Discouraged Writer

by Maine

Hi, I just want to ask an advice on this. As an aspiring writer, I'm aware of the fact that it's tough to publish especially for newbies today, but I can't help to feel disappointed. After I received some rejections, my writing enthusiasm seems fading. Before, I can write almost 5000 words per day but now I'm struggling. I'm conscious already if I do it good or not that enough. And I hate this feeling, I don't want to give up.

Answer: Let me first say I'm impressed that you can write 5,000 words a day. That's a pretty solid output. Not many writers can sustain that level of production continuously over the long term. So don't be hard on yourself if there's an ebb and flow to your work. You may just be going through a phase.

As for your question...

All artists struggle with feeling of rejection or a lack of approval. Having dedicated so many hours to our craft, we want the world to recognize it has value -- especially because there are so many people who roll their eyes when you tell them you're any kind of artist, or who let you know in not-so-subtle ways that they don't think writing (or acting, or singing) is a "real" job for a grown-up. We want to be able to pull out an award or a big cheque or a copy of the New York Times Bestseller list to silence the condescension. We may have a secret wish to see our disapproving mother or our older brother with the high-paying job moved to tears by a story we wrote.

But naysayers aside, we also just want to share our work. Writing, after all, is a form of communication that requires a reader. We want the experience of our work to be something others can take part in. We want to see that our stories perhaps do some good in the world.

And yet, getting our work out in public is too damn hard. Often, it has little to do with how good our work is. (Some bad books get published. Some bad films are made. Some terrible songs reach #1.)

Selling a manuscript, or landing a prize role, or getting your songs played on the radio can feel harder than putting a camel through the eye of a needle -- as unlikely as winning a lottery. (Actually, the odds are better than that, but you know what I mean.) The competition for exposure is fierce and there are gatekeepers whose stamp of approval is required. Not getting through that gate feels like a judgement on our work -- and on ourselves. The more we depend on gatekeepers to validate our work, the more powerless we feel.

In some ways performing artists (actors, dancers, singers) have it worst of all because they can't work unless someone hires them. No one will ever see how well a performer can portray Hamlet or dance Swan Lake unless they pass an audition and get into a company. And unless they reach the top of their profession, they have to take what roles are offered with little choice.

Writers, visual artists, and singer-songwriters actually have a small advantage. We can write what we want. We can create a work that is entirely our own vision. We don't need someone to finance the writing (though that can happen if we're lucky). We can present our finished work at least
to a few people without anyone else's permission.

So here are some strategies to cope withe this situation...

1. Write first for yourself, for the sheer enjoyment of creating, and treat publishing as something separate -- a bonus or a sideline. (Not everyone has the emotional fortitude to do this, but you never know.)

2. Practise not taking rejection personally. This can also be challenging, but taking rejection personally is certainly detrimental, so you better try. Remind yourself that the reason a book is accepted or rejected usually has more to do with whether it fits what publishers happen to be looking for at that time, which you can't predict. It's often not a question of how good a writer you are.

3. Take a long-term view of your writing career. Be open to instant success, but don't demand it. Lots of writers have to write several "practice" novels before they sell one. With each story your skills will improve. Perhaps think of each query as a "practice query" or a school assignment. Make it as good as you can, but don't stress out if you get less than 100%.

4. Think of queries as advertising. For a direct marketing firm, having 3% of all the sales letters they send out result in a sale would be considered a big success. It's no big deal if you send out five queries and get five rejections. Wait until you've had 100-200 rejections. (Of course, you want to make sure you have a good query letter and are approaching the right agents/publishers before sending 100 queries.)

5. Take advantage of other opportunities to get feedback and validation while you're waiting for your break. Participate in writer groups (supportive ones) or poetry slams. Share your work with supportive friends.

6. Approach smaller markets. Perhaps submit a play to a community theatre group or submit stories and poems to smaller or non-profit publications. Enter writing contests (free ones). Small successes in these arenas can establish your credibility as a writer for when you approach a big publisher. Just recognize that, though success is easier in these markets, it's not a cakewalk either.

7. Some artists eventually create their own opportunities. For instance, self-publishing is losing some of its stigma as "vanity publishing." Of course, the most legitimate route is to create your own publishing house rather than work with "self-publishing" companies. Just be warned that nearly all self-publishers lose money. Like any business, success requires a lot of work and learning. The most crucial element is to be a a good marketer, because sales are the lifeblood.

8. Attract luck by showing up. If you are good at networking, you have a real advantage. Try going to writers conferences where you can pitch to agents or editors in person. Find opportunities to talk to published authors. Take writing workshops or classes.

9. When all else fails, lie to yourself. Tell yourself things like

"It's not me, it's that...

... publishers are stupid.
... the economy is poor.
... my work is too sophisticated for today's reader.
... I'm not doing it for the money.
... I only write for fun.
... my work is just ahead of its time.
... I don't want just any publisher. I'm waiting for the right one.
... I'm waiting for the trends in publishing to change direction."

Whatever keeps you writing so you keep improving and keep showing up will improve your chances remarkably.

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