Mark Terry

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tough Love For Writers

December 11, 2007
If you wander around the Web you're going to find a lot of writers putting a very positive spin on the writing world. And negative spin, too.

There's a point I've been thinking about a lot lately and it's one that no aspiring writer really wants to hear.

The point is that there's a lot of value to acquiring hundreds (or thousands) of rejections on your way to becoming published.

Yeah, sucks, doesn't it?

I just read an article in TIME Magazine yesterday about Barack Obama and one of the things he noted about the way we elect presidents here in the U.S. is that the long, drawn-out campaign really does show a lot about the candidate--their ability to stay in for the long-haul, their ability to bounce back from set-backs, maybe even just endurance.

I think the same thing essentially applies to writers.

The path of a professional writer is a rocky one. It does require a certain thick skin. I just read a blog entry yesterday where somebody mentioned a famous mystery writer and how thin-skinned he was. Frankly, I've run into a few too who took umbrage at any little perceived criticism of their work. It's like "love me unequivocally or go away." I did a joint book signing with a very successful mystery author who started by attacking me about a DorothyL post I had made about the signing, joking about his series character, "Philip Screwdriver," the joke being that he was the son of Philip Marlow. But he only perceived that I was making fun of him rather than comparing him to Chandler and Hammett. Sheesh, some people sure take themselves seriously.

Here's my perception of the writing life for the majority of us: shit happens. You'll have some successes.  You'll have some failures. Cool things will happen like good reviews and fan letters and foreign sales and movie options, and shitty things will happen like being dropped by your publisher, scathing reviews, rejections, and rejections, and rejections.

And one of the really valuable things about being rejected for a decade is that once you start getting your work published and received, you start to accept (hopefully) that all those lousy things continue to happen and they're just part of the business. Learn to deal with them.

We are, after all, putting ourselves out on the battlefield, giving everyone their shot at us. Why be surprised that sometimes we get hit?

So here's the real challenge to make it in the writing life.

Learn to bounce back.

Mark Terry


Blogger Melanie Avila said...

Something along the lines of "I'm rubber and you're glue"? Great post! You have a knack at encouraging without telling writers it's going to happen tomorrow.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

This sounds right to me, but I don't know how successful I've been at adopting the necessary toughness. When you write rejection isn't really failure but just an ordinary part of the job. When you're starting out each rejection is a step toward success and even after you've sold things rejection remains part of the process of continuing to succeed. Intellectually I realize this. Emotionally I don't.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, Eric, I know. Some days are better than others. A lot of it depends on what else is going on in my life at the time.

And Melanie, thanks.

10:59 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Everyone's path is so different. I tell myself that the journey we have along our career is the exact path we need to help us make our writing as good as it's supposed to be.

Well. Platitudes work sometimes.

11:43 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Spyscribbler makes a good point: Each path IS different. Where we start to go nuts is when we compare ourselves to other writers and expect the same results. As in: I write as good as he does, why does he get a review in the Times and a movie option and I get squat?

Rejection never ends, no matter where you are on the food chain. I just got my new PW and a very famous bestseller author has a bad review. Will this author take it to heart? My guess is yes. Will this author curl up and quit? No way.

Like Eric said, we recognize this process intellectually. But emotionally, it never gets easier.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Spy & PJ,
Oh, I agree. I think we all have to find our way. Two things come immediately to mind.

Michael Crichton commenting that when would-be writers ask him how to break into the business he tells them he doesn't know because it's different for everybody and his story was atypical.

And one I hold dear lately, the quote by General Patton saying that success was determined by how high you bounce after hitting rock bottom.

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