Keeping Your Spirits Up Before You Get Published

Writers need continual encouragement. The writing life is no easy road, and the failure or delay in reaching our career goals can be disheartening. So I like to feature posts from time to time to remind us why we write and how to keep going with a positive attitude. Blogger and author Chris Miller has some uplifting ideas to share:

We writers, like everyone else, are ego-driven creatures, and when we haven’t received that most obvious of recognitions—publication—we can feel discouraged. Whether we have a finished manuscript or we’re simply plugging away, slaving away nights and weekends in the hopes that someone will pick it up, we’re operating an a sort of basal, near-instinctual faith in our own abilities, and often times that’s all we have.

Sure, we have friends and family to encourage us and tell us that our latest WIP is gold and sometimes even to provide victuals, but they love us and don’t want to hurt our feelings, and they may not have the requisite tools to make those assessments in the first place.

So, what do you do when your family tells you that your fantasy epic trilogy can’t possibly not become a best seller, and your tenth prospective agent has rejected your manuscript?

Here are my suggestions:

1. Ask yourself if the agents might just be right. Yes, we’ve all heard it before: you’ve got to plow through your struggles and eventually you’ll see the light of day, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s not true. Sure, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was rejected by more than 10 publishers before she finally found someone interested in her whimsical record-shattering series, but how many (dozens? hundreds?) more stories of failure have you heard?

You may not have what it takes, after all. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We each have different talents, and who wants to try making a living as a writer anyway? 😉

The point is that you need to sit down and honestly assess your writing. You can always improve your technique, but the pure art of storytelling can seem like a gift from God one either has or one doesn’t. If you truly believe that you have the talent, and your story has merit, then you can (and I wholeheartedly support your decision to) press forward in all your stereotypical authorial perseverance, armed with a new surging vitality. Don’t be discouraged, and do send your manuscript back out there. (Editors have personal tastes just like the rest of us, and if your work is good, you’ll eventually find an editor who has similar tastes.)

If not, then it’s time to focus on a career that will actually support you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t write for pleasure, but the writing life isn’t easy, and it’s not getting any easier.

2. Remember Why You’re Writing. This goes with the honest assessment, actually. If you’re writing to make an easy living, or to become wildly famous, you’re statistically bound to your obscurity. But, if you’re writing because you can’t imagine doing anything else, and you’re secure with the likelihood that you’ll earn a pittance but a loyal following, then forge ahead. Keep yourself focused on your reasons for writing. If you simply must tell stories, you’re going to tell stories. We all know that. Keep that in mind and the wait will never become too much for you.

3. Treat Yourself. The writing life is hard. It’s downright masochistic at times. Sitting at a desk for hours on end when the words come so slowly, depriving yourself of a nice meal out or a new outfit—these can slowly drain you of your will to live. It’s one thing to manage money, and another thing entirely to cut yourself off from any pleasures. You’re not a monk; you’re a writer. Don’t feel that you have to live an ascetic lifestyle. In the end, you’ll feel better about yourself. And I’m not just talking about little things like dinner out on the town. If you’re self-conscious about your smile, head online and search for “Invisalign Braces” in your hometown and work out a payment plan with your orthodontist. I know that I’m much more productive when I’m in a happy state, and frankly, living the austere writer’s life doesn’t cut it for me. So reward yourself for your successes, and don’t deprive yourself just because of any failures.

4. Start Anew. I’m absolutely of the opinion that you should finish every project you’re working on (and that drafting is an indispensable part of the writing process), but that doesn’t mean I think you can’t work on multiple projects, or shelf a project once you’ve made it through that first draft. (I simply don’t want to get stuck in a perpetual cycle of editing.) Beginning a new project will help you find those most exciting of feelings as you uncover the potential of a story. Or, go back to a draft of one of your previous projects. With fresh eyes, you’re bound to make changes in your story, and maybe one of these changes will be the one that leads to your publication.

Step away from your stories. Immerse yourself in a board game night with family and friends. Read outside your genre (you should be doing this anyway). Write something outside your genre (while it’s hard to write excellent poetry, it’s pretty simple to write poetry at all; critiques and reviews will help you focus on general literary techniques and themes rather than letting yourself be mired in the particulars of your own work). Write in a different place, or at a different time, or both. Read nonfiction especially. Reread your favorite writers. Reread your least favorite writers. With the former you’ll remember what you’re reaching for, and with the latter you’ll be able to see how far you’ve already come, or how far away from truly execrable work you are.

When you come back to your work with fresh eyes, you’ll feel refreshed and be able to see things you missed before.

5. Journal Daily. I’m a perfectionist. Every word and sentence has to be just right, and when things aren’t working the way I want them to, I have difficulty moving on. But when you’re writing in a journal, there’s no generic convention you have to follow, no audience expectations to be met, nothing but you and your feelings. Get your frustrations on the page and you’ll feel better. Plus, you’ll be maintaining a habit of writing every day even when you’re taking a breather from your novel(s). There’s no right way to journal so long as you’re journaling, so tackle questions and thoughts that you wouldn’t have thought to tease out in your novel writing. You might be surprised to learn that there’s relevant and useful stuff there after all.

