Writers need continual encouragement. The writing life is no easy road, and the failure or delay in reaching our career goals can be disheartening. So I like to feature posts from time to time to remind us why we write and how to keep going with a positive attitude. Blogger and author Chris Miller has some uplifting ideas to share:We writers, like everyone else, are ego-driven creatures, and when we haven’t received that most obvious of recognitions—publication—we can feel discouraged. Whether we have a finished manuscript or we’re simply plugging away, slaving away nights and weekends in the hopes that someone will pick it up, we’re operating an a sort of basal, near-instinctual faith in our own abilities, and often times that’s all we have.
Sure, we have friends and family to encourage us and tell us that our latest WIP is gold and sometimes even to provide victuals, but they love us and don’t want to hurt our feelings, and they may not have the requisite tools to make those assessments in the first place.
So, what do you do when your family tells you that your fantasy epic trilogy can’t possibly not become a best seller, and your tenth prospective agent has rejected your manuscript?
Here are my suggestions:
1. Ask yourself if the agents might just be right. Yes, we’ve all heard it before: you’ve got to plow through your struggles and eventually you’ll see the light of day, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s not true. Sure, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was rejected by more than 10 publishers before she finally found someone interested in her whimsical record-shattering series, but how many (dozens? hundreds?) more stories of failure have you heard?
You may not have what it takes, after all. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We each have different talents, and who wants to try making a living as a writer anyway?
The point is that you need to sit down and honestly assess your writing. You can always improve your technique, but the pure art of storytelling can seem like a gift from God one either has or one doesn’t. If you truly believe that you have the talent, and your story has merit, then you can (and I wholeheartedly support your decision to) press forward in all your stereotypical authorial perseverance, armed with a new surging vitality. Don’t be discouraged, and do send your manuscript back out there. (Editors have personal tastes just like the rest of us, and if your work is good, you’ll eventually find an editor who has similar tastes.)
If not, then it’s time to focus on a career that will actually support you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t write for pleasure, but the writing life isn’t easy, and it’s not getting any easier.
2. Remember Why You’re Writing. This goes with the honest assessment, actually. If you’re writing to make an easy living, or to become wildly famous, you’re statistically bound to your obscurity. But, if you’re writing because you can’t imagine doing anything else, and you’re secure with the likelihood that you’ll earn a pittance but a loyal following, then forge ahead. Keep yourself focused on your reasons for writing. If you simply must tell stories, you’re going to tell stories. We all know that. Keep that in mind and the wait will never become too much for you.
3. Treat Yourself. The writing life is hard. It’s downright masochistic at times. Sitting at a desk for hours on end when the words come so slowly, depriving yourself of a nice meal out or a new outfit—these can slowly drain you of your will to live. It’s one thing to manage money, and another thing entirely to cut yourself off from any pleasures. You’re not a monk; you’re a writer. Don’t feel that you have to live an ascetic lifestyle. In the end, you’ll feel better about yourself. And I’m not just talking about little things like dinner out on the town. If you’re self-conscious about your smile, head online and search for “Invisalign Braces” in your hometown and work out a payment plan with your orthodontist. I know that I’m much more productive when I’m in a happy state, and frankly, living the austere writer’s life doesn’t cut it for me. So reward yourself for your successes, and don’t deprive yourself just because of any failures.
4. Start Anew. I’m absolutely of the opinion that you should finish every project you’re working on (and that drafting is an indispensable part of the writing process), but that doesn’t mean I think you can’t work on multiple projects, or shelf a project once you’ve made it through that first draft. (I simply don’t want to get stuck in a perpetual cycle of editing.) Beginning a new project will help you find those most exciting of feelings as you uncover the potential of a story. Or, go back to a draft of one of your previous projects. With fresh eyes, you’re bound to make changes in your story, and maybe one of these changes will be the one that leads to your publication.
Step away from your stories. Immerse yourself in a board game night with family and friends. Read outside your genre (you should be doing this anyway). Write something outside your genre (while it’s hard to write excellent poetry, it’s pretty simple to write poetry at all; critiques and reviews will help you focus on general literary techniques and themes rather than letting yourself be mired in the particulars of your own work). Write in a different place, or at a different time, or both. Read nonfiction especially. Reread your favorite writers. Reread your least favorite writers. With the former you’ll remember what you’re reaching for, and with the latter you’ll be able to see how far you’ve already come, or how far away from truly execrable work you are.
When you come back to your work with fresh eyes, you’ll feel refreshed and be able to see things you missed before.
5. Journal Daily. I’m a perfectionist. Every word and sentence has to be just right, and when things aren’t working the way I want them to, I have difficulty moving on. But when you’re writing in a journal, there’s no generic convention you have to follow, no audience expectations to be met, nothing but you and your feelings. Get your frustrations on the page and you’ll feel better. Plus, you’ll be maintaining a habit of writing every day even when you’re taking a breather from your novel(s). There’s no right way to journal so long as you’re journaling, so tackle questions and thoughts that you wouldn’t have thought to tease out in your novel writing. You might be surprised to learn that there’s relevant and useful stuff there after all.
In ConclusionDon’t let yourself wallow in the mire. If you’re confident in your writing, even if you have a collection of exotic rejection slips, keep sending your manuscript out. By all means, take note of an editor’s or trusted reader’s comments, but there’s bound to be someone out there with similar tastes, so don’t pour everything into editing your singular manuscript every time it gets rejected. Trust in your work.
Sometimes we just need to recharge our creative energy by treating ourselves to something special or by immersing ourselves in something we love—that isn’t writing.
Good luck and see you on the other side of that publishing hurdle.