Finding the Will

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?


About Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre is a bestselling, multi-published author with a degree in English Literature. She is a prolific writer, with nine releases planned for 2011 alone. She writes romantic science fiction and urban fantasy under her own name. As Ava Gray, she writes high-octane romances. She also writes "hot paranormal apocalyptic action" with fellow author Carrie Lofty under the pseudonymn Ellen Connor. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. says

    Wow… this is EXACTLY what I needed to hear today. Just in the past two days, I was starting to get wrapped up in the question of whether my work is good enough rather than whether I am loving the process of writing. (Especially as I compare it to the other 1,600 entries in a certain first paragraph writing contest!)

    I don’t have wisdom to share, but THANK YOU so much for giving me the post I needed to read this morning!

  2. says

    Great post and something I’ve struggled with. Not the quitting but the disappointments. It’s been incredibly challenging to go back and relook what I’ve wrote but each time I have finally dug in, the end product comes out a little better than the last. It’s difficult to keep going despite rejections, even the ones that reflect personal taste instead of something reflecting more fundamental issues(which many of my rejections were). I truly felt amazed when I landed my agent and she continued to work with me on making my mss even better.
    Getting up and continuing on is the most difficult challenge and I agree: if you can quit, you probably should. I can’t stop writing. It’s a habit, a part of my daily life. Hopefully, that determination will continue down the road toward publication.

  3. says

    Ann –

    This post was perfect! This is something that should be passed along to any and every writer to keep it fresh in their minds. I took a page from Stephen King and what I do is post my rejection slips on my wall. I have the entire wall full right now, which believe it or not, makes me feel good. It reminds me that I’m not afraid to reach out and try.

    The novel is the hardest part of it all, especially when it doesn’t pane out. BUT, you have to find the good. My first novel didn’t go anywhere – because it wasn’t supposed to. It was my test to see if I could create people and world for them to live in. I did it. But it was a good start, like a practice round. My next one I am taking all the lessons learned and putting everything together.


  4. says

    LOL Maya, because I know exactly what contest you’re talking about. (I didn’t even bother to enter, because I know my first *page* rocks, but my first *paragraph* wouldn’t hold a candle to Nathan’s standards.)

    Great post, Ann. For me, it’s all about believing in myself. Of course there are moments of frustration and disappointment, but only doubt is the real problem. If you can’t shake of your doubts, then you may not have the resilience to get through the LONG, hard road ahead.

    And like you said, I think the way you shake off those doubts is you write what you love. Because if you love it, someone else will too. If it brings you back to the notepad or computer day after day, then it will bring people to the shelves, to the Kindle store, to their nightstand for another twenty minutes of reading before bed.
    .-= Kristan´s last blog ..This week, on Twenty-Somewhere… =-.

  5. Jamie says

    Wow…it has been said that timing is everything and today that couldn’t be more right! I opened ANOTHER rejection letter yesterday afternoon and was feeling like a total failure. Knowing now that someone like you, Ann, has (and maybe still does?) felt the same way gives me a burst of courage and self-confidence…thank you!

  6. says

    Lovely post, Ann, beautifully put and thanks. What has helped me throughout my life (ergo, my writing career it seems) has been family and friends cheerleading and encouraging me — for the writing, yes, but also just celebrating the journey of perseverance. And I totally agree with the “walk away” aspect at tough moments; getting published is an act of 90% confidence I think, so if a session/day doesn’t feel successful, it helps to step away from the computer (yikes!) for a few hours to consciously do things to restore the feeling of competency. Just think, ‘If someone important to my writing calls right now, am I going to be able to give them my best?’ If the answer is ‘not so much,’ it’s time for a restorative break. Thanks for this discussion :-).

  7. says

    I try to take a deep breath and get it in perspective. I make my living writing — so I must be doing something right!

    I try to see where this particular rejection fits into the bigger scheme of my work as a whole, and my vision for where I want my work to go. Where does this editor or publication fit into my overall view of my body of work? Was there something specific in the rejection that I can take and apply moving forward, or was it a form? Is this a sign that the particular project isn’t a good fit, or the organization’s vision and my vision are different, and I need to scratch them off my list?

    Granted, I usually have a 15 minute Pity Party when I first read a rejection, but then I put it in context and move on.

