How to Succeed (or Not) at Writing

A few years ago at a writers conference in Ohio, I was talking to an illustrator friend.  I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I had voiced my frustrations with the publishing process.  My friend asked me how long I’d been writing.  When I told him, he chuckled, and said something along the lines of, “That’s just about right. You’ve moved from the ‘this will be easy’ stage into the ‘will it ever happen’ cynical stage.” 

I wonder how long this stage lasts?  Perhaps until you either get published or give up.  There is a lot of rejection in this business, but there are sucesses, too.

At WIFYR this year, I heard Rick Walton say that everyone he knows that persists long enough gets published. The question is, is the effort worth it to you to keep trying? 

A friend sent an “inspirational” article about Kathryn Stockett to one of my critique groups. Kathryn is the author of the best selling book, “The Help” that has just come out in paperback, and has a movie adaptation scheduled for release this month.  The process wasn’t easy for her–in fact it got so bad she started lying about what she was doing when she was writing because she was embarrassed that she hadn’t been successful, yet she couldn’t stop writing.  Here’s a quote from the article:

“In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books.

“The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead. And if your friends make fun of you for chasing your dream, remember—just lie.”

I’m not sure I agree with the lying part, but if you ask me what I did on a particular day, and I say, “Oh, not much.” Or you ask me if I’ve finished my book yet and I change the subject, or say, “Well, it is a work in progress,” you’ll know I’m still working on those revisions that surely this time will make the manuscript good enough to get read by an agent or editor.

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