Last week, I finished writing a book manuscript that I’ve been working on for the past nine months.
As you may be aware, the end stages of writing a book are far from glamorous, especially for academics. There is a lot of citation checking, formatting of the manuscript to the publisher guidelines, making separate files for all figures and tables, copy editing, and other monotonous tasks.
By the time I got to these items, my brain was pretty tired. I had spent the previous week focusing on structural revisions, adding a chapter, and reading through the manuscript to make sure that everything was hanging together as intended.
As I worked on the small tasks to ready the manuscript for delivery to my editor, I paused and thought this is a sweet spot.
Sweet spots are those places in life where the hard work is done, but another kind of work is just beginning.
They are those in-between spaces, the liminal spaces.
In this case, I was finishing the first full draft of the manuscript, which is a huge milestone, but I still have revisions to do, proofs to review, and the promotion strategy for the book to implement. The book won’t actually get into the hands of other people for at least nine more months, if not more.
Through the process of publishing my last two books, I’ve learned that finishing a book isn’t the end — it’s actually the beginning of another large project of contributing to the machine that will help sell the book.
But this experience is not the only sweet spot I’ve experienced. Here are some other examples:
- when I’ve collected the final exams, but haven’t graded them yet
- graduation days from high school / college / grad school
- the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving when almost everyone is off work and not sending emails because the long weekend is just beginning
- receiving the acceptance email from a candidate that signals the successful end of a search for a new employee
- finishing loading a moving truck / getting all the furniture and boxes into a new house after a move
- receiving IRB approval to start a research project
- submitting a completed article to a journal
All of these situations have something in common: there is a mix of relief, tiredness, and anticipation for the next steps. There is the taking of a deep breath. There is the acknowledgement that, as individuals, we are part of a much larger process.
I think the sweet spots are the pauses in the stretching places of our lives. They are the moments when we can revel, even for a brief moment, in a job well done. When we can be proud of an accomplishment. When we can feel like we did something that mattered. We may not have crossed the finish line, but we have it in sight.
To be sure, usually there’s a bit of anxiety in there as well.
Did I do it right? What will they think? Am I ready? Was I good enough?
But the sweet spot comes before all of that.
The trouble is, we often ignore the sweet spots and just let them pass on by. We can skip straight to the anxiety phase without the pause. These moments come so infrequently that they can be easy to miss.
So this past week, I reveled.
I sat at my desk, typing up the table of contents for the book, and grinned to myself. I thought about what it means that this book will be my third. That by this time next year, I will have published an actual stack of books.
I also thought about how much I questioned myself in the beginning, how much insecurity I had about writing on this topic. And I thought about how I wrote the book anyway.
We have to learn to recognize our own sweet spots. Not only do they bring peace in the midst of incredibly difficult work, but they also can help motivate us through the next steps and challenges that we’ll face.
To think on:
- Are you recognizing your sweet spots?
- When was your last sweet spot?