I can’t name a single writer whose career has been without discouragement. We’ve all dealt with rejections, non-responses, bad reviews, losing a contest we were sure we’d win, having someone laugh at us when we share our career goals…
What sets apart the successful writers from the unsuccessful ones, in part, is the way we deal with these discouragements.
Let’s take a pretty common scenario. You’ve written something (a novel, screenplay, essay, short story, poetry collection, whatever) and you’ve sent it out ten times. All ten recipients either reject it or don’t respond at all. How do you react?
1. You yell, cry, wallow in pity, eat HoHos, etc.
2. You vow never to write again.
3. You grit your teeth and say, “I’ll show them. They’ll be sorry!” and begin cranking out a new masterpiece.
4. You keep sending it out and figuring it’ll find a home soon enough.
5. You reread the piece and decide it needs some editing.
Any of those reactions is fine and normal and appropriate… but those first two are appropriate for a limited time only.
Those first two reactions are the ones I’ve been thinking about lately. I get letters pretty often from writers who are down in the dumps over rejections, and they want me to advise them. “What should I do?” they’ll ask me. “I just want to give up.”
Truth? If you really want to give up– not just temporarily as a result of a stinging criticism– it’s probably healthier for you to do so.
Thing is, some people are pathological pity-hounds. They go to other writers and say, “I’m so discouraged! I got ten rejections and I think I’m just going to give up because no one wants me”
Almost without fail, writers will jump in and say, “Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up!” They mean well, of course. They want to be encouraging and caring. But the hard truth is that some people aren’t cut out to be writers– not because of a lack of talent, but because of an oversensitivity to discouragement.
See, they go through these cycles. They feel discouraged by publishers, so they come to fellow writers, who feed them with encouragement. Then they go back to the publishers, get discouraged again, and the cycle repeats.
At what point should we encouragers stop bandaging the problem and let the writer figure out if he or she can deal with the down-sides of writing?
When someone comes to the point of asking, “How long should I keep sending out this manuscript before I quit?” the answer is usually, “Quit now.” Why? Not because the work may never sell– for all I know, it could be the hottest best-seller of all times– but because the writer is already showing battle fatigue.
If you’re discouraged before your career even starts, how will you have the stamina to handle all the other discouragements that are bound to come your way?
Your editor leaves the house and the new editor wants a total rewrite, taking out what you think is your “best stuff.”
Sales aren’t great, so the publisher doesn’t want your next book.
Reviews are mixed, and some reviewers call your work trite and simplistic.
Your agent drops you.
Your book is sitting in the remainder bins in less than two years.
Someone else comes out with a book just like yours a month before your book’s publication date, and bookstores don’t order yours because it’s too similar to the one they just stocked.
The media ignores you.
Your publication date gets postponed twice, and your advance money has run out before the electric bill arrives.
Mean-spirited people post nasty reviews of your book on Amazon and elsewhere.
You take a risk and write in a new genre, only to find out that no one will buy it and you’ve “wasted” six months of your life.
These things happen.
Sometimes I think of that writer who’s so discouraged and worn out after ten rejections that she’s already threatening to quit, and I imagine her five or ten years down the line. Even if she sells that book, will she be able to handle all the other “stuff” that comes with being a writer?
Hey, we all go through crises of faith over our talents. We all get down, and most of us contemplate giving up at some point. The question you need to ask yourself is if this roller-coaster of emotions and career highs and lows suits your personality in the long term. Do you usually feel like giving up? Do you constantly seek outside assurance? If you knew that in your lifetime, you would accumulate 1,000 rejections instead of ten, does that thought make you miserable?
Don’t be so self-hating as to stick yourself into a business that depresses you. If you can imagine those rejections and tough spots and still believe that you’ll be happy with your life and your career overall, you’ll be fine. The good should outweigh the bad. But if it sounds terribly painful, why not keep writing as a hobby and find a different career goal?
Writing isn’t something most of us get into because we expect to get rich quick, or because we expect to become household names. We do it because it brings us creative fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment, and maybe the lifestyle attracts us. So weigh that against the disappointments and figure out: Is writing still making you happy? Is it worth it for you if you have to fight through the discouragements?
If the answer for you is “yes,” you’ll never have to ask someone if you should quit. You’ll know deep down that you would never quit, no matter how tough it gets. If the answer is “no,” don’t prolong your pain. Accomplishing your goals isn’t a good enough payoff if you’re going to be miserable all the way there.
Spend your time doing things that bring you more pleasure than pain. Whatever you choose to do with your life, if you’ve made the right choices, you’ll never have to ask someone when it’s time to quit.
Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com). She has written for hundreds of national and online magazines, including Physical, Woman’s World, Woman’s Own, Salon.com, and Contemporary Bride. She’s a contributing editor at Writer’s Digest and her latest book is MAKE A REAL LIVING AS A FREELANCE WRITER, which you can find at www.jennaglatzer.com. Find out how to get a FREE editors’ cheat sheet with this book!