Note: Sorry for the delayed post. I had a sudden loss in the family, as well as a new motivation to focus on my manuscript.
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Aspiring writers face a common challenge that pervades most of society—self-worth. For aspiring writers, becoming published is often the single-most significant milestone. It’s what justifies all of the hard work we’ve put into our craft, all the time spent hidden behind a screen instead of being present with our family and friends, and all the times we’ve had to answer, “Why are you looking at me like that?” Being published is the difference between friends and family telling you that you’re great, and the “professional” writing community telling you that you’re great. At least, that’s how it can feel. I’m sure there is a whole new post-publication stress that we will experience when that day comes, but for now, reaching that milestone can be absolutely defeating. Afterall, how do you tell your family and friends that you’re a writer after the 100th rejection from an agent or publisher? What do you tell them after a decade has come and gone and you’ve yet to taste the sweet nectar of publication? What do you tell yourself?
I went through a period of doubt, questioning my future as a writer, doubting that I would actually ever see my book on a shelf. I struggled through it and came out the other side, motivated and confident. I have yet to reach that quintessential milestone, and I hold my head up high and declare to the world, “I am a writer!”
Kinda cheesy, I know. Nevertheless, it’s true. We’ve all tried and failed. What makes us good at something is the number of times we tried again. Some scientists go their entire career without any “successes”. But then again, they’ve also mastered the ability to find success in failure, and often get excited about it. There is an admitted difference between failing at proving a hypothesis and failing at finding an agent or publisher; however, the fundamental perception of a failed hypothesis vs. a rejected manuscript is the same—knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.
After my eleventy-billionth rejection of Age of Darkness, I began to question the publishability of the manuscript. When my rejections doubled, I avoided all those intrusive thoughts, telling me I needed to rewrite. When my rejections septupled…I realized it was crap. Okay, not crap, just very novice. But I had already invested so much time into it that the prospect of essentially starting over was overwhelming.
So I took a break.
A long break. Over a year, to be quite less than exact.
After a bit of soul-searching, I realized my arrogance had brought me to this point. We hear about those amazing success stories, like Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling, and while we may not hold such expectations of attaining instant success with our first novel, we still have expectations. Namely being represented/published. I’d felt that I had realistic expectations—I’d expected to get a lot of rejections, but that eventually, my manuscript would find representation. My arrogance wasn’t in those expectations. It was that I’d believed my manuscript was ready for representation; it was that I’d believed that, as is, it would eventually find representation.
After devouring a few servings of humble pie, I was tearing through Age of Darkness with not just a renewed passion, but more importantly, a new perspective. I felt twinges of embarrassment as I reread it, and it made me wonder if my high school self had somehow occupied my body when I’d written it. The chapters were full of dramatic, flowery pros, with super-villains and NPC’s straight out of a D&D campaign. No wonder I’d hit a wall of rejections!
But…how had this happened? I’d been so certain that I’d written finally crafted characters in a unique and mystical world.
In a word: Inexperience.
My high school self hadn’t occupied my body. I was just new to the craft, puerile, making novice mistakes that anyone should expect to make as they enter a trade. I did it in the Army, and I do it as a writer. That’s what we do with any job if we want to keep doing it. Recognizing my juvenile writing felt like an accomplishment in and of itself. It was an empowering experience that completely changed my perspective on writing.
What we tell people, or ourselves, after a decade has come and gone without publication is irrelevant. It’s what we do that matters. Maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at your work. Be objective. Be brutal.
Most importantly—be honest.