As a teenager, I was lucky enough to stumble onto the path of a creative writing mentor. He was helpful in that frustrating way that never seems like it’s making a difference. He never once patted me on the back and said, “Good job.” He never told me I was too good to quit. For about three straight years, he never really said anything “nice” at all.
Except the last thing he’d ever end up saying to me — something I’d waited so long to hear that I’d stopped believing I ever would.
He said, “I bet you’ll be published within the next five years.”
That was his way. Saying in few words what summed up all he’d thought since meeting me.
Suddenly, I had a deadline. One I took very seriously, until I realized I no longer could.
The harder I tried to make it happen, the more overwhelmed I felt. The less I actually wanted to do it at all.
Those of you who have read bits and pieces of my story over the past few years know that, for awhile, I gave up on my dream to get a book published because I was too focused on a deadline that was never really supposed to be one. My mentor said it to encourage me, to show me he believed in me. Not to pressure me into doing something that most people under the age of 25 simply can’t do yet.
Back then, I was competing against myself. But I can guess with confidence some of you out there find yourselves competing with others. This author published their bestseller when they were 27. That one did it just before they turned 30. Shouldn’t you? Or, why couldn’t you?
The answer is that there is no deadline when it comes to who accomplishes what, when. It doesn’t matter if you get published when you’re 30 or 80. No one is keeping score. Every single writer is on their own separate timeline, and if you do the work, you’ll reach your goals when they’re meant to be reached.
There’s no need to put excess pressure on yourself to do something by a certain time (unless, of course, that helps motivate you to keep working even when you don’t feel like it). If you can, awesome. If you can’t, that’s OK, too. You’re no less of a writer because you didn’t do something fast enough or before a certain birthday. These things take time. Good books sometimes take years to become great — and that’s before an editor or agent even sees them.
Take your time. Stay on a schedule if you can’t, but don’t rush. Don’t push yourself so hard you squeeze all the enjoyment out of the experience. Writing a book is a journey. As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, time is irrelevant.
All that matters is that you make that time count. As I’ve done, or tried to do. That was my mentor’s final lesson, after all. Do it because you can. Because it’s what you’ve wanted all along. Even if it takes twice as long (or longer) as you expected.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.