On writing, envy, rejection and persistence

There is a mental trap writers seem to be prone to, if conversations I have on Twitter are any indication. (And I realize they may not be.) That is, that other writers are doing better than you somehow, and that this matters.

I’ve felt it! If you write, I suspect you have, too.

If you’re going to function as a writer, you have to divest yourself of caring how well others are doing except for being able to say to them “Congrats! You rule!” when they have good writing news and “Don’t forget, you’ve done awesome work!” when they have bad writing news.  The writing world can always use more empathy, but I doubt it needs any jealousy.

Envy, sure – I think it’s only human to hear of someone else’s good fortune and earned success and feel: I wish I had that too. As long as you don’t let it become jealousy, which is the ugly “their success takes something away from me” emotion, which is just bollocks.

I don’t know why this takes grip of writers – or, I’ll be honest, me, as a writer, I can’t speak for anyone else – except that maybe since success is an ever-moving set of goalposts, and that it takes so long in writing and publishing to get anywhere, it can feel quite reasonable that someone else out there got to all the Success out there first and is going to use it up before you get to it.

Yes, it’s ridiculous! That’s why it’s so heartening to hear other writers name this and put a spike in it, as Emmie Mears did recently on Chuck Wendig’s blog. Go on over and read her whole post, touching on many different aspects of writing success.

Done that? OK, then consider also Rose Lemberg’s wonderful Twitter essay on the subject of writing, improving, and self-rejection. (UPDATE: Rose has adapted them into a blog post.)

Many things she tweeted resonated with me, particularly:

  This is why I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that hey, the stuff I’m writing isn’t very good; it’ll never get published; it’s not as good as other people’s stuff; other people are just going to continue getting published and my stuff will be meh for all time.

I think anyone creative has feelings like that, and I feel this way despite writing more in the last three or so years than I have in ages, and meeting all kinds of writing goals, and getting to work with amazing, fantastic editors, and actually getting paid for writing fiction.

Rose makes the very good point that persistence is a huge factor in improving one’s writing, and that the writers who keep at it are the ones who succeed. We hear this a lot, but as the rejections pile up (as they must, statistically speaking, when you are starting out) it can be hard to remember this.

One of the things that can kill a writer’s growth is self-rejection (I mean, if you just give up and stop submitting, you’re not going to improve any as a writer). It keeps you from sending something out that might get rejected, or might get a rejection with feedback, or might get accepted and receive editing.

But the rejections don’t mean anything beyond “this story isn’t right for this editor at this magazine.” A form rejection can’t tell you why that is, but take a look at the progression Rose describes, of writers who kept submitting, whose work kept getting better over the years, who sent in work that was rejected and then was published elsewhere, and who sent in work (eventually) was a perfect fit for the publication she edits (Stone Telling).

Chuck Wendig also has some pointed things to say on self-rejection, in his characteristically fiery manner (his exact words: “Fuck Your Pre-Rejection, Penmonkey“). Basically, self-rejecting is quitting,and if you are going to grow as a writer, you have to develop a thick enough skin to take the rejection and keep submitting.  Writing isn’t a race against anyone but yourself. I’d like to leave you with what Rose has to say about feeling “behind” other writers:

I try to avoid being jealous as well, and most of the time I don’t feel that way. And when it gets down to it, if you want to be a successful writer, there’s only one thing to do: write. And don’t give up.

8 thoughts on “On writing, envy, rejection and persistence

  1. So much this.

    It can be frustrating to work for so long and so hard at one’s own projects and see one’s protégés sail ahead, but I’ve found that the best remedies are these: to remember that we all work at a different pace and that I still have to balance the other parts of my life (day job, family, etc.) with this one; to regularly help promote other authors I believe in and whose work I admire; to just keep writing.

    • Yes! There is so much joy to be had in other people’s successes. Also, I think of the times when I abandoned my WIP, thinking I should just give up on it: those were the long periods during which it got no better. It took work, work, work, and plenty of failure trying, to make it better. Same is true for writing short fiction. If I let the rejections stop me I’d have to just quit, since they are far more frequent than the acceptances.

    • We are starting to think to much in InterWebz language, because before your comment, I too thought exactly “SO MUCH THIS.” Probably not good for our writing. haha!

      • 🙂 I frequently find myself actually saying things like that out loud, as well as “ZOMG.” Thanks for dropping by & commenting!

      • Oh, there are many types and styles of language. 🙂 I like to think of social media colloquialisms as a new dialect. 😉

          • The fact that you’re concerned about it should be a pretty good inoculation. 😉 We would all be wise to be wary of this.

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