My sister is training to become a therapist right now, and a few months ago she explained the concept that humans have a tendency to return to a relatively stable level of happiness regardless of major positive or negative life events. For instance, say you get a raise at work–you’ll certainly celebrate and feel happy about it. But one month, maybe two, go by and that immediate happiness fades. You’re probably objectively better off than you were before, but you don’t feel any happier. They call this concept the hedonic treadmill, because as we continually strive for more, our happiness essentially stays in the same place.
Where I Long to Be
Publishing is a lot like that, too. When you’re starting out, you have huge dreams of being an author. First, it’s to complete a manuscript. Then, it’s to get an agent. Then a book deal. Then to hit the New York Times Bestseller list, to write full time, to get a blurb from your favorite author, to have your book featured in a popular festival, and on and on. There is always a next step, a bigger dream we’re chasing after. All of us, no matter where we are in our publishing journey, have experienced this cycle. We think signing with an agent is going to make all our dreams come true, and we’ll never have another worry. Then once we have one, we think that book deal is going to give us everything we ever wanted.
Realtalk time: The year after I signed with my agent was one of the toughest years for me in terms of my confidence in my writing, my envy of other writers, and my overall happiness. When I finally signed with my agent after a lengthy R&R, I was over the moon! I had dreamed of the day I would get to announce “I HAVE AN AGENT” on Twitter and I had worked my ass off to get there. And once I was able to do that, guess what happened? I started wanting the next thing–a book deal. I was so impatient for that next step–going out on submission, having editors read my manuscript, getting that call that would change my life yet again.
What Is Wrong With Me?
Spoiler alert: none of that has happened. What happened instead was more revisions. And MORE revisions. And MORE. I’m going to be super honest with everyone right now–I don’t know anyone else who’s taken this long to revise their book AFTER signing with an agent. I was one of the first people in my CP groups to sign with an agent, and now many of my critique partners have gone on to get agents, and even book deals. I have seen COUNTLESS writers go from unagented and querying to selling their books in the time that I’ve been revising my own.
I won’t lie to you all–this really shook my confidence. I thought there must be something wrong with me, or with my book, that it’s taking me THIS LONG to revise it. Maybe I just suck at revisions. Maybe my book is fundamentally broken, and my agent made a mistake in signing me. These are ALL THOUGHTS I have had over the past two years, and let me tell you there were times when I wanted to get up and walk away completely. There were times I thought I was going to be the first person in history to sign with an agent and then never go on submission with that manuscript. There were times I wanted to beg my agent to put my book out just so that I could have the chance to actually fail, instead of just feeling like a failure.
One Day I’ll Know
The past two years have been tough–and even tougher because I never thought this part of the process would be the hardest. There are harrowing querying stories, stories of books failing on submission, of authors parting ways with agents, but I’ve never heard of anyone who spent two (and a half, if you count the R&R) years revising their book with their agent. But in the last six months or so, I’ve stopped feeling so terrible about how long I’ve been stuck in this part of the process. Part of that has been thanks to my critique group, whose encouragement and commiseration has been invaluable. Part of it has been thanks to my agents, whose belief in me and my manuscript helped me overcome my own feelings of inadequacy. Their support has helped me realize something very important: I am exactly where I need to be.
I don’t know anyone else whose journey has been quite like mine. But instead of feeling embarrassed of how long it’s taken me, I’ve realized that these two years of revisions have been a blessing. While it may look like I’m in the same place, the truth is that I’ve grown so much as a writer. My craft has been sharpened and my instincts are better. And the amount of work me and my agents have invested in this manuscript show that there is something truly special about it. Special enough that it was worth two years of hard work to dig in and make this book into what it was meant to be.
No, I don’t have a book deal yet. But if I did, I would have everything else that comes with it–deadlines, expectations, comparisons to other debut authors. What I do have is this: two agents who understand exactly what the book needs to be and push me to get it there. Critique partners who love my writing and believe, wholeheartedly, I will find success. A manuscript I fall deeper in love with after every round of revision. And all the time I need to make it as great as I believe it can be.
How Far You’ll Go
No matter where you are in the process–whether you’re drafting, still revising, getting ready to query, out on submission, or debuting–take a second to appreciate where you are. How far you’ve come. How much potential lies in front of you. Of course we always want to strive for more–ambition is not a bad thing. But if we think that getting to the next stage is going to give us everything we want and make us unconditionally happy, we’ll always be running on that treadmill, never getting any further.
So how do we get off it? In psychology, the answer to the hedonic treadmill is called eudaimonia— living according to what holds the greatest value in our lives. Instead of seeking happiness in outside successes and goalposts that keep moving, find it within. Embrace the things that are difficult and messy and force you to reckon with what you really want and why. Own your struggle. Give yourself space to fall in love, not just with your writing, but your unique journey. It might not be the picture perfect success you dreamed of, but it is real, it is yours, and you don’t yet know where it will take you.