Records and rewards.

Today is self-imposed deadline day. And last night, shortly after 9 pm, I finished the first draft of my from-scratch-rewrite of USLS.

The project clocked in at 78,494 words, written in five parts and 52 chapters. I’m relieved and surprised at how short this draft is, as my last couple novel projects have broken 110k words at least. But this feels right to me; ultimately I hope for this novel to land somewhere under 85k. (The word count really means almost nothing, but it’s just what I use to loosely frame the scope of a project.)

Finishing this project has also brought about a strange sort of epiphany. In the last few days I’ve figured out that I suffer from a terrible case of productivity amnesia. I work my ass off to hit the goals I set (And even as I type this I’m thinking — Really? Do I work my ass off? Yes, self. Yes you do.)…but once I reach those goals I don’t actually remember doing any of the hard work. I don’t believe it actually happened. I end up with this feeling like I just sat around for a while and pooped out a novel, no big deal.

A few months ago I fell in love with these gorgeous needle-felted dragons handmade by this woman in Russia. I told myself that when I finished the first draft of this from-scratch-rewrite I would let myself splurge on one:

needle-felted dragon

But in the last week, as I saw the end approaching, I thought to myself: I can’t buy a needle-felted dragon. I haven’t worked hard enough to deserve it. It was meant to be a reward after something really tough that I’d pushed myself through. And I didn’t believe that I’d done enough work for it to count.

I told this to my husband the other night and he said, “Are you kidding me? All I’ve seen you do for the last three months is work on this novel. Buy yourself the dragon.”

It’s a really good thing I keep records for myself. There’s this blog. There are my weekly status updates exchanged with my critique partner, preserved in my email. There are the little notes written to myself when I’m frustrated with my progress. There are my calendars, covered in stickers to track my progress.

March calendar

All of those things I mentioned are perdurable proof of the work I’ve done. And when I think really really hard — try to force myself to remember — I can sort of recall the struggle. It’s fuzzy, but starts to rise to the surface. The agonizing stretches of hating my project and feeling stuck, and having to figure out how to push through. The doubt and the uncertainty and wondering whether the novel will be at all worth reading.

I think the main problem here is that I can’t stop looking ahead. I should maybe be in a celebratory mood, but all I can think about right now is the work I’ve got coming up as I begin the second draft. I made this list of issues to address and things to smooth out in revisions, and now that list is all I can see.

It’s something I need to work on, I guess. Letting myself stand up on the peak and gaze back on all the progress I made. Letting myself celebrate.

So there we go, self. See everything recorded above? Try to remember it all. I hit my goal. I finished slightly ahead of deadline. I’m going to buy myself the goddamn dragon.

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