I’ve been thinking about hope a lot lately. As it pertains to the world in general and writers in particular. Even the most cynical among us hold out hope for something. Hope is what gets us up in the morning. It compels us to keep working on our manuscripts for years. It whispers to us to reactivate that OKCupid dating profile. For the tenth time. Because maybe this time will be different. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.)
But sometimes hope can feel like a “kick me” sign you’ve pinned to your own back. A few years trying (and often failing) to crack this industry is all it takes for many of us to begin losing hope that our work will ever succeed. So what’s a writer to do? How do we hold the hope of getting an agent, or publishing a bestselling novel, or making a living as a writer, up to the harsh reality that over 96% of manuscripts are rejected, and most self-published books never sell over 150 copies?
The answer is, it’s a balancing act.
Without hope, we would stop submitting to agents, we’d never self-publish, and we wouldn’t retreat into our writer spaces and create the words, day in and day out. But we’ve also come to understand that perseverance, discipline, and hard work are all part of the reality of what we do. So while hope might be the thing that first inspires us to get behind our keyboards, understanding the reality of this business is what keeps us there.
Hope gives us enough fortitude to submit to a new round of agents or contests.
Reality reminds us to spend a little more time honing our craft before we submit.
Hope makes us look on in awe at authors like Angie Thomas and Andy Weir, and cross our fingers and toes that maybe our novels will be received as well and as widely as theirs were.
Reality teaches us to prepare as though that will never happen.
Hope sustains us on the days we receive rejection letters or get bad reviews.
Reality reminds us that this too shall pass.
I’ve come to believe that this balancing act is an essential part of the creative process. We need hope as much as we need reality. We need to believe in the unbelievable while preparing for the practical. We need to know the statistics about rejections and sales, because we need to learn how to do better, be better. And if that’s not hopeful, I don’t know what is.
Over to you. How do you balance hope and reality in your writing life?