In July, my husband and I had the opportunity to hike Mount Rainier in Washington state. At 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier makes our local Pocono Mountains look like anthills. Though our goal was not to reach the summit (because you need extensive training, special gear, permits, and serious survival skills), we challenged ourselves to hike the Skyline Trail up to Panorama Point, a scenic vista halfway up the mountain.
The morning of our hike, we woke to fog so dense we couldn’t see past our fingertips. We considered postponing, but the spirit of our fellow hikers motivated us to continue. We set out, tackling the 1,700-foot ascent one step at a time. An hour passed, yet the fog didn’t relent. The wildflowers at our feet hinted at beautiful meadows beyond the thick wall of white. Two more hours passed, and suddenly our boots were crunching through snow, the only proof we were making any progress.
By the time we reached Panorama Point, the thick white veil was beginning to lift, revealing a staggering view of the peaks of Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams, and other neighboring giants. As my eyes followed the trail back down the mountain, I was amazed to see how far we’d traveled and proud of what we’d achieved.
My own writing and publishing journey has been a lot like that hike up Mount Rainier. I tend to get so focused on my goals and the tasks at hand that it clouds my vision, and I forget to look up and appreciate all the progress I’ve made. The problem with this mentality is that it can trick you into believing you’re not getting anywhere because there’s always another item on the list. More challenges to overcome. A new mountain to climb. Ultimately it can cause you to burn out.
So, before you start planning your goals for 2019, I encourage you to take a moment, here at the end of 2018, to look back over the past twelve months and acknowledge how far you’ve come.
Begin at the beginning.
Do you remember where you were in your writing and publishing journey at this time last year? What project(s) were you working on last December? What dreams were alive in your heart? It’s easy to forget the little accomplishments that move us towards our big goals. But as my dad once said, “It’s important to celebrate life’s little achievements because the big ones are few and far between.”
If last year is a distant memory, take a quick stroll through your computer files and sort them by date to zero in on the documents you were modifying at the end of last year. Open them and reread your work. Take some time to appreciate the brainstorming and development that went into your creation. If you keep a writing journal or idea notebook, flip back in time to see what ideas had captured your imagination. Revisit the last twelve months in your calendar to recall the activities that led you here today.
I recently did this exercise, and I realized that at this time last year I was venturing into an unknown world. By writing High Flyers: Rookie of the Year, I was stepping away from women’s fiction and entering a new (to me) genre, children’s literature. This decision came with new challenges, like learning how to work with an illustrator, produce an illustrated chapter book series, and reach young readers. At this time last year, I was nervous and full of self-doubt. Today, a year later, I’m on sturdier footing. My illustrator and I have found our flow. I have a better understanding of the production challenges involved in publishing books with illustrations. I’ve experimented with different marketing tactics and have a clearer sense of where my time and money are best spent. This month, I published the second book in the High Flyers series, Pigeon Poacher Strikes Again, and the nervous self-doubt has been replaced by excitement and joy.
What project(s) were you working on at the end of last year? Where do they stand today? What obstacles did you have to overcome to get here?
Acknowledge your growth.
It’s been said that if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Having experienced several periods of stagnation throughout my life, I can attest that I feel more alive and engaged when I’m learning new things and expanding my skills and abilities. But growth can be a tricky business. As desirable as growing may be, it still requires us to do the hard work of leaving our comfort zones. Of trying and failing, and trying again. Of opening our minds to different perspectives and new ideas. Of facing rejection. Growth takes intestinal fortitude. At the very least, it deserves a moment of recognition and respect. So, I ask you to think back over the past year and take stock of all the ways in which you’ve grown. What did you try in 2018? What did you learn?
Last December, I had a vision of myself visiting elementary schools, libraries, and youth organizations, bringing my team of racing pigeons with me to teach children about the 200-year-old sport of pigeon racing and promoting my High Flyers book series. I could see it so clearly in my mind, yet I’d never spoken to an audience of children, and I knew nothing of how to seek out such speaking engagements. A podcaster I follow mentioned that he developed his public speaking career with the help of Toastmasters, a professional development organization that focuses on public speaking. So, I sought out my local Toastmasters group, became a member, and jumped right in, seeking feedback from my fellow club members to help me refine my material. With their guidance, I developed an educational program for children and started booking speaking engagements. Last year, I had a vision. This year, that vision has become a reality.
What are you doing today that seemed impossible last year? What challenges did you take on? In what ways did you grow?
Believe the ‘yay’sayers.
Many writers, myself included, tend to focus on the bad reviews and rejections that enter our orbit, while overlooking praise and acceptance. When we do this, we activate the fear that we aren’t good enough. That we aren’t worthy. But here’s the thing, we writers dedicate far too much time to our craft to dwell in such dark places. Instead, I want to give you permission to feel proud of the work you’re creating and sharing with the world. Dwell on the good reviews. Believe your fans and cheerleaders. Obsess over the positives. After all, being a writer who creates entire worlds from nothing is an amazing ability that few people have. Allow yourself to feel proud that you possess this special gift and are actually doing something with it!
When I first launched the High Flyers series, someone told me that kids aren’t interested in racing pigeons. That comment made me feel stupid, and I questioned everything I was doing. It morphed into a seedling of self-doubt that implanted itself into my psyche, edging out my joy and replacing it with fear. The first time I was hired to do an Author Visit at an elementary school, I was terrified of the students’ reactions. Would they be bored? Uninterested? But then something incredible happened. The kids showed me how they really felt about racing pigeons. When I asked for volunteers, so many enthusiastic hands shot up, I could hardly decide who to pick. During the Q&A, they had so many questions, I didn’t have time to answer them all. Out on the playground, where we held a real, live pigeon race, the kids didn’t just sit and watch the birds take off, they jumped out of their seats and cheered for the favorite racer. Their reaction helped me realize that the reason kids “aren’t interested” in racing pigeons is because they don’t know about them. That day I decided to uproot the negative seedling and replace it with the vision of those kids jumping up and down and cheering for their favorite racing pigeon. Doing so edged out the fear and self-doubt and renewed my original joy.
What made you feel good about your writing/publishing journey this year? What tokens of praise, recognition, or acceptance did you receive? What fueled your joy?
As writers, our love of the craft often motivates us to work really hard. But in the daily crush of word count goals and ‘To Do’ lists, it can be easy to lose sight of how much ground we’ve covered. So, before you start setting your goals and intentions for next year, take some time to look back at all you’ve accomplished, honor your progress and growth, and bask, for a glorious moment, in the staggering view.
What accomplishment (small or large) made you proud this year?