Nine Writing Milestones to Celebrate (and Aim For)

by Ali on March 6, 2012

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 Image from Flickr by Lord Biro

The writing path is rewarding and varied – but it can also feel very long. If your definition of “success” is to be a best-selling author and you’ve never written more than a few pages, it’s easy to get discouraged.

Instead, focus on reaching new milestones on the writing path. These are nine that I think are well worth celebrating (and I’d love to hear your suggestions and thoughts in the comments).

Note: you might not necessarily hit these milestones in order.

#1: First Completed Piece

Your very first short story or poem or article is a huge achievement. (Granted, you probably wrote something along these lines in school – but that still counts.) Every time you tackle a new type of writing, you’ve got the chance to reach this milestone again.

I wrote plenty of short stories in school, but the first one I remember really liking was a modern-day retelling of the Beowulf legend when I was 12-13.

Try it: Have a go at something new this week. If you normally write non-fiction, try a short piece of fiction; if you normally write fiction, try poetry or a very different style.

#2: First Reader(s)

Some writers work in secret for years without sharing their writing with anyone. Your first reader (or group of readers) definitely counts as a milestone. That might be your spouse or best friend, or a group of strangers online.

I’m pretty sure my mum was my first reader, helping out with homework assignments and encouraging me as a fledgling writer. :-)

Try it: Unless you’re writing purely for yourself (e.g. a journal), your writing isn’t really complete until it’s read. Find someone who you can show your work to – you don’t even need to ask them for any feedback or comment.

#3: First Critique

If showing your work to a reader is scary, getting a critique is doubly so … but it’s a hugely important part of your development as a writer. Feedback doesn’t just let you see where there’s room for improvement: it also indicates what you’re already doing well.

When I was 14, I started going to a writing workshop group, sharing my work with (much older, more experienced) writers. It was nerve-racking at first, but everyone was hugely supportive and thoughtful in their feedback.

Try it: Look for a local or online writing group, and share your work with other people. In my community/teaching site, the Writers’ Huddle, lots of members are posting work for critique – and getting excellent feedback and suggestions.

(Note: the Huddle is currently closed, but if you visit the information page about it, you can enter your email address and get notified as soon as it reopens.)

#4: First Publication (Online)

Today, anyone with an internet connection can be published. It’s very easy to set up a blog (or to create an account on websites like fanfiction.net) so that you can publish your own work online. Yet, while the technology is simple, this is still a significant step as a writer: you’re putting your words out there for the world to see.

I’ve been online since my teens, and writing for most of that time. The internet has played a huge role in shaping who I am as a writer, and some of my teenage experiences with collaborative writing online inspired my novel Lycopolis.

Try it: Head to WordPress.com and set up your own blog. (I recommend WordPress.com because it offers a good balance between flexibility and ease of use; if you want something even more straightforward, try Blogger.)

#5: First Publication (Print)

Even though more and more people read online nowadays, your first print publication is still a major milestone worth celebrating. Having an article in a magazine or newspaper means a lot – especially as this shows that an editor has liked your work enough to publish it (even if you’re not getting paid).

I wrote one or two very short pieces for my church magazine when I was about 10, though the first publication I was really proud of was a short story (titled “The Goblet”, I think) for a subscription-based teen magazine when I was 15.

Try it: Look for opportunities to write for small publications – perhaps the local press, or a specialist journal or magazine. You might also try letters to newspapers or big magazines (some even pay, or offer prizes).

#6: First Payment

One of the best milestones as a writer is when someone pays for your work. This is a true badge of honour: not only did your work find editorial approval, it also added sufficient value to the publication that they were willing to pay you.

I had a couple of small short story prizes around 2007-8, but the first really exciting payment I had was when I stumbled into freelance blogging in early 2008: that opened up a whole new world for me (and, four years on, it’s why Aliventures exists).

