Writing is a unique experience. Unlike other pursuits, you are the only person solely responsible for everything. You must be the one to write in the first place, but you must also have the willpower and discipline to continue to do so. Even when you’re fed up with edits. Even when you feel like you can’t be a writer anymore. The only way you can be a writer is by pushing yourself, and managing your progress towards every single goal you set up for yourself.
No one else can interfere.
The questions I’ve been hearing from good friends is how you stay focused as a writer when you try and get your career in the field going. There are plenty of ways to make a start. You can publish traditionally or by yourself. You can submit short stories to a variety of publications, enter competitions and such. The problems with those common ideas are that they are too closely tied to success. They garner themselves to the expectation of instant success and when the inevitable rejections come, you’re left wondering what else you can do to get started. It would seem your aspirations have been nipped in the bud before they got to flower.
Firstly, forgive yourself for hoping to have success at the first try, regardless of the level.
So your short story got rejected. Your self-published book didn’t sell anything like you hoped. That’s fine. Don’t lie to yourself about wanting to succeed at the first, second, third, fourth or even firth (or more) try, because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have ever bothered in the first place. Recognise you want to succeed quickly, but don’t allow yourself to repress that feeling because your head might tell you that’s such a vain hope.
It’s not, and you’re only human.
But if submitting work to various outlets sets you up for a blow to your hopes, what else is there to do? The problem is not finding some other outlet, but simply valuing the activities you do before you think about publishing. You’ve got to sort yourself out mentally, so you can condition yourself to react to rejection in a positive way. This means evaluating your approach to both your writing and goals for it on a regular basis that is constructive and enables you to better appreciate what you do.
When we talk about publishing, particularly publishing failure, we often try to find external sources to blame. The editor was picky. The reader didn’t understand the point you were making. Whatever the excuse, we scrutinise ourselves last when things don’t go our way. Of course, we don’t want to for a number of reasons. The primary ones are that it’s easier to blame someone else, and that we’ve invested a whole load of time and emotion in our work. As such we’re extremely unwilling to find fault in ourselves as it negates all the work previously put in. It is painful to realise that you need to rewrite an entire story because you wrote it in the wrong way. Again, take a step back and don’t hate yourself for being only human. No matter what you do, there’s no way to get rid of that horrible, sinking feeling in your stomach when you realise you made a mistake. You’re justified in feeling that way; a mistake is not something to celebrate.
A mistake in writing is never a total disaster as long as you respond to your emotions correctly.
Don’t jump in the deep end; don’t delete all your work because it “isn’t good enough” because there is very much the chance that it might well have been a case that the editor just didn’t like what you did. Writing is subjective, and you can edit your work as much as you like but it might still get you nowhere. In all cases, I would say that you must never delete anything as a rule of thumb. Once it’s deleted, it’s gone. Instead, keep everything you do and edit. Edits are how your improve your writing, not deleting and starting from scratch. You must also learn to be confident in your own skills as a writer. Evaluating yourself requires that you have a good gauge of your abilities as they truly are and you must appreciate them. To do so otherwise is purely destructive, as you’ll never know where to focus your efforts, but more importantly, you’ll probably end up destroying something that you actually do well – you just didn’t have the confidence in your ability to see that. There are plenty of writers who will tell you everyone gets rejected so many times, and even the ones held up as literary greats got rejected many times as well. So, go build up your self-belief and remember that you will get there as long as you keep on trying.
A true rejection is if you give up without getting published.
What you must also reconsider is how you gauge your progress. Don’t measure yourself by letters, but instead do so in how much you write. Perhaps the greatest thing we forget when trying to gauge progress in our respective writing careers is how much we write in itself. I feel we really undervalue it if we measure progress only by how much you’ve published. Writing is the prelude to publishing, it is the very first step on that road and it is crucial to it. Nothing else can come if you don’t write first.
So if you find yourself thinking that you’re going nowhere in writing, stop and look at how much you’ve done. The reality is that you’re always going somewhere and all of it is progress.
I keep myself writing with one thought in mind. I enjoy writing in the first place. Such enjoyment will always keep you going as long as you focus on it, and not things later down the road. Keep such reasons in your mind first, and all other worries second otherwise you just burn yourself out.
If you want to succeed, keep writing and remember it’s just as much about writing well as it is being able to continue going forward in spite of all hardship.