer, and keep going.

Continuing on when you’re feeling those rejections is hard. Even normal efforts can be draining when you’re discouraged. A lot of people just quit at that point- way before they should. But don’t quit. Use those feelings to make yourself a better writer. Here’s what I try to do:

  • Recognize the feelings are normal. Almost every writer has gone through the rejection blues. It’s not a sign from the universe that you can’t do this. It’s both natural and expected. It’s like the ache after working out; you tried really hard, and now it hurts. That’s okay.
  • Allow yourself some time to wallow- but just a little. Call in sick for a day if you need to, but don’t quit the job. Recognize that it’s discouraging, that it’s hard, and that it makes you worry. Admit it to get it out in the open. Don’t feel like you need to pretend.
  • Use those negative feelings to push yourself. Writers push themselves a lot already in a hundred ways- but when I’m feeling those rejections, I have to remind myself that writing is a job. I have to work when I don’t want to. I have to do things that are boring and frustrating and discouraging. If I’m serious about being a writer, I have to keep doing it.
  • Get back to work- but don’t just slog through feeling like your writing is worthless. I can never keep going if I am functioning like that. Make a plan for dealing with rejection.

Making that plan for handling rejection is important. I use my “rejection plan” all the time. When I don’t have the physical or mental energy to keep trying and manage my mood, I fall back on my rejection plan, and it works. Here’s what mine looks like:

  • Find a critique partner to cry on. They get it like no one else. As supportive as my husband and friends have been, they haven’t been through this in the same way CPs have been. Vent, rant, spew disparaging diatribes if you must. Get it out in a private environment with someone who understands. (Not in public, and not with a professional contact. Keep venting where it belongs.)
  • After wallowing, I pick up a great new book to read. I try to save one that I’ve been dying to read. They helped me discover again what I love about writing, and they inspire and encourage me again. A great new book lets me check out of my problems and discouragement, and gives me the time to find some emotional distance. TV and movies and hanging out with friends often don’t do this for me when I’m discouraged, because even with friends I’m still likely to be discouraged about the issue, and TV and movies (unless they are really wonderful) might let me check out of my problems, but they don’t inspire me to go back to writing and keep trying in the same way a great book does.
  • Then, I resort to my lists. When I’m too discouraged to put words on the page, when I don’t trust my diction and hate all my sentences, I work on items I can break down into lists with a yes or no check-mark. Character profiles, chapter outlines, scene lists,  research, etc. I don’t have to finesse those, and they do need done. Sometimes it’s just sending a new query. When I was querying, part of my plan was to send a new query immediately every time I received a rejection. It was hugely helpful, because it was exciting to find a new agent who might like my work, and send off that email. Hope! And eventually, I sent the query that got me the request, which got me the call, which got me the offer.

Those short-term rejection plans really help me bounce back and limit the damage my discouragement does. Try making one for yourself that hits those same goals– venting, inspiring, and continuing to make progress.

Long term, of course, the most important element of my rejection plan is this: start a new project. Beginning a new MS is exciting and encouraging and full of potential. Having something like that to fall back on kept me going while I was querying and on submission, and it’s what’s keeping me from freaking out during the waiting months before my debut releases. It keeps me from obsessing and it keeps me working, both absolutely necessary things.

So here’s my encouragement: Keep at it in spite of the feelings. They’re natural, and they just mean you’re in the thick of it.

Writers are tough people. Being tough doesn’t mean we don’t want to quit- it means we keep going anyway because we know its worth it. We have stories and characters and what-ifs to share. We love pulling all those things together, and we’ll do what it takes to make it happen.

What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you handle rejection?

2 Ways To Handle Success as A Writer

Book things are finally rolling for HOW WE FALL, my YA suspense that comes out in November. We’re done with developmental edits, copy edits, and final pass pages. ARCs are out. My author website is in development, I’ve had my author photos taken and should get them soon, and I’ve got postcards and book bag buttons on the way! It’s surreal, and stressful, and fun. I keep yo-yoing between thinking “this is awesome!” and “what if no one likes it? Oh no November that’s less than 5 months away everyone will read this book I wrote what am I going to do?”

My CPs keep reminding me to enjoy it. To not let the stress settle too deeply, to keep my focus on productive things. And there’s a bit of publishing advice that goes like this: when an awesome moment happens, enjoy it, because this is as good as it gets. Someone is always doing better than you, selling more copies than you, getting more buzz and attention than you, getting more awards and nominations than you are. Things aren’t less stressful or more certain or better closer to the top. The stress and uncertainty and pressure follows you. So whenever success happens, let it be the win you need. Let it be the awesome moment that it deserves to be, because it really doesn’t get better than that. Thinking about it that way really isn’t even re-framing the idea of success; we might need to pause to think about it, but most of us know that’s just being honest with ourselves. Success isn’t numbers or checkpoints. But sometimes we forget to celebrate the real successes.

If your book comes out, and some reviewers love it, and people start talking about it– enjoy that. It’s awesome, so let it be awesome. Celebrate, and stay away from Amazon rankings and negative reviews. Don’t let those things tear down a moment that deserves every bit of enjoyment and celebration you want from it.

If you landed a book deal with a publishing house and have an editor who loves your story and believes in you and your writing– congratulations! That’s awesome. Let it be a moment where you dwell on nothing but how wonderful that is, and how much it’s taken to get there. Celebrate your own determination and hard work, and enjoy it. Don’t qualify it, don’t second-guess it, don’t wonder what else could have happened. This is it! Let it be a win, because it is.

If you decided to self-publish, and take your book to the world in your own way– congratulations! Your manuscript is going to be a real book, and that’s such an incredible thing. You have more options, more resources, and more power over your career than ever before. Readers all over the world are going to read what you wrote, and you deserve to enjoy the milestone. It’s a life-changing moment. Don’t let worry and doubt crowd out the enjoyment. Celebrate it!

If you signed with an agent

If you finished a manuscript

If a beta reader loved your manuscript

If you wrote a scene and know you nailed it

If your work earned an award or nomination

If an agent requested pages

If someone got excited about your book and let you know they connected with it

Let that be success.

Of course, aim high. Go for it, and keep going. But don’t forget to look around at where you are now, and realize that these wins are the real thing. They are success. Something you created connected with someone else, and they felt it deeply enough to care, and it really doesn’t get better than that. It just doesn’t. This writing business is about connection, and whatever form that happens in, it’s a win. It’s a wonderful, hard-earned, incredible win. Don’t let anything overshadow it, and take the moment to see it for what it is. You did it. Celebrate it!