The Best Way to Ensure Long-Term Success as a Writer

Filed in The Writing Life by on December 14, 2015 • views: 2368

Celebrate Women What’s the best way to ensure you continue to succeed as a writer, for years to come?

You must learn to celebrate your accomplishments. Really celebrate.

If you think back over the past year, you’re likely to remember some of the things you accomplished.

Maybe you started a daily writing practice, attended your first writer’s conference or retreat, completed the first draft of your novel, self-published your first book, got your first publishing contract, saw your byline for the first time in an online or print publication, received your first royalty check, or read your first five-star review.

Whatever the accomplishment was, I’m going to step out on a limb and assume something: you didn’t properly celebrate it.

When I say “celebrate,” I don’t mean that you told a friend, or you went out to dinner with your significant other, or you took yet another hot bath that lasted maybe two minutes longer than your usual.

I mean, really celebrated. I bet you didn’t do it.

And I bet I know why.

And I’m hoping to convince you to do otherwise in this post, because when we fail to celebrate our accomplishments, we sabotage our future success.

When You Don’t Celebrate, You Risk Burnout

What’s the big deal about celebration?

You may not realize it on a daily basis, but you are your own teacher. Every day, you’re teaching yourself what’s important to you and what’s not.

When you sit down to write even when you don’t feel like it, you’re teaching yourself that writing matters.

When you put on your sneakers to go for a walk even though it’s a little chilly outside, you’re teaching yourself that your health is something you won’t compromise.

But when you publish your first book, tweet out a picture of you holding it in your hands, and then the very next day flood yourself with worries about how you’re going to market it, you’re teaching yourself something very dangerous—that actually publishing a book wasn’t that big a deal.

“If you fail to celebrate your many accomplishments,” says Bill Carmody, CEO of Trepoint, “you are training your brain that what you are doing isn’t all that exciting and important. If every day feels mundane (even when you are crushing it), you will stop giving 110% of yourself and that will lead to lackluster results.”

Have you experienced this? You publish the book and turn around and become obsessed about marketing it. What happened then to your thoughts about writing? Did it become less important? Less “fun?” Did it all become about sales, so the writing fell into the background?

And did you find yourself all of a sudden less interested in the whole thing?

“If you never take a moment to celebrate what you’ve accomplished, you will never, ever feel good enough,” says personal trainer Krista Stryker. “Instead, you’ll feel like a failure—for life.”

For life!

That’s a big deal. Imagine publishing your fifth book, becoming a bestselling author, and still failing to celebrate, sure that you haven’t “gotten there” yet? How long will writing stay fun? How long will you keep working to become a better writer?

When we don’t celebrate, we sabotage ourselves. We risk becoming burned out, used up, and jaded. We rob ourselves of a future of more accomplishments, or at the very least, the deep meaning we could find in reaching our goals.

Failing to Celebrate Accomplishments Kills Your Self-Confidence

There’s another danger in failing to live it up big when you reach your goals—you can kill your self-confidence.

And that’s not good, because according to a 2012 study, self-confidence is the key to career success.

Think about that writer who one day is super excited because she actually finished the first draft of her first novel. The next day, though, maybe her friend says something like, “When are you going to publish it?” and suddenly our writer thinks about all the things that are probably wrong with her story. Before the blush is even off the newly printed pages she’s sure that she won’t ever get a publishing contract, and so why bother? So she wrote a book. Who cares?

“I like to build confidence by celebrating success at every opportunity,” says writer and entrepreneur Brenton Hayden. “Celebrating your achievements will help to build your confidence, keep you from burning out, and will lead to continued success.”

Why is it so important to celebrate? It’s like proof to our brains that we are improving, we are getting better, and perhaps even more importantly, it helps us prove to ourselves that we can continue to do so—we can reach our next goal.

“It helps us take ourselves more seriously and develop confidence and healthy pride,” says life coach Emma-Louise, “as well as give us proof that we are learning, growing, and succeeding in life, even when our inner critics might be telling us otherwise. And it inspires us to keep going.”

Without Celebration, Your Motivation Fails

Indeed, sustaining motivation is one of the main reasons you must celebrate your accomplishments.

When you take the time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done, you motivate yourself to keep going. You reward yourself, and your brain responds by wanting that sort of reward again.

“When you acknowledge your success,” says blogger Jonathan Mead, “you become inspired to continue working toward your goals.”

