What are your real hopes and dreams for your writing career? How vital are they to your sense of self-worth? If all your happiness is contingent on becoming a huge success in commercial terms, then you know you’re in for disappointment. You may reach that goal one day, but what are you feeling in the meantime? What does your day-to-day attitude look like?
Maybe you don’t want to be a best-selling author. Maybe your dream is to just get a publishing contract—to give you validation that you’re a good writer. Maybe you’ve set your goals a little lower, querying small publishers in the hopes that someone will buy your novel.
But when, after months of repeated rejections, you cannot land a contract or an agent to represent you, you fall apart and want to die. Maybe you wallow in misery for a bit, then brush off the dust and get back up again. Your year may be one long roller coaster of ups and downs—feelings of expectation and optimism one day, then despair and defeat the next. After some months of rejections, you decide you’ll do a major rewrite and submit again. Or you’ll shelve that book for a while and write another. Sometimes, if you just keep trying, something will sell.
The One Still Standing Wins
And amazingly enough, that is often the case. I have been told by more than one literary agent high up in the book publishing industry for over three decades that “the one with the most persistence wins.” My agent fifteen years ago said that to me. It took me twenty-three years to finally sell my first novel (I had written eight or nine by that time and had had six agents over the years who all assured me they could sell my books, no problem . . . but the rejection letters kept pouring in.).
And it’s something I tell my clients too—that I truly believe if you will stick with it, persevere, apply yourself to improving your craft in every way you can, you will eventually get a book contract. You really have to be ready to stick with this writing thing for the long haul.
I wonder what I would have done if, before I started writing the first chapter of my first novel, someone had told me that hard as I tried, it would take me over twenty years to get published. Would I have begun? Would I still have written all those novels? If you ask yourself, “What would I have done?” how would you answer? Your answer will tell you a lot about how you feel about writing, and more importantly, how you feel about yourself.
I’m just tossing these thoughts and questions out to start getting you thinking about your motivation. Your joy in your writing is all tied up with that. As well as you self-image and feelings of self-worth. Unfortunately, we humans tend to define ourselves by what we do instead of who we are. And if what we do repeatedly fails, we feel like a failure.
But I believe if we focus more on the joy of creativity, look outward to encourage and inspire others, and adjust our attitude to embrace a different definition of success (read: significance), we can find joy day after day, regardless of if we ever sell our novel or not. In future posts, I’ll go into CRAVE—which is something I’ve come up with to help us understand what we crave and why and how it ties in with our writing life. But for now, I hope I’ve given you something to think about.