Try it: It can be tough to break into paying markets – but there are definitely opportunities around. Build up connections with writers and editors, and consider magazines, blogs and copywriting (websites, leaflets, etc for companies) as well as fiction and poetry (it’s tougher to make money from these).

#7: First Book-Length Draft

Some writers are perfectly happy working in short form – articles, flash fiction, poetry, blog posts, and so on. Even so, a book-length draft is a reasonable goal (short stories or poems could be compiled into a collection, for instance). And many writers want to complete a novel or non-fiction book.

My first novel draft was finished when I was 15. It was, frankly, pretty rubbish (draft two wasn’t much better). It was really more of a novella than a novel – 40,000 words or so – but it was the longest project I’d ever managed to complete.

Try it: I know that “write a book” is a daunting project, one that many people put off from month to month and year to year. But if you write just 500 words a day on your book, you’ll have a finished 80,000 word draft before six months have gone by. What’s stopping you?

#8: First Completed Book

A first draft is a great achievement – and one that you can be justly excited about. But a first draft isn’t a finished book. Your next step on the path is to complete your book – to redraft, edit, and polish. I’d define a “completed” book as one that you’re willing to send out to agents and publishers: it’s as good as you can make it.

My first completed book was a fantasy novel, written while I was an undergraduate at university, and finished a few months after that, before my 22nd birthday. I did send it out to agents (no luck…) and then decided that I wanted to write something more ambitious and less genre-bound.

Try it: Do you have a NaNoWriMo draft tucked away in a bottom drawer? Dust it off, read it through, and see whether there’s enough good stuff there to make it worth a second draft. Don’t worry if it’s currently full of plot holes, sloppy writing, clichés … all first drafts are like that.

#9: First Published Book

Do you dream of seeing your book on the shelves, or at least in virtual stores? For many writers, the publication of a book is the end goal … and it’s easier than ever to achieve that now, with all the possibilities of ebooks and print-on-demand opening up the publishing world to individual authors.

I completed my first book before I was 22 … but it took another four years for me to publish a novel, which was a new book, Lycopolis. (In between, I published a few non-fiction ebooks – including my Blogger’s Guide series.)

Try it: To get published, you either need to find an agent/publisher – which means sending out your finished manuscript – or you need to bring that book out yourself. Either way, you need to take action. Get started this week on something that helps bring your dream closer.

 

If you want a little help hitting those writing milestones, make sure you’ve got access to my library of free ebooks (pop on over to this page to find out more), exclusive to my newsletter subscribers. Once you join the (free!) newsletter, you’ll also receive quick tips straight to your inbox every Wednesday to help you go further with your writing.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

TNeal March 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Ali, I appreciate the 9 milestones a great deal today. They serve as a reflection of the writing journey. I came home yesterday evening to find the first paperback copy of my novel wedged between the front door and the outer screen door. The milestones remind me of the people, the small accomplishments, the exciting moments, the dark moments, and all the stuff that makes writing, if nothing else, interesting. Good list. Well done.–Tom

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Ali March 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Thanks Tom — and congratulations on the novel! I had fun pulling the milestones together and remembering the early days of writing and dreaming and writing some more …

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Jason Cole March 6, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Congratulations on the publication of your first book (also for your nine milestones).

Best wishes.

-Jason
Jason Cole’s last blog post ..isochronic tones

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TNeal March 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm

8 out of 9 so far. Still waiting for first check. :)
TNeal’s last blog post ..Why I Need to Listen to My Wife (and Other Wise People)

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Emma Newman March 6, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I’ve got all nine in the bag, the funny thing is that whilst each one was huge at the time, the milestones soon fade in the distance, like stops on a long road trip and the next ones loom large on the horizon. I must write a post about that, thank you for reminding me!
Emma Newman’s last blog post ..And then the demon caught up

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Ali March 7, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I know what you mean … the first time a blog editor emailed and asked me if I’d like to become a paid writer, it turned my world upside down! And now, writing paid posts has been my bread and butter for over three years…