    I make lists of potential markets for each piece before I send it out. So, if something misses, and I don’t feel that specific comments are helpful in moving it forward, I just take another quick read to see if I catch anything this time, and send it to the next market on the list.

    I find rejection for a residency or a grant much more personal that for a piece — more core-shaking, because the organization is commenting on your BODY of work, your vision for your work, not just a particular piece. For me, that’s a harder recovery.

  8. says

    Thank you for this post. I’ve tried to walk away before, but I just can’t. I’m not happy unless I’m writing. And let’s face it. The writing itself is never misery, only the business. And if it wasn’t hard, then everyone would do it. We just have to keep at it. Persistence is everything.

  9. says

    “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.”

    Yes. This is me. There is always another hill to climb, better, faster, and higher.

    Great post, Ann.

  10. says

    Individual rejections don’t really get to me anymore, but you reach a point where you’ve exhausted your target agent list, or you mention your book in excitement and no one else seems to care…you know those moments. They come hard and out of nowhere some times.

    But when it comes down to it I have too many stories to write to give up now. Maybe give up trying to get published? But that’s silly too, seeing as reader and editor response clearly says I have a good chance and am close and the only thing I’m investing in submitting is usually time (thanks to the myriad of e submissions these days). So why not keep submitting, because the worst you’ll get is a no, and you might get a yes. But if you don’t send it out at all you’re guaranteed to get nothing but nos.

    So I logic myself into continuing, because I’m going to keep writing and keep trying to write better anyway, so what does it hurt to try to make a bit of money off it?

  11. Laura T says

    I’m going to print this out! I really like everything you said. Im not sure how I handle life’s dissapointments, but so far with writing I write more. It helps, and is fun. I might try something different, or I might go back to my favorite characters. But, I am still afraid to send something out again, and it takes another finished manuscript or two until I am ready to jump back in lol.

  12. says

    Yes. I write because I love it.
    And I know rejection is just part of the process. I’m new to all of this so I haven’t had to handle too much rejection yet, but I know there ill be plenty of it in my future. But that’s okay because there also be a lot of writing. :)

  13. says

    Excellent post, Ann! It’s not an easy profession to choose, but sometimes, it seems to choose us. Only with time, perseverance and continually crafting our writing skills that it eventually works out, but only if you don’t give up.
    I can’t think of one author, even one who eventually made it onto the best seller list, that didn’t struggle with their share of rejection notices.
    As you said, Ann, just because you receive a rejection letter it’s all subjective and has much to do with personal taste.

  14. Jenn Bennett says

    Loved this. Thank you for your perspective, Ann. When we’re forced to say goodbye to characters–and their worlds–it feels like a part of you dies with them.

    In my real life, I’ve lived in multiple countries and several states, never settling longer than a few years in one place. When I started writing seriously, I had to remind myself that I was good at making new friends and saying goodbye–my writing life is just an extension of that.

    Sometimes I wish I could give up on writing, but, like many others reading this blog post, I’m miserable without it. I reckon that all I can do is thicken my skin and look forward to the next hello.

  15. says

    Well put! Fear is the most common inhibitor of productivity. It’s okay to know that some looking questions exist–but it’s also very rewarding to defeat those fears with a desire to achieve personal gratification above all things!

  16. says

    Great post. Thanks. It’s a great reminder. I’ve often thought, I could just continue sleeping and not get up at 5 to write. But every time I do that, I have a miserable day.

    But I have plenty of those frustrating days, especially right now, like all these other readers. But like you said, the key is persistence.

    No matter what happens, I know I’ll never quit. My satisfaction with life is that much deeper when I make time to be in those stories. And ultimately, it’s the telling of the story that is the best part.

    Thanks again for the post. It’s very encouraging.
    .-= Samantha Clark´s last blog ..It’s Blog Action Day! =-.

  17. says

    I just wanted to share…

    I wrote the first response to this post, and at the time I was feeling discouraged because I was comparing my first paragraph to the 1600 others then posted at Nathan Bransford’s blog contest, and I felt it didn’t measure up and couldn’t stand out.

    Well… I’m a finalist!! I’m in the top ten out of more than 2500!

    I’m going to remind myself of this any time I feel discouraged. My negative judgment of myself just might not be accurate. :)
    .-= Maya´s last blog ..Sometimes, literal translations don’t work =-.