Writing can be a lonely business at times. Writing a novel is a lengthy process that takes a lot of time, perseverance and patience, and often with not much to show for it. It’s made even harder by the fact that there’s not many visible milestones by which we can mark our progress – after all, who gets applause for all those novels tucked away in the bedside drawer that never see the light of day? Sometimes it feels like we’re the Red Queen, running in one spot and not making any progress at all! Therefore, it’s no surprise to those in the writing life how easy it is to get knocked down by the discouragement, to question ourselves over whether this is the right path, if we’re not just wasting our precious time.
But it is worth it. As Octavia E. Butler says, persistence is key to being a good writer. But it’s just so hard to remember that when you’re staring at the last 10 hours’ worth of writing and thinking it’s no good, or when you’ve received your 30th rejection slip. So I thought I’d share some of my tips for beating the devil that is discouragement for writers.
Surround yourself with like-minded people
Writing can be a solitary pursuit – but it doesn’t have to be so! There are plenty of amazing supportive writers’ groups out there. Get out there and join a writing group or an online writing community. It will help to chat with other people who are going through the same thing, and who can offer you feedback and support when the chips are down. They’re also great for keeping you accountable with your writing – otherwise, it can be pretty easy to just keep pushing back that unfinished chapter to next week, and the week after that, and the week after that…
Tip: get yourself on social media. There are some amazing writers’ communities out there on Twitter and Instagram. Everyone is really lovely and encouraging and also have no qualms sharing their own moments of discouragement so you definitely feel like you’re not alone! My only warning on this is not to to let yourself get suckered into spending hours and hours on social media (as we all do) and make sure you schedule in plenty of time to actually write.
Seek expert advice online
Literary agents cop a lot of flak, especially from aspiring authors who have had one rejection too many (and that’s a tough thing to receive, but really not the agent’s fault!). But they’re actually a really sweet, supportive group of people who love books and are also very generous with their time and advice. There are a lot of literary agent blogs out there (stay tuned for my list of favourites!) that offer plenty of insights and advice into the publishing world, from warnings against predatory publishers to tips on honing your craft. There was a time when I would obsessively read these literary agents’ blogs and I learned a lot of invaluable advice on writing and publishing from them. Advice I don’t think I could have gotten from anyone else.
There are also a large number of blogging writers out there who are really generous with their advice and encouragement (see this list for my favourite writers’ blogs). It really helps to learn from the experience of others and also to know that even professional writers had to begin somewhere!
Don’t focus on comparisons
It’s easy to feel that twinge of jealousy when you read so-and-so has won an amazing six-figure book deal for their debut novel and they’ve barely begun high school or something, while you’re still scribbling away, trying to eke out a passable manuscript. But you can’t let comparisons drive you crazy. Use these folks as an achievement to aspire to, a summit that you too will one day reach, but other than that, the only person you’re allowed to compare yourself to is yourself. Shut your eyes to the Publishers’ Marketplace list of latest deals and instead focus on how far you’ve come since you first started writing Harry Potter fan fiction in school. (I may be giving my age away here, but I was too old for Harry Potter fanfic. Instead I wrote loads of L.J. Smith Night World fanfic and even a small amount of Interview with the Vampire fanfic. And, no, they will never see the light of day!) 😉
Find one thing you need to improve on and work on it
Sometimes it helps to narrow down the Big Picture. Narrow it down, in fact, to a very tiny path where you can only take one step at the time.
Pick something – just one thing – that you’re not doing so well on, writing-wise, and concentrate wholly on improving in that one area. Bad at dialogue? Okay, don’t panic. Instead, focus wholly on improving that one area. Practice writing dialogue, try different ways of writing dialogue, look up tips on the Internet for writing dialogue and flip through books to see how other authors have tackled the art of conversation between characters. Work and work at it until you find yourself spinning out lines of conversation that are just totally on point. Poor at grammar? Buy a few grammar and style guides and keep referring to ’em until everything you write shines with a beautiful grammatical halo. Again, it takes time, but at least you now have a tangible goal to work towards, with visible steps to follow, plus at the end of it you’ll feel much more confident about your writing skills and you’ll know you’ve made some appreciable improvement.
Remember that everyone had to start somewhere
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book and even then they advised JK Rowling to find a day job because authors of children’s books rarely made money. Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times before it was published. No one (not a single one!) wanted to publish Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit and so she ended up self-publishing instead. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times and Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected a whooping 121 times! Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 23 times and now it’s a cult hit that has even inspired its own freehand stitched tapestries. Every writer has to start somewhere and every writer has experienced discouragement and rejection too. The one thing that sets them aside from the others? They never gave up.
Realise that all creative art forms take time and a great volume of work to perfect
I love this quote by Ira Glass. It’s something every writer – in fact, anyone in the creative business – needs to know. Sure, in any business, there are the prodigies and the ones that got lucky from day one. But I think with anything, just sitting down and working hard is a given. As Helen Keller says, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
Relax and enjoy the journey
No matter how tempting it is, try not to concentrate on the end goal of getting published – rather seek to enjoy the journey of writing. Stop and remember just what you enjoyed about writing. Write for fun. Whatever else may happen, you will always have that, and that makes you a writer, no matter what.