Would love to hear about some of the new milestones that are coming up for you. :-)

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Bill Polm March 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm

I’m getting close to 9, and it is exciting.
One for me that I might call a sort of “floating milestone” (some image, right? Is that a mixed metaphor?) occurs when I look at writing I did a few years back and notice how my voice, style, and capability with words and sentences have improved. This is particularly true with my fiction pieces. And I agree with one of your previous posts, the one in which you mentioned that fiction is hard. It certainly is and a lot harder that it appears to the newbie!
Bill Polm’s last blog post ..How is Writing like Adding and Subtracting?

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Ali March 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Great point — I wanted to keep these milestones focused on concrete “yes/no” type things, but I absolutely agree with you here, Bill. When I was getting close to the end of my MA at Goldsmiths, I looked back at some of the earliest work I’d done on *Lycopolis* and the difference was staggering.

I tend to think one of the reasons fiction is so hard is because it’s also so rewarding. But sometimes I wish it would get easier…!

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Violeta N. March 6, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I believe there’s always a first time and I would like to congratulate for a successful bunch of firsts. What was the most rewarding of all?

-Violeta
Violeta N.’s last blog post ..how to pick up girls

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Ali March 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Good question! I think that each has been rewarding in different ways … #8 (getting a novel completed to the stage where I could send it out to agents, though) feels like one of the biggest for me personally, perhaps because it happened during a period of my life where other things weren’t going so well.

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Slavko March 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm

The interesting thing to add is that all of the steps have a certain chemistry attached to them; and the progress from one to the next makes you feel that much more enthusiastic. I can also add that nothing can replace the feeling before starting to write a longer project (an e-book for example). All those ideas are rushing through, and suddenly we are not just overwhelmed with them, but enjoying our creative peak the best we can.

Slavko

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Ali March 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Absolutely — there’s a real sense of progression and achievement when you hit any of these milestones, and that’s often enough to give you the strength to go for the next. I too love that stage of ideas at the very start of a long project, though over time, I’ve learnt not to get too carried away by my own enthusiasm… the writing itself is a fair bit harder!

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The Non-Writing Writer March 6, 2012 at 11:47 pm

I’m only at #4, but having milestones in the road ahead certainly gives me something to look forward to!
The Non-Writing Writer’s last blog post ..Where The Hell I’ve Been

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Ali March 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Congrats on hitting #4 … and good luck with #5 – #9! :-)

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Glynis March 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

The critique is a stopper for me. I usually skip it and go on to publishing online (usually in my blog no less). I’d like to feel confident enough to write a small ebook.
Glynis’s last blog post ..Comment on Mistakes Can Be Successes by Glynis Jolly

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Ali March 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Not all writing needs a critique, of course … but I definitely think it’s useful for projects like ebooks, where it can be hard to get enough distance on your work to structure things in the best possible way.

I’m *never* entirely confident (or even moderately confident!) when I start something new, but I’ve found that I can cope if I tell myself that it’ll be easier the next time! (Sometimes I also tell myself “this is just practice” — I can always scrap the poem/story/ebook if it doesn’t work out.)

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LycoRogue March 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I actually feel mildly more accomplished now! Thank you. Alas, I’m only up to milestone four, and that is only on FanFiction.net… so I haven’t really branched out to original character’s yet. Perhaps I’ll have that as a milestone 4.5.

I think my favorite milestone is the one about readers. I love my pathetically-small group of readers online. I treasure each one of them and attempt to send each one a little message to let them know. The fact that I already have some very loyal fans is amazing and humbling to me. Love love love this milestone! ^_^

My only problem is I fear they are TOO faithful, because I have only received two reviews that had even a semblance of a critique – one about a story ending too abruptly, and another stating a character sounded robotic. On the flipside, back in college my Creative Writing professor was one of those “if you don’t write in my styling your writing is crap” types and so I NEVER got anything good out of him (at the time I wrote like Steven King, whom the professor claimed was a “two-bit hack that sold his soul to the devil in order to sell so much crap”)

I’ve been attempting to improve and push my way through those remaining milestones with NaNoWriMo, Script Frenzy, and beta-reading for fellow fanfiction writers. Now knowing that I’m about 1/2 way to that end goal really lifts my spirit, so thank you again for this.

