So You Want to Be a Writer: Ten Tips for Handling Disappointment

I remember a time when I was frustrated with the whole writing game because it was just too darned hard, and I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted when it came to publication. Now was that thirty years ago, or last week?

My point is disappointment is a hazard of any writing life. It’s not going away anytime soon, so if you don’t have a strategy to deal with it, it’s time you got one. Here are some thoughts that might help.

1. Start by accepting the fact that disappointment will be your constant companion throughout your writing career. People will say no to you more often than not, and it doesn’t matter how much success you end up having. People will still say no to you. It’s all part of the lifelong apprenticeship that this craft requires. It’s part of the contract that we sign when we become writers.

2. When the disappointments come, as they inevitably will, allow yourself a few moments of misery. Even wallow in it if you wish, but don’t let yourself get stuck there. Give yourself permission to feel sad, angry, sorry, etc., and then get back to work.

3. If an editor rejects a submission, have another place you want to try already in mind. In fact, before you send out something, make a list of ten or more places. If one place says no—and particularly if they offer no useful criticism—then move on to the next place on your list. If an editor does offer some thoughts on the manuscript, take some time to think about whether there may be a weakness that you can fix. You have to be in a dispassionate frame of mind to do this work. You have to get your emotions out of the equation so you can look at your work objectively.

4. Do your research. Read, read, read. Get a sense of the places that might be right for the sorts of things you write. Keep a list. Pay particular attention to places that accept simultaneous submissions. When you’re ready to send something out, choose a few places from your list and send to them. Never send a simultaneous submission somewhere you know doesn’t accept them. You don’t want to get burned. Keep the submissions rolling. Don’t give yourself time to live too long with disappointment.

5. Understand that every minute you spend feeling hurt because someone said no to you is one more minute that you’re not spending working on your craft.

6. Remind yourself of what you love to do—move words about on the page. Get back to doing it as soon as you can.

7. Each disappointment toughens us. Sometimes it even teaches us something valuable about our craft. Embrace the fact that coming up short is often necessary to the future successes we’re bound to have.

8. Accept the fact that the world at large doesn’t care that we’re disappointment. Heck, the world at large doesn’t even care that we write. Your disappointments are yours to deal with. Slap them silly and get back to work.

9. Envy is a natural human emotion, but, again, don’t let it stay too long with you. Remember, every dog has its day. Think about the energy that envy requires of you. Think about how it demands that you close yourself off to the beauty of the world. The beauty of an artfully shaped literary work is a cause for celebration; its creation requires that you open yourself to those around you. Don’t let envy cause you to forget that.

10. Keep in mind, there’s never failure in writing. Each attempt is noble. There are millions of people who aren’t brave enough to do what you do. You stand above that crowd. During those times of disappointment, do your best to remember that. You’re disappointed because you had the courage to try. Try again. Love what you do.

Remember, you’re always getting closer to where you want to be. Success is just around the corner. Peaks and valleys, my friends. Don’t linger too long in the latter; enjoy, but don’t trust the former. A writer’s life is a full life—a life of close observation and emotional texture. Don’t let disappointment ruin that for you. That pain you feel? It’s actually a good thing. It tells you you’re alive. It tells you you’re a writer. Keep doing the good work!

6 Comments

  1. Roberta W. Coffey on September 19, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Yes, yes and yes! Thanks again, Lee!

    • Lee Martin on September 19, 2016 at 11:26 am

      You’re welcome, Roberta!

  2. Irene Hoge Smith on September 19, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    All such good points, reminders always needed. Rewarded or disappointed, this too shall pass.

    • Lee Martin on September 21, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Thanks for your comment, Irene!

  3. Richard Gilbert on September 27, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Great perspective, Lee. I especially love: “The beauty of an artfully shaped literary work is a cause for celebration; its creation requires that you open yourself to those around you.”

    • Lee Martin on September 28, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Thanks, Richard. To my way of thinking, any attempt at making art is a wonderful thing because it asks us to engage with the the world.

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