Writers learn a lot on their journeys. Sure, they learn interesting snippets of fact, a few how-to things, certainly how to communicate – They might even pick up some practical skills, but what I’m talking about today goes much deeper than all of that.
The really important learning writers do is often something that might be completely overlooked. That’s what happened to me. During all my years of writing, I’ve done a lot of researching, a lot of reading and a lot of hands-on stuff so I could understand areas I did not already understand, and write about them. But I didn’t see what I was also doing. My focus was always outside myself and on what I next needed to grasp.
I continued to focus on everything else for a great many years. The first version of my first book was completed and rejected several times. More polishing and finally rewrites were also rejected. A major rewrite was undertaken, changing some fundamentals, which also got knocked back more than once.
Every writer gets reject slips. When I finally started to look into what agents look at and what was going on in the industry itself, I came to realize there are serious problems there. This is not an excuse, you can look into it yourself. When a manuscript is rejected based on the FIRST LINE of the COVER LETTER because agents are too busy to take any more than a cursory glance at anything that crosses their desk, it’s not hard to see there’s a problem. Their solution seems to be the exact opposite of what is needed – they speed up where they should slow down. Writers are not advertising agents, that’s supposed to be the agents’ job, and rejecting a manuscript because the writer doesn’t grab the agent’s interest with the very first sentence of their introduction letter is shoddy to say the least.
It’s frightening to think of the gems that these people are missing and the sheer talent going to waste for it.
Introducing yourself over the phone isn’t any better, by the way. I had an editor tell me once that a caller has five seconds to make an impact, and that’s all. What the heck are you supposed to do with that?
Anyway – I’ve digressed – let’s get back to what’s so important.
Having rejections all through your writing career to date tends to make you feel pretty low about your abilities and chances. After decades of this, you might start to wonder if you have wasted your life, your energies and your creativity, and wish you had taken a different fork in the road way back when it all began.
That’s the way I saw it. It was a pretty miserable time. Finally, after coming to understand the deep problems with the industry, and believing firmly in myself, I took the leap, took control and published on my own. It turns out that’s exactly what a lot of writers are doing. They are no longer handing over their worth and their future to some unknown person sitting at a desk, giving five or ten seconds a shot to everything in front of them.
By then I knew I could write. I’d gone through trial by fire, trial by self-doubt and been well educated in the School of Hard Knocks. I’d worked hard, trained hard, persevered and kept on keeping on. I never gave up striving.
The thing so often overlooked is training. Not of things surrounding the story you are writing, but writing itself. I looked at 30 years worth of time and effort and wondered if it had been a waste. I know now that was not a waste. Far from it. It was full-on, full-blown training. Every reject slip, every frustration, every get-back-in-there-and-make-it-right was a lesson that honed and polished my skills.
This is true for all of us. It’s the harsh reality of a knock-back that has us striving ever harder. It will either wear you down or make you strong, but whatever it does, it’s teaching you something about yourself, your commitment, your talent (even if at times you don’t believe in it) and giving you an in-depth experience of what it is to be a writer, warts and all.
Yes, it hurts. Sometimes it’s crippling, but when you finally come out the other side – however long that takes – you get the blinkers ripped off and suddenly realize that you’re not only a writer but a good writer.
How do you know? It’s not so much how many people like your stuff. There will always be people who like your work and always be people who don’t. You will know because you will like your stuff. You will put aside a project and come back to it months later and find, instead of disappointment and a list a mile long about what needs work, rework or polishing, that it’s a pleasant read, or lovely, or fun or exciting. The words you wrote will surprise you.
So, please, bear that in mind if you are suffering now with doubts or worries. Every frustration is leading you to better things. It might take an age, it might not. In my case the improvements were so minute, I didn’t even notice them taking shape.
For years before I published, I thought I was going nowhere. All I could see were obstacles, dead-ends and rejection. I would try and try and try, and seemed to get nowhere for it. Yet that wasn’t true. It turned out I was going full-steam ahead all the while. I was training.
THAT’S what’s so important.
Take care, guys. Never give up. Keep writing.