PS – I’m intrigued by this Modern-day Beowulf you wrote when you were a child!
LycoRogue’s last blog post ..Helpful Writing Hints and Script Frenzy Prepping

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Ali March 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I don’t think there’s any “only” about fanfiction … for my money, writing someone else’s characters consistently and convincingly is a *hard* thing to do. (One of the reasons I don’t write fanfic is because I’m, at heart, lazy. ;-))

I wonder whether some of your fans/readers might feel that a review isn’t necessarily an appropriate place for a critique? I know people *do* critique in the reviews section on fanfiction.net, particularly on ongoing stories (I lurk there occasionally ;-)) but you might need to explicitly ask for critical feedback as well as the “wow, I loved this!” variety. Or alternatively, do you have any beta-readers who’ll return the favour, and perhaps go beyond the typo-spotting level of beta-ing?

I’m not a massive Stephen King fan myself, though I’ve enjoyed a few of his novels, and I loved *On Writing* — but how unnecessarily rude of your professor! We had one a bit like that on my course (I’ll name no names…) and we all used to just shrug off his comments and critique one another’s work.

I’m pretty sure that my version of Beowulf is (thankfully?!) lost. If I ever discover it, maybe I’ll post it online…

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LycoRogue March 7, 2012 at 5:34 pm

WOW, thanks for the quick reply! And thank you for validating the fanfiction. I keep telling myself that *I* am the lazy one because I’m not working on characters or background – it is already done for me. Makes me feel a bit like a writing mockingbird. It’s nice to see the flip-side of how tough it can be to write someone else’s stuff convincingly. I was debating a career of ghostwriting companion books to TV shows – such as the Richard Castle series (Castle) or the Bro-Code books (for How I Met Your Mother) – but I’m not sure how to go about doing so.

That is great advice about the critiques. I DO end nearly all my posts with something along the lines of “Please remember to Con/Crit – it helps me become a better writer for you”, however I might need to just out-right look for a Beta.

As for the professor, I should have known what I was getting in to. He walked in to the Freshman class introducing himself as “G.W. – which naturally stands for God’s Wrath”. He also purposely had class at 7am to weed out “the weaklings that can’t handle the tough life of a writer.” *shrug* I think I’ll dedicate my first published novel to him. :3
LycoRogue’s last blog post ..Helpful Writing Hints and Script Frenzy Prepping

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Ali March 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Sheesh, 7am?! When I was a student, we thought 9am was early… (Most main lecture series didn’t start till 10am at the earliest. And our lectures were optional. It was a good three years!)

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Bill Polm March 7, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Ali: “I know what you mean … the first time a blog editor emailed and asked me if I’d like to become a paid writer, it turned my world upside down! And now, writing paid posts has been my bread and butter for over three years…”

Bill: I love to see you share some tips from your experience at paid blog posts sometime. Maybe in your newsletter (and why not at Huddle?). No much that’s lovelier than getting paid for our art!

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Bill Polm March 7, 2012 at 7:38 pm

I meant “I’d love to see you share…”
Those typos and freewriting flubs! They’re frustrating to the max!
Bill Polm’s last blog post ..How is Writing like Adding and Subtracting?

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Ali March 8, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Hmm, I’ll have a think about what I can share on that — thanks for the suggestion. :-)

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A Fettered Mind March 25, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Good encouraging advice Ali, and I enjoyed your guest spot on WrietToDone as well.

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Ali March 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Thanks! I always enjoy posting on Write to Done. :-)

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