I’ll sometimes see someone like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling send out a message (or Tweet out a Tweet) of hope to struggling writers. “I’ve been rejected this-and-this many times, but I eventually made it. So don’t worry. You just have to keep going.”
(I’m paraphrasing here. I’m fairly certain they were more eloquent than I was.)
Their advice of perseverance is supposed to make you feel better about getting rejected yourself. You’re supposed to say, “Stephen King once got rejected by agents and publishers too. Just like me. One day, I’m going to catch a break just like him.”
Problem is, my own thought process goes a little something like this:
Holy shit. What the fuck. If Stephen motherfuckin’ King got rejected a gazillion times before he got published, what possible chance do I have?!
The answer is none. I have no chance.
Or rather, I have the slimmest of slim chances because I don’t want to commit to being a fatalist.
I know that words of comfort from seasoned writers are supposed to be…well, words of comfort, but I have a really hard time digesting them as such. I seriously look up to writers like Stephen King. Talent just oozes out of every paragraph he writes. My writing just doesn’t compare. I know it doesn’t. My friends might tell me that I’m being too hard on myself, but I know I’m only being realistic and self-aware.
I’ve read what I’ve written, and I’ve read what Stephen King has written. There’s no comparison.
Surprisingly, this isn’t supposed to be a pity party.
I didn’t want to be a writer because of the perks of “making it.” (Though I’m sure those perks are nice.) Writing has always been a labor of love for me. That phrase, “labor of love,” is a common one. It means you’re doing something not because of what you might earn for it, but because you actually enjoy doing it. I also like to think of it as actual labor. Writing is work. It’s a skill you have to hone. Words don’t just flow out of nowhere. They’re a composition of your thoughts that you have to organize into a coherent structure that other people may enjoy taking in.
I may never end up publishing a goddamned thing. That’s a possibility that I’ve had to swallow when contemplating my choice in career. It’s a real sucky thing to think about. But I have to remind myself of a very important fact. I love what I do.
No matter how difficult or unrewarding writing is, I want to keep doing it. Writing is work, don’t get me wrong, but it’s work I love. Part of the journey of writing (gag, that sounds so corny, but just stay with me) is knowing that you’re going to have to put in a lot of effort in order to get results. And I’m willing to do that.
So every rejection letter I get, every query letter that goes unanswered, is just another notch on my belt. For my fellow writers out there who are reading this, look at your rejection letters right now with pride. Don’t look at them with the expectation that you’ll eventually be famous and can look back on them with fondness. Those rejections are accomplishments in and of themselves. They are wounding, hurt-filled proof that you are striving to reach your goal of being a writer.
Haven’t you heard that old literary adage? It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.
So, if you’re a struggling writer and you want to hear advice from another struggling writer who has in no way “made it,” this is all I have to give. Keep trying for the sake of trying and, more importantly, for the sake of writing.
Feel free to share the amount of rejections you’ve received. And by rejections, I mean badges of honor.