Savor the Now

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No matter where you are in your career, this is good advice. If you’re querying a novel, you think maybe if you compare your book / voice / appeal to a certain bestselling author, this will make you more appealing to agents. Then, down the line, you start lining up your accomplishments alongside someone who debuted around the same time you did. This is a dark road, my friends, and I recommend steering away.

See, nobody comes out of that a winner. The agent who reads the query that says, “This book is the next Twilight,” (or whatever the current hot title is), has probably seen that a thousand times. It doesn’t make your work standout. And then, once you do sell a book and you’re conditioned to compare your career trajectory to others, you can’t stop looking at what other people are doing instead of taking pride in your own achievements. Granted, it’s not an instant transformation, but I know writers who would be considered wildly successful, and yet they’re incapable of being pleased by anything they accomplish.

Why?  Because of those poisonous comparisons. At first Author B was just delighted to be in print. But then, she made a list. Instead of being happy about it, she had to hit higher with the next book. Then USA Today wasn’t enough. Why wasn’t she on the NYT, too? When she hit that list, it wasn’t enough to be on the extended list; she had to get under 21, then it was the top ten, and then it ate away at this writer. Why, oh, why couldn’t she hit number one?  It destroyed her pleasure in her work… and that’s so sad.

So my advice to you is this. From the beginning, keep a healthy mindset. In those queries, write something like, “This book should appeal to readers who enjoy…” (and name several books that give context for your work without aggrandizing it). Later, once you’ve sold? Don’t get on the achievement treadmill, where each accomplishment loses all value because it’s not another step up the ladder. This applies to all aspects of life, actually, so I’m reminding you to enjoy where you are, right here, right now.

Tis the season to be full of good cheer! So what’s your latest accomplishment? Share in comments.

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About Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre is a bestselling, multi-published author with a degree in English Literature. She is a prolific writer, with nine releases planned for 2011 alone. She writes romantic science fiction and urban fantasy under her own name. As Ava Gray, she writes high-octane romances. She also writes "hot paranormal apocalyptic action" with fellow author Carrie Lofty under the pseudonymn Ellen Connor. Follow her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. says

    Great piece. I couldn’t agree more.

    I’m actually a business copywriter, but I have a passion for creativity. I think the same points apply equally to what I do too.

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  2. says

    Hi Ann

    This is such good advice on so many levels, and pretty much applies to any situation in life. Thanks for the reminder.

    My accomplishment is that I have finished editing and contributing to a collection of short stories by writers from Bangladesh entitled “Lifelines” which has just been published by the Indian feminist publisher Zubaan Books.

    The book has been launched in London at the South Asian Lit Fest and also in Bangladesh at the Hay Festival Dhaka.

    It was incredibly hard, not just to be sensitive and maintain my integrity in editing the work of 14 of my peers but also to be patient through the multiple glitches of the publishing and printing processes. Now, holding this beautiful book in my hands (judge for yourself – the cover is the work of a young Bangladesh woman artist, Tayeba Begum Lipi), it all feels worthwhile. And I get a thrill every time I look at the book lying on my bedside table or a letter comes in from a reader (very positive feedback so far) or I see someone buying a copy online. Thank you for reminding me to savour that pleasure, rather than letting it be a momentary thrill.

    Here’s the book with the correct cover on the publisher’s website: http://www.zubaanbooks.com/zubaan_books_details.asp?BookID=205

    And with the wrong version of the cover (working on getting it fixed!) on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lifelines-Writing-Bangladesh-Farah-Ghuznavi/dp/9381017840/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355313518&sr=8-1

    I love Writer Unboxed. Thank you to all of you who keep putting in the work to bring us these great articles!

    All the best

    Farah

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  3. says

    I love Anne Lamott’s thoughts on jealousy and letting KFKD play in our heads. So true. I’m not at that level of comparison yet, but still manage to find ways to be envious or jealous of what others are accomplishing and I’m still wrestling with. (Envy and jealousy- might as well call it what it is.) For some of us– the carrot-chasers in life– it’s just tough not to always look at where we want to be, instead of rejoicing in where we are.
    Julie´s last blog post ..Guest Blogger, Jeff Hargett, Pens a Letter to Santa

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    • says

      It can be hard to control at times, but you can pursue new goals without letting envy rule you– and without letting the new targets sap the joy from your current accomplishments.

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  4. says

    Learning that comparisons to others is always a destructive and pointless endeavor is one of the lessons I’ve picked up along the the way of life. But it’s a lesson I sometimes forget. This post is thus right on the money. When I decided to finally write a novel I found myself reading Fitzgerald and Updike and thinking that I couldn’t possibly write anything as wonderful as what they had created so perhaps I shouldn’t even try. Then it occurred to me that this was just a foolish comparison I had allowed myself. No, I could not write something comparable. But I could write something the best I could and that was enough reason to do so. No comparisons necessary or warranted.

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    • says

      That’s a tough one. Reading other people’s work is crucial for a writer. I look on it as refilling the tank. And most of the time when I read an amazing book, I’m inspired to write because while I can’t duplicate what they did, I can create my own beauty. But sometimes, usually when I’m down, I read a book and I’m like, Omg, that was so incredible. I’ll never be that good. I might as well never write again.

