Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Easy for Me to Say

"Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never..." Winston Churchill

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no use being a damn fool about it." W.C. Fields

This is a tough week for a lot of writers. I'm thinking specifically of the writers who found out yesterday that they will not be advancing to the next round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest... and the writers who were eliminated in the first round... and those who will be knocked out of the running during the rest of the contest.

This is the contest that, to my surprise and amazement and eternal gratitude, I won in 2009. (Two years ago already?!) So I know the reaction to any comment I make about the need to keep trying, to not give up, might be, "Easy for you to say." As a matter of fact, I do try to avoid saying it because a lot of writers are sick and tired of hearing someone tell them to "buck up." But because this contest draws so many entries from so many extremely talented writers, I'm hoping a quick recap of my decades-long affair with rejection might help someone get back to the writing desk a little more quickly.

While I've wanted to write a novel since I was six or seven, I didn't realize that dream until I was fifty-five. Before I saw my name on the cover of a novel,  I wrote three other complete novels and dozens of short stories and poems that collected enough rejection slips to influence the stock prices of Boise Cascade and Weyerhauser. I've experimented with every approach to writing imaginable. Just try to name a writer's guide or advice book I haven't read. I've taken online writing courses and have tried several different "creative writing" software programs. On the advice of a potential agent, I paid an ungodly sum of money to a book doctor to help me get my novel ready for publication. That novel that was rejected almost as quickly as my check was cashed. On the advice of a different potential agent, I rewrote one of my novels as a screenplay. Have you seen the movie yet? Me, neither. I continued rewriting, reformatting, even re-genre-ing. And still the rejections poured in, every one of them a poke in the eye, a body shot to my self-confidence.

And here's an update: It doesn't end when you get published. There is absolutely no guarantee that my next manuscript will be published. And while the majority of reviews of my book have been, thankfully, positive, the ones that aren't--like the one I read the other day wherein the reader-reviewer expressed disappointment that I wasn't a more talented writer--do, in fact, sting. Getting published did not make my skin any thicker.

But if you're a writer and not someone who simply wants to be known as a writer, you'll keep going. You'll keep collecting those rejections, learning what you can from each one, but ultimately believing in your own hunches, your own voice. You'll put aside that nagging feeling that there are a few hundred other, more productive uses of your time than agonizing over a blank screen or piece of paper. You won't blame. You'll try not to complain. You'll just keep your butt in that chair and keep writing.

If you're not a writer, you won't. Now that was easy for me to say.


  1. Jim,

    Thanks for the read and encouragement. Always needed when trying to create a world with words. Has it really been 2 years since you won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award?

    I love your debut novel.