Hard Truths: A Letter to Writers

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”
-Ray Bradbury  

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
-Sylvia Plath

Dear aspiring writers,

When I first learned I wanted to be a writer, particularly an author, back in my middle school days, my naive and innocent mind told me that it would be simple. Just write a book, submit it to a publisher, and watch the money roll in. The idealism was palpable. To make money doing what I loved doing, what could be better? Better yet, what could be easier? All it took was a good idea for a story and readers would flock to it like it was the next Tolkien.

As an adult I learned about how in my youth I oversimplified my goals. Perhaps many of you have too. Forgive me for laying out some hard truths. To start out with, writing is work and it’s intense. Let’s number the ways it can be an emotional strain.

The Challenges of Writing in and of Itself

Writing is a talent that many people have to develop. True, some individuals seem to be blessed with an innate talent for writing, but even they have to hone their craft. The first draft is going to be crap. The second draft will be crap too. The third draft might still be crap, but maybe a little better quality. The fourth draft might not be that great either, but maybe you’ll make some better progress.  No matter how many drafts, expect to write and rewrite. Expect to go to bed frustrated.

Then there is writer’s block. There will be some days that the words flow naturally like a river unimpeded while there will be other days when it feels like a dam has been constructed, blocking the flow. For the latter, you may feel like your whole day was wasted.

You may also struggle with originality. For instance, you may enter a temporary state of semi-divinity, thinking that you have transcended above everyone else with a unique idea and that your mind has been full of enlightenment. I hate to break this to you, but the vast majorities of ideas aren’t original, many having already been done before.

When you find out that your ideas or thoughts aren’t so original, you may feel like you don’t have a voice to offer. You’ll doubt your abilities. You might even think that you shouldn’t write anyway because everything has been said and done. This can be highly detrimental.

Being a writer may also make it feel like you are competing with other writers. Whether you write fiction for Booksie or non-fiction for Medium, there’s a good chance that you’ll see other writers who have more readers and who have received more accolades. Some of these writers may seem like crap-writers, and you’ll see your own work as superior. You might wonder why they have all this praise garnished on them and a heavy readership while you don’t. Often it feels unfair. I know, I’ve been there. It’s frustrating.

Oh, speaking of frustration and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere, there is a chance that this will happen to you. After all, the writer’s mind is a fairground of loud noise, of ideas shouting over one another, each one begging you to come to their stalls and check out their attractions. You’ll be pulled in every direction, working on so many numerous stories, poems, or articles at once that you won’t always know which ones to focus on. Do you go into the whimsical funhouse of creative imagination by focusing on writing a fantasy novel? Or do you go to one of the educational exhibits by writing an article? Time is short, and in this fairground of ideas one has to prioritize.

The Challenges of Promoting your Writing

Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re eventually going to have to promote your writing. It will be promoted in one of two ways, either through sending query letters and samples to publishing firms, or  through self-publishing. Both options offer unique challenges.

For the traditional route, you’re going to have to find out which publishing firms accept solicited manuscripts and which accept unsolicited manuscripts, or which require an agent and which don’t. To those that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, next comes the fun part in finding a literary agent, and they cost money, deducting a percentage of your earnings.

When sending a manuscript, you’ll wait months and months. Oh, and it gets better. Some of these publishing firms don’t want you to send the same submission out to multiple publishing firms. Though in fairness, although this has long been the norm, from my understanding, this is changing. Either way, you’ll have to check to see if the publishing firm is okay with multiple submission forms. And after all that waiting, you may end up with a mountain of rejection slips. 

So, why not cut out the middlemen and the waiting time and go the self-publishing route? In theory it sounds like a sage idea. After all, aside from the aforementioned benefits, self-published writers get to keep more of their earnings. Except there’s a catch. You truly have to promote your writing.

There won’t be any publishing firms to advertise your work. You are going to have advertise your book on your own, which means you may have to take to Twitter or Facebook. And, much like what has been mentioned about Medium and Booksie, you are going to have a chorus of loud voices drowning you out. There is the option of promoting your book at a bookstore. No matter what you choose, you’ll have the skepticism of general readers, who ask why they should pay money on a self-published author.

Another challenge to self-publishing is that you’ll be editing your own work, unless you want to pay large sums of money for an editor. You’ll also have to pay for an International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, or most libraries and bookstores won’t carry your book. And if you want to publish in physical forms, you’ll have to pay for the printing. 

 

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Arrested Development. Image from Gify

Feeling Discouraged? Don’t Be! 

Perhaps it sounds like I’m trying to tell you to give up on your dreams. That’s not my intent at all. Good things are worth struggling for.

“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.”
-George Washington

It’s going to take perseverance and spirit to stick with writing. But you can do it. In fact, you’ll find it very rewarding. Yes, you’ll have your bad days in which it seems like the odds are stacked up against you. But you’ll also have days in which you’ll achieve a little victory, and when those days happen, you’ll feel a profound sense of gratification. I have a motto, and it simply states….

We have hundreds of failures and hardships, in order to better appreciate and savor one small victory and one single moment of joy a thousand times more. 

That said, I know that these words may ring hollow. So, here’s another tip. Find joy in the process of writing and of learning how to promote your work. Now, I’m a gamer, so I think about it terms of playing a video game. In action platform games, there are multitudes of enemies coming at you, along with traps to maneuver and pits to avoid. In terms of RPGs, one has to spend hours leveling up their character before they can progress throughout the game. And yet, a sense of enjoyment come out of it. The same can be said for writing and promoting. The enemies, pits, and traps you run into may be your own self doubts or unfair criticisms from others. Leveling up may entail writing and rewriting your manuscript, not twice, not thrice, but enumerable times. In terms or promotion, you may not know all the rules, just like you may start off not knowing all the rules and mechanics of a game. But we learn as we go along. Like gaming, writing can be enjoyable. And just like we feel a sense of satisfaction when we get further in a video game, we can have that same satisfaction when we finish a chapter, or even a paragraph, and when we get the attention of a reader. 

I realize that video game progression may not be an appropriate analogy for all you writers. However, think of something you do love, whether it be a physical activity such as sports, hiking, or swimming, or something artistic like knitting or painting, or putting together a puzzle or piecing together a model, in which piece by piece it comes together, and compare it to to the process of writing. It all comes together. Again, see the learning process of writing, as well as the promotion, as something enjoyable.

Last but not least, as cliche as this advice is, write for yourself. Write as a form of escapism or a way to articulate your feelings about important issues or hobbies you love. Write as though you are saving your soul. As for making money and gaining readers, let that come naturally. 

Nick Miller Typewriter Gif by Thierry Van Bissen. Gify.

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