On a recent hike up Haystack Mountain not far from our house, my husband challenged our children to make it to the end of a particularly steep portion "without thinking about when you'll get to the top."
"If your brain starts to think about it, that's OK," he said, "but try to just let the thought go. Only think about moving one foot, then the other foot. Only think about where you are."
The children moved over rocks and roots with ease while I struggled to keep up. As I huffed and puffed, I thought about how much my husband's recommendation reminded me of writing. At any given point in the process, the more I think about how far I have left to go-- how long it will take for me to reach a certain word count, finish a draft, complete a revision-- the more easily I feel discouraged. But when I focus only on the progress I'm making at any given moment, I'm able to relish small successes and preserve the energy I need to keep going.
When I began writing my first novel in the fall of 2014, had someone told me I wouldn't find my wonderful literary agent for another 2.5 years and that as hard as I worked on that novel it was never going to be the one that found me that agent, that I'd have to start all over again, I might have felt pretty discouraged. But now that I've reached this point in the journey, I know how much I needed to take every step that came before it. I needed to write the novel that didn't work so I could write the one that did.
When we got to the top of Haystack Mountain, we were rewarded with one of the loveliest views in Vermont: mountains rippling endlessly to the horizon, three lakes nestled between. Like every moment of true satisfaction, it only came with effort.
Writers, take heart. You might not know at this moment how long it will take you to get where you want to go. Just don't ever stop going.