Licensed psychotherapist Tina B. Messina goes so far as to say that motivation grows out of celebration and appreciation:

“If you can find a way to appreciate yourself for what you’ve already accomplished, and to celebrate your previous successes, you will find you are ‘magically’ motivated to accomplish more. No struggle, no hassle—you accomplish out of pure fun of success!”

In fact, if you find your motivation waning lately, in the form of fatigue, depression, writer’s block, or other demons, realize that it may be that you’ve lost your motivation because you’ve failed to celebrate the amazing milestones you’ve reached so far.

Why We Don’t Celebrate: Isn’t It Bragging?

Take a look around and you’ll see—most folks are a little reticent to do too much celebrating of their own accomplishments. Sure, we’ll rave about our friends and loved ones, but ourselves? That’s bragging, right?

It’s true that telling others about our accomplishments is tricky. A 2012 study found that in almost every social situation, those who indulged in self-praise were seen negatively by their peers.

“So often in life,” says communication expert Alexandra Franzen, “we downplay our accomplishments because we don’t want to be irritating, sound braggy, or take too much credit for making big, exciting things happen.”

When we do so, though, we “downsize our joy,” Franzen says. We can also risk convincing ourselves that what we did wasn’t that big a deal. After all, when we constantly downplay our achievements to others, eventually we start to believe our own messages.

Forbes writer Peggy Drexler says this can be especially dangerous for women, as we’re used to downplaying our intelligence and our accomplishments to fit in. Yet by failing to own up to what we’ve achieved for the sake of others’ feelings, we actually make ourselves feel worse. She adds that over time, as we try not to stand out, we actually miss opportunities to get ahead:

“[W]omen who downplay their achievements in order to appease their friends are trading in professional fulfillment for inauthentic relationships,” she writes. “At the same time, they’re also helping to perpetuate the notion that women who succeed are somehow less attractive as friends and partners. But there’s a difference between bragging and being comfortable with, and proud of, who you are and what you’ve accomplished.”

Celebration is really more about doing something that makes us feel good rather than telling everyone else that we’ve reached our goals. New York Times writer Alina Tugend, however, writes that we can share our achievements with others in an acceptable way by simply accepting compliments gracefully (without negating them) and by repeating something positive someone else said.

For instance: “How nice she said that.”

Diving Back Into the Next Goal Leads to Burnout

It’s not just our worries over how others will react that stops us from celebrating. More often, the real reason we don’t do it is because we don’t take the time. We don’t make it important. Instead, we dive right back into working toward the next goal.

“As entrepreneurs,” says Carmody, “we spend a lot of time obsessing about the future. Yet, when we complete a significant goal, we have been conditioned to immediately move onto the next goal rather than celebrating our wins.”

In this business, it’s hard to do otherwise. We feel the pressure to move from finished draft to query letter, from published book to marketing blitz, from one successful book to the next. We’re only as good as our latest work, right? And there’s never enough time to finish all a writer has to get done.

“I do that kind of thing way too often,” says Minda Zetlin, co-author of The Geek Gap. “No sooner do I get somewhere I’ve been working a long time to be, than I start focusing on the next goal and the next plan. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing—there’s a lot to be said for staying focused and driven. But it’s a problem that I often don’t stop to enjoy the successes I have. I’m like a child who constantly asks ‘Are we there yet?’ and misses seeing all the sights along the way.”

In fact, constantly thinking about the next goal and the next is almost a surefire recipe for long-term unhappiness.

“If you’re a driven, motivated person,” says Stryker, “taking a second to celebrate may be especially difficult for you, since you want to be moving forward, to keep achieving, to keep accomplishing your goals. Yet this mindset can lead you to feeling like you’re on a never-ending hamster wheel where you think that the next goal you accomplish will finally be the one to make you happy—but this is never the case.”

Ideas for How to Celebrate Your Writing Accomplishments

I hope this convinces you to set aside some time here at the end of the year (or anytime) to look back over your accomplishments, and do something truly unique to celebrate them. The benefits are numerous:

  • Boosts confidence
  • Increases motivation to achieve your next goal
  • Gives you an excuse to take a break, helping you to avoid burnout
  • Stimulates the brain’s reward centers
  • Reminds you of your strengths and capabilities
  • Improves your mood and makes you nicer to be around

Resilient living specialist Marquita Herald goes so far as to say that celebrating your accomplishments may actually help you live longer!

