A man of my acquaintance who’d just begun the process of sending his manuscript to agents told the world today in a blog post that he was giving up. He’d received two rejections. In the most recent one, the agent actually told him what she didn’t like about the novel, a plot point that could have been reworked with some effort. It may be that in a few days he changes his mind, and since I’ve seen the first chapter or two of his manuscript, I really do hope that’s true. He’s got a great idea and he’s a pretty thefty hand with a turn of phrase, so he’s a few steps ahead of the pack. But for now his feelings are badly bruised, and he’s decided this is all too hard.
All of you who’ve been hanging around with us here at Magical Words for more than a day or two have already noticed this career is freakishly hard. A writer has to be a creator, opening a vein and pouring his life onto the page every day. He has to be a warrior, striding mightily into the fray that is present-day publishing, clad in armor that deflects the slings and arrows of agents’ and editors’ and readers’ opinions. The writer has to be sensitive and tough, honest and discreet, convivial and wary, all at the same time. Faith has a breakdown she sometimes shares with people. It goes something like this: for every hundred would-be published writers, only ten will actually finish the novel. Of those ten, four will submit to agents. Of those four, two will get someone’s professional attention and of those two, one will sell a book. (That’s not exactly it but you get the point.) It’s no wonder that people just getting their feet wet in this business might be easily swayed away. It happens to all of us at some point. Look at the breakdown again. Writing a book is easy compared to selling the damned thing. It’s so easy to give up.
I remember one of my own give-up moments. I’d been writing seriously for several years, and I decided to enter my first three chapters in a fairly prestigious competition, the prize of which was a publishing contract with Random House. I wrote and honed and at last, the pages were ready. They were perfect. I was totally winning this thing. There was no question in my mind that in a few weeks, I’d receive a fat envelope from the publisher, an envelope containing a congratulatory letter and a book contract. A few weeks later, I did receive an envelope. It was the SASE I’d enclosed with my contest entry, and inside it was a single sheet of paper thanking me for entering and wishing me luck the next time. I had not won. I fell to pieces. How could someone else have appealed to the publisher more than me? It was inconceivable. I called one of the folks from my writing group, and wailed to him about how I should just quit. It wasn’t worth all this emotional turmoil. Luckily, I’d called the right friend. He could have consoled me, told me how crazy the publisher was for choosing someone else, but he didn’t. Instead, he said, “Yeah, go ahead and quit. That’ll show ’em.” It shocked me out of my pity party. Within a day, I was back to work on the novel. Maybe Random House didn’t want it, but someone else would, someday.
There are so many other creative outlets that offer quicker gratification. I can sew a pair of harem pants in an hour, or construct a tribal bra and belt set in an afternoon. I can learn a simple song on my psaltery in a day or two, and I can choreograph a dance in a week. All of those are equally valid forms of self-expression. We all have things we do that aren’t writing. David takes gorgeous photographs, Faith crafts one-of-a-kind jewelry. We could, I suppose, never write another word and still find some way to be creative. But books are, and always have been, the shining treasure of our lives, and nothing compares with writing and telling stories. Hard as this career might be, I’d rather face rejection and criticism than a future in which I never sell another book. I have so many stories inside me, just as every writer does. No one can tell your stories but you, and we readers want to hear them. It’s worth the suffering. Every single writer you ever heard of was told “no” more than once. So strap on your armor, and wade back into battle. You can’t win if you don’t fight.