In Conclusion

Don’t let yourself wallow in the mire. If you’re confident in your writing, even if you have a collection of exotic rejection slips, keep sending your manuscript out. By all means, take note of an editor’s or trusted reader’s comments, but there’s bound to be someone out there with similar tastes, so don’t pour everything into editing your singular manuscript every time it gets rejected. Trust in your work.

Sometimes we just need to recharge our creative energy by treating ourselves to something special or by immersing ourselves in something we love—that isn’t writing.

Good luck and see you on the other side of that publishing hurdle.

Chris Miller is a professional writer, blogger, and English grammar enthusiast. Chris enjoys learning about new health products, procedures, and ideas. You can follow him on Twitter for updates on his writing.

 

23 Responses to “Keeping Your Spirits Up Before You Get Published”

  1. Jessica Flory June 24, 2013 at 6:28 am #

    Great post! I especially love the point of starting anew. I had the problem where I finished one manuscript and got stuck doing endless revisions and trying to send it out to agents. I got sick of writing and sick of that story, so I took a step back and started a new project. It’s been really refreshing, and time has given me perspective to see the errors in the old manuscript. Win-win!

    • Chris Miller June 24, 2013 at 7:36 am #

      That happens to me all the time. I’m hoping I can take my own advice and can eventually come back to it, but it is a marvelous feeling to start a new project.

  2. Theresa Hupp June 24, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    This hit home for me today. I have a novel I’m working on that is almost to the point of publication, but I know it still has a problem to be worked out, and it is SO frustrating! Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Chris Miller June 24, 2013 at 7:43 am #

      First off, congrats! on getting so far. 🙂

      If you know someone you can trust, I’d invite him or her out to lunch and then talk it out with them. Run through any scenarios you think might work and see what they think sounds most satisfying.

  3. Ryan Urie June 24, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    I think keeping a journal is definitely one of the better ways to overcome perfectionism, something I and many, many other writers struggle with. The trick is to do it by hand, in pen, because there’s no going back to fix things. You just have to press on.

    Number one reminded me of a time a few weeks back when a run of bad luck had me seriously questioning my decision to become a writer. I asked my wife how I could tell if these struggles were a test of faith or if they were Fate’s way of telling me I was on the wrong path. She said, “If you quit, then it was Fate. If you keep trying until you make it, then it was a test of faith.”

    • Chris Miller June 24, 2013 at 7:49 am #

      Good point. I should have played up the benefits of writing your journal entries in pen, so thanks for bringing that up.

      I love that quote. Thank your wife for me. 🙂

  4. Shea McIntosh Ford June 24, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    Great post!I fall under, “If you simply must tell stories, you’re going to tell stories.” What I have a problem with is people who see it as a hobby for me. I may not be making much yet, but “hobby” just seems so inappropriate…

    • Chris Miller June 25, 2013 at 8:14 am #

      I completely understand.

      I haven’t exactly had the success I’d hoped for. I don’t mind it so much from acquaintances, but I get it (and I imagine you do too) from family and friends too. That’s much harder to deal with, even when they’re actually fairly supportive. (But now I’m rambling.)

  5. Vashti Quiroz-Vega June 24, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    Great post! Chris gives some really good advise. I’m in the process of querying my second book, and I know I’m going to need to read this from time to time. So I saved it. : D

    • Chris Miller June 25, 2013 at 8:15 am #

      That’s high praise. Thank you. And I’m happy to have been able to help you. 🙂

  6. Sandra June 25, 2013 at 5:10 am #

    Great encouragement–thanks! After hanging on to my one inspired poem for 14 years, more than one of which was spent on http://www.christianmanuscriptsubmissions.com with NO response, I finally illustrated it, got a personal loan, and researched self-publishers through The Christian Writers’ Market Guide by Sally Stuart. It has taken longer than I expected, and cost more–and of course I was contacted by a marketing agent who’s going to promote it globally, which I pay for, and also submit it to royalty houses–but it’s MY book and I was able to resubmit a couple of illustrations that didn’t look as good as expected on the electronic proof, and add Spanish and French sections that will really enhance its value. I built my website by myself on http://www.jimdo.com with no experience, and added a PayPal link so I can sell my own copies, in addition to what my publisher keeps and sells through amazon, bn, and ibooks. The Guide has a symbol for publishers who offer e-books–definitely get that option.

    • Chris Miller June 25, 2013 at 8:17 am #

      Good for you! That sounds great. Here’s hoping you find that success. Better later than never, right?

  7. Karen June 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    I really needed to hear this today. I recently finished the fourth (or is it fifth?) set of revisions to my novel and have started to send it out to agents and publishers. I received my first rejection and even though I know it happens, I was very depressed. After reading your blog,however, I am determined to keep going and not lose heart. Thank you.

  8. Kingsley Agu June 25, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

    Chris – you Rock!
    The “starting anew” part is basically my little problem for now. I easily get so involved in my writing that I find it hard finishing and starting another one.
    I’ll apply your advice, I pray it works for me.

