Whenever you’re writing, no matter what stage of your career, it’s easy to become disheartened or start to question – what am I doing? After all, writing is a lonely occupation, full of uncertainty, self doubt and rejection. There are no guarantees that what you write will be good enough for publication or, if it is good enough for publication, that it will earn you any monetary gain.
But if publication and money are the only reasons you write, you might as well stop right now.
Remember, writing is a thing of joy – after all, isn’t that why we spend hours formulating ideas, reworking drafts, shaping words into the tales we want to tell? Of course there will be down sides – such as an editor telling you they liked your book but it doesn’t fit their current list – but these down sides are what make us better, stronger and more resilient. In short, the setbacks are what spur us on, so long as that’s the standpoint we adopt.
As @angelreadman recently tweeted to me: “Everytime I get rejected I feel down for an hour, then re-write the piece. I turn the disappointment into fuel.”
Exactly! As writers, we have to take control of our writing careers in many ways; writing, marketing, evaluating and improving. But most of all, we have to keep going. No one else is going to write for us. And if we’re going to let every small criticism set us back, then we’ll stay static in our careers.
Writing is not like a standard nine to five job. You can’t have paid sick days. If you sit back and take it easy for an hour or two, you’re the only one that will suffer. You can’t hide behind a more confident colleague or let someone else make decisions for you.
Surely, that’s the brilliance of writing? As a writer, there’s freedom to schedule your own routine, to work on projects of your choice, to create just for you. You can mess up as much as you want; people will only see the draft that you want them to see. Everything else can be kept private and then turned into something positive. You just need to harness it as fuel for improvement.
But if you’re finding things difficult and are looking for inspiration, here’s a story that might put things in perspective for you…
Earlier this week, endurance swimmer and local hero Steve Redmond returned to Ballydehob, West Cork, after becoming the first person in history to achieve the Oceans Seven challenge.
Returning from the Tsugaru Strait swim in Japan, the final leg of his record-breaking attempt, Steve said he was particularly delighted with the victory because at one stage, failure seemed imminent – and he had already failed this final leg three times.
But for Steve, failure was not an option. Like @angelreadman, he took the failed attempts and turned them into fuel for another try.
The Daily News of Open Water Swimming reported Steve saying:
“I just can’t go home. Too many people have supported me… I cannot fail. This [Tsugaru] Channel will be the death of me. You just don’t know what this [failure] would do to me.”
As writers, we understand too well. So how did Steve put the past failures behind him and keep going?
Apparently, he concentrated on mantras from his children as well as focusing on the knowledge that he had his home village and county supporting him.
“I use anything that gives me a mental edge. Marathon swimming is about as close as you can get to death while you are alive here on Earth. You lose all sense of perception while you are swimming in such difficult conditions.”
As writers, we may not be facing life-threatening conditions, but we are facing a journey that risks failure. We’re putting our work out there – complete with passion, heart and soul – for others to reject and criticise (or hopefully enjoy and praise). Once we take the plunge and send off a submission, we can only hope that the reaction is a positive one.
But like Steve Redmond, we have to keep going. If we want to be career writers, we have to go against adversity and reach for our dreams, whatever it takes. This means writing from the heart, using every writing technique we know and learning as we go. We have to allow ourselves to fail and use setbacks to improve.
We’re human, so we’re often impatient and unrealistic, expecting everything to happen quickly. But it takes time and endurance to establish a career and success. It took Steve three years to accomplish what he set out to do – but I bet he would have kept going until completion, no matter how many attempts were required.
So, for the love of writing, keep going.