Here's the sad truth: Until a couple of years ago, I thought that if something was worth doing well, it was worth doing STERNLY.
Work ethics are not for being happy and enjoying life, I thought. They are for GETTING STUFF DONE.
So. I got a lot of stuff done. A lot of words written.
But frankly, it wasn't a lot of fun. I didn't enjoy the process. And it made the writing life feel about a thousand times harder than it really needed to feel.
So I've changed my tune. I'm bringing a more celebratory attitude into my writing life!
And you know what I've figured out? It actually makes me a BETTER WRITER. Crazy, right? And yet so true.
Wanna join me? Here are four ways that celebration makes us better at our job of making stories.
1: Enjoyment is a currency.
Let's be real: If writing is your gig, you're either a) not getting paid a TON, or b) not getting paid at ALL.
(If money is pouring into your lap, then I'm super happy for you. Cake is still a good idea, though.)
If you're not getting paid much for writing, then how much sense does it make to also have no fun when you write? How wise is it, really, to have an anti-celebration mindset?
One of the ways that I "pay" myself for writing is by loving it. Does that make sense?
I mean, I know plenty of people who get paid real money for what they do all day. And they hate what they do. Real money ... for a job they really hate.
That just doesn't sound like a great deal to me. What's a better deal? Getting little-to-no money for a job I really really love.
(I know, I know. The best option is for us to get a lot of real money for a job we really love. We'll get there one day, lionhearts.)
In the meantime, having a job that I love, a job that feels festive, that feels like a word-party and a story-celebration... that's my take-home pay.
2: An attitude of celebration makes us generous.
Have you ever read a book that felt like it was a gift? Like every sentence was crafted and given to you?
Those are the reading experiences we dream of and long for, right?
Think back to the last time you felt that way. The last time a book absolutely wrapped you up in delight. Remember the title, the feeling?
Okay. Here's my theory: I don't think the author of that book was the Ebenezer Scrooge of writing.
I doubt very much that the author was sitting at a desk, piecing the words together with an I-hope-you-burn attitude toward readers.
I'm guessing this author wasn't a miser with imagery, description, and the emotional force behind the words.
I bet they shared themselves with you, the reader. And that the book was born out of an attitude of joy for the work.
Even if the book was hard to write. Even if the subject matter was difficult. Nevertheless: a deep joy for the process of writing itself. A sense that this transaction between writer and reader is worth celebrating.
This feeling was wonderfully expressed by a Pixar animator, in one of those bonus feature interviews on a DVD. (I can't remember which movie or which animator. Super unhelpful, I know. Sorry. Maybe it was Monsters, Inc. Try that one.)
Anyway: He said that the work of making the movie--though long and hard--was like creating a surprise party for the viewers.
A surprise party.
Every amazing frame of the movie, or the next twist in the plot, was like another gift that they were handing their audience.
And he was grinning as he said it. His excitement for the process: it was completely evident in his face, his manner.
I love that. It's the ideal attitude for us story-tellers.
We should be writing surprise parties for our readers. And the process of putting those parties together? It wouldn't hurt for that to feel fun and festive as well.
3: Celebration is anti-perfectionism. (You know I'm all about that!)
Where there is a real, healthy, hearty celebration, an honest-to-goodness party, perfectionism has to leave. It just does.
Because everyone can tell it's not enjoying itself. It's too busy freaking out about how the napkins aren't lined up exactly, and the cheeseball is slumping a little, and the frosting on the cake isn't QUITE the best consistency--
And yet. Everyone is having a good time, people are laughing, the kids are running around like little crazies, and the guest of honor can't stop smiling.
There is no room at the party for perfectionism.
Everyone's having a great time. Even with the mess, even with the uncertainties, even when things don't go exactly perfect.
Everyone's doing great. So perfectionism is out of a job.
And it's the same in the writing life.
When you are determined to enjoy the process, when you're tossing confetti at your story in spite of the way the plot doesn't line up, and even though there's a massive disconnect in your characterization, and even when you have millions of hours still to put in--
When you're still enjoying it, and when you're still treating it like a party, perfectionism gives up on you.
And that is the best news for your story.
4: Celebration welcomes creativity.
When I'm really enjoying the process of putting together a story, I'm willing to stick with it even longer. I'll tease out certain elements that I would otherwise rush over.
When I'm enjoying the brainstorming sessions, I'll push to keep searching for the exactly spot-on idea, instead of just grabbing the first workable one I think of.
It all starts to work together! The generosity mindset plus a willingness to hang with the process a bit longer: that means more ideas to choose from, and a broader range of possibilities.
Which means more time practicing craft. Which means an all-around better and more creative story.
And THAT'S the grand prize. That's the whole piñata! A wonderful story coming from a healthy writing life: that's exactly what we were here celebrating to begin with.
5: Um, also... my birthday is coming up!!
I turn 31 on the 31st! Gaaaa!!!
Probably that's not going to make a difference in your writing life. (Though I'd hate to make assumptions or anything.)
But seriously. On my birthday last year, it dawned on me how profoundly bad I am at most celebration. Really. REALLY.
I want to celebrate, I see the need for it, and it sounds like a good idea--but when it comes right down to it, I'm not awesome at this whole party-making thing.
So I'm looking at this month in general--and the thirty-first in particular!--as a chance to get a LOT better at celebrating.
Celebrating the birthday: yes. But more than that.
I want to get so much better at recognizing opportunities for celebrating everything else around me: The stuff I take for granted, as well as the chances that drop in my lap. I want to bake a cake for the things that are ordinary and mundane, and I want to rise to the occasion when something grand and spectacular is afoot.
This August = Celebration Rehab.
Will you join me?
Let's go get some confetti.