  9. Robert Sloan June 26, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    Excellent post.

    The only point I disagree about is Talent. I don’t think there is any such thing. I think it’s a myth that discourages people. It’s not some inherent genetic or supernatural thing that makes someone a writer. It’s learning how to write well and wanting it enough to keep learning and doing until your efforts and the opportunities you see in life intersect.

    Skills can be learned. If some part of the process, whether it’s editing or marketing or finishing a rough draft is too much all at once, approach it setting smaller sub-goals and checking them off. When I count my successes it’s a lot better for morale. It keeps me going.

    I also have to be realistic about any obstacles in life that eliminate any chance of working on it. Getting sick and spending months too pain-dazed to do anything coherent is what it is. Any kind of personal crisis or difficulty in life can become immersive. Reserving energy and effort for writing during the hard patches in life can sometimes mitigate those disasters.

    If only because if I set small attainable sub-goals and achieve them, I’ve got something positive to say to myself at the end of that day when everything else went to pot.

    It’s in my hands. “Talent” is a word people use to bless it after I succeed at something. I know the years it took to learn how to do that sophisticated art form and the person who just encountered the result is awed by the magic. It is magic, getting an idea out of my head and into a reader’s.

    But when I’m backstage with other writers, I don’t buy it. I don’t think ‘talent’ means anything compared to learning the skills and applying them. That and wanting to, but motivation is something I can deliberately cultivate. I have to enjoy the process because my long term goal is exactly that – long term. It’s not going to be here tomorrow.

    On the day that it is, I had better have good habits and more goals ahead or my life will fall apart on success.

    • cslakin June 26, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      One of my agents once told me that success as a writer is 95% persistence, but also 5% talent. I must say that since I critique 100-200 manuscripts a year, there is something to be said for talent. Some people really do have a wonderful gift of writing, wordsmithing, thinking creatively with language, and as a reader, I am greatly drawn to that talent/gift when it shows up. I think, like any creative endeavor, that anyone can master a craft and be proficient in it, and find some success. But there are some people, like Michelangelo, who are amazingly gifted and their talent soars above the masses. I don’t believe you can teach that talent to someone. It really is a gift, just as some are gifted as teachers or givers. If you don’t really have a gift for writing and you love to write, that shouldn’t stop you (I mean you in general–not you specifically, Robert). But whatever measure you have of talent, you can nurture it and make it bloom to whatever extent possible. And that’s all about hard work too, and honing craft.

  10. barbara June 26, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    After years spent in Heaven,a creative euphoric place where I alone played God, I entered the fiery depths of editing Hell. After several painful self-edits, I hired a professional editor and reader, who after months of work, had wonderful things to say about my debut novel. Since then I have queried and submitted to agents, as well as publishing house who may be interested in my work. No agent has been interested thus far, but three houses have requested the full, and then eventually sent very personal flattering letters of rejection. While several people have read and loved the work, I am beginning to wallow in doubt. Thanks Chris, for taking the time to share your advice and motivate us to continue to write and submit.

  11. Alex Myers June 26, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Wow — lots of great information and reminders.

    I so fully agree with your point about (possibly) listening to agents. I’ve heard too many writers say that they just have to believe in themselves and keep sending their work out. Yes, that’s true, but…

    In my own case, I got agent to respond to my query letter asking for the manuscript. This meant the query was good. Then lots of agents passed on the manuscript… I took this as a sign that the writing needed work.

    It is, as you say, a form of inspiration! Thanks for that reminder.

    -Alex.

    (AlexMyersWriting.blogspot.com)

  12. Erica DiCarlo June 26, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    Excellent post! Quite well timed as I am just now finishing my first manuscript! Thank you for sharing! God bless

  13. cslakin June 26, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Thanks, Chris, for the great post and for sharing additional thoughts and comments!

  14. Grace Peterson June 27, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Great post. This topic isn’t talked about very much but it’s relevant to all hopeful writers.

    It took me over 2 years and multiple rejections to get published. Only once during that time did an agent even request my ms. Whenever I got a rejection I turned around and sent out more proposals. Finally, after completely giving up on agents, I found an Indie publisher last fall and in May my book was released. I’ve also signed with this publisher for my second book.

    If it’s meant to be it will happen. Never give up!

  15. Jeffrey Crimmel July 1, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    Liked the article and comment regarding the reasons for writing. Idea that there is a million dollars waiting for you at the end of the Rainbow or writing for the sake of writing seemed to strike a bell. visions of the first book being made into a movie and other such notions have been replaced with the simple joy of writing. That is it for me right now in this lifetime. Maybe in the next one I will get an earlier start.

  16. Alan Toner, Wirral Writer July 10, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    A very good, thought-provoking post. As a Kindle book writer, I can certainly empathise with your sentiments. Writing is never easy, and writer’s block forever besets you. But when you suddenly get a great idea, and you just can’t stop writing about it, then it can be sheer bliss!

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