      We can’t indulge in those thoughts. Because our gifts may not be the same as someone else’s, but we can take pride in what we can create just the same.

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  5. says

    We have a tendency to create faux idols.

    I remember when I was flipping houses and I thought this one investor was super rich and such a star.

    In my mind he was like Donald Trump or something.

    Later I found out he was full of crap. I wasted my time listening to his BS instead of focusing on fundamentals that I could have discovered for myself.

    Lesson learned: It costs the same to believe so believe in yourself.
    Jacko´s last blog post ..Protected: Social Media Trends for Small Businesses in 2013

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    • says

      Yes, and it comes off as less ego and more framing. It’s not a predictor of wild success, only giving a sense of where your book falls, style-wise. It’s important to pick those comparisons carefully.

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  6. says

    Ann: This could not come at a better time, as I am querying my novel and trying to avoid these silly pitfalls! Using Twilight or something else in conversation with friends to describe (or not describe) your work is fine, but it isn’t professional… and I’d be so embarrassed to try that tactic on an agent. This will be a long winter of trying to get my novel somewhere, but I will follow your advice and strive to enjoy this time. It really is exciting!

    Thanks!
    Jillian Boston´s last blog post ..AIL Day 91: orrery

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    • says

      Waiting is especially hard when you want your big break… but remember that you’ve finished a project and you’re working on getting it out there. So many “writers” talk about writing, they sit in coffee shops and chat about the novel they’re writing. It has become a pop culture meme, in fact. The fact that you finished and polished yours gives you pride of place.

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      • Marilyn Slagel says

        When I recently registered for a conference, I received the greatest thrill when checking the box “Published Author.” Finally! No matter what success level I achieve in the future, the pride of actually DOING IT is tremendous. I intend to bask in that feeling as long as I can – while marketing like crazy, of course!

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  7. says

    This is so very true — and we must have been on the same “blog post wave-length” in savoring the now instead of constantly looking towards some far-off never-maybe-couldbe-or not land.

    I’m such a competitive person, I had to jump off this hamster wheel and take stock of my life as an author, and what I’ve found is the more I back away, the more I unplug, the more I don’t “attach myself to the outcome” the happier I am.
    kathryn Magendie´s last blog post ..Oprah says, “Don’t Be Attached to the Outcome . . . .” AHA! What about you and your “Goals?” . . .

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    • says

      I have to be honest, I fell into this trap for a little while and I was quite unhappy. By stepping back and analyzing my discontent, I figured out what was causing it. Full confession time: SO MANY of my friends had made major lists (NYT and USA Today), that I let it get to me. I was the underachiever in our group (I know, it’s silly) and it really bummed me out. I had to let that go. I mean, obviously I still wanted to make a list, but I didn’t let it consume me.

      Then I hit USA Today with Outpost, and I was thrilled. It was one of the happiest days of my life. But for me, that’s enough. I don’t need anything else. I just wanted to do it once to prove I could. Any further lists I make down the line, I’ll just be happy and humbled that readers are buying my books. And if I never hit again, that’s okay, too.

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  8. says

    This is a timely (for me) post. The ‘gosh, I could be doing so much better’ mindset is an easy trap to fall into. Perhaps looking at the past and saying ‘I’ve come this far!’ is a better thing. Savoring the present, however, is best…

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    • says

      I think it’s fine to look back on the past and fine to plan for the future… just not to the extent that it erases all pleasure in the current circumstances. I’ve found myself planning so hard about what I’ll be doing in a month or six that I completely missed all the little joys of today.

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    • says

      I find it also helps to commit to the book you’re writing, too. Sometimes I’m like, I don’t want to be writing this right now. I’d like to change projects! But I can’t because of a deadline. It’s so much better if you can love the book you’re with.

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  9. says

    Thanks for this post. It is so, so true. I recently came to the conclusion that I am good enough. Not that I don’t strive for greatness every day. But I need to be satisfied with my efforts right now, today. Otherwise, I rob myself of the good stuff now.

    Case in point: I am an agented author and I’ve been writing fiction for 17 years. My current novel, The Secret Sense of Wildflower, received a starred review by Kirkus and was voted “Kirkus’ Best of 2012.” But here’s the catch: It’s an Indie book, so in my little I-want-to-be-traditionally-published, all-or-nothing mindset, it doesn’t really count. Is this crazy or what? Why can’t I be over-the-top thrilled by this?! Be honest, would you be?

    So, for me, it’s not just that I need to resist comparing myself to others, but I need to totally resist comparing myself to where I think I “should” be by now. That can be the “kiss of death” to a writing career.
    Susan Gabriel´s last blog post ..Art is Work!

