As most regular readers know, I am an avid bicyclist. I have cycled through different towns, counties, and states, covering more miles in one year than some people cycle in a lifetime. My 106-mile ride last year from Danville to Cook County was described as "epic" (well, by me anyway). Every time I get on the old bicycle, there's the potential for something wonderful to happen. And sure enough, as I got on my bike today, I said to myself, "How much of the world should we cover today?"
I ripped off a quick ten miles. It took less than an hour.
A writer should feel the same way. Some people carry this belief that each piece of work needs to be better than the last one. What you do tomorrow must be more profound than today's piece. Once you write a novella, you can never go back to short stories. Once you have your first novel completed, your next novel (no more short stories) must one-up what you've created. Your expectations should rise higher and higher, constantly reaching for the stars.
They tried that with the Tower of Babel. Spoiler: It didn't end well.
As a writer walks their endless journey, constantly learning, growing, and creating, each step doesn't have to be bigger than the last. The only obligation of the next step is that it has to be forward. When I wrote my soon-to-be-released second novel, Small-Town Monster, I felt pressured to outdo my previous book. Something like that can feed into personal anxieties and all those other demons waiting in the writer's mind to shut things down, but that pressure is an illusion. The only goal is to create. By creating my second novel, I made something unique and meaningful to me, and that's an accomplishment in itself, non matter how much I'd written prior to that.
Now, to be fair, anything we write should be the beneficiary of everything we've learned beforehand. All of our mistakes and slip-ups in our previous works should feed into making this latest creation that much better. Sometimes we accomplish this, other times not so much. However, we continue moving forward, and that is the important part of a writer's journey.
So, how long is a writer's journey? It's as long as my bicycling trips - I set the length and time, and try to get the most out of it that I can. I grow a little, I feel better for having done it, and I am ready for the next one.
(Unless it's raining. Writers do better in the rain than cyclists.)