Thursday, January 7, 2010

Making it Count

Achievement. Everyone has a different concept of its meaning. For some, it's a shiny trophy. For others, it's financial independence. For some, it's recognition by their peers. Whatever your definition of achievement is, it also seems to be understood that you worked to get there. It wasn't handed to you on a silver platter. It took time, tears and sweat.

Why is it we pay little attention to achievements that have come easily? Don't they count? I'm facing this dilemma right now as I'm enjoying rather pleasant numbers in my mystery game sales. I should be over the moon, but I'm not. Why? (you may very well ask). The reason is because I find my games incredibly easy to write. I can ( and have) started a new game on a Monday and sent it to my editor before the week was out. They're a piece of cake. Consequently, when my sales go well, I rather pooh-pooh the results because achievement shouldn't come this easily.

Throughout childhood and adolescence we're (or I was) taught conflicting lessons. On the one hand we're told our best is good enough. No, you didn't win the race, little Johnny, but you tried really hard! Good for you. On the other hand, we're told finish first. Reach your potential. If it's too easy, then try something harder. Easy stuff doesn't count.

I'm sure this is why I've moved on to writing (or attempting to write) actual novels. Yes, plots and characters still come easily to me, but the actual writing? It's hard. It's hard because I want it to be good, but also because it takes time. It takes dedication. I have to really want it. Therefore, if I achieve success with this, it counts. Heck, right now I'd declare victory if I could finish the draft! (no, I wouldn't really, but I would be very very pleased).

When I plan my plots I want them to be tricky, but sensible. When the solution is revealed I want people to say "of course!", but not to have figured it out pages and pages before hand. All the clues have to be there, but they're not lying out in plain sight. It should take some work. I want people to have a sense of achievement if they do figure it out. I know I'm disappointed as a reader if I unmask the guilty party less than a quarter of the way through the book. Where's the fun if it's too easy?

I'm writing this manuscript because it is hard. It is taking work. Every day I get a little bit closer to being able to pat myself on the back. I'll pay attention to this, because it isn't too easy. But trophies are nice, too. I'll keep practicing my "I'd like to thank the Academy..." after all, a girl can dream, can't she?

Do easy achievements count? What counts for you?


  1. Yes, easy achievements count. They are achievements, after all. One thing to remember is that writing games may be easy for you, but, although I've never written one, I know that would be very hard for me. Plus, my guess is that writing games makes writing novels a bit less daunting, so you can think of them as a step toward making writing other things easier.

    Straight From Hel

  2. Easy achievements definitely count. When you accomplish something, that give you a sense of pride that one should savor. That said, though, I think things that are harder and take longer give one a deeper sense of accomplishment. To my way of thinking, we need both. We need those "easy wins" to keep us motivated and confident, and to "put in the bank" when the going gets tough. We need the hard-won accomplishments to grow and take pride in our development.

  3. Helen; I do try and remember writing games wouldn't come easily to everyone, and I am truly grateful I find it so easy. It's true, they've been marvelous stepping stones to writing novels.

    Margot; I like your idea of 'easy wins' sitting in the bank for when times are tough. I like the idea of anything sitting in the bank. I'm shallow. But honest.

  4. Karen; I need to bottle you and have you around every time I need a pep talk. Thank you!

  5. Just remember this: It may come easy to *you*, but not to others! I could never write anything in the mystery genre. Or fantasy, or literary science fiction, for that matter (although I came up w/ one good idea that my wombmate really liked -- high prase indeed!).

    The achievements from the hard things feel more intrinsically rewarding, but do not discount the so-called easy things. They're easy to you, but monumental achievements from where I sit! Enjoy every one of 'em!

  6. Achievements that come after a lot of hard work are more satisifying in some ways but the small ones are important too.

    Congrats on your games doing well! I'm living like a hermit these days but used to host a lot of murder mystery parties complete with costumes and props. Great fun! There are times when I miss having a population around me..

  7. Elisa; I do try to remember this, and thank you for saying such kind things. What a pal you are!

    Deb; Thanks for the congratulations. I've heard they are fun to play. Thank heavens!

  8. I get jazzed over achievements, even something as basic as standing to admire a room I just straightened up, vacuumed, and dusted. And I tried to teach my children to live for those moments, big or small. I think it's important to pat ourselves on the back. That said, I do agree with you, I want to do what I do to the best of my abilities, and the idea of falling down on the job mortifies me. I write scripts for industrial theatre and video way, way easier and faster than short stories or novels, so I know where you're coming from.

