This, my friends, is what it's all about. For all the time a writer spends creating and destroying, editing and rewriting, doubting and questioning their every word, this is the payoff. All of the countless hours staring at a blank page, typing half a sentence then deleting it for the nth time, and wondering whether it's really in you all pay off at this very moment. The suffering and aggravation doesn't matter, because at long-last, your work is finished. Edited, re-edited, proofed, updated, and all that other noise is done, and now... voila! A printed copy sits in your hands.
When I finish a particular project, I give myself a moment to take in the breadth of what I have done. At the very moment I finished my first novel, The Book of Cain, I said aloud, "I did it." Nobody was around, but it didn't matter. I had written a 72,000-word novel, which was hard to fathom given how some people never write that many words in their life. Damnit, I would acknowledge that moment of completion. And then when I held the first copy in my hands and saw my author line, I took another moment to recognize this was another milestone worth commemorating. And yes, the day I saw someone - a total stranger - see my book in the local author display at the public library and decide to check it out, I made a special point to savor that moment as well.
This all leads to this moment, when I received the proof copies for my latest novel, Small-Town Monster. It should be on the shelves soon, but for now, I am looking at the cover (mock-up above), flipping through the pages, smelling the ink, and taking a moment of appreciation. I don't know whether this book will win contests or awards, but right now that is not the point. It is the completion of a very long, very difficult journey, and I am commemorating it. I am taking it in, and trying to place proper weight on just what I have accomplished.
As for all other writers out there, make sure you reward yourself for any milestone you clear. For every story you write, poem you create, or even the workshops you join, appreciate those moments. If other people are involved, show gratitude for their contributions. But definitely do something for yourself that acknowledged how you are cementing yourself into that role of "writer." Come the day when you receive the proof copy of your first printed work, it will be all that much more worth it.