If you’re curious, there are usually three thoughts I can always count on going through my mind when I’m editing a novel:
1) Man, I’m ready to be done with this thing and publish it already.
2) Man, unedited Taylor is pretentious.
3) Man, this book sucks.
If this seems like a negative mentality, that’s because it is. Reading your own unpolished work can have that effect. Editing is essentially the practice of looking for things in your book that suck. Granted, it’s so you can take them out and make your book suck less, but any process that starts with a question like “What did I do wrong here?” is going to put you in a negative place.
I finished the first pass of edits for the sequel to The Marian this week. That’s always the pass where those “This book sucks” thoughts are the loudest. The good news is this is my third novel and my fourth book. It’s gotten easier to get through this phase without throwing my laptop across the room and deciding I should take up a new, less demanding hobby, because now I have the benefit of having seen my own work go from “Man, this book sucks” to “I really hope someone reads this.”
And that’s what’s been keeping me going.
Lately, my mantra has been, “It doesn’t have to be done today. It just has to be closer than it was yesterday.” I’ve found the less I focus on the end goal of getting this thing out and into the world, and the more I focus on the process of getting there, the better the whole process ends up being. Writing is something where you have to enjoy the process at least as much as the goal, or you’ll wear yourself down.
Actually, that’s probably not limited to writing. When you’re trying to achieve anything that takes a lot of work, it’s easy to get too focused on the end goal. If you’re trying to complete a long project, to get to some magical point in your career, or to perfect a skill, it can be tempting to think what you’re doing doesn’t matter until you’ve arrived. It’s tempting to save your best work for the moment you think you’ve finally made it to the mountaintop. I know I’ve been tempted to sit on ideas for blogs or novels, not because I’m not skilled enough yet to handle the concept, but because I don’t think I have enough readers yet. I haven’t arrived yet, and I want my best content to go out when my platform is biggest.
But here’s the deal: you spend a lot more time on the journey than you do arriving. Saving all your hard work, all your joy, all your sense of purpose for some mystical point of your journey that you may not ever reach is a surefire recipe for exhaustion and discouragement.
But what if you focused on just doing the journey well? What if you sat down and scratched out the best rough draft you possibly could for a novel that might only get read by a dozen people, ten of whom already know you? What if your immediate goal wasn’t to finally make it to that last step, but to take the best possible next step? It’s been my experience that this philosophy still gets you to that end goal from time to time, but it also keeps you energized along the way.
You can’t arrive every day, but you can take a really good next step every day. You can win on a daily basis when your focus is on doing the journey well.
So whatever you’re doing – whether you’re getting a degree, scratching your way to the top of your career, or writing a book about pirates who steal water – take the best next step you can today.