My brother recently had a milestone birthday and that got me thinking about writing milestones. Do we have any? And if we do, how do we mark them?
Universal writing milestones
So let’s talk milestones. Traditionally, we think of milestones as significant birthdays or events in our lives such as graduations, weddings, getting a job, moving out on our own, the birth of children, as us having reached and passed a certain level in life. Levelled up, if you will. They are all something the majority of people will have achieved at some point, which makes them universal.
And yes, I know, not all of us get married or have children or graduate.
When it comes to writing, then, are there similarly universal writing milestones? Markers that denote a levelling up as writers?
There are two different kinds of milestones: those that we will achieve the longer we’re at it, like birthdays; and those that we work to achieve on our chosen writing path. I’m going to call them organic milestones, and labor-focussed milestones.
Organic writing milestones
I want to start with organic writing milestones because, well, they’re probably the easiest!
Events such as birthdays and moving out on our own are organic life milestones because assuming you can keep yourself alive (not always easy), you will organically reach those life events.
Malcolm Gladwell talked about it takes working at a specific skill or task for ten-thousand hours to master it. The equivalent for writing is a million words. Presumably, if we spend enough time writing, we will reach that million word mark. What does that million word mark mean? It means that those first million words are not our best, and we should see definite improvement and growth in our writing after we pass that mark.
A couple of other organic milestones might be the completion of your first short story or novel, the first time editing, and your first submission. Each of these take time and effort, yes, but if you stick with the writing long enough, you will get there. Whether we are happy with the result is a different issue.
All of these organic milestones are fantastic and worthy of celebration. Every word, every completed draft, every finished story, every submission, marks a levelling up in your writing.
Labor-focussed writing milestones
If word count, completed drafts, and submissions are organic writing milestones, what makes a labor-focussed writing milestone?
As the title suggests, these are milestones we reach on purpose. We’ve intentionally gone after them. We’ve actively taken action to reach them.
Submitting a story might be an organic milestone. Anyone can write a story and submit it. Working to improve your writing to the point where you start getting personalized rejections, then acceptances. Those are labor-focussed milestones. You have put in the effort to level up your writing.
Every story (short story, poem, novel, and so on) published, is another labor-focussed milestone. You have put in the effort to complete them, to edit, to improve to the point of acceptance, or to the point where you are comfortable in publishing it yourself. Another levelling up.
There are other milestones that may not be as universal, but we reach them in our own writing. These are craft-focussed writing milestones. Things like seeing the improvement in your first-drafting, or getting feedback that you did a good job in writing dialogue when you’ve struggled with it.
What milestones have you reached?
That we’ve reached, and have surpassed, a writing milestone, is worth marking, just like we mark other life-levelling-up events like birthdays and promotions.
And just like we celebrate birthdays and promotions, we should celebrate each writing milestone we’ve reached. A favourite chocolate bar, an extra cuddle with your pet, a dinner out (or ordered in!), all good ways to celebrate.
In celebrating, we are not just recognizing what we have achieved so far, but our growth as writers, we are one step closer to our ultimate goal, and that we have more tools and resources available to tackle the writing challenges ahead.
Which writing milestone have you reached? How have you celebrated it? And what is the next one you’re moving toward?
Until next time…