I recently came across an article in the New York Times that spoke to me. It mentions an author who came up with an “anti-resume” of sorts, where she highlights, in excruciating detail, all the times she was rejected or failed in some other way. She has one or two break-through successes to show for, but all of her failures numbering well in the hundreds somehow seemed more impressive and compelled her to make that list.
Dealing with rejection is hard. Something I don’t do well at all, which is why I chose to self-publish my book. It seemed so much easier, even though it was a ton of work and took months, if not years, than having to open even just a single email or letter telling me that my book “is not right for us at this time.”
Even so, self-publishing comes with its own forms of rejection. No one tells you so to your face, but when your Amazon sales reports come in and you see that your book isn’t exactly flying off the shelves, it’s not all that encouraging. Not that you had great expectations to begin with. Writers are usually good with setting low expectations. Or maybe that’s just me, and my perfectionist self.
And yet, nowhere does rejection and failure seem to be so prevalent as in the writing business. Most every author with a name will tell you that they had to overcome a lot of earlier rejection before they made it big. And it’s not that we are better equipped with rejection. Probably more the opposite, honestly. We are typically not those types totally full of ourselves and confident in our abilities. We overthink everything way too much, which is one of the reasons we are writers in the first place. Just one rejection slip is reason enough to doubt our very existence and what kind of place we even have in this world.
So how do we do it then? How do we keep going, despite all the setbacks? The author profiled in the aforementioned article has a great answer. “I persisted during all those years of rejection for no other reason than that I loved writing so much I wanted to spend all my time doing it. Writing must be its own reward, even for the most talented and hardworking writers, or they’re going to have a tough time.”
Writing must be its own reward. I love that phrase, because it is so true. I don’t just sit down to write and suffer through it because I expect some kind of return from it, be it recognition or money. I actually sit down to write because I enjoy doing it. I enjoy putting words together. I enjoy sitting there staring into space trying to come up with a better sentence. I enjoy being hit with sudden inspiration, usually in the middle of grocery shopping or at 3 am in the morning, and I enjoy rushing to my computer to start typing obsessively. I enjoy the laborious process of crafting that which so gloriously stood out in my mind one instant, like the dark of night suddenly illuminated by a flash of lightning, into something more lasting, which despite all my efforts almost always falls short of the ideal. I don’t quite enjoy deleting half of what I’ve written because I realize it’s crap, but I do enjoy when in the end I sometimes get it not perfectly right, but right enough that I myself will reread it years later and think, That was pretty good writing.
I don’t think I’ll ever give up writing. I wish I was able to make a living from it, but I’m doing it regardless.
The publishing business is a jungle, no matter how you play it. In a perfect world you get paid for what you love to do, but with writing it is very much a gamble and the odds are not favorable for the new and unknown because publishing itself is a cold hard business. I love writing and I’ve been lucky to get paid for much of my fiction work, but not my non-fiction, and that is disheartening. But if you love what you do, it is hard to give it up. Saying that writing is its own reward is fine if you can accept that. What is wrong with a hobby you enjoy? I’ve been writing my blog now for a number of years, enjoying it a lot, but monetary success is not part of the deal. I have to accept that.
A cold hard business indeed. And the irony is that your typical writer doesn’t fit into the cold/hard profile at all. I know there are all sorts, but I would venture a guess that there aren’t as many writers who are Type A as in other professions.
Also, being able to say Writing must be its own reward is a luxury that only those of us have who have an alternate income, typically in the form of a spouse with a real job. I’m aware of that, and the act that only that lets me make such romanticized statements as Writing is its own reward:-)