“Acknowledging your achievements, even in a small way, increases positive emotions such as self-respect, happiness, and confidence. That is a very good thing in terms of your personal growth, but what you may not be aware of is that there is a growing body of research that associates cultivating positive emotions on a regular basis with psychological well-being, resilience, and living longer.”

But really, when you think about it, especially in this industry, celebration isn’t just a nicety—it’s a necessity, especially if we want to be writers for the rest of our lives.

“This is a never-ending journey,” says acting coach Joseph Pearlman. “There will always be work ahead of you. If you don’t acknowledge your triumphs along the way, you will be in an constant state of misery.”

Without celebration, you may find that in the next 5, 10, or 15 years, you just don’t want to do this anymore.

“If you don’t start celebrating each success today,” Pearlman says, “you’re not going to be able to make a real go of it in this business. It’s just going to be too morale-crushing. You’d have to be a straight-up masochist (and I mean a sleeps-in-the-bed-of-barbed-wire-drinks-battery-acid type of masochist) to endure this career path without smelling and celebrating each and every rose along the way.”

He was talking about acting, but we all know—this applies to any career in the arts.

So how do we go about celebrating? The options are endless, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Write it down. This can be a real eye-opening experience. Go back through the past year and write down everything you’ve accomplished. When you see that completed list, you’re likely to feel really good about yourself.
  2. Get away. A weekend retreat can feel truly indulgent–but that’s one of the best reasons for doing it. It will stimulate your brain’s reward centers and you’ll come back eager to get to work on your next goal.
  3. Buy yourself something indulgent. Go completely selfish here. Something you’ve been wanting but haven’t purchased because you can’t justify it. Now is the time to indulge yourself.
  4. Give yourself a new experience. Often buying yourself an exciting experience—a chance to try a new hobby, sign up for a new class, travel somewhere new, ride in a helicopter, attend your favorite artist’s concert, etc.—can be even more motivating than buying a “thing.”
  5. Throw a party. Invite your family and friends and live it up.

How do you celebrate success? Please share your ideas with our readers!


Sources
Cameron Anderson, et al., “A status-enhancement account of overconfidence,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, October 2012; 103(4): 718-735, http://psycnet.apa.org/psycarticles/2012-18756-001.

Susan A. Speer, “The Interactional Organization of Self-praise: Epistemics, Preference Organization, and Implications for Identity Research,” Social Psychology Quarterly, March 2012; 75(1): 52-79, http://spq.sagepub.com/content/75/1/52.abstract.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Chere Hagopian says:

    This is a connection I have never made before! Thank you! I often feel like I’m not getting anywhere or accomplishing anything even when I am and I have, and this is probably why. Now I just need to find a way to celebrate that doesn’t involve nachos. 🙂

  2. Wow!! I so needed to read this. I completely burned out in my previous career (teaching), and I now think not celebrating success is a big reason why. I would hate for that to happen to my writing career, and I’m absolutely guilty of brushing off success in spite of a killer year! Thank you for sharing this.

    • Colleen says:

      Thanks, Allison! So easy to burn out on teaching, I know, and writing too. Good luck celebrating your killer year! :O)

  3. Kate says:

    Colleen, your post is inspiring and beautifully timed. It’s the season of peace and hope; ‘tis a time of rebirth and renewal. So for those of us who forgot to ‘really’ celebrate our accomplishments this past year, it’s not too late. 🙂

  4. Wonderful post! What good is success if it isn’t celebrated? I wholeheartedly agree – the little roadblocks you clear along the way deserve more attention than often provided. I know I’ve made this mistake more than I’d care to admit.
    Thanks for sharing and helping me refocus my perspective!

  5. Kathy says:

    What a great idea to celebrate whenever there is opportunity. I tend to be one who finishes a project or poem and then go on to the next thing. To have time to cheer myself over an accomplishment sounds very refreshing to my soul. I need to continue to be positive and upbeat as I enjoy the fruits of my labor. Thanks for giving me a great perspective for living.

    • Colleen says:

      I’m like you, Kathy—right onto the next thing. Good luck finding ways to live it up in the next couple weeks!

  6. Thought-provoking. Your post will definitely inspire me to do some celebrating, Colleen! Some tea with a friend and a weekend with another to go bird watching….