My last post was about milestones and rewards. This one is related, at least tangentially. In this business, fear and uncertainty can be your biggest enemies. Is this book any good? Will anyone want it?
As I see it, those are the wrong questions. Instead, you need to ask yourself: am I writing because I love it? That’s the key question, and the answer must, absolutely, be yes.
I often hear aspiring authors complain, after having a manuscript rejected. “I’ve poured so much of myself into this book. I just don’t know if I have it in me to start over.” My advice is brutal. “Then give up, because this job is all about starting over and saying good-bye.” Each time I wrap up a book, I hate saying farewell to my characters but you know what? That’s my job. The end always means the end, and there’s always more work to do. Unless you’re Harper Lee, you’re going to finish and walk away from a lot of books through the years. You have to learn to cut the strings and start fresh, time and again. Even when you’re tired. Even when you think you can’t possibly do any better than what you have done–and if it’s not good enough, then it never will be.
But that’s not true. Not necessarily. And you’ll never know unless you keep working. Most days, I think if someone can quit writing, they really should and find a less painful hobby. If you can’t quit, then you’re meant to do this, and you’ve taken the first steps along a long road. Remember this quote from Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
Each writer has a different path. For some, it looks easy. They appear to rocket into the atmosphere, right? But you don’t know how long they labored before receiving any recognition for their work. Sometimes it just looks easy from the outside.
Today I’m going to talk about what to do if you start feeling discouraged.
It’s easy for the bad stuff to stick to you like flypaper and to forget all your small triumphs. If you’re like me, no milestone I’ve passed holds any satisfaction, no matter how long I worked for it, because I’m always looking toward the horizon, looking for the next achievement. In a way that’s good because it keeps me hungry. But in another way, it’s bad because it leaches the pleasure from anything I accomplish. I look at it and I think, this isn’t good enough. You can do better. I think that tendency to find fault in one’s own work is common to writers. Nothing we do is ever good enough. And I do wonder where it comes from.
But anyhow: discouragement. Say you’ve gotten a number of rejections. Even if people say nice things about your work, it’s still a pass. It’s still a failure, right? Not wholly. Try to remember this is a subjective business. When an editor (or agent) says, “I just didn’t fall in love with it,” that’s not an indictment of your book. It reflects their personal tastes. Maybe they liked it, just not quite enough to buy it, or rep it. While that’s frustrating if you’re hovering on the cusp of breaking through to the next level, you must learn to take such things in stride. When it gets bad, sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away for a little while. Do something that makes you feel good, if writing is bringing you down.
But if you want to become a professional, you have to come back to it, fresh in mind, and accepting the fact that this job will always be about starting over and saying good-bye.
How do you handle your disappointments?