  9. Elizabeth; What is industrial theatre? I always pat myself on the back when I complete a housekeeping task, mainly because I hate doing them!

  10. Another great post, Elspeth.

    I think I'm going to go a little against the popular opinion here. Easy achievements may technically "count," but they're certainly not as satisfying as achievements that are more difficult. It's all in the challenge, don't you know.

    I think I'd rather fail trying to achieve something very difficult than "succeed" at something that requires little effort.

  11. Alan; I feel exactly the same. What a relief I'm not the only one who feels this way!

  12. I tend to celebrate non-writing accomplishments a lot. This is because I'm not good at anything but writing. :)

    If it came easily to me (like writing), I tend to be blase about any success that comes with it. But if I host a party of some kind (which is REALLY rare), then I'll bask in the glory of a successful evening for months.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  13. I think all achievements count. But why is it one negative comment undoes all the rest?

  14. Your game achievements do count, even if they are easy for you to create. You should be proud. :) I think we are just harder on ourselves than others are on us.

  15. My mother-in-law always tells me, "When you complete a household chore, tell someone." She means that even the littlest accomplishments should come with some form of compliment or feeling of achievement.

    And yet I find myself raising my children in the very way you describe early in this post! I don't discount winning a board game, but I cheer them on when they try their best at something. Hmmm...You have given me something to think about in the parenting department.

    And congrats on your mystery games. Where do we get those, btw?


  16. Hmmm... as writers, how do we really define "achievement"? Is it completing the MS? Is it getting a publishing contract? Is it getting the first review? Or maybe an award? Or perhaps hearing that the book is now in its 2nd (3rd, 4th, 16th) printing.

    At times, it feels like I am running a relay race by myself! I think I've met the goal and find there is another. This isn't necessarily a complaint... I think it's a characteristic of the lifecycle of a book.

    Cheers, Jill

  17. It's the blessed challenge, Elspeth. It's why I can't stick with mysteries but need to experiment with historical YA and standalone suspense and want to try a script. For others, it's running a marathon instead of a race or preparing a first cheese souffle instead of the same old macaroni dish. We love to take it up a notch!

  18. Elizabeth; I can't remember the last time I had a party here that wasn't a child's birthday party. What does that say?

    Carol; That's a very good question. Could it be because the negative reverberates within us longer?

    JW; Thank you for your kind words. It's true, I've always been a harsh self-judge.

    Michele;If you're interested in learning more about them, they're at Just look me up.

    Jill; There's always another mountain on the horizon isn't there? I have no problem with challenges, I just find my different reactions interesting. Congrats on your book, by the way. Wow.

    Patricia; That's it! We're all Emeril and want to take it up a notch! Well put.

  19. Hmmm...I think that we need to celebrate achievements early and often. If we don't then our inner chickens get pissy and don't want to play anymore. On the other hand, there are achievements and there are achievements. You know which ones count for you and which ones seem easy AND others may not. So, if people give me strokes for something that isn't a big deal to me, I just say thank you. If I do something that others normally wouldn't think is a big deal but I do - I let them know I want some strokes for it. Thanks for a provocative post!

  20. We got frustrated for our kids in their sporting activities wehn they were younger. Every time they turned around it seemed someone was giving them a medal or a trophy or at the very least a certificate. When they won something they had really, really worked hard for it was ... "Meh, another trophy". It wasn't anything special.

    Congrats on the mystery game sales btw - that's awesome and definitely worth celebrating!!

  21. Hi Elspeth! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! I'm loving yours!

    This post is dead on...sadly I completely understand your situation and fear I would be the same way. Victories without much effort are hard to celebrate but I fear it's something we all need to try to "unlearn". You deserve celebration and just because it came easily to you shouldn't matter...the fact that it came easily is reason enough for celebration! Then again, those of us with that have that "drive" may never feel content...

    GREAT post and good luck with your current WIP!

  22. Congrats on the your good game sales. Of course you must give yourself a pat on the back. All accomplishments count. In this writing world we get so many rejections we really must hold tightly to the points in our favour.

  23. Achievements are achievements and they all should count. It’s great that something you enjoy comes easily. Those who play the games don’t care how hard they were to create, they simply enjoy the pleasure they bring them.


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