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    • says

      I would be incredibly thrilled by a starred Kirkus review, regardless of where the book was published. They’re a tough crowd and you should be over the moon rejoicing! Get right on that. :D

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  10. says

    Wise advice – I do have a tendency to fall into this comparison trap. It does have its nicer side too (well, nicer for others), in that I tend to give other people lots of second chances and find excuses for them, while I am very hard on myself.
    Marina Sofia´s last blog post ..Advice Needed

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  11. Denise Willson says

    I love your way of thinking, Ann. Every chance I get, I remind myself of my personal list:

    1. I am a good, loving person
    2. I am a mom
    3. I am a wife, sister, daughter, friend
    4. I am a business woman (it pays the bills)
    5. I am a writer

    Having these things in check keeps me aligned and focused on real life. Sometimes, when I get to acting like #5 is encroaching on #2 or #1, I read this list and refocus. For those of you thinking that to be a successful writer, the endeavor needs to top the list, I beg to differ. Keeping this order is what MAKES me a better writer. Allows me to ENJOY writing.

    What’s your list look like?

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

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    • says

      I’m not really a list-maker and I must admit, I think of myself as a writer first. But I’m also a mom and a wife, and I value those roles as well. I try not to let any one job define me.

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  12. says

    This is fantastic advice, Ann. I noticed someone on social media recently, lamenting about her standing on a list. I don’t think she was aware of how whiny she seemed to others. Traversing this writers’ life *is* like climbing a ladder, which means there will always be someone up a rung and down a rung from wherever you stand. Being gracious about the view from wherever you are is important for self-fulfillment but also to help encourage others who aspire to reach your vantage point.

    As for me: I’m glad to be in line edits, and to be able to seriously consider the projects waiting on the next rung.

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    • says

      There are a ton of successful writers who fit this profile, and it’s so easy to get caught up in carrot-chasing to the point that it erodes all satisfaction. Which is why I posted.

      I don’t want to spend my life unhappy because I’m not doing as well as someone else. I’ve learned to be happy exactly where I am, and that’s a skill worth acquiring, imo.

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  13. says

    Such great advice. I’ve always been reluctant to compare myself to other writers because writing is so subjective. I’ve read compared writers and have thought they are not that similar at all. While I think it is common to adopt a similar voice to those writers we enjoy, it is still important to market your own voice, that thing that makes you unique.

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  14. says

    In the middle of the muddle in the middle of my WIP, it’s hard to feel much sense of accomplishment or enjoyment — so, thanks for the reminder. My accomplishment: following up on the inspiration from your last post, using your method and Rachel Aaron’s, to increase my productivity — and to recognize that it may take this entire ms. to “train” to the levels I’d like.

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      • says

        Ann, it’s going really well and I am already feeling more productive. Some days I reach my quota quicker than others, but I’m seeing the pattern — it largely depends on how structured my outline notes for that day’s scene or chapter are. The less structured, the less I know for that scene, then the more easily distracted I am. It also helps enormously to think in advance about what is the key moment or turning point in that scene — what I most want the protag to think, see, or do, and what the reader should experience. So, I’m learning.

        Today I got my editor’s revision notes for Book One in the series, so I will have to detour for a few days, but I’ll be making a point, first thing Thurs morning, of noting just what happens next so I can pick up easily.

        Many thanks!

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        • says

          Woohoo! I’m so thrilled to hear you’ve having success implementing my ideas. I usually block the scenes the night before, like, I watch them in my head as I try to fall asleep. And like you say, the more of that I do before, the faster the scene goes.
          Ann Aguirre´s last blog post ..Comment on Outpost by Lisa

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  15. says

    Excellent point, Ann! Comparing oneself or seeking to emulate the style of another author might not help one’s chances when submitting to an agent. Today’s hot title was a new concept two years (or five) ago when it was still in the development stages. An agent could have ten projects in the “hot” style in various stages of production. Comparing your project or calling it “the next” (x) might make an agent yawn and think, “Yeah–get in line…or not.”

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  16. says

    Definitely! We should always try to enjoy where we are while striving for something greater.

    I’m still at the amateur, haven’t-even-queried yet stage, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. Yes, I want to be published and experience all the crazy hectic-ness that comes with that, but right now I can savor taking extra time for revisions and all the other perks that come from not having firm deadlines, etc. (Though I do still impose my own, for discipline and practice!)
    Kristin Laughtin´s last blog post ..Finding the humor, I guess

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  17. says

    Ann, this is such a great post and so very true. There are just so many mess-with-your-head metrics of success in this business and it’s so easy to get sucked down that rabbit hole. I realized I think when my second book came out that I was going to have to re-define ‘success’ for myself as writing words that I’m proud of every day. Period. Anything else that happens after that is icing on the cake, to be celebrated for sure but not agonized over.

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  18. Leslie R. says

    Excellent post – something I need to remind myself of regularly. So easy to get caught up in looking to the next thing – or worse, the next thing that other person is doing that’s so much further along than we are – and forget to celebrate what we have achieved.

    My latest accomplishment is sitting down almost every day and putting words on the page, which was not true last year, or even three months ago. I am developing my writing habit. :)

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  19. says

    You’re so right about this.

    My latest accomplishment? My memoir/essay was an award-winner in the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition. And just yesterday I was thinking, “OMG! What if I never win anything again?!”

    Well, what if? I CANNOT let that become the reason why I write!

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